On Tuesday night a number of neighbors and other community members came to public comment to oppose the idea of the university building housing along Russell Boulevard over existing sports fields.
This figures to be a tricky issue from the standpoint of residents and the city. After all, the city has no direct jurisdiction over what the university decides to do. Moreover, many of the same people opposing housing at this location have been leading the way to pressure the university to take on more on-campus housing in general. The old mantra of: be careful what you wish for (or ask for, in this case) seems to hold here as well.
Moreover, I think the focus on traffic impacts are wrong here. That seems to be the go-to issue for neighbors, but I have to question the traffic impacts here. First of all, it wasn’t long ago that the university built and densified housing along Russell at the corner of La Rue and Russell. But that development didn’t create more traffic problems.
Why? For one thing, during peak hours, the people living in those halls do not empty onto Russell. Instead, they are walking and biking to their classes. Moreover, most of them are not driving into downtown for their social activities – instead, they walk or bike. It is hard to know how many even have cars, but as someone who spent years driving that corridor before and after those facilities were built, there wasn’t a huge difference in the traffic.
The fact of the matter is that fewer students have cars these days than 10 or 20 years ago. Those who have cars will not drive onto campus and will not be contributing to peak hour congestion. Their commutes will not be onto Russell, but rather the back way onto campus.
While I understand the concerns about the intersection of Howard Way and Russell, I think, if anything, building more housing adjacent to campus alleviates rather than exacerbates that problem.
So why do I still oppose housing there? Because it doesn’t really make sense to pave over functional and aesthetically pleasing athletic fields to build housing in that spot.
While I think the amount of developable agricultural land around campus is considerably less than the 5300 acres pushed by some, there seem to be better places to put housing on campus.
The most logical place is to simply extend West Village. You have a large and vacant field, you have the infrastructure already in place, and you have the ability to put a large number of beds in a relatively small piece of land.
There are two other areas to consider. One is on the south end of campus near the football stadium. If you are looking for a location to put higher density housing without huge impacts on the existing residents, that area might be worth considering.
Finally, while the university seems to shun the notion, I still think a high-density student housing development at Nishi makes more sense than other locations. I understand concerns about air quality, but building in a filtration system and making the facility a one-year housing area would mitigate a lot of those concerns.
Focusing that development back toward campus would alleviate a lot of the concerns about traffic impacts on Richards, plus the developers would be able to put some of their money once again toward creating additional traffic solutions.
Whether you agree with the idea of housing on Nishi or not, all three make a lot more sense than paving over existing sport fields that are often teeming with activity, especially on the weekends.
More and more I see building three-story housing buildings as a waste of space. If Cal Poly was able to put 2700 beds on 30 acres of land, then UC Davis should certainly be able to figure out a way to put 10,000 beds on less than 100 acres of land and create open space, recreational areas and retail for the population there.
That is what UC Davis really needs to do to address their portion of the student housing crisis that is afflicting Davis.
I get those who argue we can’t demand that UC Davis build housing and then criticize where they build it. At the same time, I think it’s a short-sighted argument that locks in bad land use policies.
I see that argument akin to complaining about a rising crime rate and then turning around to complain when the police violate the constitutional rights of those accused of crimes. Violating rights isn’t necessary for curbing crime rates, and building in bad locations isn’t necessary for solving a housing crunch.
In this case, it is not like the university doesn’t have not only other available land, but also better locations. Leaving the open space along that corridor contributes to a lot of positive qualities, including a sense of transition to the university.
Filling in those spots with three-story buildings would dramatically change the nature of that corridor. It would be one thing if the university were landlocked and unable to add housing in other locations, but West Village and the other locations just make a lot more sense.
Can the city influence the university here? That is the point that remains to be seen, but right now, I would focus the university on densification at existing on-campus locations like Solano and Orchard Parks and building out West Village more completely.
To me, the Russell Field and Howard Field locations should be a non-starter.
—David M. Greenwald reporting