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Questions and Answers about $11+ Million Packard Gift to UC

Q. How will this gift help the environment?
The Packard Foundation gift to the University of California allows the University to acquire the entire 7,030-acre Virginia Smith Trust [VST] parcel northeast of the City of Merced and set aside 5,780 acres of the site as an environmental preserve. The VST lands have been identified as holding some rich complexes of vernal pool habitat that are host to an endangered species of fairy shrimp and rare native plants. The gift enables the University to set aside the richest vernal pool areas on the VST.

Q. How is vernal pool habitat being protected in Merced County?
Eastern Merced County is home to some of the most important remaining natural vernal pool habitat in California. Currently, the County estimates that vernal pool habitat is disappearing at the rate of 3,000 acres per year due to small-scale development and agricultural conversions. Last year, Governor Gray Davis and the state legislature set aside $30 million for creation of a habitat conservation area in eastern Merced County as part of the plan to create UC Merced. In coming years, this fund will allow for the protection of an estimated 60,000 acres of this habitat. In addition, the Packard gift will allow the University to preserve permanently 5,780 acres more.

Q. How does the Packard gift help strengthen regional planning efforts?
The Packard gift allows the University and the County of Merced to implement a new way of looking at large-project development in the San Joaquin Valley. The development of the campus and community as one entity ensures managed growth of the project, with careful consideration of the ultimate effects of the community and campus on air quality, water quality and conservation, energy conservation, traffic management, etc. The approach taken provides a physical buffer between the development and sensitive natural environments, and utilizes a regional habitat conservation plan to preserve the richest habitat areas. The Packard gift endorses this approach to managed growth and resource conservation, and provides the means to set aside important environmental resources that are part of California's natural heritage. To ensure that these conservation measures are gained, the grant is being conditioned upon several milestones being met, including an acceptable MOU between the UC, County and City on land-use planning and the release of $15 million of the $30 million appropriated in state WCB funds for immediate key habitat acquisitions.

Q. How does the Packard gift help strengthen educational access and opportunity for the children of the San Joaquin Valley?
The Packard gift enables the University of California to acquire the proposed site of the UC Merced campus. UC Merced will ultimately serve 25,000 students as a major research university. The University will enhance educational access for generations of Californians, and will help provide an economic engine to help raise living standards throughout the region. In addition, the Packard gift enables the University to transfer resources to the Virginia Smith Trust of Merced, which is an educational endowment providing scholarships for college-going students from the San Joaquin Valley.

Q. How large is the proposed new UC Merced campus and the associated Campus Community development?
The UC Merced campus is planned to have an area of 2,000 acres, consisting of: 1) a developed campus of 910 acres; 2) a 750-acre natural reserve, and 3) a reserve of 340 acres for future potential development. The Campus will ultimately host 25,000 students. The Campus Community will be a planned development of approximately 2,000 acres that will eventually have about 30,000 residents.

Q. Where on the Virginia Smith Trust site does the University plan to place the campus?
The University has recently proposed to federal and state regulatory agencies that the new 2,000-acre campus be located on the far southwest portion of the VST lands. Under the proposal, the new campus would be situated away from the most sensitive vernal pool areas of the VST site. The new proposal also calls for the University to create the first phase of the campus on the Merced Hills Golf Course, which is part of the VST.

Q. Where is the campus community going to be situated?
The University in 1995 originally proposed locating the campus community, which will eventually host about 30,000 people, on the VST site along with the campus. In response to environmental concerns, the University and its planning partner the County of Merced have now proposed situating the campus community to the south of the VST site on lands that are currently used for agricultural purposes. This will move the planned community closer to existing urban development patterns, infrastructure and the City of Merced. It will also provide buffers for agricultural land conservation in the area.

 

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