Commentary: Campaign Launched to Push Back against Student Housing in the City

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Eileen Samitz discusses housing in August 2015

The issue of student housing has taken front and center in the current public policy debate in the city of Davis.  This is unfortunate, as most residents agree at this time there is insufficient housing for students both on the campus as well as in the community, as exemplified by the 0.2 percent vacancy rate.

For two years, the university has been conducting its public outreach for the Long Range Development Plan (LRDP).  That plan represents an improvement over the current conditions as the university has agreed to build about 6200 units, but unfortunately that only takes the university to 40 percent of all student housing on campus – less than the 50 percent that the city, the council, ASUCD and many residents have called for.

As a result, the university proposal falls about 3800 beds short of what they need just to really meet the current demand as well as some of the anticipated growth.  Even with 10,000 additional beds, the vacancy rate will still probably be low within the city, disadvantaging renters who are students and non-students alike.

The city has already approved one student housing apartment complex, the Sterling Apartments.  Unfortunately, opponents have derisively referred to it as a “mega-dorm.”  This is due to the fact that the complex is primarily comprised of 4- and 5-bedroom apartments, each one with its own bathroom and rented by the bed.

In general, mega-dorm appears to be a misnomer on a lot of levels.  Generally speaking, mega-dorms are high-rise actual dormitories which are university affiliated with meal plans and the like.  Most of them have well over 1000 beds.

Regardless, the argument that opponents make is that they offer “no significant market rate rental housing for non-students such as our families and workers.”  They further argue that these
apartment buildings “need to instead be designed as traditional 1-, 2- and 3- bedroom apartments, so that anyone can live in them, not just students.”

In addition to Sterling is the proposed Lincoln40 and now Nishi.  If both Lincoln40 (which requires a council approval) and Nishi (which requires council and voter approval) are approved, the city would have approved around 4100 beds, which would offset the 3800 shortfall proposed by the university.

A form letter this week was sent out and received by the city council:

I am writing with concern regarding the many mega-dorm project proposals including hundreds of apartments designed specifically for adding 4,500 – 5,000 or more students in the City, but would not help with the market-rate housing needs for our community’s families and workers. These projects including Lincoln40, Plaza 2555 in South Davis, and now Nishi would be predominately 4- and 5- bedroom enormous apartment suites. Generally, each bedroom has an individual bathroom.

Since these mega-dorms use a rent-by-the-bed format targeting students, this is not a design that works for families and local workers. This design also does not encourage water conservation as it does not charge by water usage and would put enormous impacts on our water and waste water facilities. These 3 new multi-family projects in the City need to be inclusively designed with 1,2, and 3- bedroom traditional apartments so that anyone can rent them, families, or workers, or students. I urge Council to direct City Staff to clarify that new multi-family projects need to be predominately, if not entirely 1,2, and 3- bedroom traditional apartments offering market rental housing for all.

Also, it is imperative that the City Council direct the Nishi developers to first do the needed air quality studies at the Nishi site to determine the air pollution including the ultra-fine particulate matter impacts on the health before residential can even be considered.

Finally, it is critical that the City Council continue the pressure on UCD to provide far more on-campus including making clear the need for UCD to add the “50/100” plan to the UCD LRDP EIR process as requested by four resolutions and a citizen-based petition.  Six other UC’s are providing at least 50% on-campus housing. UCD’s LRDP update proposing 40% on-campus housing is inadequate, particularly due to years of UCD neglecting to provide the needed on-campus housing commensurate with its student population growth. Additionally, UCD is the largest UC with over 5,300 acres and therefore has plenty of land options to provide sustainable on-campus student housing to provide long-term available and affordable housing for the UCD students.

This pushback continues some of the current themes that have emerged.

First, there is the notion that all new student housing should be on campus.  For two years the Vanguard has supported the notion that most of the housing needs should be provided for on campus, and we supported the so-called 100/50 plan with all new student housing and half of the overall student housing provided for on campus.

However, at some point reality has to be accepted.  The university has proposed 6200 beds and has not shifted off that number since May 2016.  They are two months out from launching the EIR phase of the LRDP and have only committed to looking at housing numbers on a project by project basis.

