Commentary: Casting a Shadow on the University Commons…

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The purpose of Sunday’s column on the University Commons was to put the claim that there will be a “wall” into some perspective.  Perspective is important because it seems like the CGI of the large and long building impacted the views of the public as well as some on council.

I am sensitive to the comments of Tia Will who said, “I believe that you, and perhaps everyone trying to minimize the impact of a building of very different height in the neighborhood speak with such certainty is because you and they are not affected by it.”

Eileen Samitz added, “I find it astonishing that you are trying to diminish the enormity of this 7-story monolithic mega-dorm.  You have the luxury of not living anywhere near it, so you conveniently dismiss its mass and scale which are completely out of proportion while you also ignore the overwhelming impacts it would bring.”

While I would acknowledge that I am not immediately impacted by this or some of the other proposed buildings and agree we should take immediate impacts into account when we make planning decisions, I also believe it is important to still put project impacts into perspective.  Part of that perspective was to show how quickly the impacts of even a relatively large project dissipate pretty quickly.

I also appreciate Eileen Samitz bringing the shadow study to bear on this discussion as well.

Samitz raises some good points here, which further discussion should take into consideration:

1) Sun height during winter solstice shouldn’t only be looked at high noon.

2) Why are the apartments to the north being in a shadow considered irrelevant? Look at the significant shadow darkness during the winter solstice imposed on the apartment complex to the immediate north. Do these significant impacts on these renters not count?

3) Even the interior courtyards in apartments to the north get completely shaded.

4) Some single family-houses on the east side of Anderson would get impacted by the shadow in the afternoon, even in the summer.

That said, I do find it a bit ironic when she adds, “You clearly are not objective on this at all…”

My objective here was to put the height concerns into perspective—I actually believe that, looking at the shadow impacts, it bears out my point rather than refutes it.

Basically the summer impacts show very little impact.  There starts to be a shadow directly across Anderson at 6 pm, but that is fairly late in the afternoon (or early evening).

The bigger effect is what happens in the winter when the sun drops a bit lower in the southern sky.  The shadow does show the back side of the apartment complex is going to be in shadow for much of the day in December.

The shadow does have an impact across the street on a few single family homes by 3 pm.  By 6 pm of course, it is dark outside.

So what do we learn from this?

First, that the impact of the structure is pretty limited.  There will be a shadow for a month or two in winter on the apartments.  And it does extend its shadow in the winter months to a few (one or two) single family homes.

That means most people in the neighborhood are going to be unaffected by the shadow.  And as we pointed out most single family homes are over 500 feet away and will not see, let alone be impacted, by this.

Second, should we ignore the impacts on the apartments?  My sense is most students who are going to live in those apartments are not going to notice, let alone care that there will be a shadow much of the day for the back side of their apartment.  The advantages of being able to walk and bike to campus probably outweigh the limited disadvantages.

Third, as we have seen, the backside of the U-Mall is in disrepair and this will probably actually improve the overall viewshed, such as it is.

Finally, the biggest picture is the weighing of the impact of building this development versus leaving the structure as is.

The key unanswered question is to what extent is there a middle ground here.  Is a reduced height building fiscally viable?  Can they move the footprint to allow for the separation of the parking from the residential to allow the building to return to four or five rather than seven stories?

Part of why I engaged this conversation was to see what the real impact would be.  The direct impact looks like it will largely be on part of the apartment complex to the north of the project, with a limited late afternoon impact in the winter to the northeast.

Does that impact constitute a deal breaker for the community or the council?  That is a decision to be made by the council in a few weeks.

—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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40 thoughts on “Commentary: Casting a Shadow on the University Commons…”

  1. Ron Glick

    “You have the luxury of not living anywhere near it, so you conveniently dismiss its mass and scale which are completely out of proportion while you also ignore the overwhelming impacts it would bring.”

    I find it ironic that this person thinks only neighbors should weigh in, while also being a strong supporter of Measure R renewal, an ordinance that makes developers go before every voter in the city for annexation.

    This kind of inconsistency is common for anti-development types.

    Another example is the drive for infill instead of peripheral development because it is infill that is most often opposed by neighbors.

  2. Ron Glick

    Students living in the shadows will likely be out of town for the holidays during a portion of the darkest days of the U Mall penumbra.

    Lucas asked about set backs on the upper floors so will we likely with mitigation of this impact in mind.

