There wasn’t a lot on the agenda on Tuesday night, but the public comments made up for it as nine people came forward during public comment to speak out against the construction of so-called mega-dorms, a loose term that seemingly is defined by large, predominantly four- to five-bedroom apartments that are student oriented.
Susan Rainier, a UC Davis architect, told the council that the conservation of water is critical, as it is tied to greenhouse gas emissions. She said, “The four- to five-bedroom mega-dorms that are being plopped around town kind of haphazardly, without the studies that need to be done to see if there’s capacity in the pipes of the city or at the plant, are not sustainable.”
She added, “It also is going to cause gentrification with the high prices for these closet-like rooms that the students will have with what happens in the city itself with people renting rooms in their homes. There’s going to be a glut on that high price stuff.”
Ms. Rainier said she was touched by a young mother who came forward a few weeks ago to say that she and her husband with their two children are have trouble finding a place to live. She said, “Why aren’t we just making housing for students and families? And making it more reasonable in that respect. The city needs to be providing for non-students as well.
“I haven’t seen what these mega-dorms are doing for water conservation as well,” she added.
David McGlocklin briefly added his voice against the mega-dorms. “I feel like the whole process is going against what Davis stands for. The way the configuration is doing damage to the fees for the city – something that we should give some definite serious thought to.”
A former planning commissioner said, “I’m here to talk to you about mega-dorms. I don’t know what’s going on lately. Either the council is directing staff or demand is forcing staff. We are spending too much time on these mega-dorms.”
M.E. Gladis argued that “environmental sustainability is important.” She said, “I have met young adults with children who want to live in Davis and can’t afford housing.
“Long commutes do not support environmental sustainability,” she said. “And where are the families with children going to live in the future, that will enroll their children in Davis schools – perhaps not in Davis?
“Approving housing developments with flat rates of likely high rent to include utility services from the city, does not support environmental sustainability. Allowing developers to be charged per unit for their student-only housing… does not promote financial stability for Davis citizens. In addition, the addition of hundreds of bicycles along Fifth (Street) and Russell Boulevard does not bode well for safety sustainability.”
She said, “Davis citizens deserve a city council with a vision of a sustainable future for the environment, safety and finances. Start first with standing up to UCD… Sue them to give back the citizens of Davis the money spent on infrastructure and ongoing utilities.”
Carrie-Ann Hunt, a single mother who went through the experience of trying to find a two-bedroom apartment in Davis, said, “It was a very long and frustrating experience.” She said there were a lot of vacancy signs, but when she went to the office, “there was no vacancy in up to probably 50 places I looked for.”
She said what was available were individually rented rooms but not whole units. “It wasn’t an appropriate place for my son and I to live together,” she explained. “I ended up with a three-bedroom apartment which was out of my price range, but was the only thing I could end up affording.”
Colin Walsh noted, “There seems to be a shift in the projects that are coming before the city. These projects that are four, five, six students, residents, even more if they double up, are a new and different beast. Some of them have already been approved, more are coming.
“These are really single-use buildings and not easily repurposed in the future,” he said. “Not places that are welcoming to families, not welcoming to working people, not welcoming to single parents. The very people who are being squeezed out of the market by students who can afford quite a bit of rent by people when they break up the houses into quite a bit of people.
“I see what’s happening with the university,” he said. “You guys did a great thing by passing the resolution last year to put some pressure on the university to build more housing. But what’s happened since then? I hear people backing away from that pressure. The university still has not increased the amount of housing they’re building on campus and until they do – it’s going to be a problem for the working folks, the single parents in this town.”
He said we can’t give in and allow these four-, five-, six-bedroom projects to be built in as student-only. “If they do, they won’t be able to be repurposed later and they’re not inclusive now.”
Nancy Price reminded the council that “the university has been asked to implement this 50/100 plan on four resolutions and a community petition. The resolutions have been from the Davis City Council, the Yolo County Board of Supervisors, the ASUCD Student Senate, and the Sierra Club Yolano Group.”
She said, “I think it’s time you slow down the mega-dorm approval process and don’t consider projects before you until the UCD LRDP is released and until we really see that they’re taking seriously these requests for the 50/100 plan.
“I think if you approve projects before then that you’ll be sending the wrong message that they really don’t need to meet this implementation and they can proceed as they wish,” she concluded.
Eileen Samitz noted that she wrote an op-ed on the mega-dorm issue, “I wanted to alert the community that there are at least five to seven of these mega-dorms being processed by the city. These mega-dorm projects are exclusionary housing – they’re specifically designed for students, they’re enormous four- or five-bedroom apartment suites, each one has a bathroom, the bedroom has a lock so it’s an apartment within an apartment.
“None of this is appropriate for families that need rental housing within the city,” she said. “This rent-by-the-bed situation is not going to help students either, because it’s going to be very expensive – it’s going to be very luxury type student housing, so it’s not going to be affordable.”
She added, “The issue is the design of these units, the fact that what instead the city should be looking at is any of the multi-family housing coming forward with … every other multi-family project coming forward needs to be one-, two-, three-bedroom apartments so that everyone can live in it.”
Ron Ortel said, “Seems like we are getting these unprecedented designs – these four- or five-bedroom suites – some of them larger than a house.”
He said the problem “seems to be UCD. The city hasn’t found a method yet to deal with them.” He suggested a few examples of UC Santa Cruz and UC Berkeley “where they’ve come to an agreement first.”
He added, “Here we’re jumping the gun. We’re not done with the LRDP yet and we’re already responding to UCD’s needs here. There’s a cost to that. There’s a cost to other people who need housing. There’s a cost to commercial sites. There’s a cost to affordable housing and a cost to the impact fees (they’re based on the number of units rather than the size).
“I don’t think you know the cost financially of these things yet,” he said. He asked how property tax pays for this kind of thing.
The city council approved the first of these projects last spring and Lincoln40 is expected to go to the Planning Commission next Wednesday.
—David M. Greenwald reporting