Analysis: Are There Formal Restrictions on UCD Growth to the West?


Last week the Vanguard, following up on reader feedback, attempted to determine if there was an agreement that formally precluded the university from developing to the west from West Village.

According to Andy Fell, Associate Director of the UC Davis News and Media Relations, there is no formal agreement.  He said, “The university prevailed in the lawsuit filed by residents at the time — there was no settlement agreement.”

He reiterated that there is “no legal restriction.”  He said, “Land use planning for West Village is included in the current Long Range Development Plan, until the new LRDP takes effect.”

Others, however, have told the Vanguard that the agreement was informal and that UC Davis has made representations in both its plan and CEQA analysis that it would not develop further west.

With the pushback against the proposed development at the fields along Russell Boulevard, there would likely be a rekindling of the battle that occurred a decade ago over West Village, which led to the lawsuit in the first place.  In addition, research faculty utilize the fields to the west of the current development and they would have serious objections.

A decade ago there were concerns with residents of West Davis that a development would increase traffic and lead to the loss of vistas.

Ultimately, the university agreed not to have vehicular access onto Russell Boulevard, which was to help allay concerns about traffic impacts.

The current plan for West Village shows an increase of capacity but a reduced footprint.

On its “Campus Tomorrow” page, UC Davis notes that in 2014-15 West Village accommodated about 2,000 people. They write, “The LRDP Draft Planning Scenario for West Village provides capacity for more residents than previous[ly] planned in the 2003 LRDP while accommodating an additional 1,125 students on a smaller footprint than previously planned.”

The new LRDP (Long Range Development Plan) is providing capacity “for an additional 2,250 students in West Village, when compared to 2014-15 capacity.”

They write, “By agreement with the master-lease holder for West Village student apartments, the number of students living in existing West Village apartments may increase by 624 in 2016-17. This increase is accomplished through a ‘double-up’ where large bedrooms, previously leased as individual rooms, may be leased as shared bedrooms.”

They continue, “In addition to the double-up, the Plan also includes capacity for another 1,626 students.”

The university notes, “The Plan accommodates more students on less land while retaining a gracious greenbelt along Russell Boulevard, an agricultural buffer along the western edge and an 8-acre recreational complex along Hutchison Avenue. The more compact development pattern preserves more than 20 acres of agricultural land, previously included within the plans for West Village and designated for development in the 2003 LRDP.”

All of this is very relevant to the current LRDP discussions.  Two things have happened during the last year.  First, UC Davis has agreed to provide housing for about 90 percent of new students – estimated to be roughly 7000 over the next decade.  However, that not only fails to provide housing for current students in the saturated Davis housing market, but also fails to provide housing for around 700 additional students, plus faculty and staff.

Second, UC Davis proposed, as one location for new housing, to build on the athletic fields on the south side of Russell Blvd.  After pushback from neighbors and other residents, as well as student groups, UC Davis has reduced the number of housing units to 400 from 1000.  This is still unacceptable to many.

Eileen Samitz has noted that UC Davis has the largest UC campus, with over 5300 acres of land, and yet “has the least amount of on-campus housing.”

Last month, Eileen Samitz pushed for “UC Davis [to] provide at least as much housing on the campus as other UCs are.  Which is instead of providing only 40 percent of the student population – all the other UCs are providing 50 percent.”

She noted that UC Davis is planning to provide only 90 percent of incoming students with on-campus housing, where other UC schools are providing 100 percent of additional students with on-campus housing.

Ms. Samitz said, “Since UC Davis is going to be bringing in 5000 students within a few years – this is significant.”

“UCD has over 5300 acres, yet historically has provided the least amount of on-campus housing, and that has to change,” she said.

However, the Vanguard does not believe there is a true amount of 5300 acres of developable land.  The issue of how far to the west they can go is one factor that may ultimately drive UC Davis back toward available land along Russell Blvd.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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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  1. Edison

    David is correct in that much of the 5,300 acres controlled by UCD are incapable of being developed; much of it is already developed.  However, portraying future on-campus housing as being a matter of erecting more apartments at West Village vs developing Russell Fields sets up a contrived  and needless conflict.  There are plenty of readily available sites on campus that would easily accommodate construction of student apartments, especially if UCD were to embrace high-rise construction instead of limiting housing to no more than 3-4 floors.

    I’m familiar with at least several campuses in the Midwest (University of Cincinnati, for example), that have on-campus residence halls that are upwards of 10 stories or more. There’s no reason why, with the earnings from a $1 billion endowment, that UCD cannot do the same. Plus, I’ve been informed that in July UCD submitted a bid of $66 million for the University Research Park recently acquired by Sacramento developer Mark Friedman.  If UCD could so easily come up with that much money for a commercial office park, it certainly can afford to build more on campus housing, The university already owns the land, so construction and infrastructure would be the only cost.

