Let’s Make a Deal: An Enforceable Agreement Could Be a Win-Win for the City and UC Davis

By Dan Carson

Tensions are building between City Hall and UC Davis once again over campus growth. The latest clash is over the campus’ Long Range Development Plan or LRDP, a sort of General Plan to govern university expansion from 2017 to 2027. Despite a request from the City Council for further negotiations and a time-out in moving forward with environmental review of the plan, the campus announced January 4 it was moving full steam ahead.  The council will consider its next move on Jan. 24.

The new campus plan involves $2 billion in construction, 2 million square feet of new academic and support space, and a gain of 24 percent of 11,020 in the campus population by 2027.

I am happy to see that, this time, our city officials are viewing UC Davis’ dramatic growth plans the same way they would view any other massive development proposal and stepping up to protect the interests of Davis citizens and taxpayers. Recently campus officials have shown more interest in collaboration and compromise, as they retreated from development proposals for Russell Fields. But the recent refusal of UC Davis to slow down the LRDP train means that relationships are now teetering on the edge.

Renewed town-gown conflicts are looming over the potential impacts of the campus plan on city housing, traffic, parking, police and park services, and campus moves to take private property off the tax rolls for university use. In the past, campus offers to help address the impacts of growth have turned into empty promises and housing shortages, traffic congestion, and other problems for city residents, businesses, and local government. UC Davis has had some important positive impacts on our community. But it is also fair to say that unmitigated effects of UC Davis growth has contributed to some of the city’s biggest challenges.

Two other UC campus towns, Berkeley and Santa Cruz, faced similar conflicts with their local campuses in the mid-1990s that led to litigation over their LRDPs.  However, their city officials pushed hard for binding and legally enforceable settlement agreements requiring specific, steps to mitigate the impacts of their campus growth. I have proposed that city policymakers model their efforts after Berkeley and Santa Cruz and negotiate a deal with teeth – with real consequences if promises are not fulfilled. Of course, negotiations also mean consideration of actions by the city that UC Davis, our largest employer, needs to succeed.

The Finance and Budget Commission (FBC) voted unanimously on Jan. 9 to endorse my proposed approach.  My full written analysis and much more detailed information on the Berkeley and Santa Cruz deals can be found on the City of Davis website page for FBC. They contain some intriguing provisions relevant to our city’s concerns:

Limits on Campus Growth.  The Santa Cruz agreement contains a provision that limits the total growth in campus enrollment for the term of the LRDP. If the university exceeds daily limits on traffic trips to and from campus, the university can comply with the cap by reducing student enrollment.

Housing.  The Santa Cruz agreement sets specific requirements and time limits for the campus to provide additional on-campus housing for additionally enrolled students. The campus agreed to ensure 7,125 beds were provided for the first 15,000 students, and to accommodate 67% of enrollment above that level. There are deadlines for when the additional housing must be brought on line and limits on providing housing off-campus. The campus must publish annually on the web a five-year capital plan and a report on the status of construction and occupancy of student housing. The City of Santa Cruz agreed to incorporate various housing agreements into its General Plan.

Financial Support.  Both the Santa Cruz and Berkeley agreements provide ongoing and one-time funding to help offset various campus impacts on their communities. UC Berkeley agreed to devote an escalating annual funding amount (now almost $1.7 million) for sewer and storm drain projects, fire/emergency equipment, transportation demand management programs, and other projects that benefit city neighborhoods. It provides additional funding for specific projects to mitigate campus impacts on traffic and funded joint planning with the city of a new plan for Berkeley’s downtown.

UC Santa Cruz agreed to pay that city a $199 fee annually for each off-campus student bed that causes a property tax loss to the city. The campus also agreed to stop leasing a local hotel and to halt a master leasing program for off-campus housing beds to help stem the loss of city property tax revenues.

Economic Development. UC Berkeley agreed to participate in a “First Source” program to encourage local hiring for construction and non-construction jobs and a local-purchasing program prioritizing the purchase of goods and services from local merchants. The campus promised to encourage private spin-off businesses from UC-related research to locate in Berkeley. UC Santa Cruz promised to meet with city officials on a regular basis to explore opportunities for cooperation in economic development, as well as in grants, public safety, parks and recreation, and neighborhood issues.

Parking. UC Berkeley agreed to prioritize any construction of parking in locations allowing shared public and campus use.  The city and university agreed to integrate their parking supply in the downtown area to encourage its use by the public in off-peak periods when not required for university needs.

City officials in Berkeley and Santa Cruz had to resort to lawsuits to compel their universities and the UC Regents to strike fair deals with provisions like these to mitigate campus growth.  I think we can accomplish this without calling in the lawyers. Why?  It’s because such a deal is in our mutual interests.

It is to the benefit of the UC Davis and the city that students and faculty have better transportation routes to campus and relieve the congestion on Richards that affects many commuters. Adding on-campus apartments in locations that don’t flood city neighborhoods with traffic could help fix the city’s abysmally low rental vacancy rate and make the campus more attractive to high-achieving students.

Both sides can win here. So, I say, let’s make a deal.

Dan Carson is vice chairman of the city Finance and Budget Commission. He is a former member of the steering committee of West Davis Neighbors, a community group that sued UC Davis over its 2003 campus growth plans.


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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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  1. Don Shor

    Very interesting article, Dan, thanks. It would be good to see how this approach could be specifically tailored to our situation in Davis, preferably without the threat of litigation.

  2. Howard P

    A warning about the term ‘enforceable’… in my experience, an agreement made by two parties, in good faith, with a handshake sealing the “deal”, is far stronger than any written contract.  Has more to do with honesty and honor, than concerns over who would prevail in litigation if one or both parties “breach” the agreement.  In my experience, the first approach is used ~ 2% of the time.  

    As soon as the word “enforceable” is used, it indicates a lack of trust, often well justified.

    A story I’ve heard is that “western” cultures developed a right-handed ‘handshake’… offering an open hand with no weapon in it, while still carrying a shield with the left.  Other cultures, including many African ones, developed a left-handed handshake, implying they felt no need for a shield (no fear), but a reminder that the right hand still might have a weapon.  There are pros and cons to each tradition…

  3. Leanna Sweha

    Thank you Dan for a very informative article.

    What form would the agreement take – an addendum to the LRDP? Did Santa Cruz or Berkeley try to negotiate an agreement before going the litigation route? It certainly is always better to avoid litigation.

    1. Dan Carson

      While some specific commitments by the campus could be integrated into the EIR for the LRDP, it is likely that a stand alone legal agreement would be needed to capture many of the provisions. That is what occurred in Berkeley and Santa Cruz.

      And, yes, this does need to be in a binding agreement, in my view.  We have had non-binding city-campus MOUs in the past with provisions  that the campus did not fulfill.  The campus signs contractual agreements every day with other parties, and certainly supported this approach with the city when UC Davis secured part of the city’s surface water supply a few years ago. We should expect the same kind of commitment in a fair agreement that can benefit both sides.

      Usually well-crafted deals don’t create problems — they prevent and resolve them.

  4. Eileen Samitz


    Great article and concept. I would say the City certainly could, ask and if UCD does not respond or cooperate, then the City needs to do what it needs to to protect what is in the best interest of the City, its residents, and particularly the future of Davis.

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