After voting to sue the university, Board of Supervisors are now in agreement to allow for negotiations
Santa Barbara County, whose Board of Supervisors decided to sue UCSB over housing issues, is now in a tolling agreement over the litigation.
The tolling agreement is an agreement to pause counter lawsuits to allow for negotiations. The agreement expires on Sept. 28.
In August, the county Board of Supervisors voted to sue UCSB for what supervisors see as the university’s failure to live up to an agreement to provide enough housing for its students.
The agreement was made in the 2010 Long Range Development Plan Mitigation Implementation and Settlement Agreement, which expires in 2025.
“In 2010, when the university approved the development plan, the community was excited about the opportunity to have an agreement between the university and the local government that would mitigate the housing impact at the same time,” Supervisor Gregg Hart told the News-Press. “Historically that has not been the case.
“Since 2012, UCSB has increased enrollment by 5,000 students as well as staff and faculty, but the housing has not been built,” Supervisor Hart said. “Twelve years have passed, and we are living with the impact of it on the community. The important part is that the housing was intended to be delivered as enrollment increased.
“There was nothing that would have prohibited building the housing as described in that plan, other than financial limitations,” Supervisor Hart said.
He added that all the necessary permits and approval were obtained to move forward with development agreed to in the 2010 agreement.
“There is great benefit from the student population. We are really proud that UCSB is a part of the community, and it is a great asset,” said Supervisor Hart.
According to Supervisor Hart’s office, the agreement is for 5,000 student units and 1800 faculty and staff units. Of those, 3,500 student units are still outstanding along with the vast majority of staff and faculty units.
“Injecting those numbers into a very tight housing market lowers vacancies and increases rent. We live in one of the least affordable housing markets in the state,” said Supervisor Hart.
“We need to build more housing across the board due to the housing crisis we face. But the university has an obligation to meet the agreements made to mitigate the housing impact,” said Supervisor Hart.
The News-Press asked Supervisor Hart if Isla Vista, the community next to UCSB and known for its college-age population, is overcrowded.
“The reason Isla Vista exists is to provide housing for UCSB students that the university never provided in the first place,” Mr. Hart said. “Thirty to 40 years ago, that was a huge problem for the community.”
Referring to the 2010 agreement, Supervisor Hart said, “For the first time, the university acknowledged that impact and agreed to mitigate the impact. It solved a long standing problem that had been in place for decades. That is why it is so disappointing to find ourselves in the same place we have always been with enrollment that increases and housing that hasn’t been provided.”
The News-Press asked Supervisor Hart about Munger Hall, a proposed dormitory for UCSB, which has been controversial because of its largely windowless rooms.
“The long range plan had housing or dormitory sites specified, and those sites were cleared environmentally and had coastal commission approval and support from the county and the city of Goleta,” Supervisor Hart said. “I don’t understand why that plan wasn’t constructed, and instead the university is pursuing Munger dorm as the replacement. It is unclear if that proposal will ever be successful.
“There is no timetable to transparency, and no way it will be completed before the LDRP ends,” Mr. Hart said, referring to the 2025 expiration date for the 2010 agreement. “That is bitterly disappointing. There was a plan pursued by everybody, and now we are pursuing something which is controversial at best and it is unclear if it will ever be constructed.
“The most recent negotiations have been focused on the provision of a timetable that would explain when the university plans to deliver on its 2010 promise and we haven’t received any timetable,” said Supervisor Hart.
Kiki Reyes, media relations manager at UCSB, told the News-Press that UCSB “has been involved in extensive good-faith discussions with the county over student housing since experiencing significant and unanticipated undergraduate enrollment increases several years ago at the behest of the state of California. The university and the county have a shared goal of providing more on-campus housing for our students.
“The university remains committed to building more affordable on-campus housing for our students, in addition to the recently completed projects that created an additional 1,500 student housing beds,” Ms. Reyes said in an email. “We look forward to continuing our discussions with the county and are hopeful that any lawsuit does not result in needless and expensive litigation, instead of ongoing collaboration.”