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Bay Area universities hit road blocks trying to build housing

Marisa Kendall, The Mercury News on

Published in Home and Consumer News

As Bay Area university students and professors struggle to find housing near their campuses, plans to build more homes at UC Santa Cruz and UC Berkeley are facing courtroom challenges that threaten to bog down the projects in delays.

UC Santa Cruz is squaring off against two environmental groups that have sued over the school's plans to build new residences for 3,000 students who often are left out of on-campus housing -- juniors, seniors, graduate students, and students with families. Meanwhile, a plan to build 150 homes for UC Berkeley professors and grad students, which passed a preliminary vote Wednesday, is facing a potential lawsuit from city officials. Now both universities, which are grappling with growing enrollments and housing shortages, are gearing up to fight for plans that they see as crucial to their continued success.

"This is a near existential problem for the campus when it comes to our ability to continue recruiting and retaining the best faculty that there are out there," said UC Berkeley spokesman Dan Mogulof.

Universities across the Bay Area are scrambling to house students and professors who can't afford the region's high prices. This week the San Jose City Council endorsed Santa Clara University's proposal to build a 290-unit apartment complex for faculty and staff, despite controversy over the lot's zoning. Stanford has proposed adding 3,150 housing units over the next 16 years, but negotiations with Santa Clara County stalled in April.

And UC Berkeley is planning to turn People's Park into student housing, sparking backlash from some activists who want to preserve the iconic park and its history as a hotspot for political protests.

At UC Santa Cruz, the housing need is so great that the school last summer implored faculty to open rooms in their homes to incoming students.


Panna Mori, who will be starting school there this fall, has been searching for housing for two months. Mori, a junior majoring in history, is transferring to UC Santa Cruz from Cabrillo College in Aptos.

"The search has been incredibly frustrating," Mori wrote in an online message. "Everything is wildly expensive and there is so much competition."

The pressure is building -- Mori, who uses gender-neutral pronouns, will be evicted from their current house in Santa Cruz at the end of the month so the landlord can sell the property.

To help students like Mori, UC Santa Cruz wants to build new housing as part of a project dubbed Student Housing West, spread across two sites. The bulk of the housing -- about 2,900 beds for upperclassmen and grad students -- would be on the campus' west side, replacing existing housing for students living with children and partners. But before that can happen, the school must build new housing for those students with families. The university wants to do it in the East Meadow, an undeveloped open space on campus, where the school has proposed building 140 new housing units.


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