    Earlier this year Citizens for Responsible Planning (CFRP) submitted formal comments through the UCD Long Range Development Program (LRDP) public input process, recommending approximately 100 acres of UCD land that should be evaluated for student housing.  None of the sites were adjacent to busy Davis streets, and all would facilitate easy student access (walking or bike) to classrooms, lecture halls and dining facilities.  Those sites were shown in an exhibit that accompanied a recent Enterprise Op-Ed by Eileen Samitz.  (If memory serves, the Vanguard printed the Op-Ed as well, but I don’t know about the exhibit.)  Thus far, no one on UCD staff associated with the LRDP has responded to CFRP’s suggestions.  (And no, “Edison” is not a moniker for Eileen. I’m the opposite gender.)

    With respect to Chamber Fan’s question, a number of people in Davis are greatly concerned about UCD’s failure thus far to build sufficient on-campus housing on pace with its aggressive enrollment growth. UCD has perhaps the lowest percentage of students housed on campus among all the UCs, yet Davis has the second lowest population among the UC “host cities,” with Santa Cruz being slightly less at just over 62,000.  (Citizen outrage over students taking over Santa Cruz neighborhoods precipitated a lawsuit against the university, resulting in a Comprehensive Settlement Agreement  (co-signed by the Regents and City of Santa Cruz) whereby UC Santa Cruz is obligated to halt enrollment growth whenever the percentage of students housed on campus is likely to drop below 50%.) I believe this has on at least one occasion made it necessary for UCSC to temporarily bring mobile homes onto campus while new housing was being built. That’s still better than thousands of students commuting to campus.

    UCD’s LRDP website states that approximately 29% of UC students live on campus, meaning that about 70% live elsewhere. That’s really significant, because UCD’s Student Population Headcount report for Fall 2016, published Nov 14, states that 34,970 students are enrolled this quarter. If 29% are living on campus (or 10,141), that means that over 24,829 students are competing for scarce off-campus rental housing. The problems associated with that are myriad, but here’s just a few:

    Davis has long had policies supporting slow, deliberate and measured growth.  The citizens of Davis have consistently shown their support of these policies through adoption of the current general plan, passage of Measures J and R, and 3 annexation ballot proposals that failed to garner 50% of the vote.  That means, whether one agrees or not, that there is a finite number of housing units in Davis. When the University chooses to ignore Davis planning policies and continues to boost enrollment, the law of supply and demand kicks in and rents become unaffordable for local working families.  During recent years I’ve encountered a number of people who work at UCD but have had no choice but to find housing in other cities because there is basically noting available to meet their needs in Davis; they’ve been outcompeted by UCD students.

    Corollary to this has been the growth of student “mini-dorms,” i.e., single family homes that are purchased by investors who move as many students into the homes as possible. The result is huge disruption to neighboring families due to street parking, students coming and going all times of the night, and loud parties. It is often only well-off families that can afford to put their offspring into such homes. One home in my neighborhood was purchased by an apparently wealthy family from Atherton, who moved their son and 3 or 4 of his buddies into the home. The result was visiting students parking their cars on the lawns of neighbors, noisy late night parties, public urination and vomiting, and other activities not suitable for a neighborhood with many young children.

    According to UCD, 10% of currently enrolled students are now renting apartments in surrounding cities such as Dixon, Winters, Woodland, Sacramento, West Sacramento, Rancho Cordova and beyond.  For the most part, these students commute by car, which puts demands on scarce on-campus parking facilities. And, as Interim Chancellor Hexter recently told the Regents, that much commuting works against the university’s carbon footprint reduction program. UCD continually touts its sustainability program, but forcing students off campus after freshman year to commute long distances by car is definitely not a sustainable practice.

    The lack of on-campus housing is also spurring proposals for massive student apartment complexes are inconsistent with the Davis general plan and zoning. The most blatant examples are Lincoln40 and Sterling 5th Street Apartments. The areas in which these proposed developments would occur already have transportation problems and cannot easily withstand hundreds of students commuting to campus by car and bike.  The route to campus from the Sterling site is particularly problematic. Just last week I almost hit a student bicyclist (evidently commuting to campus from the nearby “The U” apartments) while I was turning into the post office. She was pedaling fast along the sidewalk/bikepath, completely not paying attention to traffic. Just imagine what it will be like with an additional 727 students commuting multiple times every day between the Sterling site and campus.

    Bike commuting by UCD students is becoming dangerous. Most don’t wear helmets or lights, and I’ve noticed increasing numbers of them listening to music and staring at their phones while pedaling.  Both of these practices are highly dangerous. I spent 6 years biking to college and grad school, most of it in busy Orange County, so I can attest that a cyclist really needs to pay attention and have their wits about them when biking, even in a relatively small town like Davis.

