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East Meadow Update 5/15/23

by East Meadow Action Committee (EMAC)
There has been a significant new development in the long-running struggle over SHW and the East Meadow: a month after the UCSC administration got the Regents to approve a proposal that was supposed to make the project immune to litigation, a group (not EMAC) filed suit not only to invalidate that action, but also to bar UCSC from proceeding with the project until all pending litigation has been resolved. We of course cannot predict how this latest litigation by others will play out, but it is clear that in the near-term the project will, once again, not be able to proceed. This is an example of the pattern we have seen many times throughout the tragedy of errors that have plagued this project. We take this occasion to provide a quick review of that pattern.

On March 16 and 17 of this year, the UCSC administration asked the Regents to re-approve the part of the Student Housing West (SHW) project that is in the East Meadow, raising its price tag substantially, dropping the private developer, changing the nature of the financing, and making other changes, all so it could proceed with the project without regard to pending litigation. And the Regents complied with no debate, our opposition notwithstanding.

The UCSC administration made no bones about what their request to the Regents was all about: “Using the proposed campus-managed capital project delivery approach allows the project to move forward without further delay from ongoing litigation.”

One month later a group other than EMAC turned the Regents’ approval into the opportunity to file new litigation blocking the project.

This is the story of the UCSC administration and the SHW project: over and over again they make a bad decision but justify it as the best way to get the project built sooner rather than later. Then it turns out that bad decision just added yet more delay to the project. They keep getting a result they opposite to what they want and expect.

The pattern goes back to the Fall of 2017. Rather than take an estimated delay of 6 months to responsibly resolve a habitat issue, the administration decided to cut the 26 acre site on the west side in half and add 17 acres of the East Meadow. But they had done none of the planning and environmental surveys necessary on that site, which promptly cost them a year of delay. To save 6 months they lost a year, not to mention the subsequent years of delay due to litigation fueled by opposition to destruction of the East Meadow.

In the Summer of 2018, it was apparent that there was huge opposition to the East Meadow portion of the project, including multiple credible threats of litigation. The administration could have reverted to their original preferred plan, entirely on 26 acres on the west side of campus, and avoided all that. Instead they decided to forge ahead, in the belief that that would get the project built sooner. That decision is causing at least a half dozen years of delay.

In the Fall of 2020, following a court verdict disallowing the Regents previous approval of the project (in a case brought by EMAC), a new Chancellor had the opportunity to put this project on track to construction and completion. Because of the court verdict, she had to take the project back to the Regents anyway. Why not put before the Regents the original version of the project, UCSC’s original preferred version, entirely on the west side of campus? Why not avoid the entire East Meadow issue and get the project built? But she was persuaded to persist in the version of the project that would destroy the East Meadow, in the mistaken belief that doing so would get the project to construction and completion sooner. But in reality, it promptly and predictably had the opposite effect: more litigation by multiple litigants, and more delay.

By the Spring of 2023 the chosen builder of the East Meadow portion had gone bankrupt and the original budget was no longer anywhere near enough, so once again it was time to go back to the Regents. Again, that could have been a good time for a proposal to revert to the original plan, entirely on the west side of campus, but instead the administration chose to continue with the East Meadow version, in the belief that that would somehow get them clear of litigation. Instead, they have once again achieved the opposite of what they intended – they now face more litigation rather than less.

The administration defends itself by saying the students need additional housing and they need it as soon as possible. We agree, but note that the administration’s decisions consistently have the opposite effect: more delay rather than less.

In our view this has never been about opposing housing: it has been a contest between two versions of the project, each of which would provide exactly the same amount of additional housing:

--Version One is to put nearly 3000 beds of student housing, plus 140 units of new family student housing and childcare facility, on 26 acres on the west side of campus. This was the administration’s preferred version from Spring 2016 until Fall 2017.

--Version Two is to put nearly 3000 beds of housing on 13 acres on the west side of campus, and put 140 units of new family student housing and a childcare facility on 17 acres of the East Meadow. This has been the administration’s preferred version beginning in the Fall of 2017. It has also been the source of most of the controversy, opposition, and delay.

From the student perspective, the main difference is that Version One could have been completed by now, but Version Two can no longer be completed before 2029 at the earliest.

The contest between these two versions began as a debate about values. How could the administration abandon UCSC’s own planning principles that kept development out of the East Meadow for over half a century? How could they not understand the value of that initial view up the campus as one came in through the main entrance? How could they not understand the value of the view from various colleges and academic buildings out over the sweep of the meadow to the town, the bay, and the Monterey peninsula beyond? How could they not take the strong advice of their own Design Advisory Board to preserve the open space of the meadow? How could they not see the value of their unique campus, unequalled by any other college or university?

All those issues remain, but another set of issues has joined them, all around the question of management. When you repeatedly set an objective, and repeatedly choose a course to arrive at that objective, yet that course always arrives at the opposite of your objective, why wouldn’t you reconsider your approach? Why wouldn’t you learn from experience and take a different course, one that would actually get you to your chosen objective, in this case more student housing, the sooner the better?
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