On Tuesday, the Davis City Council interrupted its normal summer hiatus to discuss, among other things, its response to the university’s Long Range Development Plan (LRDP). According to Mayor Brett Lee, there was no reportable action from that closed session meeting.
The biggest issues from the city’s perspective at this point are the need for the university to “tangibly” commit to the city the “quantity of units and also timing of the units.” Mayor Brett Lee told the Vanguard, “I think there’s a path forward where everybody gets what they want.”
Mayor Lee praised the work thus far of the attorney, Whitney McDonald, from the RWG (Richards, Watson & Gershon) law firm, whose letter on behalf of the city responds to the inadequacies of the university’s response to the city on the LRDP and EIR.
“Having that expert advice is really helpful,” he said. “Because of that our asks are much more reasonable and doable.”
Mayor Lee has taken an optimistic view of the progress they have made. But in the back of the city’s mind at this point is the fact that previous MOUs have had stated goals that went unmet by the university over the course of the ten-year period.
“The university, in terms of what we’ve asked for, they’ve committed to the lion share of that,” he said. “But the commitment is probably not in the form that we’re comfortable with, given the fact that previous MOUs, there have been goals… in many instances we ended up nowhere near the goals we have set.”
He said, “We need something a little more tangible for the nature of the agreement.”
In her letter to the university, Whitney McDonald laid this out, noting that the LRDP commits to 9050 beds over the course of the LRDP, but does not provide any assurances, including an identifiable and enforceable implementation plan, “that this will actually occur.”
But Mayor Lee is hopeful with the new chancellor that this can happen.
“We are aided by a new chancellor that seems open to working with us,” he said. “There was a period when UC Davis seemed to be a little frozen in place. The new chancellor has come on board and really has plans and is moving the university forward in a variety of areas.”
He said if they can reach agreement with the new chancellor, “I’m confident that, unlike the past… I believe that the current leadership at UC Davis will adhere to the agreement and really work hard to make (it) happen.”
A key question is from the city’s perspective – what do they want other than a firm commitment?
For Brett Lee, he said, “I am open minded about that.” However, he was able to describe what it didn’t look like. He explained, “What it doesn’t look like is here’s a letter, here’s the things we hope to do.”
He said, “It’s much more than that. But what that means, I’m not sure.”
More generally, he wants an agreement that’s more concrete with specific timeframes for check-ins, so that, along the way, the city can tell if they are on track or off track.
Mayor Lee also explained that, sort of like the pass-through agreement, he wanted it set up in such a way that “people are knowledgeable as to what this agreement is and they can reference it.”
The big piece of this is that Mayor Lee believes the university is receptive to this sort of approach.
He noted that part of this is about other university impacts on the community – “it’s not just about housing,” he stated. “There are some other areas of concern.”
In general, the mayor said, “I think we’re in a strong position because we have a good level of knowledge.” He added, “I think we both ultimately want the same things.”
He said, “It doesn’t do any good for students to come to Davis and not have a chance to find an affordable place to live – whether that’s on campus or off campus. It doesn’t do any good for the university to have these negative impacts to make Davis a less desirable place to live or work.
“We’re in it together,” he said.
The biggest hammer that the city owns is the threat of litigation. Ms. McDonald clearly expressed that the city hopes to work with the university.
She said, “We are hopeful that more direct and responsive collaboration can occur now, before any action is taken on the FEIR [Final EIR] or the LRDP.”
However, her letter warns, “Absent such steps, the FEIR will remain legally inadequate, and the City may be forced to pursue other legal remedies to ensure that the environmental impacts of the LRDP are addressed appropriately.”
Brett Lee did not preclude the possibility of litigation. “Litigation in general, typically, is the last resort. It should be,” he said.
He noted that, among those who have sued the city, “I don’t know that that litigation has actually generated anything positive for the city or the plaintiffs.”
The suits delay construction, increase the costs for the developer, the community loses out on benefits from the development, and the remedy is a small tweak to the project design. “What really has been gained?” he said skeptically.
Bottom line, he won’t rule it out, but believes, “The legal path doesn’t seem to benefit anyone, generally speaking, other than the attorneys.”
If the parties are unwilling to work together, “sometimes that might be your only real recourse.” But Mayor Lee doesn’t see that as being the case here. “I am optimistic right now that litigation can be avoided.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting