The City of Goleta intends to file a lawsuit against UCSB and the University of California Board of Regents for failing to provide adequate housing for a “burgeoning” student population.
The decision was announced after the Goleta City Council held a special meeting on Friday, when the five members discussed a possible lawsuit in closed session.
“I am disappointed that it has come to this because the City of Goleta has always had a good relationship with UCSB,” Mayor Paula Perotte said. “However, the failure of UCSB to meet its obligations under the 2010 Long Range Development Plan Settlement Agreement to provide housing has made us reach a breaking point.”
The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors also mulled filing a lawsuit last month, but did not report any action after its closed-session talks in early October.
A prior disagreement between the city and county with UCSB led to the 2010 UCSB Long Range Development Plan Mitigation Implementation and Settlement Agreement. That agreement resolved a dispute over the impacts of UCSB’s 2010 LRDP, which proposed a significant increase in student enrollment. However, UCSB promised to build campus housing to mitigate that growth. At the time, student enrollment hovered at a little less than 20,000.
“The university has not seen the lawsuit yet but is deeply disappointed that the City of Goleta felt it necessary to resort to divisive litigation that forces both parties to spend public funds in this manner,” UCSB said in a written statement after Goleta officials revealed the intended lawsuit Friday. “The courts are not always the best place to resolve disputes, but when parties are entrenched in their individual positions, it may best be left to the courts to determine the merits of the respective legal arguments.”
The statement also contends that UCSB “has never exceeded the enrollment target” in the LRDP settlement agreement.
The Sierra Madre housing development in the 2015-16 academic year added 515 student beds, with another 1,000 student beds joining the inventory in the 2016-17 academic year with the San Joaquin housing development, UCSB officials said.
“The university hopes the most efficient resolution of this dispute can be achieved so all energies can be devoted to serving California students and families and supporting the community through transformative research endeavors,” the UCSB statement said.
The agreement spells out that UCSB’s enrollment shall not exceed 25,000. The total enrollment for 2020-21 was 26,179, according to UCSB’s website.
However, John Longbrake, UCSB’s vice chancellor for external affairs, told Noozhawk that the figure on the website is only for fall quarter enrollment, which tends to be higher than the rest of the year, and that the limits spelled out in the LRDP and the settlement agreement are based on a three-quarter average.
For the 2020-2021 school year, he said, that figure was 24,325.
“University shall provide student housing on campus for all students above the LRDP enrollment baseline of 20,000 students,” the agreement stated, adding that the university shall provide 5,000 net new student beds to accommodate the envisioned growth. “University shall not increase UCSB enrollment such that the number of additional new students exceeds the number of net new student beds that have been contracted.”
Limited housing has led to student protests — as recently as Friday — with some students living out of their cars or having to make an hourlong commute to reach the campus.
Goleta contends that UCSB has breached the settlement agreement since 2015 by failing to provide sufficient housing for its students, creating negative repercussions on the city. Those repercussions include depriving Goleta of tax revenues that are the mainstay of the city’s budget because of a decison to house students in hotels.
UCSB students also have filled housing in Goleta, decreasing the supply and increasing costs for the city’s workforce, such as nurses, teachers and public safety officers, who must live elsewhere and commute to work.
The university also has attracted national attention and criticism recently for its proposed Munger Hall, a 12-story building with few windows to house more than 4,500 students, called a monstrosity by many currently and previously affiliated with UCSB.
“UCSB’s currently proposed student housing project, Munger Hall, a 4,500-unit dorm, has recently received harsh scrutiny in the national press,” Perotte said. “In light of this, we, at the city, are concerned that there may be no certainty as to whether the needed student housing will be built in a reasonable time frame.”
— Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.