The toughest test for UC Irvine students may come not during finals week, but on Monday, when thousands of cars stream onto the parklike campus.
As fall classes begin, about 15,000 students will be arriving. But many won't be heading directly to class. First they'll be driving around and around the circular campus, looking for a parking space.
There are about 8,000 spaces available, university officials say, but about 700 to 1,000 more parking permits than spaces are being issued. And this fall's enrollment will be a record.
"Not all students come on campus at the same time," said Michael Delo, parking administrator at UCI. Yet he acknowledged that the campus does hit saturation parking during the first two weeks of school.
Work on UCI's first high-rise parking structure, for 1,000 cars, is to start this year. But the building won't be completed until fall of 1988, and even that move has a drawback: the construction site will wipe out 400 existing parking slots for about a year.
"I would say this could be the first year that we truly face a real parking crisis," said Jim Breslo, 20, a UCI junior from Newport Beach. "We have so many commuting students. And every year we have increases in enrollment."
At other colleges and universities in the state, students often resort to off-street parking and walk a few blocks to campus. This can't be done at UCI because the strictly patrolled City of Irvine has no off-street parking anywhere within walking distance of UCI.
"Parking has to be on the campus because there's no place else for the students to go," Delo said.
But students contend there aren't enough parking places left on campus. They also say they're angry at escalating costs for parking fees. UCI charges students $162 an academic year for parking, contrasted with $67.50 a year at Cal State Fullerton and prices ranging from $20 to $40 a year for parking at the community colleges in the county.
"I find this increase a very high price to pay for the kind of parking we have at UCI," said Breslo. He called the fees--which this fall rose to $54 a quarter, contrasted with $48 last year--"astronomical."
Erik Skaggs, president of student government at UCI, said, "We have a very bad situation, but sometimes you can't get attention to bad situations unless there is a riot by students."
Hope for Solution
Skaggs said he doesn't advocate a riot. But he is hoping that student government, the faculty and the student newspaper can prod the UCI administration into finding expanded and inexpensive ways to take care of the campus's perennial parking problem.
The UCI student newspaper periodically assails the administration about campus parking. Last winter, the paper, called the New University, had an editorial cartoon that depicted UCI Chancellor Jack Peltason as nearsighted about the parking problems. The newspaper said the opening of the new Bren Events Center, which draws many non-students to campus, has worsened the parking situation.
Peltason said he sees parking as a "major problem" but not an emergency. He said he and other UCI officials don't expect campus gridlock this year, despite all the construction and disruption of former parking places.
"We're doing our best to solve the problem," Peltason said. "The state doesn't provide us any dollars for parking, nor do I think the state should. So the money must be provided by the people who use the parking spaces. . . . But I've got to say we can't provide everyone next-door parking--a space next to where they're going to class.
The state requires UCI and all other state-supported colleges and universities to pay for parking-related facilities through student fees.
Said Peltason: "I think we're being responsive to the problem. Now, I don't give parking as high a priority as I do getting the students a classroom building or finding a place for the faculty to do their work."
Peltason's success in getting more classroom buildings for his growing campus is marked by construction scenes all over UCI this fall. Building projects worth about $120 million are under way, and $180 million in new projects are soon to begin. It's the biggest construction binge since UCI opened in 1965.
Breslo, a vice president of the Associated Students of UCI, has become a specialist in the campus's parking problem, which he calls "an extremely frustrating issue" for students.
Skaggs, 22, a senior from Bakersfield, said a prime reason he was elected president of student government was that he pledged to help the parking situation.
"The students are very concerned," he said. "Many are worried about the rising cost of the parking fees. Everyone thinks UC students are rich. Not true. Many are working their way through the university and the increased fees are real problems."