Monday Morning Thoughts: Pinning Down UC Davis on Housing Proves Difficult

A lengthy interview with key UC Davis officials once again results in the same talking points and little real insight.  The article over the weekend in the Enterprise repeats a lot of challenged comments from key officials with little in the way of actual explanation.

Here are few highlights:

Bob Segar, Assistant Vice Chancellor for Campus Planning and Community Resources, said that the RFPs (Request for Proposals) are “written with minimum targets” and that they are looking for “innovative ways that we can house more students.”

The reality of course is that, even if they can expand housing on a given site, they would need to do an updated EIR either on a site-by-site basis or overall to accommodate the increase, which would mean anything increasing housing above the margins would be less cost-effective and more problematic.

In addition, Andy Fell, Associate Director of News and Media Relations for UCD, suggested, “Building higher isn’t necessarily a magical answer to everything.”  In short, the university is not looking just at density as the solution to the housing shortage.

Mr. Segar adds, “We need to increase the housing supply. But it isn’t ‘warehousing’ students, it’s housing students.”

But of course, when we asked Matt Dulcich last month why the university doesn’t simply go to 100-50 (and try to find a way to get there rather than starting with 90-40 and increase the housing on the margins), we didn’t get a straight answer to that – other than they are trying.

In this interview, Mr. Segar didn’t dismiss the possibility of going to 50 percent of overall students housed on campus and 100 percent of new students housed, but said, “The way we got that number (90 percent) — and I don’t know if it even matters — was historically, 90 percent of students have lived either on campus or in town. So when we said we’ll take 90 percent, the intention of that statement was we’ll take all the growth.”

But that begs the question – are those fake numbers?  Is the reason that 10 percent of the students lived out of town traditionally a preference issue or a cost or structural one?  In other words, the university is acting as though only 90 percent of the new student enrollment will live on campus or in town, and that 10 percent will choose to live outside of Davis in Sacramento or elsewhere.

That makes the critical assumption that the decision is a choice or preference rather than a function of structural issues – such as high housing costs on campus and in Davis, or lack of available housing closer to campus.

Implicit in that calculation is also the assumption that the new students will behave like the more traditional student populations.  While there are caps on the number of foreign and out-of-state students, there is no reason to assume that the student population that is newly enrolled will behave like those currently enrolled.

Bottom line, Mr. Segar states that “we’re going to keep working to see if we can push that 90 percent higher.”

That doesn’t explain why they don’t simply commit to building housing for all new students.  But more important is the 50 percent number – that’s a difference, from the 40 percent number, of 3900 students and is what is causing housing problems in Davis and across the county, and indeed the region.

We have focused heavily on student housing, but faculty and staff housing is a problem as well.

It was an interesting to see the comments by Mr. Segar and Mr. Fell that “they didn’t necessarily see it as pressure that the City Council and Board of Supervisors wanted UCD to build more housing.”

Mr. Fell made an interesting comment: “Anecdotally, our new faculty hires, they’re not even looking in Davis. They take one look at the prices, and they’re off to Woodland.”

Mr. Segar added, “There’s some interesting demographics about that, (that) I think the city’s gathering in preparation for their General Plan update.”

UC Davis is not doing much to add housing for faculty outside of what they committed to a decade ago with West Village.

Mr. Segar is largely correct that there is a shift in city demographics, with those who “out-commute” – in other words people “living here and working somewhere else is a big chunk of the growth demographic in this town.”

We have noted that for some time.  There is an imbalance of housing to jobs in Davis, which means that, each morning, a large number of people drive out of Davis to work in Sacramento or the Bay Area.  At the same time, a large number of people come from the surrounding areas to work at UC Davis.

It is our view that fixing some of the student housing shortage could help with this.  The difference between 90-40 and 100-50 is about 3900 beds.  If UC Davis accommodates the majority of that, it might free up single-family homes for faculty and staff and reduce the in-commute each morning.

We’ve previously talked about the need to generate local jobs to allow people who live in Davis but don’t work at the university – and therefore commute to work in Sacramento and the Bay Area – to have job opportunities in town.

Nowhere has UC Davis explained why they simply won’t commit to getting to 50 percent like nearly every other campus already has achieved, or has committed to achieve.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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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. Ron

    From article:  “There is an imbalance of housing to jobs in Davis, which means that, each morning, a large number of people drive out of Davis to work in Sacramento or the Bay Area.”

