Davis inaugurates new UC Merced site

MERCED, Calif. -- On a remote foothills site marked by seven years of determination and controversy, Gov. Gray Davis inaugurated a 10th University of California campus Friday.

The University of California, Merced, campus is the state's first since the University of California, Santa Cruz opened in 1967, and will serve the San Joaquin Valley.

"You had a dream. You would not surrender the dream. ... You were not going to take no for an answer," said Davis, who committed more than $230 million to the UC Merced campus over three years, despite its potential threats to endangered species and doubts inside the UC system about funding a new campus.

"My administration has worked with you like a laser beam to make sure this campus got underway," Davis said.

University officials now promise UC Merced will host major research on the Sierra Nevada and world cultures in one of the state's fastest-growing regions. The San Joaquin Valley is home to 3.5 million residents between Stockton and Bakersfield.

More than 1,000 people attended the inaugural event on a former golf course three miles northeast of Merced, launching an eventual 900-acre campus expected to open with its first 1,000 students in 2004 and grow to 25,000 by 2030. University of California regents picked the site near the city of 60,000 people in 1995 over competing proposals from Fresno and Madera County.

Friday's ceremony was held in a tent within sight of a field of grazing cattle.

"Our new campus, UC Merced, will help keep the promise California made to its citizens in 1868," said Carol Tomlinson-Keasey, founding chancellor of the fledgling campus. "We will transform the lives of the next generation."

Tomlinson-Keasey thanked the donors of $30 million in private contributions to the campus and $4.5 million in scholarships.

The event, originally scheduled for May and delayed because of environmental lawsuits, followed a pair of recent legal victories in Merced County Superior Court and the 5th District Court of Appeal in Fresno allowing construction to begin on the campus' first 100 acres. That first phase includes classrooms, an office building, library and student housing.

Further construction depends on a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The agency is considering whether to allow the campus onto wetlands where vernal pools are home to endangered fairy shrimp and serve as feeding grounds for migratory birds.

Officials from Merced County and the 134-year-old university system expressed confidence Friday that they'll receive the permit.

The state has already committed $30 million to preserve more than 20,000 acres of vernal pool habit to offset the campus' environmental effects. The David and Lucile Packard Foundation contributed another $11 million last year, alongside $2 million from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation to preserve another 5,000 acres next to the campus.

The university, opening several miles beyond city limits, is expected to spur housing and commercial development for another 30,000 people in addition to those housed on campus.

Friday's ceremony followed a Wednesday blessing on the site by American Indians from several area tribes asking Mother Earth for permission to build the campus.

The UC system graduates about 40,000 students a year.


On the Net: visit the UC Merced Web site at www.ucmerced.edu


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