Commentary: Is the LRDP Really that Bad?


The Long Range Development Plan (LRDP) process has been very interesting to observe.  What I have seen over the course of three years is the following: first the university started out somewhat unreasonably stating or perhaps acknowledging that they would not be able to accommodate all of the enrollment growth with on-campus housing, however, under pressure they quickly shifted their position and announced they would build 6200 beds (more than the projected enrollment growth even at that stage), then 8500, and now 9050.

The city took two reasonable positions – first they agreed with activists that UC Davis needed to accommodate all new enrollment growth and half of the overall student population with on-campus housing.  At the same time, they put their money where their mouth was and approved nearly 4000 beds in the city of Davis.

Finally, we have the activists who have been critical of UC Davis from the start, who demanded more from the university and got more from the university.

Instead of being met with thanks and support for their efforts, UC Davis has been criticized for not going far enough and has had their motives impugned.

To some extent the criticism is warranted, as UC Davis has in the past promised to provide housing for larger populations than they ultimately have delivered upon.  That has definitely led to a community credibility problem.  However, the solution for that is to continue to vigilantly follow this issue over the course of 10 years.  UC Davis cannot change their past right now.

It is in this context that I read the lengthy comments by Greg Rowe.  Let me say at the outset that I have always respected Greg Rowe for his expertise and his approach.  But I don’t always agree with him.

Here are a few responses to the points he makes.

First, he writes, “The LRDP completely ignores the City Council’s December 2016 Resolution asking that no less than 50% of students be housed on campus.”  He notes: “The LRDP says it will ultimately only house 18,868 students, which equates to about 48% of the 39,000 students expected in the 2030-31 forecast year. It works out to 632 fewer students than the number requested by Council, which means this many students will be forced to find off-campus housing in a tight rental market.   This is not an insignificant difference.”

I understand his point, but we are talking about the difference between 50 percent and 48 percent.  We also have to acknowledge that they are committing to go from 28 percent to 48 percent in a 10-year period.  That is a big step forward.

Moreover, the city is adding about 4500 beds of their own, which means we are looking at about 13,500 new beds over the next decade – at least.  I think, given those numbers, we should not worry that much about the university coming 600 beds short of an artificial goal.

Mr. Rowe continues: “Perhaps most important is that the LRDP makes absolutely no commitment to a definitive construction and financing strategy to ensure delivery of housing on pace with student population growth, as requested by Council.  Absent such a commitment, another decade or more could pass before UCD even comes close to housing 48% of the student population on campus.”

This is a reasonable point.  One of my concerns is that, while the university has committed to 5200 new beds in the short term, there is no plan laid out for the other 3800 beds.

As I have written a number of times before, that would be where my focus comes down – making sure that UC Davis builds what they have committed to, rather than squeezing another 600 beds out of them.

Mr. Rowe also notes that UC Davis, rather than building new high density housing, is building some newer slightly higher density housing – where a number of complexes are being torn down but only adding one story to them.

He notes that “the LRDP relies on ‘doubling up’ students in existing campus housing like West Village, rather than commitments to new on-campus apartment construction.”

There are benefits to this approach as well.  One is that the doubling up – something that many have been asking for – will help reduce the high cost of on-campus housing.  Another is that it will allow a more immediate increase in the number of housing.

I do not want to get into micromanaging how UC Davis creates the new housing, but, as I have pointed out in the past, there is a real concern by students that simply adding housing on campus is going to make things less affordable rather than more.

Nevertheless, I really strongly disagree with this statement, saying that “the LRDP won’t reduce the number of UCD students living off campus in Davis and other cities and it does not go nearly far enough to relieve the low rental vacancy rate in Davis.”

I am not clear on how he arrives at that conclusion.  Moreover, it is not clear to me that the number of UC Davis students living off campus should be the most meaningful metric here anyway.

To me, what we want are land use policies which provide sufficient housing for students, do so in an affordable way, and put housing close enough to campus to reduce the number of students commuting into town.

UC Davis plans to add 9050 beds over the next 10 years.  We have pointed out of course that 5200 of those are in the immediate works and it is far less from clear where the final 3800 are going to go.

But if UC Davis follows through on their commitment, they are adding 9050 beds but only 5100 or so students over the same period.

That means that UC Davis is adding about 80 percent more beds than students.  That should reduce the number of students living off campus.

But, as I said, I’m not convinced that students living off campus is the most meaningful measure.  So, for good measure, in addition to 9050 students on campus, we are adding about 3000 students either next to campus at Nishi (2200) or across Richards at Lincoln40 (700-800).  That means those students will mostly be walking, biking or, at the very worst, using the bus to get to campus rather than driving.

To me that’s what we want.  We want housing near campus that allows students to not drive to campus.

That means we have 12,000 students over the next 10 years housed on or near campus.  Even Sterling, which is a bit further out, should not produce much in the way of vehicle traffic onto campus.

UC Davis is not suddenly going to become the builder of high density, low cost student housing.  We can lament that fact for the next 10 years, but we know about what we are getting.  What we need them to do is build enough capacity to alleviate the student housing crunch.  This plan, for better and for worse, does that.

—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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8 thoughts on “Commentary: Is the LRDP Really that Bad?”

  1. Tia Will

    we are talking about the difference between 50 percent and 48 percent. “

    we should not worry that much about the university coming 600 beds short of an artificial goal.”

    I think that intermixing percentages and “artificial goals” in with numbers of beds is a linguistic artifice that takes our eyes off the reality. What we should be discussing are the number of students ( real people) who are not able to find housing either on campus or in the community. That is the number the university and city should be focused on.

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      Tia – Between UCD and the city, we are adding a net 8000 beds (amount over the new enrollment). Is that enough? I don’t think we have precise enough metrics to answer for sure, but it seems like that’s a good start.

      1. Ken A

        As the rent in Davis continues to increase I predict that the number of “beds” in town will increase even without ANY new construction.

        Five years ago the average cost for a UCD student to rent a “bed” in their own room was about $600 and the majority of UCD kids renting apartments had their own bedrooms.  At Cal is cost was more than double and the majority of kids shared a room.  Today the average cost to rent a “room” in Davis is closer to $800 and more kids are doubling up, in Berkeley most “rooms” are renting for over $2K/month and all but the super rich are doubling up (my cousin and his three roommates are paying $4,200 to rent an 800sf 2br 1 ba apartment near the Cal campus).

  2. Matt Williams

    David Greenwald said … “But if UC Davis follows through on their commitment, they are adding 9050 beds but only 5100 or so students over the same period.”

    That is an important “But if”  and it prompts several questions

    1)  What is the per year average enrollment increase in the LRDP?

    2) How does that projected per year average enrollment increase compare to UCD’s actual average enrollment increase over the past 5 years? … and/or compare to UCD’s actual average enrollment increase over the past 10 years?

    9,050 (if it happens) does indeed compare well to 5,100, but does it compare well to what is actually likely to happen?  To answer that question one needs to go to UCD’s prior LRDP and compare the projected per year average enrollment increase in that LRDP to what actually happened.

    1. Howard P

      “Past results are not necessarily indicative of future performance”… heard that somewhere…

      Moving forward, it is appropriate that UCD annually report on their performance, knowing they’ll be judged on that performance vis-vis their current representations/goals.

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