Commentary: Analyzing Davis’ Student Housing Needs

Earlier this week, the Vanguard asked the city to come up with a number – how many rental units do we need in the city?  Where should they be built?  When should they be constructed?

Last night at the Planning Commission meeting, a developer made the case that Davis needs housing.  “We’re here because there is a housing crisis in Davis,” the applicant said.

According to the 2016 vacancy report prepared by UC Davis Student Housing Department, there is a 0.2 percent apartment vacancy rate.   As the applicant put it, they surveyed approximately 9969 units, accounting for 83 percent of the total multifamily housing stock in the Davis community, and “that mean that less than 30 units were vacant and available to renters.”

“That just doesn’t happen,” he said.  “A healthy market is where there is approximately 5 percent vacancy.  I always tell people if you have more occupancy than 90 percent, you’re not charging enough.  Well, in Davis the current landlords have been continuing to charge people but there is such a pent up demand because there has been no purposeful market rate housing in Davis for years while everything else continues to grow.”

According to the city’s 2016 residential report, of the 266 residential permits issued, “ZERO were issued for market-rate/student apartments.

“While the city is meeting the targets for all residential categories, they are not meeting targets for market rate/student apartments.”  They added, “The majority of the apartments developed over the last several years have been dedicated affordable units.”

People continue to want to put this on the university, and the university plays a role in this.

In their December letter, the council wrote that “the City requests 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 further requested that UC Davis “develop an accompanying construction and financing implementation strategy to ensure the delivery of these units and facilities in a timely manner.”

At the same time, the council clearly committed “to provide for the full and diverse breadth of housing needs in our community” including “working with the property owner and UC Davis to determine the future possibilities for the Nishi site.”

They wrote, “City to continue to pursue consideration of all infill and apartment housing proposals within the City (with emphasis on student oriented housing proposals within 2 miles of campus in order to facilitate ease of access).”

The math is rather simple.  UC Davis is likely to continue to grow, there is only a 0.2 percent apartment vacancy in the city – and, therefore, those students are going to need to find a place to live.

The university has committed to housing 90 percent of those new students on campus, and increasing the total on-campus population to 40 percent of all students.  Both activists and the city council recognize that this will not accommodate current and future need.

One of the questions, given the numbers, is whether the city should focus on a student-oriented housing – when in fact, as the presentation showed, there has been no student-oriented housing in recent years in Davis.

As one commenter argued, “There is a significant effort to ‘justify’ large-scale, student-oriented housing in less-than-ideal locations.  This type of design is unprecedented, in Davis.”  They followed up, “Are there any other apartment complexes with 4-5 bedrooms, each with its own bathroom?”

They added, “Some are not even willing to wait until the LRDP process has been completed, to provide an opportunity to ensure that such housing is located in the best possible place (on campus).”

There are several critical points that should be addressed here.

First, there is really nothing unprecedented in the design of Sterling.

The 2016 Apartment Vacancy and Rental Rate Survey had a section that specifically discussed what is known as “bed leases.”

They write, “Of the 9,058 market rate apartment units reported by survey respondents, only 11 percent, around 950 units in total, were reportedly rented under bed lease arrangements.”

They continue, “On average, bed-leased units typically contain one bed per bedroom; although some complexes allow multiple beds per bedroom. Sixty-three percent of the leased beds reported by respondents were located in four-bedroom units, while 24 percent were in three-bedroom units and 12 percent were in two-bedroom units.”

So the answer is yes – there are other apartments that utilize bed leases and, in fact, there are nearly 600 bed leases in four-bedroom apartments in the city.  There is nothing unprecedented about this.

It is true, as Don Shor put it yesterday, “Families are unlikely to live in Sterling, any more than they are likely to live in the many dozens of other apartment complexes in Davis that were designed primarily for students.”

The reality is that there was no student-oriented housing last year or even the last dozen years in the city, and therefore it is not unreasonable to want to construct market-rate student housing when the pent-up demand is so severe.

The question comes up – should we wait for the LRDP process to be completed?

The question I have is why?  Right now the university is committed to 90/40.  The city is still asking for 100/50.  But the math suggests even 100/50 still means we need some housing in Davis.

How much housing do we need?  That is an important question and one reason why I would like the city to study our rental housing needs and come up with a number based on a number of variables.  In the meantime, the city has a few apartment complexes to consider that will at least meet the immediate pent-up market demands for student housing.

—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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  1. Matt Palm

    Bed leases are also popular in places like San Francisco where they are $300-$500 cheaper than a studio. These are tech workers we are talking about in these contexts.

    The average age at which people marry and have kids is increasing. There is a growing segment of the society–young, single person households–for whom this is quite optimal. Including and beyond students.

    Look at the Harvard joint center work–average household size is going down, not up. So many commenters are missing the point on what this type of housing really is.

    Its like the conversations here are always 10 years behind the times.

