This week, coming out of closed session, Mayor Brett Lee announced an agreement between the city of Davis, Yolo County and UC Davis to extend the deadline for the EIR response regarding the Long Range Development Plan (LRDP), in order to hold a mediation session.
As I have stated in other columns, I believe that the 9050 beds proposed by UC Davis is reasonable. But I agree with the city that the concern over the timing and assurances to whether that housing is built is legitimate – particularly in light of past practices by the university.
At the same time, I believe a protracted legal dispute between the city and the university is not in the best interest of either entity. From my perspective, any process that leads to delays in building much-needed housing is a negative impact. Moreover, I believe the city needs to build its relationship with the university, rather than further strain it.
The city has laid out a number of mitigations it seeks (see article here: https://www.davisvanguard.org/2018/05/city-expresses-concerns-campus-housing-plan-lrdp-response-letter/) , including compensation asks for direct and indirect impacts of students on city infrastructure and services, lost property tax revenue, and other impacts.
Sounds good. But what is that? Is it a binding agreement? Is it is a specific outcome? Is it a process?
For me, rather than an outcome-based approach, we should be looking at the mediation process as a process-based approach. The city and university should come together to reach some sort of agreement that both sides can live with. Therefore I don’t believe we should be focused on whether the city gets agreement on these mitigation measures, but rather we should allow the process to play out and let the chips fall where they may.
But that discussion also got me thinking – maybe the best interest of the community is a bigger picture.
A key question is what is in the best long-term interest of the community. For some that will be the ability of the university to provide housing for its projected growth without pressuring the city to grow as well. For me, that is too parochial a view and we lose a lot of great opportunities focused solely on housing and growth.
Moreover, I believe that there are bigger opportunities for the city to prosper by forging a stronger relationship with the university and I believe that battling over land use issues and the number of student apartments we build is counter-productive to that big picture vision.
So here is a simple view of three things that I believe are in the best interest of this community.
First of all – a thriving world class university.
Cambridge, New Haven, Palo Alto, Berkeley, Davis – which of these things do not belong? Don’t get me wrong, Davis is a great place and UC Davis is a very good university, but you quickly get the picture here.
The best thing for our community is to be attached to an elite university. I have said this before, but if you look at the landscape for the University of California system, the two flagship campuses are UC Berkeley and UCLA. Both of those are largely landlocked and also contained in heavily developed metropolitan areas.
UC Davis has room to grow on campus and, as we have seen with the UC Davis Medical Center and now Aggie Square, Sacramento is a nearby population and economic center that makes UC Davis an ideal university for growth in the 21st Century.
We need to take advantage of that potential to build our own brand, because we share a namesake with this university.
Second of all – good relations with UC Davis.
Every campaign for city council seems to have within it a plank that says we need better relations with the university. Sometimes the candidate lays out a vision for what that looks like, but other times, they simply state it as an enduring need.
We talk about this every two years but then we have discussions about suing the university. This point has been made before, but the reality is that things like the fight over West Village have badly damaged the relationship between the city and university in ways that I did not fully appreciate until I had some recent conversations.
We can go head to head against the university on a host of issues, attempt mitigation fees, take them to court if we have to. More and more they are going to view us as the little sister and push their fortunes with Sacramento and their willing partner, Darrell Steinberg.
And then we wonder why the UCD Med Center and Aggie Square go to Sacramento rather than Davis.
Building a relationship with the university and creating dialogue is the best way forward and thus, I believe, in the best long-term interest of this community.
Third of all – economic development.
Point one is really about building up the university. Point two is about improving our relationship. Point three is about getting something tangible out of points 1 and 2.
As we have laid out in these columns numerous times – we have a revenue problem in this community. We see it with our schools and we see it as we attempt to get money for things as basic as infrastructure.
We need to figure out how to get revenue for this community and I believe that 1 plus 2 = 3.
A thriving university combined with good relations with UC Davis will bring us economic development and jobs and revenue.
If we can do that we can figure out things like EIRs, impacts on roads and demands for housing. If we can’t solve our revenue problem long term, the rest isn’t going to matter.
We get caught up in the little picture – will UC Davis provide 9000 or 10,000 beds? Are we going to approve three or four apartment complexes? The big picture is we need revenue to survive and thrive and, along those lines, we should re-think our strategy.
The other point is that by building more housing on campus and by us building more housing near campus, we actually mitigate a lot of the impacts of growth. Transportation issues decrease when you locate housing near campus. Traffic impacts decrease when you locate housing near campus. Environmental impacts decrease when you locate housing near campus.
We need to start thinking longer term here. What we need above most else at this point is more diverse and more stable forms of revenue to keep this city going. I believe that the best way to do that is to help build up the university and take advantage of tech transfer and economic development.
Most importantly, if we are smart about how we proceed, we can do this while maintaining the many positive aspects of this community. If we fail, our community is going to be inalterably changed – for the worse.
—David M. Greenwald reporting