Commentary: Round and Round We Go on Plaza 2555 – Mega-Dorms Reconstituted or Needed Rental Housing?

Round and round we went yesterday on the issue of Plaza 2555.  I think it’s important to separate fact from opinion.  We all have lots of opinions and it is okay to differ on them.  However, when we assert facts, we need to try to be as accurate as possible.

My view: Plaza 2555 provides us with a range of housing from affordable by design micro-units, to some big “A” Affordable Housing.  Most of the units – about two-thirds of them – are three bedrooms or smaller.  But there are 66 four- and five-bedroom townhouses that could either serve students or groups or perhaps even larger families.

Eileen Samitz in previous comments called for more 1-, 2-, and 3-bedroom apartments, which she believes could accommodate families.  Personally, I don’t think apartments are a great way to house families – they are expensive and not conducive to a good environment especially for smaller children.

While sometimes people with children do not have much choice, when you are talking about $1800 to $2400 for rent for two- to three-bedroom apartments or townhouses, people are probably going to have better and more affordable options in other communities.

In my opinion – again notice the word opinion – if we want housing for families that is rental housing – we need to look at big “A” Affordable rather than market rate rental.

It is also my opinion, backed by considerable research, that most rental units in Davis right now will end up being rented by students.  That is the market and it is hard to get away from that, given scarcity issues and the fact that students can either rent individual beds or split the rent of a unit and increase affordability in ways that families cannot.

But Eileen Samitz disagrees with me.  She is entitled to disagree with me.  She argues: “The project (is) totally top heavy with 45% 3-bedroom apartments (totaling 89 of 200 apts.) when far more studios, 1-bedrooms, and 2-bedroom apartments are needed. The excessively high number of 3-bedroom apartments are not needed in that volume, plus they will wind up being student housing with 3 students pooling rent, which families cannot compete with. The 4- and 5-bedroom apartments are clearly targeting students as well, since the rent would also be far too high for families.”

That is of course her right.  But I would point out that two- and three-bedroom apartments are also too expensive for families, and students are likely to be the ones to live there as well.  In short, while I don’t think she’s wrong on the students living in this complex, it is not necessarily designed to be just students and at some point, if we free up other options, we may well get to the point where it’s not predominantly students.

I also don’t particularly see a problem serving students since that should free up other housing stock for other types of renters – at least in theory.

Where I think she is wrong is one some other points.

First, she asks (or more to the point argues): “Why does Plaza 2555 not have an EIR since it will have impacts that need to be analyzed? Sterling Apts. and Lincoln40 were smaller projects but did EIR’s.”

Is Plaza 2555 CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) exempt?  Notice that she states an opinion that the project “should” have an EIR (Environmental Impact Report).  Her argument, however, isn’t rooted in the CEQA law.  She notes that other projects like Sterling and Lincoln40 did have EIRs.

The problem she has is that the Planning Commission, including Greg Rowe, unanimously agreed that the project is statutorily exempt from CEQA  The Planning Commission – and at times I have disagreed with them – is not a rubber stamp by any means.  They didn’t approve the affordable housing plan for this project.  They originally found the Davis Live project not statutorily exempt.

I don’t always agree with Greg Rowe, one of the commissioners.  But I appreciate his expertise and also his intellectual honesty.  If he thinks that the project is exempt from CEQA, I think it is hard to sustain an argument to the contrary.

Here’s the thing – for awhile the city was going the EIR route when they didn’t need to, in hopes of avoiding litigation.  But once Lincoln40 was sued, that reasoning left the room and it convinced the city – in my estimation – to save costs where they can, recognizing that they will likely get sued either way.

The second big problem I have with Eileen Samitz’s argument is on the remoteness of the project.

She says: “The location of Plaza 2555 site is at least 2.5 miles from campus and too far and too difficult and circuitous a route to be targeting students.”

I mapped it out on Google, you can get to the bike path at the end of Research Park Drive and West Olive Drive in less than 1.5 miles and never have to bike on Richards Blvd.  I have taken that route a lot and it’s an easy bike trip without a lot of traffic.

