by Jerry Blair
It's the largest
population area of the state that's not served by a U.C. campus: three
and a half million people from Stockton to Bakersfield, expected to
grow to ten million people by the year 2020. Enter: the University of
California, Merced -- a grand plan with grand goals. What is currently
a golf course and pastureland will be a full-blown campus by mid-century.
An eventual campus
of 2,000 acres -- and a population of nearly 31,000 students, faculty,
and staff -- could cause stressful moments for Merced. But the city
appears prepared and already seems to be undergoing a metamorphosis
in anticipation of the growth.
A wireless provider
has opened up an Internet café. Add a new Cineplex theater and
the obligatory Starbucks into the mix and the rejuvenation of downtown
Merced is well underway. But in a region with a notorious disparity
between rich and poor, will the economic rainbow hovering over Merced
translate to a better quality of life for those who live here?