Sunday Commentary: UC Plays Hardball on Housing

Mayor Robb Davis laid out the city’s fiscal position at the State of the City Address

Back in December, the Davis City Council earned a lot of praise from normally critical corners, and rightly so with their strong effort to push back against UC Davis in the LRDP process and to articulate the community’s position.

The city gained a number of concessions on key issues – in particular, the removal of housing proposals from the athletic fields on the south side of Russell Boulevard, agreements by UC Davis to end the use of master leases, and an agreement to allow the city to have determinations for Nishi and a potential university access point.

However, the city, while acknowledging their own responsibilities for building infill housing and student apartments, pushed harder on UC Davis to go further in providing housing on campus.

In December the city council sent a letter to Acting Chancellor Ralph Hexter on the Long Range Development Plan, requesting “that UC Davis incorporate into the LRDP substantial additional on-campus housing units and housing density, and provide clear definition of non-residential space increase needs and how those increases will be accommodated on-campus.”

Specifically, the council requested that “UC Davis provide for a minimum of 100 percent of the projected enrollment of all new incoming students starting with the 2017 academic year and at least 50 percent of total UC Davis campus student population in the LRDP.”

The city council was rightly mindful of past interactions with the university where the university in the past has promised to increase the percentage of students living on campus – and has not delivered.

While the council pushed hard, clearly their document was a middle ground document.  Many in the community have maintained the position that the university and its growth plans are driving the demand for student housing and they alone need to solve that problem.

The council drew a middle point there, arguing that, while UC Davis should provide for 100 percent of the enrollment of new students and half the total UC Davis campus student population, the city has its own obligations to provide housing.

It is not surprising that UC Davis has stuck with its 90/40 plan.  At the meeting in December, Bob Segar tried to reason that there is always a 10 percent residual of students who will live outside of the Davis planning area, and therefore 90 percent is effectively all the new students that would live in town.

UC Davis has stuck with their timeline and proceeded to issue a Notice of Preparation (NOP), moving forward with the environmental review phase.

As one of our commenters noted, the city should probably resubmit the letter to campus as part of the scoping process.

But it seems clear at this point that UC Davis intends to move forward with their plan and will likely not alter 90/40.  My comments here shouldn’t be interpreted to suggest that the city shouldn’t continue to press for 100/50, but I would really focus on the second part of the city’s ask – that UC Davis commit to a timetable to develop those promised 6200 beds for new students.

While the UCD position was expected, the comments of UC President Janet Napolitano were not.  Some have attempted to argue that enrollment pressures were a UC Davis policy, rather than a UC policy.  I think it is now clear that the UC President is driving the boat.  And she is going to use the reluctance of the city of Davis to accommodate more housing and grow as a rationale for expanding UC Davis’ presence into Sacramento.

Janet Napolitano pitched the idea of a third campus, telling the Bee this week that Sacramento “could relieve the shortage of space on the Davis campus, especially as the university population continues to grow.”

In other words, UC is now saying, fine, we will put additional students on the UC Davis campus, but that means we have less room for new programs.

We have constantly heard from some in the community that UC Davis has 5300 acres of land and therefore they easily can accommodate more student housing.  In discussions on the Vanguard, there are questions as to how much of that land is actually land that can be developed.

For example, we know from some communications that there was a real tension with regard to West Village as to how far west the university could expand, because that land was used for experimental agricultural research.

It would behoove the community to get a better handle over what land UC Davis believes it can develop and what land they are compelled to set aside for other uses.

That is not to say that the activists are wrong, but rather to suggest that we not argue in a vacuum here.

UC is clearly operating as though there were considerably less available land than the 5300 acres cited by community members.

Is that just an excuse to start creating a Sacramento presence or an indication that a lot of that 5300 acres is not developable?

In yesterday’s commentary, we cited other statements by President Napolitano suggesting that UC views Sacramento as the ideal location for a third campus and potentially the World Food Center.

This fall the Vanguard, noting the change in chancellors at UC Davis, pushed for the idea of the World Food Center staying at Davis as a driver for technology transfer from the university, startups and other companies coming to Davis.

Earlier this week, it appeared there was good news, with newly-elected Assemblymember Cecilia Aguiar-Curry stating that she would support a UC Davis consideration for building the World Food Center “on its land and there are other parcels like the (on-hold) Mace Ranch Innovation Center proposal.”

She told the Vanguard, “I want to see Yolo County as a hub for ag-tech, including value added product manufacturing. AgPlus (Central Valley Food and Beverage Manufacturing Consortium) is one initiative I’m involved with that is a good model here.”

But UC President Janet Napolitano appears to have other plans.  She told the Sacramento Bee on Wednesday that “she hopes whoever gets picked as the new chancellor of UC Davis can pull off an expansion of the campus into Sacramento.”

That would appear to include the World Food Center.