  2. Greg Rowe

    I don’t disagree with much of what David said. In fact, my recent letter to the Planning Commission supporting redevelopment of the former Families First site for the modified (scaled down) Sterling project suggested that it is time for the City to consider a comprehensive plan for optimum siting of student oriented housing.  Couple of additional things to consider, however.  First, UCD is still not doing nearly enough to meet student housing needs. Proposing to house 40% of the 2027-28 student population on campus will in fact not reduce the number of students living off campus in Davis. When one does the math, the net result is that UCD’s planned growth in the next decade will completely absorb any new housing built on campus.  (I’ve done the math, and can provide it to anyone who is interested.)  It’s pretty simple, really.  40% of the 39,000 students planned in 2027-28 is about the same total number of students as the 29% of the current student population living on campus.  UCD housing director Bob Segar has confirmed to me that the goal of the LRDP, in fact, is only to provide housing for 90% the new students to be admitted between 2017 and 2027, with the logic that 10% of new students elect for one reason or another to live off campus (live with parents, etc.).  He said the 40% figure just happens, by coincidence, to be the net outcome of housing 90% of new students.

    Second, compare this meager goal to a statement made at the January 25 Board of Regents meeting by the Chancellor of UC San Diego (UCSD). He’s pushing to give every student a 4-year on-campus housing guarantee by the 2024-25 academic year.   And, in comparison to UCD’s continued insistence on constructing nothing over 4 floors in height, UCSD is seeking authorization from the Regents to build a new 8-story on-campus apartment complex, plus a new 15-story apartment building.  The Chair of the Regents’s capital finance committee applauded this effort, and in fact urged UCSD to consider going even higher. The UCSD administrators said they’d consider that, their only limitation being the flight pattern of nearby Miramar Naval Air Station, which limits UCSD buildings to 29 floors.

    I recently read an interesting interview with UCSD’s long-time director of campus housing and dining. He said that UCSD once was a relatively small, isolated campus, so their initial on-campus housing efforts consisted of low-rise, low density student apartments and dorms. He said it’s taken some time to realize that they are now surrounded by a highly urban area that can’t continue absorbing students living off campus, and that the students likewise find it inconvenient to live off campus.  It is for that reason that UCSD is completely revising their approach to on-campus housing, and is demolishing the old low-rise student apartments and replacing them with the new towers.  UCD could do the same thing but stubbornly refuses to do so.

    On top of that, Interim Chancellor Hexter totally misled the Regents in his November 2016 presentation to the Regents. He said that UCD “now serves” the housing needs of about 11,500 students, or about 35% of enrollment.  That’s because he got his numbers from the UCD Housing Office, which counts students living off campus in apartment buildings master-leased by UCD.  In reality, the number of students actually living on campus in UCD-provided housing (including West Village) is about 2,000 less than the number used by Hexter, translating to the 29% figure cited in the draft LRDP and EIR Notice of Preparation.  Just another example of UCD lying with statistics.  Also keep in mind that when UCD master leases an apartment building, the property owner can then apply for an exemption from paying property taxes to Yolo County and the City of Davis.  (This is because UCD is tax-exempt.)  In a similar vein, the Rancho Cordova owner of the building in which UCD is proposing to operate a semi-conductor research lab has already applied for a property tax exemption.

    It is interesting that the website for Georgia Tech touts the advantages of students living on campus.  Let’s hope the new Chancellor brings that philosophy to UCD.

    1. Matt Palm

      Greg–even with 50/100 there is still a need in this community. Sorry, no offense, but it’s true. Maybe they’ll go to to Woodland. Maybe UCD should partner with Woodland. It’s not a bad idea. Students spend a lot of money on cheap burritos and there are lots d cheap burrito places there. Woodland could do something with the sales taxes.

  3. Greg Rowe

    Here’s the math related to how the LRDP will not reduce the number of students living off-campus in Davis. This is from a memo I sent to the Davis City Council on Feb 3.  I hope the table reproduces in this format.

    Readers of the draft LRDP may erroneously infer that the goal of increasing the percentage of UCD students living on campus from 29% now to 40% in 2027-28 will reduce the number of UCD students living in the City of Davis.  As shown below, however, the expected increase of 6,337 students from 32,663 in 2015-16 to 39,000 in 2027-28 means the actual number of students living in Davis will essentially remain unchanged. This conclusion was reached by assuming the proportion of students living off-campus in Davis now compared to other cities will be the same in 2027-28. Numbers shown in bold font in the table were derived from Tables 2 and 3 in UCD’s EIR Notice of Preparation (NOP) issued January 4, 2017.  6,337 more students–coupled with growth of 2,319 UCD employees, 1,444 dependents, 305 non-UC employees and 615 Los Rio Community College students—means continued low rental vacancy in Davis.  Housing just 40% of students on campus is inadequate.  

    The numbers in row 2 were calculated based on the percentages cited in the NOP for 2015-16 and 2027-28.

      1. Matt Palm

        These numbers don’t change my support for the project. We are at .02 vacancy now. This project will help with that and absorb the future students under this rosy scenario.

        If that mean some of the beds go empty, even better. Crisis can precipitate a sudden move for people and right now that means leaving town because there is never vacant slack. Low vacancies and personal crisis needn’t force someone to leave their community.

        1. Howard P

          Actually, it is either 0.002, or 0.2%.  2% (0.02) would be concerning, but not necessarily a clarion call for action… I believe the clarion call has been sounded…

          Sorry to nit-pick… am just such a troll… moderator, feel free to delete this post…

        2. Eileen Samitz

          Actually we now heard that is is 0.3% last night. However, UCD has traditionally been the entity deriving this data, so its validity is not necessarily to be counted on since they are chronically trying to blame the low vacancy rate on the City,  when it is UCD who is the most responsible for it since they have been so negligent in building the on-campus housing that the students want and need. The Sac Bee reported Davis’ vacancy rate to be 0.9, not much different than Woodland at 1.0. So if UCD would actually rent out the vacant West Village apartments they have, the vacancy rate will be even higher.

