Hexter’s Letter to City Proposes Inadequate UCD Campus Housing

Orchard Park sits empty since 2014 and is not projected to be redeveloped until 2020.

UCD is still trying to side-step more needed higher density campus housing

By Colin Walsh

Interim Chancellor Hexter seems to be exaggerating how much new housing the University plans on building. A lack of enough new housing construction on campus will exacerbate the student housing shortage and is likely to damage the relationship between the City and the University and create additional hardship for UC Davis students.

The University of California Davis’s proposed Long Range Development Plan (LRDP) currently proposes building new housing, to create a “capacity to accommodate more than 90% of enrollment growth in campus housing and 40% of the Davis-based students in campus housing by 2027-28.” This falls well short of the housing that is being provided on other UC campuses. Most UC campuses are well on their way to reaching their goals of providing housing for 50% of their students.

On December 21st, the Davis City Council sent a letter to Interim Chancellor Hexter, accompanied by a resolution. Both called on UC Davis to, “incorporate into the LRDP substantial additional on-campus housing units and housing density”. The City asked that “UC Davis provide for a minimum of 100 percent of the projected student enrollment growth, including 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.”This is a very reasonable request on the City’s part, and would bring UCD housing in line with the rest of the UC system

The City pointed out that, “the scope of what has been proposed to date in the LRDP is not sufficient to meet the projected growth of the university and, if left unchanged, will have substantial negative impacts on the community we share.”

It took the University over a month to respond the City’s December 21st letter, and now that they have, their response is lack luster.

The University’s response came in in a letter from Interim Chancellor Hexter to the City of Davis dated January 25th (that became public on February 2nd).  The letter continues to cap student housing at only 40% of student enrollment despite the City of Davis’s requests to do better.

UCD will be growing at a rapid pace in the next 10 years adding, over 6,000 new UCD students and over 1,000 new students to the Los Rios Community College in West Village. If UCD doesn’t increase its housing, it will leave many more students looking for housing in the city of Davis’s already tight housing market.  UCD will also need much more faculty and staff to provide education and other services for the increased enrollment. These faculty and staff will need housing too, and will likely look to the City of Davis first.

Under the current plan, UCD is expecting the City of Davis to absorb thousands of more residents while the University is unwilling to increase its capacity goals despite reasonable requests from the Davis City Council, UC Davis Students and Davis residents.

The Universities perspective on “Upcoming UC Davis On-Campus Housing Projects” is spelled out quite clearly in Attachment 1 that accompanies the Interim Chancellors January 25th letter and it is inadequate. The 8 points from this attachment follow:

 “1) We reached an agreement with the owners of the West Village student apartments to allow increased occupancy within existing units, adding capacity for over 600 students,”

This increase is accomplished solely by having students double up in existing rooms. There is zero added capacity or services, only increased density, without increased facilities to make it more palatable to students.

“2) We are revising our assessment of on-campus housing capacity to treat the doubling and tripling of a certain percentage of bedrooms as an ongoing rather than a short-term measure to add capacity,”

This strategy continues an emergency overcrowding policy on a permanent basis and is simply not good planning. It does not actually add any structurally capacity and it is detrimental to student on campus living conditions. Forcing students to live 3 to a room with inadequate bathrooms and study lounges, laundry rooms and dining halls creates overcrowding and unneeded hardships for students. It also makes living on campus far less desirable and motivates students to look for housing off campus.

“3) We have a new residence hall, Tercero 4, under construction to add 500 students to the Tercero complex on campus, after demolishing an older, low-rise housing complex. The Tercero 4 residence hall will open fall of 2017.”

This new building at Tercero is a goal set in a previous UCD LRDP and is years behind schedule.

“4) We will be demolishing the existing buildings at Orchard Park this summer and will replace it with a new, higher density project for 800 students, intended to serve students with families and graduate students.”

The current buildings have been shuttered for over 2 years and redevelopment is also years behind schedule. This project was also included in the last LRDP. The Interim Chancellor’s claim that this is a higher density project is only partly true. This project also nearly doubles the land used for the Orchard Park complex. The new construction will include the currently unused land between the existing Orchard Park buildings and the freeway and displaces greenhouses East of the Domes. The new Orchard Park plan will use about 21 acres to house 800 students. If this development were taller it would provide a higher density which would accommodate many more students. By comparison, at the January 25th UC Regents meeting, UC San Diego unveiled plans to build 8 story tall buildings, and were urged by the UC Regents to build taller to house more students and make the most efficient use of the land.

“5) We are planning to demolish Webster Hall in the summer of 2017 and replace the existing 260 student complex with a new residence hall serving 360 students. The new Webster Hall will open in the fall of 2019. In addition to serving 100 more students, the building design will allow for the tripling of rooms if needed.”

In November, Interim Chancellor Hexter testified to the Regents that the University was simply adding a floor to the two Cuarto buildings (Webster and Emerson Halls) to achieve these fairly small capacity increases. Apparently this information was incorrect and it has now been made clear that the entire buildings will be torn down and replaced. One impact is that it will significantly reduce the amount of on-campus housing for the several years long demolition and re-construction process. While this will help to provide some additional housing when completed, it is a significant amount of effort and expense for such a marginal increase. These buildings should be rebuilt at 6 stories tall, on par with other new apartment complexes being proposed in Davis. In fact, this is a much more appropriate place to build taller buildings, since the immediate neighbors are all more student housing.

“6) Emerson Hall is planned for demolition in the summer of 2019. That 500-student complex will be replaced with a new residence hall serving 700 students. The new Emerson Hall is targeted to open for the fall of 2021. In addition to serving 200 more students, the building design will allow for the tripling of rooms if needed.”

This redevelopment has all of the same problems as the Webster hall increase. It too was announced to the Regents as simply adding a floor, but now is going to be torn down and completely rebuilt to add a marginal increase in housing. This too should be built taller, and to not do so is a missed opportunity.

“7) We will begin construction on a new dining facility within the Tercero area which will allow for further densification of Tercero and a new Tercero phase 5 residence hall. Construction on the Tercero Dining Commons 2 project will begin summer of 2017 and will be completed fall of 2019.”

This dining hall expansion is trailing behind the expansion of the Tercero 4 by two years.

“8) We are incorporating environmental review for a new West Village apartment project to house 1,600 -1,800 students into the draft LRDP and draft LRDP EIR documents, so that this project can move forward as soon as the LRDP and its EIR are approved. This project will serve incoming transfer students and will allow for the university to conclude the leasing of apartments within the city of Davis.”

This is the only significant increase in housing capacity on campus referenced in the Interim Chancellor’s attachment 1, but this project is years away from completion and once it is completed, it will not house any part of the increase in enrollment. This new development will replace apartments master-leased by the University in the City of Davis.

Taken as a whole, the Interim Chancellors attachment 1 significantly fails to provide anywhere close to even the 40% ceiling promised in the LRDP.

So, although Interim Chancellors Hexter was quoted on February 1st in the Davis Enterprise as saying, “Together, we must find a path forward that addresses the inevitable changes that the coming decades will bring. Careful planning, discussion, analysis and decisions must be part of that path” it is far from clear how the University will work with the City considering the lack luster response to the City’s letter.

Hexter is further quoted as saying “Both UC Davis and the city of Davis bring different ideas and perspectives about how we grow and what impact decisions about growth might bring.”  But what perspective should the city have after receiving such an inadequate proposal for building more housing?

Interim Chancellor Hextor was also quoted in the Davis Enterprise as stating, “Our town-gown relationship is strong.” One has to wonder how strong it is when the University is unwilling to provide enough campus housing despite the City’s repeated requests to do so.


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21 thoughts on “Hexter’s Letter to City Proposes Inadequate UCD Campus Housing”

  1. Greg Rowe

    Hexter’s letter also suggested that the City of Davis join a so-called collaborative effort to resolve the city’s vacancy problems, following the Student Housing Action Plan (SHAP) adopted by Fort Collins, CO and Colorado State University (CSU) in 2013.  After reviewing the SHAP, I concluded there is limited comparability between the Davis-UCD situation and the relationship between Fort Collins and CSU.

    First, according to the CA Dept of Finance, Davis had a population slightly over 68,300 on January 1, 2016, NOT including students.  Fort Collins had a population of 144,880 in 2013, including CSU approximately 27,000 students and about 6,500 students at Front Range Community College (FRCC).   Subtracting the students from the Fort Collins population gives a total non-student population of 111,380, or 43,000 more than Davis.  I don’t think this makes the 2 cities very comparable.

    What’s more, Fort Collins has a lot more land on which it could accommodate multi-family student housing, 47.1 square miles compared to 10.5 square miles in Davis.  (Subtracting water surface, Fort Collins still has 46.5 square miles of land, or more than 4 times the land within Davis.)

