I was reading the most recent letter to the editor lamenting the Trackside Development, which was entitled, “Choose appropriate sites for densification.”
In it, the author notes, “The view presented is that densification is our only civic goal and that building high-rises in inappropriate places is the only way to achieve that goal.” He adds, “The widely approved plans I’m aware of call for densification of the core rather than out in the neighborhoods and there are large sections of the core up for sale right now, which means that appropriate densification is within reach.”
While I disagree with the majority of the thrust of Kevin Wolf’s recent op-ed on housing, I think he makes an important point, “high-density infill projects inevitably face opposition from their neighbors.”
Mr. Wolf adds, “More cars will be driving through neighborhoods. Views and the landscapes change. People worry about impacts to local property values and whether lower-income renters will be good neighbors.”
The city is faced with a three-fold problem when it comes to housing.
First, most citizens are opposed to building on current agricultural land. In large part I think that is because most people who live in Davis prefer keeping Davis small. That is twisted into a selfish desire by some, but, at least for me, I have continued to live in Davis even though it means renting my housing because I prefer the smaller town to the big city, I like the schools, I like the intellectual and engaged atmosphere.
Bottom line is, while I am far from zero growth, I think most people in this town are living here because of what this town offers. I have lived in cities – Washington DC, St. Louis, Sacramento, etc. – and I prefer a college town like Davis to the big city experience.
Second, many will argue that if we are to preclude building on the periphery, then we have to build density in the core. I’m somewhat supportive of that alternative, but increasingly believe that is not a clean alternative either. Why? Because you are stuffing new housing next to people who live there and are accustomed to a certain atmosphere and lifestyle.
I’m sorry, but if I lived on the west side of I St, I would also be raising a ruckus about Trackside.
That leads to derisive calls about NIMBYism, but I think a lot of people who are opposed to Trackside, would be opposed to the same project in other neighborhoods, as well. They might not have the personal investment, but just because I come to city council to complain about speeding vehicles on my street, doesn’t mean that I think vehicles should speed on someone else’s street.
Third, and I think this is the smoking gun here. UC Davis is not doing its fair share here.
I don’t see Trackside as providing housing for students as I demonstrated before, but on the other hand, I agree with the letter writer saying, “As for needing more high-density housing for students — I’m not clear on when it became the city’s responsibility to build dormitories for university students. That responsibility is appropriately the university’s, and UC Davis has ample acreage on which to build any dormitories it needs.”
Eileen Samitz back in October pointed out that the agreement with the university and the city called for UC Davis to “[m]ake all efforts to provide the UC system wide goal of 42% student housing. The housing should consist primarily of core-campus, high-density student apartments that are able to accommodate individual and family student-households for the average term of student population at UC Davis.”
And yet they haven’t. Moreover, they have admitted, “Even in our highest on-campus housing scenario, we do not anticipate being able to house every new student.”
UC Davis is planning to add thousands of students, they have thousands of acres of land at their disposal and, yet, they are not willing to house even the new students – let alone the existing ones.
So we have three problems from the perspective of housing – the community doesn’t want to grow outside current boundaries, the neighbors don’t want high-density housing plopped in their backyards, and UC Davis wants to grow without accommodating new students with housing.
Kevin Wolf offers one solution – greater density and using this as “a model for sustainability.” He concludes, “The crucible of existing city requirements, pressure from local activists and the innovations being proposed by the developers themselves could become an inspiration for other communities to develop new housing that uses less water and energy, generates more electricity on-site and creates more affordable housing.”
Right now, the problem as I see it is that Measure R restricts the ability to grow outside of the boundaries, and that forces the city to attempt to develop and densify on an ad hoc basis. But no one wants to discuss the elephants in the room.
We need a plan. We need to decide what we are and what we want to be. If that means we’re not going to grow, then at least we will acknowledge that. If that means we’re going to try to densify, then we need to have that discussion about where and how. If that means we’re going to start developing on the periphery, then let’s make that decision.
UC Davis needs a plan. The city of Davis probably needs to update their general plan, but UC Davis is in the middle of developing their new Long Range Development Plan (LRDP). The citizens of Davis need to utilize this time to leverage the university to committing to accommodating at least any new growth with housing. It seems like the least we can do.
—David M. Greenwald reporting