Yes, we could continue to hold out for university housing, but, in the end, the people hurt by that are the students, who are innocent parties in this tug of war, and ironically the single-family renters in Davis.

That gets us to the second point – I agree with the comment that the dorm format is not designed for families or local workers (although I would argue less so the latter than the former).  Eileen Samitz has argued for “inclusivity” with traditional apartments.

But I have a different view.  Right now the shortfall of housing is forcing students into single-family homes which are rented and has choked families out of the market.  By providing housing for students, the overall rental vacancy rate will be increased and therefore housing will be more available to families attempting to move into town.

The problems that families wishing to live in Davis have are as follows: (A) supply issues, as right now there is no vacancy; (B) affordability issues with limited supply – the cost of housing has skyrocketed and that means for most families, if they choose to live in Davis, they are choosing not to buy a home until later in life and they are choosing a smaller space.

Given the demand in the market, we are not likely to alleviate the affordability issue with increased supply.  But at least the housing will be available.

Many people have argued that what Davis needs is smaller 1-2-3 bedroom units that UC Davis workers can rent.  They argue that there is not a shortage of dorm-style housing in Davis.

That is simply not true.  There is a 0.2 percent vacancy rate in Davis.  There is a shortage of all housing in Davis.  And if we do not supply that housing, we will force students as well as families out of Davis and either away from the community, or to commute and clog the freeways and roadways.

By trying to pit students against families, opponents of new housing in Davis are creating a false dichotomy.  The reality is that more supply will improve the situation for everyone, and by building efficiently – making good use of available land space – we can provide more housing to fill more people’s needs.

Unless we are prepared to develop on the periphery, the days of spread out traditional low-density apartments in Davis are probably over.

We have important choices to make and it is important to have an open and honest discussion about them.

—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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53 thoughts on “Commentary: Campaign Launched to Push Back against Student Housing in the City”

  1. Keith O

     Campaign Launched To Pushback Against student Housing in the City

    Where’s the Campaign?  I thought I would be reading about some actual official campaign with a group involved, website and all the works.  Instead it’s just a letter and a few commenters.

  2. Don Shor

    I urge Council to direct City Staff to clarify that new multi-family projects need to be predominately, if not entirely 1,2, and 3- bedroom traditional apartments offering market rental housing for all.

    What would that do to the number of beds total on each site, and overall? Could it be done without affecting the total numbers provided? Unlikely, but I really don’t know how a policy like this would translate into “beds per square foot.”

    1. Howard P

      And, unless ordinances are changed/added, how dare the CC direct staff (or developers) that. “new… projects NEED to be predominantly…”  This is Davis, CA, not Chicago, IL!

      It is important to note that the latter claims no authorship/supporters.

        1. Roberta Millstein

          As Sharla says, I am just making an observation.  As for whether I would support more bedrooms, it would depend on where.  If we are talking about Nishi, I have said pretty clearly that, given what we know about air quality, I don’t think that property is suitable for residential of any type.  If we do the studies and they show otherwise, then I’d be happy to talk about what sort of residential might be best.  But I am personally not going to engage in that hypothetical.

        2. Roberta Millstein

          Well, you could start by not inferring things that I didn’t say (a good policy to follow in general)… Don asked a question and it seemed like there was an obvious answer (unless I am missing something), so I offered it.  Nothing more to see here than that.

          1. Don Shor

            Yes, I’m still kind of curious what the impact would be of mandating certain bedroom configurations on the final bed count in a given area.
            It does seem like an odd level of micromanagement to try to dictate bedroom and bathroom layouts. The Cannery is going to have some six-bedroom suites and many of the developments there feature nearly as many bathrooms as bedrooms. Nobody tried to control their floor plans to this degree. This bath:bedroom ratio is a trend in home-building, apparently (certainly not what I grew up with, much less what we had in the dorms when I was a student here!).

        3. Eileen Samitz

          Don,

          I am curious about where you got the idea that Cannery is going to have six-bedroom suites? There is no evidence of that. Can you explain where you got that information? Or what is the name of these units (each neighborhood of projects has a name) that you think they are coming to the Cannery?

