Council Unanimously Approves Davis Live Apartments, Students Push Back against Litigation

Aaron Latta, speaking on Tuesday, pushed back against pending litigation that was holding up several projects in town.

Given it is a location surrounded by other student housing, even a seven-story proposed project drew no outright opposition at the council meeting on Tuesday – unless of course you are Soluri Meserve, representing, once again, Susan Rainier, wishing to sue.

As the council prepared to support the project, students pushed for more student housing, and pushed back against the litigation holding up the construction of 3000 student units.

Aaron Latta, one of the student housing leaders, said on Tuesday, “We are not there yet, but we are definitely on our way.  We have been able to break through the barrier of enabling actual projects to start to get built this town as well as ensuring that developers see Davis as a possible option to build.”

He said, “So we have places to actually live in this town, and not be stuck living in a lawsuit.”

Mr. Latta concluded, “Finally by approving this project, you continue the standard of ignoring the threats thrown out by legal challenges against these projects that we have seen time and time again.  Now is not the time to surrender to terrorist lawyers.”

Jonathan Minnick, President of the Graduate Student Association, noted that the GSA adopted a resolution supporting the Davis Live Project.  “We view this project as a major step forward in terms of having affordable housing for graduate students,” he said – students who have struggled with housing over the last several years.

Don Gibson, also from GSA, added that, in 2000, about 2.3 people lived in a unit in Davis.  “That has now gone to almost three,” he said.  “Even though the total number of units in the city hasn’t increased, you’re having greater and greater density.  Now it’s regular for students to double up in rooms because of high demand.”

Through the Affordable Housing Task Force’s survey, “we estimate that 19 percent of students have some form of housing insecurity.  This includes not being able to pay rent on time, having to move twice within a year, or having to double up rooms because of financial reasons.”

They also estimate that somewhere between seven and nine percent “face some form of homelessness.”

“That doesn’t mean that nine percent of campus is forced to live in tents,” he explained.  “That means that they were forced to be evicted from a room, they were forced to live in shelter, approximately two percent reported living at some point within the last year in a tent, a car, or a building not made for housing.”

Homelessness, he said, is an issue “we can only solve by building more homes.”

Finally, he said they estimate about 460 mini-dorms exist in the city of Davis.  That’s about 2000 students living in mini-dorms that could be better served with new apartments like this project, he argued.

Jake Sedgley, ASUCD Senator, said, “Whoever is doing all the litigation for these projects, you’re hurting a lot of students.  I do not appreciate that.  I would very much like to meet with you to talk about this.”

While the students clearly put the blame on the litigators for holding up construction of the project, Eileen Samitz supports the project, calling it a unique location near campus and surrounded by amenities.  Nevertheless, she put most of the blame on the university for the housing crisis.

“The main reason (for the lack of housing) is that the UC Davis campus has not provided enough on-campus housing,” Ms. Samitz said on Tuesday.

“I would urge them to be as diligent as well as forthcoming with speaking to the Chancellor and the other administrators about the need for the university to create more on-campus housing as quickly as possible,” she said.  “This is not just the city’s responsibility.”

The council would end up supporting the project – quickly and unanimously.

“I’ve long thought that this had the potential for being a model project in Davis,” Councilmember Will Arnold said.  “Geographic considerations are important and this is the perfect place for something like this… I am incredibly pleased with what’s in front of us today.”

Mayor Pro Tem Gloria Partida said, “I’m glad that we’re doing affordability the way that we are, but I worry a little bit about doing it per bed rather per unit.  I know that this is very helpful for the projects we are currently doing.  But I wonder what this is going to look like when we start doing housing that is more workforce housing and we’re not able to do that that per bed or it doesn’t make sense to do that per bed.”

City Manager Mike Webb interjected, “We are trying to conclude our analysis and study that we had done on our affordable housing policy.  We are currently operating under an interim policy – which is through the end of this calendar year.”

He said that, this fall, they anticipate coming back to council with the range of affordability analyses.

Councilmember Lucas Frerichs called it “a perfect site for infill.”  He noted, “One of the primary reasons we’re not seeing a lot of opposition to a project like this is because of its location.”

He noted, “It’s directly across from campus.  There’s other student housing directly adjacent to it.”  He added, “It serves as a model for the type of infill project that we want to see in Davis, but it also serves as a model for the university.  If there is an opportunity to do a project like this along Russell Boulevard, particularly that is in this case seven stories, that is proposed by the private sector, I think that the university is able to do a project of this density on campus.”

