LOS ANGELES, CA — In a significant milestone for the development of the UC Merced campus, 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' actions ensures acquisition of the UC Merced campus site, approval of the Long Range Development Plan (LRDP), certification of the campus environmental impact report (EIR), and creation of a new non-profit company to create a planned development of housing and services next to the campus.
"This has been a milestone day for the citizens of California and the educational community," said Regent Joanne C. Kozberg, who chairs 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 EIR, which was finalized 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."
With resources provided by a $12 million grant from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the Regents approved the acquisition of the 7,030-acre Virginia Smith Trust (VST) lands about 2.5 miles northeast of the City of Merced. The University will set aside 5,030 acres of the area purchased as a conservation preserve to protect sensitive vernal pool habitat in perpetuity. The remaining 2,000 acres will be set aside for the proposed campus and will include a 750-acre natural reserve of vernal pool habitat protected from development and to be used for scientific research.
"The University is part of a forward-looking initiative that carefully integrates the campus within the County of Merced's general plan," said Kathleen Crookham, member of the Merced County Board of Supervisors. "We're all committed to sustainable growth through the minimization of sprawl. I think the campus strikes an appropriate balance between the needs to preserve our local natural resources while providing educational access for the children of the region."
The University Community that will occupy about 1,240 acres just south of the Merced campus was also part of the meeting's agenda. The Regents authorized creation of a non-profit limited liability company, called the University Community Land Company, LLC, which allows the University and the VST to move ahead in developing this area. The joint venture is a 50/50 partnership, and was formed to enhance the quality of the campus and the adjoining region with a planned community that will serve as a model for "smart" development. The partnership will ensure adherence to principles of urban planning, sustainability, service to the campus, and integration of campus and community life. The VST is a non-profit, educational trust that supports scholarships for college-bound students from Merced.
"Children of the region will benefit directly from this joint venture," said Merced attorney Ken Robbins, who represents the Trust. " Part of the revenue generated from this project will establish more scholarships for local area high school students, thus increasing their access to higher education."
The Regents also approved infrastructure plans for the first phase of the construction including the Library & Technology, Classroom, and Science & Engineering buildings, which reflect the academic disciplines to be offered when the University opens in fall of 2004. The infrastructure will provide the necessary link to county and city services such as water, electricity and waste treatment.
Lastly, the Regents approved 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.
UC Regent John G. Davies — "Although the San Joaquin Valley is widely regarded as one of the breadbaskets of the world, providing rich agricultural products that benefit the entire state and many countries beyond, the region has not seen the benefits of California's economic transformation of the past 20 years. Unemployment rates continue to be double-digit. The creation of the UC Merced campus will provide long-lasting economic benefits to the region, which deserves the economic opportunities enjoyed by the state's other population centers. This is an important day for all families and businesses living in the region."
UC Regent Judith L. Hopkinson — "While the San Joaquin Valley's population is the fastest-growing in California, its graduating high school students attend the current UC campuses at less than half the rate of the rest of the state. It is our hope that this project will provide the children of the region with the educational access that they deserve."
Cruz Bustamante, California Lieutenant Governor and ex officio UC Regent — "The kids of farmers and farm workers will soon have access to a world class education. UC Merced will have a positive, lasting impact on the social and economic culture of the Central Valley."
Aileen Adams, Secretary of the California State and Consumer Services Agency and co-chair of the Governor's Red Team to facilitate the development of the campus — "A Central Valley UC campus will benefit countless students and the environment for generations to come. It will be one of this Administration's most important legacies."
Mary Nichols, Secretary of the California State Resources Agency — "UC Merced not only provides badly needed educational opportunities in the Central Valley, it will also make it possible to protect and conserve the State's largest system of vernal pools and the working landscape that accompanies it."
Dan Taylor, State Director of Audubon California — "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 — "The American Farmland Trust welcomes UC Merced to the Central Valley. We are looking to the UC to help Merced County craft a community development plan that protects prime agricultural land while allowing appropriate urban growth in the vicinity of the campus and the City of Merced."
Gary Condit, US Representative — "UC Merced's final Environmental Impact Report is comprehensive and complete in its analysis of the environmental impacts associated with the campus. In addition to its thoroughness, the proposed campus' EIR provides for more than adequate mitigation measures. I am in strong support of UC Merced and commit to working with the UC and County as we go forward with this fine institution."
Dick Monteith, California State Senator — "The selection of this site in Merced and the thorough planning process reflect many years of preparation for the University of California's 10th campus. The Regents' decisions today will ensure quality higher education for the young people of the San Joaquin Valley and provide many economic opportunities to future generations of the region, ultimately benefiting the entire state."
Dennis Cardoza, California State Assemblymember, 26 thDistrict — "The time has come for our long-neglected corner of California to join the economic prosperity and educational access that others in our great state have enjoyed for so long. UC Merced is the future of Merced County, and we welcome the University of California to our community."
Hub Walsh, Mayor of Merced — "San Joaquin Valley's population is the fastest growing in the state; expected to grow by 60 percent in the next 20 years. Yet, in many counties more than 20 percent of families live below the poverty level. Unemployment rates are about twice the statewide average. UC Merced will bring important and extensive economic benefits — not only to Merced County but also to the entire Central Valley. The University will play an integral role in attracting new industries and promoting entrepreneurial start-ups, as seen in regions where other UC campuses are located."
Ben Duran, President of Merced College — "The preparation and transfer rate of San Joaquin Valley community college students will improve with the presence of UC Merced and its increased collaboration with the region's community colleges. Expanding educational outreach and academic programs for K-12 students are crucial elements in boosting the transfer of community college students to UC Merced and other University of California campuses."