          1. Don Shor

            “Actually we now heard that is is 0.3% last night….its validity is not necessarily to be counted on..”
            Yes it is.
            The apartment vacancy rate is 0.2%. The vacancy rate of the bed leases is 1.0%.The blended rate that takes into account the bed lease system is 0.3%.
            The data and methodology are available online. Please read the survey and see for yourself how they did it.
            ASUCD began doing these surveys years ago. They always do them in fall, so we actually have decades of data to compare to see what the trends are over time. Anything less than 5% is an unhealthy rental market (healthy for the landlords…), so this is quibbling about small data points. But it’s never been this low for this long in Davis.

            “Blended Vacancy Rate
            To estimate a citywide vacancy rate for all lease types, BAE implemented a new analytical method as part of the 2016 survey, which combines the unit lease and bed lease vacancy rates, to generate a “blended,” or combined, vacancy estimate.2 The results of the “blended” vacancy rate calculation for the 2016 survey are shown in Table 3. Given that unit-leased apartments account for 89 percent of the market rate rental inventory, the blended vacancy rate aligns more closely with the unit lease vacancy rate than the bed lease vacancy rate. The blended vacancy rate for all rental units is equal to 0.3 percent. For comparison purposes, BAE also calculated the blended vacancy rate using the 2015 survey response data, which resulted in a 2015 combined vacancy rate of 0.6 percent, which reflects somewhat higher vacancy among bed-leased units. Broken down by unit size, the 2016 survey identified the highest blended vacancy rate among four-bedroom units at 0.6 percent, followed by three- bedroom units at 0.5 percent. One- and two-bedroom units reported blended vacancy rates of just 0.1 percent and 0.2 percent, respectively, while there were no vacancies among studio and “Other” units.”

        3. David Greenwald

          The data has been consistent over three years for vacancy rates.  Also the number that stuck out to me was – zero – the number of market rate student housing units added to the city last year.

        4. Ron


          What strikes me is that you’re continuing to advocate housing for a specific group (which coincidentally, is one of the only groups that can be accommodated on campus).  You know – under the LRDP which hasn’t been completed.

          You are advocating that the city create a plan, to “coordinate” with the campus’ incomplete/unfinished plan. (I sure hope that no one who understands and is responsible for sound city planning listens to that advice.)

          1. David Greenwald

            I’m advocating that the city plan based on actual need rather than guesses or a patch work of scattered development proposals. I would think you would be supportive of such an effort.

        5. Matt Williams

          Eileen Samitz said . . . “However, UCD has traditionally been the entity deriving this data, so its validity is not necessarily to be counted on since they are chronically trying to blame the low vacancy rate on the City,”

          Eileen, the data in the 2016 Apartment Vacancy and Rental Rate Survey (LINK to survey report) was derived by Matt Kowta and Matt Farris of bae urban economics (LINK to bae’s website), not by UC Davis.  bae also derived the data for the 2015, 2014 and 2013 surveys. Your statement is correct for the annual surveys prior to 2013 (from the first survey in Fall Quarter of 1975 through the survey in 2012).  Those 38 pre-bae surveys were conducted by the UC Davis Student Housing Department.

          The introduction to the 2013 Survey (quoted below) takes pains to address the concerns you have raised in your comment about data integrity.

          The annual Apartment Vacancy and Rental Rate Survey collects data on vacancy and rental rates, as well as other characteristics, for rental units located within the Davis community. The objective of the survey is to provide information that will help inform planning decisions on campus, and throughout the broader Davis community. For example, survey results help campus officials to assess the current housing market conditions faced by UCD students, and to determine the likely feasibility of proposed housing projects. For the 2013 survey, the Office of Student Housing partnered with BAE Urban Economics, a private real estate consulting firm located in downtown Davis, to administer the survey and report on the results.

          The administration of the 2013 survey primarily took place during the months of November and December, with follow – up outreach to non – responding property managers in January. The timing of the survey reflects the desire to capture information on housing market characteristics during peak occupancy (e.g. after the final day to add or drop classes, when enrollment for the academic year has stabilized). This approach is consistent with that use d in prior years, which helps to allow for longitudinal comparison. Unlike prior years, the 2013 survey was administered primarily as an online questionnaire, using the Survey Monkey web survey hosting service. BAE mailed hard copy invitation letters to 181 apartment complexes, property management companies, and property owners. Another 132 email invitations were sent to those for whom electronic contact information was available. Each of these communications provided a brief description of the survey and its intended purpose, while directing participants to fill out the survey tool online at Participants were also informed that a paper copy of the survey was available to them upon request. On three different occasions throughout the survey period, BAE mailed reminder post cards to non – respondents requesting their participation in the survey. At the end of the survey period, BAE also contacted non – respondents via telephone, to solicit participation, to update contact information, and to ask why they had not yet responded. BAE used a secret shopper methodology to validate survey responses for a sample of the larger respondent complexes. The results of the secret shopper validation indicated that the survey responses generally correspond to the information being provided to individuals seeking rental accommodations.  


        6. Ron


          I find it kind of ironic that you’re now stating that you’re against “guesswork” regarding student housing (in the absence of a completed LRDP).

