After five years of continued litigation and complaints, the UC Santa Cruz Student Housing West (SHW) project was re-approved by the UC regents on March 18. Ongoing lawsuits from environmental committees and organizations forced them to restart the environmental review process. The lawsuits primarily contested the proposed construction in the East Meadow. The project had an initial proposed start date of spring 2020 and a completion date of fall 2023, but the project is now set to begin in spring 2022 and be completed by Aug. 2028.
The SHW project will develop two locations on campus to provide more housing for students. The two-phase project plans to create 140 family student housing units and an early education center in the East Meadow at Hagar Drive. It also plans to replace the current Family Student Housing (FSH) on Heller Drive with housing for 2,700 undergraduates and 220 graduate students.
James Clifford, professor emeritus of history of consciousness at UCSC, is a member of the planning committee for the East Meadow Action Committee (EMAC), which has been actively opposing this project since 2018 in an attempt to protect the East Meadow. The group supports adding new housing but is urging the university to do so without disrupting the campus’ scenic integrity, keeping the development on the west side of campus where it was originally planned to be.
“For us, it’s such a violation of the tradition of building here which says that buildings need to respect the site,” Clifford said. “Much of campus does really respond to that and that’s why it’s such a special place, but they are in blatant violation of the whole tradition. And it was done in a rush and it was a mistake, we think, and we think it’s a very correctable mistake.”
After pushback from EMAC and an injunction from the Santa Cruz superior courts on March 1, requiring the university to reconsider possible alternatives before reconsidering approval for SHW, UC regents re-approved the project and UCSC is hoping to continue forward with the East Meadow development phase of the project early next year.
UCSC director of news and media relations, Scott Hernandez-Jason said that the university is dedicated to providing more housing for its students and that it is unfortunate to see this project delayed.
“In terms of any physical changes there’s not much that folks will see [in the coming months],” Hernandez-Jason said. “It’s a lot of the behind the scenes work that goes into moving a project like this forward, but I think the important thing for people to know is that we know housing is a huge challenge for our students and this project is going to make a major difference in the local market — both for students and for the community.”
Clifford said the university could avoid this year delay from the appeal and potentially others by keeping FSH on the west side and rethinking the project to be more practical and less destructive.
Clifford said that multiple professional planners, including the campus design advisory board and former campus architect, disagreed with the university’s plans to build in East Meadow.
“The fact is, it was driven by a business logic,” Clifford said. “It’s not driven by an architectural or an environmental planning logic. It’s being run through the business office, I’m afraid that’s why we are getting the results we are getting.”