  3. Bill Marshall

    “You have the luxury of not living anywhere near it, so you conveniently dismiss its mass and scale which are completely out of proportion while you also ignore the overwhelming impacts it would bring.”

    I lived in a second story apt., in that complex, 1975-76.  First building north of U-Mall, immediately to the east of the bike/ped path.

    Have thought about this… had this been proposed, built, while I was living there… no problemo…

    1. Bill Marshall

      Oh… one of the reasons I loved that Apt, was having access to U-Mall via a rear entrance (lining up with the bike/ped path)… did laundry, other shopping there… nice…

  4. Eric Gelber

    “If you don’t have any shadows, you’re not in the light.” ~ Lady Gaga.

    I’m having a hard time being sympathetic to the complaints about the deminimis impact of shadows here. Any impact has to be balanced against the benefits of the proposed commercial/residential use or other viable options, assuming there are any.

    The impacted apartments will certainly be occupied by different tenants, who will be aware of the project when they decide whether or not to rent there. It’s unlikely the minimal shading will adversely impact the rentability of units.

    Nearby homeowners already knew their homes were in proximity to a now-failing mall and, thus, of the possibility that modifications or renovations could be made that might have some impact on the surrounding area. Again, compared  to the project’s benefits to the city and city residents, the impact here of minor shading on the character of the neighborhood (or property values) would seem to be negligible.

    There may be significant problems with the project as proposed, but shadows wouldn’t appear to be one of them.

  5. Tia Will

    “Part of that perspective was to show how quickly the impacts of even a relatively large project dissipate pretty quickly.”

    Most of the comments here are focused only on the shadow cast by the buildings. But that is not the only impact. Noise is an impact that will not “dissipate pretty quickly”. Nor is traffic. Nor is the disruption of partying including not only noise but detritus left behind and sometimes damage to property, and yes, I speak from direct experience. These impacts will not “dissipate pretty quickly”.

    I have taken no stand on this project. I supported the Lincoln 40 which does affect me directly because I felt the overall community good superseded my personal interests. But frankly, it angers me to have those who are not in the least affected, imply that the “impacts” on those living directly in the area will “dissipate pretty quickly” when I know, for a fact, many will not dissipate at all.

    1. Eric Gelber

      Most of the comments here are focused only on the shadow cast by the buildings.

      Perhaps that’s because that is the subject of the article.

      1. Tia Will

        Eric

        That is true of this article. Which is part of my point. Multiple articles and discussions have focused on this aspect to the diminution of other equally valid points.

        1. Ron Oertel

          Multiple articles and discussions have focused on this aspect to the diminution of other equally valid points.

          In my opinion, there is a rather nefarious reason why David does this, repeatedly.

          1. David Greenwald Post author

            Nefarious. Not honest difference of opinion. Not different perspectives. Nefarious! I’m nefarious! I don’t know what I’m nefarious about. But I’m nefarious!

    2. Tia Will

      Ron

      True as written, and in no way detracts from my point about respecting, valuing and prioritizing all points of view rather than attempting to degrade legitimate concerns.

  6. Ron Oertel

     But frankly, it angers me to have those who are not in the least affected, imply that the “impacts” on those living directly in the area will “dissipate pretty quickly” when I know, for a fact, many will not dissipate at all.

    The de facto loss of a commercial mall serving the city – and not just those living above it (as well as the impacts on surrounding streets/thoroughfares) impacts Davis as a whole, as well.

    As does the failure to maximize the entire space for commercial uses, not necessarily limited to retail. Didn’t Barry Broome say something about the benefits of having business-park type uses within 200 feet of a university?

    There’s already an environmentally-superior, less-impactful alternative in existence, which would nevertheless provide housing for students and others, as well.  While still providing some chance of preserving the function of the mall.

    That alternative is already a compromise, in a commercial mall.

    But, it’s good to see you (Tia) “speak up” regarding the Vanguard’s constant downplaying of concerns, at least.

      1. Ron Oertel

        You need to provide evidence in a financial analysis that can back your assertion.

        This seems to be your “go to” statement, in regard to any comment that you don’t like.

        What “assertion” are you referring to?  Everything I’ve stated is a fact.

        Another fact is that the initial proposal was to update the commercial mall without any housing.

        We could also go over all of the other developments within (and outside) of the city, which “started out” as commercial proposals, only to morph into housing proposals.

