A rendering of Munger Hall. | Credit: Courtesy

UC Santa Barbara is maintaining official secrecy about its housing development, but really major news is out: Munger Hall, as Charlie Munger envisioned it, is not going forward. Instead, UCSB is signaling that a new planning and development process for student housing appears to be in the works. Along with this positive news, we learn that the private developer announced as UCSB’s partner in developing the Ocean Road faculty and staff project has withdrawn. A decade during which much needed and promised housing could have been built was wasted in a futile quest for private funding and development.

The death of Munger Hall was revealed between the lines of a Request for Qualification (RFQ) made public this week. It’s a formal announcement opening a search for an architect to lead development of on-campus housing for 3,500 students. The document provides some detail on the design and plan of this project, largely sited on the same grounds that Munger Hall was supposed to sit but adding other campus locations. Indeed, the document represents a return to plans that were shelved when Munger made his offer some eight years ago. The RFQ makes clear that the campus housing department will have oversight of the project.

UCSB Campus Housing historically developed all of the student and employee housing for the campus — and yet was bypassed in the development of Munger Hall and Ocean Road.

The failure of these two projects stems from their dependence on private contributors and developers. Munger’s huge donation, tied to his insistence on controlling the design, meant that established UCSB procedures for review of building projects were not followed and the terms of Munger’s contribution were neither revealed nor scrutinized in established ways.

Ocean Road was delayed for years in order to find a private developer to partner with. Maybe there are private developers interested in building and managing below-market priced campus housing, and maybe Graystar is one of these. We don’t know why the firm backed out, but it’s likely that Graystar came to see more profit in building or acquiring private student housing than in adhering to University of California requirements for affordability. Why the private-public partnership was sought in the first place, however, is hard to fathom when historically UCSB has been able to finance and build very good employee housing on its own.

The failure of the Ocean Road deal further postpones the fulfilment of UCSB’s plan to develop faculty and staff housing. That plan, endorsed by SUN (Sustainable University Now) and approved by the Coastal Commission more than a decade ago, would have major benefits: to the campus’s ability to attract and keep faculty and staff, to reduce commuting and traffic and facilitate campus community, and to greatly ease the regional affordable housing shortage. UCSB promised to develop 1,840 units of affordable housing on its land by 2025. Ocean Road is supposed to provide 540 of these units. None of this is now on track.

But the positive thing, we can hope, is that this failure helps lay to rest the drive toward privatization of public higher education. The need for affordable housing can’t be fulfilled by relying on the private housing industry and by market forces. At the same time, affordable campus housing has been — and can continue to be — achievable, using the resources available to this public university.

For example, take a look at housing websites for some other UC campuses — like Irvine and San Diego — and notice that over the years these campuses have developed student and faculty housing on a considerably greater scale than our own. Most if not all of that was accomplished by in-house development.

It’s long past time for administration transparency and accountability with respect to UCSB’s housing story. The Campus Housing administration has to be restored and given a central role in the speedy development of campus housing. Academic Senate review of projects must be adhered to — and student voices need to be integral to planning student housing.

The Academic Senate needs to investigate why the LRDP (Long Range Development Plan) housing plans were unfulfilled and why the two major housing projects fell apart. Whether UCSB indeed has lagged behind other UC campuses despite escalating housing scarcity is also worthy of investigation.

The UCSB housing failure violated agreements with Santa Barbara County, the City of Goleta, and the Sustainable University Now coalition. The county and the city are suing UCSB on that matter; SUN has so far delayed litigation. The way to settle these cases is for UCSB to lay out a timetable for fulfilling the LRDP housing plans with clear specification of the means by which the timetable will be achieved. The needed sites for specific plans are defined in the LRDP; the development anticipated in the LRDP was approved by the Coastal Commission. Housing is a self-financing investment. In short, the means to make and commit to a specific development timetable are there. Is Chancellor Yang now ready to do it?

County government and the Coastal Commission need to insist on UCSB’s commitment to a specific timetable for completing its housing pledges. State Senator Monique Limón and Assemblymember Gregg Hart have personal ties to UCSB and are in positions to push and to help.

Finally, the UC Regents: will the regents encourage the campuses to actively promote affordable housing? The UC can never fulfill its promise to serve California’s population unless students of all class levels can afford to attend — and housing costs are a major factor in that equation.

While housing scarcity and inflation grew, UC invested $4.5 billion in the real estate trust of Blackstone — one of the very companies buying up rental properties near campuses, displacing working class tenants, and milking the student market. UC could pre-empt such predatory behavior if it directly invested in its own neighborhood housing and protected its affordability. If Governor Newsom is serious about his ambitious state housing goals, he needs to push the regents to empower each campus to build housing to meet increases in campus populations,

UCSB officially made the following pledge in its agreement with SUN a decade ago:

UCSB shall continue and expand its role in improving the ‘jobs/housing balance’ in the region, by adopting, implementing, reviewing and refining policies that will enable increasing proportions of its workforce over time to live within walking/biking distance of campus … and promote policies that will improve the affordability of housing in the region.

More than ever, the pledge must be honored for the good of both the campus and the wider community. 

Dick Flacks is the founder of Sustainable University Now (SUN) and an emeritus professor of sociology for UCSB.


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