Commentary: Is This Really What We Want?


As the community has engaged in a conversation on student housing, some have argued that UC Davis needs to take on more on-campus housing.  I think most people agree with that sentiment.  Some have pushed further, arguing that the city of Davis needs to reach an agreement with UC Davis, much as Santa Cruz and Berkeley have with their respective campuses, to mitigate the impact of continued enrollment growth.

That was a view of Dan Carson, who appears to have won a seat on the city council.  But Mr. Carson views a potential lawsuit as a last resort.

I have been skeptical of such a measure, arguing that while I agree UC Davis should take on more of the housing for their enrollment growth, the benefits to this community of the university far outweigh the costs.  Look no further than the large percentage of community members who are either employed by the university or employed because of the presence of the university, and received their degrees from the university.

This idea of university versus community flies in the face of this community’s commitment to higher education, among other things.

Well, it looks like the city of Santa Cruz has taken this confrontation a step further.  Thanks to a Davis Enterprise columnist for spotting this.

In an article that appeared in the Santa Cruz Sentinel on June 6: “Voters sent a clear message to UC officials eyeing sizeable enrollment growth to the Santa Cruz campus on Tuesday: Thanks, but no thanks.”

The voters were asked whether to oppose enrollment growth at UC Santa Cruz.  The answer was overwhelming: 6526 people voted yes and only 2010 people voted no.  That comes to 77-23 in percentages.

Writes the paper: “The smallest city in California to host a UC campus, the city by the beach and the city on the hill appear headed for the second showdown in as many decades over how many more students the city of 64,000 can absorb as it grapples with a housing crisis, congested roadways and concerns about water supply.”

Councilmember Chris Krohn, one of three city officials to propose the ballot measure, said that “he was satisfied and unsurprised by voters’ response, pointing to what he called the ‘rampant’ impacts enrollment growth would have on Santa Cruz’s bus services, traffic and housing costs.  Inflated dorm rents, Krohn said, have driven up the cost of housing, displaced families and ‘left a kind of desperate free-for-all atmosphere around town.’”

Next step is apparently to engage the state legislature.  Mr. Krohn said, “Working with our state representatives Sen. Monning and Assemblymember Stone and university officials is the only way we will be able to negotiate a positive outcome in our community in terms of stemming this out of control growth and stabilize our local housing market.”

A campus spokesperson said they were “disappointed” with city residents for supporting Measure U.

Bob Dunning points out: “Imagine that. The citizens of Santa Cruz think they can actually control the seemingly autonomous University of California. (See ‘Davis’ above). And they actually put their concerns to a vote of the people.”

This is the model that apparently people want to follow in Davis?

Wrote Eileen Samitz: “The host cities of Santa Cruz, San Diego and Berkeley are all fed up with the UCs being opportunistic and have gotten excellent legal settlements from challenging the UCs in these cities.”

Maybe she ought to re-think that in the wake of Santa Cruz’s decision to vote against additional enrollment growth (even though it is clearly only symbolic).

UC Davis growth has generated some pushback from our community, but nothing like this.  Once again, UC Davis has felt the heat from the community on growth.  But they have also responded, proposing increasing on-campus housing shares from 28 percent to 48 percent.

The current proposal is for 9050 new beds by 2027.  The city has stepped up as well.  Last week voters have most likely approved Measure J, which allows developers to construct 2200 beds at Nishi, right next to campus.  As we reported earlier this week, along with the already-approved Sterling Apartments and Lincoln40, and with what is proposed at Davis Live student housing and Plaza 2555, Davis would be potentially building just under 4500 beds of its own.

That would come to about a two to one margin, which in my view seems relatively equitable for both the community and the campus in terms of a growth share.

There is some caveat – the Vanguard has learned that the Davis Live apartment complex is going to return to the Planning Commission rather than going forward to council, in light of the vote not to recommend the project.  Also there may be some alterations in the proposal at Plaza 2555.

Some like Eileen Samitz continue to argue for more housing on campus.  In a recent missive, she continues to push for “the need for UCD to provide on-campus housing for at least 50% its total student population and 100% of its new incoming students.”

