Chancellor Henry Yang | Credit: Courtesy

Enrollment at UC Santa Barbara has been increasing and student housing has been slow to keep up. The delays in moving forward on UCSB’s Munger Hall project — the proposed nine-story mega-dorm capable of housing 3,500 students — had many University of California Regents expressing their frustration with the slow-going housing developments on UCSB’s campus during their January 18 board meeting. 

UCSB Chancellor Henry Yang began his presentation on UCSB’s campus overview with an extensive report on the university’s history, detailing how much effort they have put into increasing their applicant pool, student diversity, and student success in the time since he became chancellor almost 30 years ago. He outlined multiple programs, fundraising initiatives, and goals to continue to increase diversity among students, faculty, and staff, as well as support student success, before moving on to the looming issue of housing. 

Yang first explained that nearly 10,500 students, or 42 percent of UCSB’s student population, are currently in student housing, and all who applied for student housing for the fall and winter quarters had been accommodated. He also said that the university has provided more than 200 extra bed spaces for students, while simultaneously reducing the number of occupants per room by “de-tripling” available bed spaces on campus.

Munger Hall’s latest redesign brought the structure from 11 stories down to nine. | Credit: UCSB

“As UC Santa Barbara looks to the future, and meeting the needs associated with the recent enrollment growth outlined in our Long-Range Development Plan, affordable student housing is a priority for the campus,” Yang said, referring to the 2010 agreement between UCSB, Santa Barbara County, and the City of Goleta that outlined requirements for the campus to cap student enrollment at 25,000 and provide 5,000 additional housing units by 2025. 

In the past two years, both the county and Goleta have sued the university for not meeting its housing requirements in a timely manner. 

“The proposed Munger Hall project design could be an important step on this front,” Yang continued. “Its construction would help reduce density in the neighboring community in Isla Vista and would provide additional on-campus options for UC Santa Barbara students at a cost lower than current off-campus alternatives.” 

UCSB and the Munger Hall project team are currently working to accommodate multiple design recommendations put forth by an independent review panel of faculty and community members, as well as feedback from students, faculty, staff, and others who have toured the mockup of Munger Hall. That feedback includes the extensive, 200-page report released by UCSB’s Faculty Senate last year, which concluded that the dorm as currently proposed posed “significant safety risks that are predictable enough, probable enough, and consequential enough that it would be unwise for UCSB to proceed without significant modification to the design.”

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Munger Hall — proposed by billionaire Charlie Munger, who offered $250 million for the residence hall’s development in exchange for the right to design it — was initially planned to be a 11-story, 4,500-bed, mostly windowless dorm hall to accommodate as many students as possible. In response to community uproar and national scorn and ridicule, the campus agreed to lop two stories off the top and reduce the maximum capacity down to 3,500. 

Recent redesign recommendations include reducing the mass and population density of the building further; introducing more ventilation into the building, especially in shared kitchen areas; and adding more operable windows, according to Nathan Brostrom, UC Office of the President’s executive vice president and chief financial officer. 

Brostrom said that they hope to be able to present a new design to the regents by “possibly as early as this summer,” which will most likely require an added addendum to the long-awaited Environmental Impact Report for the dorm hall. 

“Why does it have to wait till summer?” asked UC Regent Richard Sherman. “It’s just very frustrating. I remember sitting with the donor, I don’t know, four years ago.”

In response, Yang explained that the consultation process for the hall has been long and elaborate, and they just have to “take time” to hear all opinions and build consensus around the complicated project.

Still, Sherman’s comments were repeated and expanded on by many other members of the board. Even Regent Lark Park, who spoke highly of the project and the hall mockup following her visit with her two teenage children, commented that the process should be more expedient. 

UC Regent Hadi Makarechian brought up how Munger himself recently turned 99 years old, adding that with the little time the donor has left, “he’s really adamant about getting this project approved and under construction as soon as possible.”

Even with UCSB’s other, recent residential developments — including multiple initiatives in Isla Vista, such as two recent purchases of housing complexes to provide around 2,500 additional beds for students, and plans to add more faculty and staff housing along Ocean Road — the university is expected to nail down a timeline for the approval and construction of Munger Hall with a sense of urgency. 

“We’re getting sued by the county, we don’t have enough housing, we have to have the housing there, and so we need to move as fast as we can,” said Board Chair Rich Leib, a UCSB alum. “I know there’s a lot of consensus and a lot of consultation and listening, but at a certain point, we have to move it forward.”

Leib also said that he has received many comments about the dorm, and referenced the report made by the Faculty Senate. “When you do come,” he continued, “we need to have something we can approve.”

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