Analysis: Could Davis Also Get “Eaten” by UC Davis?

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Solano Park
Solano Park

One of the big issues facing the city of Davis is the growth pressure being exerted by UC Davis’ enrollment growth, combined with their either inability or unwillingness to provide housing for some or all of those new students.

The city already faces a rental housing crunch with a low vacancy rate and limited ability to grow beyond the current boundaries.

The result, as we have been exploring, is pressure on the city for growth to provide rental housing, with students pack into to formerly single-family homes, often in large numbers – creating noise and nuisance issues, while displacing young families.

On Monday, a piece in Next City brilliantly captured a similar problem in San Marcos, Texas, home of the rapidly growing Texas State University.  The article entitled, “The College That Ate a City,” captures a phenomenon that is very similar to the one we face, and yet very different. “Fast-growing San Marcos, Texas, faces an ever-expanding anchor institution and a student-focused real estate industry that’s pricing families out of housing.”

Writes Daniel McGraw, “The City Council’s development decisions and the boom in private student housing have made that typically tricky relationship (between “townies” and college students) tenser in recent years.”

The backdrop: “San Marcos, population 58,000, was listed as the fastest-growing city in America according to 2014 census data. The growth is mostly thanks to an expanding Texas State University — the largest employer and largest property owner in the city. With the anchor institution showing no signs of slowing down and the invasion of national developers that have seized on a growing real estate opportunity to provide housing for an increasing number of college students, city residents find themselves much more concerned about the consequences of that growth — including rising rents and flood waters — than noisy parties.”

As one resident put it, “It’s not that I’m against growth, it’s just that this area has been consumed by Texas State, and everything we have now is for the students, and no one thinks much about the people that have lived here for a while.  I know many people who have lived in San Marcos for years who have moved out, because almost every neighborhood in town now has one of these huge apartment complexes right next door to them.”

Davis, with its strong growth control measures, is not going to be one of the fastest-growing cities in the country. But the possibility of residents being displaced by students is very real.

Texas State, like UC Davis, has been growing rapidly. In 2000, the campus was 22,000 students.  Now it’s 38,000.  Writes Mr. McGraw, “The school has long been the big player in town, but while it has set a new enrollment record for 18 straight years, it hasn’t increased the number of on-campus dorm units.”

“In big cities, absorbing big housing needs like this might not be noticed,” says Jared Miller, San Marcos city manager. “But we are in many ways the canary in the coal mine on all this, given the size of the city and the growth of the school. We are feeling the pinch now that other cities are going to be feeling very soon with the way the student housing market is going.”

This will sound familiar as well: “For Texas State’s part, a larger enrollment helps it become more recognized as a top-tier research institution, which comes with a large amount of funding. So new classroom and office buildings were prioritized over dorms.”

Writes Mr. McGraw, “As the student body ballooned, private housing became an issue. The school seemed to not care much about what kind of housing was built — or where specifically, as long as it was within a 10- to 15-minute bus ride to campus.”

“The school saw that they didn’t get a return on building dorms … so they figured let’s keep our hands off that and let the private developers do it for us,” says Jay Heibert, who was an adjunct business professor at Texas State University for six years.

This has been part of the problem at UC Davis as well.  The university has struggled to build housing.  The touted West Village is still not complete, with costs and labor agreements slowing down progress.  Other issues have cropped up as well, such as student protests over the demolition of Solano Park, slowing down a planned densification project there.

UC Davis has rapidly built new research facilities and things like Mondavi, the UC Davis Conference Center, the Alumni Center, the Hyatt, museums, and the like, but residential housing has lagged.

The article continues, “Owners of single-family homes in older neighborhoods nearest to campus had the clout to keep the big apartment complexes out. The little downtown area was also difficult to develop because existing buildings would have to be purchased and bulldozed. Vacant properties farther out offered a cheaper alternative, and there were property owners who wanted to cash in. Enter complexes like the Woods — and approximately 12,000 other bedrooms built since 2012.

“Taking San Marcos’ population into account, such growth would be like Austin adding 200,000 bedroom units in the space of four years,” writes McGraw.