          1. Don Shor

            PERSIMMON | THE BUNGALOWS
            44 Bungalows with up to 6 bedrooms and 3 baths, ranging from 2,189 to 2,892 sq. ft.

            Each Persimmon home features open-concept living, as well as an outdoor room and a porch to help you enjoy the fresh lifestyle at The Cannery. Two of these bungalow-style homes feature a separate multi-generational Suite Home that would be perfect for college students. A Suite Home consists of a private entry, living space, one bedroom, a full bath, and kitchen. Persimmon is located in the northern part of the community along both sides of The Ranch House.

            SAGE | THE PARK HOMES
            73 Park Homes with up to 6 bedrooms and 5 baths, ranging from 1,943 to 3,702 sq. ft.

            The park homes at Sage occupy the northernmost edge of the community and are bordered by The Cannery Loop Trail on three sides. Residences include bonus rooms, covered porches, California rooms, and two- to three-car garages with bike storage. One of the plans features a private suite option, and two plans feature optional covered balconies off the master bedroom.

    1. Sharla C.

      In both cases, the use of the term “megadorms” is prominent.  It is a fear tactic, similar to the use of “toxic soup” in the previous campaign.  In this Trump era, I am wary all political activity appearing on my Facebook page – hiding it or blocking it unless it comes from someone I know and accompanied by a personal message or comment, including memes.

  3. Ron

    From article:  “In addition to Sterling is the proposed Lincoln40 and now Nishi.  If both Lincoln40 (which requires a council approval) and Nishi (which requires council and voter approval) are approved, the city would have approved around 4100 beds, which would offset the 3800 shortfall proposed by the university.”

    In addition, you left out Plaza 2555, which is yet another megadorm.  (In this case, the developers are ALSO requesting a rezone, from commercial to multi-family residential (apartments).  The Families First site was changed from industrial to residential, to accommodate Sterling.

    You fail to note the impact of converting commercial/industrial sites for residential usage. The analysis you posted a few days ago shows that megadorms such as Sterling are a money-loser for the city, over time. In addition, that analysis may not have included escalating costs for benefits (unfunded liabilities), for city employees who provide services for such developments.

    Impact fees have not caught up to the new realities of high-density, double-occupied, multi-bedroom apartments.  Parcel taxes (including the existing school parcel tax, and possibly the new parcel taxes being considered in the upcoming election) are not correctly allocated, resulting in single-family owners paying a disproportionate share of costs.

    And yet, the city continues to push forward, eliminating sites that can be used to house workers and families, or to accommodate commercial activities.  Inadequate fees and taxes regarding these proposals will also ensure that the city’s financial situation will become more dire.  These high-density proposals will also have non-financial impacts on infrastructure, such as roadways, water, and sewer systems.

     

     

    1. Ron

      I understand that these 4-5 bedroom unit developments also shortchange the city’s Affordable housing program, since those requirements are based upon the number of units in a given development. 

      (Larger, but fewer units = a lower contribution toward the city’s Affordable housing program, compared to a traditional apartment complex.)

    2. David Greenwald Post author

      “In addition, you left out Plaza 2555, which is yet another megadorm.”

      How is Plaza 2555 a dorm in any sense? It may have some student housing, but it is not predominantly or even majority designed as such.

      1. Ron

        David:  At a recent commission meeting, the Plaza 2555 developer confirmed that they are seeking approval for a “predominantly/majority” 4-5 bedroom complex, which would require rezoning from commercial.  This was already discussed on the Vanguard.

        1. David Greenwald

          The plan calls for a range from big Affordable to micro units and then upwards to 4-5 bedrooms.  It’s also billed as providing a range of housing for underserved groups in the community.

          Did they say they are seeking it to be predominantly student housing at the commission meeting?

          I have a call in to someone, but reading the staff report it does not seem like it’s envisioned as student housing.

      2. Eileen Samitz

        David,

        You commented: “How is Plaza 2555 a dorm in any sense? It may have some student housing, but it is not predominantly or even majority designed as such.”

