Sunday Commentary: The LRDP Accomplishes Much of What It Needed to Accomplish

For the most part I would argue that, as long as both UC Davis and the city of Davis actually build the housing that has been planned for and approved, we will have enough housing to accommodate the projected growth over the next decade at UC Davis, alleviating existing shortfalls.

As we pointed out two weeks ago, the student housing crisis is not over just yet.  We are hoping to get data in the next week about just how bad it is.  But in the meantime, timing of getting the housing online is going to make things more hairy than they need to be, even into 2020 and beyond.

That is because, while Nishi and Lincoln40 have been approved to add 3000 beds, both projects are being held up by litigation.

UC Davis currently plans to have 5200 beds online in time for the 2020-21 school year.  That includes the expansion of Webster, Emerson, West Village and Orchard Park.  But 2020 may well be too ambitious and, at the rate of construction, 2021 or even 2022 seems more reasonable.  In their March announcement, they said 5200 student beds over six years, which takes us to 2024.

Critics have pointed out that UC Davis has missed the mark on Long Range Development Plan (LRDP) projects in previous iterations, and that has to be at least some concern now as well.  The housing seems to be on track for the first wave, but the remaining 3800, as we have pointed out previously, is a lot less certain.

UC Davis’ plan takes them from providing on-campus housing to about 28 percent of the total enrollment, to 48 percent in about a decade.  If they carry that as planned, it will be remarkable progress.

I would argue that both the city and university have stepped up in the last three years to resolve a housing crisis that had gotten remarkably worse in recent years.

There has been a lot of debate over what is UC Davis’ responsibility in terms of housing versus what is the city of Davis’ responsibility.  Those who hoped that UC Davis would provide 50 percent of housing on campus might be somewhat disappointed that the plan stops at 48 percent.  I think we should see this in more positive terms, as UC Davis is greatly upping their commitment to on-campus housing.

If we round off the numbers, it means that UC Davis will be adding around 9000 beds on campus, while the city adds 4500 beds off campus.  That means that two-thirds of the new housing will be provided by UC Davis.  Again, that appears to be a reasonable percentage.  Again, if they get built.

There are those who will argue that UC Davis can and should do more.  Perhaps so.  But I think a long-term goal of around 50 percent is reasonable, given the market in Davis, the cost of on-campus versus off-campus housing, and the professed desire of many students to have options to live on campus their second year – but also their desire to be part of the community and live off campus in their later years.

Everything is a balance, and a balanced approach works best for all sides.

Bottom line: for me at least, what both the city and university have done in the last three years in terms of housing numbers is reasonable and puts us on the right path to a more stable housing market.  Where we remained concerned is the timeline for each at this point.

The dual-housing approach should help in other areas as well.

First of all, it should start to alleviate traffic impacts.  One of the problems we see is that Richards Boulevard, in particular, becomes jammed with cars during peak hours.  Many of those cars are coming directly from I-80, they go through the tunnel and enter campus either from the east or the north.

The vast majority of planned housing will be within one mile of campus, if not on campus altogether.  That means, instead of driving mostly single-occupancy vehicles to commute to campus, students will be able to walk, bike, or take the bus.

Even for Sterling Apartments, which has been criticized as being too far from campus, surveys show the majority will bike or use the bus rather than drive to campus.

By placing 13,000 student beds near campus, we will not only address future housing needs created by enrollment increases, but we will put more students into alternative transportation situations, reducing the use of vehicles – which at UC Davis is relatively low to begin with, even with increases in out-of-town commutes due to lack of housing.

In recent years, a number of residents have focused criticism on the rising phenomena of student-oriented housing with a larger number of rooms and beds rather than unit rentals.  While we have seen approvals at Lincoln40, Sterling and voter approval at Nishi, each time such configurations have generated conversation and criticism of “mega-dorms.”

That is to the point where Plaza 2555 has shifted its focus to more of a mix of housing, where more than half of the units are three bedrooms or less, the rent is by the unit, and the configuration is more townhouse-oriented than apartment-oriented.

On the other hand, the Vanguard and others have pushed back that the building of these types of apartments has a number of advantages.  First, the bed rentals make for more efficiency and also protect students who are no longer responsible for the actions of their roommates.  Second, we have noted that, with the cost of rentals as well as the scarcity of student housing, most apartments are going to end up rented by students regardless of configuration.

Finally, we argue that by putting a large number of student-oriented rental housing near campus, we free up single family homes from the problems of mini-dorms, where large numbers of students cram into houses designed for families and a much lower occupancy.

There are always trade-offs and the city is going to need to figure out ways to address housing for UC employees, young workers, families and seniors.  But in terms of the most pressing crisis of housing, the LRDP and the city’s concurrent work on student housing should set us up with a good decade of housing needs for students being met.