          (Also, if you would “unblock” me from seeing your responses when I log in, I’d appreciate it.  Perhaps I accidentally selected “ignore commenter”, a few days ago.)  Really, I’m not sure that the “ignore commenter” feature is that useful.  In general, those that bother us the most are probably the ones we should actually listen to. For what it’s worth, I’m including myself as both a potential “perpetrator”, and “receiver” in that category. 🙂

      2. Eileen Samitz


        The problem is you keep reiterating the need for rental housing that is designed specifically for students which is excluding families and most other non-students. The rental housing built should be usable by all people needing rental housing, not just students. Your advocacy is really rather discriminatory.

        1. David Greenwald

          Actually I’m agnostic on the form, I’ve reiterated the need for additional rental housing.  Student housing is the biggest need clearly.

        2. Howard P

          So, Eileen, do you support a significant increase in MF units, as long as it is available to all?  Really?  Do you also support additional housing for the ‘homeless’?

          Or do you deny that there is a deficit of housing opportunities across a broad spectrum for folk who live, work and/or study here?

          We cannot control what UC does.  We can control what the City is open to.  That’s reality…

          While you quibble over 0.2% or 0.3% (accuracy within 0.05%, truly trivial), the healthy vacancy rate is 4-5%… an order of magnitude, and then some, from what we have now… I believe we should support the 4-5% as part of our rental availability goals.

      3. Eileen Samitz


        The biggest need is for UCD to build far more on-campus student housing for its own needs. That is what is very clear. They have plenty of land and the financial resources to do it. They just need more motivation and fewer excuses. You continue to excuse them and try to push their responsibilities on the City, which is really counter-productive.

        1. Don Shor

          The biggest need is for UCD to build far more on-campus student housing for its own needs.

          UCD needs to build more student housing.
          More rental housing is needed in the city as well.
          These things are not mutually exclusive.

        2. David Greenwald

          I agree with Don.

          My suggestion would be to continue to push the university to build their committed 90/40 and expand it to 100/50.  In the meantime, the city is not going to build enough units to cut into that, but the city can build enough units that combined with the university housing, we can get up to a healthier 5% vacancy level which will be beneficial to students and family renters.

        3. Howard P

          The tactic of the City should provide no additional units, until UCD builds their ‘fair share’ (whatever that is), sounds familiar to the “mutually assured destruction” line of reasoning… might work, but we are already seeing the consequences of that logic… operates against ‘affordability’, favors ‘how many students/unrelated adults can we cram into a SF home’…

          I see the tactic as self-destructive.

        4. Howard P

          Amen, Don… well stated… didn’t see that post before I posted my most recent.

          When we returned to Davis, where I had my new job, in late ’70’s, the vacancy rate was published as 0.25% (gee, does that seem like a familiar #?).  The rents charged when we found a place (took two weeks of significant effort), prompted us to buy a fixer-upper, @ $71 k, at 12% mortgage interest, within a year… it was ‘cheaper’ (but a huge “stretch” given my salary as a government employee).  And bigger… with a yard, which we wanted for our new-born.  Turned out to be a ‘good call’, but we indeed “struggled” for ~ 3-5 years.  At times we wondered, and not just intellectually.

          Oh… Eileen… part of our problem was that most available units were only available to “seniors”… no kids, over 60 years of age… so much for housing discrimination…




  4. Eileen Samitz

    One of the major problems with the Sterling project is that it is exclusionary by design, since it simply does not offering rental housing to families and other non-students. It’s market is targeting students so it will not help with the vacancy rate because it just will fill with the endless numbers of students that UCD wants to add to their already enormous student population. Any market rate apartments build now should be available to anyone. Not just students because of the single-room-occupancy model that is only what Sterling Apartments is offering. This mega-dorm type project, belongs on the campus, not in the City.

    1. Mark West

      Students are members of our community and deserve access to appropriate housing, just as everyone else does. Any new apartment, whether on-campus or off, will impact the vacancy rate, though it may take many new rooms to soak up the excess demand. All market rate apartments are open to anyone by law, so only the on-campus housing can be ‘student only.’ While the Sterling project is designed with students in mind, many single young professionals will find the model attractive as well. The project adds to the options available to Davis residents and is not inherently worse or better than the other options for rental housing. Housing belongs in the City, the research and education programs belong on campus.

    2. Greg Rowe

      Howard P:  Actually, the City along with residents can control what UCD does.  It happened in Santa Cruz.  A citizens group sued the campus because of the problems caused by the university’s refusal to build on-campus student housing on pace with enrollment growth.  The result was a Comprehensive Settlement Agreement executed among the citizens group, the City of Santa Cruz, UCSC and the Board of Regents. If memory serves, it requires UCSC to halt new admissions when it appears that enrollment growth is likely to drop the percentage of students living in campus housing below 50%.  I believe that in a recent year the university had to close a parking lot and temporarily install mobile homes in the parking lot for the purpose of housing students until the construction of new student apartments could catch up.  If it takes litigation to make UCD live up to its obligations, then I’m all for it.  Dan Carson has suggested trying to execute such an agreement with UCD without litigation, but if that does not work, then I believe the City should look at hiring the attorney that successfully negotiated the legal settlement agreement in Santa Cruz.

