Commentary: Pushing UCD To Do Its Fair Share Is Not Anti-Student

Infill Housing

Infill Housing

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

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. Tia Will

    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.”

    I feel that this is much too simplistic an assessment of “winners” and “losers”. During my time in Davis, I have been in each of these categories, except for the last since I am not seeking to sell either of my two properties. I think a more constructive approach would be to assess what would actually benefit each of these groups.

    First I agree that keeping housing scarce does benefit those who are seeking to sell, making them potential “winners” in this view of our housing market. However, I would point out that Davis housing market has remained relatively strong through the years regardless of whether or not there has been a major construction project recently. We did not see a major drop in housing prices with the various North Star phases of build out even as far back as the early 1990’s when I arrived and purchased during the second phase build out.

    So to take each of the purported “loser groups” in turn from the perspective of what would actually help them :

    1. Renters – here I want to distinguish between students and non students. One poster on a previous thread opined that students beyond their freshman year will not want to live on campus. I disagree from personal experience. When I arrived to start medical school even at the age of 26, I would  have loved to have available graduate student housing on campus. I would have stayed in such housing all four years and considered myself blessed. Some of my classmates would have felt the same, whereas others definitely wanted off campus housing. One size does not fit all, and I do see the University as having responsibility for providing adequate housing. As for non student renters, I believe the majority are actually in need of affordable housing, not luxury rentals such as the Trackside. When either the University or the developers choose to address the actual needs ( as opposed to wants for luxury or financial gain ) of the people of our community, you will see me in support of those efforts.

    2. People who commute into Davis by freeway.

    This speaks to a much larger need which is improved public transportation. We are not going to fix this need by providing more rental housing. That might have been the case in the day of single family earners and when an individual held one job during their life, but in today’s very fluid economy with most households having two individuals working outside the home, we can no longer count on living near one person’s job solving the transportation problem. This is a regional issue of which Davis is only a small part.

    3. People who live near the freeway.

    I am not sure how you see this group as being “losers” unless you are talking about traffic noise, and or pollution. Both are much more global issues that need major regional attention and are unlikely to be impacted by more local rentals. I concede that I may have missed your point, and if I did, please feel free to correct me.

    1. Matt Williams

      Tia, your medical school student example is a clear exception in three ways. (1) You are talking about immersion into professional training, as opposed to the more dispersed and eclectic undergraduate “experience” and (2) grad students already have the four years of undergrad “freedom” under their belts, and (3) the number of Med School students (1,297 in 2014-2015) is a small fraction of the Undergraduate enrollment (26,621 in 2014-2015).  Add to that the fact that UCD’s Med School isn’t in Davis, and it is easy to see how the impact of medical school students on the Davis housing demand is somewhere between extremely small and nothing at all.

      Law School students (499 in 2014-2015) also fit your model, but again are very small in number.  All other Grad School students (4,019 in 2014-2015) are more significant, and the 8th & Wake, and Orchard Park and Solano Park complexes target that married grad student niche.

      Bottom-line, if you take the Freshmen out of the 26,621 Undergrads you are left with approximately 20,000 UCD students who fit the “exercising freedom” model . . . and that group is where the UCD 20/20 Initiative is adding the incremental students.


  2. Misanthrop

    Samitz wants to throttle UCD enrollment increases until UCD provides housing to accommodate all additional students. UCD has said they can’t do that. So it is reasonable to conclude that Samitz’s position is anti-student growth as she demands the impossible from UCD. This is the usual tactic of people in Davis who don’t want growth. They always demand the impossible like building housing at PG&E even after PG&E has said they are not interested in selling. It is shocking that Samitz bites the hand that feeds her in this manner as she turns her back on the next generation’s desire to improve themselves through the well worn path of a UC Davis education. UC Davis may have lots of land but pressure from a growing state and world population for UCD to increase enrollment outpaces its ability to meet the demands of people who refuse to accept the world as it is and instead demand that we remain the Davis of the past.

    1. Davis Progressive

      “UCD has said they can’t do that. ”

      really?  where did they say that?  all they have said is that they don’t anticipating meeting all the demands for new housing.  so how is that any different from the charge that davis is building mric without providing housing for the workers?

    2. Biddlin

      “They always demand the impossible”

      Nah, just ask them. They are not obstructionists, just concerned with maintaining the physical features of Davis exactly as they were the day they bought a home there. When someone proposes a development plan that leaves the landscape and architecture completely untouched, they will be the first to endorse it. I see a great future for West Sacramento, as the university continues to grow and Davis just ages.

    3. Tia Will

      UCD has said they can’t do that”

      I believe that there is a difference between UCD saying that they cannot do that, and their actual ability to do so if they so choose. This is the difference between “cannot” and “will not” and I think that it is this distinction that Ms. Samitz is referencing. I do not know whether or not she is correct. But I do know that I believe that the University has obligations that they are not meeting whether through inability or unwillingness.

