Monday Morning Thoughts I: UC-City of Davis Housing Issue is Ground Zero

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Those who are supportive of a General Plan update need to understand where this process is most likely to fall apart. Yesterday’s Sunday Commentary asked five specific questions, but the only question that drew any discussion was the one that directed people to select four places where you would support new housing opportunities for students, not including the UC Davis campus.

I actually think my position is fairly middle of the road on this issue.  I agree with the need for UC Davis to provide more housing on campus.  But I also think the city needs some housing in the city as well.

We start with math.  It is hard to calculate exactly what the city needs to build today, with no additional students admitted to UC Davis.  We know that the vacancy rate is effectively zero and we know there are a number of students already forced to commute into town.

A chart posted by Don Shor suggests as many as 10,000 students, graduate students and employees live outside of Davis, compared with 24,000 in Davis, 6000 on campus and 1455 at West Village.  Ten percent of students commute from outside of Davis.  It seems logical based on those numbers that we should probably be providing 3000 additional housing units, or perhaps beds, without any new population.

But that’s not the end of the story.  UC Davis is projecting somewhere around 6000 new students, with perhaps as many as 2000 more faculty and staff in the next decade.

The good news is that UC Davis has promised preliminarily in a document that has yet to be approved by the Regents to accommodate 90 percent of those new students.  That means 5400 of the 6000.  That means another 600 or so won’t be accommodated.  It also doesn’t include that faculty and staff number.

How likely is it that UC Davis will build for 5400 new students over the next ten years?  Eileen Samitz’s research that goes back nearly 30 years shows that both times UC Davis promised to increase their on-campus housing, their actual housing fell well short of their promises.

There is also a timeline here.  UC Davis has announced this month they will provide about 50 more houses to faculty and staff by 2018 at West Village.  That’s barely a drop in the bucket and it represents what they can reasonably accomplish in two years.

Even if they plan for and start building new student housing, it figures it would take them perhaps until 2020 before those student housing units are online, and by that point we may have another 3000 students on campus.

That doesn’t even begin to count on delays.  We saw how long it took West Village to go from planning stages to actually housing people and, even now, nearly a decade later, we still have yet to see full build out.  Student protests led to the postponed densification of Solano Park and Orchard Park.

Now UC Davis has looked toward the sports fields on Russell Boulevard as a possible location for student housing, but we see pushback from the neighbors against the three-story student apartments.

Bottom line, I have long been an advocate for UC Davis to do its share in providing housing for students on campus.  But they have always fallen short of even their modest commitments.

I agree with the city policy of pushing for more housing on campus, I support a two-by-two that can hopefully push for more housing on campus, but at the end of the day, I’m not sure why we should count on it.

I think it is reasonable to expect that UC Davis will provide half of what they have promised in the next decade.  That puts them at 3000 new housing units, or at least beds.  I think, given current needs and future projection, the city should attempt to develop another 3000 to 4000 beds.

A lot of that could be subsumed in existing planned developments. At some point everyone expects Nishi to come back for another bite of the apple.  The Vanguard has suggested that the project could be modified to take on a lot more student housing, which would put the students right next door to campus and actually alleviate rather than exacerbate traffic.

Unfortunately, while everyone seems to understand that there is a student housing crisis, the community is divided on how to resolve it.  Failure to resolve the housing issue is only going to hurt our community – it will force more students to commute which means more traffic and greenhouse gas impacts.  It will force more students into existing facilities, which will have negative impacts on parking, on noise, on the availability of single-family homes.

I am not proposing that the city “solve” the problem here.  All I suggest is that the city provide some of the already-needed housing.  But if we can’t even get people to theoretically come up with acceptable locations in the city for housing, this is an impossible task and the General Plan will be a failure before it even begins.

—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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24 thoughts on “Monday Morning Thoughts I: UC-City of Davis Housing Issue is Ground Zero”

  1. Eileen Samitz

    David,

    UCD falling short on their promises is what does need to change and enabling them, as you are suggesting by taking on UCD’s housing problems would just perpetuate the problem, which get worse with time. Plus, as you have pointed out so many times, the City already has its own financial problems and it cannot, and should not be taking on UCD’s housing problems. They have plenty of land and it is their responsibility.

    1. The Pugilist

      Who gets caught in the middle here?  The students but also the families who live in Davis.  I don’t see this us against them mentality helping.

  2. Grok

    I agree with the need for UC Davis to provide more housing on campus.  But I also think the city needs some housing in the city as well.

    Davis already houses 25,000 UCD students according to the chart Don posted yesterday https://www.davisvanguard.org/2016/07/sunday-commentary-ii-questions-asking-future/#comment-326837
    That means more UCD students live in the City of Davis than undergrads even attend UC Santa Cruz, UC Santa Barbara, UC Riverside or UC Merced. How many more students do you propose the City of Davis house?

