The ongoing expansion of UCSD has affected the San Diego community and brought forth growing environmental and social concerns.
Pradeep Khosla was appointed as the chancellor of UC San Diego in 2012. Since then, UCSD has been experiencing dramatic growth, with construction and project planning expected to extend into the 2030s.
Chancellor Khosla has approved $6.5 billion dollars worth of construction projects over the course of his time at UCSD, expanding the university so that it towers above La Jolla Shores.
The need for such projects strays from the state’s demand for the UC system to admit more students. More students require more housing with an addition of spaces for learning and collaboration.
Currently, UCSD plans to expand its central La Jolla campus with the construction of Eighth College and the Pepper Canyon Living and Learning Neighborhood.
Off campus, the university plans to extend south towards downtown San Diego. With a growing influence on the city, UCSD plans to redevelop its Hillcrest Campus over a 15-year period and has its eyes set on neighborhoods in south San Diego county to be utilized for staff and student housing.
With such rapid expansion comes inevitable consequences.
Construction on campus is overseen by LEED, a green-building rating system that certifies buildings on the following scale: Platinum (an A-grade), Gold (a B-grade), and Silver (a C-grade).
A building qualifies for a Platinum certification when 80 points are earned. Credits are earned based on the building’s contributions to climate change, impacts on human health, usage of natural resources, and the benefits that the building brings to the community.
UCSD’s on-campus construction development currently has a Silver, or a C- grade.
Former Academic Senate member Dr. Eric Halgren, said that research has shown that the silver certification is not associated with any decreased energy usage.
Further, the certification isn’t as green as UCSD portrays it to be, having little to no effect on overall emissions.
UCSD’s Long Range Development Plan (LRDP) estimates a 15.6 to 27.8 million square feet expansion of the campus by 2035.
“It’s a lot,” Halgren said in response to the LDRP’s estimate. “We need to rethink that. I think [UCSD] has to grow; it’s a duty and mission. But we don’t have to physically grow as much as they are planning.”
After reviewing the university’s LDRP, Halgren mentioned that UCSD failed to create a standard or estimate on the carbon footprint of the construction itself.
UCSD’s latest LDRP was proposed back in 2019. According to Halgren, the 2019 LDRP report is now outdated because it was written in a pre-pandemic world and fails to account for newly derived data.
The latest LDRP entailed information on current and proposed land use development, open space, transportation, utilities, infrastructure, and sustainability.
When asked about UCSD’s effort to look for eco-friendly solutions to its construction boom, Halgren said, “As far as I know, they aren’t even looking at the carbon cost of construction. There’s a lot of options, and they’re not thinking that way.”
With expansion comes the need for more energy resources to fuel not only electric power, but water, sewage, cooling, and heating units as well. Moreover, Dr. Halgren highlighted that the production of cement and steel generates an abundance of greenhouse gasses and thus, a larger carbon footprint.
85% of the university’s energy is generated by the on-campus Central Utilities Plant, which is powered by fracked methane with carbon emissions that have stayed consistent over the past few decades. There is no sign that the operation of the cogeneration plant will stop anytime soon. The university is still paying off the cogeneration plant and has plans to keep it through the 2030s.
As a result, UCSD purchases carbon offsets in order to mitigate their carbon footprint.
According to Halgren, UCSD purchases foreign land, on which forests are intentionally preserved. These trees then produce a sufficient supply of oxygen that offsets the amount of carbon the university is burning.
“What if there’s a huge fire? What if a right wing government takes over? What if [someone is] paid to not cut trees down where the land was bought, but they cut more [somewhere else]?” Halgren said. “Or maybe the land is cleared out, and nobody ever noticed.”
Socially speaking, the construction boom has left both students and San Diegans with a mix of emotions.
When asked about the benefits of the university’s construction, Associated Students President Sky Yang noted that “the university’s expansion would benefit, if not all, most of us”.
Yang highlighted that more construction will lead to more parking, academic spaces, and housing units to tend to the growing UCSD student community.
However, Yang also touched on the detrimental effects of construction.
“The effects are uncertain,” Yang said. “It’s more construction on native land. Due to the trolley system, housing will also be more expensive around the stations.”
San Diego State University Professor of Urban Studies Andrew Wiese noted that construction and the housing market are pressing issues in the San Diego community.
“We’ve got plenty of market rate housing; it’s that we don’t have affordable housing,” Wiese said.
Current housing projects are set to be priced at or 20% below market rates. Market rates have spiked a 10% increase from inflation this past year and have stayed expensive over the past decades.
The development of projects on campus are also sparking motivation for private development in the surrounding areas.
Rock Bottom Brewery, located at 8980 Villa La Jolla Dr., is now the construction site of UCSD’s newest office building. This site is the first project that UCSD is working on in collaboration with a private developer from Los Angeles.
“Businesses in the northeast part of campus may be seeing displacement impacts as well as apartment renters,” Wiese said. “Small business owners are being pushed out of their affordable commercial spaces.”
Wiese further explained that there is a possibility of UCSD creating “bad neighbors” if they decide to extend connections with private developers. Doing so opens the door to the ability to skip extra steps, such as processes of review held by city and community members.
Regardless, UCSD is leaving a growing mark on its surrounding community as students pour into the university. Therefore, UCSD has an obligation as an institution to provide accessible education to applicable students, according to Halgren.
But underlying issues continue to grow.
“We’re heading off a cliff, and [UCSD] took their foot off the gas a little bit,” Halgren said. “It’s the profit motive. It gets as overwhelmingly important [for UCSD] as it is in our society, then it causes the destruction we see.”