Student Housing West (SHW) is set and ready to begin major construction, which will have major impacts for the Santa Cruz community.
On April 1 the UC Board of Regents approved the proposed SHW, a construction project aiming to provide additional campus housing to students, Chancellor George Blumenthal said in a campus-wide email.
SHW will consist of developing 13 acres of land at the Heller Site and about 17 acres of land at the Hagar site. SHW will replace Family Student Housing and construct on the East Meadow. The goal of SHW is to create an additional 3,072 on-campus beds and 140 housing units.
UC Santa Cruz Vice President of Internal Affairs of the Student Union Assembly Citlalli Aquino supports the SHW initiative. With over 100 houseless students in the city, it is absurd for there to be so much open space on campus — like the East Meadow — and leave it unused, Aquino said.
“To drive up campus, and see all this wide open space being unused while students go without homes is infuriating,” Aquino said.
Not everyone is supportive of the SHW development. The most prominent opponent of SHW is the East Meadow Action Committee (EMAC), a coalition of UCSC alumni, faculty, staff, students and community members. EMAC opposes the planned development of the campus’s East Meadow and advocates for alternative sites.
Representatives of EMAC, including literature professor Chris Connery, voiced their intentions to take legal action and will likely file a lawsuit against the UC to protect the East Meadow.
UCSC alumnus and architect Matthew Waxman believes the SHW planning board made little to no effort to be transparent of its views of the project. He also worries they did not look into design options that would prevent the demolition of the East Meadow.
“One of my problems with the SHW project is that it hasn’t been thoroughly integrated into a wider conversation of how students learn and live, and the shared human experience of the campus,” Waxman said.
EMAC member and UCSC history professor Gail Hershatter said the lack of student housing is an undeniable emergency in Santa Cruz, but thinks developing on campus should not squander the campus environment.
“We’re not at the point where the East Meadow is the only solution for land development,” Hershatter said. “There are lots of places on campus that don’t pose problems.”
EMAC members proposed spaces including the area behind the Merrill apartments and undeveloped, university-owned property downtown as alternate locations for the housing project.
Chayla Fisher, officer of UCSC’s Student Environmental Center and student representative of the university’s Long Range Development Plan, thinks that SHW alone will not solve the housing crisis in Santa Cruz. She feels a better solution should be found but the demolition of the East Meadow should not be the main concern.
“[The project] is a hasty, imperfect solution to the housing crisis as the admin realized that they screwed up by not providing housing before admitting more students,” Fisher said.
Fisher’s reasons for opposing SHW differ from EMAC. She claims that EMAC mostly consists of privileged faculty and alumni who are more concerned with losing the view of the East Meadow than providing accessible and affordable housing for students.
“While I agree we want to limit environmental destruction to the greatest degree possible, it is clear that the motives of EMAC do not include the well-being of students,” Fisher said.
Connery counters by saying that the East Meadow Action Committee is still a strong supporter of improving student housing, but the better alternatives to destroying the East Meadow must be considered.
“I understand the desperation [of the housing crisis], but I think it’s short-sighted,” Connery said. “Giving up so much for the developers’ interest would be a huge loss; we don’t want to regret the world we created.”
Construction of Student Housing West is scheduled to begin July 2019 and wrap up July 2023.