If you look at polling this year, you will see really for the first time in recent memory the top issue is the affordability of housing. It seems that Davis, long known in the state and region for its slow growth policies, is concerned about housing shortfalls and the resulting rise of the cost of housing.
This doesn’t seem to be an aberration either. In 2018, for the first time, voters supported not one but two Measure R votes – first at Nishi and then West Davis. Since the 2000 passage of Measure J, the community had kept a lid on new housing projects, voting down in turn Covell Village, Wildhorse Ranch and Nishi most recently in 2016. Only the 2016 vote was even close.
From 2015 until probably the last year, it was fair to say that student housing was the biggest local issue, bar none.
It seemed that largely the entire community was engaged on this issue. However, there was a divide in the resolution. During the university’s LRDP (Long Range Development Plan) process, it was community and student pressure that compelled the university to move from an initial position where they simply acknowledged they would not be able to accommodate all new student growth with housing – to a position where the university addressed all new growth, and then some, with additional housing.
They didn’t quite get to 100 percent of all new enrollment and 50 percent of total enrollment, but they got close.
Where the political divide occurred on this issue was the extent to which the city should also build new housing. Some residents felt that the university controlled their own growth, they had huge swaths of land, and the lowest percentage (or second lowest) of all campuses in terms of on-campus housing.
Therefore, they needed to address the issue themselves.
Students, on the other hand, were less particular about where the housing should occur and more mindful that the cost of housing off campus was a good deal lower than on campus. Starting in 2015, they came to city meetings in large numbers to press the city to approve more housing off-campus – something that the city had not approved since 2002.
The city has since approved over 4000 beds in the city – at Sterling, at Lincoln40, at Nishi and at Davis Live Housing.
Students would come to meetings and speak during public comment and hold signs pushing for additional housing. And it worked.
One of our concerns had been that, while the university has agreed to build more housing in the past, they have not lived up to their agreements.
Along those lines, last fall, the city, county and university reached an agreement which would require the university to build 6000 beds by the fall of 2023, with the agreement to pay $500 to the city and county for each bed not delivered within six months of that time line.
For the first time, the city and university had an enforceable agreement. While I was skeptical of such a process, it seems to have actually strengthened the relationship between the two sides.
“I’m appreciative of the agreement reached by the City, County and University,” said City Councilmember Lucas Frerichs at the time. “The delivery of additional student and faculty housing is paramount, and the additional commitments to collaborate on issues which affect us all, including transportation projects and the City’s Renters Resources Program, helps strengthen the relationship between all our institutions.”
Part of that MOU required a yearly townhall with an update – which is what occurred on Thursday.
What was striking about this meeting was the lack of overall attendance – about 40 people. And the lack of students attending – zero.
Earlier in the week, 500 people came at 3 pm on a Monday afternoon to John Garamendi’s townhall meeting.
On Thursday at 6:30 pm, 40 people came to listen to the Chancellor along with three councilmembers and two county supervisors talking about the UC Davis MOU and student housing.
That was a surprise.
The biggest question perhaps was: where were the students? The answer perhaps is that the city and UC Davis have largely addressed the issue of student housing – at least for now?
With perhaps 15,000 new beds approved in the city and the university and an MOU in place to enforce that agreement, it is a reasonable question to ask whether the students are now satisfied with the current state of affairs.
There is of course still work to be done. However, both the city and university have had barriers lifted to building that housing. UC Davis resolved its lawsuit with AFSCME (American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees). The city of Davis prevailed on both Lincoln40 and Nishi – although Nishi could still be pending appeal.
The urgency for the students seems to have dissipated, although with no new housing come on line this fall, the situation is hardly better for students.
What was striking was who did show up to speak on the issue of student housing. The usual suspects. That would be Eileen Samitz, Colin Walsh and Nancy Price.
They were arguing the same thing they have been arguing since 2015 – more housing on campus.
But while none of those are on the student side of 50, the people not there were those who actually have to live in student housing.
There clearly are issues that matter to students in this community. Recently, many mobilized around the issue of district elections. They see that as a way to ensure that housing issues are addressed within the city of Davis. Many will be mobilized by the Aggie Research Campus and the promise of potential jobs for recent graduates in the growing STEM fields.
But one thing that is clear is that the temperature has gone way down on the student housing issue, and that is a credit to both the university and city, each of whom stepped up to provide housing – and perhaps more impressively buried their past differences to cooperate on it.
—David M. Greenwald reporting