    Here’s an issue few people understand or appreciate.  SACOG assigns housing goals to every city in the Sacramento Metro area, including Davis.  Under the SACOG regional housing plan, each town is responsible for housing a proportional share of regional population growth.  The Cannery project greatly helped Davis achieve its reginal obligation pursuant to the current SACOG regional housing plan. But, the regional goals will be reset in 2021.  If Davis were to allow many projects like Lincoln40 and Sterling, it would boost our town’s base population used to calculate our obligations when 2021 arrives.  The result would be a mandate to build many more housing units after that time than most Davis residents would probably find acceptable, if past Measure J and R vote outcomes are any guide.  There is no reason why Davis should take on the burden of housing hundreds or thousands of students when in reality doing so is solely UCD’s responsibility. If UCD were to step up and do so, Davis would still gain benefits from students walking or biking to town to shop, dine, go to movies, etc.

    Resource Demand: Davis residents tax themselves to provide domestic water, stormwater management, sewage treatment and road maintenance. When large numbers of students live off campus, they exert pressure on those expensive public services.  It would be more logical for UCD to accommodate the students on campus and bear the cost of those essential public services.  A good example of this concern occurred at a City workshop several months ago on the Sterling 5th Street Apartments proposal.  (Keep in mind that this project, as proposed, would consist of 1, 2, 4 and 5 bedroom apartments, with each bedroom having its own private bathroom.) As one of the Davis citizens pointed out at that meeting, Davis residents were told in 2015 to greatly conserve water, with the result than many of them (including me) let their lawns die. Now, the City is entertaining a project with 727 bedrooms and a like number of water-consuming bathrooms. That’s enough to make many long-time Davis residents wonder why we bothered conserving so much water and letting our lawns die.

    Well, I could list many other reasons why UCD should aim to house at least 50% of its students on campus, as most of the other UCs are doing through their LRDPs, but regular Vanguard readers have probably seen my past comments on the subject and are therefore familiar with them.

    1. Ron


      Excellent, detailed post.  Glad to see someone else (besides me) mention the impact of exceeding SACOG requirements, as well.

      Also, glad to see you mention the legal action in Santa Cruz. Perhaps that’s what it takes, these days.

    2. Don Shor

      The result would be a mandate to build many more housing units

      I believe this is a misinterpretation of how SACOG works, a misstatement of SACOG’s purposes and practices, and vastly overstates the enforcement powers of any SACOG guidelines.
      But it’s possible that you know more about SACOG than others here. So if you do, please write an article explaining the agency and how it works and what exact powers of enforcement it has. I’ve read about it and I think this is a complete red herring. But I could be wrong.

    3. quielo

      “The core purpose of UC Davis as a comprehensive research university is the generation, advancement, dissemination and application of knowledge. To that end, UC Davis is committed to offering leading programs throughout the academic disciplines and in its professional schools. These programs integrate three purposes: teaching students as a partnership between faculty mentors and young scholars; advancing knowledge and pioneering studies through creative research and scholarship; and applying that knowledge to address the needs of the region, state, nation and globe. UC Davis is committed to the land-grant tradition on which it was founded, which holds that the broad purpose of a university is service to people and society.

      UC Davis offers its undergraduates an experience which comprises the central elements of a liberal education—a broad general education with specialization in a scholarly discipline—and opportunities for personal development and academic enrichment through undergraduate research, work-learn experiences and extracurricular student life. To its post-baccalaureate students, UC Davis offers an array of programs which draw upon its wide range of specialized academic fields. By stimulating cross-disciplinary approaches and using its distinctive graduate groups, UC Davis continues to follow and redefine the mandate of a major research university.

      The campus is committed to advancing teaching and scholarly work in the arts, humanities and the social sciences–studies that enrich the life of each person and society as a whole, and infuse the pursuit of careers in education, law, management and medicine. UC Davis’ prominence in the STEM fields, including distinguished programs in agricultural and environmental sciences, make the campus a leader in solving critical issues in local, state, national and global health and sustainability.

      UC Davis extends service to the region, state, nation and the world in many forms, such as cooperative extension to agriculture and education; medical services to central California and beyond through the multifaceted UC Davis Health System in Sacramento; University Extension programs that share knowledge with the region; the emerging work of the World Food Center; voluntary contributions of faculty, staff and students; and athletic and cultural programs for the campus and community at large.

      UC Davis is surrounded by vibrant, local communities and its proximity to the state capital gives this outreach urgency and opportunity. Collaborative studies and cooperation between UC Davis and state agencies and the Legislature are both a special responsibility and a unique opportunity. UC Davis is characterized by a distinguished faculty, a dedicated and high-achieving staff and students of great potential and accomplishment. As we move forward, we recognize that our continued excellence is dependent upon our ability to diversify our university community, consonant with the citizenry of California.”


