‘Living spaces, not parking spaces’ and ‘Save our homes’ were some of the phrases that were on signs hoisted into the air by Irvine Meadows West residents. Protesting against the housing administration, IMW residents refused to allow a soil testing crew to enter the property to take soil samples.
After hours of negotiation between the UCIPD and protesters, several IMW residents still refused to leave at 3 p.m., seven hours after they began their protest. Assistant Chief of Police Jeff Hutchison went up to the remaining protesters and told them they had one last chance to leave.
‘If you do not do so, you will be arrested. All right? Immediately. Disperse,’ Hutchison said. ‘At this point if you don’t want to be arrested, get out of this area.’
With those final warnings, nine IMW residents were arrested on March 30 for misdemeanor unlawful assembly and spent the night in a county jail in Santa Ana.
Located on the corner of Bison and East Peltason, IMW is a recreational vehicle park that is home to over 100 residents. A week before they arrived, IMW residents were notified that soil-testing crews would come into their community. In order to alleviate parking problems at UCI, these soil samples would be the first step in the process that will eventually lead to the construction of a temporary parking lot on the five-acre area after IMW closes on July 31.
Despite the forewarning, citing California Civil Code sections 1940.2 and 1925-1927, IMW residents believed that UCI did not have a right to enter the property and were violating landlord/tenant laws.
‘The residents of IMW have a right to quiet enjoyment as leaseholders,’ said Garrett Asay, economics graduate student and co-chair of the Homeowners’ Association at IMW. ‘This is illegal. They are not allowed to drill for something that is going to be in place after the planned closure of IMW.’
However, Robert Ameele, executive director of undergraduate student housing, says that their claims were incorrect.
‘The Office of the President’s general counsel researched that suggestion and their opinion was that quiet enjoyment refers to the tenant’s ability to actually live on the site. It is not a phrase that guarantees quiet enjoyment at the site but a legal term that describes their ability to live there,’ Ameele said. ‘We postponed the drilling twice to accommodate their needs, to postpone it until spring break.’
UCI administrators and police officers arrived around 1 p.m. and began a dialogue with the protesters. After two hours the nine decided to be arrested without resistance and were transported to the Santa Ana County jail.
‘Other agencies are not going to do the same thing we did,’ Hutchison said. ‘We kind of bent over backwards to try to persuade these folks not to do what they did.’
‘None of the students there who were arrested wanted to be arrested,’ Asay said. ‘I understand that the administration did not want us to be arrested, either. If there were more communication beforehand, it could have been avoided.’
However, the protest was not only about raising awareness of the soil sampling.
In 1999, when a date was set for the closure of IMW as part of the closure agreement, the administration instructed the Office of Environmental Planning to conduct a survey of possible alternate locations for the park.
Asay and fellow IMW resident Amber Rinderknecht, a graduate student in environmental health, science and policy and co-chair of the Homeowners’ Association at IMW, were shown a draft copy of a preliminary survey that concluded there were no areas in UCI that could be used for a RV park.
Nevertheless, Rinderknecht said the study was not thorough.
‘They did not do any drawings, any preliminary assessment,’ Rinderknecht said. ‘They were looking to put the trailer park somewhere over on east campus, not anywhere else on campus where land is available, so no, they did not do an extensive survey, like they promised us.’
William Zeller, assistant vice chancellor of student housing, explained the study that the IMW residents were shown.
‘We found a copy of a draft of the study, [but] until we found a final version of it, I didn’t want to share it with them because if there is a final version it may be somewhat different, but I just wanted to show them that in fact in 1999, an assessment was done,’ Zeller said.
Although Ameele has yet to see the final study, he believes the draft study answers the question of whether or not a permanent park is feasible in another location on campus.
‘The buildout of the campus is slated to be anywhere around 30,000 to 40,000 students,’ Ameele said. ‘To satisfy the goal of housing, 50 percent of the student body would require housing densities, per acre, that far exceed the density of the trailer park. Essentially it’s just not effective use of the land.’
However, Asay feels that IMW is a unique housing community that is an important part of UCI and can still be prevented from turning into a parking lot.
‘Even though that some people may say that [IMW] is not a permanent location, its been here since basically, when UCI was started. It’s a part of this campus,’ Asay said. ‘If residents want to keep IMW, then they can.’