     

      1. Grok

        I would say for right now, 3000 to 4000.

        Interesting. That would put more students living in the City of Davis than undergrads attending UC Berkeley, UC Irvine or UC San Diego too. That means UCLA would be the only UC with more undergrads enrolled than students housed in the City of Davis.

        1. Don Shor

          Berkeley is having similar housing availability and affordability problems as Davis.
          When UCSD was built, it was obvious that students and staff wouldn’t be living in La Jolla. So then-mayor Wilson made a deal with the largest developer in the San Diego area and University City was created east of the campus. Despite the name, it’s not a city; like La Jolla it is just part of San Diego.
          UC Irvine and the city of Irvine were basically founded and grew at the same time in the mid-1960s.

        2. The Pugilist

          That would make sense given that only UCLA and Berkeley were larger than UCD in total enrollment as of fall 2015.  And Berkeley only had 2000 more students. Than UCD.

        3. Mark West

          “That would put more students living in the City of Davis than undergrads attending UC Berkeley, UC Irvine or UC San Diego too. That means UCLA would be the only UC with more undergrads enrolled than students housed in the City of Davis.”

          So what?  UCD has a larger population of students, that is not really ‘news.’ The only comparison that might be useful is what percentage of the students at those other campuses live on-campus.

          In the end, though, the only number that matters is how many people in Davis need rental housing that is not currently available, either on campus or in town. That is the number that we should be concerned about, and with a nearly zero vacancy rate, I suspect it is rather a large number.

        4. ryankelly

          Santa Barbara is having similar issues to Davis with the growth of UC Santa Barbara.  I’m told that the average cost per room has hit $1,000 per month.

        5. Grok

          Very interesting Don, thanks for sharing. There are some interesting and key differences.

          Over 12,000 students live on the UC Irvine campus while Davis only houses 6,000, but Davis has more students enrolled overall.

          The UC Berkeley campus is 1,232 acres and UC Davis campus is 5,300. but even with a smaller campus UC Berkeley houses about 27% or its undergrads and Davis only houses 21.7% of its undergrads.

        6. Grok

          “The only comparison that might be useful is what percentage of the students at those other campuses live on-campus.” – MW

          I agree that would be useful. Wouldn’t it be great if there was a “news reporting organization”, “adhering to principles of accuracy and fairness” that investigated this and reported on it? it would certainly add to the discussion on an opinion blog like this one.
           
          A “news reporting organization” might even look at what public universities do in other states to house there students. Schools like Davis that are among the 30 largest in the country might be particularly interesting. For example, Ohio State requires all sophomores to live on campus, and provides on campus housing for students who want it past sophomore year too.

        7. Mark West

          “UC Berkeley houses about 27% or its undergrads and Davis only houses 21.7% of its undergrads.”

          So, do the math. If UCD suddenly matched Berkeley and housed 27% of the undergraduates, what impact would that have on the apartment vacancy rate in Davis?  I’ll help you out, it will still be close to 0% because undergraduate students are only a portion of the existing demand.

          This is a City problem and not just a University one. Stop complaining about what the University ‘should’ do (we cannot change that anyway) and start discussing what we have control over, what Davis must do to address the critical rental housing shortage in town. The answer is to build more apartments in the City.

           

        8. Grok

          Mark, if Davis were to increase its undergrad housing to be like UC Berkeley that would be an additional 5.3% of the 25,450 undergrads at UCD housed on campus. That is housing for an additional 1,348 students. That is not an insignificant number. UC Davis has significantly more space than UC Berkeley does, so it could do much better.
           
          What if UC Davis doubled it’s housing to be more closely in line with UC Irvine? That would be 6,000 more students housed on campus. That’s 2,000 more students than David claims Davis needs to house. So there you have it, if UCD housed as many students as UC Irvine (a smaller campus) it would solve the student housing crisis in Davis.

        9. Mark West

          “So there you have it, if UCD housed as many students as UC Irvine (a smaller campus) it would solve the student housing crisis in Davis.”

          The rental housing crisis will have been addressed when we have a healthy and sustainable rental market in town. That is something we have not seen here in decades and it will take far more than a few thousand new beds on campus to do the trick. More to the point, unless you work at UCD in the position responsible for making the decision, we have no influence over what the University chooses to build (or when).

          It has become a common refrain in the City of all things right and relevant to wait for someone else to solve our problems for us. That is why we have both a housing crisis and the fiscal one as well. It is what you might expect from a community with a ‘no on everything’ mindset. The problem is that we have to live in the real world, and not some fantasy construct that many have created to justify their intransigence to change. The reality is that the City has a serious rental housing shortage due to our failure to build sufficient apartments over the past several decades. The real world response to that problem is to build more rental housing. The fantasy world response is to blame the problem on the University and wait for some someone else to clean up the mess we have created.

          Which do you choose, Grok?  Reality or fantasy?

