With the aim of scheduling a meeting with Chancellor Ralph J. Cicerone to discuss the closure of Irvine Meadows West, on May 7, nine IMW residents and supporters marched from the trailer park to the Administration Building with a petition signed by over 1,600 students to keep IMW open. Protesters could be heard chanting, ‘Chancellor, Chancellor, can you see the light? Housing is a human right … for our housing we will fight.’
The supporters’ main goals were to identify a final decision maker in the closure of the park and to make an appointment with Cicerone, something they say they’ve been trying to accomplish since February.
‘All we want is to identify a decision maker and have someone look us in the face and give us a straight answer,’ said Matthew Cardinale, first-year graduate student in sociology and democracy.
After moving back and forth between Cicerone’s and Gomez’s offices, IMW supporters were able to meet with Gomez later that day to discuss their concerns and arrange a meeting with Cicerone.
Amber Rinderknecht, a graduate student in environmental health and science and policy and co-chair of the Homeowners’ Association at IMW, voiced her desire to keep the park open and expressed that she didn’t feel there were any legitimate reasons for the park’s closure.
‘If IMW needs to close because of a parking situation, we’ve shown at the forum that there is no parking situation in which IMW needs to close,’ Rinderknecht said.
She also feels that keeping IMW open will provide an effective affordable housing alternative for students and provide UCI with the economic diversity it lacks.
‘The up-and-coming crisis for graduate and family housing in terms of [affordable housing] is becoming drastically less and less. How is UCI going to address those concerns,’ Rinderknecht said. ‘IMW is the most and only truly affordable place on campus to live and it can even increase in size.’
According to Rinderknecht the average monthly income of a graduate student stipend is about $1,000 while the average monthly rent in Irvine is $670. She feels that charging students 67 percent of their income for housing is logistically and ethically wrong. Rinderknecht explained that having more affordable housing on campus will help UCI attract more graduate students.
Gomez asserted that there is a committee committed to finding affordable housing for students and that affordable housing is an issue that does not need to be linked to the closure of IMW. He also expressed that he does not support keeping the trailer park open because in 1999 current IMW residents and the administration signed a legal agreement that the park would close on July 31, 2004.
‘The agreement was made on the behalf of the chancellor and he approved it at that time and supported it, so how you reopen it at this stage. The notion for reconsideration at this stage is a moving away from your agreement,’ Gomez said. ‘I’m fulfilling my commitment. That’s why I will not participate on another committee to reconsider reopening this.’
Although IMW supporters speculate that there may have been some consideration that the trailer park should be a permanent facility, Gomez declared that the park was always meant to be an interim site.
IMW supporters also don’t feel that a ‘good faith’ search for an alternative location for the trailer park was made citing a vague draft as the only concrete document linked to the search.
However, according to Gomez, although the search is labeled as a draft, a search was made.
‘The remote sites were too expensive to develop or too closely in line with what would not be financially feasible to build an interim park on the land that is available,’ Gomez said.
On May 7, Gomez notified Cardinale and Rinderknecht that Cicerone cleared his schedule in order to arrange a meeting with IMW supporters that same day, but they were unable to attend the meeting.
During an interview with the New University, Cicerone expressed that although he doesn’t see any plans for IMW to remain open, he is willing to listen to the group’s concerns. He also explained that the administration must take into account the needs of all students.
‘I worked my way through college and took out a lot of loans. I had to find affordable housing all through grad school, so it’s not like we don’t understand,’ Cicerone said. ‘Whether we like it or not, there are students who do not live on campus with a variety of needs like parking.’