As UCSB Grows and Grows, It Falls Way Behind on Building Housing

As UCSB Grows and Grows, It Falls Way Behind on Building Housing title=
There is perhaps no bigger contributor to Santa Barbara’s present day housing shortage than its world-renowned university, which has repeatedly reneged on a 2010 agreement to build more units for students and staff. | Credit: Courtesy UCSB
Reads 5103

This story was originally published by the Santa Barbara Independent and is reproduced here in partnership with Edhat.

By Tyler Hayden of The Independent

Evidence of Santa Barbara’s extreme housing shortage can be seen everywhere ― fast-climbing rent rates, a median home price that just jumped from $1.5 million to $2 million, and long commutes for those who can’t afford to live where they work. Efforts to address the scarcity also abound ― higher densities, more granny flats, and new state laws meant to expedite development by limiting local control.

While the reasons are complicated and date back decades, the root of the problem is simple. There is just not enough construction of new housing supply to meet current demand. And here on the South Coast, there is perhaps no bigger contributor to the present day housing crunch than our world-renowned university.

That revelation is contained in a searing June 18 letter sent by a coalition of community groups known as SUN, or Sustainable University Now, to UCSB Chancellor Henry Yang. SUN accuses UCSB and Yang of breaching a legally binding 2010 Long Range Development Plan in which the university pledged to cap its enrollment at 25,000 students through the year 2025, to build dormitories for the 5,000 students it planned on adding, and to construct 1,800 new units for its growing ranks of faculty and staff.

Since then, SUN says, UCSB has already exceeded its cap, built enough dorms to house only 1,500 new students, and provided a paltry 263 faculty units. A recent estimate suggests more than 14,000 people attending or working at UCSB now live in Isla Vista, Goleta, and elsewhere on the South Coast. As a point of reference, the City of Santa Barbara managed to add only 500 units to its housing stock in the last five years.

“The University’s failure to comply with [our agreement] has resulted in significant and negative impacts on our County,” states the letter, which was written by SUN’s attorney, Marc Chytilo. “It has exacerbated the already dire regional housing crisis, increasing the cost of housing and overcrowded living conditions throughout Santa Barbara County. It has also resulted in excessive amounts of commuting, causing congestion and compromising the quality of life for all residents of the County.”

Chytilo and SUN ― comprised of heavy hitters in Santa Barbara’s citizen watchdog community, including the Citizens Planning Association (CPA), Coalition for Sustainable Transportation (COAST), League of Women Voters of Santa Barbara (LWVSB), and Santa Barbara County Action Network (SBCAN) ― demand that Yang provide them a detailed plan by July 18 for how the university will resolve its housing shortfalls. The threat of litigation, while not explicitly stated, is heavily implied.

In response, UCSB spokesperson Andrea Estrada said this week that “while the University is not in agreement with the assertions contained in the SUN letter, we continue to make progress and are working through the requisite processes. The University remains committed to sustainability and to its ongoing efforts to develop and maintain sustainable practices and initiatives campuswide.”

SUN’s shot across UCSB’s bow, it turns out, was a long time coming. In November 2019, the group had first outlined its concerns, which the university acknowledged were legitimate. The two sides had enjoyed an amicable and productive working relationship dating back to the creation of the 2010 long-range plan, and Executive Vice Chancellor David Marshall said he recognized “the need to identify and communicate our path forward to deliver student, faculty, and staff housing.” But no pathway was ever articulated.

SUN backed off during the pandemic, but when they followed up with Marshall this March ― as restrictions were lifted and UCSB announced students would return to in-person instruction in the fall ― the group felt brushed off. “There are too many variables (vaccines, room capacity, the spread of variants, testing capacity, the COVID status of the County, etc.) to be able to give any definitive answers at this time,” Marshall told them. “Beyond what has been announced and discussed already, I don’t have any new details, but we hope to have more information in the near future.”

SUN found the response “alarmingly vague and unresponsive,” its letter states. “SUN is capable of engaging in an informed and productive dialogue concerning these issues. However it will not consent to further delays and unresponsive communications.”

