The Virginia Smith Trust — which at one time controlled all the land that UC Merced is on, and the land south of the University on Old Lake Road — is still very active.
There’s a plan that’s moving along to boost an already significant scholarship fund for high school students across the county through the development of a University Community on the remaining VST land, near the campus.
This plan includes the construction of 4,000 dwelling units for all income levels, 862,000 square feet of retail/office space, a K-8 school, a fire station, sports park and recreation center, a MCOE Scholars Academy, and its own police sub-station.
All of this is making its way through the local government approval process and state review. The plan is expected to take 15 years for completion, and the backers of the project are optimistic of receiving the go-ahead. It is the only project which presently has all the environmental clearance for such a project in that northern area of Merced.
It is a major undertaking; however, when it’s completed, it will meet the dreams of the Virginia Smith family in providing scholarships for students to go to get their degree.
Not everyone is on board. There is an element of the city saying, “This is great for the north part of the city, but what about South Merced, and what about affordable housing?”
Steve Peck, the project manager, spoke at the Merced Rotary Club last week and answered questions about the plan and timetable for meetings with the various agencies. He said it was a case of completing the promise made many years ago.
“We don’t want to take anyone for granted,” Peck said. “This is really about providing a means for our local children to gain a college education.”
While the terms of the Virginia Trust make it clear the scholarship program is for four-year college programs, it does not exclude Merced College which now offers some four year degrees.
Without the Virginia Trust there is no way UC Merced would have located in the Merced area. When the decision was made to locate the UC campus, both Madera and Fresno were in the race and seemed to have the upper hand. Bob Carpenter and other people like Tim O’Neill were major players in bringing the university to Merced.
Even after Merced was named as the location for the university, a major legal challenge forced it to locate on a public golf course, and not on the other side of the lake where many thought it should be built. The opponents used the Fairy Shrimp species as a means of challenging the use of most of the land given to the UC Merced by the Virginia Smith Trust, which is essentially made up of Merced County Office of Education Board members.
In getting the California Regents to decide on Merced for its location, the local committee came up with a stroke of genius and asked the school children to sign post cards urging the Regents to locate in Merced. At a critical time those postcards arrived at the Regents meeting and the result was tremendous. Merced was decided as the best location.
As the Virginia Smith project winds its way though the labyrinth of meetings, the first one was held on July 12 at the county’s Planning Commission, to be followed by a second meeting of the commission on Aug. 9. The Merced County Board of Supervisors will hear the proposal on Aug. 22. Then a tentative meeting with the Merced City Council is set up for Oct. 6 over the need to annex the area, perhaps in December.
If all goes well, the Virginia Smith Project will start on January of 2025, and they are hoping to have the first homes for sale or rent on June in 2026. Completion of the project is slated for 2042.