Students Turn in Petition Protesting Demolition of Orchard Park, Rent Hikes

Orchard Park, scheduled to be demolished by the university, is the home to dozens of graduate students and student families at UC Davis.

Students, on Wednesday, hand delivered a petition to UCD administration on behalf of 51 Orchard Park residents. The petition asks Student Housing “to extend Orchard Park leases, in light of the fact that they have not yet made any guarantee of the plans for Orchard Park.”

“We are writing to you as the voice of Orchard and Solano Park residents who believe that the July evictions from Orchard Park and the planned Solano Park termination are unjust. To voice our concerns, we send you a petition with 51 signatures of residents at Orchard Park (titled the “Orchard Park Petition”),” the group said in an email forwarded to the Vanguard.

They added, “The administration has stated publicly that it is interested in meeting student needs, and in hearing what students want in relation to the housing redevelopment plans. We are providing you with precisely what you have asked for. There is no need to consult with a committee (which, we’ll note, has yet to convene since Dean Gibeling promised its formation to us three weeks ago), or to wade through months of bureaucratic procedures to hear student voices.”

They add, “Our voices are here, reflected in these signatures. You can also see the voices of the wider UC-Davis community in an attached petition with nearly 800 signatures calling for an end to the demolition of Solano and Orchard Parks (titled ‘Davis Community Petition’ and ‘Davis Community Petition Comments’).”

The Davis Faculty Association Board wrote Chancellor Katehi and Dean Gibeling, “We are writing to express our concern over the proposed redevelopment plans for Solano and Orchard Park Student-Family Housing. These units are scheduled for demolition and will not be replaced with subsidized housing.”

“Current rents at Solano and Orchard Park are $900/month, but at the new, privately managed, development, unit cost will increase to $1,400/month. Under this proposed change, ninety-five percent of a TA/GSR salary will go to rent,” the DFA Board writes. “Not only is the rent increase enormous, but the number of units will be greatly reduced.”

“The destruction of affordable housing has the greatest impact on students the university should especially be striving to protect — those with families and those whose financial ability to pay for education is limited,” they add.

In the petition, dated June 10, 2014, the students indicate that the university has “paused” the planned demolition of Orchard Park, and claims the July 31, 2014 closure of the facility will be “delayed to accommodate the needs of the community’s current residents.”

However, the chancellor’s new “Redevelopment Committee” has yet to meet with or even contact Park residents to begin documenting the concerns of the student body displaced by the Park closure, and has likewise not begun work on the “’finalized proposal’ which we would expect to see prior to the buildings’ destruction.”

Some Orchard Park leases have been extended through August 2014.

The students are proposing, “We propose that the July 31 move-out date be extended at minimum, to Dec 31, 2014.” They reference a statement by Dean Gibeling in a May 23, 2014 Davis Enterprise editorial that “nobody is being evicted.”

They write, “In accordance with these conditions, we find it completely reasonable that Orchard Park remain open, accept new resident applicants, and extend all current leases until Dec 31, 2014.”

They continue, “During this interval, the university and the ‘Redevelopment Committee’ will be able to convene with a sizable and representative group of student-residents, and will have time to create a transparent, fair and accessible plan that respects the unique financial and living requirements of UC Davis students, families, and children residing there.”

They add, “Insofar as six weeks have elapsed since the last town hall meeting where residents made their unaddressed concerns clear to Dean Gibeling, Emily Galindo, Bob Segar, and Student Housing administration, and there has been no official response beyond the aforementioned ‘pause’ and the proposal of a yet unformed committee, we believe it reasonable to expect a guarantee for a lease extension by this Friday, June 13th.”

Dean Gibeling along with Bob Segar co-wrote the editorial.

They write, “There is a unique location in our community poised to take advantage of this momentum — the Downtown/University Gateway District. Along with the city of Davis, Yolo County and the local property owner, the university is an active participant in a collaborative planning process for this district, which includes campus land and privately held land just south of downtown. The UC Davis Arboretum and the Putah Creek Parkway connect these lands to campus and the downtown. These jewels in our open space network are the location of vital community engagement projects that reflect our shared culture of participation and education.”

They note that the Solano Park neighborhood “sits in this district between the arboretum and the railroad tracks, and has provided low-cost, family-friendly housing since the 1960’s, as has Orchard Park, near Highway 113 and Russell Boulevard.”