      1. Mark West

        So what if you think they have an obligation, they are not acting for your benefit.  It simply does not matter whether the University ‘cannot’ or ‘will not’ address their housing crisis as the results are the same.  Nothing is being done. We cannot change the University’s behavior, but we can address the problem ourselves.  The rental housing shortage is impacting all of us, not just the students, and it is our responsibility to address that crisis by building more rental units.  This is a City problem that needs to be addressed by the City.

        We all need to stop the nonsense of complaining about the University and get to work fulfilling the real needs of the people of Davis (and not just the ‘wants’ of certain  activists).

  3. Alan Miller

    Likewise, Trackside is not gearing its project toward students – in fact, it’s intentionally marketing the project toward professionals and not students.

    Just keep saying it; does not make it real.  Anymore than the six-bedroom “duplex” that was “marketed” to “families” has ever had anything less than 1-2 students per bedroom, and one per den.  What developers claim is not necessarily reality.

  4. Mark West

    Responding appropriately to the student housing crisis requires that both the City and the University move to expand rental housing in town.  Expecting the University to do their share is not anti-student, but demanding that the University act first, before the City acts at all, certainly is.


    1. hpierce

      You do understand that the City is in no position to ‘demand’, right?

      In the past, to meet their housing demand, UCD bought apartments/dorms in the City, which took those properties off the tax rolls.  Would not surprise me if they did it again.

      1. Mark West


        By ‘demand’ I was referring to the anti-growth activists who claim that this is exclusively a University problem and that the City should not act to approve new developments.  They are the one’s demanding that the University act. What the University does or does not do should be completely immaterial to what the City does to address our rental housing shortage.

        To your other point, I believe we need a new State law that either precludes the University from purchasing or leasing properties that are not on campus, or requires that the University pay the portion of the property tax that would otherwise go to the local entities if those properties were held in private hands. There should be an ongoing cost to the University for taking those properties off of the tax rolls.

      2. Tia Will


        In the past, to meet their housing demand, UCD bought apartments/dorms in the City”

        Well, this is not a unilateral action on the part of UCD unless you believe they would be able to use imminent domain. A sale means that someone has to be willing to sell their property to the University. If we are truly concerned about that possibility, then perhaps our investor groups might be better served by buying up these properties themselves.

      1. Matt Williams

        CalAg, you often describe the UCD/City interactions in terms that sound a lot like a “game of chicken” with who blinks first being the deciding factor.

        Setting policy on the basis of the outcome of that kind of power competition seems short-sighted to me.  Especially if one of the power players is extremely unlikely to ever blink.  If UCD never blinks, then the impacts all fall on the City.  Is the City properly prepared to absorb all those impacts?

        1. Frankly

          Agree with this completely especially as the state universities move away from serving California students and instead increase enrollment of those out of state students that bring in more revenue to the business.

  5. CalAg

    It’s time to face facts – UCD has a predatory relationship with the City.

    Whenever it leases office space (because it’s cheaper to lease than build on-campus), it takes land off the tax rolls and hurts the Davis taxpayers. Whenever it increases enrollment without building new on-campus housing (because it’s cheaper to force the surrounding jurisdictions to adsorb the population growth), it hurts renters and home buyers, degrades the quality-of-life city-wide, and also hurts the Davis taxpayers.



    1. Matt Williams

      In the context you use it, the term “predatory relationship” is a good choice of words.  I agree with you that it is time to stop perpetuating that.  The discussions of the Nishi proposal have given us all an indication that the University may be willing to change that going forward.

    2. Jim Frame

      Whenever it leases office space (because it’s cheaper to lease than build on-campus), it takes land off the tax rolls

      Are you certain about this?  When UC takes fee title to a property the tax payments stop, but it seems to me that when it leases facilities from a private entity that entity is still required to pay taxes.


  6. Miwok

    I am glad I read all the comments, someone always says some of the things I was going to say.

    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?

    I will tell, you, David… THEY DON’T CARE. When I see students driving around campus with Saudi Diplomatic Plates in a Lamborghini. I don’t imagine housing costs are on the radar. These 5000 new students are slated to be International, as  much as possible, because they can charge out of state fees. That is the UCD budget balancing initiative.

    The Billion Dollar “Endowment” – it is NOT an Endowment, it is not all General Fund either. Just as the UC tells Union workers they have no money for raises, while the Press Release says this, a lot of the money is restricted to certain uses, such as the $104Mil for the New Nursing School, of which $100Mil was ONE CHUNK.

    The other thing  about it is they went back in Time to accumulate EVERY donation they could account for to get the Billion. Lots of the donations from 10-20 years ago were counted…

  7. Eileen Samitz

    I appreciate this Vanguard article published today which correctly points out that my Op-ed did not try to imply an anti-student or anti-renter sentiment in any way. Quite the contrary, I was pointing out that the UCD students are being negatively impacted, as well the City, by UCD’s resistance to building on-campus student housing. UCD needs to stop dragging their heels on providing the long-term, on-campus student housing that they have promised for years which would allow the students to live closer to their classes and the campus activities.  This would reduce traffic (bicycle and car) throughout the city and is simply sustainable, green planning.  Providing more on-campus student housing would free up more rental housing in the City for renters, including non-student renters.

