It might be tempting to think that UC Davis simply caved to the loudest voices in the room on Russell Fields. But once you drill down into the decision, a decisively more complex situation emerges.
The headline is that UC Davis’ Long Range Development Plan (LRDP) removed the Russell Boulevard fields as a location for housing or any other type of development. Russell Fields was actually added to the proposal when the city and community pushed for UC Davis to take on more housing.
However, it immediately drew the ire of neighbors and soon other community members, including the council. Russell Fields became the call to arms for community members and the group known as Friends of Russell Blvd. Fields.
The Vanguard did not see Russell Fields as a good choice for any housing location, given community concerns about traffic, buffer, and athletic field uses.
One might be tempted to conclude that the university capitulated to the loudest voices in the room, but, in a way, this was a classic Negotiation 101 tactic – the university put forth an unpopular idea, left it on the table and then finally removed it at the end. In a way, this was very shrewd. [Editor’s note: This was not intended to imply that the Friends of Russell Blvd. Fields or other opponents to development on the fields were unaware of the possibility that the fields proposal could have been a calculation on the part of the university.]
The university prevailed on what is probably a far bigger issue to them. When Bob Segar, the Assistant Vice Chancellor, first rolled out the plan a year ago, the university’s position was that they were not going to be able to house on campus all new student growth.
The early pushback from the community was that UC Davis needed to take on more growth. And in May of last year, at the same time they rolled out the Russell Fields plans, they agreed to take on 6200 new students with housing, or 90 percent of the total new student population.
Those of us who could do math realized that the university was going to not provide housing to about 700 students, and that coupled with current shortfalls in the city of Davis, meant that the city of Davis would have to provide more housing.
The city council asked UC Davis to house 100 percent of the new students and provide up to 50 percent of all student housing on campus. But, with community attention focused on Russell Fields, this point was muted somewhat.
As Colin Walsh put it in a statement, “We are however disappointed to learn the campus continues to resist building student housing on par with most other UC Campuses. The proposed ‘40% of the Davis-based students’ to be housed on campus pales in comparison to the 50% most other UCs are striving for.”
He continued, “There is a backlog of on-campus housing need that has not been provided yet by UCD, significantly impacting the Davis community. Even Interim Chancellor Hexter recently admitted to the UC Regents that UC Davis has ‘completely saturated’ the Davis housing market, leading to extremely low vacancy rates. Davis is the largest UC at 5,300 acres and unquestionably has room for both the Russell Blvd. fields and more student housing.”
In one of the more absurd moments of Bob Segar’s presentation, he tried to explain this away.
He indicated that the current plan retains capacity to address 90 percent of enrollment growth projected in the draft plan. “That is a much more ambitious housing target than the campus has ever projected before,” he said, with almost 7000 students being added in the next decade to bring the campus population to 39,000 by 2027.
Sixty-two hundred of those new students would be housed on campus if the university adheres to the plan. “The result would be 40 percent of the student housing for the total student enrollment at the Davis campus compared to an on-campus housing today of about 29 percent.”
Bob Segar explained where their figures come from. He said that their data shows that only 90 percent of all students live either on campus or in the Davis community. “So if that holds and about 10 percent live outside of Davis for whatever reason they choose, we are essentially housing our enrollment growth on campus in this plan.”
To put this bluntly, this is a ludicrous explanation by the Assistant Vice Chancellor. He is making the unfounded assumption that there will always be a 10 percent residual who will always opt to live outside of the market.
There are a variety of factors that lead to that 10 percent number. First, the scarcity of housing in Davis. Second, the cost of housing in Davis.
Regardless, because the community was focused on Russell Fields, UC Davis was able to win on the 90-40 split rather than the 100-50 that the council and activists preferred.
The city also got a couple of key wins.
Mr. Segar stated, “This on-campus housing goal also assumes that the university would no longer be relying on master leases of apartment buildings in the city, which would return those properties to the open market.”
The university previously had leased part or all of some apartments in town as they waited for the construction of new housing. This was a point of concern raised by the city, concerned that the master lease system cost the city property tax revenue.
The intent now is to “vacate those master leases and return those properties to the market,” he said.
This was a big win for the city because, when UC Davis took over apartments with a master lease, the city lost out on property tax revenue.
The city got another big win on Nishi.
Following the election, UC Davis revised the LRDP to read: “The revised plan does not include a possible road connection from campus into the Nishi property. This revision reflects the recent decision by Davis voters to reject the Nishi development proposal.”
At the time it was not clear what that meant, but, for the council and the developers at Nishi, they wanted the voters of Davis to have say over whether there should be a project there, not the university.
Bob Segar would clarify the approach they would take toward the Nishi property. He indicated their past participation in the Nishi planning process, which also included a location for a roadway and bikeway campus connection.
“The draft LRDP will analyze the Nishi project as a component of the expected cumulative growth, because it would be deemed to be a foreseeable project because of the city approval,” he said. This would “preserve the opportunity for a roadway, bikeway and open space connection between the Nishi property and the campus.”
The council appears to want – as we reported – a housing-only project at Nishi. That certainly will generate more attention if an application emerges from that.
This was, again, something that the city asked for.
In a way, everyone seems to get something that they wanted. The activists and council got the removal of Russell Fields from the housing proposal. The university retained the 90-40 split. And the city got Nishi put back into consideration and got the removal of the master leases.
The key question that remains – the LRDP does not, by any means, assure that UC Davis will follow through on the development of the housing that the LRDP would allow.
The city clearly sees the need for more housing. As they said, “City to 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).”
There is also indication that some of that housing could be at Nishi. “City to revisit Nishi proposal with consideration of increasing housing option onsite.”
That should make for an interesting future discussion on housing, even as we largely close the door on the LRDP chapter.
—David M. Greenwald reporting