        And if you’d like, we could also go over all of the megadorms that the city has already approved, but which are not yet occupied/built. Some of which occupy land that was formerly zoned to include commercial use.

        Because those are “facts”, as well.

  7. Ron Glick

    “The de facto loss of a commercial mall serving the city – and not just those living above it”

    Huh? There will still be plenty of opportunities for residents of the city plus the students living across Russell to access the commercial portion of the mall.

  8. Ron Glick

    “Noise is an impact that will not ‘dissipate pretty quickly’”.

    Sound dissipates by the inverse square rule. It therefore dissipates quickly.

  9. Don Shor

    University Mall is a neighborhood shopping center, not a regional shopping center. It is not intended that the peripheral retail districts of the city draw from all parts of the city. Some stores may do so, but the General Plan indicates that these shopping centers are not to detract from the primacy of the downtown shopping core of the city. It is not and never has been a “commercial mall serving the city.” While some people outside of that neighborhood do shop there, that isn’t the primary customer base.

    Retail analysts will tell you that malls everywhere are dying, and that demise is hastened by the current circumstances. They can tell you which types of malls will survive the next decade, and which won’t. The current tenant mix and configuration of the University Mall puts it very firmly in the ‘won’t survive’ category. There is not a strong anchor tenant, and the location is not conducive to any such tenant coming in. For those who might point to World Market, I suggest you look at the financial position of its parent company. Those mid-level retailers are the ones that are most precarious right now.

    For it to survive with any retail, it needs to be responsive to the nearby demographics. That means it will be filled with businesses that cater to students. That is the neighborhood, and that is where the bulk of their customers will be coming from. Added housing will definitely improve the viability of the businesses that are likely to locate there.

    Any development along Russell Blvd will increase traffic, noise, partying, etc. High-density housing is being built on both sides of Russell already. It makes perfect sense to increase the housing stock in this area. This will become a zone of residency and shopping for students spilling over from UCD, as it already has been for at least four decades now. This is not primarily or even secondarily a neighborhood of single-family homes; it’s mostly student apartments.

    The shadow of this building would barely affect anybody except a few apartments directly to the north. Of all the issues, this seems like the least significant.

     

    1. Richard McCann

      University Mall is a neighborhood shopping center

      U Mall was originally a regional mall with Gottschalk’s as an anchor, and bringing in Forever 21 was an attempt to be consistent with that purpose. Even World Market is aimed at a city-wide market at least. The grocery that was there for a while closed more than two decades ago. Trader Joe’s is a recent addition. It’s now time to reconfigure the mall to the neighborhood services that you point to, but even for those, mixed use buildings are now the rule in many urban areas. (I can think of several in San Jose, San Francisco, Oakland and Seattle that I’m familiar with.) We need to explicitly acknowledge this. I can’t remember, but doesn’t the City designate the purpose of these shopping centers?

      1. Don Shor

        U Mall was originally a regional mall with Gottschalk’s as an anchor, and bringing in Forever 21

        Well, I was here a long time before Gottschalks occupied that mall. When U Mall opened, a decade before I arrived here, it was almost on the edge of town. Over the years it churned four department/apparel stores which competed with the downtown department store (Wingers), two grocery stores in three iterations (State/Safeway/State), and a plethora of smaller businesses. What has succeeded there has generally been student-oriented restaurants.

        doesn’t the City designate the purpose of these shopping centers?

        Neighborhood shopping centers are not intended to compete with the downtown. Perhaps it’s time for that to change, but that entails a full revision of the General Plan. The long-standing store-size limitation, which was abrogated by the voter approval of Second Street Crossing (Target), was intended to protect the downtown retail core by limiting the scope and draw of stores that locate peripherally.
        I believe even the original department store (Lawrence’s) was a conditional use that was permitted. I think it is a misnomer to call it a regional mall at any time in its history. But anyone who could set us straight on this would likely be in their 80’s now.

  10. Ron Oertel

    Another fact is that the planning commission unanimously rejected this proposal.  Maybe start exploring the reasons for that, on this blog.

    That is, if the Vanguard wants to do anything other than engage in straight-out advocacy.

    1. Keith Echols

      Didn’t they reject it because it appeared to cater to student housing?  I don’t know how new market units can be considered student housing so I’d be curious as to why the commision considered the project to be more student housing.  I’d imagine that new market rate units are usually outside of the price range of most students.  David has said that the Umall is so close to campus it might as well be student housing.  I think the commision also rejected it because they weren’t happy with the affordable housing component?  An in lieu fee that seemed to offend them (for being insignificant)?