“They need to be accountable,” said Dick Flacks, a retired UCSB sociology professor and one of the guiding forces behind SBCAN. Flacks said he doesn’t universally condemn the administration for its missteps on housing ― it has abided by most other elements of the 2010 agreement, he explained ― but the problem is a major one that must be examined and solved. “We’ve been very clear,” he said. “We don’t want to go to court. We want redress, not in the form of compensation but in compliance with the plan.”

Questions and concerns from Santa Barbara County government officials date back even further. In October 2018, they had inquired about the status of a long-delayed 540-unit faculty housing project slated for Ocean Road. The university said it was in the midst of selecting a private developer and completing an environmental impact report. A year later, in November 2019, a campus spokesperson made an identical statement to the Daily Nexus student newspaper, and then again to county staff in July 2020. The current status of the project remains unclear.

Chancellor Henry Yang, left, and Dilling Yang, far right, with Berkshire-Hathaway vice president Charlie Munger in 2014. | Credit: Courtesy UCSB

More recently, government officials also turned up the heat over what they called UCSB’s “ongoing breach” of the 2010 plan, to which the County of Santa Barbara and the City of Goleta are parties. This winter, their attorneys met with lawyers from UCSB to determine if litigation could be avoided with a settlement. The two sides quickly reached an impasse, however, with UCSB’s attorneys arguing that COVID-19 and its fallout have created barriers to any new construction. They have been engaged in mediation ever since.

Looming large over the entire issue is an as-yet unfulfilled promise made by investor-billionaire Charlie Munger in 2016 to build new undergraduate dormitories for the school, which his grandson attended. He pledged $200 million to do so with the caveat that he be allowed to personally draft the designs. His blueprints currently feature suites of eight single bedrooms surrounding large common spaces. Most of the bedrooms, he has said, would be fitted with artificial windows modeled after portholes on Disney cruise ships. Customized lighting would mimic daylight.

Munger, 97, is a longtime business partner of Warren Buffet and has in recent years developed a sideline of sorts financing and constructing unconventional but highly efficient buildings at major universities. In 2013, he put $110 million toward a student housing project at the University of Michigan, which also lacked windows.

During a 2016 interview, Munger told the Independent the new UCSB dorms ― a massive undertaking that could house up to 4,000 students ― might replace and expand on the two-story Anacapa and Santa Cruz dorms near Campus Point. But sources with knowledge of the pending project said it is now more likely that an entirely new structure or structures will be built closer to the Harder Stadium side of campus.

For more than a year now, Yang has promised county officials that approval by the UC Regents is “imminent.” But those same officials ― who have also historically enjoyed a good rapport with the chancellor ― are running out of patience and note that even if the regents green-light the proposal, it still needs to pass muster with the California Coastal Commission. It doesn’t appear UCSB has any new housing plans outside the Munger venture.

“As you can imagine,” said spokesperson Andrea Estrada, “projects of this magnitude are extremely complex, and the University continues to navigate the process.” Representatives of Munger did not respond to requests for comment for this story.

In a recent interview with the Wall Street Journal, Munger declared that his UCSB vision for modern student housing “will be widely regarded as the best in the world,” even if he doesn’t live to see it completed. “Now, I’m not going to try to die early just so that’ll happen,” he said, “but I’m OK with it if it does.” 

Login to add Comments


Show Comments
Byzantium Jul 06, 2021 09:15 AM
As UCSB Grows and Grows, It Falls Way Behind on Building Housing

Why should anyone demand a home in this highly desirable area to be as "affordable" as other far less desirable areas in this state? It is not; nor should it be. Premium locations or premium quality always costs more. What unspoken economic principle does not make this so? Key rule in real estate has always been location, location, location. What social engineering demand has suddenly turned that rule upside down? The rule now appears to be : this is what I want it and give it to me only on my terms. And you have to pay for this personal benefit; not me. That is what this sounds like at this end of the equation.

channelcat5 Jul 02, 2021 09:10 PM
As UCSB Grows and Grows, It Falls Way Behind on Building Housing

If anyone is interested in grafts.. look at The Great Depression, The 80’s, 2008 and Right Now… We’re in for a lot of change. UCSB hasn’t helped. Corporations rule our lives. The Chancellor of UCSB… should and probably does, rent out rooms to people over by the lagoon.

