Guest Commentary: Response to the Chancellor’s LRDP Letter

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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.



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About The Author

Dan Carson worked for 17 years in the Legislative Analyst’s Office, a nonpartisan fiscal and policy adviser to the California Legislature, retiring in 2012 as deputy legislative analyst, and serves as a member of the city’s Finance and Budget Commission. This commentary reflects his views only and does not represent the position of the commission on this issue.

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4 thoughts on “Guest Commentary: Response to the Chancellor’s LRDP Letter”

  1. Alan Pryor

    UC Davis has stopped being a good neighbor years ago when they knowingly violated the terms of our joint Memorandum of Understanding re: adding student housing on campus. Their behavior has gotten worse in recent years as they ave gobbled up whole apartment complexes with Master leases and small industrial park space for office use. Now they even want to start exporting their research laboratories to the City with all the attendant problems associated with them.

    The reason is very simple…money!! It is cheaper to lease an entire apartment house or office complex in town than build one on campus because of prevailing wage clauses and construction standards and maintenance costs. And if they buy or lease in town then they, or the owner-lessors, do not have to pay property or parcel taxes or worry about those pesky problems of street maintenance and police and fire service capacity…just leave it to the City and don’t pay a dime. What a deal! I’d take that deal myself if I were the University and the City didn’t lift a hand to defend themselves.

    And Dan is right about the City’s only real opportunity to address these planned future wrongs…sue them under CEQA. And even if the City loses the case in Superior Court they should be prepared to appeal and appeal again until the University gets it into their heads that we refuse to be their patsies anymore.

    The City should also be prepared to maximize the adverse publicity to the University about this case through social media and to carry the case to our Sacramento legislators to seek legislative relief. The thing the University hates even more than lawsuits is bad publicity and those pesky legislators nosing around.

    There is clear and convincing evidence here that the University has been a bad actor in our City in recent years and seeks to take advantage of us. It’s time to treat them as such.

  2. Don Shor

    The net effect of suing and appealing again and again would be to delay the provision of housing on campus.

    I assume that those who are advocating for these lawsuits believe that the city would prevail on the merits, and are not simply advocating in order to delay housing or to try to embarrass UC into agreeing to the council’s requests. If so, I’d like to know what the merits are on which you think the city would prevail. Also, how long do you estimate the legal process would take, and what do you think would happen to on-campus housing construction during that period?

     

  3. Dan Carson Post author

    Don,

    Of course my point has always been that we should attempt to negotiate an agreement to mitigate the environmental impacts of the LRDP and avoid a lawsuit altogether. That’s the best solution by far, and one that should be considered given that at least some of the mitigation measures the city would likely seek could be of great benefit to the campus itself.  Solving traffic and housing and other problems is in the interests of both the city and UC Davis.

    However, to directly answer your questions, when the cities of Santa Cruz and Berkeley sued their campuses some years ago, both generally cited the failure of their respective universities to include feasible mitigation of environmental impacts that their respective campuses did not address as required by CEQA.  The Regents settled both cases out of court by signing binding written agreements with those cities providing substantial mitigation measures — including revenue streams, help with fixing traffic problems, student housing, and more.  A more complete description of the content of those two agreements can be found on the City of Davis web site for the Finance and Budget Commission meeting for January (see Items 6E1 through 6E5).

    Could a lawsuit delay the implementation of the UC Davis LRDP?  It could.  The West Davis neighbors lawsuit against the last prior LRDP was filed in December 2003 and ended in February 2006.  At the time the case ended, however, campus officials asserted that work on the project never stopped during the litigation.  In other words, they boasted that the lawsuit didn’t delay a thing, presumably given the time it takes to turn plans into projects.

    However, given the campus’ lousy track record of delivering housing projects for students in a timely manner, I’m not too worried that a lawsuit will actually delay anything.  And there’s always the chance that a lawsuit might also slow, for at least a little while, the dramatic campus growth we have had to bear.

    I had an interesting conversation a few months ago with Tom Bates, until recently the mayor of Berkeley, about how things worked out after his city was able to bring his campus into a mutual and binding agreement to mitigate the impacts of Berkeley campus growth. He said the result was a win-win for the city and the campus, with increase local collaboration on planning, housing and economic development.  I’d love to see that happen here too without making a bunch of lawyers richer than they already are.

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