UC Lawsuit Seeks to Stop Santa Cruz Anti-Growth Measures

Bay City News
Tuesday September 05, 2006

The University of California has filed a lawsuit against the city of Santa Cruz in an attempt to stop two growth-restricting ballot measures from taking effect should voters approve them in November. 

In the lawsuit, which was filed in Santa Cruz County Superior Court on Wednesday, the university argues that the city failed to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act when it placed Measures I and J on the ballot in July. 

The measures would restrict expansion of UC Santa Cruz, which seeks to increase total enrollment by 6,000 to 21,000 students in 2020, unless the university implements and pays for mitigation of the adverse impacts of growth on such things as traffic, water supply capacity and housing costs. 

UC attorney Kelly Drumm insists that the city should have examined the measures’ environmental impact, if any, before sending them to the voters. 

“Instead, the city denied there would be any impacts whatsoever and, further, gave less than the legally required notice of its action to the university and to the general public,” Drumm wrote in a statement. “Not only is the city threatening to withhold contractually obligated water to a UC campus, the city placed the ballot measures on the ballot without a full disclosure to voters of the environmental impacts that could be created by the city’s own measures.” 

The lawsuit states that the city offered a 12-day-long public comment period in July, noticeably shorter than the requirement of no fewer than 30 days under the California Environmental Quality Act.  

The lawsuit also seeks to have Measure J, which would amend the city’s charter to prevent the City Council from expanding water and sewer services outside city limits unless authorized to do so by the people or by the state’s Local Agency Formation Commission, invalidated on federal and state constitutional grounds. 

UC attorneys maintain that the city is contractually obligated to provide water to all parts of the campus, including the North Campus where roughly 35 percent of the growth proposed in the university’s 2005 long-range development plan would take place. The North Campus is located outside city limits and would thus, if Measure J passes, not receive city water and sewer services unless the university has alleviated the impact of that growth to the satisfaction of the people of Santa Cruz. 

UC wants to expand the Santa Cruz campus to accommodate an increased demand for higher education in California over the next 15 years, but supporters of the ballot measures are wary. 

“We need to send a strong and legally enforceable message to the university administration that this community will only support growth that is sustainable,” states the argument in favor of Measure I, which is supported by Santa Cruz Vice Mayor Emily Reilly, among others. “Both the campus and the local community will benefit from requiring UCSC to only grow  

if they can and will mitigate all of the serious impacts of any future expansion.” 

Santa Cruz City Attorney John Barisone said today the lawsuit is unlikely to interfere with the election. 

“I don’t think there is a very good likelihood of the lawsuit being decided before the election,” Barisone said, because the suit was filed too late for a trial to be scheduled before Nov. 7. 

Even if voters pass the measures, the suit asks for a court order to invalidate the growth restrictions on grounds that the city violated the procedural requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act when it neglected to prepare an environmental impact report. 

Barisone said he had not read the suit carefully enough to comment on the likelihood of a court order barring the measures from taking effect retroactively.