There is an overwhelming sentiment that UC Davis needs to put a much larger percentage of housing on campus than they currently provide. The view is that the university is driving the current rental shortage in town and, therefore, they must take responsibility for the housing for the increased new enrollment, currently projected at 6000 students over the next decade.
Aside from the fairness issue, which resonates with me, there is also the transportation issue that university land will be in closer proximity to campus than other areas.
That said, if we look at the past and present discussion, pushing housing to the university does not appear to punt the housing discussion. One question we posed yesterday was where to put the housing if it is to be on campus.
Over the weekend, one resident of the nearby College Park neighborhood argued against putting houses along Russell Boulevard. He writes, “I write to make a case for retaining those two playfields just as they are rather than replacing them with three-story student apartments, as proposed in UCD’s 2017-27 Long-Range Development Plan. While the reasons to retain the fields are many, the main ones fall under three categories: aesthetics, traffic and impact on the nearest neighbors.”
Today, another letter suggested, “Everyone driving past the UC Davis campus along Russell Boulevard sees the historic and tranquil northern campus entrance, where discussions now raise a possibility of replacing this iconic and active vista with dormitories.”
They argue, “Surely we need to retain this lovely very historic northern entrance to our UCD campus, and not shift it to looking like another intersection such as the one at Anderson and La Rue, where dormitories loom over the sidewalks — cars and bikes always zooming by. We need to preserve this historic campus entrance.”
They conclude: “It is well known that our campus is blessed with the largest land holdings of any of the 10 campuses — there are many nearby preferable campus sites for constructing more dormitories that will offer students convenient access to central campus. Filling in the beautiful, functional and historic northern entrance to campus is a terrible idea.”
Bottom line: one area whether the university is suggesting it will put students has strong objections by the neighbors.
The same was the case when UC Davis approved West Village. But West Village had a decade-long planning process. The planning got delayed by an unsuccessful lawsuit by a neighborhood group. That ultimately led to the lack of access directly to the city of Davis through Russell Boulevard. West Village is still not completed, nearly 15 years after planning commenced.
Solano Park is another option. That was originally to be planned concurrently with Nishi. But those plans were delayed when students living there threatened protests.
What about Orchard Park, which several posters correctly cited in UC Davis’ planning failures? Orchard Park closed in July 2014 and remains closed, while Solano Park was finally scheduled to close this month.
However, a January article in the Aggie cited Vice Provost and Dean of Graduate Studies Jeff Gibeling, who claimed “redevelopment is yet to begin due to concerns about the cost effectiveness of the change as well as the possibility of rent increases post-development. Thus, in June 2014, all redevelopment plans were halted in order to find a new planning approach to the apartments that would focus on the students’ concerns. Even though planning stopped, Orchard Park still closed on July 31, 2014.”
“It wasn’t actually renovations. What we were initially talking about was the replacement of Orchard Park. It was based on an analysis that said it was much more cost effective to simply tear them down,” Mr. Gibeling told the Aggie. “We wanted to get a long lifetime out of the buildings, which meant starting from scratch.”
“The plan wasn’t very well-received by the community. After many discussions with students and administrators, the Chancellor said we were going to pause the planning process,” Mr. Gibeling said. “So we paused the planning process and created a different committee with much higher student representation to go through a different planning process. We had hoped it would take about six months and be done by the calendar year of 2014, but it wasn’t finished until May or June of 2015.”
The plan, at least back in January, was to reopen Orchard Park Apartments in the fall of 2018.
There is also the issue of affordability. The Aggie article noted, “While Orchard Park and Solano Park charged a little over $900 a month in rent, the costs of Russell Park, an off-campus alternative to Solano Park and Orchard Park, are significantly higher.”
There is some irony here. Some of the projects that UC Davis has undertaken and is proposing to undertake have been slowed by Davis community opposition. In that sense, it can be argued that UC Davis faces similar growth challenges as the city does.
The other problem is that, internally, they have a different set of problems that includes student protests, indecision and lack of affordability.
At some point, UC Davis needs to find a way to deliver more student housing, but these examples show it is hardly going to be as quick and efficient as we might want to see.
As I wrote yesterday, I suggest that the folks at Nishi, as well as UC Davis, look into models like Poly Canyon Village in San Luis Obispo. Poly Canyon Village, built long after I graduated from Cal Poly, houses 2700 students with apartments, amenities, restaurants and retail on 30 acres. It consists of nine 4- and 5-story buildings (so you don’t have to go to steel frames) and 618 apartment units with plaza and other space.
Think about it, it has nearly twice the student population on only two-thirds of the acreage of Nishi. That could be built on Nishi or it could be built on UC Davis land to the west. But even that doesn’t get us anywhere close to 90 percent of the student population growth in the next decade.
—David M. Greenwald reporting