           

           

        10. Grok

          Mark, I think we probably actually agree on more than we disagree on at least as far as your first paragraph goes. For example, I agree that it seems unlikely that the University will build more housing on campus if they don’t think they have to. I also agree that there is no City of Davis direct authority over UCD to force them to build more housing. But, the UCD planning group is not deaf to the community either. They listen and adapt. The outcome may not be exactly what the Davis community wants, but they are willing to listen and respond to input, and things do improve. Just look at how quickly redeveloping Toomy field was taken off the table after there was community input. That is why I would encourage you to advocate that UCD build more housing as soon as possible rather than acting like there is nothing we can do.

          Your second paragraph on the other hand seems like a hot cynical mess. If you’re looking for causes of the student housing crisis it is clear that the University accepting more students than there is housing available is the root cause. I am focusing on the University who has better control over both sides of the equation because they can both control their enrollment numbers and can build student specific housing to meet the increases. You’re focused on the City which has far less control even over the housing side since they can only approve housing projects, but not actually control when they are built, or assure that students live in them.

          Looking at how many students are housed at other UCs hardly seems like fantasy, in fact you suggested it above.

          The only comparison that might be useful is what percentage of the students at those other campuses live on-campus.

           
          If a higher percentage of students are housed at UC Berkeley on less land, then surely UCD can do better. If UC Irvine houses twice as many students as UCD, even though they enroll fewer, then UCD can do better.

        11. Mark West

          “If a higher percentage of students are housed at UC Berkeley on less land, then surely UCD can do better.”

          The fantasy is that you think someone else should solve the City’s problems. Typical of the nonsense that is posted here by many. The student housing shortage is only part of the City’s housing shortage. Once you wake up and understand that simple fact maybe you will be ready to face reality. Until then, enjoy your snooze on Fantasy Island.

  3. Frankly

    “The UC Berkeley campus is 1,232 acres and UC Davis campus is 5,300”

    This makes me chuckle.

    First, UCD is the Ag school.  It needs more land.

    Second, the City of Berkeley is pretty much out of peripheral land to develop on.

    The City of Berkeley is 17.2 square miles with a population of 116,786 for 6,790 people per square mile.  The City of Davis is 10.5 square miles with a population of 66,205 for a population density of 6,305 per square mile.

    Why in the hell do Davis residents think it is ok to reject peripheral growth and force urban density on the city when we are surrounded by land that can be developed?

    Freakin’ fools.

    1. Tia Will

      Frankly

      Why in the hell do Davis residents think it is ok to reject peripheral growth and force urban density on the city when we are surrounded by land that can be developed?”

      Perhaps it is because we do not want our children or grandchildren to be in a situation such as Berkeley now finds itself with no peripheral land to develop. You have stated in the past that there is no possibility that this would happen, and yet it is exactly what you are arguing for….namely, peripheral growth until we have exhausted all the possibilities.

       

    2. Michael Harrington

      We like viewing the prime ag land surrounding our little city.  We like the environmental benefits of reducing urban sprawl.  Not complicated.

       

      And we always enjoy hearing you rant about it!

      1. Frankly

        Mike, if you just like looking at farmland, why not move to a rural farm town without a large and growing world-class state university?  There are many of them all around the state.

        Thinking about your use of the word “our”… I think UCD has a much bigger claim on the city than do you and your no-growth friends.  Seems you are a bit of an outsider and trouble-causer for the real “ours”.

  4. Edison

    The Vanguard suggests that Nishi may return to the ballot with more studen thousing. Bringing back Nishi on the ballot with even more student housing than originally proposed would cause me to again vote “no,” and I suspect the same would be the case among the 52% of the voters who rejected Measure A.  The reason is that there is no need for the City of Davis to go to the trouble and expense of annexing land to compensate for UCD’s long-term and continued negligence.  To do so will simply enable UCD’s continued poor planning and bad behavior.  The lack of student housing is UCD’s problem, and not the fault or problem of the full-time residents of Davis.  If UCD can spend millions on an underperforming music hall, an art museum and now an international student center, it can certainly start using some of its $1 billion endowment to build student apartment buildings. If campus land needs to be conserved for ag research, then build high-rise student apartments.

    On the other hand, if Nishi returned to the ballot as strictly an innovation park, I’d vote for it in a heartbeat.  The site is perfect for that type of land use because the potential respiratory health problems associated with residential housing would be a non-issue; i.e., R&D buildings would almost certainly be climate-controlled and not occupied 24/7.  A Nishi development consisting solely of an innovation complex would complement campus research activities and would be a net tax revenue generator, unlike much residential development.

    1. Michael Harrington

      Edison:  brilliant idea, lighting the room of discourse.  But watch Nishi go and blunder again.  They still refuse to call us to discuss what we would like to see there, if anything.  Aggie Pride gets them nowhere.

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