If Eileen Samitz and the Davis Vanguard agree on one thing this year, it is that we should build student housing at the proposed Davis Live Student Apartment Project on Oxford Circle. Actually the Planning Commission largely agrees on that point, but they had procedural issues that prevented them from recommending the council move forward when they take it up on June 12.
This is a dense project – but it is located in the middle of student housing and a mere block from campus. The plan calls for 440 beds in a 71-unit project that will be four and five bedrooms, with some units containing up to eight students.
The current plan calls for seven stories totaling 85 feet in height – which is below the 100 foot limitations of the zoning.
But the planning commission had problems with the plan. They were concerned that the project only calls for 12 percent affordable housing and pushed hard for 15 percent like the current city guidelines call for.
There were concerns about the traffic report that apparently only came out on Wednesday afternoon and was too dense to absorb. And there were concerns that the CEQA Exemption was not adequately explained.
Eileen Samitz spoke during public comment and supported the project: “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.
Ms. Samitz and the Vanguard have had our differences of late, but here we are in full agreement.
There is student housing now at the site. It is close to campus and in an area with student housing currently. And there are sufficient support amenities to make it a continuing good location. So what’s the problem?
From watching the commission meeting, this was a problem of staffing. For example, if the commission could not support the environmental review because they were not convinced that it met the requirements for a Transit Priority Project – they should have been able to have a representative from the city attorney’s office explain it to them.
What doesn’t make a lot of sense is that the commission received a March 2 letter from SACOG (Sacramento Area Council of Governments) “with a confirmation that the proposed project would be consistent with SACOG’s Metropolitan Transportation Plan/Sustainable Communities Strategy for 2036 (MTP/SCS). The letter acknowledges that the entire project site is located within one-half mile of a high-quality transit corridor, and that the proposed project would develop the site for solely residential uses at a density of 68 units per acre.
“The proposed project is located on an infill site within a Center/Corridor Community designated by the MTP/SCS. SACOG determined that the proposed land uses, densities, and building intensities are consistent with the assumptions of the MTP/SCS for such communities.”
Staff concludes on this basis that the proposed project is statutorily exempt from CEQA. But why not have a city attorney at the meeting to explain this to the commission?
On density: if we can’t put a seven-story building, which by the way is only 85 feet – so it meets the current zoning standards – in this place, where are we going to get that kind of height and density? Don’t we want max density in the middle of other student housing? Haven’t people been calling for the campus to build eight-story buildings to maximize occupancy and minimize the footprint?
The parking issue is also a bit of a head scratcher. I get that 71 spaces for 440 residents seems like a low number. That’s about half the average rate for housing as was mentioned by Mr. Robertson.
But there are factors to consider. The project is basically across the street from campus.
Applicant Dan Weinstein explained their thinking on parking rather well.
“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 trend line.”
Commissioner Robertson had a different take.
He said, “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.”
But there is also a problem with his thinking. Going back to the UC Davis Travel Survey, those who live within a mile from campus do not drive to school. If around 30 percent of all students have access to a car, as a recent survey stated, and you have a project where they let the students know there is very limited parking, naturally students without cars are likely to go to Davis Live Housing and those with cars will probably find somewhere else to go.
This is not quite the crisis that the commission made it out to be. But they did need staff to explain the thinking on parking and why they were willing to support it and that did not sufficiently take place.
On the affordable issue, I would like to better understand the rationale for going under 15 percent. Darryl Rutherford raised an interesting point of what happens if a student living in affordable housing loses their student status.
As I understand how affordable housing in general works, you get qualified for the affordable housing at the beginning of your lease term and then each time you renew the lease, you would have to be re-qualified. That means if your income goes up, you don’t get booted in the middle of your lease, you become ineligible to renew the lease. Student status should work the same way.
In my view, this is a good project. It may have details to work out – as most projects do going forward. The council will undoubtedly take a look at the concerns of the Planning Commission and figure out a way forward.
But from our perspective, during a student housing crisis, this is the kind of housing we need close to campus.
Don Gibson of the Graduate Students Association made a lot of important points. We’ve used the three percent figure, but the university is apparently doing additional research to figure out what percentage of students are housing insecure and homeless.
“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.”
This would be the third project to go forward now with a student affordable housing model, following Lincoln40 and Nishi That is a big and important change.
As Don Gibson reminded the commission, “Students don’t qualify for any beds… currently available in the city of Davis.”
Now we leave it to the council to fix the details.
—David M. Greenwald reporting