The 2021-2040 Long Range Development Plan (LRDP) sets a guiding framework for UC Santa Cruz’s physical and enrollment growth over the next two decades. As one of its former principal student representatives, Matthew Waxman was heavily involved in drafting UCSC’s 2005 LRDP. Now as an alumnus, he’s been expressing concerns over the recently approved plan.
“Unfortunately, it’s just a really bad plan,” Waxman said. “It’s done horribly, the process was bad, the way of approaching it from a design and programming standpoint was really poorly thought through. It doesn’t respect the student experience and totally derails past planning efforts to do that.”
The newest LRDP outlines plans to expand campus infrastructure from two million square feet to five million, construct four new residential colleges, and increase enrollment by nearly 50 percent to 28,000 students by 2040.
Waxman maintains that the LRDP has major flaws due to the lack of student engagement in its drafting process. He specifically points out committee meetings being held during school hours and the lack of transparency of agenda items.
Student Union Assembly External Vice President Rojina Bozorgnia echoed Waxman’s concerns about the lack of student input in the drafting of the LRDP. She recalls the university’s desire for student engagement as a first-year but noted that it dwindled over time.
“While the university and the city both made really great efforts to reach out to students, […] it doesn’t seem like any of that feedback has been reflected in the plan,” Bozorgnia said.
The 2021-2040 LRDP was unanimously approved by the UC Regents in a Sept. 29 meeting. During which, UCSC Chancellor Cynthia Larive told the board that the enrollment projection which formed the basis of the LRDP was due to the high demand for a UCSC education.
Nicole Wong, an organizer in UCSC’s Student Environmental Center, called in public comment during the Regents meeting. She asked the Regents to send back the plan and require it to be in tune with the realities of the climate crisis. Despite the fact that she was able to speak directly to the Regents, she doesn’t feel that they are adequately listening to the concerns of the community.
“After the public comments and when the regents were deliberating on this plan, there was no discussion. To me, it felt like they were just checking boxes,” Wong said. “It’s like they’re justifying that their plan is good and not actually looking at the public comments and the public concerns with the plan. It’s like a formality.”
The university is also committing to house 100 percent of students above the current threshold of 19,500 students. If they maintain their goals, the on-campus population will double in an attempt to keep UCSC students living in the city to a minimum.
At the Regents meeting, Larive also said that their approval allows conversations with the city and county of Santa Cruz to continue by developing their framework for implementing the LRDP through the community’s input.
Despite Larive’s remarks, the LRDP’s approval is causing concern amongst local government officials who are apprehensive about the university’s growth.
“Additional students and the impacts on our housing supply, right now and into the future, are going to be very serious,” said Santa Cruz Mayor Donna Meyers. “We can’t house people that we have now, and oftentimes there’s an imbalance with how the rental market works due to the cost of rents on campus and having students wanting to be downtown.”
UCSC’s most recent addition of student housing was the creation of Colleges Nine and Ten in 2002, leading some people to doubt the campus’s ability to provide the necessary infrastructure to support the goals of the LRDP. Since then, UCSC’s enrollment increased by 5,000 students while the amount of on-campus housing infrastructure remained stagnant.
Alongside Waxman, UCSC alum and California State Senator John Laird has been vocal about the LRDP and his concerns over providing housing for newly admitted students.
“Is there a mechanism that determines that the enrollment growth will not move ahead unless the housing at each stage is in place,” asked Laird in his letter to the Regents on Sept. 26. “I support creating much needed additional housing to meet the needs of growing enrollment, but a meaningful executable and enforceable plan is necessary to make sure those goals are actually met.”
After the release of the LRDP in January 2021, the Santa Cruz City-County Task Force on UCSC Growth Plans advocated for the university to sign a legally binding agreement to tie growth with the development of critical infrastructure. The university has not done so.
Meyers said that under the California Environmental Quality Act, the City can file a legal challenge to the LRDP’s Environmental Impact Report within 30 days of the LRDP’s approval. With the threat of a legal challenge, the City can undergo continued conversations with the university through a tolling agreement, which puts a hold on the 30-day window to file a legal challenge and extend conversations between the two parties.
The tolling agreement will be the City’s next step following the approval of the LRDP.
Mayor Meyers feels that a tolling agreement is the best way to move forward and express the concerns of the city with the university. Meyers noted that the Regents need to grapple with concerns that those communities share.
“The city doesn’t have a lot of legal ability to require them to do one thing or another,” Meyers said. “That’s why this negotiation will be important, because we’ve been very clear on the need for mitigation and the university has acknowledged that we need to talk about it. But we aren’t there yet, so that’s where we go next.”
City on a Hill Press issued a correction to this article on Oct. 25th amending a grammatical error.