UC Merced Planner Cliff Graves
Cliff Graves is special advisor to the chancellor at University of California, Merced. Graves has overseen many aspects of planning the Merced campus, which is the University of California's first new campus since the mid-1960s. The UC Board of Regents approved the Long Range Development Plan for the campus and an adjacent new community about two miles east of Merced in January 2002 (see CP&DR In Brief, February 2002, CP&DR Public Development, April 2001). Construction commenced in November, and the school is scheduled to open to its first 1,000 students in fall of 2004. Despite the state budget shortfall, the university has the funding to complete the first phase of construction.
A planner for more than 30 years, Graves previously was the executive director of the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency. He spoke with CP&DR Managing Editor Paul Shigley in mid-December.
CP&DR: Where are you in the process right now?
GRAVES: The Long Range Development Plan was approved by the regents this past January. The EIR was subject to challenge and was challenged by a small group of environmentalists. The appellate court recently denied their request for an injunction, so we went ahead with construction. They are moving dirt like crazy out there right now.
The other point, from a regulatory standpoint, is that the Fish and Wildlife Service gave us a ruling of "no jeopardy" for the entire project, not just for the part of the project we are working on now.
Shortly, we will be going out to bid for the buildings themselves and the housing project. The first contract will be let in January.
CP&DR: How much is UC involved in planning the off-campus community?
GRAVES: The regents are a 50% owner in the site where the planned community will be. The other partner is the Virginia Smith Trust, which provided the land for the campus itself. There is a joint venture between the two that's called the University Land Company LLC. The university is the managing partner for the project.
CP&DR: It has been a long time since UC built a new campus. Do you have a model for what you are doing?
GRAVES: There really isn't a template for what we've done. When we built Irvine and Santa Cruz and San Diego, we didn't have any of the regulations we have today. It was a different time in terms of the fiscal relationships as well; whereas, those campuses had offsite infrastructure requirements, the state was willing to provide support for that. In this case, it's up to the university itself to make those arrangements. So the university has been negotiating, primarily with the city, to work those details out.
CP&DR: So where does money come from for off-site improvements?
GRAVES: Eventually, it is going to come out of the campus budget, which is going to further stress the budget of the campus. An agreement has been reached with the city of Merced regarding sewer and water. And we're working with the State Infrastructure Bank.
CP&DR: Is this like planning a new town?
GRAVES: In a purely physical sense, it is. But it's planning a town that has to meet the tests of the market. This is not an academic exercise. One of the challenges the LLC will face is coming up with a product that can work in the market that is part of the Central Valley.
One the questions it has had to address is of the absorption rate. This new town is on bare land, so all the infrastructure has to be built. Typically, it requires a fairly rapid development rate to offset the costs of that. But the absorption rate is going to be slower than usual. So how they spread those costs out over a period of time is really a challenge.
The campus's rate of development will, to some degree, govern the community's rate of development. And there are other areas in the Merced area that are planned for development.
CP&DR: Merced is a town of modest means. How does that influence your approach?
GRAVES: It certainly has affected our negotiations with the city, especially regarding the infrastructure and how the city provides services to the campus. I tell people, this is not like BMW coming into Alabama.
CP&DR: The school will have to attract students and faculty. How big a consideration is that in the land use planning?
GRAVES: That was a guiding principle of the Long Range Development Plan and something that even the regents insisted upon as they looked at the design of the original buildings. And the same kind of attention has to be given to the community. We want it to be attractive to a really broad, diverse group of people. One of the goals of the Long Range Development Plan was to provide a campus setting that feels comfortable to students who come from families in which no one has gone to college before.
CP&DR: When planning this campus, how far ahead do you look – 20 years? 40 years?
GRAVES: The Long Range Development Plan has a window of 25 years. When you start a campus, you don't set everything in concrete for 25 years. You understand technology may change, research may change. So you want something that is usable now but sustainable over time. We're relying on a strong grid system, some fundamental design that is timeless, and we're relying very heavily on landscaping as a unifying factor.
We are building the campus two or three buildings at a time, and we definitely expect the buildings 15 years from now to be based on assumptions that we don't have today. Even such things as water treatment we are building in modules to accommodate new technology.
CP&DR: That must be difficult.
GRAVES: Yes, it is, because you have to trade off between economies of scale and the realities of changing technology. We are assuming the next wave of buildings will be using fuel cell technology. We considered that for the first phase, but it just wasn't ready. For all we know, by year 15 or 20, another technology for energy production will be available, and we want to be able to adapt to that as well.
CP&DR: Is planning the campus and community enjoyable?
GRAVES: Oh, it's enjoyable. How many planners get to do something like this? We're not correcting somebody else's mistakes. We're making the mistakes.
I did my thesis eons ago on planning new towns in California. I went back and read it and found out how naïve I was.