Avoidable Problem: Huge Dormitory Proposal for the FamiliesFirst Site

Sterling Apartments

By Claudia Krich

The huge Sterling dormitory proposal for the site of Families First is a problem that did not have to be.  The proposal is so massive, so anti-community, so unattractive, in fact non-conforming to the zoning restrictions and other requirements of the Davis General Plan, that one wonders how it even got past the first step in city consideration.  But it has moved along through the process for some 18 months, taking up city staff time as well as a huge amount of time of concerned Davis residents.

The project should simply be denied.  The university has stated its plans to increase student housing on campus.  That’s where dormitories belong. The city should continue to pressure the university to not only build what it plans for the future, but also to quickly build what it has already promised in the past but hasn’t yet built.

Please note this is NOT an apartment complex.  It is a dormitory complex with suites of bedrooms, each with its own personal bathroom and other luxury amenities.

Developers tend to propose overly large and inappropriate projects, and after months or years of back and forth, “settle” for “less,” which is no doubt what they hoped for in the first place.   Once the proposal is under consideration, the developers can feel confident of some level of success, as long as there is no citizen vote requirement.

In the case of this Sterling proposal, the city has nothing to lose by just refusing the entire proposal.  The city does not owe the developer anything for the time and money they’ve invested in selling the project to the city.  That is lobbying, and their lobbyists and representatives are paid staff. It makes no difference tax-wise to the city if the property remains with its current owner or is sold to a new one.  The current owner (Families First) wants to make a huge profit, but if this project is turned down, may have to settle for only a very large profit.  Either way, the city loses nothing by just saying no.

The university has claimed that students want to live “in the community of Davis itself.”  Well, this location is in east Davis, between a tire store and the post office, across from a frame shop and the DMV, and very close to a large senior citizen population.  There is one and only one direct route to campus by bike or car, and that is on Russell Blvd.   Students would be much more part of the Davis community right on university property.  They would also be closer to their classes and would not have to deal with Russell Blvd.  And non-student Davisites would also not have to deal with the same impact on Russell Blvd.

Perhaps most important is the question of whether this dormitory will relieve the pressure students put on the Davis housing market. It will not.  It will be very expensive housing.  Once Sterling has paid $10 million for the land, paid to destroy all the (perfectly good and modern) buildings, paid to take down 150 trees, paid to build the huge buildings and parking structure, and paid to sub-contract the small affordable housing component to another company, they will need to charge students who live there a small fortune.  And as has happened with many student apartment complexes in Davis, students may live there for a while, but will then look for a house in town to share, in order to pay less.  Mini-dorms and houses packed with students will not be affected in any major way.   Perhaps if this proposal were actually for apartments, families might live there.  But it is not.

The city should only be considering proposals that are outstanding and appropriate. Every commission that has considered this proposal has found serious flaws. The Davis Planning Department should not be working hand in hand with the developer, giving suggestions to make their proposal more palatable.  Instead, the Planning Department could be spending their time seeking buyers and occupants for this beautiful property AS IS.  Re-use is the best environmental action, rather than demolition, chopping down 150 trees, paving over open space, and constructing huge box buildings and garages.

This dormitory complex is not a smart plan. This proposal has no redeeming qualities and should simply be denied.

Claudia Krich is a Davis Resident


About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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5 thoughts on “Avoidable Problem: Huge Dormitory Proposal for the FamiliesFirst Site”

  1. Tia Will

    The university has claimed that students want to live “in the community of Davis itself.”

    This sentence struck me in particular. I believe that there are students who desire a dormitory experience. I agree with the author that this type of experience would be best obtained on campus. Those students who want to live “in the community of Davis” are likely a separate group from those who are seeking the dormitory experience. They are more likely those who want a more community based lifestyle like those who live in the student co-op buildings on my street. I believe that this proposal will provide neither an optimal dorm experience, nor an optimal experience of “in community” living.

    I speak as a former inhabitant of Francisco Torres, an off campus dormitory in Isla Vista. Located a similar distance from both campus and the town center, this residence provided neither an optimal university nor optimal town experience and was quite isolating. It suited my purpose since I was completely dedicated to my pre med studies and was not seeking any other “life” at that point in time. I do not believe that it met the needs of many of the students who lived there and there was a yearly exodus, not because upper classmen and graduate students were not welcome to stay, but because few chose to stay in that environment in that location.


  2. Eric Gelber

    Tia – Perhaps you are right that the “proposal will provide neither an optimal dorm experience, nor an optimal experience of ‘in community living.'” But if optimal is always the standard, I don’t know that the local housing need will be met in the foreseeable future. Housing on campus is a necessary but long-term goal. What this proposal will provide is over 700 beds of student housing and, not insignificantly, 41 affordable units, last I heard. Even if turnover is high, assuming near full occupancy, that’s a lot of students who would otherwise be seeking other community alternatives. The article concludes that the proposal has no redeeming qualities after characterizing it as “a dormitory complex with suites of bedrooms, each with its own personal bathroom and other luxury amenities.” Those qualities sound pretty redeeming to me.

    The article recommends the City should, instead, be seeking buyers for the property as is. That won’t address housing needs; but, in any event, is there any reason to believe such an interest exists?

    I’m pretty much agnostic on this proposal; but, it would provide one more alternative housing choice that may even be optimal for some.

  3. Tia Will


    I agree that my use of the word “optimal” weakened my own argument. Like the author, I find it difficult to believe that if very large profits were not the bottom line, better usages for this site might be found. Unfortunately maximizing financial profits while placing all other considerations secondary does appear to be the predominant business driver of our times, the affordable housing units not withstanding.  I also am fairly agnostic about this project, but I would prefer a more balanced approach that takes into account more than just the developer and investor bottom line which I believe is paramount here.

  4. Alan Miller

    Developers tend to propose overly large and inappropriate projects, and after months or years of back and forth, “settle” for “less,” which is no doubt what they hoped for in the first place.

    Oh, except Trackside.  Never Trackside.  They wouldn’t do that.  No, the six story proposal was real.  Really!  That actually intended to build that.  To dig a giant hole in the ground in a toxic waste site for parking.  It wasn’t a negotiating point, a paper tiger, a straw man, a blue giraffe, a pink hedgehog, a ruse.  No Trackside would never do that.  They didn’t want a four story building and said six so they would appear reasonable with four, because if they started with four they might only get three.

    Nope.  Not at all, not at all, not in the least.

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