      1. Don Shor

        If any citizens group wants to sue UCD, go for it. So long as no city money is used, no staff time is used, and it isn’t used as yet another excuse for not building apartments in town — fine. Maybe it would have a desirable outcome. My non-lawyerly view is that Davis and Santa Cruz are very different in how the university interacts with the town, but you never know what you can persuade a judge.

        1. Ron

          Don:  That’s one heck of a lot of “restrictions” you’re advocating.

          One might argue that it’s in the direct interest of the city to ensure that UCD lives up to its obligations, .  (Especially considering the financial and non-financial impacts of failing to do so, which have been discussed at length – and are also facilitating this dispute.)

          In contrast, some argue that the city should not continue to subsidize the private Nishi proposal – as they’ve done in the past (which some argue is not in the best interest of the city).

          Overall, I see a lot of similarities between Davis and Bay Area towns (such as Santa Cruz). Davis has more in common with those communities (at least “culturally”), than it does with its immediate neighbors.

        2. Howard P

          Hmmm… there is a difference between ‘obligations’ and ‘promises’ … to be crude, think, “will you respect me in the morning?”  Answer is generally a promise, not an obligation.

          Yeah, some obligations can be “set” by someone in a long black robe… yet, even then, there are choices… familiar with the term, “walking out on your obligations”?  ‘promises’ can be made, yet not fulfilled either by ill-will, or inability… or somewhere in between…

          Funny how folk who don’t want to be ‘controlled’, often want to ‘control’ others… at the end of the day, all we can really do, at best, is control ourselves based on our conscience.  And seek consensus from others…



  5. Ron

    Mark:  ” . . .many single young professionals will find the model attractive as well.”

    Yeah, I’m sure that there’s tons of “single young professionals” who aren’t students, but would nevertheless be “thrilled” to occupy a bedroom in a 4-5 bedroom apartment unit with students.  (Hey – sounds like a good premise for a “situation-comedy show”, on TV!)

    1. Mark West

      Ron – My comment is based on two young women who worked for me, both of whom were very happy with this type of living arrangement. Not having to find their own roommates in advance was a benefit to these young professionals who had recently moved to town and didn’t know anyone. That said, I’m sure your vast knowledge and experience make you better able to determine what living situation was best for them.

      1. Ron


        Just to be clear, you had two professional-level women working for you who recently moved to town, who weren’t students and were happy to move into a 4-5 bedroom apartment unit with strangers (who were students), in a large-scale complex overwhelming occupied by students (and probably without sufficient parking).

        O.K. – I guess it can work that way, sometimes.

        1. Howard P

          Particularly if there is a 0.2-0.3% vacancy rate in play… as Will Rogers said, ‘a stranger is just a friend you haven’t met yet’…

          Please don’t play the “fear of sexual assault” card… if that was in the back of your mind… they still could have chosen to live with other professionally-minded, female students… to put it as a ‘random’ thing has no factual support.  They can be informed about their potential roommates before they sign the lease.

          I for one, think Mark is credible, and see no worries…

        2. Ron


          The “problem” is that you’re advocating changing the city’s plans to accommodate a specific type of housing (in this case, for students) which is better-suited for campus.  And, you’re doing this before UCD has even completed its enrollment and student housing plans.

          Howard: Again, I’m sure that there’s tons of “single young professionals” who aren’t students, but would nevertheless be “thrilled” to occupy a bedroom in a 4-5 bedroom apartment unit with students. Really? That’s what you and Mark are arguing?

        3. Howard P

          Yes Ron… and no-one should get new health insurance until the Congress/President come up with a new health care act… perfectly logical…

          Talk about ‘kicking a can down the road’!

    2. Matt Palm

      Wow Ron, there are quite a few young professionals doing just that in many major cities across the country because it is cheaper than a studio or one bedroom stand alone unit. That you can’t imagine it doesn’t mean these people don’t exist.  I’m one of them as far as my own plans going forward.

      1. Ron

        Matt:  A comparison with major cities across the country (in which housing is considerably more expensive, and is usually not student-oriented) is different that purposefully designing a dormitory-like structure far from campus (and expecting that large numbers of non-student, single professionals will choose to live there). It’s an entirely different situation than choosing to live with roommates in a large city, in a structure that’s not destined to be occupied by students.

        Howard:  Not a good comparison, regarding health care.  Again, we’re talking about permanently changing zoning to accommodate a dormitory-like structure that would be better-suited for campus, at a time when UCD hasn’t even finalized its plans regarding enrollment or student housing. A recipe for poor planning decisions, with permanent impacts on the city.

        1. Matt Palm

          Frankly Ron, I don’t agree but I recognize we are both speaking out of our behinds without hard evidence. Because you aren’t god and don’t know what every person in this region wants and I’m certainly not God either.  I think this is something we need good data on.

  6. Eileen Samitz


    Additionally they reduced the parking significantly and that is problematic since these non-student workforce folks generally have a car. The dorm atmosphere is not going to be something many young professionals are going to be too attracted to. This model of housing is simply not flexible and does not help provide housing for families or the vast majority of other non-students.

    1. Mark West

      Not every living situation works for every person, so it seems foolish to me to demand that every new housing project is designed to be ‘perfect’ for every potential resident. Parking availability is just one of many considerations, as is appropriateness for families. Creating a variety of different housing options in town would seem to be the sound approach.  Sterling is just one of many options, so there is no reason to demand that it be perfect for all.

