While UC Davis has cut back on their plan for developing the Russell Fields in the latest draft LRDP, they have not eliminated it. For residents, not just in the adjacent area, but throughout the community, this is not enough.
As the university laid out on its Campus Tomorrow site, “The Plan retains the full east to west dimension of Russell Field between California Avenue and Howard Way as a large open space for campus recreation and intercollegiate athletic programs, as well as other campus functions. The Plan also retains Howard Field in its entirety.”
However, “the Plan designates a portion of Russell Field immediately north of the Marya Welch Tennis Center as a potential site for student housing. In response to the reduced size of Russell Field and A Street Field, and in consideration of the recreational needs associated with any potential enrollment growth, the Plan includes a new 8-acre recreational facility in West Village.”
This has drawn strong opposition from the community. A Change.org petition already has 799 supporters as of press time. The petition argues that the plan “would greatly diminish athletic space at the core of campus and open space between campus and the city.
“These intramural (IM) fields provide valuable space for IM and club sports and other activities important to health and physical and mental well being of students and other Davis residents and are central to student life because of their central location,” it states.
“We the undersigned call for the continued use of Russell, A St., Howard, and Toomey fields in their current location and form as open fields suitable for athletics, events, and many varied activities, not the least of which is their pure beauty and value as open space,” states the petition.
In a letter to UC Davis Planners, Lindsay Hedgecock, President and Captain of UC Davis Women’s Ultimate Club Team and a UC Davis undergraduate student, writes, “For many people, Russell Fields are the first thing they see when they visit the UC Davis campus and leave a powerful impression of the university as an open and welcoming place.
“These fields are a staple both of the university and the City of Davis. The fields provide an open communal space unlike any other on campus for students and community members to enjoy, and contribute to the physical and mental well-being of the people that use them,” she continues.
She adds, “While the need for added student housing is undeniably an important issue, there are many other viable places in Davis to build student housing. Moreover, the option to build current housing up rather than completely new buildings is a worthwhile possibility to consider.”
Ms. Hedgecock explains, “We use the entirety of Russell and Howard Fields to accommodate the hundreds of people that travel to Davis for…[Ultimate Frisbee] tournaments. Without half of Russell fields, hosting these tournaments may not be possible, and these tournaments are by far our largest source of team fundraising.”
But not everyone agrees. For Matthew Palm, “UC Davis is wisely replacing some parking and a former campus health center with badly needed student housing.” He calls the location “perfect for students to walk and bike to groceries, campus and nearby religious and cultural resources.”
He writes, “The idea is being fought very passionately by a group of people who believe West Village, Orchard Park and Solano Park are better areas to concentrate students. This is ironic because Orchard Park abuts Highway 113 and Solano Park and environs are adjacent the railroad tracks that might be carrying oil through town.”
Mr. Palm states, “In online comments to other local media outlets, Davis NIMBYs reacting to the Long Range Development Plan are self-righteously decrying UC Davis as exploiting students. In the same breath, these NIMBYs are demanding that this supposedly corrupt-beyond-repair institution also be the students’ landlord.
“Seriously?” he asks. “You can only masquerade your agenda as being about student welfare for so long. The students themselves are no longer buying it.”
But Mr. Palm seems to be the exception rather than the rule here.
Dr. Donal Walsh, Professor Emeritus of Human Medicine and Veterinary Medicine, former Associate Dean and former Departmental Chair, has reportedly been repeatedly rebuffed by the UC Davis administration in his efforts to work with them to plan for a proper rugby pitch.
Dr. Walsh has been the faculty advisor for the Men’s Rugby club for over 40 years and in a letter to Robert Segar dated October 4, 2016, he writes, “Your proposal for the rugby field indicates a considerable lack of understanding of just what is needed.” “Please consult with me about what is indeed needed for a rugby field—you do not seem to know much at all about the game. I do, I have international recognition.”
His letter continues, “To be a top University and produce top students the University MUST provide good sporting facilities. Good means not only high quality but also readily available. Readily available means close to the center of campus.
“Russell field, as currently structured provides a very good element for students to readily get to some sporting activity because it is at the center of campus. This is specifically valued in the current operative LRDP. The value that was placed on these fields is expressed in the current operative Long Range Development Plan, which states: ‘The integration of athletic activity with academic pursuits is a valued characteristic of the campus,’ and it sets as an objective to have ‘site formal recreational and athletic facilities with reasonable access to student, faculty and staff participant populations.’”
He concludes, “That shift in University values alone is of critical concern.”
Colin Walsh added, “With a projected enrollment increase of almost 7,000 students over the next 10 years, UC Davis can and should do more to house its students, but housing alone is not enough. UC Davis also most have enough academic space and proper athletic and recreation facilities. Russell and A Street Fields are an important part of that equation.”
He stated, “UC Davis is proposing housing 400 students in the Russell Blvd. neighborhood, but less than 200 students will live in the housing being proposed actually on the Russell field. The University can certainly incorporate these 200 beds into other already proposed developments, and preserve the fields for athletics and other activities.”
Merline Williams, a Davis resident, in a editorial in the Davis Enterprise wrote, “The broad, open playing fields are at once a community treasure and an irreplaceable campus resource. Historically, these fields stand as evidence of a ‘good neighbor’ relationship between the city and the university.”
She added, “It is hard to imagine, why the university is planning to destroy the Russell fields by replacing them with multi-storied apartments and parking lots, depriving students and residents of accessible, quality outdoor activity space and ruining the welcoming visual introduction to the campus and the city. It is true that the university needs to build more student housing on campus, but it has several alternative sites and the brand-new West Village, designed for student housing.”
Tonight marks the last scheduled Fall LRDP Outreach session. It will be held from 6:30 to 8:30 tonight at the Davis Senior Center. In the fall of 2017, the campus will submit the LRDP update to the Regents for consideration as the official and final LRDP.
—David M. Greenwald reporting