    Wikipedia says CSU now has 32,000 students, but the SHAP says the university has no plans to expand beyond 35,000 students. This is unlike UCD, which wants to reach 39,000 in just 10 years and keep growing beyond that.

    The SHAP report states that Fort Collins has a limited supply of multi-family housing.  In 2013 there were 57 off-campus apartment complexes comprised of 6,507 units and 12,027 beds.  I have not had time to compare these figures to Davis.


  2. David Greenwald

    A few points:

    1.  One of the points I have been making is that it’s one thing for the university to promise units, their track record has been mediocre at best.

    2.  I would like to see this town-gown discussion extend beyond housing and in particular into economic development where there is also a real need for collaboration.

    3.  I think the city has pushed the university about as far as they will.  I still believe that the city is going to need to find more housing internally even if the university follows through

    1. Colin Walsh

      Thanks David, I appreciate your comments

      1) I agree this has been a problem in the past, but that is a poor arguement agaist setting appropriate goals. If the Unviersity does not include the 50% goal in its EIR, then it will not be abel to even strive for that goal for another 10 years

      Further, the City Council did a good job in addressing this issue in its letter to the University when it stated,

      “The City further requests that UC Davis develop an accompanying construction and financing implementation strategy to ensure the delivery of these units and facilities in a timely manner commensurate with student population growth.”

      But the Chancellor ignored, overlooked or disregarded this request in the reply letter.

      2) I agree this discussion could be fruitful. It is not addressed at all in the LRDP, or the Chancellors letter to the City.

      3) We will see what the City Council is willing to do to encourage the University to build more housing. Considering ASUCD just joined the City’s complaints by passing a similar resolution, I see the pressure on the university increasing, not decreasing. In any case, the university has yet to do anything to improve its proposed housing capacity so far.

      As to the City’s need to find more housing regardless, that is well addressed in the City’s  letter and resolution too. What is clear as Greg notes above, the Fort Colins model that the University wants to impose upon the City is not appropriate for the City of Davis.

      1. David Greenwald

        Curious – how do you see the pressure on the university increasing?  Where do you see that pressure coming from?  I see a fairly insulated university – they were willing to move to a certain position, but they haven’t budged off that position despite repeated attempts by the city.

        1. Colin Walsh

          I don’t disagree. Reaching the insular University is a challenge, but I think the City is up to the challenge.

          ASUCD passed a resolution and is beginning to actively lobby the University and Regents on this issue is one example. Ultimately it may be the Regents that excerpt the pressure though. Having watched several housing presentations to the Regents now, I see the Regents repeatedly encouraging the UCs to build more housing and to build it taller. The Regents encouraged UCSD to consider building as tall as 20 stories.


  3. Eileen Samitz


    UCD needs to catch up with the rest of the planet and the other UC’s in the system, which embrace providing as much on-campus housing as possible for so many reasons. Not only is it for the convenience of the students to not need to battle the rain, cold, and heat elements to get to and from classes daily, but also to reduce the commuting needs filling the roads as well as having permanently dedicated student housing for availability and to control the long-term affordability for the students which can only be done on-campus, not off-campus.

    By building the higher density housing on-campus like the other UC’s are, this also helps to free up off-campus housing for the workforce and families while having the proximity of the student housing close to the classes to reduce traffic, circulation and parking problems as well as reducing the emergence of mini-dorms, and now mega-dorms proposed which are imposing on our neighborhoods, city infrastructure as well as bringing associated costs.

    Even the students want much more on-campus housing as reflected with their recent resolution which is entirely supportive of the City’s resolution asking for the “50/100” full weight alternative to be included in the UCD LRDP EIR.

    So UCD just needs to stop trying to pretend that they can’t, when it is very clear that they can produce far more and higher density on-campus housing like the other UC’s and CSU’s are doing.

  4. Greg Rowe

    Here’s a few more comments regarding Hexter’s letter to the City and the LRDP overall.

    (1) Growth of non-UCD students: One of the key points missing from most LRDP discussions is the other people the LRDP plans to add, totaling 4,683 (or 74% of the net additional students). This includes 2,319 more employees, a doubling of Los Rios CC students from 615 to 1,230, 1,444 dependents of UC residents, and 305 non-UCD employees (USDA, daycare, etc.). To the extent to which UCD refuses to house no more than 40% of the anticipated 2027-28 enrollment on campus, students will continue occupying most of the off-campus rental housing and moving to single-family mini-dorm conversions. The net result will be that the additional 4,683 arrivals between now and 2027 will find it difficult to rent or buy housing in Davis, further exacerbating local and regional transportation, air quality and greenhouse gas problems.