Henry Sarria Jul 02, 2021 11:16 AM
As UCSB Grows and Grows, It Falls Way Behind on Building Housing

As a 35 year IV resident (yeah, still live here & NOT on the west end!), I gotta say that this "housing issue" is really nothing new. UCSB, in its efforts to stay in the top tier of research institutes (as well as 1 of the top 10 corporations in the world, from a $$$ analysis done a while back), does all within its power to achieve the following:

a) More enrollment
b) More new "research" buildings

W/ that said, it ain't any wonder that the problem of housing exists. You got an increased student population, more buildings for them to study/work in, but the housing capacity stays the same. Basically put, the population has exceeded the infrastructure.
As for IV itself, there's no new development(s) goin' on because of:

a) county mandates
b) Lack of/limited developable space
c) Geologically unsound land (Del Playa ocean side)

Then there's the SBCC component to the equation. I've always asked the following question: "If you're goin' to SBCC, why are you livin' in IV, a considerable distance away from SBCC?"
We all know the answer to that, but that's not important now. What's important is that you have SBCC students living in UCSB managed properties such as Tropicana Gardens (between Camino Pescadero & Embarcadero Del Mar on El Colegio) & Tropicana Del Norte (El Colegio & Embarcadero Del Norte).
Like I said, "managed" by UCSB Housing Dept. but housing SBCC students that attend a campus 11-12 miles away. By the way, gotta add, those Tropicana residences, they can hold quite a few students, maybe not thousands, but still, a considerable amount.
Yet, it still ain't gonna fix the problem, might relieve some of it, but the problem lies w/ UCSB's refusal to build new housing on campus.
Another thing I gotta add is, before ANYONE starts to blame the county government for this, you gotta remember, this is a STATE issue, not the county's. Contacting the County Board of Supes is NOT gonna yield anything other than being redirected to the UC Regents.
The UC system is a state run entity & w/ that said, it is its own island next to a community that houses the majority of its high paying customers.
Along w/ being its own island, it's also subject to its own rules & this is where the failure begins. There's minimal to zero concern as to the impacts of its neighbor, Isla Vista. This has been proven time & again.
The ONLY time anything in IV is of concern to UCSB is when a crime is committed near UCSB property & as a function of the Clery Act, they are REQUIRED to report it.
Other than that, it's a "let em' eat cake" approach where students are shuffled out into IV to make room for the next incoming class, all the time knowing the housing options are limited in IV.
It simply comes down to UCSB building more housing on the campus itself, but hey, it's the "research" buildings that bring the $$$ in! Actually, no, it's the students & their tuition that does.

letmego Jul 06, 2021 09:29 AM
As UCSB Grows and Grows, It Falls Way Behind on Building Housing

Basically what Byz said. Also, it depends on what you call "young". We bought our home (not a million, because awhile ago, but still ~$800k, then again, we weren't making six figures). We were in our mid-30s, no kids yet. That didn't seem young then but does now, ha! And...we rented for years, we saved money. We bought small used cars and drove them until they died. Were a 1-car family for awhile and rode our bikes. So, in our mid-30s, we'd been saving money for almost 15 years.

Other people get down payments from:
1. Stock options (lotta Google-Amazon in town these days).
2. Parents (gifts)
3. Inheritances (grandparents)

Plus, some people just live closer to the "edge" than others. Some don't put 20% down, and they rent rooms to friends.

Surfeit Jul 02, 2021 09:57 AM
As UCSB Grows and Grows, It Falls Way Behind on Building Housing

My granddaughter who attends the University of Maastricht in The Netherlands is coming to UCSB as an exchange student as part of a reciprocal program the UC system has with her university. First UCSB offers no assistance or support for housing for exchange students and trying to find housing for the Fall term from Maastricht is nearly impossible. She has tried diligently with no success. I read the comment about the Asian students who had no trouble affording the rent, but what about those students who are less affluent? And shame on UCSB for allowing students to upend their lives to come here without providing even minimal assistance.

