How Will the City Respond to the LRDP? Mayor Lee Discusses Next Steps

Mayor Brett Lee

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.”

Mayor Brett Lee further explained that the city is hoping to enter into negotiations with the university.  But, “I don’t have a pre-defined template, this is what an agreement looks like.”

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

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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. Ron

    From article:  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.”

    Well, try telling that to the city of Santa Cruz:

    UCSC agrees that under the 2005 LRDP new “average daily trips” (ADTs) to the main campus will be limited to 3,900 and to pay the City approximately $1.5 million (based on a fee of $366/new trip, equal to fee paid by private developers). UCSC will also pay city approximately $420,000 in ADT fees related to Delaware Avenue offices.

    Compensation for impacts generated by UCD as this is probably far more important to the city of Davis as a whole, compared to adding more than 9,000 additional housing units on campus for 5,000 more students – in addition to the thousands of student housing units approved by the city of Davis.

    It ain’t just about student housing, despite what the Vanguard solely focuses on. It’s about the impacts created by UCD.

      1. Ron

        I don’t think that the ballot initiative had anything to do with the $ reimbursement.

        I’m assuming that Santa Cruz has already received this $ reimbursement, as well as some other benefits mentioned in the agreement.

        It is highly unlikely that any university would agree to something like this, in the absence of a legal challenge.

        In general, legal actions can yield substantial benefits. Can’t imagine why anyone would want to downplay that possibility.

        1. David Greenwald

          I wasn’t referring to that.  My point is that the agreement did not solve the problem.  It may well have made it worse.  The other thing to bear in mind, UCSC doesn’t have the easy expansion access that UCD does to a place like Sacramento.

        2. Ron

          “Shortly after the last long-range plan was approved, Santa Cruz joined with a community group in suing the university over the plan’s environmental study, alleging its results were incomplete. A subsequent settlement agreement between the city and university, signed in 2008, included specific additional mitigation measures related to issues such as housing, traffic, water use and other enrollment growth impacts. Those conditions expire in 2020.”

          Since those conditions expire in 2020, there’s no reason to expect that it would address conditions beyond that point. As noted in the article, the recent ballot initiative was the city’s attempt to seek public input, beyond 2020.

          It is not a sign of a “failure” of the legal agreement.


  2. Howard P

    I don’t think … I’m assuming … Can’t imagine why…


    … legal actions can yield substantial benefits…

    Yes, for the attorneys… they always get their “cut” regardless of the outcome of the lawsuit… great work, if you can find it…

    1. Ron

      Apparently, you didn’t read (either) the summary of the agreement, or the article I cited above.  Much like David, in (incorrectly) implying that the agreement didn’t work.

      You’d think that the Vanguard would be interested in accurately reporting these issues, instead of learning about them from someone like me (who just happened to find that article, just now).

      Payments to attorneys are not discussed in the summary below, so we don’t know if there were additional payments to account for that.  The only payments that are discussed are those to the city, itself.

      You (or others) may not “like” legal actions (for some unexplained reason), but that’s different than (incorrectly) stating that they doesn’t work (or speculating about payments to attorneys, which are not known).


      1. David Greenwald

        I have read it… multiple times.

        So let me ask you:

        1. What sense do you believe it is working?

        2. If it is working why the need for the ballot initiative?

        3.  Do you believe that there are downside risks to litigation?

        1. Ron

          1.  The agreement was made and is legally binding.  The ballot initiative deals with concerns AFTER the agreement expires.  There are no signs (that I’ve seen) that the agreement has been breached in any way.

          2.  See #1, above.

          3.  Possibly.  Do you believe that there are definite (non-theoretical) upsides – such as those discussed in the summary, below?

        2. David Greenwald

          I didn’t say the agreement was breeched, but clearly it didn’t solve the problem.   See my point below, litigation at this point would also act to delay the construction of on-campus housing.  Ironically that would likely create more pressure to build more housing in town.  That would be ironic.

      2. David Greenwald

        Also to the point that Brett made, if you litigate this at the EIR stage, they don’t get a certified EIR, it would delay building new student housing on campus by a matter of a few years.  Is that what you want?

        1. Ron

          I don’t know if your statement is entirely accurate.

          In any case, the city has already approved plans to accommodate the majority of the additional 5,000 students, as noted in my first comment above.  Also, I understand that UCD is already in the process of expanding student housing under the existing LRDP.  So, it appears that the actual enrollment increase will be accommodated, regardless.

          I understand that the housing that you’re referring to is primarily to deal with the backlog that’s resulted from past failed agreements, with UCD.

          Do you think it’s a good idea to continue to deal with UCD the same way that’s been done in the past (to obtain short-term relief)? How has that been working out?

          Also, do you think there’s other issues to deal with, besides building student housing?  And, do you think UCD will agree to address those issues, without a legal challenge?

          Are you more interested in short-term solutions (that are limited in scope), or long-term (more comprehensive) solutions for the benefit of the city as a whole?

        2. Ron

          Well, your previously-stated belief is that those developments will simply be delayed, by about a year.

          Regardless, UCD could modify their proposal (and address impacts), if it chose to do so. But, it does not seem likely.

