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Packard Foundation Donates More Than $11 Million To University Of California For Acquisition Of Proposed Merced Campus Site

March 20, 2001
Gift Transforms Educational and Environmental Landscape of the San Joaquin Valley

Merced, Ca. — Education, the environment, and student access to funding for higher education are bolstered as a result of an historic agreement announced today by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation and the University of California.

With a grant in excess of $11 million from the Packard Foundation, the University of California will acquire the 7,030-acre Virginia Smith Trust [VST] parcel northeast of the City of Merced, Packard Foundation President Richard T. Schlosberg, III and UC Merced Chancellor Carol Tomlinson-Keasey announced today.

Schlosberg and Tomlinson-Keasey said that the Packard Foundation's grant provides the means to achieve several important goals, including:

  • Securing the proposed site for the new 2,000-acre UC Merced campus;
  • Enhancing access to the UC system for the children of the San Joaquin Valley;
  • Supporting the regional planning approach including the University, the County and City of Merced, and the public, and setting a new standard for large-project and growth management in the San Joaquin Valley;
  • Creating a 5,030-acre preserve of sensitive vernal pool habitat and facilitating creation of a 750-acre UC natural reserve for scientific study in rolling ranchland northeast of the City of Merced;
  • Providing a direct contribution to the VST's educational endowment that benefits college-going students from Merced County;
  • Supplying the means for the VST to invest in the planned University Community nearby the proposed campus; and
  • Triggering the release of $15 million in state-approved habitat acquisition funds from the Wildlife Conservation Board to ensure the conservation of key wetland and vernal pool resources in the surrounding area.

Under the terms of the agreement, the University of California will use funds from the grant to acquire the entire VST parcel, including the Merced Hills Golf Course, which is owned and operated by the VST, and make a contribution of several million dollars to the VST's endowment. The final total of the gift will be dependent upon a coming valuation of the land transaction.

After acquisition, the University plans to set aside 5,030 acres as a conservation preserve that would protect vernal pool habitat in perpetuity. The remaining 2,000 acres would be used for the proposed new UC Merced campus on the southwest portion of the VST lands; the campus portion would include a 750-acre natural reserve of vernal pool habitat protected from development.

The VST will use proceeds from the acquisition to add to its scholarship endowment, invest in the future proposed University Community, and pay off long-term loans on the golf course property.

Schlosberg called the grant a landmark in the University's creation of the 10th UC campus in Merced. “We see this as a major opportunity for the Packard Foundation to assist the University in enhancing access to the children of the San Joaquin Valley to the UC system. At the same time, it's a chance to foster responsible development and environmental stewardship.

“On a highly visible project like this one, it is important to find ways to conserve valuable landscapes while also supporting economic development. We needn't choose between the two, and this project can be proof of that fact.”

Tomlinson-Keasey added: “David Packard was known for his vision in technology, in conservation, and in building a global enterprise. This marvelous support from the Foundation's Trustees is similarly visionary. We are deeply appreciative of this gift from the Packard Foundation, which has a special commitment to the environment and to preserving California's natural heritage. The funds from this grant will allow for us to create a world-class research university in Merced at the same time that we protect unique natural habitats of eastern Merced County.”

In the current decade, the UC system must absorb more than 60,000 additional students. The new UC Merced campus, scheduled to open in fall 2005, will have an important role in assisting this effort. In addition, the San Joaquin Valley has been under-represented in the UC system; currently, students from the region matriculate on UC campuses at less than half the statewide average of 7.8 percent.

Comprehensive Planning Hailed by Packard

Packard's Schlosberg said the new proposal for location of the campus and the associated community help provide a regional approach to land use and development planning.

“Bringing UC to the San Joaquin Valley is an urgent goal. But combining the creation of the Merced campus with a unique package of environmental conservation measures is especially noteworthy. We think those who work to conserve open space, farmland and natural areas should also be willing to constructively engage in decisions about the best ways to accommodate our growing population,” said Schlosberg. “In this case, it's clear that many have done this, and the end result will be a much better campus development.”

Schlosberg said the planned development and natural preserve created by the Packard gift would augment the efforts taken last year by Governor Davis and the state legislature to create a $30 million fund for purchase of conservation easements in eastern Merced County. Packard's grant is conditioned upon several milestones being met, including the release of $15 million of these funds for immediate acquisition opportunities.

“The University and the County have made a firm commitment to embracing a thoughtful, long-term planning process. We want to see the City of Merced included in this planning and will encourage the Great Valley Center to assist on key design and land use issues. All of these groups are considering the campus and new town as one development, putting it all in the context of a regional conservation planning process, including the state-funded conservation plan that ultimately could protect as many as 60,000 acres of vernal pool habitat. This fits with the Packard Foundation's notion that the Valley and its rich open lands cannot be protected piecemeal.”

He added: “We should have the highest of standards. Every new development in the Valley, large or small, should bolster the local economy, make for more livable communities, and protect or restore natural landscapes. If that sounds ambitious, it is. And why shouldn't it be? We should be especially ambitious when it comes to a project associated with the University of California.”

The Packard Foundation has played a leading role in helping local organizations conserve lands in the Central Valley. Its five-year, $175 million Conserving California Landscapes Initiative has supported the Great Valley Center, the San Joaquin River Parkway Trust, the California Waterfowl Association and others.

“With this latest grant to the University, the Packard Foundation is once again showing its leadership role in environmental stewardship,” said Tomlinson-Keasey. “The Foundation has become pre-eminent in its support for preservation in the San Joaquin Valley and beyond.”

Environmental Groups Respond Positively

Prominent environmental groups welcomed news of the Packard Foundation gift. The Nature Conservancy of California played an important role in assisting the Packard Foundation and the University in coming to the agreement.

Graham Chisholm, Director of The Nature Conservancy: “Kudos to the Packard Foundation for leading the way to protect endangered wetlands. By their actions, some of California's most important vernal pool habitats will be preserved. If these wetlands disappeared so would some of the state's rarest species. That's why this project is a high priority for us all.”

Dan Taylor, Executive Director of Audubon-California, the official state program of the National Audubon Society in California, said: “The Packard Foundation has made another spectacular gift to California. Through this bold move we have our best chance ever to arrive at a siting solution for the UC Merced campus that serves California's two greatest treasures, our kids and our environment.”

The David and Lucile Packard Foundation was created in 1964 by David Packard (1912-1996) and Lucile Salter Packard (1914-1987). David and Lucile Packard shared a deep and abiding interest in philanthropy.

The Foundation provides grants to nonprofit organizations in the following broad program areas: conservation; population; science; children, families, and communities; arts; and organizational effectiveness and philanthropy. The Foundation provides national and international grants, and also has a special focus on the Northern California Counties of San Mateo, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, and Monterey.

The Foundation's assets were $9.8 billion as of December 31, 2000. Grant awards totaled approximately $600 million in 2000.

UC Merced currently employs almost 65 educators and professionals. The University's main campus in Merced is expected to open in fall 2005 to serve 1,000 students. The campus will grow over coming decades to serve 25,000 students. UC Merced contributes to educational access through the entire San Joaquin region via special educational and outreach centers in Fresno and Bakersfield. A new UC Merced center will open in Modesto later this year.

Q and A

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.