UCSC Review Winter/Spring 1994
Transforming Swords into Plowshares at Fort Ord
When the federal Base Closure Commission took aim in 1990 at Fort Ord, the U.S. Army's sprawling complex near Monterey, the region shuddered as if hit by another Loma Prieta aftershock. Marina, Seaside, and other nearby cities already labored under a weak economy and high unemployment. Local leaders feared an even more desperate future as 31,000 soldiers and family members began packing their bags and their wallets for Fort Lewis, Washington.
But the despair was short-lived, as former congressman Leon Panetta swiftly convened a planning group to begin turning Fort Ord's swords into plowshares. The group saw the vast potential of the base's 28,000 acres of land, much of it near the coast and the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. A consensus soon emerged: Fill the looming economic vacuum with projects that focus on education, research, and high-tech industry. Central to those plans are ambitious proposals by UCSC and the California State University (CSU).
CSU hopes to build a 21st campus, now being called "CSU¯ Monterey Bay." The campus would open in existing Fort Ord buildings as early as the fall of 1995 with about 2,000 students. Ultimately, CSU¯Monterey Bay would grow to 25,000 students, with an emphasis on marine and environmental sciences, languages and cultures, and education.
UCSC, meanwhile, envisions a very different but complementary venture: a research center that combines the brainpower and resources of public and private agencies. This "multiinstitutional center for science, technology, education, and policy" would draw upon the scientific expertise already assembled near Monterey Bay and in Silicon Valley. Many of its research areas would reflect the natural assets of the bay and the region. The center's overall goal would be to help California and the nation address some of the critical issues they will face in the decades to come.
It is fitting that the UCSC and CSU projects would exist side by side at Fort Ord, on 1,220 and 1,300 acres of land, respectively. So keen are the two universities to help each other's plans succeed that Chancellor Karl S. Pister of UCSC and President Handel Evans of San Jose State University signed an unprecedented agreement pledging to work together and share some costs.
And, in a federal vote of confidence, the Department of Defense proclaimed the region's overall blueprint for Fort Ord as one of four "model projects" for the conversion of former military bases to civilian uses.
"We feel strongly that we have the place, the people, and a vision--all solidly founded in the attributes of the Monterey Bay Area," says Pister. "We are eager to move ahead to demonstrate to the state and the nation how base conversion can be accomplished."
As UCSC's plans for Fort Ord have matured, several areas of activity have come into focus. They include the following:
Global environmental change, especially in coastal regions. Researchers would develop new ways to monitor the climate, analyze huge amounts of data, and predict the possible effects of climate change.
Environmental restoration and management. About 450 acres of the land UCSC has requested is a landfill on the toxic "superfund" list. Researchers at the center would study how to clean up those soils.
Agriculture and aquaculture. The future health of the region's economy, the center's planners say, depends critically on learning how to sustain harvests from both land and sea.
Bioresources. The bay contains one of the world's richest and most diverse collections of species. Biologists would study how to preserve that diversity and search for possible human benefits, such as new drugs from the tissues of sponges.
Transportation. Engineers would explore electric vehicles, "smart" highway systems, and other methods of reducing the problems caused by our reliance on cars and fossil fuels.
Within these areas, researchers would concentrate on information technology, instrumentation, education, and public policy. And to ensure that the center is no mere think tank or ivory tower, private industry will be an integral part of the project. The aim is "technology transfer"--converting research results into applications for society.
UCSC's Fort Ord team is led by James Gill, professor of earth sciences; Lora Martin, the project's director of program and policy development; and Michael Houlemard, director of community planning and land development. They have focused their initial efforts on acquiring the land from the government at little or no cost and on securing the $1.5 to $2 million needed for a two-year feasibility study.
To date, UCSC has received $725,000 from a federal Department of Commerce grant to Monterey County and several hundred thousand dollars from state and local contributions. UCSC has proceeded without a significant commitment of its own operating funds because of assistance from the UC Office of the President prior to receipt of the federal grant. Programmatic, physical, and business planning must occur in 1994 before the UC Regents make a final decision about the project.
Although Gill admits the task is long-term, his team is working enthusiastically. "There may never be as good an opportunity for UCSC to take advantage of the potential for close collaboration with regional research groups, government agencies, and industry," he says. "That's why there is such excitement about this project, both here and in Washington, D.C."