Councilmember Frerichs said that “the issues of housing insecurity are real, they’re real not just in this community, and not just for students.”

Councilmember Dan Carson added, “I think this is one more opportunity for us to not only support a great project, but to again send a signal to UC Davis that we are willing to be a collaborative partner in trying to address the serious needs of student housing in this town.  I hope that they will reciprocate as we work through the issues together on the land plan.”

The council passed the project in two motions that were both unanimous.  Now the question is whether this project becomes the latest in a string of projects to face delays due to litigation.

—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. David Greenwald

      Eight spoke.  I’m not sure there were many more beyond that.  Remember it’s the end of August, most of the students there (as reported) were graduate students.

  1. Moderator

    The Vanguard prefers that comments be serious and thoughtful, intended to expand on the topics of the posts and invite further discussion. To encourage this, we will be removing comments that are simply argumentative or clearly just intended as humor or banter, sometimes immediately and sometimes as a ‘cleanup’ of a thread. The moderator will, if appropriate, leave a generic note about what has been done.
    Our goal is to encourage more community members to participate in the conversations.

  2. Richard McCann

    A valuable CEQA reform would be to require that any litigant to participate in a meaningful way in the preparation of the EIR, and that the litigant include any document or discussion in the suit that is filed. The intent of litigation in CEQA was to act on a check on failing to address any concerns raised during the deliberative process–let’s make that the case.

    1. David Greenwald

      That’s an interesting idea.  I’ve long been torn on this – on the one hand, there are often legitimate environmental concerns, but on the other hand, there is a clear abuse of litigation.

      1. Richard McCann

        The legitimate environmental concerns are to be addressed during the deliberative process. The potential litigants need to develop a record during the deliberative process that fully raises their concerns. A suit should be limited to the issues raised during that process, and the required evidence clearly specified during the process. The litigants can then more fully develop counter evidence in a suit if that is the final outcome.

  3. Tia Will

    I have been either neutral to or in support of all of the recent student housing proposals. I am in support of the one advanced last night. I do not like after the fact litigation as a strategy.

    Having said all of that, I would like the students to think about and acknowledge that, as in the case of Lincoln 40, their gain is the loss of housing for those already on that site, including some seniors with one of very limited income who had lived there for over 30 years. I may have missed it, but I have not heard any of these “social justice warriors” speak out for these displaced individuals.

    1. Ron

      Tia:  “I do not like after the fact litigation as a strategy.”

      Some might view the litigation regarding Trackside in this manner.

      In general, I’m more inclined to view litigation as a much-needed check on local approval processes, to ensure compliance with laws.  (I’ve recently provided two examples in which litigants successfully challenged such approvals.)

      1. David Greenwald

        Ironically it may lead to more housing than before. A few months ago the council suggested they were through approving student housing. However, with L40 and Nishi in litigation, they have now approved DLA without much debate. My guess you will see something similar for other projects that might have undergone greater scrutiny previously.

        1. Ron

          David:  I’m failing to understand your logic, here.  Are you suggesting that the council will become more “careless”, since they’re now counting on lawsuits to oversee their approvals (with the expectation that some of their approvals won’t survive the decision of a court)?

          If so, that seems like a pretty irresponsible path (and one that I doubt the council would pursue).

        2. Mark West

          “My guess you will see something similar for other projects that might have undergone greater scrutiny previously”

          I think we are beginning to see what you might call a ‘scrutiny’ backlash. How has the community gained from the intensive community involvement that we have seen with recent projects? Have any projects been meaningfully improved by the extensive and often repetitive public input at Commission meetings and in front of the Council? All we generally see are greater costs and increasing delays (and litigation), but no significant improvements. I see a growing sentiment to stop enabling this behavior and get back to a more rational approach to development.

          The community would be much better off if we allowed our professional staff and elected representatives (with the help of our Commissions) to do their jobs without the incessant interference by the small but very vocal minority who act as if they deserve a ‘place at the table’ just because they live here (or not).

