The city’s apparent decision to focus a General Plan Update process first on a Core Area Specific Plan makes sense at one level, but it seems to ignore the most pressing and contentious issue of the day – student/rental housing.
We have spent a considerable amount of time in the last week discussing the reduced project proposal at Sterling. There is the proposed Lincoln40 development off of Olive Drive. There is another application that was recently submitted by Blue Bus LP, for 179 units in the vacant 6.4 acre parcel across the street from the parking lot of Playfields Park at the corner of Research Park Drive and Cowell Boulevard.
What we are seeing then is a patchwork of student and rental housing proposals popping up around town. What we do not see is anything representing a plan.
Basic planning could address key issues – how many units do we need in the city? Where should they be built? When should they be constructed?
When the Vanguard reached out to three of the members of council yesterday, the questions were met with lukewarm response. One said they agreed with the premise. Another seemed to imply its futility. And a third did not respond at all.
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).”
It is ironic that the city asked the campus to commit to a implementation strategy for delivery of the promised units (a wise request that UC Davis did not heed), but has also failed to produce any sort of strategy themselves.
The Vanguard continues to support the city position asking for the university to commit to provide 100 percent of new students with housing on campus and increasing their overall on-campus housing provision to half the student population.
As we pointed out last week, whether or not UC Davis ultimately sticks with 90/40 or goes to 100/50, the city is in need of more apartment and rental housing for students as well as others who wish to live in Davis but are unable to purchase homes.
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.
The bottom line here is that, regardless of the policy and the mix of on-campus housing, the city is in need of more rental housing.
The amazing thing is that no one at the city level has set a number. It could be a range of numbers, depending on how much the university adds to enrollment and how much housing the university builds on campus.
We have no plan as to how many students we need to house, or where we should built housing for them. And over what period of time we should develop that housing.
In a lot of ways that is mind boggling. Here the city council voted 5-0 to ask the university to build more housing and commit to a timeline, and yet the city has not done that.
I do not believe we need a full General Plan Update to do this. A simple task force could do it – city staff itself could develop such a model with a range to take into account unknown or semi-known variables.
Right now there is no overall plan or vision for the city. This is one reason people said we needed a General Plan. That is certainly one approach to solving this problem. That is not the only approach.
There are those who argue that the new student population is not our responsibility – they are the sole responsibility of the university. That is certainly a discussion that we should have as a community.
We have not had any sort of formal discussion as a community to even broach that subject.
But there are other aspects to the issue. One is what our responsibility is, as the host city of the university, to provide housing. Another is what happens when neither the city nor the university has adequate housing for the student population.
We can debate over who should have that responsibility – the reality is that there are consequences. Families are being pushed out of Davis. Single-family homes are being converted to mini-dorms. Renters have become vulnerable to a small number of less-than-honorable landlords who have exploited them with high rents and substandard building conditions.
Students are being forced out of the city, and forced to commute to town. That increases our carbon footprint.
We need to weigh all of these issues in order to determine what we should do with regard to student and rental housing.
We can make guesses about what the number ought to look like. But without some form of study, we are flying blind. In the meantime, we are having housing and developers come forward with applications for new apartments – and we are once again not only planning by exemption, but we are planning project by project without any sense of what the bigger picture ought to look like.
It seems to me that while a Core Area Specific Plan is important, the most immediate and pressing issue has to do with the 0.2 percent vacancy rate and where to put new student growth.
—David M. Greenwald reporting