Let's not turn back the clock on town-gown relations

(The following op-ed appeared in the Santa Cruz Sentinel on June 20, 2010)

By Mike Rotkin and George Blumenthal

After years of conflict and thousands of dollars in legal fees, relations between the city and UC Santa Cruz are not only stable, they are positive and productive.

Which is why we are frustrated that a small contingent appears determined to undermine the landmark settlement agreement reached two years ago this summer.

That agreement paved the way for a new era of cooperation, providing the City and County of Santa Cruz with long-sought concessions from the university to protect neighborhoods, ease pressure on local housing, reduce traffic congestion, and conserve water.

Chief among those concessions was the university's commitment to provide housing for a larger share of its students on campus. UCSC agreed to increase the percentage of students housed on campus by supplying accommodations for an unprecedented 67 percent of enrollment above 15,000 students.

Housing more students on campus means fewer trips to town, less competition for limited rental housing, reduced impacts on neighborhoods, and lower per-capita water use.

We are proud to have helped shepherd this breakthrough agreement, which recognized that our futures are intertwined. During seven months of negotiations, representatives of the city, county, university, the Coalition for Limiting University Expansion (CLUE), and other parties listened to each other's concerns, overcame profound differences, and in the process built a solid foundation for a better future.

In an era when government effectiveness often takes a back seat to divisive posturing, the settlement stands as an increasingly rare example of common-sense problem solving.

The backdrop, of course, is that UCSC has an obligation to make room for its share of today's kindergarten, middle-school, high-school, and community-college students - all of whom deserve the same access to a UC education that their parents enjoyed.

And yet the university's ability to provide housing for more of these students hinges on the extension of water and sewer service to the northern portion of campus. Because north-campus infrastructure is the linchpin of the housing compact, the city and university agreed to promptly begin the process of applying to the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) for the extension. Without approval, the university's commitment to offer housing to more students on campus will be nullified.

With so much at stake for both the community and the campus, we are disheartened opponents now seem intent on unraveling this "win-win" agreement. If they succeed, the campus will be obligated to accommodate only 50 percent of undergraduates and 25 percent of graduate students.

Chipping away at this landmark agreement would be a shame for several other reasons.

. The university shares the community's commitment to environmental stewardship: When the city asked its customers to reduce water consumption, UCSC cut water use by 32 percent-more than twice the mandated reduction. An increasing number of students, staff, and faculty commute to campus by bicycle, carpool, vanpool, bus, and bike shuttle.

. In the nearly two years since the settlement agreement was reached, city and campus planners have worked collaboratively. Both sides have eagerly honored their obligations and enjoyed the newfound spirit of cooperation that infuses their working relationships.

. The settlement has had a spillover effect, spawning new educational and economic collaborations between UCSC and the City of Santa Cruz Redevelopment Agency, among others.

We've demonstrated the ability to meet our collective challenges with collaborative solutions. Rather than turning back the clock, let's build on that progress.


Mike Rotkin is the mayor of the City of Santa Cruz; George Blumenthal is the chancellor of the University of California, Santa Cruz.