by Andrew Austin, Gaia Intern
photo by Diane Terry
Recently our campus has been conducting something called the “UCSC Future Campus Housing Study” to look into how housing needs to be redeveloped and developed over the next 10 to 20 years. Since late 2014, there have been a few “Stakeholder Engagement Sessions” open to students and faculty, during which some substantial information has been revealed and confirmed.
Besides possible renovations and future development on upper campus, there are plans in the works to build new student housing on the west side of campus. This means the potential “relocation” or destruction of natural habitats and existing structures like the Kresge Garden, Porter Meadows, Trailer Park, and Cave Gulch Natural Reserve. Despite being symbolically protected as Campus Natural Reserves, these lands are owned by the university and can be develop on at any time. But according to a Senior Architect from UCSC Physical Planning and Construction, they are still in the planning phase and “construction would not likely begin until 2018.”
These emerging plans trace back to the university’s long history of development under the guidance of the “Long Range Development Plan” set up by the UC Regents and UCSC founders in 1965. The plan originally called for over a dozen residential colleges, many more classroom buildings, and a third entrance, but growth as usual was diverted in 2013 when the university and city’s Environmental Impact Report for upper campus expansion was successfully invalidated by the community group Habitat and Watershed Caretakers in a lawsuit over its inadequacy. The project would have required an extension of the city’s water service borders, so public pressure and drought awareness have forced campus planners to look towards sites within those borders for now.
In the past when other ecologically and culturally important campus lands have been threatened by campus development plans, such as the redwood forest known as “Elfland” that was cut down to build Colleges Nine and Ten in the 1990s, there has been considerable nonviolent and political resistance from local and student environmental activists and grassroots groups. In the fall of 2013, a group of people with a range of experience working towards the protection of lands around the Santa Cruz Mountains came together to form a new group called Santa Cruz Forest Keepers. To learn more about the group and how they see development at UCSC and beyond, I talked to one of their members Malia:
What is the group currently working on?
The campaign Santa Cruz Forest Keepers is currently focusing on is Save Upper Campus which seeks to permanently protect the land above the university from development, calling for it to be made into an ecological reserve. There are others in the larger Santa Cruz community both individuals and groups who are also working to protect this land in a variety of ways, with whom we strive to have collaborative and mutually supportive relationships with. Different ways that Forest Keepers has been a part of this campaign includes hosting educational events, distributing and creating literature, holding benefit events in solidarity with other land defense projects, rallies and attendance at City Council and LAFCO meetings, music, art, and the Forest Walks Calendar which is out now. There is also a Save Upper Campus website and facebook page for more information.
Why is the protection of undeveloped land in Santa Cruz and elsewhere so important?
These lands that we speak of in Santa Cruz are the occupied lands of the indigenous peoples of this area, the Awaswas speaking Ohlone people. Despite enslavement throughout the California Mission system, government-funded mass murders, rampant disease spread by invading foreigners, the theft of their land, wide spread racism and oppression indigenous people remain committed to the continuation and revitalization of their culture and lifeways. Ohlone lands reach from what is now known as Carmel through San Francisco, lands that have a high property value and have been heavily built upon or claimed as private property. Countless graves, village sites, and sacred sites of the Ohlone people have been desecrated due to the construction of roads and buildings. Their culture is intimately linked to their land. The protection of the graves, village sites and sacred sites that have not been built upon is very important to the continuation and revitalization of their culture. It is important that Ohlone people are supported in maintaining and acquiring access to their ancestral lands and sacred places.
What is commonly referred to as “undeveloped land” is a vast array of intricately woven relationships that have been developing dynamically far beyond the scope of my life or consciousness, and far beyond the written records of this place, rich with histories both of human and non-human creatures. Complex relationships between the waters, fires, soils, plants, fungi, and animals connected to the surrounding lands develop life support systems that have survived periods of intense fires, drought, deforestation, mining, the ousting of species, and many other hardships.
What is called undeveloped is often far more developed than we can ever hope to understand. Developing it with a building–compacting the soil, eradicating species, redirecting water we lose the development that has taken countless lifetimes to create, one that supports the life systems we all depend on. These systems have a wisdom about change that does not belong to one species alone. Biodiversity is critical in this time of changing climate. To support a variety of habitat types helps the survival of species by allowing them places to move to as conditions change. Supporting the land’s ability to develop with the flourishing diversity it longs to supports our collective resilience to drought, fire, changing weather patterns, and other unforeseen challenges. The Santa Cruz Mountains are often referred to as biodiversity hotspot, with upper campus being a key piece to the overall health of this region.
Lands that are developed with forests, grasslands, deserts, chaparral, meadows and waterways are important in this time of change from an ecological standpoint but also from a social standpoint. They are rich with inspiration and knowledge about ways of being that have been lost by our society but remain within us. These other ways of being human in this world are illuminated and nourished when we are among these other life forms.
The development of Upper Campus with new roads and facilities is not a matter of education versus environment rather it is the way in which we are choosing to be educated. We as humans have always been educated by the environment–for we are an important part of the environment, and the lands and waters and other beings are critical to our own survival. When we understand ourselves as an inextricable part of the ‘environment’ the argument of humans versus the environment becomes meaningless. The actual needs of humans are in truth not at odds with the lands that support us, rather they are dependent upon them. I believe that the premise for the conversation about development needs to be re-evaluated and that which would lead us to believe we are at odds with our life support system be sincerely questioned.
