The New, Expensive Portola Could Threaten UCSB’s Diversity

The Bottom Line File Photo

Addison Morris

In fall 2017, UCSB opened its newest dining hall, the modern Portola Dining Commons — the result of $20 million and four years of planning, according to UCSB Housing, Dining & Auxiliary Enterprises. However, many students haven’t tried it yet. 

Allow me to help UCSB students get their money’s worth — after all, the renovation expenses were surely taken out of ever-increasing college tuition and expenses — by encouraging all to eat at the luxurious, new Portola.

That is, permit me to convince all who can afford it to dine there.

Malcolm Gladwell addressed the nationwide trend of building increasingly deluxe dining halls in one of his podcasts, “Food Fight,” season 1 episode 5 of “Revisionist History,” released July 13, 2016. Gladwell maintains that more expensive, higher quality dining halls come at the price of reduced college admittance of low-income students.  

While the dining hall enhances the experience of people who can afford it, the remodeled Portola may cost the university prestige and talent in the form of students they have to turn away. This unsettling possibility taints my view on the new Portola; the renovation sucked up money the university could have spent on more important expenses like financial aid, research, and education quality. The money could have been better spent elsewhere, especially if the fully-functioning, albeit sub-standard, old Portola had done its job before.

Still, the lavishness of the new Portola is undeniable and almost wins me over. Portola now boasts 2018 flavor not only in food but also in design. It has floor-to-ceiling windows on every wall. It’s more spacious than any of the other dining commons, with the capacity to seat 800. It has six open kitchens in the center of its rectangular design. It’s sleek, modern, and inviting — and offers the kind of opulence one might imagine encountering at Apple’s new Cupertino campus.

Needless to say, the sumptuous experience of Portola is worth the long trek to Santa Catalina. I will admit, I only made the trip out there once last year for the old Portola and had not bothered to try the new Portola until this week.

After I journeyed there again, I sat eating my lunch, bathing in the sunshine, soaking in the beautiful design, and kicking myself for not travelling to the new Portola before, if only for the ambience. I will be boarding the bus, line 27, now quite frequently to enjoy the new establishment.

But it’s not just the décor that is worth the journey. The redesigned space touts six gourmet stations: The Brick, Chef’s Choice, International, The Grill, Bakery, and Greens & Grains (which includes its own personalized panini station.) Only two of the stations are entirely new but all exhibit new options. I found myself exploring an unfamiliar menu even though I am a steady patron of the old dining halls, eating at Carrillo, Ortega, or De La Guerra almost every day.

I sampled dishes from four out of the six stations, splurging my calories on sweet potato chicken pizza, Cuban braised beef (or ropa vieja,) Cajun chicken and rice, and a personalized panini. The new choices, a result of new features like a tortilla machine and cutting-edge Produce Soak system, were very refreshing.

Perhaps more impressive, however, is the fact that the new Portola is environmentally conscious. Praiseworthy features include a solar-powered water system and water-saving dishwashers. The Dining Commons is currently applying for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification. Additionally, many of the foods are locally grown and organic.

The feats of designing and constructing the new Portola Dining Commons are impressive. The experience, as a result, is sensational.

However, I again have to wonder if the new Portola is really worth it. A gorgeous establishment with increased quality of food and environmentally-safe features surely can’t be a bad thing. But, if it comes at a trade-off with low-income student admission, increasing tuitions, and decreased funding for scholastic pursuits, is it a net positive for the campus?

UCSB’s newest dining hall, Portola, certainly adds to the high-society, resort-living lifestyle of college in Santa Barbara. However, the makeover may prevent the university from admitting an entire class of gifted students simply because of their financial status. While the new Portola is certainly worth the long trip out there — while it may even be worth the $20 million for people who can afford it — it surely cannot be worth the ultimate, intangible cost of possible lack of diversity and opportunity for UCSB.