On Sunday, Eileen Samitz wrote that “your articles continue to ignore and side-step the serious problems and impacts by a mega-dorm project like Lincoln40 and try to simplify it to a numbers or ratio issue.” In her comment, which we re-printed as an article on Monday, she raised a number of points that we have begun addressing over the course of the coming days and weeks.
Here we will examine two additional issues raised.
First, “What about the safety issues of placing a mega-dorm at the east end of Olive Drive which will at some point become a cul-de-sac since Cal Trans plans to close off the Olive Drive exit and would make it a firetrap. How are fire engines to get to an emergency there, particularly with all the backed-up traffic? What if there were a train derailment for instance there?”
And second, “Plus, Lincoln40 will be expensive, luxury apartments designed exclusively for student housing only primarily with 4- and 5- bedroom ‘suites’ with single-room-occupancy renting by the bed, rather than being a traditional 1,2, 3 bedroom apartment complex which would be for non-students as well like families and local workers needing rental housing.”
Part of the plan with the corridor changes is to reconfigure the I-80 interchange into a tight-diamond and then close down the westbound exit at Olive Drive. The city sees that as a way to help restore Olive Drive to a residential street. But from a safety standpoint it may not actually change that much.
Currently, while one can exit I-80 on Olive Drive, the only way to get off that stretch of road is through the Richards-Olive Drive intersection. So, while there are two ways onto Olive Drive, there is only one way out. Shutting down the freeway exit would only allow one way in, one way out.
According to the city, the fire department has not expressed any concern whatsoever about safety concerns as the result of shutting down the freeway off-ramp.
The off-ramp shut down would be bundled with the freeway interchange on Richards upgrades. “Can’t really do that (the off-ramp closure) without the interchange because we need the additional queuing capacity that the interchange reconfiguration and the Olive Drive intersection reconfiguration will provide.”
The city staffer explained, “We wouldn’t do the off-ramp closure first” as it would cause “more problems to the existing interchange.” They added, “If you close the off-ramp and leave the interchange as it is, it does create level of service problems. But we’re not proposing to do that. When we reconfigure the interchange into a tight diamond, it preserves operational level of service that we can close that off-ramp without producing additional problems.”
However, the staff told the Vanguard that “we could design that (off-ramp) closure in such a way that it could provide emergency vehicle access if it was necessary.”
The staffer told the Vanguard that they are in the process of designing the changes now. They said it really hasn’t been an issue that has been raised by the fire department as being significant. However, there is plenty of land available to allow for emergency access if needed.
It was described as a minor design modification to allow emergency vehicle access. For example, when the university developed West Village they did not allow for normal vehicle access from Russell Boulevard, but there are bollards that can be removed to enable emergency vehicles to come directly from Russell Blvd.
At the same time, the staffer was a bit skeptical of the need, noting that it seemed unlikely that emergency vehicles would need to access Olive Drive from the east anyway, as the two closest stations would be the Central Fire Station and UC Davis Fire Department, both of which would access Olive Drive from the north and west.
Meanwhile, Paul Gradeff addressed the issue of the “luxury” apartments.
“The position taken that we are building luxury apartments is completely erroneous,” he told the Vanguard in an email. He noted that two-thirds of the 708 beds “will be developed and designed for rooms with two beds.”
He explained, “Providing double ups in the market will provide a cheaper alternative for students who can’t afford single occupancy rooms. Double ups in the market that we have identified are renting at approximately 35% cheaper than the single occupancy bedroom, bed rents.”
He added, “By accommodating this arrangement — and letting market forces alone determine the outcome of asking rental rates, L40’s weighted average bed rental rates could be 20% lower than if we stuck to the one bed per bedroom model.
“Just because we are building a pool and providing some amenities, it doesn’t mean that we are catering to the wealthy, it’s quite the opposite,” he said.
When we met with the students last spring, the students noted that it was much more affordable for students to live off campus. Even when the students have been allowed to double up in the rooms, the university has increased the rent for the room itself.
You end up reducing the rent, Daniel Nagey told the Vanguard, “but they charge you $500 to share a room that’s already too small for a single.” He feels like UC Davis is exploiting first time renters who don’t realize that $500 “is actually a lot for a room I have to share.”
The students end up paying for a lot of services subsidized through rent that they don’t need.
Students are hopeful that, by adding additional housing in town, the housing crunch will be eased, helping to make apartment rentals more affordable.
—David M. Greenwald reporting