The Planning Commission listened to the proposed Davis Live Student Apartment Project on Oxford Circle but, while stating they liked the location and felt that student-oriented apartments were appropriate for that location, they were unwilling to recommend the project to council.
After a lengthy discussion about what to do, the Planning Commission voted 5-2 on a substitute motion that the project should not be exempted from CEQA as a Transit Priority Project. They then voted 6-1 not to approve the project.
The commission cited four areas of concerns. There was general support for the project. They had concerns about the traffic study, which they said they received too late to evaluate. The project only calls for 12 percent affordable housing and they pushed hard for 15 percent with the 5-5-5 guidelines. They also expressed concerns about the parking plan.
“The parking needs a justification as to why 71 spaces is the right number,” David Robertson explained.
This would be one of the most dense apartment buildings in the city. The current plan calls for seven stories totalling 85 feet in height – which is below the 100 foot limitations of the zoning.
They anticipate 440 beds with 283 total bedrooms included in the proposed project – 126 bedrooms would be single occupancy and 157 bedrooms would be double-occupancy.
As noted, the parking would provide for 71 vehicles onsite. There are 71 units, so it’s basically one vehicle per unit, although, as one of the commissioners pointed out, 71 is a misnomer because this is a 440-unit project as it is rented by the bed.
It is all four- and five-bedroom apartments, where the largest will have eight students living it because of double-up capacity.
Dan Weinstein, the applicant, noted that this has previously been student housing, saying that “it’s where students have always lived.
“One of the things that appealed to us was the proximity to campus,” Mr. Weinstein.
He said, “It’s going to be a very nice place to live. But it doesn’t have the bells and whistles in terms of full amenities.” He indicated that they have a fitness center, a club room, and study lounge, but there is no pool.
“It is student-oriented, it’s not purpose built student housing,” he said. “It’s just very likely that, given the proximity to campus, it makes sense.”
Mr. Weinstein explained their thinking on parking, which would become a huge issue for the commission. “We have less parking here, and the reason is… we really were looking at the trends,” he said. He said his son is a freshman and neither he nor most of his friends drive. “I’m not saying that’s everyone, but that’s becoming more and more a trendline.”
A few neighbors had concerns about parking and density. Most of the people speaking during public comment were in favor of the project.
That included Eileen Samitz who said, “The Oxford Circle Project is a project that seems to be a good project given its location for student-oriented housing. It makes sense.” She said, “Many of the students’ needs would be provided right immediately around it.” She noted that there would be “very little traffic generated” by the project.
Don Gibson from the Graduate Student Association told the commission that “there isn’t good data right now” on student homelessness. They are looking to do a campus-wide survey to determine the extent of the student homelessness problem and housing insecurity. “If it is similar numbers like the California community college system, it’s about 12 percent (who) face some form,” he said.
He said that the university has a survey out to determine in a better way the extent of the problem. “The only real data that we see that’s reliable is the vacancy report,” he said. “Which is still basically zero.”
He said, “My back of the napkin calculations are that there’s basically anywhere between a 4000 to 7000 bed deficit in the city because students are turning single-family homes into micro-dorms.”
He reminded the commission, “Students don’t qualify for any beds… currently available in the city of Davis.” He called the affordable plan “a win-win for the city of Davis.”
Maiya De La Rosa said that 40 percent of UC Davis students receive financial aid. She said that when people hear about high density housing for students, they don’t take into consideration where students live presently. “I pay $1300 a month to live in a room that’s too small – it’s a double occupancy room with three students in it,” she said, describing her on-campus living arrangement.
“We share a kitchen with 60 people,” she said. “All the residents on the first floor share one kitchen.”
Adam Hatefi held the sign, “It’s time to grow up.”
He explained this to the commission: “The number of students is going to continue to grow… So we either have to grow out or grow up.” He said, “This project is the first one that I’ve seen that is proposing a more dense setting for student housing. That’s something we need to start seeing more of.” He added, “That is the most sensible thing we can do going forward in the city of Davis, in terms of housing. We see that building out is not helping us.”
Commissioner Darryl Rutherford questioned the affordable housing project and explained that the applicants hadn’t articulated reasons for keeping it under 15 percent.
He said, “We need to meet that 15 percent (affordable housing requirement).” He questioned, “Why does it have to be specific students only affordable housing… There’s a part of me, I get it that students don’t generally qualify for traditional affordable housing that we do need to have a specific program for them. But why preclude others from doing that?”
Commissioner David Robertson said he was a stickler to process: “I think we’re getting loose on how we’re finding compliance with things in this city.” He said, “We still have to have standards that both this commission and the community at large can believe are standards. When we start moving around between beds and units – honestly I don’t think anyone out here understands what went on tonight with regards to those kinds of standards.”
He had a problem with the parking space requirement. “I can’t tell you what the standard is,” he said. He said that they are trying to disincentivize cars. “You disincentivize it by having fewer parking spaces. If you have fewer parking spaces, people aren’t going to own cars. Baloney! It’s not true.”
Cheryl Essex sympathized with students having to sleep in their cars or commute from out of town. But she said, “I’m wrestling with this project. My biggest concern is the process.”
She added, “There’s nowhere in the city with this kind of density… I’m certainly not opposed to density but I think it is incumbent on us to explain that to the public and go overboard on the transparency piece.”
She pointed out that they were asked to make 15 findings, and after going through the list, concluded she couldn’t make nine of those 15 findings. For example, with respect to compatibility to existing land uses, “I can’t make that finding with the height, mass and scale.”
She argued, “This project doesn’t comply with the affordable housing ordinance.” She said, “I appreciate having a private program to meet affordability, but it has to meet the basic requirements of the affordable housing program.”
She concluded, “We need the density, we need the beds, (but) the information has not been provided.”
Darryl Rutherford would later add that “60 percent of what we’re being asked to approve tonight, we don’t have the information to do it.”
The commission did not want to issue a denial, but they felt there were too many questions to go forward. Staff pushed them as Interim Community Development Director Heidi Tschudin pointed out, “We’re trying to move this project forward to this June 12 date when it’s scheduled to go before the council.”
The council apparently wanted this before the end of their term at the end of June. They will now have to sort out some of these problems at their June 12 meeting as they only have one more meeting after that, on June 19.
—David M. Greenwald reporting