Despite a faculty that includes five Nobel Prize laureates and being ranked in the Top 5 among public universities in the nation, UC Santa Barbara is seldom mentioned in Southern California’s major newspaper, the Los Angeles Times.
But all that changed Nov. 2 when 10 letters to the editor were published in the Times, led by a long opinion piece, “A mega-dorm disaster at UC Santa Barbara” by Dennis McFadden, a consulting architect on UCSB’s Design Review Committee, and an editorial staff opinion.
All missives concentrate on the absence of “real” windows in the 11-story, $1.2 billion dorm UCSB proposes to build on campus, with $200 million contributed by the building’s designer, the billionaire and unsanctioned architect, Charlie Munger, as though this was the only issue at stake.
I have no opinion on the proposed Munger dorm. I’m also unsanctioned.
However, I spent 30 years as a community organizer in and around Isla Vista, the half-square mile of private development embedded within the UCSB campus. I’ve bucked headwinds through five chancellors, and I know where some of the bodies are buried.
What was missing in these 10 letters to the editor and two opinion pieces were any mention of the elephant in the room: UCSB over-enrollment. With its 15,000 to 18,000 residents, most of whom are college students and more than 95% are renters, Isla Vista bears the brunt of rapid enrollment expansion far in excess of the area’s housing supply.
UCSB’s 2010 Long Range Development Plan called for 25,000 total students in 2025; it hit 25, 976 in the fall of 2018 and was 26,179 in 2020, according to the UCSB Office for Budget & Planning. The 2021 data are elusive.
Rapid enrollment increases and their consequences are not new with UCSB. Rents in Isla Vista increased double digits annually from1974 to 1986 as UCSB upped its enrollment to 18,005 from 13,327 — in a period that saw a minimal increase in the local housing supply because of a building moratorium.
It appears the area has entered a similar period. As I write, hundreds of UCSB students are being housed in off-campus hotels for lack of space in Isla Vista or UCSB dorms, both of which appear to be at 100% of capacity.
One can only imagine how rents in Isla Vista — already the most expensive in cost per bedroom in Santa Barbara County — have increased over the past few years.
Meanwhile, the reader has to look beyond the Times to find that 88% of the students like the prototype dorm Munger helped build at the University of Michigan. According to CNN, a poll found that “the building has a rating of 8.8 out of 10 on veryapt.com. Reviewers praise the building’s amenities …”
Almost a week after the initial barrage, the Times dug deeper and found that the real problem was that UCSB was expanding its enrollment beyond the ability of both the campus and surrounding communities to accommodate. (“UC Is at the Tipping Point with Overcrowding” on Nov. 8.)
Earlier this month, the City of Goleta announced it was suing UCSB for its failure to provide adequate housing for its expanding enrollment as it promised in its 2010 Long Range Development Plan.
The bottom line is UCSB needs the 4,500 beds the Munger dorm will supply — with or without real windows — for its relentlessly expanding enrollment, which might exceed 30,000 in its next LRDP (delayed).
But it’s going to be a couple of years of tough sledding as everyone endures the sluggish way the university has responded to this situation.
— Carmen Lodise was twice elected to public office in Isla Vista, helped establish the community’s 23-park system, was a leader in IV’s three failed attempts to secure a cityhood election and its 40-year successful campaign to create a community center. He also published IV’s longest-running weekly newspaper, the Isla Vista Free Press, from 1987 to 1989, and is the principal author of Isla Vista: A Citizen’s History. Lodise retired to Barra de Navidad, Mexico, in 2015. The opinions expressed are his own.