This week, UC Davis came out with a finalized version of its Long Range Development Plan (LRDP). The last three years of discussion have focused on student housing and the role of the university. While there is clearly some frustration on the part of the leadership in the community as well as the citizenry on the responsiveness of the university, it appears that modest progress has been made on the university providing its students with housing.
In its earliest draft, the university would not commit to a number of students it intended to house, but it did commit to less housing than student growth. That was not acceptable to pretty much anyone and eventually the university increased its allotment to 6200 then to 8500 and finally to 9050.
While 9050 is clearly short of 50 percent of total enrollment housed on campus, UC Davis does get to 48 percent. Considering they started at 28 percent, that’s not bad.
Some have tried to push for that extra 1000, but, from my perspective I am far more concerned that those 9050 beds get built – particularly when we only have plans now for 5200 – than about trying to squeeze another 1000 beds out of the university.
The next big thing may be the push by the city to get the university to compensate or enter into an agreement with UC Davis to mitigate its impacts. This was a central piece in Dan Carson’s successful council campaign, and something that UC Santa Cruz and UC Berkeley have entered into with their host communities – to varying levels of success.
In its May 18 letter, proposed Mitigation Measure #5 stipulated: “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).”
In the final EIR, the university responds. First they note that “the 2018 LRDP would reduce the number of students living off-campus, thereby reducing the potential direct impacts on city infrastructure and services with its implementation.”
This is largely true from the standpoint of the LRDP. UC Davis will be adding around 5000 during the next 10 years, according to its LRDP enrollment forecast. In 2016-17, the university housed about 10,000 students on campus. It plans to be at just over 19,000 by the time the LRDP is done. That means that the LRDP should reduce the number of students living off campus.
From the city’s perspective, this ignores the fact that prior to the LRDP the university had increased student enrollment without adding much in the way of on-campus housing.
But the university adds: “The comment and suggested mitigation measure do not identify a particular infrastructure or service maintained and operated by the City that would be adversely affected by implementation of the 2018 LRDP and does not provide any substantial evidence showing any such significant impact, and as such, the mitigation measure is not considered necessary to reduce potentially significant impacts of the plan.”
I would further argue that the city and the university, by providing more housing close to campus, will act to reduce the demand on roads, traffic, and transportation of student enrollment. Right now, with a housing shortage, there are a few huge impacts. One is that a large number of students are crammed into single-family homes in the community. That is causing a number of problems, from parking to police to noise. By building more housing near campus – on and off campus – those impacts will be reduced.
Further, the shortage of student housing means more students have to commute from out of town – that causes environmental impacts as well as increased traffic and parking impacts. The more we have students living on campus in places like Nishi and Lincoln40, in particular, the less students will have to drive onto campus and therefore the fewer impacts.
I have seen a lot of blame thrown the way of the university – even from those who are not necessarily opposed to more housing in town. One of the key points is that university enrollment growth policies are to blame for these problems.
They will argue that university growth is a driver of demands for new housing. That is certainly true. But you could probably extend it further and note that the university is a major driver in why the Davis community is vibrant and attractive to people living in this community.
When people look at the impact of the university, many think in negative terms of growth and costs, rather than positive terms like economic engine, high standard of living, employer of a huge number of residents, etc.
Leaving that thorny issue aside, a question that remains for me is what should university enrollment growth be? And is 5000 growing too fast?
Let us use the city of Davis as a baseline. The city of Davis is considered a slow growth community. We have a growth cap of 1 percent per year.
Using 1 percent as a baseline, UC Davis has roughly 34,000 students enrolled right now. That means one percent per year would be 340 students. Multiply that out by 10 and you get 3400 students.
UC Davis is projected to add around 5000 students and to get to 39,000 by 2027. That is clearly faster than one percent per year, and closer to about 1.5 percent. There are different ways to look at it. One is that UC Davis is growing about 50 percent faster than the community is supposed to grow.
On the other hand, one of the older general plans capped city growth at 1.7 percent. One of the points we have made is that the housing crisis came about because the city slowed its growth and has, in effect, from 2003 to now, not built a new market rate apartment complex – while the university has continued its traditional growth trajectories.
A lot of people see UC Davis as the UC with the greatest growth potential in this century, and we don’t just mean enrollment growth.
The community does not have that much say over UC Davis enrollment growth, but it is worth us at least entertaining a discussion as to whether UC Davis is being unreasonable in continuing about a 1.5 percent annual enrollment growth for the next 10 years and whether that growth really warrants the need for compensation – particularly when they are building housing for 9000 students and only growing by 5000.
Again, not arguing that UC Davis can’t do things better, but at the moment it is difficult to criticize their plan. The biggest question for me is whether they actually build the housing for the 9050 students they are planning to house on campus.
—David M. Greenwald reporting