Students Push Back against Litigation Holding Up Housing Projects

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

We have seen larger crowds of students in support of housing projects.  At the Vanguard Student Housing Townhall Meeting, we had 67 students sign in.  On Tuesday, only eight students spoke.  But it was also August 28 – nearly a full month before classes begin (September 26).

The students who did speak – all eight of them – were strongly in support of the Davis Live apartment project, but also and perhaps more importantly started pushing back on current and proposed litigation.  Letters from Susan Rainier and the Soluri Meserve law firm – both of whom are behind the Nishi and Lincoln40 CEQA suits – clearly are threatening to add Davis Live to the long and growing list of projects held up by litigation.

The Thomas Law Group, representing the applicants, pushed back on the latest comment letter by Soluri Meserve on behalf of Susan Rainier.

In response to the claim by Ms. Rainier that the “the project does not qualify for the Transit Priority project exemption because its units are not designed for multi-person families,” the lawyers note that the Public Resources Code section 21155.1 does not define “family.”

They respond, “The Rainier Comment Letter suggests that the City should resort to the ‘Oxford English Dictionary’ as modified by its assertion that ‘of course, single parents would similarly fall under “family”‘ though not covered by the dictionary definition.”

In short, they do not believe that “a single person” meets “the definition of family.”  The Thomas Law Group pushes back: “The comment is incorrect. There is no question that the state’s definition of ‘family’ within the context of affordable housing laws covers single individuals, whether a single senior citizen or a student.”

On Tuesday, students fed up with housing insecurity pushed back.

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.”

In his comments, Aaron Latta, who has emerged as a leader in the fight for student housing, said on Tuesday that he supports the Davis Live project: “So we have places to actually live in this town, and not be stuck living in a lawsuit.”

He added, “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.”

The Vanguard confirmed that the following projects, Trackside, Nishi and Lincoln40, all continue to face litigation.

Kemble Pope of Trackside told the Vanguard that their response brief to the Old East Davis Neighborhood Association, represented by Don Mooney, was due on September 11 with a late October court date that could resolve their matter.

Tim Ruff of Nishi said that the plaintiffs are currently compiling the record, and once they agree upon the record, the plaintiffs would file a brief to which the defendants would respond.  He believes the case may be heard in court in the spring of 2019, but that is tentative right now.

One matter that has apparently resolved is the suit against the Hyatt House, along Cowell Boulevard.  This was confirmed by city manager Mike Webb, although the city is not a party to that suit.  Guneet Bajwa of Presidio, Inc. has not responded to a message for details.

Interesting to note that Susan Rainier, the plaintiff in the three most recent cases, is an architect by trade.  In fact, she was the architect and project manager on the Mondavi Center.

A reader pulled up an article, originally published in 2003, that quoted Ms. Rainier on that project.

“As work went down to the wire on the Robert and Margrit Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts, architect Susan Rainier couldn’t help but imagine the relief she’d feel when it was over, at long last.”

“I’m just hoping I don’t start bawling,” said Ms. Rainier, project manager for UC Davis. “There’s been so many sleepless nights for me. I wondered if I’d even live to see the opening.”

Ms. Rainier, who is now an advocate for more student housing on campus, said that “the project’s biggest obstacle was the university-required delivery method: a six-week, lump-sum bidding process.”

The article also noted: “As work came to a close, Rainier—whose office fielded some 3,000 requests for information and answers from subcontractors—said she would not trade the experience, her first in theaters, after projects like gymnasiums and skyscrapers.

“For her, working on the center included everything from a one-week theater design course at Harvard to giving what felt like hundreds of tours she hadn’t known were part of her job description. ‘It’s been an education,’ she said.”

In her comments on Lincoln40, she wrote, “How can it be that the EIR does not give the University as the best alternative site? They have plenty of land and need to step up and do what other UCs have done by building affordable student housing on their land.”

Later she would add: “Housing for families, workers and seniors are needed yet none of those groups are people (who) will want to live there or pay unreasonably high rents for what it is, which is luxury student targeted housing, and where it is, one of the most heavily traffic impacted and toxic areas of Davis.”

She concluded at this point: “EIR needs to be amended to correct the flawed alternative conclusion of the superior alternative.  On campus is the obvious superior alternative.”

She then added further, “City should really be also providing affordable housing for all, not just focusing on UCD’s housing needs.  UCD is not stepping up to provide nearly enough for its growth.

“UC Davis needs to provide far more affordable student housing on their campus with a minimum of 50% of their total campus student population like the other UC’s.”

In the meantime, the students view her efforts as causing more increases to rental prices and more students to have to live in housing insecurity.

—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. Matt Williams

    Perhaps there is a message here … zero comments in this article 36 hours after publication.  Are the readers of the Vanguard tired of reading variations of the same article day after day after day after day?

    1. Howard P

      Perhaps the title is misleading… students are not in a position to “push back” against malevolent, frivolous litigation… brought by an architect for the Mondavi… a “development” project… could have been student housing on that site… hypocrite?  Don’t know, won’t judge…

      If, in the administrative record, the litigant did not raise legitimate issues during the approval process, and exhaust their administrative remedies… guess what?  Likelihood of getting a favorable judgement is near zero in a competent court… (but, there are incompetent courts)… hence, frivolous… the litigant should be “shunned” IMO, and her company and her attorneys be boycotted… but just my opinion.

      In the meantime, City GF(?) and applicant funds will go down the privy… with no TP…

      So, Matt, I noticed the same thing, but have a somewhat different “take-away”…

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