Student Housing West Development Stalls

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Illustration by Ry X

Two ongoing lawsuits have brought Student Housing West (SHW) to a standstill. 

UC Santa Cruz student enrollment increased by about 23 percent between 2013 and 2017, yet housing expansion has not been proportionate. To address the deficit, UCSC approved a new housing development plan in October 2017 — Student Housing West (SHW) — the first phase of which was initially expected to be completed by spring 2020.

“This is about serving our current need,” said UCSC Director of News and Media Relations Scott Hernandez-Jason. “It’s not about any sort of growth aspirations.”

SHW details housing designs, bed structures and a triple-net-zero vision, in which less energy, water and materials are used to create a more eco-friendly architectural design. It includes plans for two new building sites. 

The first site, off Heller Drive, would rise seven stories and spread over 13 acres. The buildings would replace the existing 200 family student housing units with graduate and undergraduate student housing. 

The second site on Hagar Drive would span 17 acres throughout the East Meadow. The space would be used to redevelop 140 units for family student housing and would include a privatized family day care center.

“It’s insulting,’’ said alumnus Jozseph Schultz. “We’re talking about an iconic view that is a trademark of our institution.”

Two lawsuits have delayed the projected 2020 timeline. Habitat and Watershed Caretakers (HAWC) filed a lawsuit on April 24. The East Meadow Action Committee (EMAC) — a coalition of students, faculty and alumni — filed a suit on the following  day. 

Both lawsuits claim the proposed Hagar site, which consumes more land but only five percent of the housing, violates the California Environmental Quality Act. The Design Advisory Board at UCSC — comprised of established California architects selected by the university — voted unanimously in opposition to the Hagar site. In August, HAWC dismissed its lawsuit.

The EMAC proposed alternatives to the Hagar site, including re-assessing the East Campus Infill Plan — a 2008 housing project proposal that passed all environmental reviews  — and re-designing SHW solely at the Heller site or building housing at the north remote parking lot.

UCSC Director of News and Media Relations Scott Hernandez-Jason provided comment regarding the 60 unit decrease of family student  housing. 

“I don’t believe that anyone would be displaced,” Hernandez-Jason said, “but I think it all depends on where we are when the project is getting built.”

Students’ main concern with SHW is its timing and anticipated relocation date, said Executive Director of Housing Services and Facilities Dave Keller.

But Bella Bobrow, member of the SHW Student Advisory Board, said students are primarily concerned with the destruction of the east meadow. 

SHW is financed through a public-private partnership between Collegiate Housing Foundation — a nonprofit that guarantees lower interest and tax-exempt bonds — and Capstone Development Partners.

“Because we’re working with a private contractor, the employees of student housing will be managed by that company, and they won’t be a part of the local union,” Bobrow said.

The specific costs are not elicited, though the rates are expected to align with current campus housing prices, said Project Manager Bridey Best.

A judge will hold a case management conference between the EMAC and UCSC in November to set dates for future hearings, said UCSC Director of News and Media Relations Scott Hernandez-Jason. As of now, SHW is on hold. 

“I haven’t received any information that the project timeline is changing,” Bobrow said, “[…] I haven’t heard anything since June because that’s when my last meeting was, and [members of the SHW committee] haven’t corresponded over the summer.” 

Students can express their opinions on SHW at two upcoming public hearings.

  • Oct. 23, from 6:30-8:30 p.m. at Louden Nelson Community Center.
  • Oct. 24, from 5-7 p.m. at Cruzioworks, 877 Center Street, Santa Cruz.