Chancellor Christ has an opportunity lying at her feet

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For too long, students have been considered an afterthought by the UC Berkeley administration and a nuisance for longtime Berkeley residents. Chancellor Christ and her new incoming administration have an opportunity to change that.

The Bay Area housing crisis is central to the question of UC Berkeley’s future. Housing prices in Berkeley are among the highest in the nation, adversely affecting the campus’s ability to attract and retain talent, including graduate students, researchers, faculty and staff. High housing costs and a lack of available options force students to live in more crowded quarters or further from campus, hurting their academic and extracurricular performance and burdening them with additional debt. This crowding draws ire from neighbors, irked by the accompanying increase in activity.

Without new housing, this crisis will only get worse. Berkeley’s newly appointed City Council is actively obstructing the construction of new homes, and so it is up to UC Berkeley to step up and take the lead. Chancellor Christ needs to chart a visionary path forward — a path that can accommodate the campus’s need for growth while meeting the needs of students and the community for additional housing.

She has already taken an important first step towards meeting these needs, with the development of the Housing Master Plan Task Force’s report. The report, however, takes a piecemeal approach, with nearly a dozen different locations proposed across Berkeley, Albany and Richmond. Even if every site were developed to its maximum capacity, the proposals would barely add up to 6,000 beds – the amount needed today, with no plan for accommodating future enrollment growth.

If Chancellor Christ wants to leave a lasting legacy on the campus’s ability to deliver accommodations for students and relieve the burden on neighborhoods, she will need to think bigger. When UC Berkeley was founded in 1868, Strawberry Creek formed its southern border, but over the next 80 years, the campus filled up its initial land grant. To meet the need for space in the 1950s, it expanded, moving the border south to Bancroft Avenue and replacing an entire block of Telegraph Avenue with Sproul Plaza. It would be impossible to imagine UC Berkeley today without the buildings added in that area of expansion, including Sproul Plaza, Zellerbach Hall, Wurster Hall, Boalt Hall, Haas School of Business, Barrows Hall, Hertz Hall and more.

Now, nearly 70 years later, the campus is once again facing a crunch for space. New facilities are being built off-campus in every direction, and students, faculty and staff are scattered throughout the Bay Area. In addition to the housing crunch, the campus faces a shortage of instructional and research space, as increasing enrollment has placed pressure on existing facilities. Furthermore, with a growing population in California, the state’s flagship research institution should expect to continue increasing enrollment, as a public duty to its taxpaying citizens.

To make a real difference in UC Berkeley’s ability to meet the needs of its students, researchers and community, Chancellor Christ will need to develop a plan that can accommodate growth for decades, expanding housing, instructional and research space. It is not enough to deliver small, one-off projects that chip away at the city-campus border — the campus needs a comprehensive master plan for expansion.

This is an unprecedented challenge, but I believe the chancellor is up to the task. Expanding the campus — whether immediately adjacent to main campus, or developing a new area like Clark Kerr — will allow for the creation of a new, student-focused campus neighborhood, with access to all the services students need. Concentrated housing will ensure efficient transit, bike- and car-sharing services. New construction can take advantage of vertical space to preserve open space, while meeting high environmental and design standards, and relieve the pressure on the community, freeing up housing opportunities for researchers, staff and faculty.

Chancellor Christ has an opportunity to lead the campus in setting an example for how Berkeley, and the Bay Area, can look toward the future instead of its past. The real question is: are we, as students and as a community, prepared for it?

Ben Gould graduated in May 2017 with master’s degrees in public policy and environmental engineering. He served on the Graduate Assembly, The Green Initiative Fund, and the Chancellor’s Community Partnership Fund. He also served as chair of the city of Berkeley’s Community Environmental Advisory Commission, and was a candidate for Berkeley Mayor and City Council.