      Your previously comment (11:53) listed a series of false arguments against Sterling, your 1:23 comment is yet another example of the same approach.


    2. Howard P

      Let’s see… Eileen sees the parking to be insufficient… Todd wants none (except ADA and/or working poor)… it would be helpful if those who oppose the project could get their ‘stories’ in line.  As it stands, sure looks like “damned if you do, damned if you don’t”… perfect recipe for “do nothing”.

      I don’t think the “do nothing” option is ‘sustainable’…

  7. Todd Edelman

    Leaving aside optimistic yet fully necessary possibilities that get more to the root of this problem, such as a judge agreeing that UC Davis’s continued enrollment strategy is making people suffer in over-crowded housing and risks their lives and others by forcing long journeys by automobile and therefore ordering temporarily freezing or restricting enrollment, in relation to Sterling I feel that there’s little concern for the following:

    * The 1:1 bed-to-bathroom ratio uses a lot more space than something reasonable such as a minimum 1.5 for a two-bed unit, 2 for a three, and 3 for four/five;

    * While housing is necessary, and mobility/access is necessary, on-site private automobile storage is not, i.e it should not be prioritized over people storage. But in this off-campus dormitory, it is: Instead of building the car parking structure – for comparison it has about 82% of the full capacity of the 4th St. & G structure – my rough guess is that at least 15% and as much as 20% more beds could be provided while maintaining similar open space inside, and increasing space for car share, plus also bicycle parking for the higher number of people and because the current proposal’s space-saving design is not user-friendly as requires bikes to be positioned vertically with no mechanical aids — this is a problem with heavier bikes that better replace cars for shopping, especially if there operators are smaller.

    A denser project is not a problem if there are no private vehicles allowed, with exceptions for ADA and for people working certain types of jobs living in the Mutual Housing section, if there’s enough transit, improvements to cycling infrastructure, plus very tight restrictions on residents parking nearby and on campus. (A compromise could be to require Sterling to rent lots at the periphery of town which are near 80 or 113 and have reasonable transit access.)

    About transit: Bizarrely, the lack of increased demand for Unitrans or other services was considered a good thing by – if I recall correctly – Public Works and the (former) BTSSC. Unitrans unfortunately has no specific and direct financial incentives for increasing the amount of UCD riders since there is zero farebox recovery from them, right? While bus service from this area to campus and Davis Depot (but is this synchronized with all Capitol Corridor services?), this is not the case for other destinations.

    About cycling: Adding only painted bike lanes to major streets like 5th west of Sterling is no longer considered to be a good way to increase the numbers of and diversify cycling. On the other hand there’s already a supported plan to connect Pole Line to Olive Dr. within the framework of the Richards-80 project — this enables a bicycle journey from Sterling to the Arboretum gateway to campus that crosses only two intersections, Pole Line-5th & Olive Dr.-Richards. (Commissioner Boschken – who voted against advancing the plan to Council in part due to what he considered problems with bicycle access – was seemingly unaware of this plan, which is to me indicative of the counter-productive – or at least counter-sustainable – disconnect between big brother Planning Commission and little brother BTSSC, which I think has something also to do with the total of 3 bikes parked last night at a meeting with perhaps 75 people present, fully 1/6 of the goal this year for arriving at events like this, and I am pretty sure none of the Commissioners rode bikes. (Oh, I didn’t see anyone present from the BTSSC, and I think that the vice-versa is generally the same.) From someone I spoke to at the meeting a reaction to my criticism was “not everyone can ride bikes”, which is a strawman argument because I was not arguing that they should, and in fact I prefer a non-private car modal share analysis/commitment to one just about riding bikes. In any case, our older neighbors who were over-represented at the meeting have made clear that don’t feel safe riding bikes to City Hall in the country’s “cycling capitol”! But somehow adding hundreds of cars to a location near e.g. Rancho Yolo was really only looked at with any objectivity in regards to LOS.)

    Anyway, apparently the ASUCD – this info from one of the public comments, perhaps I have this slightly wrong – is that they project that 72% of students who live at Sterling will come by bike or bus, in other words 28% by car. (Not carfree but that’s really great.) So why is that 64% of students at Sterling can have a car stored on site, at the expense of student housing there, especially during our surreal, horror show housing crisis?

    1. Ron


      I agree with some of what you write, but the reality is that eliminating parking will not eliminate the use of autos, in some manner (even if it occurs via Lyft, Uber, or whatever).  Even if autos are not primarily used to get to campus (up to several times/day, for each student), other needs (e.g., shopping, as well as other non-campus destinations which are nowhere near this site) will encourage the use of motor vehicles in some manner. (Also, how many students currently lug groceries around on bicycles?)

      In addition, there are safety concerns with students traveling via bicycle through the congested city, from this relatively far-flung location.  Some students aren’t used to commuting on bicycles, and are not necessarily as “professional” as some local bicycle enthusiasts.  (For example, it certainly isn’t unusual to see students commuting via bicycle at night without lights, even now.)  I understand that there are already accidents (between bicyclists) on campus primarily at the beginning of each year, when new students arrive.  This development will likely ensure that there will also be collisions between bicyclists and autos, which could be avoided by having this type of development located on campus, instead.