      1. Ron Oertel

        Didn’t they reject it because it appeared to cater to student housing? 

        I understand that’s one of the reasons, as demonstrated by one of the planning commissioners who described the applicants as “tone deaf” regarding additional “megadorm” proposals.

        It’s also a reason that one of the council members (in particular) objected to it.  (The same council member who asked if the city even needed “1/5” of the student housing already approved, but not yet completed in the city – due to the impacts of Covid (and the plans for housing on campus).

        I don’t know how new market units can be considered student housing so I’d be curious as to why the commision considered the project to be more student housing. 

        “Megadorms” have been described as large-scale apartment buildings, typically rented by the bedroom (or even by-the-bed).  They often have multiple bedrooms (sometimes with keyed locks on each bedroom door), with 4-5 bedrooms per unit.  Sometimes with insufficient parking, so that the neighborhood is forced to accommodate the spillover.  In general, these type of structures don’t appeal to anyone other than students.

        An example (which meets much of this definition) is the Sterling complex, nearing completion.

        As a side note, the city may be getting “cheated” out of impact fees (and “credit” to meet SACOG’s “fair share” growth requirements), as a result of this type of housing.

        There is also a fiscal analysis (that was posted on the Vanguard about a year or two ago), showing that Sterling, for example, will create a long-term, ever-increasing operating cost deficit for the city after a number of years.

        I’d imagine that new market rate units are usually outside of the price range of most students. 

        By the unit, that would almost certainly be true.

        David has said that the Umall is so close to campus it might as well be student housing.  I think the commission also rejected it because they weren’t happy with the affordable housing component?  An in lieu fee that seemed to offend them (for being insignificant)?

        I recall another commissioner calling the proposed in-lieu-of fee an “insult” to the city, or words to that effect.  I believe they are now proposing to include some Affordable units within the structure, but I am not familiar with the details of that.  (Some have described the Affordable units at other megadorms as something of a “shell game”, for lack of a better word.)

  11. Alan Miller

     
    There is much talk about racism and racists in Davis.  But there is another type found in Davis that is almost as bad as the racist, and rarely discussed.  That is the yiybyist and their philosophy of yiybyism.  (Clue: the second “y” is for “your”; and it’s pronounced:  however the F you want it to be pronounced). 

    Usually the yiybyist will not recognize themselves to be what they are, and will self-delusionally and self-righteously declare themselves to be a YIMBYist, in the philosophy of yimbyism, a noble movement and philosophy (if misguided), but often mistaken for the developer-funded YIMBY organization, who’s founders are self-declared capitalists.

    There is terminology that goes with yiybyism that readers should understand if they are to protect themselves from the purveyors of this movement:

    Unconcious yiybyist – This is when a yiyby doesn’t know they are one, denying it internally and/or externally.  It also applies when a yiybyist is asleep, or punched very hard by a NIMBY.

    Systemic yiybyism – It just is.  It’s everywhere.  Permeates our institutions.   Don’t you see it?  What’s wrong with you?

    A microyiyby – a statement, action, or incident regarded as an instance of indirect, subtle, or unintentional criticism of the neighbors of a proposed project.

    A “David” – A “David” is a person who minimizes or criticizes the statements of impact of the neighbors adjacent to a proposed development.  This may result from a claimed brief visit or pass-by of a neighborhood.  A “David” may publish their unwanted and not-asked-for opinions in a local blog or its comments section.  Almost all Davids are middle-aged or older white males.  For some reason, there are no “Davids” of color in Davis, but if one were to appear, there is a term for them:

    An “Uncle Dave” – This is a person of color who acts like a white “David” as defined above.  Why, even per capita, there are few-to-no “Uncle Daves” in Davis is unknown.  But if I where to speculate using a very racist statement, it’s probably because, overall, most people of color in Davis are nicer and more decent people than your typical middle-aged-to-older white Davis male, and much more inclined to stay the heck out of other people’s business.

    Anti-yiybyism – It’s not OK to just not be a yiyby, or to decry yiybyism, you must now actively be an Anti-yiybyist.   Why?   I have no freaking idea.