“As far as we know, the school has never asked whether the environment in San Marcos could support a growth of so many people,” Mr. Heibert charges. “I would argue it cannot, given the water issues in this part of the state and having to build student housing in flood plain areas. San Marcos is the bastard child of the university, and the school really makes no effort to interact with the city.”

The article notes, “Indeed, the school does not see planning for housing as part of its purview. According to its master plan, the school expects to grow to 50,000 total students by 2020, which will leave San Marcos looking to accommodate 12,000 more students, likely with off-campus apartments.”

“There is not a plan where we work with the city and say we have 5,000 students coming in and we need additional housing,” says Joanne Smith, vice president of student affairs for Texas State University.

The priority at Texas State has been adding more dorm units to have enough for freshmen who are required to live on campus.  This year, the incoming class was 7500 students.  “About 27,000 undergrads now live off campus in San Marcos, and longtime residents feel the dominating presence of the complexes that have been built to house them.”

That puts the on-campus percentage at 28.9 percent, which is actually a higher percentage than what UC Davis houses.

As one person told Next City:  “I think where students live and how they interact with the campus is a very important part of the college education experience.  What [the university] helped create is an environment where the campus no longer matters much. They are a bus ride away and the private developers provide what they need at the apartment.”

The similarities here are remarkable.  The size of the two campuses are nearly the same.  The growth rate is a bit faster at Texas State, but UC Davis has grown by a lot over the same period of time and is projected to continue growing.

San Marcos is slightly smaller than the city of Davis.  In a way, San Marcos is better able to accommodate the growth of Texas State because they don’t have the land use laws.  But that is creating a huge strain on their city, as they have no protections from the change.

Texas State, like UC Davis, is not prioritizing housing for students, but, as indicated, actually has a slightly higher percentage of on-campus housing units than UC Davis.  But, at the end of the day, they seem to have the same view as UC Davis in terms of prioritizing other aspects of their campus for growth.

The bottom line is that residents in San Marcos are facing scarcity in housing and are  being displaced by students, and that is the same problem faced in the city of Davis.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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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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49 thoughts on “Analysis: Could Davis Also Get “Eaten” by UC Davis?”

  1. Eileen Samitz

    Thanks for this very informative article which does a good job of pointing out a fundamental problem causing other problems for our City. That is that UCD has not been building the on-campus housing needed to keep up with their own, now accelerated, student population growth, which has reached a breaking point for our community. UCD is no where near the 38%-40%  (with a goal of 42% UC system wide) of on-campus housing that UC’s own task force stated was to be built by 2012.

    But n important issue which needs to be clarified is that UCD has not been building the on-campus apartments needed to house the students for the entire 3-4 years they attend Davis. Instead, UCD has simply been renovating and doing some expansion of freshman dorms which only house the students for one year. This is primarily so they can secure the enrollment of these students. But then these freshman are forced off campus after their first year to find housing elsewhere, and that winds us being primarily in our community. I have also learned that other cities are also complaining about UCD’s negligence since cities like Woodland, Dixon, Winters are now seeing the overflow of UCD students moving into their rental housing.

    So the impacts of UCD not building the needed housing on their own campus, which is over 5,000 acres is inexcusable and is causing major negative impacts on the region, not just Davis. And UCD can spend over $5 million on an internet cover-up campaign to try to erase the “pepper spray”, they certainly have the resources to make the promised on-campus apartments. Heck, they have a $47 billion dollar operating budget and $1 billion in endowments.

    It’s bad enough that UCD has not built the on-campus apartments needed but they have made matters even worse by prematurely closing the Orchard Park apartment complex, which has been closed for two years now, which could have been housing UCD students. And since they closed it without even a plan, and we don’t even know how much longer it will be closed without being redeveloped. This is creating even more impacts on the UCD students and our community. What kind of “planning” is that?

     

     

     

    1. Matt Williams

      Eilaeen Samitz said . . . “But then these freshman are forced off campus after their first year to find housing elsewhere.”

      Based on my conversations with UCD students, the vast majority of them do not feel “forced off campus” at all.  They have clearly stated to me that their “choice” to not live on campus is both an exercise of their free will and a demonstration of their transition from the children that they still were as freshman to the adults they are now.

