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UCOKs Merced Campus Study

January 17, 2002|REBECCA TROUNSON | TIMES EDUCATION WRITER

A University of California campus near Merced moved a key step closer to reality Wednesday as the university's regents endorsed environmental and development plans aimed at a groundbreaking as early as May.

Meeting at UCLA, a key committee of the regents gave preliminary approval to the 2,000-acre, often controversial project's final environmental impact report and plans for its central infrastructure. Approval by the full board is expected today.

UC system officials and representatives of the Merced campus said they were pleased at Wednesday's unanimous votes. But opponents, including environmental activists, warned of possible litigation.

The Merced campus, the university's 10th, would be the first new UC campus to be launched since the mid-1960s, when Irvine, San Diego and Santa Cruz were established in rapid order before today's extensive environmental regulations.

The regents gave initial approval to the environmental report, which pledges to preserve sensitive wetlands in the campus area northeast of Merced. The UC also promised other measures to protect the endangered fairy shrimp and other rare species that inhabit the site.

The campus is planned to be built on about 1,800 acres of grasslands and 200 acres of what is now a golf course. The first phase is expected to open to its first class of about 1,000 students in 2004, and the completed campus eventually would enroll about 25,000 students.

UC Merced Chancellor Carol Tomlinson-Keasey, who was appointed in 1999 and has overseen the planning process, said that the votes marked a "historic moment" but that it also represents the start of more work in the next few years.

Carol Witham, a biologist who heads a Davis-based environmental group, said that litigation to stop the project was likely. The state, she said, was risking spending millions on work that might later be abandoned.

UC officials have said they are confident they have met state and federal requirements so far.

As the regents met in Covel Commons, about 100 students rallied noisily outside, urging them to allow undocumented immigrants to pay the much lower, in-state fees to attend UC. The policy change, which regents are to consider today, would bring the university into compliance with a new state law already affecting Cal State and community colleges. The demonstrators later met briefly with two regents, who promised to consider their concerns.

Also Wednesday, UC officials released figures showing that applications were again at record highs, with more than 95,000 students applying for admission for the fall, an increase of 3.4% from last year. Applications from all ethnic groups, including underrepresented minorities, were up, while those from international students applying for entry as freshmen dropped nearly 15%.

UC spokeswoman Lavonne Luqois said that the international student figures tend to fluctuate and that the drop could not necessarily be pegged to the events of Sept. 11.

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