    (2) Attachment 2 of Hexter’s feeble January 25 response to the City states that accommodating the City’s request to raise the on-campus student housing LRDP target from 40% to 50% “…translates to housing another 3,900 students, over and above the additional 6,200 students in the current LRDP proposal.”  This statement implies that UCD expects the City to devise ways to accommodate those 3,900 students. That in turn would equate to the City having to approve more than 5 projects on a scale of the Sterling 5th Street Apartments (203 units containing 727 beds) or more than 5 Lincoln40 projects (780 beds in 130 units).  Ironically, both of these proposed projects would have 5 floors, a height UCD has thus far resisted.   UCD’s response indicates that the university continues to think its growth should be a problem accommodated in our City’s neighborhoods. I respectfully suggest that the best alternative strategy would be for the City to move forward with the binding agreement discussed by the Finance and Budget Commission on January 9 and subsequently forwarded to Council. 

    (3) It has been suggested that the aggressive on-campus housing programs and plans at other UC campuses—notably Irvine and San Diego—may not be feasible at UCD, nor acceptable to the Board of Regents.  Having attended the January 25 Regents meeting in San Francisco, I wish to provide a more optimistic perspective.  I believe UCD can build higher and more densely clustered on-campus apartment buildings, but it has to ask for it—something UCD has apparently not done thus far.

    During the Regents’ Finance and Capital Strategies Committee meeting on January 25, representatives of the Irvine and San Diego campuses gave excellent and enthusiastically received presentations that requested approval of substantial capital expenditures.  In contrast to the generic and nebulous presentation by Interim Chancellor Hexter and Vice Chancellor Kelly Ratliff last November, the Irvine and San Diego administrators gave detailed, interesting and at times passionate proposals for high-rise on-campus apartment buildings. 

    As stated on page 2 of UCSD’s report to the Regents, “Part of the attraction of University-owned housing is the community setting that is provided by living on campus, adjacent to the academic, research, clinical, and recreation facilities that are available within walking distance of most on-campus housing.”  This is a principle UCD has yet to emulate. During San Diego’s presentation, its Chancellor said the Phase 1 project will be 8 floors, and Phase 2 will go up to 15 floors.  This approach is being taken because, as the Chancellor said, UCSD is trying to be as efficient with its land as possible. Unlike UCD, San Diego’s Chancellor is pushing for a 4-year on-campus housing guarantee by 2024-25. New buildings near residential areas bordering the campus will be shorter to minimize shadows, but the buildings will get taller as they step back from the campus boundary.   

    The UCSD apartments will rent for substantially less than nearby private apartments. When asked how this can be achieved, the Chancellor replied that on-campus land is basically free, they don’t need to make a profit, and the planned density offers economies of scale (again, something UCD can’t achieve with 3 and 4 story apartment buildings).      

    Like UCD, UCSD formerly built and operated low-rise, low density student housing, but unlike UCD, the San Diego campus has recognized that land and environmental considerations compel a different approach. Below is a highly relevant excerpt of an interview with Mark Cunningham, Executive Director of Housing and Dining at UCSD:  

    “In the early part of my career here, it felt like we had all this land and could afford to build one- and two-story buildings, and maintain an almost rural feel, with lots of space and a few buildings sprinkled around.  Then, as UC San Diego’s prominence rose, the campus began its meteoric rise and so did the buildings, both in number and in height.  Space began to fill up and we began to feel more suburban with a higher density and less open space. ”

    “Now, we are looking to the future and planning for even greater density and, without a doubt, we will become a much more urban campus.  Land is a precious resource and we have to manage its use responsibly.  For example, my future housing projects will be almost exclusively mid- to high-rise instead of two- and three-story walk-ups.  We have a responsibility to our future students, faculty and staff to not use up all of our land resources.” 

    Wise words, indeed.  Is UCD listening? 



    1. Colin Walsh

      All excellent points Greg. I appreciate you shedding more light on what other campuses can do and I share your optimism that UCD can do more here.