      To say they “crave” that freedom is not an understatement.  The students I have talked to when knocking on doors as part of my campaign clearly identify student housing as the biggest issue in Davis, but they just as clearly and explicitly have stated that they do not see on-campus housing provided by “Mother UCD” as a solution.  They actually see that solution as an extension of treating them as children.

    2. South of Davis

      Eileen wrote:

      > UCD has not been building the on-campus apartments

      > needed to house the students for the entire 3-4 years

      > they attend Davis

      I can’t think of any large (20,000+ student) school in America that comes even close to housing all the students for the entire time they attend the school.

      Since UCD does not have to build a single housing unit I predict Eileen’s request to get them to build “on-campus apartments needed to house the students for the entire 3-4 years” will be as successful as my campaign to get UCD to provide free food for locals on Picnic Day.

      P.S. with a 6 year graduation rate of 87% (and many staying for grad school) quite a few kids are at UCD for a lot more than “3-4 years”…

      1. Mark West

        I really don’t understand how anyone could think that the University could build apartments that are ‘more affordable’ than a private developer. The only way would be through subsidizing the rents, which there is no reason to believe they will do. The same is true for commercial buildings, they are very expensive to build given the requirements demanded by the State. That is why the University is buying or leasing apartments and commercial buildings all over town because it is more affordable (for the University).

        1. The Pugilist

          The university cannot build more cheaply than a private developer because they have prevailing wage, they have regulations, and there also limitations on beds per room.

  2. Ron

     From the article:  “I know many people who have lived in San Marcos for years who have moved out, because almost every neighborhood in town now has one of these huge apartment complexes right next door to them.”

    Yeap!  This is what will continue to occur, if the city encourages/approves large-scale developments within the city to accommodate the University’s plans.  (Without being an actual “partner” in those plans.)

    The heck with current zoning!

    1. Mark West

      “The heck with current zoning!”

      Current zoning is based on the premise that the City would be able to pay its bills. With the $30-35 million annual hole in the budget, it is clear that we cannot. The environment has changed and the City needs to evolve in order to thrive within the new conditions. Current zoning needs to be reviewed and adjusted accordingly.

      1. Tia Will

        Current zoning needs to be reviewed and adjusted accordingly.”

        This is doubtless true. And should be done in an open, collaborative process with in put from anyone interested in participating. It should not be done by “counting to three” to make sure that you have the city council votes to proceed and then going forward with what ever you can.

        1. hpierce

          ANY zoning change, including a modification to allow a “second unit”, modification  of a height limit, etc.,  should not only be subject to a ‘collaborative process’, but to ensure it is not driven by active “advocates”, nor active “detractors”, we need to have a ‘vote of the people’…

    2. South of Davis

      Yet every neighborhood in Davis has “huge apartment complexes right next door to them” and most people I know don’t have any problem with this.

      I’m wondering if Tia or any other people in Old East Davis have considered moving because of the University Square apartment (that takes up an entire city block) or if anyone knows people that moved from Mace Ranch since the Alhambra apartments are “right next door to them”.  I asked this before but never heard an answer from any Rancho Yolo people if the Greystone Apartments “right next door to them” causes any problems (like beer pong balls flying over the wall)…

        1. Frankly

          Because she is one of the few no-growers that has identified herself from her stated positions even as she is fond of back-peddling furiously with mounds of words.

        2. South of Davis

          The Pugilist wrote:

          > Why are you so fixated on Tia?

          You have not posted what neighborhood you live in?

          Has the apartment complex  in or “right next door” to your neighborhood in Davis caused you to think about moving?  If yes why?

        3. South of Davis

          The Pugilist wrote:

          > And why should I post what neighborhood I live in 

          I don’t care what neighborhood you (or anyone else) lives in (or even if you post the details of your home in town and claim it is worth less than a similar home in Dixon), but I find it hard to believe that apartments next to neighborhoods bother most people and I think the person quoted in the article is exaggerating when they say they know  “many” long term residents who have moved out of San Marcos due to apartments getting built next to the neighborhoods.

