In a comment yesterday, former Councilmember Michael Harrington laid the blame of the lack of the balanced budget on the current council, when he turned around and alleged that “all five CC members are pandering to the developers.”
He writes that “the CC is going to ram Nishi and Ramosville (reference to MRIC developer Dan Ramos) down the public’s throats, and make us spend thousands of hours of volunteer time to oppose them.”
However, what Michael Harrington appears to be missing is that, while revenue is a consideration for Nishi, the biggest driver there might be the need for student housing.
As Eileen Samitz put it at the Vanguard Growth Discussion, just as she did in a December column, “UCD’s negligence in 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.”
It seems that the problem of student housing is recognized by most as the driving force behind the broader housing crisis. While there may be emerging consensus on the cause of the problem, the solution is more elusive.
Bob Segar from the university reiterated two weeks ago what he told the council last fall, that while the university is looking at ways to develop more housing on campus, they cannot provide enough housing to accommodate all new students. Some of the areas where the university might look at new housing are likely to clash with existing residents.
Julia Ann Easley, in a January publication on the UC Davis site, wrote that “the campus is marshaling its efforts and resources to accommodate 2016-17 enrollment growth of 1,100 new undergraduates beyond last fall’s entering class.”
Driving this train are targets set by UC President Janet Napolitano “to increase systemwide enrollment of new California undergraduates by 10,000 over the next three years, including 5,000 freshmen and transfer students in 2016-17.” Moreover, last year “the Legislature allocated an additional $25 million to UC to increase the number of in-state undergraduates by 5,000 no later than 2016-17.”
“We are committed to serving California,” UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi said. “We will do all that we can to help the University of California meet this ambitious goal.”
Writes Ms. Easley, “For 2016-17, the UC Office of the President is asking Davis to enroll about 1,000 California residents, or 14.7 percent, beyond the 6,741 enrolled in fall 2015.”
She continues, “At the same time, the campus will continue to implement its 2020 Initiative, a long-range plan to grow the size of the undergraduate student body. That includes plans to enroll an additional 135 new undergraduates with national or international status, for a total of 1,750 new national and international students in 2016-17.”
The whopping total here: “The total estimated growth in new undergraduates — resident and nonresident — would be about 1,100, or 13.5 percent over fall 2015, for a total of about 9,500 new undergraduates.”
The problem is clear. The university has already acknowledged that it cannot or will not accommodate all new students with on-campus housing options.
The solution is not clear at all, and different people take a different view.
As we have noted, for Eileen Samitz, one answer is to pressure the university into accommodating additional growth. She wrote in December, “UCD owns more than 5,000 acres, so there is no excuse why it has not provided the student-only housing it has promised.”
Ms. Samitz recognizes the consequence of the current situation, writing that “a large, disproportionate amount of housing in the city is being occupied by students, and our city housing supply is increasingly not available for non-students.”
Don Shor, in an email to council yesterday, wrote, “It is time for the city leaders to urgently meet with university officials to develop plans for housing this additional enrollment on campus. It is time for city leaders to protest the adverse impact of double-digit enrollment growth, and, if necessary, take legal or statutory actions to forestall the adverse impact on the Davis housing market.”
Short-term solutions are non-existent.
In the longer term, there are several potential student housing projects, but each one faces hurdles.
Voters will decide in June whether Nishi can go forward. While Nishi proposes about 650 units and perhaps up to 1500 beds, the project still faces a perilous Measure R vote in June and, even if approved, might not be ready to accommodate student housing until 2020 or 2021.
There is also the proposed Sterling Apartments on Fifth Street that may also be able to accommodate 1500 students. But it faces considerable opposition, particularly from Rancho Yolo residents like Don Sherman who noted that the 244-unit building will have over 800 bedrooms, and each of those bedrooms could house two students each.
In the Vanguard version of his communication he asks, “Regardless of how you might feel about a housing project with 1,500 students, one thing upon which we can all agree is that this is a quality-of-life issue for at least two generations of our citizens. Is it unreasonable to ask, ‘Can we take just a little time to consider the consequences?’”
In the Enterprise today he writes of “the absurdity of the out-of-place Sterling apartments on Fifth Street: offensive, excessive and unneeded.”
Finally, there is the more modest Lincoln 40 proposal on East Olive Drive that could accommodate about 130 new apartments, which again could house perhaps 400 new students.
None of these are sure things, none of them are immediate fixes.
Discussions about mini-dorms has become an increasing theme in planning and land use battles in the interior. Homes that are intentionally designed at five or six bedrooms and six bathrooms are coming under increased scrutiny. But at the same time, more and more homes are being converted from single-family to multi-student use.
For students, packing them in at 10 for a five-bedroom house is a way to reduce costs of rent. But for the neighbors it means parking issues and noise.
Many are concerned that the student housing crisis is forcing families with children out of Davis. The town is increasingly becoming bifurcated between those who are students and those who are in their 50s and moving towards retirement – or in the 60s and beyond and already there.
With the Davis periphery is relatively locked down due to Measure R restrictions and vote requirements, this fight is increasingly between students and existing neighbors over infill sites.
So, where is the short-term answer here? The university is clearly driving this housing crisis. In a way, it is not UC Davis, but rather UC Davis responding to demands from the regents and the legislature, but nevertheless, the situation is coming to a head.
But this is clearly the crisis that we are facing now in this city, and we need to look to the council elections as a starting place to begin addressing it.
—David M. Greenwald reporting