Monday, March 20, 2006

Enviropolitics and the LRDP

Despite the dearth of scientific studies, the probability that students who venture into the wilderness of UC Santa Cruz will try marijuana, witness or participate in First Rain, and support a number of “token” liberal causes – especially the environmental ones – is extremely high. No university is greener than Santa Cruz, and students take pride in the fact that walking through redwoods en route to the library is a mundane occurrence. It comes as no surprise then when local politicians and community groups infiltrate the campus to push students into accepting the Long Range Development Plan (LRDP), which provides a rough blueprint for campus growth until 2020, as something calamitous that must be combated. When presented with a bulldozer or a redwood tree, students will choose the redwood tree. Reducing the complexities to just this and opposing the LRDP on the basis that it sanctions environmental degradation, however, is yet another example of misguided liberalism.

On Sunday, March 12, a few students met with the intention of hiking through upper campus to learn about how the LRDP would affect the area. Organized by the author of this piece, former Social Action Intern of Santa Cruz Hillel, the hike was cancelled due to rain and thunderstorms and the sparse attendance that was the inevitable result; a discussion, however, ensued.

Led by Matt Waxman, an architecture major so knowledgeable in the plan that he taught a course on it during the 2004-2005 school year, the information session was extremely enlightening, eliciting “oh”s and “really?”s from the students present as common myths were debunked. Many students, formerly including the author of this piece, in their efforts to express their pro-environmental sentiments, align themselves with the “pro-pristine forest” group that is entirely anti-growth. Most know very little, and fall ideological prey to the likes of the Coalition for Limiting University Expansion (CLUE). Headed by former banana slug Don Stevens, CLUE has considerable clout in this town, convincing the City Council to reject the 2005-2020 LRDP. What are the counts of indictment?

Some have argued that increasing student enrollment from the current 14,500 to 21,000 would dramatically change the nature of the community by hauling in more wanton drunkenness, shooting already-high housing prices through the roof and past the sky, chopping down redwoods, congesting traffic with 10,500 more vehicular trips daily, and draining limited water supplies. Some argue that this violates the university’s own plan.

The LRDP for 1963, however, projected a university population of 27,500 by 1990, and planned for it accordingly. Upper-campus development was part of the original plan.
While the LRDP is “not a mandate for growth,” according to Waxman, it is a “point of departure” instead. The environmental impact report (EIR) assesses potential effects of the LRDP, to be voted on by the UC Regents in summer 2006. If approved, the 2005 LRDP will supercede the 1988 plan. A commission will examine the draft of the EIR and the public comments to revise the LRDP, which “needs a lot of revision,” says Waxman. But Waxman is hopeful that the final result will be environment-friendly.

Some wince at the thought that upper campus, with its extensive hiking and biking trails network, would become home to several new department buildings and student residential spaces. Why not just build on the hills where the cows roam on lower campus, some wonder? Why deplete the area of redwoods?

Much of the area “where the cows roam” is home to a federally-listed endangered specie – the Ohlone tiger beetle. This tiny emerald green predator is protected in areas around campus and would remain protected from future development, but currently the greatest threat to the species is mountain bikers, according to biologist Mark Oatney. Also, much of the land near the base of campus is off-limits to development because it is under the jurisdiction of the California Coastal Commission Authority and not UC.

Waxman believes that building in upper campus will continue UCSC’s tradition of stewardship and sustainability. “[We] want to create places, not voids,” Waxman said. If we clutter the campus with more department buildings and campus housing where it currently exists, we will compromise the environmental aesthetic design of UCSC, getting rid of the “open spaces in between.”

Although the small liberal arts atmosphere of UCSC initially attracted me and the LRDP would obscure this vision, as long as people continue to live and populate the earth (how dare they!) the university must continue to grow. LRDP is not something we can prevent; it is only something we can amend. True environmentalists would join a committee to ensure that the LRDP is following a green path – complete with solar energy and recycled building materials – rather than spend money and energy on frivolous lawsuits.


Blogger G-D SQUAD said...

First they came for the tiger beetle!

People interested in resisting further destruction of the UCSC forest might want to check this out.

Mon Mar 20, 04:13:00 PM 2006  

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