The Sacramento Bee once again airs the dirty laundry from the Katehi scandal, this time airing a string of emails showing the chancellor and administration scuffling to figure out a response to the public relations crisis.
Perhaps the most telling quote was from Director of Executive Communications, Gary Delsohn, a former Sacramento Bee reporter who also wrote speeches for Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who said in an early morning email April 16, “We are the laughingstock of the world right now, and we’ve given a pathetic, dying newspaper a day in the sun.”
These articles seem less about providing the region with the news they need to know about the chancellor and the continuing investigation, and more about the salacious details aimed at embarrassing both the university and its current chancellor, still on paid administrative leave.
Ms. Katehi’s team increasingly believes that the Bee has a vendetta against the chancellor. While there are certainly a number of explanations for their coverage, Attorney Melinda Guzman wrote on Facebook in response to the latest story, “The Bee has reached a new tabloid low. There is no news here and they are reduced to reading emails which only show that the campus took the issues seriously.”
While the chancellor has filled out the highlights for the news media, from the perspective of Davis and probably the broader region, there is a much more important story that has been undersold. For years under the leadership of Chancellor Katehi, UC Davis has presented a big vision to Davis and the region, but more recently has stumbled in its commitments.
In 2013, UC Davis and the City of Davis applied for and eventually received in 2014 $600,000 for the City of Davis Downtown University Gateway District Plan. The joint planning for Nishi was supposed to take place in conjunction with and connected to UC Davis plans for densifying and redeveloping Solano Park.
As a press release from June 2014 indicated, “The competitiveness of the application was greatly enhanced by the participation of Yolo County as co-applicant, UC Davis as a collaborator, and SACOG as a partner.”
But something happened along the way – UC Davis started facing student protests around the same time and just six months later the university balked at a UC Davis option when it came time to do the EIR.
Bob Segar, Assistant Vice Chancellor for Campus Planning, in January of 2015 indicated that the campus would not even commit to the dual option at that time.
“For the roadway plan to be fully analyzed, it has to be in the context of our future growth as well as potential future growth at Nishi. Those scenarios would get fully developed this spring.”
“At least for implementation of it, it would require an approval and I think it does require being part of the growth plan,” he said.
Sources told the Vanguard that, while many in the region had been warning that Davis would not hold up its end of the bargain, it was UC Davis that dropped the ball. In the aftermath of the narrow defeat of Nishi last month at the polls, one of the issues that loomed large was whether UC Davis would commit to a grade-separated crossing.
At the same time, policies in the upper reaches of UC have trickled down to UC Davis and are greatly impacting the Davis community. The university is planning to add another 6000 students with additional faculty and staff over the next decade.
Growth of UC Davis has led to shrinking vacancy rates, the transition of single-family homes to mini-dorms, and tremendous pressure on the city of Davis to grow. While it is clear now that the city cannot rely on UC Davis to provide for all of the housing for new students, and it is questionable whether UC Davis will reach its goal of providing 90 percent of new student housing on campus, it is clear that the city council is going to push back.
In a discussion last week, the council looked into the possibility of creating a City-UCD two-by-two.
Mayor Pro Tem Brett Lee pointed out the lack of overall coordination between the university and the city. He said that while the LRDP process gives the council something specific to sink its teeth into, other entities and the city have a two-by-two where they can meet regularly and coordinate in a public process. “Where’s the two-by-two with the university in general?” he asked. “They’re the most important entity in close proximity to the city of Davis.”
However, there is a catch, the two-by-two’s are in fact public meetings, and several sources have told the Vanguard that the university is reluctant to do public meetings with the city as it would put many of the aspects of the discussions on the record.
Marjorie Dickinson, Assistant Chancellor from UC Davis’s Government and Community Relations team, last week speaking at council complained, “I need to express a little frustration that we’re not better utilizing my office. I heard about at least two issues tonight that I’ve not heard about before.”
She continued, “I hope I can remind you that if there’s any question, any issue that emerges, anything that you think about doing, the first thing that you think is to call me or Mabel Salon. That’s what our work is and that’s what our commitment is.”
But in many ways this illustrates the problem that the city faces with dealing with a huge bureaucratic entity like UC Davis. The city needs to figure out a way to cut through the red tape and work with UC Davis as partners who both need each other in order to achieve their fullest potential.
From the city’s side we need to work with UC Davis to alleviate pressure for housing. The university previously had looked to the Railyards in Sacramento to potentially house the World Food Center, but many of the faculty and staff that would run that facility balked at the idea of leaving the UCD campus and it is unclear where that project currently stands.
We have also noted the work of other universities like USC, who have pumped hundreds of millions into the USC Village, and Purdue, which has formed a city-private partnership to create their own innovation district. This is the kind of investment and collaboration that Davis needs from UCD.
Chancellor Katehi had a vision for greatness for UCD, but UCD needs to work with Davis to make some of these aspirational goals come true. Willingness for UCD to be a full partner with the city may make private entities more likely to take a chance on the city’s fickle land use polices and rules.
For us, this becomes a far more important issue than the nervous emails that were sent about Mrak Hall back in April. This not only has local significance, it has regional significance, as UCD is a billion dollar plus entity that provides numerous jobs and investment opportunities, not only to Davis but to the region.
—David M. Greenwald reporting