In his Mayor’s Corner column this weekend, Mayor Dan Wolk writes, “UCD officials introduced their Long-Range Development Plan to the community at our last council meeting. Akin to our city’s General Plan, the LRDP provides a framework for the university’s growth through 2027.”
He notes, “I am heartened that the City Council Chambers was chosen as the spot to announce the effort, clearly acknowledging the partnership that exists between UCD and city leadership as we look to the future. I encourage you to be engaged in the process.”
But Mayor Wolk again misses a critical opportunity to weigh in on a troubling revelation in that presentation. UC Davis Assistant Vice Chancellor for Campus Planning and Community Resources Bob Segar, in his report to council, admitted that “even in our highest on-campus housing scenario, we do not anticipate being able to house every new student.”
Bob Segar did commit to the notion that they would house all first-year students that want to be housed in the heart of campus. He said, “Common to all scenarios, housing all first-year students inside the heart of campus.”
Mr. Segar noted that the West Village project “has been kind of stalled with the economic downturn.” He said that the project is going to re-start with the plan “to house a very similar number of people to the original plan on a smaller footprint.”
Mr. Segar also noted that the new plan is to shift the athletic field uses that are currently along Russell to the western portion of campus where the football stadium is. That would free up the area along Russell for potential redevelopment as student housing. “That’s probably the newest idea that we’re putting on the table,” he said. He noted that the university, like the city, is looking to limit expansion onto agricultural lands and “do more aggressive infill development.”
“We think we can keep a very generous open space in that area and do some new student housing to meet some of the new demand,” he said. One thing he said they are looking at is “can we do it and limit the use of private cars?”
“We don’t want to just ‘wish trips away’ because they’ll end up in neighborhoods,” he continued. Instead, they’ll do surveying to assess the travel patterns of upper division students and “see if in fact there’s a way to meet their travel demands with more shared strategies.”
Bob Segar reiterated, “Even in our highest on-campus housing scenario, we’re going to study some very high on-campus housing scenarios, we don’t anticipate being able to house every single new student. That’s something we’ll have to work through in terms of the implications of that.”
Over the years, various articles and comments have noted that the city faces a rental housing crisis, with a minuscule rental vacancy rate. It is a reason why recent apartment proposals have gained traction and why some are looking to Nishi to provide much needed student housing.
Last fall, the annual rental housing survey of 134 apartment complexes and property management complexes showed a vacancy rate of .3 percent, down from 1.9 percent in 2013. Putting that into real terms, that is 24 apartments that were vacant out of a total of 8274 apartments in the city.
As we know, that vacancy rate forces students into rental housing that might otherwise go for families. It also forces other students into surrounding communities in search of available and perhaps cheaper rental units.
The problem, of course, is that the crisis exists now, before the university is poised to add thousands of additional students that they now acknowledge they cannot house in their most optimistic scenario.
Eileen Samitz in an October 14 letter to council writes of “the crucial need for UC Davis to build significantly more student housing for their current and any additional student population increases.”
She notes, “Historically, UC Davis has made commitments to provide more of their own student housing on-campus, which has not materialized. The 1989 Memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the City of Davis, UCD promised 25% of their student population plus 35% of any additional student population increase on campus but it never happened.”
She writes, “It seems hard to believe that UCD now wants to add 5,000 additional students, many of which are from out-of-state or from outside the U.S., to obtain higher tuition fees, yet our state residents have been paying the taxes to build and support the University system. Yet, the University is silent on where these students are supposed to be housed.”
Clearly, as the university wishes to engage the broader community in the LRDP, a critical issue is student housing. The university is planning to add students without increasing student housing. That puts an additional burden on the city to provide that housing or force students into adjacent communities, and also into neighborhoods in the form of rental housing that could be better utilized in other ways.
One point I have made repeatedly is that Nishi is only proposing about 600 housing units. Other universities have been able to provide high density student housing near campus on areas smaller than Nishi.
So again, can we increase the density on Nishi, which is the place in town where student housing makes the most sense? If we can have student housing with limited car access we might be able to fix several different problems facing the city.
Again – it is something that we should at least be discussing.
The other point that should be discussed is the fairness of the university bringing in more students when they know they won’t be building housing to accommodate them all – that forces communities like Davis to pick up the slack.
As this process goes forward, these are the discussions that we clearly need to have.
—David M. Greenwald reporting