When the UC Davis housing announcement came out at 2 pm on a Friday afternoon – I was a bit perplexed. Usually you release information on a Friday afternoon that you want to bury in the news cycle. So why would UC Davis want to release news that it views as a positive spin on a Friday afternoon?
It became clear that the reason was the resolution before the county on Tuesday. The resolution joins, among others, the city of Davis and ASUCD in calling for UC Davis to provide on-campus housing for no less than 50 percent of all Davis-based students by 2027-28, and 100 percent of the enrollment growth between 2017 and 2027.
That would seem to be a big deal if passed by the Board of Supervisors, as it means that UC Davis will be standing alone on housing.
But the thing about their announcement is that it really changes nothing.
The plan calls for 2775 beds to open by 2020. Don Shor in a comment did the back of the envelope calculations here. UC Davis has already added 1100 new undergraduate students for the past 2016-17 academic year.
In November, they announced that they expected to add another 2000 students by 2020.
That means they only plan to accommodate 2775 of the 3100 projected enrollment growth by 2020 or just under 90 percent (89.5 percent to be precise).
In short, that announcement adheres to their stated goal of 90 percent of new enrollment and 40 percent of all students housed on campus. And to add to those shortfalls, enrollment growth will precede housing by a few years.
That means, even if this project is built on time with no delays, the next few years will have tighter vacancy and housing supply issues, not less.
There are reasons for skepticism just with this part. As the resolution notes, UC Housing for the 21st Century committed to a system-wide housing construction goal of 42 percent with UC Davis committed to housing 38 percent of students on-campus as of 2012.
The resolution notes, “UCD’s student housing goals have not been met, with UCD accommodating only about 29 percent of Davis-based students during 2015-16. UCD’s on-campus housing construction has been primarily freshman dormitories, while offering a significantly inadequate number of on-campus apartments to accommodate students from sophomore year through graduation.”
That doesn’t even account for the problems that UC Davis had just building West Village, which came on line years after it was promised.
Other than the fact that the university is proceeding with plans to accommodate 89.5 percent of enrollment growth in the next three years, the other big part of the announcement is that there will be “no building height restrictions for either project” – West Village or Orchard Park. And that “developers are encouraged to submit proposals that exceed the RFP target housing numbers if financially feasible.”
We remain skeptical of what this process will actually deliver.
“The Request for Proposals (RFP) released this week combines two student housing projects at Orchard Park and West Village to attract proposals from a pre-determined pool of eight developers. The developers, vetted by the UC Student Housing Initiative, are expected to deliver beds more quickly than the traditional RFP process.”
The university has already pre-determined the pool of eight developers. We are not informed as to which companies they are or what their expertise are. Do any of them specialize in highly dense development? Do any of them specialize in high-rise structures?
There is a heavy caveat in the RFP language on exceeding the targeted housing number, and that is “if financially feasible.”
But the bottom line here is that, while the university is willing to go above the targeted 2775 beds, they have made no commitment at all on exceeding the 90-40 commitment – and that is really the bottom line.
If they put out an RFP like this and announced they would be searching for ways to get to 100-50, then there is a cause for celebration. As it stands now, there is nothing that would preclude them from getting a larger housing commitment from the developer and then off-setting that with a reduced second phase, because they would save money down the line.
Without a commitment to going to 100-50 in the current LRDP, any gains made during this phase of development would be dubious at best.
What seems far more likely is that UC Davis is trying to head off a potentially damaging vote by the Board of Supervisors. The university might be able to explain away the resolution from ASUCD and the Graduate Student Association (GSA). They can probably attribute the city’s resolution to slow growth Davis wanting to push off development to the university.
But they have no way to really explain away the county’s resolution, should it pass – after all, the county really has no skin in terms of where the development occurs.
Frontloading the housing by 2020 has the potential to take the political heat off the university, and allow them to slow play the rest of their commitments when they have reason to believe attention will fade on this issue.
Without a true commitment to going beyond 90 percent – and they have shown none to date – all this amounts to is political posturing.
Moreover, their announcement comes with a warning. They once again note, “Delays in the adoption of the LRDP and these project specific EIRs will result in delays of this new housing beyond the planned Fall 2020 occupancy date.”
Remember back in April, a letter from Interim Chancellor Ralph Hexter dated April 14 summarized the university position as “our response remains unchanged.”
In response, city staff “believes this letter highlights the need for the City to pursue a number of actions to further illustrate and reinforce the prior questions, clarifications, concerns and requests that the City Council has put forward to UC Davis in the last several months regarding the LRDP [Long Range Development Plan], which remain largely unanswered.”
Staff writes, “In light of the response received to the City’s correspondence to date, coupled with the continued forward progression and expected Fall 2017 release of the LRDP Draft EIR, staff believes it is prudent to begin preparation of our own series of analyses of potential impacts of the LRDP on the City. These areas of study and potential impacts include transportation, parks, greenbelts, and City services, as outlined in the City EIR scoping comment letter to UC Davis.”
One possible avenue for the city is to file a CEQA lawsuit based on the unmitigated impacts on the city from the university’s LRDP.
So, while the university is willing to go, if financially feasible, above the three-story proposal for Orchard Park that was criticized by the city, the university is warning that delays in the implementation of the LRDP will delay these new beds coming on line.
The bottom line is – the university has cracked open the door to the possibility that they could go beyond the promised 90-40, but there are no guarantees and no reason to believe that the university will go beyond what has been stated repeatedly on the record.
—David M. Greenwald reporting