My View: What Purpose Did This Lawsuit Serve Other Than to Harm Struggling Students?


Lawyers for Susan Rainier argued that their client had “been harmed” by the city’s “failure to provide environmental documents that accurately and fully inform interested persons of the Project’s true impacts.”

But a judge did not see this as a particularly close call and found on six different points that the EIR was adequate in its disclosure of potential environmental hazards.  Instead of protecting Ms. Rainier, this lawsuit has delayed the building of 708 beds at Lincoln40 within walking distance of the university, and caused many more UC Davis students to have to commute to school (damaging the environment), having to live 12 to a home (causing harm to neighborhoods) and sleeping in cars (causing harm to students).

On Thursday evening, the discussion on affordable housing turned inevitably to student housing, where Matt Dulcich from UC Davis basically conceded that, while UC Davis is adding housing, the cost of that housing remains high and UC Davis lacks the budget to subsidize that housing – meaning that the most basic answer for affordable student housing will be increasing supply and off-campus housing like Lincoln40.

Forbes Magazine had a good article this week.  We have focused heavily on the admission scandal.  But the real scandal is not necessarily the students’ ability to buy their way into elite schools, they argue, but rather the unaffordability of college for many even if they get in.

Here the article notes: “While the wealthy are spending tens of thousands of dollars making sure their children are accepted to the elite university of their choice, millions of college students are at risk of dropping out because they can’t afford $300 for books.”

This ties back to our work both on housing and food insecurity, and Forbes points out a new study showing that “half of California’s community college students don’t have enough food, and 19% are homeless. Several other studies show these challenges are pervasive, both across the country and at 2-year and 4-year colleges alike.”

The governor is focused on making community college more affordable.  One way, along with a bill co-sponsored by Assemblymember Miguel Santiago, would be to make the second year of community college tuition, in addition to the first year, free for full-time students in California.

While that is a good start, it doesn’t really go far enough.  Another bill, SB 291, would create a need-based aid program that could make community college more affordable.

Recent reports have found the number of housing and food insecure students are at staggering levels, as they are forced to make difficult life choices.  Community college students, with as high as a 40 percent homeless rate, are being hit the hardest.

As Connie Leyva and Eloy Oakley wrote in the Bee on Thursday, “Far too many community college students in California are forced to decide between buying textbooks for class or making rent, eating a healthy meal or buying bus fare to campus.

“As living costs continue to rise, it’s clear that the true cost of attending college is more than tuition,” they write. “Financial aid — especially the aid available to community college students — generally does not cover the cost of rent, gas, food or textbooks. Inability to afford these costs can derail community college students.”

It is against this backdrop that Susan Rainier is operating – arguing that SHE is harmed by technical CEQA violations that Judge Stephen Mock quickly shot down, finding that the city was well within the law on disclosure, even as the city believes it was not required to do a full EIR.  As it turned out, it was wise to use an abundance of caution here – they needed it.

The court here noted that an EIR is under the law “presumed to be legally adequate” and thus the challenging part “bears the burden of establishing otherwise.”  The court ruled that Ms. Rainier, the petitioner, “has not met that burden.”

But she has caused an even larger burden on student populations, struggling.

Among the comments, it was Don Gibson, a graduate student, who was most pointed – pushing back against the notion that literally one person could hold up housing for 708 students at a time when so many are struggling.

He said that “it is still very concerning to me that a handful of individuals can block housing for hundreds of people in the middle of a statewide housing crisis. Over a year delay means that rents continue to go up, more mini dorms pop up, and those with the least money and smallest voices continue to be marginalized.”

Don Gibson told me: “Susan Rainier and those who helped fund and file these lawsuits should be met with the students they are blocking from receiving housing. I see the struggle first hand, the struggle so many students face, and their lack of empathy to students and those of lesser means is shocking by (those) who claim to be for sustainable and progressive lifestyles.”

All you have to do is drive to the Safeway parking lot early in the morning and you will see dozens of cars, many of which have students sleeping in them.

The numbers are bad and getting worse in this respect.

Mr. Gibson points to a new survey at UC Davis which will show “that approximately 2% or around 600 students reported living in a car, or something not design as a place for housing at some point last year.”

Lincoln40 alone would house 708 students. And Don Gibson believes those beds, of which 15 percent will be “Affordable,” “would have made a real dent in this number.”

He concluded: “Affordable beds for students in an innovative project Davis should be proud of but, yet again, a few rich Davisites continue to try to override the will of council and the voters. Maybe they should spend their hard-earned money not on lawsuits but on funding new housing shelters.”

One of the ideas pushed forward on Thursday, by Mr. Gibson who was in attendance, was finding a way to shelter students who were housing insecure, rather than having them living in cars, in reading rooms, or couch surfing.

It is ironic that, back in March 2018 as council approved Lincoln40, Robb Davis lamented the fact that the city had to do an unnecessary EIR.  As it turns out, the city was well-advised to proceed with the EIR – but the point Robb Davis made about the costs of the lawsuit are well-taken.

Not only did it harm the community in forcing more resources into an EIR rather than community-based amenities, but it slowed the process, causing students to suffer needlessly for another year.

—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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