By Danielle Silva
DAVIS — The Annual Public Meeting of the City of Davis, UC Davis and Yolo County focused on the housing issue, especially in relation to students.
This Annual Public Meeting was hosted at the UC Davis Genome Center Auditorium on Oct. 17, 2019. The representatives for UC Davis included Chancellor Gary May, Vice-Chancellor of Finance, Operations and Administrations Kelly Ratliff, and Associate Chancellor Karl Engelbach. The Yolo County Representatives included Supervisor Jim Provenza and Chair of the Board of Supervisors Don Saylor. The members of the Davis City Council present included Mayor Brett Lee, Dan Carson, and Lucas Frerichs.
The welcome address was presented by Vice-Chancellor Kelly Ratliff. She stated meetings like this were done to recommit to partnership and participation and they’ve reached excellent progress through several 2x2x2 meetings. New opportunities have reportedly emerged, including new traffic projects, a resource program, and the opening of new beds for student housing. She announced that on November 1 a joint report will be released.
Mayor Brett Lee opened the floor to public comments, reminding the public that, as the meeting was on campus, the statements should not be seen as the official policy of the City of Davis but rather a look into progress between the three entities.
One person expressed concern for the Yolo Land Trust and preserving the agricultural land in Yolo County, arguing that the land’s value could not be replaced by student housing.
Another noted his thankfulness for the collaboration between the City of Davis, Yolo County, and UC Davis, stating the effects of any university on its host city affect everyone in the community. He requested the three groups meet more than once every six months to encourage collaboration, but also recommended the City of Davis look into moving the Amazon Center from Memorial Union to the to-be-redeveloped University Mall which would have more room for traffic, including free parking.
One commenter requested the groups look into providing a timeline for the beds UC Davis agreed to create for new students, especially considering Orchard Park closed five years ago. He requested they look into commercial properties in the City of Davis.
One resident shared the community should see UC Davis as an opportunity, stating the population has grown more than 25 percent between the years of 1970 and 2000. He argued that land use should be connected to future discussions of housing, especially in UC Davis looking for support for future housing.
Another commenter called the lack of beds “negligence,” stating many out-of-state or international students should be given the option to live on campus. She stated that UC Davis has space and by pushing students off of campus, they would continue adding to traffic issues that affect everyone. She also asked why there wasn’t a clarified fund for student housing, despite $200 million from fundraising going to aesthetic projects. The commenter emphasized addressing a crisis with those funds.
One individual noted he had long advocated for more housing and requested the student dormitory halls be a story or two higher for more space. He also stated that transportation and housing are incredibly linked, since Davis will not be able to house everyone in the community.
Another resident had been living in Davis since 1973 and has seen the increase in traffic and the housing deficiency over time. She asked why the core campus, with 900 acres, could not house the students and ask the groups to consider that “the city residents cannot bear the responsibility and impact.”
Presentations from UC Davis, the City of Davis, and Yolo County followed public comments.
Chancellor Gary May shared about the growth of UC Davis, stating this as a “new era of partnership” between UC Davis, the City of Davis, and Yolo County. He noted the long term benefits of their meetings, including “A New Gateway,” which was the new construction of 3rd and A Streets which are enjoyed by everyone. He noted the traffic improvements cost about $2.3 million dollars.
Chancellor May also pointed to UC Davis’s ranking as #4 of the best public colleges in Money Magazine, and the success of the UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento. He also noted the success of athletes including Keelan Doss, a football player who appeared in the series “Hard Knocks,” and the success of the women’s basketball team, including Morgan Bertsch’s draft to the WNBA.
He stated the campus was meeting basic student needs such as food security, affordable housing, and mental health through programs like the Pantry, which provides free food and toiletries to students, and the Mental Health Task Force which brings mental health awareness to students.
The chancellor stated there would be 6,000 more beds available by 2025 due to the biggest housing initiative in UC Davis. He shared that West Village currently underwent further construction and Walker Hall was reopened. Yosemite Hall, formerly Shasta Hall, now hosts twice as many students as before, at 800 beds. Orchard Park is also undergoing renovations, with 1,200 beds for students and 200 2-bedroom units for students with families.
Mayor Brett Lee stated that the progress over the last year has far surpassed the progress of the past ten years, thanks to the dialogue and collaboration between UC Davis, the City of Davis, and Yolo County. He presented the issue of a rental housing shortage in the city, and suggested tackling it by looking at the number of sizable projects.
The green chart provided shows pending construction. Two of the green chart’s projects had legal challenges and, thankfully, the judge ruled in favor of the city. In total, the green chart estimated planned 3,928 beds/bedrooms, or 1,376 units, in sometime between one to three years.
The blue section noted completed construction or projects under construction. He noted the Sterling 5th Street Apartments had been approved two years ago and will be opened next summer or fall. The beds noted would be an additional 639 beds/bedrooms, or 982 units.
Both totaled to 4,567 beds/bedrooms, or 2,358 units. He noted this would be a substantial addition to UC Davis’s 6,000 beds.
He stated this was a dramatic improvement and this could lead to other areas of development, considering this is the end of their first year working together. Within the next five years, Mayor Lee sees the three organizations attaining substantial improvement. In an address to a previous public comment, he noted that they have been keeping open communication with each other and have met more than once every six months. Overall, he is optimistic in their partnership and hopes one of their future issues will address further mental health housing in Davis.
Yolo County Chair of the Board of Supervisors Don Saylor shared his presentation, focusing on the basic needs, transportation and projects Yolo County has been working on. He pointed out Aggie Compass on the UC Davis campus currently has CalFresh applicant assistance now, helping an estimated 3,800 students.
He did note, however, that the university and city should consider developing more mental health client housing, such as the Pine Tree Gardens.
Chair Saylor also announced plans for the “Causeway Connection,” which would “use fully electric buses to connect UC Davis Main Campus with the UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento, with limited stops in Davis and Sacramento.” This would increase the trips from 15 to 24 times a day. He estimated the targeted launch date would be in April 2020.
For further projects in traffic, he noted the “I-80 Corridor Improvement Project” which would be to “improve multimodal mobility on the I-80 corridor in Solano, Yolo, and Sacramento Counties,” and the County Road 98 Bike and Safety Project, which would improve increasingly unsafe travel on County Road 98 south of Covell Boulevard.
He also wanted to bring awareness of the 2020 Census, where students need to be informed they should be counted where they live during the school year. Some direct aid from the government is reliant on the numbers from the census. Chair Saylor wanted to encourage participation, especially in a time where some are afraid to participate because of the political environment.
Vice-Chancellor Ratliff closed the meeting, thanking everyone for joining them during the event and asking the representatives present their final comments.
City Council Member Dan Carson noted “the mindful impact of the neighborhood and its connection to a long-range development plan.” He enjoyed seeing the specifics of the planning and where they were going with it.
City Council Member Lucas Frerichs thanked UC Davis for the radical change. He noted there was more work to be done, especially in terms of new housing and trying to specify the terminology in the law to see if it needed to be updated, but also how to best suit the needs of the community.
Supervisor Jim Provenza thanked everyone for the progress and the increase of housing on campus, but noted a desire for affordable and accessible housing, even if they were not there yet. He expressed that traffic was a serious concern. Supervisor Provenza looks forward to future projects they would do.
The meeting adjourned with Vice-Chancellor Ratliff noting that next week at the council meeting they will have a presentation on UC Davis’s finances.
(Photos by David M. Greenwald)