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Protection of Natural Habitat Concerns Those at "Water, Desal and the UCSC Expansion" Talk
On May 16, the Student Environmental Center at UC Santa Cruz hosted a talk at College Eight titled, "Water, Desal, and the UCSC Expansion". Rick Longinetti of Santa Cruz Desal Alternatives spoke, outlining the downsides of the proposed water desalination facility in Santa Cruz, and suggesting that one of the main forces behind the desal proposal has come from pressure exerted by UCSC. The university hopes to grow by developing 120-240 acres of the upper campus, which will require a dramatic increase in water supplied by the City of Santa Cruz. However, development in the upper campus will, according to Longinetti, depend on the outcome of an upcoming decision that, if confirmed by the Local Agency Formation Commission on June 6, will limit UCSC's access to water. [scroll down for the audio file of the talk]
"Cutting out over 100 acres of forest and chaparral to put in a new campus would be about my last choice of the various options, so it is beyond me that the university could have that be their first choice. There is so little wildness left, the mountain lions alone have so little space that they can exist in." --Comment at the talk by UCSC professor Jude Todd.
As mandated in the most recent Long Range Development Plan (LRDP) of 2005, UCSC is planning to expand its physical facilities by three million square feet, which will increase the overall campus size by 75%. A portion of the new development will occur on the exisiting campus footprint, and in addition, the university hopes to expand into the forest of the upper campus. Two new colleges are planned to be built on 240 acres of natural habitat, and an additional paved entrance will be created that will cross over the Cave Creek watershed, which is presently undeveloped.
In line with the LRDP's projected growth goals, the university filed an application with the city aimed at securing a dramatic increase in water supply for the upper campus that would roughly double the whole campus' current usage. However, also governing the process of approving this requested extension in water service is the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO), which is in charge of approving extensions to water and sewage service areas within the county. LAFCO has said that the university may expand into the upper campus forest, but the agency has set a tentative condition that there may be no water service in that area until the city has resolved a fish habitat issue with the federal governement.
On June 6, LAFCO is scheduled to meet and vote on confirming this condition, and Longinetti suggested that community members interested in the protection of the UCSC upper campus should attend the meeting and voice their concerns. "If their decision is confirmed on June 6, it is likely that the plans to build in the north campus will be stalled...at the very least it would take many years to get around LAFCO and this decision," he said.
A representative of the university administration, Dean Fitch, responded briefly to Longinetti's presentation. Fitch is in charge of physical environment planning at UCSC, and he managed the 2005 LRDP planning process.
The subject of the protection of the UCSC upper campus was a concern of many of the evening's attendees. A graduate student in Anthropology questioned Fitch about the UC system's mandate on growth, and the possibility of planning any future growth of the UCSC campus to go towards the construction of an "urban campus", to be located downtown possibly. Fitch pondered, "Why don't we develop another campus downtown? That's kind of an academic question...If the campus administration said, 'Dean, I want you to start planning for a campus downtown'...I would begin that process."
Fitch, who himself was a student at UCSC in the early 1970s, was quick to defend the pattern of growth that has occurred at UCSC over the last four decades. During that time period enrollment increased from 7000 in the early 1970s to its current figure of more than 16,000 students. Questioning those in the room about the relative "beauty" of UCSC, he asked, "How many people think the campus is kind of a beautiful place now." Most in the room raised their hands reluctantly, sensing the question was a set-up. "So if that's the case, and the campus when I was here was less than 7000 students, less than half of the [present] building square footage, and I said that it was a beautiful campus then..."
"But we are not talking about the beauty of it," interrupted the graduate student in Anthropology who spoke earlier, "We are talking about life systems," and many other people in the room responded in what appeared to be an insulted manner to the proposition by Fitch that they were concerned primarily with the visual beauty of the campus.
Fitch warned, "The access for all of you to be here would not have happened."
The graduate student in Anthropology again responded sharply to Fitch's proposition, "I'm happy not being here and I am also happy [about] people not being here in the future. I am also happy for nine billion peope not being on the planet, so to kind of invoke the inevitibilty of expansion seems to me to be a really dangerous argument." He concluded, "These kinds of arguments about the inevitibilty of growth seem to me so destructive and complacent with contemporary capitalism, and all of these other nasty things that are ruining us...Let's just say...we are going to go on to something else. We have a new paradigm, it's anti-growth...Here we have an opportunity to stop 240 acres from going away."
According to Longinetti, it is these same pressures in support of growth that are fueling support for the desal plant, which if built, would create a number of environmental issues. 13 times the electricity is required to produce a gallon of desal water compared to the current water supply, and the electricity would come from PG&E. The initial construction of the facility is projected to cost well over $100 million, and plants like the one proposed are highly complex, technologically difficult to repair, and they are prone to system failures. In addition, the plant would suck in seven million gallons a day of ocean water and kill everything living that is contained in it.
Longinetti wants the Santa Cruz water department to become an agency that influences and advances human culture. "It's how we think about water, how we relate to it," he said. "Do we consider it something that is essential and valuable, or do we kind of not think about it, take it for granted, waste it and so on.... How do we make those cultural shifts?"
The matter of UCSC's water application will be back on the LAFCO agenda at its June 6, 2012 meeting, which begins at 9:30 a.m. at the Santa Cruz County Government Center at 701 Ocean Street.
For more information about the Santa Cruz Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO), see:
For more information about the Student Environental Center at UC Santa Cruz, see:
For more information about Santa Cruz Desal Alternatives, see:
Right to Vote on Desal is still gathering petition signatures, for more info, see:
Gathering signatures for the Right to Vote on Desal petition.
For more info, see: