by Colin Walsh
UC Davis is poised to submit its draft Long Range Development Plan for environmental impact review proposing insufficient housing for the enormous influx of more than 7,000 additional UCD students over the next 10 years. This is more growth at a faster pace than ever before.
There was a time when the City of Davis and UC Davis had a relatively harmonious relationship. UCD brought jobs and prestige to the City and over time the City grew, as the campus grew. Many neighborhoods and apartment complexes were built throughout the city housing faculty, staff, students and others. But tensions have gradually increased around housing with the campuses continued growth, and lagging construction of on-campus housing. For example, in 1989 the City and the University signed a formal Memorandum of Understanding including the commitment of UCD to avoid rapid spikes in enrollment and to provide on-campus housing to avoid UCD growth impacts on the City. Over the years the University failed to follow through with their end of the agreement and the lack of on-campus housing has caused problems for students and increased pressure on the City.
More than 70% of the current UCD student population lives off-campus – primarily in Davis. Greatly accelerated campus growth has come to have significant impacts on our community. At the November 16th UC Regents meeting, Interim Chancellor Hexter admitted UC Davis’s rapid enrollment growth is responsible for the “saturation” of the Davis housing market. Davis’s workforce and families are being forced to move to surrounding cities and commute to their jobs in Davis. Students have increasing difficulty finding housing and must double and triple up in bedrooms or commute in from out of town. In our traditionally single family neighborhoods where once there were 1 or 2 student rentals many more homes are purchased by investors and are often altered to have more bedrooms (sometimes legally, sometimes not) to rent to students. This shift is dramatically changing the character of Davis.
UCD has announced on-campus housing plans that do not keep pace with their enrollment t growth further stressing the already tight housing market and putting students in very difficult situations. UCD’s November presentation to the Regents revealed that UCD will have no net gain in housing until the 2019-2020 school year, failing to accommodate increased enrollment, UCD’s Orchard Park apartments have been closed since 2014, and UCD is not planning to redevelop it until 2020. So, while UCD’s current plans fall appallingly short of its housing needs, UCD is bringing in 5,000 more students under its self-directed, “UCD 2020 Initiative”. Even the inadequate planned housing UCD s proposing will not be built in time to accommodate the thousands of students who need it.
New projects designed only for students are being proposed within the City. They are on a huge scale unlike what has been built in Davis before. These projects are 5-6 stories, and are primarily “rent by the bed” apartments. These “mega dorms” would greatly impact neighborhoods and our city infrastructure bringing significant associated costs such as wastewater and city services including police and fire. Not surprisingly, the proposals are meeting resistance from neighbors. Meanwhile, UCD itself is not willing to commit to building above 3 and 4 stories, complaining about increased cost. Meanwhile, Other UC campuses are receiving accolades for building taller buildings. Taller buildings and higher densities are more efficient uses of land and provide significantly more student housing and added bedrooms which recoup increased costs of taller construction.
The Sierra Club, Yolano Group has submitted a strong letter criticizing UCD for its lack of sustainable planning, citing UCD’s need to build much higher density housing on-campus. UCD’s current planning practices are negatively impacting our city environment and carbon footprint by failing to build enough on- campus apartments to allow students to live on campus the entire 4-5 years they attend UCD.
By comparison, UCD continues to lag far behind the other UC’s in its provision of student housing. Other UC’s are committing to providing housing for 50% of total student housing, UCD is only willing to try for 40%. While other California universities are providing housing for 100% of all new incoming students, UCD only aspires to 90%. Yet, UCD, at 5,300 acres, is the largest UC campus which has historically provided the least amount of on-campus housing. UCD can, and must do much more to provide long-term, and dedicated and housing for its students, as other much smaller UC’s and CSU’s have committed to do. If these other California public universities can achieve an adequate level of housing, why can’t UCD?
Students need UCD to build more on-campus housing and for UCD to build more apartments and other housing types beyond freshman dorms providing year-round options that are affordable to them. The 2003 UCD LRDP states: “The UC Davis campus provides a variety of housing types and neighborhoods, all with the goal of providing affordable opportunities for members of the campus community to strengthen their connections to UC Davis.”
There are 4 commitments that UCD needs to include in its LRDP to fulfill its promises to students and avert further deterioration in the “town-gown” relationship:
- UC Davis needs to provide on-campus housing for at least 50% of its total student population and 100% of new incoming students (as most other California public universities are providing).
- UCD needs to build higher campus housing densities, like other UC’s and CSU’s, with a minimum of 5-6 stories or more to implement sustainable planning and make more efficient use of land.
- Student housing construction timelines should be commensurate with UCD’s growth so housing is available as the student population grows.
- UCD needs to allow adequate time to complete discussions with the City regarding the unresolved on-campus housing deficit impacting Davis and surrounding communities before submitting the LRDP to environmental review or for approval by the UC Regents.
Please join me in urging the University to provide more on-campus student housing. Sign the petition at: https://citizensplanningdavis.org/
And most importantly, please write to our City Council at CityCouncilMembers@cityofdavis.org to support their efforts to hold UCD accountable for the community and neighborhood impacts of UCD’s accelerated growth.
Colin Walsh is a Davis Resident