      1. Tia Will

        SOD

        I doubt that you are curious at all since I have stated on a number of occasions that I live in close proximity to student apartments and cooperative housing. I enjoy an eclectic neighbor hood with students, some mid life folks, older folks ( yes, even older than me) and a few families with young children. If you have a genuine question, I will be happy to answer, but I really doubt that is what you had in mind.

  3. Frankly

    Great article.  I hadn’t previously come across San Marcos as a data set in comparison to Davis.  I can see many similarities.

    However…

    “As far as we know, the school has never asked whether the environment in San Marcos could support a growth of so many people,” Mr. Heibert charges. “I would argue it cannot, given the water issues in this part of the state and having to build student housing in flood plain areas.”

    The area around San Marcos has development constraints because much of it is in a flood plane.

    Davis does not have that problem.  The area around Davis is only constrained by the puckered up old people that live here and would prefer Davis be modeled as a retirement village instead of a small city with a world-class research university.

    So let’s consider for a moment what Davis would be like without UCD.

    Dixon.

    And in fact, a smaller and more ag-related Dixon since it also houses UCD employees and students.

    Now, I don’t have any problem with Dixon.  I lived there during my younger years.  My folks live there still.  I have considered moving back on several occasions.

    But I have stayed in Davis.

    Why?

    Because there are things that I like about Davis.  And most of those things are related to UCD being here and not the large population of old people (that I am one) that are all puckered up (that I am not).

    One last point… I think many that point to UCD not building enough housing are picking a convenient scapegoat to deflect from their general no-growth position.  Because if UCD builds more housing it would still have the same impacts that cause all the puckering.

    For example, just wait until UCD announces that it will put high-rise student housing along Russel Blvd where Toomey Field is located.   We will see the same puckering that the Sterling apartment project proposal is causing.

    San Marcos has a flood plane problem.

    Davis has a old puckering problem.

    1. Frankly

      Well then you make my point for me.  Davis is like Davis because UCD is here… yet all ya’ old puckered up people are angry at UCD impacts.   Davis is Davis because of UCD, otherwise it would be Dixon.  So don’t you think you should accept the impacts caused by having UCD here?

  4. The Pugilist

    The big problem I see is that if you are focused on the university as a solution to housing – you have no stick with which to hit them.  The legislature is not going to cut money to the university as long as Democrats are in control .  So there is no stick.

    The problem that it seems both Davis and San Marcos have is the failure of the city to adequately plan for housing and work with the university to determine the right mix – on and off campus.

  5. Eileen Samitz

    South of Davis,

    You are not understand what I was saying. I never said I was expecting UCD to house all of their students. They need to do a lot better than the incredibly inadequate job they have been doing of building many more on-campus apartments that are needed.

    My point was that they need to build housing on-campus (apartments) that will house the students for the entire 4-5 years they attend UCD, not just one year freshman dorms, as is the majority of UCD on-campus housing.

    and Matt,

    I have spoken to plenty of students which would be more than happy to live on campus if the housing was available and affordable. The on-campus “domes” for instance has a long waiting list because of its affordability. In fact students have spoken publicly about how they tried to live on campus but it was the lack of affordability issue that caused them to move off campus. Since you just recently have moved to Davis from living in El Macero for years, I can see how you would not understand the impacts this has had on Davis.

    1. Don Shor

      Just housing a higher percentage of the sophomore class would be a good start. UCD houses 90% of the freshman class on campus (2015 data), but 80% of the sophomores live off campus. While I understand Matt’s anecdotal point about many sophomores wanting to live off campus, I suspect that more than 20% would live on campus if they had a reasonable option.

      1. South of Davis

        Don wrote:

        > I suspect that more than 20% would live on campus

        > if they had a reasonable option.

