By BRIANNA VACCARI
Central Valley Journalism Collaborative
OCT. 6, 2023
UC Merced is one step closer to being brought into the city limits, signaling Merced’s future growth north toward the campus.
The Merced Planning Commission on Wednesday approved a pre-zoning application to annex the property via a narrow strip of land that would run along Bellevue Road eastward toward the university.
The plan still must be approved by city and county officials. The City Council on Oct. 16 is set to consider a memorandum of understanding with the university regarding the annexation, city staff said during the planning commission meeting. The matter then will be up to Merced County’s Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCo), which is scheduled to meet Oct. 19 and Dec. 14.
“This is just 20 years in the making, and we’re finally getting to this point,” Commissioner Anthony Gonzalez said. “So, it’s really good to see it come to a close.”
The annexation would be a significant milestone not only in bridging the geographical distance between the city and campus but in unifying the university community with Merced. The campus currently sits about seven miles from downtown Merced, tucked between Lake Yosemite and cow pastures, beyond sight of even the city’s northern-most neighborhoods.
Plan fits with city’s future growth
The annexation is necessary to chart the future growth of the city toward the university. Already, commercial and residential development in the city is headed that way.
Daniel T. Okoli, UC Merced’s vice chancellor and chief operating officer, told the planning commission the university’s students will appreciate being more closely tied to the community.
“Many of our undergraduate and graduate students seek the opportunity to live and be more closely integrated with the community,” Okoli said. “The addition of amenities to complement the existing art and cultural activities available in downtown Merced, recreation at Lake Yosemite, along Merced’s miles of bike paths and walking trails, will ensure UC Merced remains an attractive option for students looking for a vibrant and active college town experience.”
The annexation was made possible by the state legislature’s approval in 2020 of AB 3312, sponsored by then-state Assemblymember Adam Gray (D-Merced), which permits the annexation through a two-mile strip of Bellevue Road from G Street to Lake Road.
Much of the land in the area north of Merced is part of the Virginia Smith Trust, which was established in 1971 upon the death of the longtime Mercedian. In her will, Smith wrote that the 7,000 acres of land must be used for educational purposes. In the late 1990s, about 2,000 acres of the trust’s land was donated for the purpose of building the UC Merced campus. Future plans include using an additional 1,240 acres for development of commercial shops, housing, schools and a future business park.
The city already provides some services for the university’s campus, including water, sewer and some transportation services. That will continue, and, if annexed, the city also will provide fire protection services. The university will continue to operate its own police department.
An additional environmental review for the annexation, required under state law, didn’t raise any major concerns.
Brianna Vaccari is the government accountability/watchdog reporter for the Central Valley Journalism Collaborative, a nonprofit newsroom based in Merced.
Gov. Newsom and Assemblymember Adam Gray surprise Gray’s UC Merced students with a visit
UC Merced l November 8, 2022
MERCED – On election eve, Assemblymember Adam Gray had a surprise for students in his government simulation class at UC Merced.
Instead of the usual lecture and classwork, Gov. Gavin Newsom walked to the front of the room and provided a master class on public service, overcoming obstacles and the value of nurturing relationships even in the cutthroat world of politics.
“Relationships still matter,” said Newsom. “For all the power in politics, the decision making, the in-fighting — relationships still matter. There are those calls (on issues) that can, quite literally, go either way. And when someone who has developed trust, well that is the coin of the realm. It’s the difference maker.
“You’ve got a guy here, Adam Gray, who — on some of these issues when my advisors and staff have said, ‘I don’t think so’ or ‘Forget that’ — but Adam calls and says, ‘It’s important to me.’ Boom. It’s done. Relationships matter.”
In the class, students have been assigned the personas of elected leaders or others in public life.
The Governor often handed over the microphone to the students, including to Ayeree Pipersburg, whose classroom role is Republican Sen. Shannon Grove of Bakersfield, a frequent Newsom critic.
When she finished, Newsom grinned and explained, “I like Shannon, even though she endorsed my recall. She cares about the same things I care about – family, integrity, even if she is shooting down people on my side of the aisle.”
The governor told the class that sometimes politics is “performative.” He said some leaders care about solving problems, while others are more interested in scoring political points.
Second-year student David Vidauri of Merced quietly demurred.
“When you make a point, sometimes you are able to get more attention,” he said. ”If people don’t understand your intention, you don’t have supporters. You need to make your point to be able to make a difference.”
Newsom fist-bumped Vidauri after his observation.
“This was really exciting for the students, and hopefully they got a lot out of it,” said Gray, who co-teaches the class with Prof. Nathan Monroe. “Hopefully, they’ll get a deeper understanding of issues. … The reality is that most policy issues are complicated and require a deeper understanding of differing perspectives.”
