MERCED, CA— In a significant milestone for the development of the UC Merced campus, two committees of the University of California Regents today voted to approve several key planning and development items that will keep development on track for the opening of the campus in fall 2004.
"The actions taken today will enhance educational access and economic opportunity for the San Joaquin Valley, provide for preservation of more than 34 square miles of natural habitat in eastern Merced County, and create a model for sustainable growth in the region," said California Governor Gray Davis, who is an ex officio Regent. "This is a wonderful day for California, and especially for the citizens of the San Joaquin region."
The Regents committees recommended approval of the Long Range Development Plan (LRDP) for the new UC Merced and certification of the campus environmental impact report (EIR). The two committees involved in the action — the Committee on Grounds and Buildings and the Committee on Finance — recommended that the full Board of Regents approve the measures at its meeting tomorrow.
"This has been a milestone day for the citizens of California and the educational community," said Regent Joanne C. Kozberg, former chair of the Board's Special Committee on UC Merced. "The UC Regents have long recognized the need for a greater presence by the University in the San Joaquin Valley, which is the largest population center in the state not currently served by a UC campus."
Added UC President Richard C. Atkinson: "This is a significant moment for the University, as we have not built a new campus since the early 1960s. Because of an expected demographic upsurge, the University of California will need to absorb an additional 60,000 students this decade. UC Merced will play a critical role in providing continuing access to the University for these students."
The LRDP guides the physical development of the campus from the 2002 groundbreaking to full build-out sometime after 2030. It articulates the primary vision and underlying ideas framing the siting, layout, and character of the new campus.
Carol Tomlinson-Keasey, Chancellor of UC Merced, said, "The Regents' enthusiastic approval of the LRDP and our vision for campus development is very encouraging. We now look forward to building the nation's first major research university of the 21st century."
The environmental impacts of the proposed campus construction and development are assessed in the final EIR, published earlier this month. The 2000-page document describes the conservation and mitigation program that will soon result in the preservation of more than 22,000 acres [or 34.4 square miles] of vernal pool habitat in eastern Merced County with thousands of additional acres slated to be preserved in coming years through a conservation easement fund created by the Governor and the State Legislature in 1999.
Environmental groups and land preservation groups, including The Nature Conservancy, Audubon California, and the American Farmland Trust, hailed the action.
Graham Chisholm, California Executive Director of The Nature Conservancy, said, "The vernal pool habitat in the state has been under pressure from population growth and other factors for decades. To assist in preserving our natural heritage, The Nature Conservancy has been involved in acquiring conservation easements in Merced County since the 1980s. The Nature Conservancy supports the new conservation efforts taking place in eastern Merced County as part of the University of California, Merced campus."
Dan Taylor, State Director of Audubon California added: "We are impressed with what the University has done over the last year to better protect important habitat areas. We look forward to working with UC Merced to resolve remaining issues and to get the campus underway. Clearly, the youth and the environment of the Central Valley stand to be the big winners."
John McCaull, California Regional Director of the American Farmland Trust added: "The agricultural community of Merced County welcomes the UC to the neighborhood. We are looking to the UC to help Merced County craft a plan for community development that protects prime agricultural land while allowing appropriate urban growth in the vicinity of the campus and the City of Merced."
Added Kathleen Crookham, member of the Merced County Board of Supervisors. "The University is part of a forward-looking initiative that carefully integrates the campus within the County of Merced's general plan. We're all committed to sustainable growth through the minimization of sprawl. I think the campus strikes an appropriate balance between the need to preserve our local natural resources while providing educational access for the children of the region."
The Regents committee also recommended approval of infrastructure plans for the first phase of the development, including the Library & Technology building, Classroom building, and Science & Engineering building. The infrastructure will provide the necessary link to county and city services such as water, electricity and waste treatment.
Lastly, the Regents committees recommended the approval of funds to build the Garden Suites (student apartment suites) and the Lakeview Dining facility. The Garden Suites will consist of approximately 130 apartment suites, also called residence halls that are a combination of single, double, and triple rooms, a dining/living area, efficiency kitchens, and compartmentalized bathroom(s). Consistent with the UC Merced food services plan, a centralized Lakeview Dining facility of approximately 11,000 assignable square feet will serve the meal needs of on-campus residents and commuting students, faculty and staff.
UC Merced is the 10th campus of the University of California system. In partnership with the people of the San Joaquin Valley and of California, UC Merced will create a multi-cultural community of scholars and students that benefits from unique new methods of leveraging technology to create and share knowledge.
The university will serve students in three ways that complement the changing needs of today's society: 1) a residential campus serving 25,000 students when complete; 2) special educational centers throughout the San Joaquin Valley; and 3) cooperative agreements with the California Community College system.