Yesterday’s column on the Sterling Apartments proposal certainly generated a lot of discussion. However, some of that missed the point I was attempting to make. I understand and agree that we need more rental housing in Davis.
At the same time, fixing one need while ignoring other needs does not necessarily push us forward. Changes in the law with regards to both AB 109 and Prop 47 mean more people who are substance abusers will be released into mandatory supervision, as opposed to custody in either the California prisons or the county jails. We are going to have a crisis of space for such individuals in our community and we have a facility that seems currently suited for such uses.
As I wrote yesterday, are we basically allowing a perfectly good facility, set up as a campus and group home, to be torn down to create apartments? I completely agree with those who believe that we need additional apartments. Frankly, I don’t understand the complaint about the density – if there is any place that can handle density, it is along the Fifth Street corridor.
But, rather, the complaint is that someone is going to have to spend millions in taxpayer money to create new facilities to handle the influx of people needing residential treatment in the wake of criminal justice reforms, and we have such a facility in our midst and we are about to allow it to be demolished without even a community discussion.
As I told one of the councilmembers this week, maybe at the end of the day the best use for this land is high-density apartments, but shouldn’t we bring the city, county and other stakeholders into the discussion first before we allow such a potentially valuable commodity to slip through our hands?
In other words, the purpose of the piece was to put the issue on the radar for discussion. We may end up concluding that this is the best use. For someone to say, “I urge the council members who read the Vanguard to completely ignore this discussion,” I think is being irresponsible.
Again, it is not to suggest we do not need rental housing – that I agree with perfectly. It is why I have pushed for discussions about the need to at least consider mixed-use housing at the innovation parks. It is why I have pushed for the university to look into high-density housing.
And it is why back in January I pushed again for high-density housing at Nishi. Right now Nishi calls for about 500 to 700 residential units. What I think makes a lot more sense is going up to 2000 units.
Ideally, we would have either no cars at all or only access on the university side, as the housing element called for back in 2008. There is some question as to whether we can legally prohibit cars. But by eliminating cars, we can better utilize 200,000 feet of parking space which currently would allow 500 cars to be stored on site.
There is a sizable student population that does not have vehicles. Moreover, the university is looking at more overseas students, and those students mainly do not bring cars to town.
We can be innovative with how we design this housing by putting retail on the ground level and student housing above – a mix of small stores, some restaurants, perhaps a satellite post office and some cafés could make this a very attractive location.
By going up to 2000 units, we can start making a dent in the student housing problem. High-density student housing can be a solution to the other problem we discussed this week – housing in Davis.
Nishi expanding up to 2000 units can take a large number of students who are currently renting homes in Davis and put them next to campus. That would then free up housing units in the city for families or help to dis-incentivize absentee housing ownership in the core of town.
A possible model is the Poly Canyon Village development in San Luis Obispo. Built on 30 acres of land, it houses about 2700 students. It has nine four- and five-story buildings, 618 apartments, with a large plaza and open space. It has a number of dining and retail vendors.
Nishi could actually accommodate more than that since it is somewhat larger.
My point is not that there are right or wrong answers here. However, I think we need to at least ask the questions about current use at the Sterling Apartments site. And if we are serious about building more student apartments, then perhaps we need to push on the Nishi project, which is right next to campus to accommodate that.
The other point is that neither Nishi nor Sterling are going to fix the problem of rental housing by themselves. Perhaps the size could be increased for the two of them to take about 4000 students – that would certainly eat into the vacancy problem but it would not solve it, especially as the university continues to entertain notions for expansion.
Perhaps the city can work more with the university on how to plan for the influx of new students. In the meantime, if we are serious about the student rental problem, the place we need to focus on is Nishi as the next proposed housing project.
—David M. Greenwald reporting