They write, “The age of the buildings in Solano Park and Orchard Park poses significant costs for health and safety and building code updates, and the university has been exploring strategies for redeveloping Orchard and Solano parks and replacing them with new housing. Residents of Orchard and Solano parks have expressed concerns that new housing would not be affordable enough to provide the same kind of benefit that has historically been available at these on-campus locations.”

They write that they are “committed to working with our students on upgrading graduate student housing at the Orchard and Solano park sites in a way that works for them.”

They note, “UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi recently reiterated the goal of providing housing for student families and graduate students that is affordable in the context of graduate student income. On-campus housing that provides a safe, community-oriented environment and is close to the places students work and study is important for student welfare and a crucial component of our support for graduate education.”

“To continue to look for optimum housing solutions, the university is beginning a new round of planning studies with student families, graduate students and our broader community to identify new models that would better meet these goals,” they continue.

“This conversation about Solano Park is directly relevant to the planning for the Downtown/University Gateway District. Early studies presumed that Solano Park would be redeveloped in a way that could allow for the roadway/bikeway/pedestrian/open space connections between campus and the Nishi property. These scenarios are still under study,” they write. “But the conversation with student family residents and graduate students must remain open to all possible futures, so the university will also study connection and open space alternatives that would not disrupt the current boundary of the Solano Park neighborhood.”

Karen Nikos-Rose, Associate Director of the UC Davis Office of Strategic Communications, told the Vanguard on Wednesday, “The chancellor just received this new petition. We have not yet had an opportunity to read it.”

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. South of Davis

    David wrote:

    > “Students Turn in Petition Protesting Demolition of Orchard Park, Rent Hikes”

    But should have wrote: “Students Turn in Petition Protesting Demolition of Orchard Park, Rent Hikes, but the University (that is now confidant it can charge even more than $30K a year to grad students with proposed changes to the student loan laws) does not care since it hopes to make a profit on not just tuition but housing (that the students will be expected to borrow money to pay for)…

    P.S. Any idea who the proposed developer is (I’m guessing that it is probably the politically connected guys that own Covell Village and already operate other student housing on campus for UCD).

    1. David Greenwald

      We’ve jumped in at the 11th hour, but this seems to have been ongoing for several months, the students thought they had an agreement and it appears they have concern at this late hour that the university has not addressed their concerns to date.

  2. TrueBlueDevil

    I think this really should be re-considered. While maybe these can’t be made a “showpiece” like the overpriced West Village, there could be a modest retrofit to bring in a few improvements, but keep costs reasonable.

    Also, if it is really this unsafe, how did the campus let this go on for so long? From the picture here, it looks simple, clean, and functional.

    Considering the housing costs in Davis, these 2 complexes are great for grad students and families.

    1. KSmith

      I lived in Solano Park (not Orchard, but the complexes were built at the same time and are very similar) for several years while working on my PhD.

      I honestly do not see how these apartments are being classified as “unsafe.” There were frequent safety inspections, fire alarm testing, heater/carbon monoxide testing, etc.

      As TBD says, they are “simple, clean and functional.” They were quite small, and did not have central AC or heating, but for “affordable” housing for grad student families, they seemed to do the job. The vast majority of my peers living there were happy. The people/families living in these complexes now do not want the type of upscale, luxury apartments that are being envisioned to take the place of Orchard and Solano Parks.

      It really is a shame that this niche of affordable housing for grad student families is being phased out in this way, because it will factor into students’ decisions to attend UC Davis. I know if the affordable housing opportunity were not possible for me, my family would not have been able to afford living in Davis while completing my degree.

  3. tribeUSA

    I second True Blue Devil and KSmith’s observations. I haven’t resided in Orchard, but have had a couple friends there that I visited over the years. The apartments seem fine to me. I would like to see the specifics of what exactly are the safety concerns; and expensive maintenance that is so urgently needed? And an independent assessment of this by an organization with no affiliation with the university or stands to benefit in either way from the fate of Orchard–its not clear to me the university housing office (and higher ups) will give an impartial analysis; rather that their mission may be to find and exaggerate any small defect and conversely to ignore any inexpensive solution; that they may be bent on razing these units to fit their own agenda.
    It seems to me this Orchard Park situation provides another example of the continuing corporatization of public universities; where the in-house technocrats and their allies ouitside the university are shifting univeristy governance increasingly toward corporate models; student welfare is just a pesky detail that is subsidiary to financial opportunities and perhaps maintaining good relations with business (corporate) partners.

  4. TrueBlueDevil

    I wonder if the same thing happened at the former Castillian apartments close to campus. They didn’t seem bad, though some of the walkways on the 2nd and 3rd floors probably could have used new support.

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