CEQA Suit Filed by Unions Threatens to Halt Student Housing at West Village and Orchard Park

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

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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. Don Shor

    I think we need an ongoing spreadsheet that shows all the lawsuits filed, past and present, against Davis-area development projects, their claims and who the litigants are.

    1. Rik Keller

      I think we need an ongoing spreadsheet that shows all of the claims made by development projects in their marketing/campaigns and what their proposals actually provided. This could be made even more interesting by cross-referencing all of the statements made by Davis Vanguard staff that are a repeat of or which show up in developer arguments for their projects. This could be made yet even more interesting by cross-referencing Davis Vanguard ad and donation revenue to these projects.

      1. Rik Keller

        [what happened to all of the embarrassing commentary by Don Schor  talking about the definition of “staff”? Don’t overthink it. Just sub in “writer” or “DG” ]

        1. Don Shor

          I made a joke and it was getting off topic. But I want to clarify, as others seem to be confused about this: I am not on the Vanguard board. I am not an employee of the Vanguard. I don’t know what is going to be posted until it appears. And I don’t have any more input over Vanguard editorial content than any of you do. I am the volunteer moderator.

  2. Matt Williams

    Is there anything surprising in this lawsuit . . . other than the fact that the filing parties are ones that have not been heard from in any of the prior lawsuits?

    Regarding Don and David’s suggestion, perhaps a good place to start would be a simple listing of the lawsuits and near-lawsuits themselves. Does that list start with the original West Village access to Russell Boulevard action(s), or does the list go even further back than that?

    1. Howard P

      Goes back a bit before that, but, as I recall, only ~ 5 years previous to West Village access… blanking on details…

      Citizens’ initiative on Wildhorse original approvals… failed…

      Thinking, citizens’ initiative on Mace Ranch Park original approvals… failed…

      No lawsuits that I’m aware of…

      Lawsuits that have been filed (Davis) have focused on “leverage”/blackmail/delay motivations, as I recall… leverage included threat of delay… can’t recall a single one where the filing made it to adjudication, AND was upheld in a court of law… in some, plaintiffs were “bought off”, either by financial means, or “concessions”… 90% confidence level…

      Few were CEQA-based… IMO, those that were, violated the spirit and the provisions of CEQA… CEQA good… perversions, bad…

    1. Howard P

      Just like the CSTA/DTA disapproves (and requires DJUSD) to hire only teachers who belong/will belong, to the DTA, pay full dues, and if the teachers don’t, they have to pay “agency fees” (both going not just locally, but Statewide) that come very close to equalling union membership… and have to exclude themselves from full dues each year of employment… another “dark underbelly” that will not be acknowledged, reported on, in this venue.  Probably, ever.

  3. Ken A

    It currently costs well over $50K/year for a group of four friends to rent a 2 bedroom apartment on campus with NO meal plan (see link below and add the cost for summer):


    Just think what the cost would be if EVERY janitor, gardener and other person working on the UC campus was getting union wages and a pension.

    The high cost of on campus housing is already getting a lot of parents to buy homes and condos in town and if the costs get higher it will push more people to buy in town (adding to the number of “mini-dorms”)…

    1. Rik Keller

      To expand that data and provide a comparison of rental rates…

      Quik calcs for one student in a double-occupancy bedroom UC Davis student housing apartment: at $10,633.45 for the Fall, Winter, and Spring quarters, and then assuming the Summer quarter at the same rate as Winter/Spring, that would be $14,088/year = $1,174/month per bed for double-occupancy bedroom

      -single-occupancy bedroom in a UC Davis student apartment = $1,368/month per bed for single-occupancy bedroom

      Comparison to projected rates for the Nishi project. A bit more affordable rent, but what amenities are provided on-campus that are not provided at Nishi: utilities, internet, furnishings, etc.?

      – Double-occupancy market-rate bedrooms (15% of market-rate units): $1,700/month = $850/month per bed for double-occupancy bedroom
         – Single-occupancy market-rate bedrooms (85% of market-rate units): $1,000/month per bed
      for single-occupancy bedroom

      And a comparison to median 2017 Davis rental rates for unit leases (source: BAE study). Far more affordable, but, depending on location, paying more for utilities, internet, transportation, etc. (Also, have to put down a security deposit and other hassles).

      – $1,660 for 2-bedroom units = $830 per bedroom = $415/month per bed for double-occupancy bedroom
      – $2,270 for 3-bedroom units = $757 per bedroom = $379/month per bed for double-occupancy bedroom
      – $2,858 for 4-bedroom units = $715 per bedroom = $358/month per bed for double-occupancy bedroom

      1. Howard P

        Interesting… adjusted for inflation, the two years I was in a double occupancy bedroom in a Davis apt. (mid 70’s), tells me that I either met that cost, or was slightly ‘gouged’…  as to the ‘median’…

        The apartments were on Anderson… one abutting U-Mall, the other just south of Covell…

        Then I remember that in 1980, bought a 3-BR,2 BA house in Davis… $71 k.  With no major upgrades, sold it three years ago for ~$425,000…

        No opinion as to whether rental rates, and purchase rate track together by %-age….

        1. Ken A

          In the early 80’s [moderator: edited] my sister (like many in her dorm) moved across the street to the Sycamore Lane Apartments abutting the U-Mall and I remember giving her a hard time for paying so much in rent[moderator: edited] but I remember she was paying a lot more in rent than just slightly dumpier places less than a half mile from campus were renting for.  This summer I was talking with an old guy that has owned apartments in town since the 80’s and he said while rents have gone up quite a bit they have not gone up as fast as what he pays to maintain the apartments.  He said in the 80’s and 90’s there were plenty of Davis High grads living with their parents who would paint, fix stuff and do other odd jobs for a little more than minimum wage, while today unless you speak Spanish (and are tapped in to the group of skilled Spanish speaking workers) you are stuck paying a licensed guy a minimum of $50/hr to get anything done at all and over $100/hr anytime you have plumbing or electrical problems.  He said he thought most kids in Davis today would starve before they picked up a broom, paintbrush or screwdriver (and few Davis high grads would even know what end of the broom, paintbrush or screwdriver to hold if they decided to pick it up)…

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