  4. Todd Edelman

    Speaking more generally, Eric Gudz was clear that we should not be complacent with 15% affordability — this is an interim thing, what’s the plan for a thorough look at this? I also think we need to take into account real rents, rather than/not only market rents, as a way to determine affordability. There was no doubt that Council would support this 5-0; so I’d like to see students focusing more on expanding affordability in a way similar to what I mentioned…

    Related: Mayor Lee got the developer to contribute $10,000 to the City’s rental resources/tenant rights program.

    Curiously, the developer offered to bring back the bicycle parking design fine-tuning to the BTSSC… this seems rather atypical after approval, as there’s no requirement to do so.

  5. Tia Will

    Curiously, the developer offered to bring back the bicycle parking design fine-tuning to the BTSSC… this seems rather atypical after approval, as there’s no requirement to do so.”

    I see this as admirable and a model for how developers should be working collaboratively with stakeholders rather than “curious”. I would like to see this behavior from all developers. Maybe, just maybe this kind of cooperatively might lead to less opposition including law suits.


  6. Matt Williams

    “Don Gibson, also from GSA, added that, in 2000, about 2.3 people lived in a unit in Davis.  “That has now gone to almost three,” he said.  “Even though the total number of units in the city hasn’t increased, you’re having greater and greater density.  Now it’s regular for students to double up in rooms because of high demand.”

    Last week the Vanguard ran a story about a recent proposal for a dormitory project for young workers.  One wonders why that proposal is a good idea, but dormitory living for Sophomores, Juniors and/or Seniors at UCD is seen as bad.

    Dorms are a density of 2.0 per bedroom.  That makes a 3-bedroom unit a density of 6.0 … double the 3.0 that Don Gibson is denouncing.

    Why is a density of 3.0 bad?  Why is a move from 2.3 to 3.0 bad?

    1. David Greenwald

      I think his bigger point is that the impact of lack of housing combined with more students is more mini-dorms.  In general, I think that is a negative.  The impact of that is the increased density.  Also I think most students would probably prefer not to have to share a room with someone else.  I know I would have when I was a student.

      1. Ron

        David:  “Also I think most students would probably prefer not to have to share a room with someone else.  I know I would have when I was a student.”

        Truth be told, neither would I.  (Unless perhaps it was with a “significant other”.)

        Regardless, is that a “crisis”?  Also, doesn’t the majority of recent development approvals consist of double-occupied rooms? Including all of the “Affordable” rooms?

        1. David Greenwald

          It is when you look at the totality of the circumstances.  One factor is the rise of mini-dorms and more doubling up due to lack of space.  But that’s just one variable.

        2. Ron

          Well, here’s Wiki’s definition of a crisis:

          A crisis (from the Greek κρίσις – krisis;[1] plural: “crises”; adjectival form: “critical”) is any event that is going (or is expected) to lead to an unstable and dangerous situation affecting an individual, group, community, or whole society. Crises are deemed to be negative changes in the security, economic, political, societal, or environmental affairs, especially when they occur abruptly, with little or no warning. More loosely, it is a term meaning “a testing time” or an “emergency event”.

        3. Ron

          Well, if it’s a “bad thing” and is a “crisis” – as you claim, then why would the city be approving double-occupied rooms (including ALL of the Affordable rooms)?

        4. Mark West

          “why would the city be approving double-occupied rooms”

          As has been pointed out by others, there is a difference between rooms designed for double (or triple) occupancy and leased that way, and rooms that have been doubled up out of necessity (by the actions of the occupants).

        5. David Greenwald

          Ron: I prefer not to use good and bad, precisely because of the issue you raise.  Why is the city approving double occupancy rooms?  Need for capacity and need for ways to reduce the cost of beds.  Is that good or bad?  It’s less preferrable for a lot of students to have to live with someone else in the room as you and I seem to agree.  On the other hand, if it’s a choice between doubling up and living in a car or library, it is better.  If cost is a factor, that becomes a consideration.  Bottom line: I think the point that Don was making was about the rise of mini-dorms which is a problem for the city in a number of ways, the rest are trade offs between considerations of the lesser of the evils.

        6. Ron

          Mark:  I don’t recall that “difference” being pointed out, on here.  Especially if the former is considered “good”, while the other is considered a “crisis”.

          Also, there’s an unstated assumption that building more of the latter (megadorms), will necessarily result in a reduction of the former (minidorms).  In fact, there’s no evidence to support that.

          Mini-dorms provide greater flexibility, for the occupants.  (No on-site landlord, probably lower rent, ability to pick/choose other occupants/roommates, etc.)

