The community remains divided on the issue of housing and, as we saw in the discussion on Sunday centering on the Russell Boulevard fields, there are some sharp differences of opinion there. Many have pushed back against the idea of housing at Russell and Howard Fields, but not all agree.
As one commenter noted on Sunday, “Our focus should be on fixing the City’s problems, not trying to dictate to others how to fix theirs.”
On the surface the individual would seem to have a point, but there are some flaws in the reasoning. First, the university has invited the community to be part of the LRDP (Long Range Development Plan) process – that suggests that the public does have a legitimate role to play in this process. The university has also sought to work with the city of Davis.
Second, of course, the community cannot dictate anything to the university. The university at the end of the day solicits feedback and then makes its own decision. That means they can weigh the merits of housing at a given location and assess the downside.
In the case of the Russell fields, they now have a lot of data about community response and concerns. All of that will go into weighing their decision. As we noted on Sunday, it seems that the university is likely to seek locations for housing other than the intramural fields.
But the final point is what I want to focus on, and that is that, while our focus should be on fixing the city’s problems, UC Davis has played a large role in creating one of the two biggest problems faced by the city of Davis – the low vacancy rate.
For as much as critics of the city’s land use policies want to put this problem on restrictions for building new housing, they run into a problem, statistically speaking.
The Vanguard’s public records request from UC provided us with the latest figures, based on enrollment as of November 2015 and a housing survey conducted in December 2015 and revised in April 2016.
UC Davis houses just 9834 students on campus, out of about 36,000 total students. That accounts for just 27.2 percent of all students. That is not only below the system-wide 33.9 percent average but, of the regular campuses (excluding the Medical School at UC San Francisco), only Berkeley has a lower percentage of students living on campus.
The typical UC school houses about 38 percent of its undergraduate population on campus, and for Davis that is just 31 percent. And again, that means more than 20,000 students attending UC Davis are crammed into apartments and mini-dorms around town.
As Vanguard Editorial Board member Tia Will put it in response, “This conveniently ignores the fact that much of the city’s housing problems are the direct effect of the failure of the university to house even the number of students that they had promised to house.”
This is, in fact, exactly the problem. Twice in the last 30 years the university, near the bottom of UC in on-campus housing, has made pledges, indeed signed MOUs, to increase housing on campus – and twice they have failed.
The LRDP with a proposed 90 percent of new students housed on campus represents only the latest commitment in this respect.
While there are legitimate points to be made that Davis has not built enough rental housing in recent years either, the fact remains that a large contingent of students are housed in the city limits, and, while estimates may vary, it seems quite possible that Davis is either number one or number two among host cities in providing off-campus housing for students.
The bottom line is that Davis cannot simply focus on its own problems, because problem number one, or 1-A, is the direct result of UC Davis’ failures over the past 30 years to house more students on campus.
From this standpoint, Davis probably has every right to at least suggest alternative locations to Russell and Howard Fields for student housing. That is, again, not to say that UC Davis is forced to listen to the recommendations.
At the same time, I do think that Davis residents are going to start boxing themselves in on these issues. If the answer is always “no” or “somewhere else,” then at some point the answer is going to have to be yes and here.
Further, I am not one who believes that all new student housing has to be on campus.
Nevertheless, I do not believe that along Russell Blvd. is the best location for new housing and would prefer, again, more density at West Village, existing housing sites like Orchard and Solano Parks, and high-density at Nishi.
For those arguing we need high-density housing above five stories, I would suggest we look at other models which have packed 2700 beds into 30 acres of land or less without going above five stories.
—David M. Greenwald reporting