The handwriting is on the wall. The city in a letter from Attorney Whitney McDonald have pushed back against the university.
While the city is willing at this point to accept the university’s numbers even if they amount to 48 rather than 50 percent of students being housed on campus, the city has legitimate concerns over the timing of building that housing – or the certainty that the housing will be built.
As Ms. McDonald writes, the biggest problem is that the Long Range Development Plan (LRDP) does not provide any assurances, including an identifiable and enforceable implementation plan, “that this will actually occur.” The city is also concerned about mitigation.
Ms. McDonald continues: “The FEIR fails to incorporate feasible mitigation measures to address significant environmental impacts. Many of the measures that are identified do not ensure adequate mitigation and allow deferred implementation until well after significant environmental impacts will occur, in violation of CEQA.”
The city, Ms. McDonald writes, “believes these issues may be addressed through further analysis and adoption of additional mitigation measures, but more time for consultation with the City and others, and a revised FEIR, will be necessary.”
She argues: “Such a collaborative approach is critical to the ongoing relationship of the City and the University, and has been urged by other commenters such as the County of Yolo, which ‘urges serious consideration of the City’s comments.’”
While the city is hopeful a “more direct and responsive collaboration can occur now,” it warns that the city “may be forced to pursue other legal remedies.”
This is the big issue and, as council prepares for a special closed door meeting this Tuesday, it is one that appears to divide the council. The city council has generally been united on land use issues and taken a collaborative approach.
However, as newly-elected Dan Carson has signaled in comments made during the election, he views the need for the city to pursue a binding legal agreement with the university.
The university for their part has offered talk. The chancellor among other things is proposing an annual “Town/Gown” meeting where they can report on activities of mutual interest. That’s far less than what the city is asking for.
As one councilmember pointed out to me, the city council approved an official two by two with the university over a year ago, and the university has not attempted to meet even once.
Greg Rowe, a Planning Commissioner and land use expert, posting on the Vanguard suggested the city embark on two parallel and simultaneous courses of action. First to file a CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) appeal within 30 days and, second, “launch discussions with UCD with the goal of negotiating and executing a legally binding and enforceable agreement that obligates UCD to a definitive on-campus student housing financing and construction schedule, whereby new student housing construction will occur on pace with growth in the student population.”
The problem with such an approach is that the only way to get a legally binding and enforceable agreement is to go the route of litigation.
I get the concerns laid out by Councilmember Carson and others that we have gone down the path of informality before and it hasn’t ended well for the city. Previous LRDPs, and even MOUs signed by the city and university, have resulted in agreements, reasonable housing projections, but ultimately the university has fallen short of delivering.
At the same time, others on the council are concerned that pursuing a legally binding agreement will have consequences as well. The council to a person has spoken about the need for better relations with the university. But litigation has costs in that regard.
We have already lamented the fact that the city was bypassed for consideration of Aggie Square. Whatever the city hopes to get out of a mitigation agreement with UC Davis pales in comparison to the benefits that an Aggie Square will bestow upon Sacramento. By suing the university, we effectively preclude cooperation in the short term.
One needs to look no further than the West Village situation from 10 to 15 years ago. The citizens in West Davis ended up suing the university over impacts. Sources have told the Vanguard that the interactions between the university and community and the bad blood left a huge mark on UC Davis, to the point where they have attempted to avoid land use disputes ever since. That explains their non-involvement in things like Nishi and the World Food Center, and now Aggie Square.
The agreement reached between the neighborhood and the university has reduced traffic impacts on Russell, but at huge costs. It has effectively cut off West Village from the city. It has harmed the viability of business at the Westlake Plaza shopping center. And the huge upside was a small amount of cars that would come from the West Village facility over the course of the day – most of it not during peak hours, as most of the students would head to the university via bike or bus.
The city needs to figure out another way to work with the university on a timetable and certainty about buildout of the 9050 beds that UC Davis has committed to via the LRDP. Litigation and the threat of litigation could embroil both parties in expensive and lengthy legal battles.
The result of that dispute would be costly to both sides. First of all, a CEQA lawsuit, just like the ones filed against the city, would only delay housing units coming online. What we need is to actually facilitate and expedite their delivery. As it stands right now, the university will be hard-pressed to meet the 2020 delivery date.
Second, by going legal, it would harm the community in that other areas of collaboration would immediately be halted, particularly economic development – which remains just as important to this community going forward as squeezing some mitigation and extra housing out of the university.
We need to find better and more collaborative ways to address the real concerns expressed here without litigation or the threat thereof. One of the big problems in previous LRDPs and MOUs is that, once the agreements were signed, it seemed that the pressure was relieved on the university.
The community is going to have to remain vigilant and engaged and continue to press the university to make good on their promises. That’s a better way forward than litigation.
—David M. Greenwald reporting