      1. David Greenwald

        I’ve showed several times that the number of parking spaces is in line with the average vehicle use for undergraduates in town – in fact, it’s probably 100 over.  So I’m not sure why this is a valid issue.

        1. Ron


          Given the distance from campus, downtown, and Amtrak, this site might be a little different than whatever you’re referring to.  (Also, are you envisioning only undergraduates living at Sterling?)

          1. David Greenwald

            It’s really not that far.

            When i was an undergraduate, I went to Cal Poly and biked three and a half miles (up hill both ways – no joke). When I was a graduate student here I lived on Arlington (and there are a good number of apartments there), that was three miles. This is about a mile and a half on flat ground. In fact, in 2006, students marched from the MU to the Davis Police Station. It’s just not that far.

        2. Todd Edelman

          David, how can maintaining the current ratio of persons(beds) to car parking spaces etc. be justified during our housing crisis? There’s no permanent formal reason, it’s not contrary to laws of physics.

          Similarly, while there is a need for housing for family units of different sizes, I can’t see the justification for low density single family housing-only zoning in the middle of our housing crisis?

          Davis Vanguard Poll:
          We asked UCD students if they’d rather live outside of Davis and generally need and use a car, OR if they’d prefer to live in town in housing with every kind of mobility solution, but with no car parking and very limited possibilities to own a car used in town.
          Car: -2%
          No Private Car: 102%
          (+/- 2% accuracy)

          1. David Greenwald

            “David, how can maintaining the current ratio of persons(beds) to car parking spaces etc. be justified during our housing crisis? ”

            I don’t think I’m understanding the question. The only point I was attempting to make is if you look at current car usage rates, it appears that the number of spots is too high, rather than too low.

        3. Todd Edelman

          OK. Well my point is that car usage rates should not be a determining factor in minimum amount of space provided for private car storage. (There need to be parking maximums — more about that in a sec’.) However, they do inform the need for supply of normal transport solutions (walking and its environmentally- and socially-enriching accelerators and aggregaters I described in another response) appropriate to the current situations and relevant goals both locally and regionally. So there are common if not regulation-formulas available for carshare provision, and as another example there are official goals for bicycle modal share.

          So – to make a bit of a leap – what I’m getting at is that nearly everyone will agree that use and convenient storage of a private automobile is often quite nice. To its credit, the City of Davis recognizes that not everyone needs their own car and that providing this in multi-family housing, apartments, etc. is not possible. The City has a parking minimum, but it is also has no parking maximum, though in standard practice it does not seem to go completely meshuggah with provision, so that e.g. new homes at the Cannery with 4 or 5 bedrooms plus a separate studio still have only a 3-car garage*.

          But – and this needs to be written into code – if all, two or perhaps even just one of the factors such as the following are present there should be no parking minimum and also parking maximum:
          * When the city is not meeting – or is significantly under – its official goals for modal share for cycling or transit; or
          * When the city has a vacancy rate below x%;
          * When more than x% of people who work or go to school in town are more than 30 minutes away by bike or transit –for the latter including its “last mile” services.

          ADA-related provision is exempt from minimum.

          Now clearly these examples are tailor-made for the crummy current situation in Davis, but that’s reality, as the patronizers say (though usually it has a narcissism focus rather than one based on solidarity). I can’t recall the transit goal at the moment, and a larger city might have a different timing than 30 min…

          * If two adults, perhaps one older child, their studio renter and perhaps an elderly parent living here all have cars, the street starts to take the over-flow and the garage is not really useful for car-replacing bikes. Is there any carshare required or planned for Cannery? Do we agree that a bus route on its “Loop” is necessary? That its existing and planned pedestrian and bicycle connections are more or less pathetic?

      2. Todd Edelman

        Thanks, Ron.
        To be clear, “private cars” means privately-owned vehicles used only be the owner. Private automobiles are sometimes beautiful and necessary alternatives to normal, egalitarian and sustainable transport which is walking – the core and center of it all – accelerated individually by e.g. 1)- skateboards and light, fixie, commuter-type etc. bicycles; and 1a) – further for improved cargo capacity for all things carried by cars (not trucks) for short-to-medium distances, such as children, pets, shopping, etc – four kids – or two kids plus six standard shopping bags is not a problem, also in the rain; 2) – for higher capacity, sensitive loads, severe weather with rideshare, carshare, car hailing (taxis and the others), out of town journeys at late hours, informal rides from friends/hitch-hiking; 3) – Local, regional and long-distance, rail or road-based collective solutions.
        There were actually a decent amount of bikes at Oaktree Nugget around 4 to 5pm on Thursday, perhaps a 10-15% share of all vehicles present (i.e. half of this year’s goal for shopping by bike), but  sadly very few are designed and equipped for doing a reasonable shopping trip. But is the better solution for everyone not a bicycle that costs several hundred dollars more than a simple bike, but rather a car?
        A good model for the type of bicycle we need in Davis is coming to Davis later this year in form of bikeshare bikes, which are well-suited for abuse in flat areas, and have built-in lights and generators on board, like all but the least expensive city bikes sold by the millions in western and northern Europe. I’ve been thinking about a way to leverage this feature into more desire for it in owned bikes – and attention-getting event is obvious but I want there to be some kind of city program. Some shops in town carry this type of bike but really a lot of the problem with low demand is low awareness even in Davis that this type of bike (built-in lights, upright position, carries two shopping bags/books/beer easily) is an ideal bike for students. I’d like to get the ASUCD bike program to make this design available through its advanced sales thing, even though selling stuff that needs to fit well is not the best way to promote cycling.