        When I was a (poor) freshman I lived in the dorms for a year because everyone said “you need to live in the dorms for a year”.  I’m glad I did have the “dorm experience” but I was able to go from sharing a dorm room to having my own room in a rental condo (with an attached garage for my car and bikes) spending HALF as much per month for food and rent.  Looking at the dorm cost on the link below it looks like it would still be easy to cut your cost of room and board in HALF if you move off campus (it costs over $4K a MONTH for three guys with the cheapest meal plan to share a single room).

        http://housing.ucdavis.edu/_pdf/s/2016-residence-hall-fee-schedule.pdf

        P.S. As the Pugilist says “The university cannot build more cheaply than a private developer” so any new stuff will cost even more and only appeal to the rich (who think it is fun living in a dry building that has almost no storage space and a creepy RA down the hall watching everything you do)…

        1. KJW

          I realize I’m commenting a day later, but thanks for the link to the 2016 dorm fee PDF.  That’s a piece of useful context.

          Minor correction: it’s over $4K per academic quarter, not over $4k per month (which would be a truly unbelievable rate).  Still a good point to make — double occupancy costs about $1500/month for rent and food, and a student could live quite well off-campus on $650 for rent and utilities and $500 for food per month.

        2. South of Davis

          KJW wrote:

          > Minor correction: it’s over $4K per academic quarter,

          > not over $4k per month 

          If three guys pay $4K EACH for a three month “academic quarter” they will pay $12K for food and a room for the three months or $4K a month (MUCH more than the cost of a studio apartment and food off campus for three months).

    2. Mark West

      “The on-campus “domes” for instance has a long waiting list because of its affordability.”

      The domes were constructed in the early ’70s and could not be constructed today given the current regulations.  They are ‘affordable’ because they are old and not up to the current standards. The University tried to tear them down five years ago because they were too expensive to maintain and were considered unsafe. Not what I would describe as a ‘poster-child’ for affordable housing.

      The University does not build affordable housing. They build expensive housing due to all the regulations they are required to follow.  If the ‘true’ desire is to increase the availability of affordable housing for students, then the only option is to build more apartments in town.

       

  6. Barack Palin

    In fact students have spoken publicly about how they tried to live on campus but it was the lack of affordability issue that caused them to move off campus. 

    How’s that for fact based analysis?  Or do only the facts that lead to a certain conclusion count?

    1. Don Shor

      That’s been the story about West Village in the past. This is from a Davis Wiki comment in 2012, citing a SacBee article with a now-defunct link:

      “Despite those luxuries, West Village has had a hard time keeping tenants, with about 50 percent of them declining to renew their leases in 2012, not including those who graduated. Citywide, the average renewal rate is closer to 70 percent”

  7. ryankelly

    How is building on the UCD campus at the converge of Hwy 113 and Hwy 80 OK, but building on Nishi not OK?  Nishi is so close to the University, that it could be misconstrued for University property.

      1. ryankelly

        Mike Harrington, below: ” I’ve said for over 16 years that Nishi should have some sort of UCD-focused development on it.”

        But the toxic air…..

  8. Michael Harrington

    Frankly:  I’ve said for over 16 years that Nishi should have some sort of UCD-focused development on it.   The only reason I am working hard for No on Nishi is because it’s just a flat-out bad design that will jam the Richards and Olive traffic and will give away + $11.5 million in affordable housing benefits to two rich developer families.

    BTW, reports from precinct walkers is that there is a near-overwhelming sentiment that Nishi is a bad design, and that Yes on Nishi is going down on June 7.

    A local very significant and respected developer asked us for signs for his office.  I grabbed 6, and walked down towards 3rd and D St.  One neighbor grabbed one out of my hand as I walked past him.  I stopped for lunch and talked with a friend, with five signs sitting against the wall at Bernardos.  A couple at the table next to ours asked me for two signs:  one for their yard, one for a neighbors.  They said people are starting to pay attention, and the NOs have it.  They live near Anderson and Russell.  This couple has lived here since 1971. Now I have to take more down the street to the businessman.

    I understand from some local business people that there is a strong but quiet NO vote out there … these professionals depend on the city for approval of their projects, or the goodwill of the Nishi owners in other business deals, so mums the word until June 7. The Covell Village project went down 60/40, and I heard the same thing then: people were fearful of pissing off the owners of Covell, so the NO votes were private in the voting booth.

