Just when it appeared that an agreement between the city, county and university would pave the way for as many as 5200 beds by 2023 to be built on campus, a California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) suit, filed by American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 3299 and Kelly Klein, a UC Davis grounds equipment operator, threatens to delay housing plans that would greatly expand West Village and Orchard Park.
The parties, who filed in Alameda County last week, are represented by Richard Drury and Rebecca L. Davis of Lozeau Drury LLP in Oakland.
The petitioners argue that the LRDP (Long Range Development Plan) action violated CEQA: “Respondent prejudicially abused its discretion and failed to proceed in the manner required by law by certifying an EIR that did not provide adequate analysis of, or identify adequate mitigation measures for, individual and cumulative impacts, including but not limited to impacts on agricultural resources, air quality, biological resources, greenhouse gas emissions, noise, traffic, housing and population, and aesthetics. The EIR also fails to provide a CEQA-compliant project description, alternatives analysis, or statement of overriding considerations.”
They continue: “By relying on the EIR’s flawed analysis of the 2018 LRDP at the programmatic level (Volume 1), and approving the LRDP and certifying the Final EIR, Respondent prejudicially abused its discretion because its decision is not supported by substantial evidence and because it failed to proceed in a manner required by law…”
With regard to agricultural resources, for example, “The EIR fails to adequately disclose, evaluate, and mitigate the Project’s substantial adverse impact with respect to agricultural resources, and its conclusions are not supported by substantial evidence…” The complaint charges, “The EIR fails to demonstrate that additional measures to mitigate significant agricultural impacts are infeasible.”
On air quality, “The EIR fails to adequately disclose, evaluate, and mitigate the Project’s substantial adverse impact with respect to air quality, and its conclusions are not supported by substantial evidence…”
On the GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions, the petitioners claim “the EIR attempts to rely on projects that are only being ‘consider[ ed]’ and that are still ‘subject to financial feasibility and/or technical viability.’”
They argue: “Together, these projects constitute a majority of the proposed GHG reductions. Without these projects, the 2018 LRDP would be potentially inconsistent with applicable state and UC goals and a potentially significant impact would occur.”
On traffic, they argue that the methodology “violates CEQA because it analyzes a hypothetical future baseline only. By doing so, the EIR neglects to inform the public and decision makers explicitly of any operational impacts that could occur during the first 12 years of operation.”
They continue: “The EIR states that the LRDP will contribute to already unacceptable traffic conditions on the Interstate-80. In an attempt to mitigate these significant impacts, a transportation demand management strategy is proposed. But this mitigation is impermissibly deferred because no implementation schedule is provided, nor are any specific measures, consultation requirements, or any other measure that would ensure the University mitigates these impacts to the extent feasible.”
UC Davis responded: ““We are perplexed and profoundly disappointed by AFSCME’s California Environmental Quality Act lawsuit related to the UC Davis Long Range Development Plan. We have previously made a series of generous offers to AFSCME that would have benefited UC Davis’ represented service workers and enabled UC Davis’ housing projects to move forward.
“Despite agreement that more student housing is a benefit to all, AFSCME’s suit will likely prevent UC Davis from building affordable student housing in the near term.”
While CEQA appears to be the mechanism, the environmental impacts may be secondary to other concerns.
For instance, the petition notes: “The EIR fails to identify and mitigate a potentially significant conflict with UC policies related to employee commuting.” Here they point out that a mandatory UC policy requires that by 2025, single-occupancy vehicles commute rates be reduced by 10 percent compared with the baseline. But the EIR fails to provide analysis for how this can be achievement.
Moreover, it fails to analyze the impact of UC Davis’ reliance on non-UC employees in the future, which they say will be doubled over the current planning period, as “part of an increasing reliance on public-private partnership projects.”
They point out: “Non-UC staff are not provided housing opportunities on the UC Davis campus, are not paid living wages, and are not provided the public transportation subsidies that are provided to University employees. The State Auditor found that outsourced workers make up to $8.50 per hour less than UC workers performing the same work.”
They also point to flaws in the EIR in that the amount of housing proposed “is insufficient to meet the needs of students and staff resulting from increased enrollment at UC Davis.”
While that point is a bit questionable as the LRDP goes over and above providing housing for all new student enrollment, they do note that “UC Davis has routinely underestimated planned enrollment, leading to the current imbalance in student housing, and it again does so in the 2018 LRDP. A higher rate of enrollment growth should be anticipated based on past enrollment growth rates in order to capture the impacts of campus expansion.”
They continue: “Underestimating projected growth means that the EIR is not analyzing the full extent of the environmental impacts that are reasonably certain to occur in the future. In particular, when student and staff enrollment exceeds projections, more students and staff will be required to live off-campus. Given the dismal rental market in Davis, this means more students and staff will be required to commute longer distances, resulting in greater VMTs and in turn GHG emissions. The EIR fails to analyze and mitigate this impact.”
Still, if that is a reasonable concern, stopping the building of new housing figures to make it worse. Coupled with litigation delaying the building of Nishi and Lincoln40, if anything, this litigation will encourage more off-campus housing, not reduce it.
—David M. Greenwald reporting