        You are incorrect on this. The Plaza 2555 developer clarified when asked at a recent Commission meeting, that the 160 market rate units would be predominately 4-and 5- bedroom apartments targeting students. It was pointed out during that meeting, that the City’s affordable housing was also on the losing end in a major way, since these 4- to 5- bedroom mega-dorm apartments are being counted as “one unit”.

        The City also loses significant revenue on developer impact fees with these 4- and 5- bedroom mega-dorm apartments being counted as “one unit”. The City needs to do the math like the developers are, correct these significant problems and do what’s in the best interest of the entire community, not the developers profits. Building 1-,2- and 3-bedroom apartments is the solution, not 4- and 5- bedroom mega-dorms which are also exclusionary.

         

        1. David Greenwald Post author

          Actually I’m not incorrect on this since I asked a question. I didn’t have the benefit of attending the meeting and only had the description which is vague (and now I understand why – they want to change the land use designation first before proceeding with the project). I’ll be meeting with the developer next week and get a better for the project.

        2. Ron

          David:   “It may have some student housing, but it is not predominantly or even majority designed as such.”

          David:  “Actually I’m not incorrect on this since I asked a question.” 

          You made a declarative statement above, which is apparently incorrect.  Seems strange that you can’t even acknowledge your own statement.

  4. Tia Will

    David

    I favor the unlikely 100/50 plan. I also favor UCD students having adequate local housing and feel that this is a shared responsibility of UCD and the city. I have stated these points previously, but feel some have specific significance to this thread.

    By providing housing for students, the overall rental vacancy rate will be increased and therefore housing will be more available to families attempting to move into town.”

    This is what we hope will happen, but I think it is far from certain for several reasons:

    1. There is nothing to stop a wealthy family from purchasing a “four year home” for their student and renting out bedrooms to other students which has been going on for at least the past 40 years. Some of these homes get put back on the market when the wealthy student graduates, some do not and persist as investment properties for the family with continued student rental. I know, I have one.

    2. There is nothing to stop individuals or families flush with cash and fleeing the Bay Area from purchasing homes here for themselves or as investments – this is a major dynamic driving the market in Sacramento and suspect it is the same here.

    3. Largely because of #2, this is a regional problem, not a problem that we will be able to ameliorate unilaterally in Davis. This is of course true whether we build dorms or single family dwellings.

    mega-dorm appears to be a misnomer on a lot of levels.  Generally speaking, mega-dorms are high-rise actual dormitories which are university affiliated with meal plans and the like.”

    I gave a pass the first time you made a technical argument against the use of the term “mega dorms”. Since you have belabored the point, I am going to counter. What constitutes a “high rise” is a subjective determination. Where do you draw the line on “high rise” ? I would say that since there are no 5 story apartment buildings in the area of Olive drive which will house the Lincoln 40, one might consider that high rise.  I lived in Francisco Torres ( two 7 story buildings) rented by the bed at but not affiliated with UCSB and was under no illusion that it was anything other than an off campus dormitory. A food plan there was offered, but not mandatory & because of the location near restaurants & in room fridges and hot plates, I knew many who opted out.

    My point is that these are functional dormitories, the developers have stated that they are intended to be student dormitories. I think that this minor spat over the use of the term “mega dorm” vs  “big student dormitory” is nothing but a distraction and both sides should move beyond it.

    1. David Greenwald

      “I think that this minor spat over the use of the term “mega dorm” vs  “big student dormitory” is nothing but a distraction and both sides should move beyond it.”

      I disagree because the term “mega-dorm” is being rolled out with little basis in actual common usage and being used to mau-mau the conversation.

  5. Eileen Samitz

    “We have important choices to make and it is important to have an open and honest discussion about them.”

    Wow. There is nothing “open and honest” about this article. This starts with your misleading title which does not represent at all what this issue is about and what the concerns are, and it is intentionally divisive by deliberately pitting the students against the community. This issue is about housing for all, not exclusionary multi-family housing. But now the Vanguard, apparently, is on a divisive mission as well.  Pretty bad form for a “forum” which was supposed to be intended to discuss issues, not be an attack blog.