    Alan C. Miller is the author of “Yiyby Fragility:  how to poke a yiyby with a stick so they shatter like safety glass.”  Mr. Miller is also available for corporate seminars for $1000/hr. where he will teach your employees to be slightly more wary of each other than they already are.
     

    1. Keith Olsen

      That’s hilarious Alan.  My favorite yiybyist that you cite is the “David”:

      A “David” – A “David” is a person who minimizes or criticizes the statements of impact of the neighbors adjacent to a proposed development.  This may result from a claimed brief visit or pass-by of a neighborhood.  A “David” may publish their unwanted and not-asked-for opinions in a local blog or its comments section.  Almost all Davids are middle-aged or older white males. 

      I wonder if Alan’s yiybyist term “David” will ever catch on like “Karen”?

  12. Ron Glick

    Regional or neighborhood the Grad welcomed bar flies of all origins. Hope the new mall will have some kind of bar at least for the neighborhood.

    1. Bill Marshall

      You are degrading the ‘Grad-burger’, and all the “sweet young things” present when you described the Grad, as a ‘bar’… it serving alcoholic beverages was maybe 35% of the ‘draw factor’… at least in the 70’s-90’s…

      1. Ron Glick

        The Grad was my neighborhood bar for many years. I spent a lot of time there watching basketball championships won by the Lakers, Pistons, Bulls, Rockets, Celtics Spurs, Heat, Cavs, Warriors and Raptors. If I drank too much I could walk home. The barfly remark was a self deprecating reference to myself and my regular friends M, P, M, J, C, K, C, L, C, C and G.

  13. Todd Edelman

    Much of this discussion about a wall is silly compared to the facts that this could have A LOT more housing in place of parking – both in the structure and the surface AND that the percentage of housing planned which is affordable is very small AND a gas station will remain on the corner which would make almost as much sense to be right next to 113.

    Parking is nice but housing is nicer. We have a housing crisis, not a parking crisis. Keeping surface parking lots across in a central location across from a school with a huge housing problem is evil — as far I know, UCD is planning to build housing in all or many of its larger surface lots in the more central part of the campus. Less parking also generally means fewer impacts from traffic.

    But also what if there’s a desire to convert the parking lot to the north into housing?

    In cold places further from the Equator that Davis they use mirrors to direct sunlight into shadowed places in their winter. University Commons could have mirrors and optical mechanisms that would literally send sunlight through the building in the winter.

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      The problem you end up with is that some have argued there is too little parking, you are one of the few that argued there is too much. Those competing considerations have to be weighed.

      1. Ron Glick

        I like the mirror idea. You put mirrors on the roof that direct light to the shadowed area behind the building in winter and cover them up in summer.

      2. Todd Edelman

        Those competing considerations have to be weighed.

        The problem is that there’s not enough housing. As has been oft repeated, this location is particularly good for living without private cars, and a small amount of parking for areas not so suitable for other things can serve a small number of people who still require private cars for their work or lifestyle (the new General Plan would ideally make it necessary to show necessity; otherwise we have people storing vehicles they barely use with first responders or ICU staff or certain independent contractors like plumbers who need to get to locations quickly… out of luck).

        Anti-miraculously, some said that vehicles of Un’Commons would just be parked in the neighborhood to the north, BUT obviously this could be managed by our existing parking permit program (applicant for DISC argued the same garbage.)

        The desire is mobility. Private cars are not always the best tools for fulfillment. Parking is therefore not the best facilitator for using cars. We sort of agree with this in Davis, and demands for housing are much, much stronger than for e.g. a better cycling network. Nevertheless we still implement parking instead of housing. It’s classic Davis hypocrisy that Council candidates need to address directly in their well-thought out concepts and ideas for the new General Plan.

        Indeed, which candidate will dare to show photos of students sleeping in their cars…. in parking lots?

        1. David Greenwald Post author

          I actually come down closer to your side on this, but the problem is as I point out – the voices are louder yelling that there is not enough parking.

      3. Joe Bolte

        That’s why we need leadership from our elected officials. City councilmembers need to point out that shadows and housing for cars aren’t remotely as important as housing for people, general mobility, concern for the excluded, and climate change, and that we need to “balance” our policies accordingly.

        1. Alan Miller

          As long as you are talkin’ balance JB.

          Shadows do matter.  Those that take a pro-everything or no-everything stand or insult those with concerns have no standing as human, nor do those who oppose everything and anything.

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