Call the issues 1 and 1a and assign the rank order according to your preference, but the two biggest issues for the city heading into the 2016 elections are the budget (including tax revenue and economic development) and student housing.
The problem is simple: Davis has a housing vacancy rate of around 0.2%. UC Davis is under a legislative mandate to increase enrollment over the next few years. Bob Segar from the university has said on multiple occasions that UC Davis will not be adding enough housing to accommodate the increased enrollment.
The solution is complicated.
There is a temptation by some to demand that the university not add enrollment without accommodating them with housing. However, giving students access to a UC Davis and a UC education is not something we should be playing land-use politics with. Whatever inconvenience additional students might cause us from a planning and land use perspective pales in comparison to the value that those students and, indeed, our society gains from having more students with a high quality education.
UC Davis does not really answer to anyone. The legislature might hold the purse strings, but most are not going to care whether they inconvenience communities with demands for additional student housing.
The city really has little recourse if the university adds students without accommodating them.
There are some advantages to the university rather than the city adding student housing. First, from a sustainability standpoint and a traffic impact standpoint, locating students as close to the university as possible seems to make a lot of sense. However, even adding students, the university will have huge impacts on the city in terms of congestion and the need for additional services to accommodate them.
As the difficulties and costs for developing West Village show, on-campus housing might not be the panacea either. The cost of housing can be higher due to construction costs and laws associated with it. Moreover, developing additional housing along the Russell Boulevard corridor could add to congestion and traffic impacts.
The city also has an opportunity to take a chunk out of student housing needs internally. The Nishi project could provide up to 1500 beds for students in an area that is right next to campus that would avoid additional traffic and road impacts to the city. This requires a Measure R vote, but, by limiting cars on the site, the impact on the congested Richards Blvd. could be minimized.
The Sterling apartment development is drawing criticism from neighbors at Rancho Yolo, but it could also provide a huge amount of housing for students. One suggestion to limit the impact of additional cars would be limiting parking spaces for the residents of the apartments.
The Lincoln 40 apartments could also start to alleviate student housing impacts, as well.
None of those apartment complexes will solve the rental housing crisis. But by providing over 3000 beds for students, it would certainly take a bite out of the overall concern.
However, the Vanguard agrees with those who believe that growth and housing alone will not solve this problem.
Instead, the city should work closely with UC Davis as it develops its LRDP (Long Range Development Plan). The city can help the university to develop appropriate sites for additional housing. The city as well as private developers can find ways to partner with the university to develop affordable (small “a”) student housing that can help to alleviate the shortage of student housing.
The city is not in a position to make “demands,” as the university does not answer to the city. However, by working together, the city and university can get more of what each needs.
We need to start to understand the constraints and costs the university faces and work at creative ways to resolve that.
The stakes here are quite high. As the Vanguard has noted previously, demographics will push university students into a numerical majority in town. Right now, most of those students do not vote in Davis and do not generally vote on local issues. But a housing crisis that leads to skyrocketing costs and shortfalls in housing can change that rapidly.
The clock is really ticking. Right now Measure R is set to expire in June of 2020. That is just four years away. A failure to appropriately act by the city could result in large numbers of students coming out to vote and creating major changes in land use policies. Remember, the election in 1972 marked a similar turning point in the future of this community.
The key is for the city and university to figure out how many students are coming in the next 20 years, come up with a viable plan to accommodate them, and work together to achieve that goal.
Can this happen? Time will tell. But the future of Davis will be determined by what we come up with right now.
—David M. Greenwald reporting