      I don’t anything in the above about building high rise housing to please certain elements of the Davis population. Am I missing something?

  2. Edison

    In response to Don Shor’s comments on SACOG:  The short answer is that regional councils of governments (COGs) like SACOG are the conduit for federal funding of many local programs and projects. To be eligible for such federal funding, cities and counties within the COG’s jurisdiction are to remain consistent with various regional plans.  Many local projects, particularly transportation and sewer construction projects, rely on such federal funds for at least a portion of the project costs.
    For example, many years ago I worked as an air quality planner for the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana (OKI) Regional Council of Governments.  OKI coordinates air quality, transportation, and other federally related programs in an 8-county, three-state area.  In the late 1970s the OKI region was out of compliance with federal Clean Air Act ozone standards. OKI was therefore required by the USEPA to develop a regional ozone compliance plan that included mandatory vehicle emission tailpipe tests, carpooling and other transportation control measures such as vehicle idling restrictions.  The plan required approval by USEPA. If the plan had not been accepted by EPA, federal funding for transportation and sewer treatment projects would have been curtailed, the rationale being that such projects induce growth and more driving, and therefore continued poor air quality. Without federal funding, most transportation and sewer projects would have come to a halt.
    So, Don is correct in that a COG has no real enforcement power. It’s ability to induce cooperation by cities in various programs–such as accommodating a proportional share of regional housing needs—lies in the COG’s ability to restrict or even completely cut off the flow of federal funds that a non-compliant city may need for street, highway and sewage treatment infrastructure projects.    
    In response to quielo, the information quoted from UCD indeed does not mention anything about the university’s responsibility to provide on-campus housing for students. However, UCD’s governing body, the Regents of the University of California, has long recognized the responsibility of all UC campuses to provide adequate on-campus student housing. Proof of this is contained in a report issued by the Regents in November 2002, titled “UC Housing for the 21st Century.” This comprehensive 32-page report analyzed the impacts resulting from inadequate on-campus student housing, made 15 specific recommendations for expanding on-campus housing, and set housing goals and a timeline for each campus. It was expected that UCD would house 38% of students on campus by the 2011-12 academic year—a goal that was not even remotely met.
    The report also emphasized the negative effects that result when a university, such as UCD, does not provide sufficient housing. Below are some quotes from the report’s executive summary.

    “Housing that is built to meet student, faculty, or staff housing needs also alleviates the need to provide housing in the community for these same groups. In other words, adding housing in support of the educational mission of UC also adds to the state’s housing stock” (p. 2).


    “Added demand for housing in communities surrounding UC campuses results in rising rental and home prices.  Where University-affiliated housing is in short supply, the only choice for students, faculty and staff is to compete in these nearby markets or make decisions to live considerable distances from the campus”(p. 2).

    “…the construction and financing costs of hew housing will need to be integrated into total campus growth plans in such a way as to ensure that each campus has assessed all needs and developed a coherent strategy to satisfy the multiple demands being faced by the University” (p. 10). 


     So, to some degree it can probably be said that when it comes to on-campus housing, UCD does not “get it,” but the Regents apparently do.  To some degree, the Interim Chancellor does get it, as evidence by his recent comments to the Regents that having ten percent of the students commute from places like Woodland and Winters works against the university’s climate action plan.


    1. Don Shor

      I don’t believe SACOG has ever informed a city that it has to build more housing units, or even told any city that it has to show how it is going to build more housing units.
      I don’t believe SACOG has ever withheld, or threatened to withhold, or in any way impeded the flow of federal funding to any city based on the housing plans. Or, for that matter, based on any issues that I’m aware of. I have looked to see any sanctions that SACOG has ever applied in any way, and found nothing.
      I believe SACOG is largely a clearinghouse for plans and an organization that promulgates regional planning documents. I don’t think it has ever sanctioned any municipality ever, for anything.
      Please let me know if I am wrong, because I have heard this SACOG threat now from you, from Eileen Samitz, from Ron, and originally several years ago from Sue Greenwald.
      In the absence of evidence that SACOG enforces anything on anybody, I still consider this a red herring.

      lies in the COG’s ability to restrict or even completely cut off the flow of federal funds that a non-compliant city may need for street, highway and sewage treatment infrastructure projects.

      Has SACOG ever found anyone non-compliant in any way, and, if so, what has SACOG done about it?

  3. quielo


    Appreciate the detailed answer. Any possibility there has been a change of budget priorities since November 2002?


    When the Regents allocate money specifically for something that is when I believe it’s important.

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