She asked what happens on days when it is raining.  Rain is always an impediment for bicycling.  Fortunately the project is right on a bus route too.  This is not a remote site by any means.  It is not much further from Lincoln40 to the bike path that takes you on campus.  The only way I can figure 2.5 miles as she cites is if you go through the Richards Tunnel and arrive on campus via 1st St.

The affordable housing plan in her view is “grossly inadequate.”  This is an area where the commission was split 4-3.  I think she has a reasonable point.  The council will likely have to figure out how much affordable housing is sufficient for the site.

However, the notion that this project is being rushed is ludicrous.  First of all, we continue to have a housing shortfall for students and others in this community.  Whether you believe it is a crisis is probably a function of your living conditions.  Those struggling to find rental housing or living in housing insecurity are probably more likely to believe there is a housing crisis than someone who owns a home in either Woodland or Davis.

Second, she doesn’t understand why the city would want to approve this before the A. Plescia & Co. report is released on “how much affordable housing is feasible to ask of multi-family housing.”

At the same time, she acknowledges that the city already has a draft of the Plescia report.  Moreover, Plescia just did a report in 2015 on affordable housing and they also did a report this spring on the financial viability of mixed-use housing.

I think the city has a good idea of what Plescia is going to say and, moreover, it is highly unlikely they will increase the mandates from the current 5-5-5 interim guidelines.  More likely, however, the council will examine whether this affordable proposal meets those guidelines, and that will be a judgment call by them.  As noted, the Planning Commission was split with a 4-3 vote against recommending approval.

She writes: “It is disappointing that the Vanguard continues to ignore the need for rental housing for our local workers and families and continues to prioritize student housing in Davis. The only way that the cost of student rental housing (will) be controlled long-term is on-campus, not market rate rental housing off-campus. This is precisely why the other UCs are committed to providing 50% on campus housing, but not UCD so far. Yet, UCD is the largest campus with over 5,300 acres and a 900-core campus and is completely capable of providing at least 50% on campus high-density student housing long-term.”

I disagree with her, naturally.

In my view, campus housing across the board in the UCs is more expensive than off-campus housing, even in communities where off-campus housing is scarce and rents are skyrocketing.

To me the only way that the cost of student rental housing will be controlled long-term is to make sure we have an adequate supply.

I support the idea of 50 percent on-campus housing.  UC Davis has gone from 28 percent to 48 percent in the current LRDP (Long Range Development Plan).  The key now is to ensure that the housing proposed, is housing built.

We are going to have to figure out housing for local workers and families.  I see housing in the downtown serving mostly workers.  I see the need for affordable housing to serve families.  Neither will be served well if we do not get a handle on the student housing shortfall.

—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. Ron

    David:  “If he thinks that the project is exempt from CEQA, I think it is hard to sustain an argument to the contrary.”

    Again, there may be actual attorneys (e.g., in Sacramento) who have a different opinion.  Hard to tell, at this point.

      1. Ron

        Howard:  It’s pretty difficult to stay in business if one loses all of their cases (while simultaneously misrepresenting their chance of success, to clients).

        And, clients who are footing the bill are probably careful, regarding making such an investment.

    1. David Greenwald

      Ron: It matters only what the courts do, not what an attorney does.  My point more broadly is there was broad consensus between the city and the commission.  Greg Rowe made a point in a comment last month that the city has not actually lost one of these – that goes back a long way.  Maybe Howard can add in…

      1. Ron

        David:  “My point more broadly is there was broad consensus between the city and the commission.”

        That’s not necessarily a “good thing” regarding this particular issue.

        David:  “Greg Rowe made a point in a comment last month that the city has not actually lost one of these – that goes back a long way.” 

        I understand that there haven’t been many actual court decisions involving the city of Davis.  I’ve provided a couple of examples of local decisions that were overturned by a court (and I wasn’t even researching the subject, when I noticed them).


