Making difficult choices to provide campus housing

To: UC Santa Cruz Community

From: Chancellor George Blumenthal and Campus Provost/Executive Vice Chancellor Marlene Tromp

UC Santa Cruz, hidden away in redwoods and overlooking the Monterey Bay, is unlike any other university. We take great pride in our stunning natural environment. Within the context of this beautiful setting, we must weigh carefully the needs of our students against the concerns that come with any construction project.

Today, the state finds itself in the midst of an unprecedented housing crisis. In our own community, there is a lack of housing, and what is available is prohibitively expensive and in some instances simply unsafe. As campus leaders, we have developed bold plans to try to help our students—plans that will also aid the greater community.

Just over a year ago, we announced we were embarking on an ambitious plan to provide significantly more on-campus housing options for our current students. While we currently house about 53 percent of our undergraduate students, we are seeking to build housing to support thousands more. What we’re calling Student Housing West will also allow us to ease overcrowding in existing dorms, and to restore some of the lounge space we have converted to sleeping space in recent years to meet serious need.

All told, Student Housing West (SHW) will provide about 3,000 beds, which we believe will pull students who are now in the local housing market back to campus, easing pressure on the greater community’s housing needs. SHW is currently the single largest housing project underway in Santa Cruz County.

We anticipate breaking ground on the project this summer and completing it by fall 2022.

The project has several components. New housing for upper-division undergraduates and graduate students will be built at the current location of Family Student Housing.

Our Family Student Housing program—designed to support the unique needs of students who are also raising children—will be relocated to 12.5 acres at Hagar and Coolidge drives, across the street from existing employee housing. An expanded child care facility, designed to serve faculty, staff, and students, will also go there. This Hagar site has raised concern among some members of our campus community.

Choosing this location, after seeking feedback from administrative and faculty leadership, was not an easy decision. Our initial plan was to build the entire SHW project on the west side of campus. A preliminary environmental review, however, revealed significant challenges with the westside location that would have entailed a much longer timeline, with no certainty of a positive outcome, both of which would have seriously negative impacts on our students and the Santa Cruz community.

We considered several alternate sites for housing, but other constraints made those spots infeasible.

This Hagar location makes sense for a number of reasons: It is near existing employee housing, and it’s close to the main campus entrance, making it easy for parents to drop off children.

The site was also designated as Campus Resource Land in our 2005 LRDP, while large swaths of meadow to the north were set aside as protected landscapes. The LRDP envisioned Campus Resource Lands being maintained in their natural state for future use, requiring additional environmental review and an LRDP amendment if development were proposed. The efforts associated with environmental review and the amendment are underway.

While we understand the concerns, we carefully thought about the best path forward to meet the needs of our campus.

By university standards, this project is moving fast. But the longer we wait, the more construction costs escalate, and these costs are ultimately borne by our students. In the meantime, students will continue to struggle to find safe and affordable housing in the overheated local rental market.

Deciding to build anywhere on our iconic campus is difficult—and we have faced similar scrutiny in the past when proposing projects. Sites are not chosen hastily or without deliberation. We look to continue our tradition of building respectfully. As with all campus buildings, architects will design the complex to blend in with the natural landscape.

All development on campus is a balancing act. We remain committed to respecting our unique landscape, while also serving the needs of our students and helping them confront the real and immediate challenges they face, particularly in regard to housing.

More information about Student Housing West, including frequently asked questions, is available online. Sign up for email updates.