The World Food Center would be a boon for the city of Davis and a potential anchor for an innovation center that could help alleviate revenue problems for the city.

Yesterday, a reader noted that, in San Diego, UC San Diego is expanding greatly, but much of that expansion is no closer to downtown San Diego than UC Davis is to the Capitol, as far as driving time.

Whether UC Davis and UC are using pressure by the community as an excuse to move to Sacramento or whether they have legitimate reasons for doing so, we maintain that the city council did the right thing to push for UC Davis to accommodate more of their student growth on council.

The rest is going to take a lot of work behind the scenes by the council to assure UC Davis that this is a partnership and that both the city and university benefit from cooperation.

But anyone who thought this would be easy, and that the war was won here, was badly mistaken.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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12 Comments

  1. Tia Will

    In other words, UC is now saying, fine, we will put additional students on the UC Davis campus, but that means we have less room for new programs.”

    I would see weighing all of the pros and cons of where to locate a large enterprise such as the WFC as a matter of prudence rather than a “tit for tat” based on the City of Davis apparent slow growth preference and push back of percentage of students to be housed on campus. It seems to me a factual statement that wherever the WFC is located, there will be an increased need for housing of students, faculty, staff and workers and administrators if there is a large manufacturing component.

     

    1. David Greenwald

      My read is that the WFC is a research facility, not a manufacturing facility. The anticipated need for land would be for spinoffs and technology transfer rather than the primary use unless there is more anticipated than currently publicly available

  2. Tia Will

    My read is that the WFC is a research facility, not a manufacturing facility”

    Agreed as written. But “research” can encompass many possibilities, some best suited to one type of locale, some to another. For example, UCD has long maintained field stations for soil science research in the agricultural areas near Fresno. This has not historically been seen as a “loss to the city of Davis”. Taking a broader look, some fields of research will be best located distant from a campus such as Davis. As you noted previously, it makes sense to locate a medical school where there is a large population of patients. Likewise, a purely “crops in the field” type of research facility would likely be best located where the fields are. However, it is less clear to me that a research facility centered around secondary processing of those crops is necessarily best located near the fields.

  3. Mark West

    “We have constantly heard from some in the community that UC Davis has 5300 acres of land and therefore they easily can accommodate more student housing.”

    Yes, the University has 5000+ acres of ground, but the vast majority of it is tied up in long-term agricultural research projects and cannot be developed. I know from direct experience that there is insufficient land available for research programs and that there is significant competition on campus for those resources.  Those proclaiming that the University has excess land available for development are either uninformed or know the truth and are choosing to be disingenuous.

    David, you need to stop repeating this fallacy about the available land as if were fact and start getting your information from the University instead of the local activists.

    “It would behoove the community to get a better handle over what land UC Davis believes it can develop and what land they are compelled to set aside for other uses.”

    That is actually the role of a journalist, to inquire, research and report on the situation rather than sitting back and repeating false statements from those who have no knowledge or have a vested interest in deceiving the public.

    As I pointed out the other day, housing on campus competes for resources (land and money) with the research and education functions of the University. If we continue to demand more housing on campus, we should not be surprised to find the research and education functions of the University expanding off campus, increasing the already significant negative impact on the City’s revenue from the resulting lost commercial space. The policy that you continue to push here (more housing on campus) will exacerbate the serious fiscal shortfall that the City is facing and make our lives even more expensive as we have to raise taxes and reduce services to compensate.

    The smart approach would be for the City to ask that the University prioritize programs over housing. For the City to build more apartments, townhomes, and condiminiums to meet the needs of students and other residents, and then demand that the University vacate the commercial properties located in the City (or agree to make whole provisions for the lost property taxes).

    It comes as no suprise that the approach expounded here and that is constantly pushed by the ‘no’ crowd, is to do just the opposite.

     

     

    1. Jaroslaw Waszczuk

      David, you need to stop repeating this fallacy about the available land as if were fact and start getting your information from the University instead of the local activists.

      That is actually the role of a journalist, to inquire, research and report on the situation rather than sitting back and repeating false statements from those who have no knowledge or have a vested interest in deceiving the public.

      Mark

      This is what I thought I wrote by  quoting your advise which stated who is responsible for such decisions . No avail . David could learn a lot from the Regents Minutes  published for the last 25 years.

       

  4. Eileen Samitz

    Mark,

    I would have to say that it is you that needs to stop with the fallacy that UCD does not have enough land to provide significantly more high density student housing on-campus. They clearly do have plenty of options, they just need to stop prioritizing more music recital centers and art centers, and prioritize using the sites that they have on or near the core campus for student housing. Many site options have been identified as input so this is where UCD really needs to stop making excuses and roll up their sleeves and instead produce solutions, like other UC’s have.

