February 2022 Sustainability Champion: Jolie Kerns

With her expertise on the intersection of planning, architecture and the environment, Jolie Kerns works hard engaging stakeholders, on campus and beyond, as long term planning for UCSC is developed. Enjoy her interview below.

February 01, 2022

By Elida Erickson and Alessandra Bicudo Alvares 

1. Tell us a bit about yourself, your background, and how your path led to where you are today.
As the Director of Physical and Environmental Planning at UCSC, I oversee planning studies, siting of new buildings, engaging campus and community stakeholders, and thinking long-term about our campus environment. I majored in Architecture at Berkeley. A friend mentioned a class about environmental design, where we were encouraged to sketch and observe the built environment and the practice of space; I was hooked after that. I worked for a firm in San Francisco then went back to grad school in New York. After graduating from Columbia University, I was at Toshiko Mori Architect for about nine years, where I worked on residential, exhibition design and institutional projects. Many of the projects were sited in natural, rugged environments, or dealt with historic resources and adaptive re-use. After New York, I moved to Eugene Oregon where I taught graduate and undergraduate design and planning studios at the University of Oregon focused on the intersection of planning, architecture and the environment. And from there I landed at UC Santa Cruz, in 2014. I am from Northern California originally, and was excited to return. I have over 25 years of experience now, and it’s interesting to be at a point in your career where you can look back and understand how previous choices influenced where I am now.

2. What does Sustainability mean to you?
One way I think of sustainability is how we can do the most with the least. Minimizing effects on the environment, conserving resources by using renewable sources, clustering development and building densely to leave the natural environment undisturbed, and making decisions that will have as much benefit in the long-term as now, are all strategies we think about when planning on our campus. There are a lot of detailed decisions made in the initial siting of buildings and the preparation of planning studies that impact a future building’s sustainability and resilience.

3. As part of your role as Director of Physical and Environmental Planning, you led a team to coordinate the development of UCSC’s 2021 Long Range Development Plan (LRDP), which is a process that all of the UC campuses take on in order to support the mission of advancing higher education in California. Could you tell us more about what goes into the development of an LRDP?
Yes, all UC campuses are required by the UC Board of Regents to prepare an LRDP. Similar to a city’s general plan, the LRDP is a comprehensive framework that designates campus areas for certain types of uses, such as housing, classrooms, recreation, and open space. It is our regulatory land use document for planning on the UCSC campus over the next twenty years.crew 

I find the need to create a document that will be relevant for twenty years one of the most interesting aspects to creating a LRDP. As the last year has shown, it is difficult to predict the future, and we need flexibility to be able to respond to unforeseen events. At the same time, we need to protect values, assets and principles that define our campus, regardless of the challenges ahead.

Preparation of a LRDP includes consultation with a wide variety of people on and off campus, including faculty, students, staff, alumni, city and county jurisdictions, community groups, tribal communities including the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band, to name just a few. We have more detail on the LRDP website, including an FAQ section that explains the process.
(Jolie, second from right to left, working at Kresgue College with Richard Fernau, Louise Mozingo,
Felix Ang and Tito Patri)

4. The development of UCSC’s 2021 LRDP took an intentional approach to several areas related to environmental sustainability, particularly in terms of habitat, water and energy conservation. Can you share why you and your team felt that these were important issues to address?
From the founding of our campus in 1965, environmental stewardship has guided planning on our campus, where we try to balance the needs of a large research institution – including building academic facilities and housing – with conservation and protection of our spectacular environment. The practicalities of building in a redwood forest, on sloped topography, within oak woodlands and on karst geology is extremely challenging.

As part of the UC System, we are guided by the UC Sustainable Practices Policy, which is updated frequently, and sets aggressive guidelines for minimizing carbon emissions by using all electric systems, setting energy efficiency targets and complying with LEED. More specific to our campus are concerns about water use and habitat, as you mention. We have many mitigations for habitat which are detailed in the Biological Resources section of the 2021 LRDP EIR; one of these mitigations is to pursue a campus-wide habitat conservation plan, which will set aside a number of acres protecting endangered and / or threatened species. As part of the LRDP we were able to include an Integrated Water Management Study, which looked at opportunities to expand the network of non-potable water throughout our campus. As of now, we include dual plumbing in most new buildings, which allows us to use stormwater runoff or recycled water for non-potable water demand, like toilet flushing and irrigation. Expanding this network means we can reduce our demand for potable water. UCSC has been effective in introducing water conservation measures across campus over the last few years. The total projected potable water use under our previous 2005 LRDP was about 365 million gallons of water per year to support a projected student population of 19,500. We are currently well under this, at about 154 million gallons per year; our current 2021 LRDP projects a total potable water use of about 290 million gallons of water per year, significantly less than our previous LRDP despite supporting nearly 8,500 additional students by 2040, for a projected student population of 28,000.

5. Throughout the LRDP planning process, students and other community members have asked the Sustainability Office about the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the LRDP, and transparency around the process. Could share more information about how CEQA and the EIR process work in relation to our campus?
Because an LRDP affects an area’s physical environment, an evaluation of its impacts is required by CEQA. In fact, every project or plan on our campus undergoes environmental review under CEQA. When a project or plan has the potential for significant impacts, an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) is required. In addition to preventing or minimizing damage to the environment through development of mitigation measures and monitoring, the California Environmental Quality Act serves to disclose to the public the significant environmental effects of a proposed project and enhance public participation in the environmental review process through scoping meetings, public notices, public review, and hearings. State and local public agencies must comply with CEQA before making a discretionary approval of a project.

For the LRDP, we held about nine open forums during the planning process for broader feedback. That early feedback influenced the final land use plan. Once the LRDP EIR Notice of Preparation was released, we held scoping meetings in March and April 2020, where the public provided comments describing the environmental effects they would like to see analyzed. When the Draft EIR was released in January 2021, we provided a longer review period for comments, and held public hearings describing the impacts and alternatives. We received over a thousand comments on the Draft EIR; these were responded to in the Final EIR. All of this information is on the 2021 LRDP website.

6. Is there anything else about the work you do that you would like to share?
It’s a privilege to be able to work on our spectacular campus! I work with amazing people – from our students and faculty to our staff. I really enjoy the collaboration required in what I do, and am always learning from the people I work with and the challenges we encounter as we think about stewarding our campus environment.

In particular, Senior Environmental Planner Erika Carpenter, Senior Physical Planner Oxo Slayer and GIS Analyst Parker Welch are my colleagues in the planning department on campus and have been instrumental partners in the development of the LRDP and ongoing planning efforts.

7. Lastly , what do you do for fun outside of work?
I like to be outdoors, running, cycling, hiking, swimming, skiing. I like to travel, read, bake, and hang out with family and friends.