          Regarding scale/impacts on the city as a whole, there’s absolutely no comparison. Megadorms, due to their sheer size (and displacement of other uses for a given property), will have a much larger negative impact on the city, as a whole.

          Again, one might wonder why UCD has apparently figured this out (regarding student housing on campus), but the city hasn’t.

        7. David Greenwald

          “In fact, there’s no evidence to support that.”

          How would there be evidence to support it, we haven’t built new market rate rental housing in over 15 years.

        8. Ron

          David: Assuming that’s correct, how many market-rate apartment complex proposals were there, during that 15-year period (which included a recession)? And, how many proposals did the city “deny”, or were subsequently derailed by court decisions?

          I suspect that the correct answer to all of these questions is “zero”.

        9. Ron

          David: Really?  You’re the one who asked who stated that “we” haven’t built market-rate apartment complexes in 15 years. (And yet, somehow the Vanguard never addresses how many proposals there were during that period – which is likely “none”, primarily due to the recession.)

          And yet, during that time, there apparently were some number of conversions of single-family dwellings to mini-dorms in areas close to the campus (although this hasn’t been definitely shown).  (In any case, this is probably due to the low cost/ease of conversion – which is still applicable.)

          Seems like a pretty flimsy premise to be drastically changing existing zoning/plans, to accommodate megadorms.

        10. Ron

          You still haven’t addressed why you think that double-occupied megadorms is not a “crisis”, while mini-dorms are.  And, you’ve put forth an unsupported argument that the mini-dorm conversion can be stopped, by constructing megadorms.

          Again, mini-dorms will likely remain less-expensive, provide greater flexibility for occupants (including the ability to pick/choose roommates), no on-site landlord, etc. (And, no doubt there’s some owners who are willing to convert their properties for such uses.)

          Bottom line is that properties near campus are not likely to remain as single-family housing, in the long-term. (In fact, I understand there’s another proposal to create a “medium-sized” dorm, in a property near Russell. I don’t know if that involves demolition of an existing building.)

          Please remind me again, regarding the reason that double-occupied rooms are not a crisis (in megadorms), but are a crisis in mini-dorms.

        11. David Greenwald

          Actually, I’m not sure I’ve stated that.  I do believe the best way to address both problems is through additional capacity.  I do believe that litigation is making it more difficult not to mention expensive to do so.

        12. Ron

          You’re the one who said that students don’t like double-occupied rooms. I then asked why you considered that to be a “crisis”, to which you still haven’t responded. Again, the “capacity” that is being proposed/approved is primarily double-occupied (including ALL of the Affordable rooms).

          You cannot logically claim that the “crisis” will be solved, by proposals which continue the “crisis”.

        13. Ron

          The reason that students are willing to tolerate double-occupancy is likely due to cost of rent.  The rent that developers charge (some of whom are already large-scale landlords) is not likely to drop as a result of the recent approvals.  (That would not be in the developers’ interests, to do so.)

          And again, mini-dorms are likely to remain the “cheapest” of them all (not to mention providing greater flexibility, ability to choose roommates, etc.). At some point, there won’t be any single-family-occupied dwellings very near UCD, regardless of megadorm approvals (or even what’s built on campus).

        14. David Greenwald

          It’s all a symptom of the same problem – cost, mini-dorm, double occupancy rooms, housing insecurity, student homelessness – lack of capacity.  That’s the crisis.  Everything else is either obfuscation or an attempt to distract from the main issue.

        15. Ron

          I somewhat agree.  However, this is the reason that (in the absence of an agreement with UCD), this will continue. Note again that much of the enrollment growth is a result of UCD’s unilateral decision to pursue more students (including non-resident students, who for some reason are willing to pay UCD “big bucks” to attend).

          And, some students are likely making choices to attend UCD, when other lower-cost opportunities are available to them. (Including attending community colleges for the first couple of years.)

          Attending UCD is a voluntary decision, by young people who will (hopefully/probably) make a lot more money in future years.  Some other folks (who aren’t fortunate enough to be able to attend UCD) may not have the same opportunities.

        16. Ron

          In a larger sense (beyond student housing), there will always be a “crisis” for those priced out of a given housing market.  Unless they obtain Affordable housing, rent control, an increase in wages, or move to an area where income is relatively aligned with the cost of housing.

