Monday Morning Thoughts: More Student Housing?

Rendering of Davis Live Apartments

In the wake of the voter passage of Nishi, this is a question every governing body in Davis is likely to ask.  As I have pointed out before, given the university’s agreement to build 9050 beds and the city’s approval of Sterling, Lincoln40 and Nishi, the biggest push should be to make sure that UC Davis builds what it says it is going to build.

However, as I argued back in late May, prior to the approval of Nishi by the voters, Davis Live Apartments – a proposed 71-unit, 440-bed apartment complex on Oxford Circle – makes sense as student housing.

This is a rare point of agreement these days between Eileen Samitz and the Vanguard.

At the May meeting she 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.

The planning commission was not able to approve it back in May.  So now it will go back to the commission as the commissioners attempt to address some of their concerns.

By and large the commission liked the project – but there were too many concerns or unaddressed questions for them to feel comfortable approving it.

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.

They were concerned that there are only 71 parking spaces.  As Commissioner David Robertson explained, “The parking needs a justification as to why 71 spaces is the right number.”

There were concerns about the traffic report that apparently only came out on the afternoon of the meeting and was too dense to absorb.  And there were concerns that the CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) exemption was not adequately explained.

But if you are ever going to have dense student housing, this is the location.  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.

As noted right after the meeting, the planning commission in my view should have been able to approve this project.  I get that some on council expressed concerns that we have approved enough student housing.  Personally I think another 440 beds is probably needed, given the delay in when on-campus housing would come on line and the ongoing pent demand.

Moreover, what are you going to put in this neighborhood?  This is a case where you really wouldn’t want family housing in the middle of student housing.  That’s why Eileen Samitz, who has opposed projects like Sterling, Lincoln40 and Nishi, and in general complained about mega-dorms, is in favor of what would most reasonably be considered one.

I do think as I believed back in May that staff could have pushed back on the issues of the exemption and parking more forcefully.  There were logistical issues that probably prevented that.

The commission, for example, received a March 2 letter from SACOG (Sacramento Area Council of Governments) itself.  The letter confirmed “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.”

Why a letter from SACOG wasn’t enough for the commission is unclear.  But staff should have backed that up with someone from the city attorney’s office to explain why the project was exempt from CEQA.

The issue of parking is another issue that could have been resolved back in May.

Commissioner David Robertson said he had a problem with the parking space requirements.

“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.”

But he acts as though we don’t have data.  We have a lot of data, in fact.  Data that shows fewer and fewer students even have access to cars.  Anecdotally, when I first started the court watch project it was rare to get an intern who didn’t have a car.  Now I have more than half of the interns who not only don’t have cars, they don’t have a driver’s license.  That’s a huge change in a decade.

We also have data on driving patterns.

The UC Davis Travel Survey has consistently shown that less than five percent of students who live within a mile of campus drive to campus.  Within a mile of campus the survey of 767 students found that only 1.1 percent drove alone and another 1.1 carpooled to school.  Moreover, that result has held over the last decade, adding reliability to the survey results.

But, just because they don’t use a car to get to campus does not mean that they don’t have a car.  However, when the Vanguard examined the Campus Travel Survey reports a couple of years ago, the findings were that only 47.9 percent of all students have “access to a car.” And for undergraduates it was only 42.7 percent.

Those who live outside of Davis are nearly all driving into town, with 91.5 percent having access to a car, although it doesn’t break it down by category – student versus employee.  Of those who live in Davis, less than half have access to a car – again, across all categories.

Bottom line, I think that David Robertson is incorrect when he says that fewer parking spaces isn’t going to disincentivize cars.  What it means is that people who have cars are more likely to live somewhere where they can park their car rather than a location with a very limited number of spots.

If you live across the street from campus, you probably don’t need a car.

Not sure why this isn’t an obvious point – but you basically create market disincentives for people with cars to move to Davis Live Apartments.

Hopefully these and other issues can be addressed by the planning commission when they hear this again on July 25.

—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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  1. Craig Ross

    I’m glad that the city has approved a bunch of units, but the student housing crisis is only getting worse in the next few years until units are actually built.

  2. Alan Miller

    > The letter acknowledges that the entire project site is located within one-half mile of a high-quality transit corridor

    If true, I’d hate to see SACOG’s definition of a low-quality transit corridor.

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