        3. David Greenwald

          A year is probably optimistic.  18 months is what it took to settle Nishi 1 with no appeal.  So you’re looking at delaying the additions to say West Village by 18 months, let’s say, so they start in 2020 rather than this year, and don’t open until 2023 or 2024.  You really want that?  Imagine the pressure for new student housing in Davis building over the next five years.

        4. David Greenwald

          Are you going to admit that I have a point here, that litigation could be self-defeating in that it delays by several years the very housing on campus that you have been demanding for at least three years?  You argue it’s in the long-term interest of the city?  Well what if we end up losing the litigation battle?  Then we’ve delayed desperately needed housing and got nothing to show for it.  Moreover, it’s not your skin in this game anyway, you’re not a student renter.

        5. Ron

          You’re stating that the city might lose the legal decision (if it gets that far, without an agreement) and that it will delay the proposals for the campus. 

          And, that the city may also fail to procure other off-campus mitigations, to address traffic and other impacts generated by UCD.

          Yes – all of that is a possibility. Of course, we’ll never know, unless the city tries.

          In the meantime, the city has already approved developments to handle the majority of the increased enrollment, regardless.

        6. David Greenwald

          I did state that, but my main point is that the delay in on-campus housing is detrimental to the students and the community and ironically could lead to more housing in the city to accommodate the delays in housing on campus.

          “In the meantime, the city has already approved developments to handle the majority of the increased enrollment, regardless.”

          That’s disingenuous. The city has approved around 4500 beds. The university is planning on 9000.

          We can explore if you’d like the implications of this, but your argument falls apart at this point.

        7. Ron

          The planned increase in enrollment is only about 5,000.

          Your count of 4,500 approved beds in the city apparently does not include Davis Live, Plaza 2555, and University Mall.  Regardless of how those developments are configured, many more students (in addition to the 4,500 approved beds that you mentioned) will be housed by those developments.  However, they can certainly be designed in a way that would not appeal to non-student renters, which you usually ignore.

          1. David Greenwald

            “Your count of 4,500 approved beds in the city apparently does not include Davis Live, Plaza 2555, and University Mall.”

            Math is your friend…

            Nishi – 2200
            Sterling – 540
            Lincoln – 700
            Davis Live – 440

            So just those four are about 3900.
            4500 is my estimate to include PLaza 2555 and UMall.

        8. David Greenwald

          Wow, you’ve not only lost the argument here, you’re conceding the war as well.  You’ve just contradicted you’re entire raizon d’etre in all this.  If that’s the case, why the push for 100/50 on campus if the city could solve the problem by simply adding 4500 beds in town. Amazing. I’ll be interested to see how you walk this one back or whether you double down.

        9. Ron

          That statement (also) has no relationship to mine.

          You’ve been asking me a lot of questions (which I’ve answered), but haven’t really responded to my questions, for you (such as those contained within my 7:34 p.m, comment).

        10. David Greenwald

          Not only is your math wrong (4500 beds includes all of those projects), but 3500 of those beds are or likely will be wrapped up in the same litigation problem as your advocating for wit hthe university, thus will be delayed in being built.

        11. Howard P

          From Ron’s 7:34 post, in part,:

          I don’t know if your statement is entirely accurate.

          I KNOW this, you posted:

          Your count of 4,500 approved beds in the city apparently does not include Davis Live, Plaza 2555, and University Mall.

          Davis Live has had a recommendation (from PC) for approval, but is not “approved” by CC (you believe in the tail wagging the dog?)

          Plaza 2555 has no approvals to date… same with the U-Mall proposal…

          Ignorance or prevarication?  Has to be one of the two…

          Two other “approved projects” have been part of litigation still pending, and Davis Live may well be the third, based on comments made @ PC meeting last night…

        12. Ron

          Just saw your clarification regarding University Mall and Plaza 2555.

          Thanks.  (I had recalled something different from a previous conversation, and did not examine the breakdown.)

          So, approximately 4,500 beds for a 5,000 increase in student enrollments (even if those developments are designed in a manner that would appeal to a broader population). (And, not including what UCD is constructing, under the current LRDP.)

          Regarding “accuracy”, that’s not what I was referring to.

        13. Ron

          As a side note, the tone is becoming condescending on here (and some comments are misrepresenting what I’ve noted), and it’s now spreading to other commenters. Tone is generally established at the top of an organization, including blogs.

          Please note that I’ve tried to maintain a respectful tone, and would appreciate it if others do the same.

        14. Howard P

          Ron, your 8:56 post…

          In reality, “NO”…  UC would have to be sued separately on that… no “permits” are required…

          Legal beagles in the audience could elaborate better than moi.

          Likely they could increase enrollment, and claim they are stymied as to building facilities by the lawsuit(s)…

        15. Ron

          Howard:  Thank you.  I would be interested in knowing more about the possibility (regarding potential impacts on plans to increase enrollment).

          Based upon his comments above, I’m guessing that David might have became frustrated enough in these communications to write an entire article in response, tomorrow.  He obviously has strong feelings, regarding the issue.

          Hope I’m wrong, as I don’t want to rehash all of this again. Hopefully, he’ll find something else to rehash.

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