University Commons Discussion Draws a Boatload of Comments, Continued to August 18

As expected, the University Commons Redevelopment project drew a huge amount of public comments—which ran roughly two to one in favor of the project. But the council expressed serious concerns, and with the clock ticking toward 1 am on Wednesday morning, they agreed to continue the item to August 18.

By our count there were nearly 100 comments, with about two-thirds of them were in favor of the project.

“When I first moved to Davis for school, it was extremely difficult to find housing,” one student said in comments fairly typical of the student perspective. “I had to live far from campus and spend a large portion of my day on the bus constantly commuting to school—back and forth.”

She eventually bought a car because, for her, depending on public transit just was not working.

She indicated that a serious problem in Davis is overcrowding resulting from the deficiency of roughly 4400 housing units in town, even after approving several projects.

“University Commons can help counteract this,” she said. “It’s viable housing because it provides housing without using farmland, the location is right next to campus and it will limit the need for buying and using cars.”

Joe DiNunzio, the Chamber President, expressed the strong support of the Chamber. He cited two reasons. “The first is the opportunity for growth in retail,” he said. He noted the opportunity to generate sales tax revenue, “something that has been a significant challenge for our community.”  He went on to cite the opportunity for enhanced retail experiences to allow “all people to shop local.”

Second, he cited the need for housing “where the housing shortage has been a significant challenge” and this would “provide student housing that is conveniently located across from campus,” which would also free up 300 single-family houses that are currently occupied with student rentals.

On the other hand, Ron Oertel said, “I oppose the megadorm that they are looking to build” and said, “I’m concerned with the loss of the commercial space,” noting “there is no reason that it must remain retail.”

Larry Guenther noted that are many aspects of this project he liked, but said, “I do have serious problems with the project as it stands.” He argued, “By-the-bed renting increases per bed costs and reduces the flexibility of the units. Mass and scale must be both appropriate and appropriately placed with regard to existing neighborhoods.”

The council clearly had areas of concern as well.

Will Arnold noted that his major concern is the proposed housing unit mix, not just the size and scope, which he also had concerns about.

“We’ve approved a lot of these developments over the course of these many years,” he said, “taking the housing crisis head-on, including a number of very big projects that are these purpose-built group housing, student complexes.”

He said, “For the folks saying in public that this type of project is needed in Davis, really the answer is whether a fifth one of these projects is needed in Davis.”

He was also very direct in saying four-bedroom apartments need to be off the table.

“I’m a proponent for having zero four-bedroom units,” he said. “I want to find a way to get there.”

He added, including four-bedroom units “just doesn’t provide the diversity of housing needs that I think made very clear is what we’re looking for going for—and the council has made very clear that that’s what we want.”

He is also concerned with size and massing.

“I too am concerned about the height,” he said. “Folks called it a seven-story wall. It’s hard to argue with that.”

He wants to find a way to address that height issue but said in his conversations with the developer they view that as being “off the table.” He responded, “I think it needs to be on the table.”

Brett Lee also focused on the issue of the rental types—beds versus bedrooms versus units.

He said, “I am concerned that by the very nature of the structure of the leasing agreement precludes non-students or folks that would actually like to have a full two bedroom unit or four bedroom unit for themselves and their family.”

He had a mixed view on traffic impacts.

Councilmember Lee said, “I know some folks are focused on the impacts of having so many people living on this site.  I think I tilt a little bit more toward these are folks that already live somewhere and so their net journeys are probably somewhat reduced to what they are currently doing in terms of their driving patterns and commute patterns.”

But he did have concerns with access to the mall itself, arguing that it wasn’t clear what the plan was to make it that people entering the mall have a smooth way of doing so.

Councilmember Lee also addressed an issue with the university that some people have, “why isn’t UCD housing more people on campus,” but he pointed out that the university has committed in a binding MOU to 15,000 student beds on campus.

“The public really isn’t aware of the strength of the MOU that it signed about a year and a half ago,” he said. “This MOU is different. This one is a legally binding MOU.”

He said, “This is not an aspirational MOU.”

There are also concerned about the lack of community gathering spaces.

Will Arnold expressed the concern that “I as much as anyone recognize the sad state of affairs of all of our malls.” He said “the mall is not where folks go.” But “it used to be a community gathering places.”

Lucas Frerichs noted that, often, revised malls have public spaces and he said he didn’t see that in the current proposal.

“Any kind of density situation regardless of location—how do we maximize public spaces?” he asked.

As Will Arnold said, “Lucas had the line of the night in saying, for something called the University Commons, where are the commons?”

The applicants have now had a chance to hear council’s initial feedback and will have four weeks until August 18 to perhaps address those concerns.

—-David M. Greenwald reporting

Enter the maximum amount you want to pay each month
Sign up for

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.

Related posts


  1. Alan Miller

    She eventually bought a car because, for her, depending on public transit just was not working.

    That’s why it’s so important that the project be on a high-quality bus line . . . . . . . . . . . . . !?!

