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Preserving Sage Hill

By Itak Moradi
Originally published in The Daily Bruin

An archery range and a clubhouse on the Hill? Sounds cool enough.

Until you realize that UCLA Capital Programs is considering this development plan in spite of the proposed location – a piece of campus land nestled behind Hitch Residential Suites that has been long recognized as a valuable and rare ecosystem of native California plants and animals.

A donor has recently shown interest in developing the land, and while UCLA has not yet consented to this idea, the idea is still troublesome because of the environmental implications.

Natural habitat here at UCLA recently received another blow, but while the recent decision to sell off the UCLA Hannah Carter Japanese Garden was disheartening, it was certainly understandable. UCLA is under financial strain, and creating revenue in undesirable ways is both expected and warranted.

Unlike that circumstance, the newest potential project begets an uncomfortable question – is this indicative of a lack of regard for environmental value on campus?

We may have lost the Japanese Garden, but it was simply that – a loss, a downsizing on behalf of a tight budget. Instead, UCLA is now not only looking to expand, but they may do so while literally trampling on ecosystems.

And ecology does not stand alone as an important concern. Several professors on campus, mostly from the geography and environmental science departments, regularly use this space, called Sage Hill, to teach students how to take biological inventory, soil samples and more.

Aligning education with the physical appreciation of nature should be acknowledged for its rarity and its realism, not threatened by unnecessary expenditures.

What surprises me most is that the four-acre piece of land was actually under consideration for development in the past.

In 2003, the UC Board of Regents settled a lawsuit with The Urban Wildlands Group for attempting to expand the UCLA Westwood Child Care Center into Sage Hill, while erroneously insisting the area was “not a sensitive natural community.” Part of the resolution was that the UC must consider adverse environmental impact with any future projects, in accordance with the California Environmental Quality Act.

The coastal sage scrub on campus is protected by CEQA, according to Travis Longcore, science director of the UWG.

These past events are why the UWG was contacted for professional opinion this time around, but after asking the UC for proper documentation outlining the necessity for an Olympic-sized archery range and 5,000 square foot clubhouse, the UWG was told they would have to wait about two months, he said.

“It basically seems like a vanity project,” said Longcore.

University spokesmen have described the donated funds as a potential avenue for much-needed recreational space, but what is ironic is that open space where people can hike and learn is certainly recreational, Longcore added.

Nonetheless, the area is not demarcated in any particular way. UCLA should build a path between the Hill dormitories and Sage Hill, perhaps placing informative placards in order to educate students who stumble upon the land and have no idea of its value.

The more that Sage Hill is recognized for its worth, the less likely that it will continue to face ill-informed development projects.

Beyond the fact that the area is dynamic, is recreation truly an issue on the Hill? There are tennis courts, basketball courts, volleyball nets and Sunset Recreation, complete with a lap pool. And while archery definitely sounds fun, I would assume there are a limited number of students that would actually take advantage of the availability of such a unique sport.

So even though these plans are said to still be in the conceptual stage, UCLA needs to stay consistent with the needs of the university.

Especially in the difficult economic times we find ourselves in, attracting world-class faculty and students should be our main goal. And when donors roll around, their generosity should be intimately tied with those priorities.

Let’s face it – an archery and clubhouse will probably fail to accomplish that. What’s worse is that their presence will ruin a revered space on campus.

The donor, a world-renowned archer and business professional, is obviously a charitable, well-intentioned man who respects UCLA.