Two ballot measures approved by Santa Cruz voters in November appear to have further strained the already difficult relationship between the city and the University of California.
One ballot measure requires the extension of water or sewer services to new areas — such as UC Santa Cruz’s North Campus — to be put to a vote. The second measure prohibits the city from providing services to the university unless UC fully implements measures to mitigate environmental impacts of expansion. Both measures passed by greater than 3-to-1 ratios.
The university filed a lawsuit in August in hopes of blocking the measures from the ballot, but the election went forward. The university will apparently resume its litigation now that voters have approved the measures.
“The Santa Cruz community is understandably concerned about issues related to UCSC growth,” Acting Chancellor George Blumenthal said after the election. “Unfortunately, these ballot measures will only serve to inhibit the ability of the city and the university to work together.”
Other recently filed lawsuits may also inhibit a working relationship. In October, the city and Santa Cruz County sued the university over the environmental impact report for the UCSC long range development plan that the UC Board of Regents approved in September. There was also a lawsuit filed earlier this year by the group Coalition for Limiting University Expansion (CLUE) that alleges runoff from two campus construction sites violated the Clean Water Act. The city has joined CLUE in that litigation.
Santa Cruz is a company town in which the university is by far the largest presence and employer. More UC Santa Cruz graduates stay in town than at any other UC campus. And it’s not uncommon for the City Council or other city panels to contain UC employees. Yet the relationship between local government and the state-run university may be more strained in Santa Cruz than anywhere else in California.
Longtime Santa Cruz residents point to the early-1960s deal that brought UC to the coastal city. At that time, UC envisioned a small campus for a few thousand undergraduates amongst the redwoods on the edge of town. Since then, UC Santa Cruz has evolved into a significant research university with 15,000 students. The long range development plan envisions more growth, as the entire UC system tries to keep pace with rising enrollment demands. The 15-year plan, which is similar to a general plan, would accommodate 4,500 additional students — plus related faculty and staff — with the development of 3.2 million square feet of additional building space, including the first major projects on the lightly developed North Campus.
In approving the plan, the Board of Regents accepted Blumenthal’s recommendation to scale down expansion by 1,500 students and 800,000 square feet of building space. Blumenthal urged the last-minute reductions because of “concerns of the Santa Cruz City Council and other members of the community.”
But it was not enough to satisfy locals. The city’s lawsuit over the EIR cites a number of alleged deficiencies. The EIR acknowledges that implementation of the long-range plan would result in significant unavoidable impacts to air quality, cultural resources, hydrology and water quality, noise, housing, traffic and utilities.
For residents, the biggest issues are traffic and parking in a part of town that is already jammed. “Unlike other campuses, UCSC is isolated from dining and shopping areas, and from freeway access. Only a few residential streets serve it,” CLUE pointed out in a review of the long-range plan. “Students lack adequate campus parking now. UCSC growth will produce Westside gridlock.”
The ballot measures — authored by county Supervisor Mardi Wormhoudt and placed before the electorate by the City Council — were a response to this situation. After the election, Wormhoudt told the Santa Cruz Sentinel, “People and institutions work best together when there is a balance of power, and the passage of Measures I and J helps to even the playing field for the city and the university.”
The university, however, argues that the ballot measures are illegal for a number of reasons. First off, the university contends the city violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) by not preparing an EIR on the ballot measures. Although citizen initiatives are exempt from CEQA review, the state Supreme Court in Friends of Sierra Madre v. City of Sierra Madre, (2001) 25 Cal. 4th 165, ruled that council-generated ballot measures are not exempt (see CP&DR Legal Digest, May 2001)
Santa Cruz did adopt a negative declaration for the two ballot measures, but UC argues that it is inadequate because it does not address foreseeable impacts related to increased groundwater pumping and increased development on portions of the campus within the city limits and, therefore, within the city’s water and sewer service area.
The university further argues that the ballot measures break 1960s contracts in which the city agreed to provide water and sewer services for the entire campus. The university contends those agreements also bar one of the ballot measure’s requirements that the city and university undergo a Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) process — and receive voter approval — for the extension of water and sewer to the North Campus, a part of the 2,000-acre campus that lies outside the city limits.
Santa Cruz County LAFCO Executive Officer Patrick McCormick said he has had conversations with UC and the city, but no applications have been filed. He said his reading of the ballot measure was that it “didn’t substantially change the law. It was a statement of intent.”
There are hints that UC, the city, the county and CLUE may enter into far-reaching negotiations to avoid protracted courtroom fights. But, at this point, those talks are difficult to envision.
In a July letter to the city, University Counsel Kelly Drumm vowed: “With or without the initiatives, university enrollment at the Santa Cruz campus will continue to grow to accommodate the State of California’s demand for higher education. … If the city denies water service to the North Campus, the university will find alternative means of accommodating the increased enrollment.”
Two months after receiving that letter, the City Council voted to spend an extra $100,000 on legal battles with UC. Now that voters have overwhelmingly stated their opposition to further UCSC growth, it may be even harder for the city to back down.