How is the situation here in Santa Cruz related to other ecological and political issues in the UC and beyond?
As my involvement continued I began to learn more about the University itself and the position of power it holds not only locally but globally. The UC regents, who are in charge of the UC system have current and historic ties to mining, banking, media, real estate, and the military including nuclear weapons research and manufacturing. I was beginning to understand that this work to stop this development involved far more than just the forests and meadows I had come to care for. The UC has inherent connections to the oppressive power structures that exploit land and people throughout the world, a clear example of this is in the historic and present involvement with nuclear weapons with the Los Alamos and Livermore Labs.
More information on this can be found in the article “The UC: America’s Most Ecocidal ‘Green’ University” by Will Parrish and Darwin Bond-Graham. There are many examples that speak to the UC regents interests and priorities. It is interesting to note that Monica Lozano is on the Board of Regents and is the external director of Bank of America, a corporate bank that has $4.9 billion in student loans. The disregard for students’ needs with continued fee hikes that exasperate their mounting debt, the disregard for the carrying capacity of this land, the cuts in programs that promote diverse and critical thinking, and continued involvement with nuclear facilities are all interrelated and speak to the interests of those who run the university and the agenda they are promoting in the world. Taking a stand against university development on this incredible land calls out the university’s ongoing exploitation of life, and calls into question what is being perpetuated with the university’s unchecked growth- not only ecologically but socially, not only locally but globally.
What might be problematic about the alternative proposals of “sustainable development” and “green buildings”? And what exactly is at stake when building on lands such as upper campus?
It has been my experience that many people who are interested and involved in sustainability, including green building are coming from a place of genuine concern for the land, water, and people’s needs- concerns many of us, who oppose all development on Upper Campus and the lower grasslands also share. I would like to keep sight of this common ground when getting into what I find challenging about some aspects of sustainable development.
The term sustainable is widely used as a green stamp of approval, it suggests those who are using the term are doing the best they can for the “environment.” What is it, though that is being sustained by sustainable development? What I see being sustained is the ability for developers to justify continuing to build while there is a diminishing water supply, decreasing availability of land, continuing loss of species, and increasing public pressure to address the dire situation of our lands and waters.
Developers will make claims that their project is sustainable for a variety of reasons. One way they do this is by claiming that their development has “no significant impact” or is “neutral” because they will build upon these forty acres of forest but “protect” forty acres of forest somewhere else. This argument is on the premise of inevitable development, that everything is slated to be developed at some point by buildings and roads. This framework for thinking is inherently unsustainable. It is ironic that it is used in a sustainability model.
The threatened lands known as Upper Campus are an important wildlife corridor for species such as mountain lions, bobcats and grey foxes. The land’s value is in relation to the surrounding land and the many beings that need this specific place to survive. The unique karst cave system which lies beneath the university is the home of over 70 invertebrate species, six that are not found anywhere else, and two that are federally listed species of concern. The Long Range Development Plan which calls for building on Upper Campus proposes an additional 54 acres of impervious surfaces which would increase sediment and pollution runoff into these complex and mysterious cave systems.
This additional sediment and pollution would also negatively impact ocean bound streams which are home to red legged frogs, southwestern pond turtles, California giant salamanders and a recovering population of central coast steelhead. This land of the Santa Cruz Mountains is a unique and complex set of relationships. Regardless of mitigation measures or green buildings development on upper campus or the lower grasslands would have a profound negative impact on the hundreds of plant, animal, and mushroom species that live there and in the surrounding region. Often the rhetoric of sustainable development distracts from the evidence that shows that development itself is not sustainable for the life and lands in a particular area.
The notion of inevitable development and constant growth is that not only is it in our best interest to continue building even when the land has far exceeded its carrying capacity, but that it is inevitable and the best we can do is sustain the ability to do what is fundamentally unsustainable for as long as possible. This has been clearly shown by UCSC claiming their proposed growth, which would demand an additional 152 million gallons of water per year, is water neutral. They do this by stating they will agree to pay a few thousand additional dollars towards the city’s water conservation for every 85,000 additional gallons that exceeds their yearly average use of 176 million gallons. As evidenced by this current experience of drought and the city’s need to comply with the Endangered Species Act by reducing their diversions of local streams for the health of the salmon and steelhead, these conservation measures are greatly needed even without the expansion of campus. We need to find other ways to implement conservation measures that are not dependent upon agreeing to make our water situation even more precarious.
I believe there to be a lot of power in taking the intentions and desires that are at the heart of sustainability beyond the narrow scope of inevitable development. I believe it to be possible and necessary to sustain and regenerate the life and health of the lands and our communities. Keeping ecosystems intact is critical to this work. I am in no way convinced that we lack the creativity or knowledge to house and care for our human population in a way that is mutually supportive to the other beings that make this life possible, what appears to be lacking is a cultural value system that understands the inherent value of life and its interdependence, rather than understanding it as a commodity to be exploited.
Interested in learning more or getting involved in Santa Cruz Forest Keepers? Please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
We are a grassroots collective and exist because of creativity and very much welcome yours too — ideas, art, music, writing, photography, research, walk leaders, etc.
photo by Diane Terry