If Davis residents, who have more in common with each other than not, cannot come together on a common community vision, does that leave much hope for the bigger and deeper issues that divide this nation?
I pondered that thought as I read through the multitude of differing viewpoints on something that would seem to be very simple and very solvable – the Russell Boulevard fields. I have to say, I’m a bit baffled that UC Davis is continuing to persist on this one.
As I noted in yesterday’s column, Acting Chancellor Ralph Hexter told the regents that residents pushed back at the development of housing on the athletic fields along Russell Boulevard. When they did so, the plan was revised, reducing the housing.
But it wasn’t eliminated. In fact, the comment that Mr. Hexter made is rather ominous: “Over time, they’re going to have to recognize, ‘Well if you don’t want that (housing on Russell Field), you need to help us find more places for students to live in the city.’ So again, it’s dialogue.”
I’m not really seeing dialogue here. I am seeing stubbornness on the part of the university. At this point we are talking about 400 units. With all of the proposed increases in housing that UC Davis is proposing, if they just split the difference, they could spread those 400 units around to the various sites extremely easily without breaking a sweat and be done.
Instead, they continue to hold out for developing Russell Field. It would seem that the path of least resistance would dictate that they build where there isn’t community pushback.
What troubles me is that, instead of dealing with the issue at hand – the suitability of Russell Field for accommodating development – the entire issue became a proxy war for development overall, with one side arguing that the city needs to take on more housing and the other arguing that the university should take on more housing.
Then again Mark West may have it right here, if he is correct that the “the administration believes that the fields will eventually be developed.” But again, why would they come to that conclusion? It is fairly obvious that UC Davis, while it probably doesn’t have 5300 acres of developable land, has sufficient land around West Village to accommodate the next wave of student increases through 2027 and probably the next wave as well.
While I understand the divide in the community on the issue of growth – which is now manifesting itself in a battle over UC Davis growth – it might be better to approach each battle, one battle at a time, rather than trying to fight the war anew.
The other big front right now seems to be Richards Boulevard – which is likely a proxy war for Nishi and, to a lesser extent, the Hotel Conference Center and Lincoln40 on Olive Drive.
As I read a letter to the editor, it occurred to me that perhaps opponents of growth do not actually want to solve the traffic problems on Richards – believing, perhaps with justification, that fixing Richards will re-open the door to development along the corridor, and that they can shut down new development if Richards remains a problem.
One resident argues that “the traffic congestion situation at Richards Blvd, Olive Drive and the tunnel is unsolvable, period.”
I don’t agree. They don’t offer evidence that it’s unfixable. They simply assert it. There are actually several fixes – one would be to widen the tunnel and expand First Street into a four-lane road. I don’t support that solution, it would be expensive and would damage the character of this community – but it would solve the traffic congestion.
But there are other solutions that fall short of the nuclear option I just suggested.
First, as I have noted time and again, most of the traffic during peak hours is using the tunnel as the access point to UC Davis. We can fix that problem.
Second, the freeway interchange makes no sense and CalTrans has a fix for that.
To me those changes alone will solve a lot of the problem.
However, while the Richards/I-80 interchange will improve the LOS (Level of Service), most of the other studied fixes will have minimal to no change on LOS.
To me then, the focus should be on figuring out ways to dissuade people from using Richards as the university access point.
Davis could implement relatively inexpensive fixes that would make it more inconvenient for traffic to go through Richards. They could prevent left turns onto First Street during peak hours. They could limit access to the campus at A Street.
My bolder proposal, which raised the ire of those opponents of Nishi, would be to construct an additional roadway to campus through West Olive Drive, just as was proposed during Nishi.
How could this work? During the Nishi project proposal, part of their traffic flow plan called for a road from West Olive that would enter campus through an underpass. UC Davis has actually removed the potential grade-separated crossing from their LRDP (Long Range Development Plan).
Nishi itself should consider throwing some funding toward this project. If they wish to build a project on the site, having the infrastructure already in place would be a huge plus. Yes, it would be a bit of a gamble, but their future project is far more likely to pass if campus access was already built and the whole system alleviated congestion along Richards Blvd.
But, of course, that is exactly what the opponents of new growth do not want. But then again, the two should be viewed as separate issues. Just as opponents of growth want people to focus on Russell Field as an unacceptable option – so too, we should view the issue of traffic congestion at Richards as an unacceptable situation, and we can fight the growth battles along that corridor later.
We need to fix the problems that we have right now, not use those problems as excuses to prevent new projects from going forward. Fight those battles separately.
One thing that seems weird to me is that we have spent all of this time pushing the university to build more housing on campus, arguing that the university is generating growth demands that it is responsible for fixing – and yet, the university is causing traffic impacts and getting off without even a murmur of protest.
Put simply – the university is causing the congestion at Richards because it is allowing access to UCD through the tunnel. Why isn’t the community pressuring the university to fix this situation?
—David M. Greenwald reporting