    These next few sections in quotes, are from my Op-ed are quoted in the Vanguard article today, but I will post them again to point out that I included them to make clear that I was NOT anti-student, and it is UCD that is failing their own students and our community by not building the needed on-campus student housing.

    “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.”

    “The basic problem is the University’s resistance to build the on-campus housing for their own students, who are, as a consequence, forced to occupy such a disproportionately large amount of our City housing.”

    I am sorry to see that Matthew Palm has so misunderstood my Op-ed piece and its intentions, and has made so many untrue assumptions in his letter. It is unfortunate, but I would be more than happy to discuss these issues with him so that he better understands what I am saying, if he wants to contact me.

    And, Misanthrop the statements and assumptions you have made regarding my article and intentions are simply wrong. My Op-ed does not have anti-student sentiment in it, nor did I want it to, and I thought I made that very clear in the article. I am disappointed to see you, or anyone else trying to suggest such a thing. Furthermore, UCD can get funding for the things they want to. They recently announced that they at reached their $1 billion dollar endowment fund goal. Well now they need to pursue the funding and whatever is needed to provide the on-campus housing for the UCD current and increasing student population that they wish to add to UCD.

    (Note: As reported by some other folks, since last week I have had trouble getting logged often in due to some unfortunate temporary glitch apparently. I will do my best to post when I have time to check in to see the new postings, and when I can get logged in.)

  8. Misanthrop

    Didn’t you say that UCD should not increase enrollment until they build the housing to accommodate that increase? It is a pretty clear statement of your position that you are more concerned about housing than the growth of the University. Katehi has been pretty clear what she is going to do is grow the University and that is what the Regents and the State are demanding as well. She invited Davis to participate in that growth but made it clear that the University was not going to be held back by the city. Hence the third campus in Sac. You can demand anything you want. You can call it gross negligence like you are a lawyer but try finding one to sue UCD to get an injunction against enrollment increases. Good Luck with that.

    1. Miwok

      The last couple posts are typical of the UC/Davis mindset, and the people who foster the sometime comedic relationship.

      Misanthrop calls someone out, who is trying to make things better. Ms Samitz suggests some changes, uses exaggerated verbiage, then Misanthrop “lawyers up” and dares the other person to sue. Having tried to sue UC, I found that even the biggest places in the state would not do that for fear of losing their stake in the fees they may get from the business for the sake of Justice for one person.

      Typical because UC has an office for Student Housing, but they do not build the buildings, only Manage the facilities they are told to. All they can do is to pass along recommendations, at the cost of their jobs, to make the places better. Meanwhile, the Office that really handles the new buildings built may not even be meeting with Student Housing (preferred), because they can deny any “suggestions” are made.

      UC claims the State provides all the capital for building, and it takes 5-10 years for the money, once Authorized, to come on line and then be Allocated to be spent. Two votes of the Legislature. By then the cost has been driven up dramatically making the UC go back to the State, or letting the Building fund be “invested” until it builds enough interest to have the proper amount to build it. The “committee” is not even in existence during this time, many times, because this draws the process out.

      Typical because all the smart people in Davis, who might have had a house or three in Davis, continue to raise the rent on the extra houses they own, while decrying any new housing while pretending not to know this, even while these are Professors and people who work for UC. When new housing come on line, they snap it up, with a guaranteed income stream, while staff  and students are pawns in the game, and no one gets ahead.

      Knowing this, Davis “pretends” to solve transportation and other issues, when they pretend families are living in the many houses instead of students. Since it has been explained to me Police are also Code Enforcement, they have no time for this since they are conveniently all laid off.

      Since Misanthrop mentions it, I will say they have a Medical School and now a Nursing school, set up on the site of the old State Fairgrounds, but has NO housing for students and never will. They have a bus service almost hourly to transport people back and forth. Maybe the New World Food place Chancellor Katehi is going to spend a $Bil on will have some, but it is going to be another campus without housing, or just a showplace. Since the UC has HQ in Oakland, they need a place IN Sacramento to schmooze legislators. Davis is, well, another town they are hosted at. You can argue about whether she is being ordered to build it, or she came up with the idea on her own. But since the Davis borders are so constricting, Davis should see what they will do when UC has to grow.

      All this benefits other communities in nearby towns who also feel pressure from the SF Bay commuters. And so it goes. Comedic..

      During this time, UC has torn down some old buildings and crammed more students into spaces they formerly occupied. But new spaces? Not yet, they have no plans on line to even finish the West Village, the one that promises space for Students, Faculty, retirees, and staff. I wonder who is on that list?


        1. Miwok

          I guess I use the term to provide safe and adequate facilities, IF they decide to provide them. They maintain the buildings through the fees they charge. They almost have Wireless Internet in the Dorms now.. And Cable TV..

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