Of course we are talking about 10,000 new beds as opposed to the proposed 9050 new beds.

My increasing belief is that we should focus on making sure that UC Davis builds all the beds it commits to rather than trying to squeeze 1000 more beds out of them in this proposal.  Right now they have committed to 5200 beds by 2020, which I would assume is really going to be 2021 or even 2022.

The concern is that there is really no plan in place beyond that.  That means somewhere down the line they have to draw up plans for 3800 more beds.  When talking with Matt Dulcich from the university last week, he assured me that is in the works, but, forgive me, I’m skeptical.

After all, it wasn’t that long ago that UC Davis agreed to vastly increase their housing in an MOU with the city only to see those housing units never materialize.

Hopefully the vote by Santa Cruz is a wake up call on both sides of A Street.  For the citizens of Davis, it shows that even lawsuits and settlement agreements with the university will not be sufficient to mitigate the impacts of enrollment growth.  Instead, we need to engage and work together.  For the university, it should be a reminder that having good town-gown relations is not just good PR, it is good policy that will enable a smoother operation for the university.

—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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20 thoughts on “Commentary: Is This Really What We Want?”

  1. Tia Will

    “After all, it wasn’t that long ago that UC Davis agreed to vastly increase their housing in an MOU with the city only to see those housing units never materialize.”

    This I believe is key to understanding why some are reluctant to count the university’s contribution to housing until it materializes. It is not ok, in my opinion, for the city & surrounding communities to provide real housing while the university presents only plans.

    I say this as someone who does not approve of law suits as a means of limiting educational opportunity. However, at what point does the university take responsibility for their own growth? At what point does it become apparent that not all of that growth must be located on the central campus but might be more appropriately located in “field stations” such as in Fresno or in offshoots such as UCDMC now located exclusively in Sacramento?

  2. Dave Hart

    I think what we really want is an agreement.  Sometimes the key to that is getting the attention of the party you want to have a discussion with.  Hopefully, that is the goal of “confrontational” tactics.

    1. Howard P

      Scary, but true… so many would rather “agree” than “do what is right”… herd mentality… didn’t work out real good in 1930’s Germany… in France there were a lot of folk who wanted to “collaborate” with the Nazis…

      Geo Orwell ‘s “Animal Farm” captured the “need for agreement”… China, North Korea, and Russia (to name 3) have also stressed “the need to agree”… ’nuff said.

  3. John D

    Is it not possible to enumerate and articulate points of common cause, and then proceed to an identification of specific challenges, concerns, needs, goals and objectives of both parties – towards the objective of a win-win conclusion?  Is that really too much to expect?

    1. David Greenwald

      As I understood it, the community or members thereof, sued UC Santa Cruz.  They entered into a settlement agreement.  Clearly that wasn’t good enough for some in the community, which makes me skeptical of the whole process.  More than I thought before.

  4. John D

    A discussion narrowly focused on enrollment growth may have been politically expedient in Santa Cruz, but seems hopelessly simplistic as a model for Davis.

    1. Howard P

      Don’t disagree, per se, but two things… it is one thing to “take responsibility”, and another, to do so by concrete actions… I expect UCD/UC should get “their units on the ground” ASAP.  In the meantime, what kind of person becries the lack of appropriate action by another, and doesn’t act to fill the gap?

      Yeah, let’s just watch the train wreck, as it isn’t “our fault”… “let them eat….” “let them reap the whirlwind” … doing nothing is truly a noble choice… NOT.

    2. Don Shor

      What we really need is a timeline for construction of the already planned units, and evidence that they are moving forward on the others they’ve committed to. In agreeing to increase the percentage of the student body housed, UCD also pushed back the timeline for construction by three years. In effect, they will be providing additional housing as their enrollment numbers indicate the need to them, and that doesn’t account for the backlog they’d created over the previous two decades.
      The council needs to continue to press them to increase the percentage of the student body they will house (to 50%), to accelerate the pace of current construction, to get the ball rolling on the next phase of construction, and to phase out or significantly decrease the master leases.