    What the issue is, is that the City is processing an enormous amount of multi-family housing that is exclusively designed for students which does not offer housing for non-students including families and local workers because they are 4- and 5- bedroom “suites” with individual bathrooms per bedroom. We are talking about around 5,000 student beds which not only does nothing to help our families and workforce needing rental housing, but would put enormous impacts on our water and waste water facilities. Furthermore, it de-motivates UCD to produce the additional on-campus housing where affordability for the students can be controlled long- term and the housing can be legally reserved and available to the UCD students, unlike housing in the City.

    With so many mega-dorm proposals (one approved, and four more applications) focusing only on enormous 4- and 5- bedroom apartment, this is not inclusionary multi-family planning, it is exclusionary.  Instead, new multi-family should be focusing on apartments that can be used by all, non-students and students. But your position of supporting all of these mega-dorm student-specific projects, discriminates against families and local workers needing rental housing.  Your position also enables UCD to continue is opportunistic behavior and negligence to provide the needed on-campus housing which is far more sustainable planning by reducing commuting needs, traffic, circulation and parking issues and reducing our carbon footprint. UCD’s negligence to provide on-campus housing deflects more carbon footprint impacts on the City due to the massive commuting impacts, as well as impacts on our infrastructure.

    1. Sharla C.

      Eileen, What would keep a 2-3 bedroom apartment next to and within eyesight of the University and no direct connection to the City from filling up with students?  Is Nishi the best place to put family housing – in between the highway and railroad tracks, cut off from the City, with no direct car access to nearby shopping and schools? Is an apartment really a dorm?  Does the number of bedrooms in a unit make it a dorm rather than an apartment – 2-3 bedrooms = apartment, 4+ = dorm?  Are all places where students live a dorm, i.e. mini-dorm, mega-dorm?  You seem to support towering high-rise housing targeted toward students a couple of blocks northwest of campus and along Russell Blvd, but oppose similar housing closer to UCD academic buildings and no connection to the City.  Can you explain your stance on this?

      I’m beginning to think the first edition of Nishi was closer to a better plan than the current one.  The second one is housing and parking – giving a really different initial view of the University from the highway – and no research facilities acting as a buffer.  Due to safety reasons and the plans for expansion of family housing at Solano, I don’t understand the push to create family housing at Nishi.  I also think that Olive Drive is not suitable for families, unless they act to close the off ramp from Hwy 80 and reduce the traffic and speed along that street.

       

      1. Ron

        Sharla:  “Is Nishi the best place to put family housing – in between the highway and railroad tracks, cut off from the City, with no direct car access to nearby shopping and schools?”

        Pending the results of air quality studies, it may not be suitable for any housing.

        Sharla:  “I’m beginning to think the first edition of Nishi was closer to a better plan than the current one.”

        If air quality studies determine that it is suitable for housing, I might agree (assuming that there’s no motor vehicle access to Olive Drive).

        Sharla:  “I also think that Olive Drive is not suitable for families, unless they act to close the off ramp from Hwy 80 and reduce the traffic and speed along that street.”

        If I’m not mistaken, the motor vehicle off-ramp from 80 may be closed.  The city just received approval of a grant to help pay the cost of a bicycle/pedestrian overpass to Pole Line, presumably for the families and children that already live in the Ceasar Chavez complex on Olive (to provide better access to their school). (I would argue that it’s more of a taxpayer-funded subsidy for Lincoln 40, regardless of the design that may be approved. However, it would certainly serve families, in much the same way as the Ceasar Chavez complex.)

         

         

         

         

        1. David Greenwald Post author

          “Pending the results of air quality studies, it may not be suitable for any housing.”

          Which is a point seriously in question. You would have to establish that the levels are so high that even a limited exposure over a few years would be a problem, based on existing research, I just don’t see how that’s going to happen.

  6. Eileen Samitz

    Sharla,

    [moderator: edited] First of all, the place to start with Nishi is to do the air quality studies now. That will determine if residential could go there at all.