Byzantium Jul 02, 2021 11:56 AM
As UCSB Grows and Grows, It Falls Way Behind on Building Housing

Did your grand daughter mention in her application she had a grandmother already living in the UCSB area? Sometimes "housing" in this area is offered with an au pair or light housekeeping obligation in exchange for a reduced room rental. An option to explore.

CoastWatch Jul 01, 2021 09:24 PM
As UCSB Grows and Grows, It Falls Way Behind on Building Housing

My neighbor across the street had a studio addition built ... He rented to Chinese students who had no issue paying $3000 a month, in addition to the brand new cars they would buy at SB Auto Group. One had a new BMW, the other had a Porsche- I guess the international students are good for the economy and bad for the rental market....

a-1625186282 Jul 01, 2021 05:38 PM
As UCSB Grows and Grows, It Falls Way Behind on Building Housing

Wasn't there a requirement from the Coastal Commission back when for UCSB to have X number of students? It's now X+++.

And, if so, how can one find out? Should our local representative, councilmember Harmon, know? ...or since she is so new in town and especially to the coastal commission, be able to find out? ...

a-1625184944 Jul 01, 2021 05:15 PM
As UCSB Grows and Grows, It Falls Way Behind on Building Housing

Yes, look at the root cause ( a phrase that seems to be in vogue these days). We don't have a housing crisis, we have an immigration crisis. Every person that crosses the borders with the intent to live here puts an increasing strain on the housing for the American people.

SBSand Jul 01, 2021 03:28 PM
As UCSB Grows and Grows, It Falls Way Behind on Building Housing

Having so many local colleges has always made it hard to be a renter in this city but it just gets worse and worse as the school increases their amount of students and faculty without housing them. More student housing would really help resolve some of the difficulties but UCSB has never been a good neighbor and I don't see that changing anytime soon. Not unless they are forced somehow.

Byzantium Jul 01, 2021 02:20 PM
As UCSB Grows and Grows, It Falls Way Behind on Building Housing

UCSB started adding a lot of housing in the recent past, but not to alleviate any local housing shortage. Instead they used on-campus housing to keep tighter control on off-campus student conduct which had gotten totally out of control in IV and surrounds. Continuing to add on-campus housing and reducing enrollments to live within their housing opportunities could open a lot of "affordable" housing in IV for local general housing needs. Live within your means, UCSB.

PitMix Jul 06, 2021 08:02 AM
As UCSB Grows and Grows, It Falls Way Behind on Building Housing

7:45, the fake windows are part of being energy efficient. Yes, it's offputting, but a lot of offputting strategies are going to have to be tried if we are going to stop having 110 deg days in Portland with out current population....

a-1625193928 Jul 01, 2021 07:45 PM
As UCSB Grows and Grows, It Falls Way Behind on Building Housing

IV does not have affordable housing. People are paying 1K + for a bedroom in a crowded apartment. UCSB building some housing won’t change that. Especially apartments with fake TV windows. I can understand if this building was in Detroit, not in coastal California. We have beauty all around us. An apartment without windows is absurd.

PitMix Jul 01, 2021 02:00 PM
As UCSB Grows and Grows, It Falls Way Behind on Building Housing

If 14,000 of students and staff live in the South Coast, that means approximately 20,000 of the 34,000 students +staff are living elsewhere. That explains a large part of the commuting nightmare occurring on our highways. It's hard to do anything about it, because landlords are profiting so immensely from the situation. And that's without even considering the impacts of the growth and numbers at SBCC!

RHS Jul 01, 2021 12:54 PM
As UCSB Grows and Grows, It Falls Way Behind on Building Housing

Good review of the situation. I would quibble with the inclusion of the SBCC reference. SBCC is a community college. It has no reason to build dormitories and for it to do so would attract even more student tourism. UCSB is different and should provide residences for its faculty and students that is pleasant and affordable without out sized impact on the local environment.