    1. JosephBiello

      Mark, Eileen has articulated it perfectly, and should be quoted forever.  The university must stop its core mission – providing educational and arts opportunities for young people to learn from and for the city residents to enjoy – and, instead, focus on a secondary mission – housing people.

      The city has no responsibility, according to her NIMBYism, to provide housing – but that IS the core mission of a city, of course.  You know, to house people!

      This is the world turned upside down.

      [Sarcasm:  No Mondavi center, no Shrem Museum, no Health sciences campus, no Arboretum.  The university must focus on housing…. and only housing.  While we’re at it, let’s build a wall around campus to keep the “undesirable students” out of town.  (Isn’t that what the lack of outlet from West Village is, effectively – a wall.)  Let’s have a town with no arts centers, no business opportunities, no students. While you’re at it, maybe we should impose curfews too.]

      If this is your vision of slow growth and the “University’s responsibility to provide housing” at the expense of arts centers – it is one sad vision!  You don’t want cultural and intellectual vibrance – you want stagnation and decay.

       

       

       

       

       

       

      1. Jaroslaw Waszczuk

        Sarcasm;
         In case of UC Davis, Vanderhoef’s  expansion of the UC Davis legacy was built on drastic increases in students’ tuition fees, a lack of affordable housing for students, the misappropriation of public funds and fraud. His legacy ended in turmoil amongst the students at UC Davis in the form of massive student protests. Vanderhoef’s past activities took a toll on his successor Linda Katehi, who was which hunted by UC President Janet Napolitano not long ago for her attempts to keep up with UC Davis’s expenses, which Vanderhoef passed to her in 2009 upon his resignation.

        Jerold Theis works at UC Davis as a medical microbiology professor; his research interests include forensic pathology and foodborne parasites. In January 2006, Theis  the chair of the Academic Freedom and Responsibility Committee in the Academic Senate created a petition for a vote of “no confidence” for Vanderhoef’s leadership. Theis argued that the university administration had become bloated and that Vanderhoef had “wasted millions of dollars of state money to preserve the power structure.”

         Vanderhoef presided over the largest increase in administrative officers in the history of the campus.
        After being named chancellor in 1994, Vanderhoef vowed to bring a world-class performing arts center to UC Davis. The ‘class performing arts center”  in UC Davis became Vanderhoef’s obsession  and Vanderhoef’s  delusional vision that UC Davis and his art center make him a chancellor known by the entire world, as same as one one chancellor known from history book.

    2. Eileen Samitz

      JosephBiello,

      Actually no one is a bigger NIMBY than UCD since they have over 5,300 acres and they are not serving the housing needs of their students. UCD needs to provide the on-campus housing to support their own ambitious and accelerated growth. Recall that a majpr part of  UCD’s self-directed and enormous growth surge is primarily to increase UCD revenue by recruiting 4,500 non-resident students by charging them triple tuition.  Yet, rather than providing the on-campus housing that they need like other UC’s are, UCD is trying to continue to push off their responsibility to provide the student housing they need to build on campus.

       

      1. Don Shor

        I wonder what the best focus is now for trying to get them to 100/50 from 90/40. It seems likely that the field of decision-making has moved to the UC office of the president and the regents, since it appears that UCD is firm on their position in the long-range development plan as we currently see it.
        If that is the case, the decision-makers are less likely to be impressed by talking about their shortcomings, moral obligations, etc. They probably perceive Davis as being filled with NIMBY’s who aren’t appreciative of the university. Perhaps a better focus would be on the economic impacts of rental shortages, the demographic impact on their applicant pools, the difficulty attracting staff and faculty due to lack of housing, and the carbon footprint that results from the commutes required due to lack of on-campus housing.
        Also, figuring out exactly who to make these points to would be useful.

  5. Colin Walsh

    The city gained a number of concessions on key issues – in particular, the removal of housing proposals from the athletic fields on the south side of Russell Boulevard…

    If by the City you mean the City Council, that is more than a stretch. The City Council never even took up the issue publicly until after the University decided not to build on Russell Field, despite citizens coming to the Council and asking them to do so 3 times. To Lucas’s credit, he asked the subcommittee to finally report back to the Council after citizen’s came the third time.

    In fact in the staff report as was initially released for the Dec.6th meeting, it was not even clear that the subcommittee had decided they wanted to try to save the fields at all. Since all subcommittee meetings were closed to the public and there are no official minutes or ANY public accountability for those meetings at all, who knows what happened.

    ASUCD had much more to do with the University’s decision than the Council did. They held several public meetings and grilled the UCD planers on this issue. ASUCD brought in community members and students to meet with the University planers on several occasions. Having been in those meetings, its my opinion that is what changed the University’s mind. ASUCD was a model of politcal action, and political pressure.

    So no, with all do respect to the City Council for their many positive contributions to the community, they should not be given the credit for saving Russell Field.

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