    Second, it is interesting that you point out the project off Russell Blvd. which is the only project that may make sense to have in this apartment suite format since it is a very small parcel that needs to go vertical. Also, it is across the street on Russell from UCD, which would not create any traffic or circulation problems. That infrastructure is already in place with a special signalized light for bicycles to cross Russell.  The problem is that cumulatively, all four of the other projects, including Sterling (already approved), Lincoln40, and now Plaza 2555 and particularly Nishi (proposing 2,600 beds) are all together proposing an overkill (around 5,000 beds) of only student-specific apartments. This does nothing to help families and local workers with rental housing needs. In fact, there is no reason why these other multi-family proposals should all be student-specific and exclusionary by design to non-students.

    1. Howard P

      there is no reason why these other multi-family proposals should all be student-specific and exclusionary by design to non-students.

      Yes there is… it is called “market forces”…

        1. Don Shor

          In your view, there’s apparently “no market” for traditional apartments.

          I believe each project will include some traditional density apartments. Given the preponderance of students in the Davis rental market, it isn’t surprising that developers are proposing housing primarily for them. The last major housing developments in town targeted seniors, families, and those lucky enough to qualify for the Affordable Housing project in South Davis.

        2. Ron

          Don:  The one thing we agree on is that it isn’t “surprising”.  Developers will usually propose whatever makes the most money for them, regardless of the impact on the city or its goals, plans, zoning, etc.  (Especially if they have reason to believe that the city will go along with what they propose.)

        3. Howard P

          If there was, wouldn’t

          Developers will usually propose whatever makes the most money for them, regardless of the impact on the city or its goals, plans, zoning, etc.  (Especially if they have reason to believe that the city will go along with what they propose.)

          Your words, not mine, quoted… failure on you weak ‘riposte’…

          Admit it… you care not about student or other housing… you play a ‘game’.  You oppose new housing… no matter the ilk… as do others here…

        4. Ron

          Howard:  Key word being the “most” money.  Seems strange that you ignore that, since it’s in the statement you quoted.

          The rest of your comment is unfounded (and un-factual) speculation.

          Sometimes, your comments go so far out there that I wonder what drives you to make them. (This time, starting with your “market forces” comment, and doubling-down from there.)

    2. Sharla C.

      So it is the size of the property that dictates the density, height and unit configuration?  I’m sure Trackside neighbors will disagree with you on this.  I’m not really following your argument.  Why insist on a particular configuration for a site cut off from the City and the only possible access will be through the University, but support a wholly different one at a site close to schools and shopping?

  7. Eileen Samitz

    Sharla,

    To begin with, your example of Trackside has been a problem because the project designs so far violate the City’s zoning code, the Davis Downtown Traditional Residential Neighborhood Design Guidelines, and the General Plan.  So, Trackside as proposed does not work particularly in a neighborhood with one- and two-story historical homes in Old East Davis.

    In contrast, the other project on Russell is adjacent to a four-story student project in progress and surrounded by student apartment complexes and commercial, so a higher density project can work there since single-family housing is far enough away. Traffic and circulation is not a problem there since it is on Russell directly across the street from UCD and the infrastructure is in place including the bicycle-traffic light.

     

    1. Sharla C.

      I would say that Nishi has the same elements you state – far away from single family housing, no problem with circulation impacting the City at all and safe route for bike traffic directly on to campus.  Same would go for the Olive Drive location.  The Oxford Circle location actually has no direct access to Russell, except for bike traffic.  Cars have to travel through Oxford Circle, on to Wake Forest, out on to Sycamore and then access Russell – already a very impacted intersection and street. This is one block away from the start of single family homes.   UCD also has plans to redevelop and expand housing across the street at Orchard Park, making Russell even more impacted. Your argument on why you support one and not another is not clear.

      1. Ron

        Sharla:  “I would say that Nishi has the same elements you state”.

        Are you suggesting that the city ignore Dr. Cahill’s latest warnings?

        Sharla:  “Same would go for the Olive Drive location.”

        The EIR states otherwise.  Also, some have questioned if those impacts were adequately analyzed to begin with (e.g., on the “worst intersection in town”).

        Sharla “Your argument on why you support one and not another is not clear.”

        Neither your assumptions nor your arguments are clear.

         

         

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