      1. Howard P

        Agee… you speak truth… I’d go one step further… I’d demand that the ‘Master Leases’, (residential) AND leases for properties in Davis, exempt from property taxes (including MR assessments), be ended as soon as legally allowed (not just “phased out”)… and maybe sooner, and we can roll the dice.

  5. Ron

    The city’s proposed mitigations regarding the EIR for the LRDP seem like a good starting point, regarding a future agreement between the city and UCD:

    Proposed Mitigation Measure #1 — The University will commit to housing a minimum of 100 percent of the projected student enrollment of all new incoming students and at least 50 percent of total University campus student population in the LRDP.
    Proposed Mitigation Measure #2 — The University will commit to higher densities (e.g. four-plus stories) in redeveloped and new student housing than are currently being provided, taking into account neighborhood context.
    Proposed Mitigation Measure #3 – The University will commit to housing students of all incomes, and will incorporate innovative affordable housing models, including cooperative housing.
    Proposed Mitigation Measure #4 — The University will develop a construction and financing implementation strategy to ensure the delivery of campus housing units and facilities in a timely manner commensurate with levels committed to by the University in these mitigation measures.
    Proposed Mitigation Measure #5 — The University will enter into an agreement with the City to compensate for the direct and indirect impacts of students on city infrastructure and services (e.g. transportation, transit, utilities, water supply, wastewater treatment, stormwater conveyance, parks and greenbelts, community services, recreation facilities and programs, police and fire service).
    Proposed Mitigation Measure #6 – The University will regularly demonstrate to the City (eg. Reporting to the City Council at least annually) that the housing target has been achieved and identify appropriate measures to improve performance if necessary.
    Proposed Mitigation Measure #7 — The University will enter into an agreement with the City to compensate for lost property tax revenue associated with the University’s leasing of property within the city limits.
    Proposed Mitigation Measure #8 – The University will commit to engaging the City in and assisting in the funding of a collaborative process for joint planning of shared edges and corridors to ensure mutually workable and coordinated results.
    Proposed Mitigation Measure #9 – The University will enter into an agreement with the City of Davis to actively participate in and assist with funding the City’s rental registration and inspection program to help address the indirect effects associated with increasingly overcrowded student housing conditions off-campus.


    1. David Greenwald Post author

      I don’t have a problem with any of them, but the term mitigation measure seems wrongly applied here. These are more like commitments.

      1. Ron

        They are mitigations, to help offset the impacts to the city (regarding UCD’s LRDP).

        That’s why they’re called mitigations. I didn’t make up the word, or even apply its usage here. This is from the city.

        1. Rik Keller

          Is Greenwald next going to argue about what the meaning of “is” is?

          Mitigation: “the action of reducing the severity, seriousness, or painfulness of something.”

          Oh, and this is all in the context of an EIR where “mitigation” language is how it is done.


        2. Ron

          Jeff:  I haven’t reviewed what these mitigations are in response to, in the EIR.  Not sure if all of these types of impacts are completely within the scope of an EIR.  Perhaps you should review the EIR, before asking me. I was simply presenting what the city is proposing, and noting that it would (also) be a good starting place for an agreement.

          Regardless, it doesn’t take much imagination (even without looking at the EIR), to address the impact that each mitigation is attempting to address.  Let’s see if you can figure it out, yourself. Suggest that you start a list, to which we can all chime in on. I can think of several off the top of my head, but I suspect that your interest is not entirely genuine.

  6. Dave Hart

    After all, it wasn’t that long ago that UC Davis agreed to vastly increase their housing in an MOU with the city only to see those housing units never materialize.

    An agreement that is not enforceable is not an agreement.  It’s a statement of intent and sentiment.    An agreement (a legal MOU) that is enforceable and publicly understood would set expectations and provide the basis for some kind of trust between the city and UCD.  The process doesn’t have to be contentious or hostile unless one party wants to make it so; but it has to be enforceable or it’s a waste of time and paper.   If the city is going to enter into an agreement or MOU, they need to be businesslike about it and not assume good intentions will carry the day somewhere down the road.

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