With the improvement of the economy and housing market, there seems to be renewed pressure to grow in Davis, but unlike a few decades ago – with the presence of Measure R – any project must either face the rigors and uncertainty of the Measure R process or face the equally grueling rigors and uncertainty of neighborhood resistance to infill.
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.”
Yesterday 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.
Ms. Samitz posted links showing that Davis is not alone in this dilemma. Berkeley is the least affordable college town in the country (followed by Santa Cruz and San Luis Obispo in California, with Boulder, Colorado, third on the list, and Cambridge, Massachusetts, fifth). A decade ago Berkeley actually sued UC Berkeley, “citing that university administrators did not adequately evaluate the consequences to the city with its 15-year growth plan and hopes to block construction of any new projects.”
In the meantime, UC Davis has begun its own Long Range Development Plan (LRDP) but it has done so with the acknowledgement that the housing plans will be inadequate to address all new students’ needs.
As it is, as Kevin Wolf points out, “An increasing number of Davis’ students and workers commute from nearby towns where housing is more available and affordable.”
While it seems inadvisable that the city sue UC Davis, the problems here are very clear. UC Davis needs to figure out a way to house more students.
The problem becomes obvious when we analyze Kevin Wolf’s op-ed. Of the four projects he 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 (Mace Ranch Innovation Center) 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