While there are clearly people who believe that the Russell Boulevard fields are a good area for additional housing, the general consensus seems otherwise.
Tonight, we will see UC Davis’ Bob Segar make a presentation about the university’s current plans – will they finally eliminate Russell Fields from development considerations? They have already scaled it back.
The city’s report seeks, “Request UC Davis commit to more aggressive accommodation of on campus housing commensurate with anticipated growth and to balance community-wide housing needs.” The report asks for 100 percent of first year students and 50 percent of the overall student population to be housed on campus.
At the same time, the city will “continue to pursue consideration of all infill and apartment housing proposals within the City (with emphasis on student oriented housing proposals within 2 miles of campus in order to facilitate ease of access).”
That part is probably more controversial, as are provisions about a more housing intensive Nishi and UC Davis keeping connectivity possibilities from Nishi to the campus in the LRDP – which had been removed previously.
On the other hand, the city seems to back the idea of the preservation of Russell Fields. The language: “Recognizing the community interests expressed in preserving the physical and cultural attributes of the Russell Fields as a key City/Campus edge and ‘shared community space,’ request that UC Davis withdraw the proposed conversion of field areas to housing from the LRDP and shift housing units to other areas of campus.”
As we have noted, some have suggested that the city strengthen that language to include all development on the fields, not just housing.
The Vanguard generally supports these three planks of policy. We believe that UC Davis should house a greater percentage of the student population. Russell Fields does not seem to be the best location for more housing. And, finally, we agree with the need for the city to continue to develop infill housing for students.
Despite this, there remain some clear differences within the community. The most vocal advocates for campus housing seemingly oppose new infill development for students, believing that the city is allowing the campus off the hook for policies that have increased student populations without supplying those students with housing.
At the same time, there are those who see the opposition to housing at the athletics fields as a desire by the community to put housing growth away from the community. They point to provisions that denied West Village access to Russell Blvd. as evidence of this.
While that argument has some merit, the city proposal actually threads this needle a little better – supporting the preservation of the Russell Fields while at the same time supporting infill housing and clearly housing at Nishi – which has become a lightning rod.
My preference has been to oppose development along Russell Blvd. for a number of reasons – a key one is, I believe, the need to create a buffer between the university and the community. I think that is important because UC Davis is not an urban campus and the fields create that separation.
Beauty is of course in the eye of the beholder – one commenter views the fields as “an ugly setback,” while another public commenter calls them a beauty and a community treasure.
That said, there are some concerns I have about the current push.
First, it is still not clear to me how much developable land there is on campus and near the city. There are conflicting reports about the ability for the university to develop further west from West Village. While there is not a formal agreement that we have found, clearly West Davis at one point was just as active in pushing back on West Village as central Davis was in pushing back against Russell Fields.
Second, we need to consider the fact that the university will probably continue to grow past 2027 and, therefore, we need to think about where they can accommodate housing. The idea that there are 5300 acres of developable land is not accurate – it might be helpful to identify what land is developable and what land is not – either because it is too remote or has other uses (like research).
Third, and just as importantly, I see no inherent contradiction between the idea that UC Davis increase its on-campus housing share to 100 percent of new students and 50 percent of all students and the idea that the city needs to look for infill spots for more student housing. I disagree with the idea that developing a few apartment complexes “lets UC Davis off the hook.”
Fourth, I see notions that UC Davis is not taking responsibility for providing its own housing needs. I disagree with that. UC Davis has increased its commitment to provide for 90 percent of new student growth with on-campus housing. The city is pushing the university further here – as it should – but the university is pledging to do more than they have done. Now the key will be the ability for the university to follow through on its commitments.
I disagree that it is unfair to UC Davis students to be “forced” off campus after their freshman year. It is not clear to me that we even know what the preference of students is. Do students want to remain on campus or do students want to live in and become temporary members of the community?
Bottom line is there seems to be a general consensus regarding Russell Fields, but a lot of community discussion is needed on the rest.
—David M. Greenwald reporting