          Or, they can wait until the inevitable housing crash (but they might not have jobs/income, at that point).

          As a side note, I just read an article stating that President Carter lives in a house appraised at $167,000 that he previously built, himself (and that he shops at the local “dollar store”).

          (The house, as well as the former president both looked pretty good.)


        17. Ron

          Actually, the article states “assessed” value.  But, since Georgia doesn’t have Proposition 13, I’m assuming there’s some relationship between assessed and appraised value.

          Whatever it is, Georgia apparently has some relatively “cheap livin”.

          Of course, Atlanta is essentially the definition of sprawl, from what I’ve heard. (Hey, might there be a relationship between sprawl and cheap housing? Oh, wait – maybe not – if you look at Los Angeles.)

      2. Matt Williams

        David Greenwald said … “I think most students would probably prefer not to have to share a room with someone else.  I know I would have when I was a student.”

        Welcome to the generation of “the entitled.”  I would prefer to live in a Manhattan penthouse looking out over Central Park.  However, the fact that I prefer that is both unrealistic and fiscally irresponsible.

        The fact that many of the students who want a single room to themselves also prefer to have the community to pick up a substantial chunk of their monthly rent through affordability subsidies, is simply doubling down on their sense of entitlement.

        So I ask again … Why is a density of 3.0 bad?  Why is a move from 2.3 to 3.0 bad?  Don should have a ready answer to those two very fundamental questions at his fingertips.  Instead all he has are crickets.

        1. David Greenwald

          Entitled generation?  Why the need for the shot, both Ron and I both stated we would not have wanted to have shared a bedroom in college with someone.  How is that a generational issue?

          You’re the one using good/ bad.  I’ve pretty much laid out my thinking here, not sure what else I can say.

        2. Matt Williams

          It is not a shot.  It is a reality.

          So I ask again … Why is a density of 3.0 bad? Why is a move from 2.3 to 3.0 bad?

          When you say “Well that’s the thing, with enough added capacity, a lot of those double rooms won’t be double anymore.” Why is not having double rooms be double preferable to having them be double?

  7. Matt Williams

    Mark West said … “As has been pointed out by others, there is a difference between rooms designed for double (or triple) occupancy and leased that way, and rooms that have been doubled up out of necessity (by the actions of the occupants).”

    Mark, what is that difference?  As Planning Commission Chair Rob Hoffman has stated from the dais, in Davis the only way that we are going to achieve affordability is through “Affordability by Size.”  Rob prefaced that remark by stating that Affordability by Design is a myth.  he explained that in Davis the cost per square foot of rental construction is going to be fundamentally the same regardless of the design.  So, if every square foot costs (for example) $350, the only way the total cost of an apartment will come down is by reducing the number of square feet.

    Using the same number of square feet for two residents rather than one resident will not reduce the total cost of building the apartment, but it clearly will reduce the per resident cost.

    1. Jim Hoch

      I thought reducing the area of living spaces was part of “Affordability by Design”? Does the PC Chair think it means something else? 350 or even 250 square foot studios with abbreviated kitchens are more affordable than 600 square foot places.

      1. Matt Williams

        Jim, his point was that that is not design.  It is simply downsizing.  Call a spade a spade.  Don’t try and pass it off as something that it is not.

  8. Jim Frame

    Mark, what is that difference?

    Until Mark chimes in, I’ll throw in my own 2 cents on the matter:  personal living space is a human need (note that while I’m not a psychologist, I *am* a fully-qualified human).  There are limits on the extent to which personal living space can be reduced without inducing a level of stress that impacts work or academic performance and general well-being.  Those limits will vary person-to-person, but I’m convinced that they exist.

    If you take a room designed to provide a modest amount of personal space to 2 residents and house 3 in it instead, you risk crossing that threshold.  When we moved my son into his freshman dorm at UCSD, I was a bit taken aback at how little space he had.  It was a 1960s-era double room that had been converted to a triple.  Was there enough room for 3 to live reasonably?  Probably.  My son and one of his roomates are doing well; the third roomie struggled academically, though he’s still enrolled.  I can’t lay the blame on lack of space, but I can’t say it wasn’t a contributing factor, either.

    My point is that it’s important to design habitable spaces for their intended use.  I’m sure there are studies in the industry that provide metrics for this, and I’m not suggesting that any planned housing in Davis is going too far in this regard.  But there are limits, and they need to be respected.

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