SECOND IN A SERIES
By TOM HONIG
There are a lot of harsh words for UC Santa Cruz and its plan to expand city services to a portion of campus. What gets under the skin of some critics is that the university doesn't legally need the permission of local agencies to expand -- the university is a state agency with an equal legal standing to local agencies like the Santa Cruz City Council or the Local Agency Formation Commission.
That standing gets under the skin of some critics. But there are a couple of reasons why, and the explanation is worth keeping in mind.
1. UC's legal standing has to do with academic freedom. For example, imagine a fictional local jurisdiction that takes offense to, say, the teaching of evolution. That local agency could withhold zoning approval until the university changed its curriculum. That's the principle behind establishing UC as a state agency with a legal standing equal to any other.
2. Any campus of UC serves a public much wider than just a local town or city. True, UCSC exists in Santa Cruz, but it serves a statewide clientele. And what's good for local neighbors isn't necessarily the same as what's good for prospective students from Silicon Valley, the Bay Area and even Southern California.
This week, the university went before LAFCO to win approval of its plan to build housing and provide services for up to 2,000 new students. Opponents testified that there's not enough water to adequately allow for the expansion.
Legally, UC didn't even have to go before LAFCO, but officials did as part of an earlier agreement with the city. In fact, UCSC Chancellor George Blumenthal reminded people of that fact prior to the meeting. In a letter to LAFCO, Blumenthal said: that if the agency slapped unacceptable conditions on the plan "the university will seriously consider withdrawing its application or judicially challenging the approval."
That comment got under the skin of opponents. One letter-writer to the Sentinel remarked: "The chancellor's saber rattling about new lawsuits is unfortunate and a sad reminder of UCSC's historical arrogant attitude that no one, citizens or other government entites, has any business trying to interfere."
Strong words, but the evidence is otherwise. The university doesn't legally have to cooperate at all. And Blumenthal's willingness to negotiate with the city and with LAFCO shows that at least he's sensitive to the local community.
That's' not to say that UCSC officials are always right. But it's worth remembering that they have a wider public than just Santa Cruz and they also have constitutional rights that require protecting.
NEXT: The growth argument.