On Tuesday, the council reported coming out of closed session that they would be defending against a civil rights lawsuit filed by attorney Mark Merin on behalf of Samuel Ignacio.
Mayor Brett Lee announced that the council voted unanimously to defend against the lawsuit. He read a brief statement: “The city has a long history of opposing discrimination in housing, and the city believes that the case is without merit. Any program developed by West Davis Active Adult Community would be required to comply with fair housing laws.”
The city on Tuesday confirmed that it was served that day with the lawsuit which was originally filed in federal court on September 24.
City Urges AFSCME to Drop CEQA Suit Against UC Davis
In the meantime, another lawsuit is impacting the city – the lawsuit filed by AFSCME (American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees), that represents university workers, alleging CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) complaints and threatens to hold up the construction of student housing on campus.
On Wednesday the city sent out a press release responding to that suit, noting in a statement that the city is “satisfied that appropriate mitigations are in place to address the UC Davis Long Range Development Plan. The recent MOU between the City and the University exemplifies our shared commitment to fulfill the immediate and long term housing needs of students.”
“Providing additional and affordable housing for students is of paramount importance. The City stands at the University’s side in our mutual desire to fulfill the needs for student housing,” stated City Manager Mike Webb.
“I am hopeful that the lawsuit will be withdrawn. While I do understand that the UC Regents and AFSCME have their differences, I believe it is important for UC Davis to be able to move forward with their on-campus housing plans. Providing more on-campus housing obviously benefits students, but it also benefits those employees who work at UC Davis,” stated Davis Mayor Brett Lee.
Councilmember Dan Carson said, “It is critical that our community move forward with additional student housing on campus and off campus. I hope the current litigation over the campus growth plans can be resolved quickly in a way that will benefit the city and UC Davis.”
The city encourages AFSCME to withdraw the lawsuit and utilize other means of engaging in conversation with UC Davis to discuss their concerns.
Civil Rights Suit
On September 24, Mark Merin’s office issued a press release on behalf of Samuel Ignacio, a 64-year-old resident out of Sacramento, who is a Filipino immigrant. The suit claims that the Davis-Based Buyers Program for the West Davis Active Adult Community project would continue the “racially imbalanced community and the exclusion of minority would-be purchasers in violation of the Federal Fair Housing Act.”
He stated, “The ‘residency requirement’ for 90% of the proposed sales is unlawful because in communities with populations that are disproportionately White and/or non-Hispanic they perpetuate segregation by excluding minority applicants who live outside the community from obtaining housing there. Residency requirements prevent minority families from moving to high-opportunity areas ensuring that overwhelmingly-White communities remain overwhelmingly-White.”
Rik Keller, a project opponent, during public comment noted that, while Mayor Pro Tem Gloria Partida correctly called out the language “taking care of our own,” which she called “a distinctly Trumpian tenor that effectively delineates us from them.”
He continued, “Here we have a project that says for 90% of you, if you don’t live in Davis, if you don’t have a Davis connection, you cannot buy a home in our project. Do they not stop to think about who at retirement age now may not have been excluded from Davis decades ago?”
Mr. Keller added, “I was disturbed by the Mayor Pro Tem taking a dismissive attitude toward the lawsuit saying it was ‘an appropriation of civil rights issues for a land use dispute.’”
He explained, “Land use decisions are who gets to build what, where. Who gets to buy that. Who benefits. Who is excluded.” He said, “Land use disputes are at the center of that. We need to stop thinking about discrimination as solely individual attitudes and actions and start thinking about systemic and systematic discrimination and exclusion that is ongoing in our land use development patterns and our distribution of resources.”
He concluded, “Land use policy is a civil rights issues.”
On September 25, the city, county and UC Davis announced that they “have agreed to a legally binding memorandum of understanding (MOU) on a series of shared goals and commitments to improve collaboration and partnership.”
According to the release, the terms of the MOU “include a commitment to build more housing for students and a guarantee to house 100 percent of any new student enrollment growth on campus, a joint transportation plan and traffic improvement projects, the elimination of master leases in the City of Davis, and forming a stronger town-gown partnership through a variety of collaborative activities.”
The university’s Long Range Development Plan (LRDP) is now potentially on hold, as a CEQA suit was filed on behalf of AFSCME. Among other things, the suit claims, “The EIR fails to identify and mitigate a potentially significant conflict with UC policies related to employee commuting.”
In addition, “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.”
On September 28, UC Davis issued a statement: “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.”
Meanwhile, during public comment on Tuesday, Colin Walsh attacked the MOU itself.
He called the MOU “a get out of lawsuit free card for UC Davis. Because now that this has been signed, Davis cannot sue the university for not building beds on campus.”
He said if UC Davis doesn’t keep their housing commitments, “they only have to pay $500 a bed. That’s $2.5 million that they could pay to not build another bed for the life of the Long Range Development Plan. That’s less than building a single dorm. That’s less than the impact on the city.
“That’s not a good deal for Davis,” he said.
—David M. Greenwald reporting