Earlier this week we observed that, with the improvement of the economy and housing market, there not only seems to be renewed pressure to grow in Davis, but also a renewal of the debate over how much and where to grow.
Kevin Wolf a few weeks ago pushed for four projects: Nishi, Mace, Trackside and Sterling Apartments, arguing that any new housing “should primarily be dense infill located near jobs, schools and shopping.”
On Sunday, Eileen Samitz pushed back, writing, “The article made arguments for what would amount to a huge amount of new growth, particularly if all four projects were approved (at least 1,818 units). A significant number of these units would have 3-5 bedrooms targeting students, which means thousands of new residents.”
While Mr. Wolf pushes the four projects as ways to deal with housing needs, Ms. Samitz pushes back with “the need to pressure the University to provide the student housing that it promised in its 1989 MOU with the City.”
She writes, “UCD’s negligence in not providing this on-campus student housing is a main driver of any housing demand that exists in Davis. It is gross negligence, and simply unfair to the UCD students, that the University is not providing them with long-term, affordable on-campus student housing. The University can legally designate housing on their land to be dedicated for students only. In contrast, the City cannot legally dedicate housing for students only.”
Implicit in both the opinions of Kevin Wolf and Eileen Samitz is the need to accommodate student housing – the question is the best way to approach it.
Enter a letter to the editor today from Matthew Palm who writes “to protest the sentiments of Eileen Samitz.” He argues, “The piece is rife with anti-student, anti-renter sentiment that is factually unfounded.”
To advance his point, Mr. Palm puts forth the following arguments.
First, he argues that, without housing at MRIC (Mace Ranch Innovation Center), where “are the people priced out by the new techie residents going to live?”
Second, he writes with respect to Sterling Apartments, “Samitz implies that more people bicycling on Fifth Street is bad.”
He concludes, “Citizens for Responsible Planning may think they are protecting Davis from greedy developers, but if they get their way, demand for housing will rise while supply stagnates. The losers in such a scenario are renters, people who commute into Davis via the freeway, and those of us who live near the freeway. The winners are those looking to sell property in Davis.”
In my view, Mr. Palm misconstrues Eileen Samitz’s piece. Rather than being anti-student and anti-renter, her piece attempts to put pressure on the university to provide student renters with adequate places to live.
She notes that UC Davis plans to add 5000 more students by 2020 and 7000 more than that between 2025 and 2030. And yet, UC Davis has acknowledged that they will not be able to provide housing to accommodate that growth.
Ms. Samitz writes, “UCD owns over 5,000 acres of land, so there is no excuse why they have not provided the student-only housing needed that they have promised for 26 years. Even with all its resources, including reaching their $1 billion dollar endowment goal, UCD has failed to live up to its responsibilities to their students and the City. As a consequence, a large, disproportionate amount of housing in the City is being occupied by these students for whom UCD has refused to build housing, and our City housing supply is increasingly not available for non-students.”
How is that anti-student or anti-renter? It is an acknowledgement that the city cannot accommodate 12,000 additional bodies with rental housing.
That’s not anti-student or anti-renter at all.
Mr. Palm also misconstrues Ms. Samitz’s argument on Sterling.
He writes, “Concerning the Sterling Apartments project, Samitz implies that more people bicycling on Fifth Street is bad. Wasn’t the whole point of putting Fifth Street on a ‘road diet’ to make it bicycle-friendly?”
Ms. Samitz actually writes, “This project also targets student housing, and would add over 1,000 students traveling from this location to campus daily on streets like Fifth Street, which are already impacted and not bicycle friendly. Not only is this site a bad location for student housing, but the traffic and other negative impacts on the nearby senior Rancho Yolo community and the other residential units in that neighborhood would be significant.”
There are some quibbles on what is a significant impact, but it seems to me this gets back to the points we made on Monday.
Even allowing for all four of the projects that Kevin Wolf pushes for, only two have the potential to put a dent in the student housing project. We have gone back and forth over whether MRIC needs housing, but we have to understand that, even if they do add housing, it will primarily be workforce housing not student housing. Likewise, Trackside is not gearing its project toward students – in fact, it’s intentionally marketing the project toward professionals and not students.
That leaves the 270 units at Sterling and the 650 units at Nishi as the only potential student housing units. Even if those projects house 2000 beds – it is only going to have a small impact on the overall problem.
That doesn’t necessarily mean we should not do those projects, though there are significant details still to be worked out before Sterling meets with the approval of the planning commission and council, over the objections of neighbors with concerns about traffic impacts, among other difficulties. Nishi faces more formidable challenges, with access and traffic issues on Richards and the need to pass a Measure R vote.
But the bottom line here is we are not going to be able to solve the rental housing crisis through infill in the long-term. We need large numbers of units which will require land.
The only two options are, first, peripheral development in Davis, which is problematic in a lot of ways. First, getting the voters to pass a Measure R vote for student housing seems highly unlikely. Second, from a land use perspective, putting student housing out on the periphery doesn’t make a lot of sense from a transportation standpoint.
The better option, once again, is that the university has space – they have the Solano Park site, they have the redevelopment possibilities along Russell Blvd, they have the additional land to the west of West Village, and they have an abundance of land on the south parts of campus.
The only other option would be a far more dense project at Nishi – which does not seem to be in the cards.
At the end of the day, the best option from a planning and land use perspective is to put student housing on campus where students can bike and walk to class. The city of Davis does not appear to have the capacity to solve the student housing crisis without considerable buy-in from the university.
And yet, for reasons I do not fully understand, UC Davis is not willing to fully embrace this issue. If they do not house the students – where do they expect students to live?
—David M. Greenwald reporting