By Lisa Donchak
Last week, the UC Regents approved a proposal to begin construction on a new Biomedical Science Facility as part of the campus’ Long Range Development Plan (LRDP).
The $77,873,000 facility, which will be built over a parking lot near Science Hill, will contain resources for science programs on campus. The construction will begin in November, according to Frank Zwart, the campus architect and associate vice chancellor of Physical Planning & Construction (PPC).
However, members of the Coalition for Limiting University Expansion (CLUE) do not support construction of the facility because of the possible negative environmental impacts.
“From the standpoint of the city, the community and the residents, everyone is somewhat astounded that the university is trying to proceed here,” said Don Stevens, CLUE co-founder and a UCSC alumnus.
The facility proposal includes a list of negative environmental impacts, including increased demand for housing, increased traffic volumes at off-campus intersections and increased water demand.
In place of an Environmental Impact Report (EIR), which generally accompanies any plan to construct new buildings on campus, the proposal for the biomedical facility included a Negative Declaration statement. A Negative Declaration, according to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), states that there will be very few negative environmental impacts. Environmental Impact Reports state possible negative impacts of growth and proposes strategies for mitigating them.
Hal Levin, a research architect for the Building Ecology research group and an executive committee member of CLUE, questioned the claim that such a building would have only negligible environmental effects.
“There’s no way that they can claim that this is sustainable,” Levin said.
According to Guy Lasnier, spokesperson for the Office of the Chancellor, the university has already done its part, and an EIR is, in this case, unnecessary.
“UCSC’s environmental analysis of the Biomedical Facility project conforms with the requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act. We think the Santa Cruz and university community will see the benefits of important advances in health sciences that it will make possible.”
According to Frank Zwart, the department of physical planning is treading lightly, knowing that growth is a hot topic in Santa Cruz.
“We’re trying to balance a number of factors,” Zwart said. “One is an obligation to the state. But we’re very sensitive and very mindful of the fact that we’re a growing campus in a small town, so we’re trying to balance all those factors as we move forward. I think it’s a very exciting project.”
Members of CLUE do not believe that the Biomedical Science Facility can come without significant environmental impacts.
“I’m kind of beyond words,” Stevens said. “For a campus that’s supposed to pride itself on an environmental approach to things, it’s really absurd for them to do this.”
A number of environmentally friendly steps have been taken to ensure that the building has as small an environmental impact as possible, including the use of low-energy fans, sustainable building materials, and natural light and ventilation.
According to the proposal, “the [negative] contributions of the project in each case would not be cumulatively considerable.”
Stevens, though, remains dissatisfied.
“They’re going to be challenged in court on the Biomedical Science Facility. I think you’ll see some lawsuits filed in the next two to three weeks.”