Citizen Group Founder Unhappy with UC/Santa Cruz Settlement

By Richard Brenneman
Thursday August 14, 2008 - 08:50:00 AM

While the mayor of Santa Cruz and the chancellor of the city’s University of California campus say they’re delighted with the settlement of their lawsuit over campus expansion plans, Don Stevens, founder of the Coalition to Limit University Expansion (CLUE) isn’t. 

But CLUE agreed to the settlement because it was the best they thought they could get, he said. At least, it forces the  

university to submit its plans for review  

to another independent state body, the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO), which will consider the impacts of the university’s expansion plans. 

And while the courtroom battle is over, Stevens said he and other activists will be closely following the university’s growth plans and speaking out when they think it’s necessary. 

Founder of the saxophone band Nuclear Whales, Stevens has lived in Santa Cruz since 1974 and is a graduate—in biology—of the school he sued, as is Stephan Volker, the Oakland attorney who represented CLUE in the lawsuit and who is also challenging Berkeley’s Memorial Stadium area expansion plans. 

“We both love the university,” he said, “but we’re concerned about the direction it’s taking.” 

Stevens said the university has overtaxed both the natural and the built environments, and has adopted growth plans that will threaten endangered species, destroy wetlands and consume the scarce resources of an isolated community that depends entirely on local supplies for all its water needs. 

The inspiration to create CLUE came when the University of California prepared its draft environmental impact report (DEIR) for its latest Long Range Development Plan (LRDP) for the Santa Cruz campus, covering the years 2005-2020. 

“A friend who had been involved with the previous LRDP process and had been very dissatisfied alerted me to the significance of what was happening,” Stevens said. 

A similar group, BLUE—Berkeleyans for a Livable University Environment—was formed while the Berkeley campus was preparing its own LRDP. The organization attempted to retain some city control over impacts on adjacent neighborhoods of UCB expansion. While CLUE members have now opted to settle with UC over the UCSC plan, dissatisfied BLUE members have challenged the city of Berkeley’s settlement of a similar case. They lost at the trial court level, and their lawsuit is now before the state Court of Appeal. 

But Santa Cruz critics of UC, including both CLUE and the city of Santa Cruz, won a major trial court victory in their own case, a ruling that the school and its board of regents had failed to adequately address the impacts of their development plans in the Santa Cruz LRDP Environmental Impact Report. 

And though water, traffic and the need for housing were issues in both cities—and the subjects of the Santa Cruz court ruling—there are significant differences in the growth impacts of the two campuses. 

The 1988 Santa Cruz campus LRDP set goals for the university to house 70 percent of its undergrads, half of its graduate students and 25 percent each of existing and new staff. But the actual figures for the 2003-2004 academic year accounted for less than half of the undergraduates, 15 percent of graduate students, and less than 6 percent of new faculty and staff combined, according to figures compiled in 2006. 

UC Berkeley has ruled out construction of new housing on campus, displacing dorms and apartments into the surrounding city. Unlike the Berkeley campus, which is in the heart of a metropolis with little undeveloped land around it, the Santa Cruz campus has a considerable amount of open land that it has targeted for expansion—a project that includes what Stevens called the largest logging project in Santa Cruz County history. One hundred fifty acres of forest are planned to be cleared for construction of some of the four million square feet of new buildings contemplated by the UC Santa Cruz LRDP. 

“We get no state water,” Stevens said. “We depend on groundwater and runoff, and we’ve already had cutbacks.” New growth at the university, even within the bounds defined in the settlement, will result in serious shortages by 2015, he said. 

“Even with the conservation measures in the settlement, how much growth can you have in a coastal community? The town is largely built out already and has very limited resources. We’re maxed out as a town, but the university keeps growing and growing.” 

Taking water out of the ground isn’t the only issue. Unlike the Berkeley campus, UCSC doesn’t have a groundwater discharge system that runs into the city’s system. 

“The campus is built on a Karst formation,” Stevens said, referring to a limestone topography characterized by sinkholes and caves carved out of the soft stone by acidic runoff. “They divert all their runoff into sinkholes,” he said. 

As for traffic impacts, while the Santa Cruz settlement provides for improvement of intersections and sets fees for increased car trips above set levels, the traffic increase allowed by the agreement will prevent the Santa Cruz basin from meeting the carbon footprint reductions mandated by state law to be achieved by 2020, he said. 

Further, the university can invoke immunity from regulation by the regional air quality district and many other regulatory agencies. This worries Stevens, in part because the university’s plans for building in the upper campus area—where the bulk of new growth is to be concentrated 500 feet above the existing campus—include wetland areas, normally barred if the developer were a private corporation rather than a public university. 

It wouldn’t be the first time the university has built on wetlands, he said, but he vowed to work to make certain that the university at least delineates the boundaries of all campus wetland areas. 

Stevens said the plans also threaten endangered creatures—including what may be a new species of giant blind cave-dwelling salamander—living in and around a canyon that will suffer what the university described as significant unavoidable impacts. The final EIR rejected a plea on their behalf from one of UC Santa Cruz’s own scientists.  

Why then did CLUE settle? 

“It was a very complicated and exhausting mediation process that’s been going on since last September,” he said. “My wife, who is a former editor, said to make sure I said this wasn’t the best deal we could get. It was the only deal.”