By Dan Carson
(The following are comments submitted to the city council for Tuesday, April 25, Agenda item 4B).
I read with interest UC Davis Interim Chancellor Hexter’s April 14 letter to Mayor Davis about the proposed campus Long Range Development Plan, and I have to tell you I am concerned about his failure to respond in a clear and meaningful way to the three questions you posed to him in your March 22 letter.
You asked him how the timing of new housing and classrooms would line up with the growth in new students. He gave you a list of campus projects that doesn’t quite line up with the UC System capital improvement plan he also told you to read. He provided no information at all about when thousands of new students they plan to admit are going to show up. I guess we are left to assume that the housing will show up years later, if at all, after enrollment is increased. Most of the new housing beds, curiously, are proposed for the very last year of the plan, raising doubts about the campus commitment to actually deliver them, given all the broken promises in the past.
You asked him about the density of the on-campus housing they are proposing. No answer.
You asked him what reasons they have for not building more housing than they are proposing. No answer.
You asked him for more detailed information about what their non-housing space needs are. He gave you a partial answer, pointing you to a list of on-campus projects they have in mind. But he never explained why the campus tried to buy our biggest industrial park last year, and what on earth they wanted to put there. Who knows what property they are planning next to take off the tax rolls and reduce local government revenues once again.
The constructive dialogue Chancellor Hexter calls for in his letter just isn’t possible if campus officials are going to bob and weave and duck legitimate inquiries by our city representatives into their plans to increase the campus population–including students, staff, and others– by 24 percent over the next ten years. That’s their numbers, not mine.
I want to be fair here. For the second time, the chancellor has said the campus is willing to consider adding more housing to their long-range plan. But their offer is vague, with no details at all. They should say publicly what they have in mind if they want to have a real dialogue with this community and its representatives. And I would note that there is another solution – if they slow the proposed pace of campus growth, but stay the course on building more student housing, they might be able to meet the goal of accommodating 100% of new students and half of all students on campus by 2027.
I am here speaking in my capacity as a private citizen to applaud your actions to obtain the resources needed to fully study the impact of the LRDP on this city. This will be money well-spent that will allow your staff to respond in the very short period of time allowed after the release this fall of both the plan and its EIR. And, if the campus puts forward a plan that fails to mitigate the impacts on the city, we will be better prepared if we eventually have to sue to university for its failure to abide by the California Environmental Quality Act. Once the Regents certify an EIR and approve the plan, we have only a 30-day window to challenge their actions. This appropriation will help us prepare for that possibility.
I hope it doesn’t come to that. It is in the best interests of the university as well as the city to address the traffic and housing and other problems they are causing. For example, it will help the university if we are able to make road improvements to Richards Boulevard that will enable their students and faculty to commute to campus more quickly and easily. But the troublesome and evasive response we just got from the interim chancellor is further proof that we need a legally binding agreement with the campus, one with consequences for nonperformance, to fully mitigate the impacts of rapid and continued campus growth.
If Berkeley and Santa Cruz can receive revenue streams, traffic projects, and campus help with student housing, so can we, and so should we. UC Davis was fine with signing a written agreement that, starting in the next few days, will give them a share of the city’s new surface water. There’s no reason the campus shouldn’t agree to putting their LRDP promises in writing as well.
Please let my city commission and the others know how we can help you with your important work.