    A few more weeks of this madness …

    How in the heck could the CC vote to put this on the ballot??  And if they had waited, and pushed it off to November, and fixed some things, I think they would have won big.  And now the MRIC screwed Nishi and the CC by pulling their project at the last minute, based on fiscal data they had from the get go, leaving Nishi forced onto a premature ballot, staring at a very serious shot at losing in a few weeks, and the CC would then be left holding an empty bag and egg on their faces?

    I just don’t understand any of this.

    1. The Pugilist

      “The only reason I am working hard for No on Nishi is because it’s just a flat-out bad design that will jam the Richards and Olive traffic and will give away + $11.5 million in affordable housing benefits to two rich developer families.”

      You have a curious perspective hear because on the one hand you state that you would support the university doing this project, but then you lament the lose of affordable benefits – but if the university did this project, there would be no affordable housing requirement.  So I find your position internally in conflict.

    2. South of Davis

      Mike wrote:

      > A local very significant and respected developer

      > asked us for signs for his office. 

      I have not talked to all the developers and apartment owners in town, but the ones I have talked to don’t want Nishi (for the same reason that most homeowners don’t want more single family homes) .  Smaller supply of apartments + increased number of students UCD is letting in = higher apartment rents (and values).

  9. ryankelly

     will give away + $11.5 million in affordable housing benefits to two rich developer families

    This is a falsehood.  No matter how you slightly rephrase it, this is inaccurate and misinformation.

    Mike, you should know that the number of lawn signs does not equal a win.

  10. hpierce

    David, a more interesting comparison might well be State College, PA (home to Penn State University)… also an old, land-grant college…  in the 70’s Penn State had ~ same # of students than UCD, and ~ same “town” population as Davis… reason I know is that Dad and his sister grew up, literally, across the street from campus (E College ~ Russell Blvd).

    as to current stats…  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/State_College,_Pennsylvania, or, http://www.census.gov/quickfacts/table/RHI105210/4273808

     

     

  11. Michael Harrington

    Ryan:  I guess you are one of those “If I say it often enough, it must be true” kind of people.

    If the AHO applied to this project, there would have been at least 13 acres of land transferred to the city.  The transfer is the default.  If there is a special plan, then the value of the given away units would exceed $11.5 million.

    And, if you include the for sale in the calculations, which we do, and we will ask the court for confirmation of this, the land in fee simple to the City approaches 20 acres.

    Instead of complaining, why don’t you just go walk precincts and see if your side is winning??

    1. hpierce

       I guess you are one of those “If I say it often enough, it must be true” kind of people.

      Ryan… Mr H is claiming you as ‘one of his own’… will leave it to you to feel proud of that ‘recognition’, or not.

      1. ryankelly

        I’m not the only one who has pointed out the inaccuracy of that statement.  It may be the basis of his lawsuit against the City, but I don’t believe that even he thinks that this should be a primary reason to vote against Nishi.  It is what he has latched onto.  As a landlord that rents primarily to students and charges a pretty penny, I don’t believe for an instant that he cares one iota about providing affordable housing for students a block from campus.

  12. Barack Palin

     I guess you are one of those “If I say it often enough, it must be true” kind of people.

    There are a lot of “those” kind of people that comment on the V.

  13. Michael Harrington

    South of Davis:  I don’t know all of the reasons people might have to vote NO, but even if they think they are voting NO on a bailout of the King of England, I will take it.

     

    I think the CC’s breach of the R ordinance is part of the reason this Nishi might go down.  They should have waited to ensure that the project conformed to law, and that would have been a longer timeline.  But no, they were screwed by RMIC into thinking that it owned the November ballot, and Nishi could not be moved to November, and now, a mere weeks after the CC jammed this through to the June ballot, MRIC suddenly pulls the plug.    Come on, CC members:  tell us if you are angry at how shabbily MRIC has treated you all?   Say it publically.  We will all respect you more for it.

    If I were Ruff or Whitcomb, I would be furious at what their eastern Yolo County sprawl developer cousin Ramos did to them, with the blocking of a move to November ballot when Nishi clearly needed extra time.

    How could staff and the CC been duped by this trick??

    1. The Pugilist

      ”  They should have waited to ensure that the project conformed to law”

      I haven’t seen any points of law that you guys have raised that hold up to scrutiny.

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