Newsom, who suffers from dyslexia, told the students of his struggles in learning. “I would have been sitting right back there,” he said, pointing to the back corner, “with my head down and praying no one would call my name.”
Once recognized, such issues can be overcome.
“The biggest mistake we all make in our lives, I still make it, is trying to be like someone else,” said Newsom. “Learn from, but don’t follow, others.”
“No one cares how much you know, because Google knows more. Look it up. I care about what you’re going to do with what you know.”
Finally, the governor talked about the need to recognize the value even in political foes.
“If there’s any deficit in California, it’s a dignity deficit,” he said. “People don’t feel heard, they don’t feel respected. It is essential that we recognize their worth, the value of dignity — even the dignity of those who vehemently disagree with you.
“We’re going to share the future, we’re going to be in it together. So, at the end of the day, we’ve got to work together.”
Which brought Newsom back to Gray, who has been locked in a tight race with Republican businessman John Duarte to represent the newly drawn California 13th Congressional District.
Newsom and Gray have disagreed on issues involving water and agriculture, but have been strong allies on building a medical school for the Valley and creating a state park in Stanislaus County.
“I’m not just being nice when I say that Adam Gray is the reason we have that medical school about to break ground,” said Newsom.
Campus Named Among Top 100 National Universities by U.S. News Three Years Running
By Desiree López, UC Merced-Posted September 12, 2022
UC Merced continues to build a national reputation for its academic distinction and research excellence.
For three consecutive years, UC Merced has been ranked in the top 100 national universities by U.S. News & World Report. The 2023 list released this morning (Sept. 12) placed the campus at No. 97 overall among national universities, No. 42 for overall public universities and No. 15 in R2 universities.
“UC Merced has solidified itself as a world-class institution of higher learning and we take great pride in our ability to maintain that status year after year,” Chancellor Juan Sánchez Muñoz said. “This latest ranking is further proof that UC Merced is a viable option for those who crave innovation, seek to push beyond the horizon of knowledge and aspire to be the next generation of leaders.”
UC Merced’s undergraduate engineering program jumped eight spots in U.S. News’ best undergraduate engineering program, ranking at No. 123. The School of Engineering counts on renowned faculty from all over the world who enhance each student’s education by offering new perspectives on what is learned in the classroom and discovered in the lab.
“We are extremely pleased that the School of Engineering undergraduate program is recognized and appreciated more and more by our peers. Our faculty and staff work tirelessly to give our students an outstanding undergraduate experience,” School of Engineering Dean Mark Matsumoto said.
The undergraduate engineering programs rankings by U.S. News are based on peer-assessment surveys. To appear on an undergraduate engineering survey, a school must have an undergraduate engineering program accredited by ABET, a nonprofit, non-governmental agency that accredits programs in applied and natural science, computing, engineering and engineering technology.
The campus also ranked No. 13 for economic diversity. As a Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI), UC Merced has the highest percentage of Pell Grants recipients in the UC system, with 60% of its undergraduates receiving the federal financial aid program for low-income families.
UC Merced ranked No. 5 for creating social mobility by exceeding the national average for student graduation rates by enrolling and graduating large proportions of disadvantaged students awarded Pell Grants.
Last month, Washington Monthly ranked UC Merced at No. 49 in the United States and No. 23 among public universities. The rankings are based on publicly available federal data and focus mainly on student outcomes at 442 national universities, such as social mobility and college loan debt, along with research excellence.
Other recent distinctions:
- 2023 Princeton Review “388 Best Colleges” (unranked)
- 2022 Winds of Change Top Schools for Indigenous Students
- 2022 World Universities with Real Impact, No. 25 Global Most Innovative
- 2022 Money Magazine Best Colleges by Value, No. 80
State Budget Allocates Over $53 Million to UC Merced
CVV News-Posted: July 18, 2022
UC Merced will receive more than $53 million from the California budget passed by the legislature and signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom.
“These new allocations will help UC Merced and our community move even more boldly forward,” said Chancellor Juan Sánchez Muñoz. “We owe a great deal to Assemblymember Adam Gray, Sen. Anna Caballero, Assemblymember Jose Medina and others for their tremendous advocacy for our students, faculty and researchers during the budget process, and of course to Gov. Newsom, who has been a steadfast supporter of this university.”
Allocations to the campus include:
• $31.5 million this year for campus expansion projects, with the legislature promising to allocate the same amount in the 2023 and 2024 budgets, for a total of $94.5 million over three years.
• $18 million in funding for climate initiatives, and access to $100 million in seed and matching grants available across the University of California system.
• $3 million in ongoing funding for the Community and Labor Center, UC Merced’s newest organized research unit.
• $564,000, in a budget trailer bill, for a housing planning grant in coordination with Merced College.
Main budget story: https://ucm.edu/ooGixW
Community and Labor Center budget story: https://ucm.edu/POiL0w