Ahchooo Jul 02, 2021 08:15 AM
As UCSB Grows and Grows, It Falls Way Behind on Building Housing

The UCSB enrollment cap is not decided solely by UCSB bigwigs, but by the statewide UC folks, and maybe the Regents. There is a push from the state to expand enrollment at all UC campuses to accommodate the ever growing population. I’m extremely glad to see this local group working to hold the UC to their commitments to build housing for their own expansion.

Byzantium Jul 01, 2021 11:25 AM
As UCSB Grows and Grows, It Falls Way Behind on Building Housing

How many UCSB students come here for four years, pick up a non marketable degree and want to stay in this area anyway? 5000 of them every single year. Year after year - what pressures do they put on local housing?

I speculate and I listen to local stories, but has anyone actually done a survey with hard data - the numbers of UCSB (or SBCC students as well) who come and then decide they never want to leave even if they have no support or means to do this? Does this group make up the cadre of voices who constantly complain "they can't afford to live in Santa Barbara". Yes they probably can't, but this is not rocket science to anyone who can do math and accurately assess their own skills and abilities. Who exactly makes up this Greek Chorus of complainers who should be the last voices to listen to when setting local housing priorities.

letmego Jul 02, 2021 05:02 PM
As UCSB Grows and Grows, It Falls Way Behind on Building Housing

@BYZ, I did say "house or condo" in my first sentence...yeah, changed it to home later, but a lot of people use the two words interchangeably. (I'm both old, and with kids, and most certainly NOT in a 3BR/2BA home - I wish, but at this point might as well wait till the oldest is out of the house, then this small place won't feel so small.) Also, when you talk about UCSB graduates who stay, well, guilty! Not me, but my spouse, but we are both transplants.

But this: "Why the wait to have children, when so many are now permanently at home workers? " Um, are you kidding? People who work from home STILL need childcare, unless they are only working part time. It's a little different once your children are in school, but from 0-5, childcare sucks up a LOT of money. The ability to WFH doesn't mean you can suddenly do a video call while breastfeeding or entertaining a toddler for 4 hours.

Interestingly, I was talking to a coworker today (30's, 2 incomes, condo-owning) who mentioned that her spouse is back in the office as newly required by the company. Well, a bunch of her husband's coworkers moved out of state during COVID, because they were working remotely anyway, and it was cheaper. Now what? Either the company has to allow it, or they may have to replace a whole lot of people.

I'm still pretty shocked at the current housing market, though maybe I shouldn't be. There are a TON of people moving here from LA, SF, NY because of the weather and ability to work remotely, etc. I wonder if we'll ever see the same number of younger folks leaving because it's more affordable elsewhere, as long as they can continue to work remotely. Fascinating.

Byzantium Jul 02, 2021 10:16 AM
As UCSB Grows and Grows, It Falls Way Behind on Building Housing

Letmego: Is a condo not a home? Or is the local housing demand only for an "affordable" 3BR 2B home ,in the suburbs with a large lot, on a quiet tree lined street? In that case, most people do have to wait until thier mid 30's and build the necessary downpayment or transferable equity from more than a few prior years of financial sacrifice, and have a dual income considering the known prices and local inventory available here. Why the wait to have children, when so many are now permanently at home workers? With as much social change we have witnessed these past few decades, who would have guessed "Ozzie and Harriet" is the still preferred social model. I hope you get there. An intact family with a nice home in the safe suburbs still has romantic appeal, oddly to the generations who so soundly rebelled and rejected this model outright. Plus c'est la change, plus c'est la meme chose.

letmego Jul 02, 2021 09:25 AM
As UCSB Grows and Grows, It Falls Way Behind on Building Housing

Well, a fair percentage of them do stay here, and they have jobs too. Even people with marketable degrees like engineering cannot afford to buy a house or condo, unless they have two engineering incomes and wait until they are 35-40, maybe, if they skip having children.

Source: I'm an engineer, and this is the case for most of the (younger than me) engineers in their 30s and 40s. A lot of them do buy condos or homes...eventually.

On a side note - a dorm with no windows? WTAF??

Please Login or Register to comment on this.