        1. David Greenwald

          As I pointed out in the article, the staff and commission are not in lock step.

          Furthermore, as I pointed out, the city of Davis has not had one overturned.  It doesn’t matter if you provided examples of other local decisions, the city of Davis has been sound in their CEQA analysis.

        2. Howard P


          Furthermore, as I pointed out, the city of Davis has not had one overturned.  It doesn’t matter if you provided examples of other local decisions, 

          Furthermore, as I pointed out, the city of Davis has not had one overturned.  It doesn’t matter if you provided examples of other local decisions, the city of Davis has been sound in their CEQA analysis.

          The mantra for most City staff, was make the CEQA process “bullet-proof”… there was one high-level planner who ignored that advice… hotel @ Richards/Olive… so, there was a re-do, and a lawsuit.

          Not the norm… an aberration…

          That stains subsequent analysis…


        3. Ron

          Howard:  “Furthermore, as I pointed out, the city of Davis has not had one overturned.”

          Again, this statement has very little meaning, without also including the number of these type of cases that have resulted in a court decision.

          Howard and David’s argument is akin to noting that the city of Davis did not “build” (approve) any market-rate student housing during the recession (while simultaneously failing to note how many proposals there actually were, during that period).

          And again, I’ve provided an example in which the supervisors’ decision was overturned by a court in Yolo county regarding issues which are similar to the ones that the city of Davis is facing.

        4. Ron

          Your point is the result of the failure to come to a binding agreement with UCD. They were apparently increasing enrollment (e.g., by pursuing non-resident students), during the recession.

          Regardless, when you say that Davis “hasn’t built” market-rate student housing during the recession, that takes on a different perspective without noting the lack of proposals.  (There were likely a lack of market-rate apartment proposals across the entire region, state and beyond at that time.)

          Similarly, when you state that the “city of Davis has not had one (case) overturned”, much-needed perspective is missing if you don’t also provide the number of similar cases (e.g., in reference to the type of cases facing Lincoln40 and Nishi) that have been decided by a court. (Other than the one I mentioned, in which a court actually overturned a Yolo county decision.)

          (I should have noted that the quoted section actually came from you, not Howard.)

        5. Ron

          By the way, I’ve never seen a discussion on the Vanguard regarding the details of the pending cases impacting Nishi and Lincoln 40. All I’ve seen are repetitive predictions that the plaintiffs will “lose” the cases.

          I understand that in the Yolo county case I’m referring to (and that you’re familiar with), the court decided that an EIR needed to be performed.

          1. David Greenwald

            When there are court filings to report on – I will report on it. Otherwise, you will have to look at the initial complaints filed when the suits were launched. That’s the sum total of the case thus far for both.

  2. Matt Williams

    “Round and round we went yesterday on the issue of Plaza 2555.”

    35 thoughts on “Monday Morning Thoughts: Why Plaza 2555 Is Being Attacked as a Student Housing Project Is Not Clear”

    David Greenwald posted 18 of the 35

    Eileen Samitz posted 7

    Howard P posted 5

    Ron posted 3

    Mark West posted 1

    Richard McCann posted 1

    As Jay Silverheels said to Clayton Moore, Who is this “We”?

    So far today in this regurgitation of the same content as yesterday’s article

    Ron posted 3 of the 4

    Howard P posted 1 of the 4


    1. Ron

      David’s repetitive articles should “count” as more than one comment at a time. (Yeap, that’s 4 for me. Looks like another one is being held up, and might not see the light of day.)

  3. Todd Edelman

    By bike this connects to UC Davis not so safely via Research Park Drive or more safely – also to the Depot and Downtown – via the near-future funded Pole Line to Olive connector and partly-funded UP ROW crossing.

    But there should be no housing within 300 ft of I-80. At the very least. It’s always loud, it’s sometimes objectively polluted in other ways… I-80 is a crime, we’re in denial. It’s pathetic. It’s environmental racism, for sure.

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