        I agree that housing on campus is useful for reducing trips by students through Downtown, so that businesses there have less student business and have a justification for enabling lot of car parking (let’s face it: The relatively high cycling modal share in Davis is almost entirely students of all ages).

        April 18, 2017 – Davis, California
        City Council decision on Sterling establishes it as the anchor in a mostly car-free (with exceptions), walking-priority, bicycle-optimized, transit friendly neighborhood which some call “New East Davis” stretching from Pole Line to L, and 2nd to and on the north side of Fifth (and of course excluding Toad Hollow…) that will grow in popularity – over 5,000 residents by 2027 – while still remaining affordable even as it succeeds year after year after year as the closest and densest neighborhood to the Capitol Corridor high speed rail project.

    2. Matt Palm


      I admire your idealism. And I’d be comfortable with you as supreme leader of planning in Davis. But a lot of what you’re critiquing are things that were born out of attempts to compromise between competing interests and needs.  It would be more affordable to really go “smart growth” and have no parking. But Eileen is right that this wouldn’t work for non-students.

      We could address parking off site with distrixts. Make the fine bad enough and every september there will be a brief few weeks where the city makes a windfall. Spend it on potholes in that area. Everybody wins. But fines would have to be HIGH. It’s been done and does work.

  8. Eileen Samitz


    There was much discussion at the meeting and let me clarify what was being said about the percentages because you misunderstood. The 28% is the percentage of UCD students who live on-campus (it is 27% in one UCD report, and 29% in another), 72% are forced off campus because UCD has been so negligent, for so many years in providing the needed housing on-campus. Davis provides at least 63-64% of the housing for UCD students since 8% commute. UCD needs to provide far more on-campus housing as the City Council and UCD students each by resolution and comments to the LRDP EIR, and the community.

    UCD is trying to get away with providing only 40% of its total student population (which as you can see above fro Greg Rowe’s analysis, does not help, in fact it winds up with more student housing demand in the City.) Other UC’s have committed to providing housing to at least 50% of their student population. Meanwhile, UCD is the largest UC in the system, with 5,300 acres yet has historically provided the least amount of on-campus housing. Also, UCD has over $1 billion (I believe it is $1.7 billion) in funding much more than the vast majority of  public universities. However, UCD is not prioritizing the amount of on-campus student housing needed, and instead UCD is trying to continue forcing their housing needs onto Davis and surrounding communities.

    1. Todd Edelman

      Eileen, it seems that there are two “72%” figures relevant to this discussion; mine is in the video from the meeting, at about 1:27:50… in comments that start at 1:26:00. (I am nearly sure that he meant to say “bikes and Unitrans” instead of “bus and Unitrans”. He also presents some clearly incorrect figures – about automobile trips from outside vs. inside town, but it seems based on a sloppy reading of the Final EIR; his 72% is a report from a university (?) analysis, but I can’t see how it’s specifically-about Sterling 5th. I am sort of nervous about this guy being involved with genetic science, which is his area of study….)

      Do you know if there are formal issues with UCD  contributing financially to buildings built off-campus and not under its umbrella? Even if there are not, is it unlikely that they would so as it would not be beneficial to their tax-related entitlement?

      1. Howard P

        Do you know if there are formal issues with UCD  contributing financially to buildings built off-campus and not under its umbrella? Even if there are not, is it unlikely that they would so as it would not be beneficial to their tax-related entitlement?

        Nah… UCD waits to see if the buildings are viable, then finds their opportunity to ‘create’ housing for students, that doesn’t cut into their “bottom line”… UCD couldn’t care less as to impacts to other agencies/persons… it’s all about them… just as most of us use the same ‘filters’… Twain (Clemens) said it best… paraphrasing, ‘people make decisions that give them the least pain’… much of the UC system thinks in terms of compensating itself… big time…

        They are not unique in that… private activities (except, perhaps some truly charitable orgs), and most government entities behave similarly…

  9. Eileen Samitz


    I also found it hard to believe that adding at least 540 more students 2 miles from the UCD campus, would not cause any increase in Unitrans use. Really? What about in the winter in the rain? If this project was on campus, there would not even need to be any significant increase in Unitrans use for this number of students because they would live so close to their classrooms. A project of this size, exclusive design for students, and magnitude belongs on campus, not in the City.

    1. Matt Williams

      Like Eileen, I found the assertion that the project would not cause any increase in Unitrans use to be very bizarre.  Ideally the use of Unitrans on the 5th Street routes should spike up substantially if this project goes forward … especially if it goes forward with no parking spaces for the market rate residents (other than those with handicaps, who by law must be provided access to a parking space).

      If Sterling has 40 spaces for visitors, the statutory amount of handicapped spaces, and 20 (or so) ZipCar spaces, then many, many of the student residents will see Unitrans as their best way to get to classes each day.

  10. Ron

    Greg:  “Actually, the City along with residents can control what UCD does.  It happened in Santa Cruz.  A citizens group sued the campus because of the problems caused by the university’s refusal to build on-campus student housing on pace with enrollment growth.”

    “If it takes litigation to make UCD live up to its obligations, then I’m all for it.”

    Me, too.

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