—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. Greg Rowe

    I wish to offer some differing views of the UCD Long Range Development Plan (LRDP) that is going to the UC Board of Regents next week.  After spending a lot of time studying previous drafts of the LRDP and reading the final version twice, I find it to be a completely vacuous document.  It has lots of nice photographs, but is seriously lacking in meaningful details and substance.  Having worked on city and country general plans for many years, along with airport master plans, I find the LRDP to be a seriously flawed and deficient document.  The only way to find out what the true intent and substance that should be in the LRDP is to read the EIR.  It simply does not make sense that one has to read a 600+ page EIR to find out what a 100-page plan really says–or should say.
    The LRDP completely ignores the City Council’s December 2016 Resolution asking that no less than 50% of students be housed on campus.  This same request was made in a resolution unanimously adopted by the Yolo County Board of Supervisors, the ASUCD Senate, and the Yolano Group of the Sierra Club.   50% of the 39,000 students expected by the 2030-31 academic year would equal 19,500 students housed on campus.  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.
    It is also telling that UCD has not responded in any meaningful way to the City’s many letters regarding the LRDP during the past 2 years.
    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.  Given UCD’s penchant for exceeding enrollment projections and falling far short of housing construction goals, there is no reason for optimism that the number of students living off campus in Davis and other nearby cities will decline any time soon.  Details: UCD came nowhere close to meeting the housing goals identified in the Board of Regents’ student housing report issued in November 2002, nor the university’s own housing goals established in the 2003 LRDP.
    Two good examples of UCD’s laggard approach to student housing are the Emerson Hall and Webster Hall student apartment replacement projects, both of which were included in UCD’s 2003 LRDP and are just now coming to fruition.  If these two projects are any example, we may very well indeed still be waiting in 2030-31 for UCD to complete the on-campus student housing contemplated in the 2018 LRDP. The CEQA Negative Declaration for Emerson Hall was just released in February 2018, and work will hopefully begin next year—16 years after it was specified in the previous LRDP.  
    The former 3-story Webster Hall is in the process of being replaced with just a 4-story building, increasing the number of beds from 266 to 390 (net increase of just 124 beds) at a cost of $45 million.  If this isn’t a flagrant example of wasteful public spending–$45 million to achieve a net increase of just 124 beds–then I don’t know what is.  The new Webster Hall could have easily been expanded to 5 or 6 floor or more, but UCD instead chose to continue on its historic path of low-rise, low capacity housing. Meanwhile, a private developer is proposing a taller nearby purpose built student housing project. 
    The following quote, taken from a UCD website document about Webster Hall, is so ridiculous to be laughable:  “The 2020 plan requires a substantial increase in beds to be provided by the University. The existing site has additional capacity if the buildings are replaced—up to 124 additional beds at Webster Hall.”  What?  UCD is adding just 124 beds to accommodate the 2020 Initiative’s goal of 5,000 more students?   Where the  2020 plan’s other 4,876 students supposed to live?
    To a great extent, the LRDP relies on “doubling up” students in existing campus housing like West Village, rather than commitments to new on-campus apartment construction.
    The LRDP extols the “richness” of the campus experience and sustainability goals, but makes no commitment to the higher housing density that would represent genuine stewardship of public land.  The plan includes pretty much more of the same dispersed, low density development that requires far more land than necessary. A plan that at best will require 52% of students to commute from off campus—often from cities such as Woodland, Sacramento and even further away—cannot by any stretch of the imagination be regarded as “sustainable.”
    Fundamentally, 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.  The Board of Regents should send UCD back to the drawing board to engage in real planning for a change.

  2. Greg Rowe

    Oh, and one other thing.  When an EIR is certified, it includes a Mitigation Monitoring Program (MMP) or Mitigation Monitoring and Reporting Program (MMRP).  The project proponent is supposed document completion of all the mitigation measures identified in the EIR and associated MMP or MMRP. When one looks at the UC Santa Cruz website, it is interesting that the university issues an annual report documenting its completion and progress toward completion of mitigation measures identified during the preceding year.

    Starting 2 months ago, I asked UCD environmental planning staff for a written report documenting completion of the mitigation measures identified in the 2003 LRDP.  Since then I’ve asked twice more, but with no response.  So, if UCD can’t prove that it has completed all of the mitigation measures cited in the 2003 LRDP and its MMP, then in my opinion the Regents should defer approval of the 2018 LRDP until UCD can provide proof that its past responsibilities have been fulfilled.


  3. David Greenwald

    Greg: “Fundamentally, 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.  The Board of Regents should send UCD back to the drawing board to engage in real planning for a change.”

    Not sure how you arrive at this conclusion.  If UCD adds 9050, that’s nearly twice the students added.  Also, not sure that the number of students living off campus is the most important metric.  After all, between Nishi, Lincoln40, and UCD, 12,000 students will be housed within half a mile of campus.  That seems sufficient to me.

  4. Nancy Price

    Thank you, Greg, for your thorough and illuminating commentary on the UCD’s LRDP.   Not just Davis Vanguard readers should read this, so I hope that you’ll put this in the Davis Enterprise and on The Davisite. This should have as broad an audience as possible.

    It is shocking to me how irresponsible and lacking in sound planning process the campus is. What they are hoping is to have this LRDP passed by the Regent’s without any substantive discussion or debate, so they can roll along rolling over the community and compliant former City Councils. Hopefully this new Council will have more concern that housing build in the city is not just to meet UCD needs, but will be build with the needs of a variety of Davis residents in mind.

    1. Craig Ross

      What is shocking to me, as a student who lives in this community, how insensitive some of the long term residents are about the conditions that student live under.  This isn’t a UCD need as you describe them, this is a student housing need.  Until you solve the shortfall of housing, most apartments you build are going to be inhabited by students.  But by building more housing in town and near campus, more of us will live there and less will live in houses.  That can free up housies for a variety of residents.

      I also find it funny that the same people who want to build for the needs of a variety of residents are the same ones trying to stop all other development, thus creating a shortfall of housing for students who then overwhelm other residents.

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