    There are a significant number who take Yolobus (or Amtrak, no doubt).  I was one, for many years (along with many of my neighbors).

    From article:  “We’ve previously talked about the need to generate local jobs to allow people who live in Davis but don’t work at the university – and therefore commute to work in Sacramento and the Bay Area – to have job opportunities in town.”

    So, let’s get this straight.  You repeatedly state that there’s a “housing shortage” in Davis, while simultaneously stating that there’s not enough jobs to support the current number of households. At various times, you advocate increasing the number of jobs, the number of households, or both. (Mostly “both”, it seems.)

    These illogical arguments go round-and-round, and are repeated incessantly.  (Repeating them doesn’t cause them to suddenly make sense.)



  2. Eileen Samitz


    I appreciate that in this article you are pointing out the number of “non-answers” from UCD representatives in the Sunday Enterprise on UCD’s on-campus student housing needs. For instance:

    1) While UCD’s planners say they are “looking into innovative ways of providing more student housing”. Well this statement has been used for almost two years since the UCD LRDP update process started which invited public input. Well UCD got plenty of input from the community, the City of Davis, the County, their own ASUCD student senate asking them to add the “50/100” plan to their Draft EIR as an equal weight alternative to the EIR analysis. Yet, they still have not done that which as you point out, is necessary for them to have analyzed in the Draft EIR in order to legitimately increase the number of beds they would provide. SO actions speak louder than words, and so far, UCD is all talk and no action on doing an honest EIR analysis to achieve more on-campus housing then the inadequate “40/90″plan they are trying to get away with.

    2) UCD rep Andy Fell has the audacity to imply that higher densities are not a solution. There is no logic to that statement and clearly that is what all the other UC’s are doing and achieving successful projects producing far more beds and working toward the providing student housing for at least 50% of theri total stdunt population at UC Irvine, UC Santa Barbara, UC San Diego, US Santa Cruz, UC Riverside, and UC Merced. All of these UC’s which are far smaller campuses than UCD with 5,300 acres are committed to providing at least 50% on-campus student housing except UCD. If these other UC’s can achieve these higher densities there is no excuse why UCD can’t. And if UCD is incapable of achieving what these other campuses are doing, they need to makes changes to bring in the talent and ability that UCD seems to lack currently.

    3) Mr. Segar’s comment regarding “warehousing students” is particularly offensive, since UCD by its inaction is essential causing a warehousing of students in Davis. To try to imply that higher density on-campus student housing is a negative is ridiculous and undermines the concept of sustainable planning. UC Irvine has 5-story student housing that the students love which has gotten raving reviews and UC San Diego is building 8-story and a 15 -story student housing projects. So while all these other campuses are accomplishing their goals of proving at least 50% on-campus housing that incidentally the Regents members are praising, UCD continues to try to make excuses of  why they can’t seem to achieve what all of these other campuses are achieving.

    4) Regarding the comment on commuting for jobs, Davis with UCD jobs has a 1.5:1  ratio of jobs to housing, so there are plenty of jobs. The problem comes back to UCD’s years of inaction to provide housing for its own ambitious growth desires. UCD is currently pushing 71% of its massive student population off campus after their freshman year, and that is simply irresponsible. This in turn pushes the problem onto Davis (and other nearby cities) because a disproportionate amount of rental housing is occupied by UCD’s students, forcing local workers and families to find housing outside of Davis and commute in to jobs within Davis. Far more UCD students should have the opportunity to live on-campus like students at these other campuses. It helps them by locating them close to their classes and it is far more sustainable planning because it significantly reduces the impacts on the City by reducing commuting needs and the environment. It is also a long-term solution rather then UCD continuing to “master lease” apartments in the City as a “bandaid” where the cost of market rate housing cannot be control, versus on campus where the rental costs can be controlled long term.

    UCD needs to stop stalling and start planning for far more on-campus housing and it needs to start demonstrating that they are taking this seriously by adding the 50/100 alternative to the Draft EIR. Otherwise, UCD is just trying to run out the clock with their Draft EIR in progress and simply pretending to find solutions to the on-campus student housing needs that they are responsible for.


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