      1. Greg Rowe

        Diane:  I don’t know enough about how Hexter is doing overall as a university administrator to have an informed opinion.  I think he could be doing a better job dealing with UCD’s housing needs. In contrast to UCD, the Chancellor at UC San Diego has stated that he is pushing to provide a 4-year housing guarantee to all students by 2024-25. UCD does not want to house any more than 40% of students on campus, and that’s not until 2027-28. Hexter seems to just want more “discussion and dialogue” with the City.  He did make what I think was a really odd statement in a presentation to the Regents in November, in which he said he hopes Davis is happy with UCD being its largest supplier of renters.  Families having difficulty finding an apartment to rent would probably prefer that UCD were NOT the largest “supplier” of renters.

        Hexter also showed a slide to the Regents in November, purportedly proving that UCD currently houses 11,500 of the 33,000 students, or 35%. That data is completely false. The draft LRDP and the EIR Notice of Preparation both state that UCD currently only  houses 29% of the students, or 9,400.  In questioning UCD planners recently, I found out that Hexter got his data from the UCD student housing office, whose data includes students living in privately-owned, off-campus apartment buildings on which UCD holds “master leases.”

        1. Howard P

          And Greg, there are the off-campus apartments that the UC owns out-right… not just the master leases… also off the tax rolls, also unclear if those are in the Housing Office’s calculus…  UCD actually razed one a few years back, without re-building, exacerbating the housing shortage (Wake Forest area… don’t recall the name of the complex)…

    2. Dianne C Tobias


      you are much more informed than I on this topic. From your perspective how would you rate Interim Chancellor Hexter’s handling of this issue and having attended the Regent’s mtg do you think they are inclined to name him Chancellor?

      From my uninformed perch he does not seem to be winning points.

  5. Mark West

    “I share your optimism that UCD can do more”

    UCD could do more, but there is no reason for it to do so. UCSD is just the latest example of a landlocked campus surrounded by high-priced housing that needs to build more, and more space-efficient, on-campus housing, so the kids have a place to live. UCD has no reason to do either, no matter how loud the locals get on the issue. Davis has land available to expand but refuses to do so. No reason for the University of California to ‘bail us out’ of our intransigence.

    There is a housing shortage in Davis because Davis refuses to build more housing. This reality has absolutely nothing to do with UCD, it is a problem of our own construct. Try to point the finger all you want, but unless you are pointing at the mirror you are blaming the wrong entity.


    1. John Hobbs

      “unless you are pointing at the mirror you are blaming the wrong entity.”

      “Ah, c’mon Bullwinkle, you know that trick never works.”

      Most Davisites are too deeply entrenched in denial to grasp something so plain.

      1. Mark West

        “Davisites are too deeply entrenched in denial”

        It is one thing to be ‘entrenched’ in your beliefs, and yet another altogether to be ‘disingenuous.’

    2. Colin Walsh

      UC Davis is the largest campus, and indeed is not land locked as Mark pointed out. These are good reasons UC Davis can and should do more to provide student housing. Primarily though, this article argues that UCD should make better use of the space it has and build taller buildings like the other campuses. The other campuses have come to realize that campus space is precious and needs to be used for best effect. It is not just UC San Diego, or UC Irvine that needs to use it’s lands wisely, it is all UCs, including UC Davis.

      1. Mark West

        “build taller buildings like the other campuses”

        Your examples are of campuses that are located in cities with several tall buildings already in place. For example, I stayed in Riverside recently and the hotel I was in (adjacent to a residential neighborhood) was 8 stories tall. In Davis, on the other hand, the locals start getting heart palpitations when they imagine a similar project greater than three floors. When Davis starts building eight-story buildings (preferably, mixed use) we will have a good argument for asking the University to do the same.

        1. Colin Walsh

          I doubt there would be resistance in Davis to the campus building 8 story buildings like UC San Diego is. UCSD steps the buildings back getting taller moving toward the center of campus. Davis has multiple proposals before it for 5 story buildings right now, and all of the locations mentioned in the Interim Chancellors letter are far more appropriate for buildings that tall or taller.

          I have never heard anyone express the thought that Sproul hall is to tall and it is 9 stories and about 1 block from the edge of campus. UCD could certainly be building as tall as Sproul hall in other places.

  6. John Hobbs

    ” to be ‘disingenuous.’”

    That is a special class of Davisite, but a class that gets too much deference and much too little scrutiny. Your point does make me wonder whether the rest of the flock is persuaded by them or afraid of them.

    1. Mark West

      “whether the rest of the flock is persuaded by them or afraid of them.”

      I’m not sure it really matters when the disingenuous ones run for office (or worse, get elected).

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