By Bob Egelko
A long-planned campus expansion at UC Santa Cruz has hit a snag in a state appeals court, which says the city should not have approved the plan without considering alternatives that would drain less water from its dwindling supply.
The proposed North Campus, approved by the UC Board of Regents in 2006, would cover 240 acres outside the city limits and increase the university’s 17,000-student enrollment by about 2,500. City officials initially opposed the expansion but accepted a 2008 settlement in which UC Santa Cruz agreed to limit enrollment and house more students on campus.
The city, which provides water and sewer services to the university, approved an environmental study in 2010 that acknowledged its water supplies would be inadequate for the expansion in the event of a future drought. But it said shortages could be addressed through conservation and construction of a desalination plant.
Santa Cruz’s application to provide water service outside its borders still needs approval from the county Local Agency Formation Commission. But another obstacle surfaced Tuesday when the Sixth District Court of Appeal in San Jose said the city had failed to conduct a thorough study.
The environmental review should have considered the option of a smaller expansion or one that would use less water, the court said in a 3-0 ruling. The city’s water sources already “face threats in the future,” the justices said, and would come under further strain from supplying the expanded campus.
The court ordered Santa Cruz to conduct a further study, which could endorse the original project or a lesser alternative.
“I don’t think it’s an insurmountable task” to meet the court’s objections, said Sabrina Teller, a lawyer for the city. Either the city or the UC regents could appeal the ruling to the state Supreme Court.
Stephan Volker, lawyer for a group called Habitat and Watershed Caretakers that challenged the project, said the ruling could induce Santa Cruz to scale down its commitment to the campus expansion or reject it entirely.
“I think there is public concern about the increasingly inadequate water supply,” he said. “Why are we expecting Santa Cruz to absorb as much growth as other (UC) campuses? It’s the only campus that doesn’t have outside sources of water.”
The ruling can be viewed at http://bit.ly/SfykTF.
— Reach Bob Egelko at firstname.lastname@example.org