  2. Alan Miller

    a serious problem in Davis is overcrowding resulting from the deficiency of roughly 4400 housing units in town

    From another article today:

    there are 50 posts trying to get rid of their apartment for every one post looking for one.

    Just sayin’ !!!

  3. Alan Miller

    Overall, I was pretty happy with the City Council pushback re: height, location, common areas, circulation impacts.  The message I got from them to the developer is — we’ll approve this, but you have to do MUCH better.

    I liked the idea of moving the massing closer to Russel Blvd.  I hope that is a practical possibility.

    1. Richard McCann

      Yes, I’d prefer that it shorten the walk for pedestrians. But I’m afraid that their footprint is locked in with Trader Joe’s and the ARCO station.

      1. Alan Miller

        I was thinking of the in-between part.  The walk is insignificant.  The “wall effect” could be reduced.  There may be other complicating factors though.

    2. Matt Williams

      One of the thoughts I had this morning as I was waking up was wondering whether the project would be better if the 7-story structure was on the south border of the property along Russell Blvd with the height stepping down as you moved to the north in the property.

      Starting from CA 113, the first complex on the north side is Pinon Apartments (2 stories), then comes La Casa De Flores Apartments (3 stories), then the Davis Live site (7 stories), then UCD’s Cuarto Dorms (4 stories) and then University Court (3 stories) at the corner of Sycamore and Russell.

      To extend that “line” of tall buildings down Russell from Sycamore might be a better configuration than putting the tall buildings on the north border of the parcel.

  4. Alan Miller

    By our count there were nearly 100 comments

    As I predicted after the 2nd online meeting, the City Council has a real problem on it’s hands.  The public comments went to 11:30pm, the meeting nearly to 1:30am.  What if there are 200 comments next time?  All people have to do is get an email with talking points, and take 3 minutes to call a phone line.  No effort to go to a Council meeting, no need to even monitor the meeting at all.  Strangulation by mass participation.  There is no need to put in the slightest effort – no filtering out those who really don’t care, but them not making the effort to go to chambers.

    And it was all predictable.  Clearly most comments, especially the pro-everything crowd, were straight off a talking-points sheet.  If people were young and with a strong foreign accent or an chirpy up-talk, or a confident business voice, they were in favor.  If they were elderly or established sounding, they were against.  You could tell if it was for or against within five seconds.   At least there were some nuance calls.  [And there was a hilarious moment when an older gentleman didn’t hang up fast enough and you heard his wife clearly say, “I thought you were going to be more negative!”]

    And what about post-Covid-19?  There will be calls to keep the call-in line for social equity and participation of all.  Will people who actually go to the meeting sit through 3-4 hours of online comments being piped into the room?  This could really be a problem.  Actually, it already is.

  5. Ron Glick

    “a serious problem in Davis is overcrowding resulting from the deficiency of roughly 4400 housing units in town”

    A long term problem.


    “there are 50 posts trying to get rid of their apartment for every one post looking for one.”

    A short to intermediate term problem.

    Come on Alan you can differentiate time horizons.

    1. Alan Miller

      Come on, RG, you think I didn’t know these were different time horizons?  Or that someone would challenge me on that without understanding my point?  Which is . . .

      My point is these are not slightly different, they are RADICALLY OPPOSITE.  Of course demand will come back, SOME of it, but enough to justify this project?  Will Covid-19 linger for years?  Will people see that on-line learning is do-able and that an in-person college educational experience is a massively expensive and thoroughly outdated joke for many majors?  (obviously not if you’re a doctor or vet for example).  How long will foreign students be unable to travel here?  Will the crash of the economy last for many, many years to come, necessitating that institutions seek an alternative to students paying for expensive tuition and housing?  Will students seek cheaper and possibly better alternatives to UC Davis to get an on-line education?

      I’m sure the developers are hoping for the best, and no one knows the amounts or timing yet.  I’ll bet even if approved this project is delayed by uncertainty . . . or never sees the light of day at all.  Yes, empty apartments in Davis is short-term and unthinkable in a pre-Covid-19 world.  But the severity of this, and the unknown recovery time, and the unknown of how complete the recovery of in-town students will ever be, must all be considered as demand may never again be what was predicted just a few short months ago.

      1. Mark West

        Some colleges and universities will see a reduction in demand sufficient to significantly reduce their student populations, some perhaps to the point of closing down for good. UC Davis won’t be one of them (nor the UC system as a whole). As a consequence, the length of time for any reduction in the demand for housing in town will likely be measured in months, not years.

        1. Alan Miller

          That sounds very optimistic.  I listed several factors that could affect the demand, and not all will be months.  The sheer lack of money is going to be a factor.  UC Davis will certainly be more resilient for many majors that require in-person learning, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be pressure for additional stock for quite some time.

          1. Don Shor

            UCD is already increasing the number of students they offer admission to in order to compensate for the likely decline in # who accept. I’d say that within one academic year cycle they’ll have a better grasp of the impact.

        2. Mark West

          “That sounds very optimistic.”

          I think it is realistic. The best schools (including UCD) have far greater demand than the available slots so demand will have to drop a great deal for an extended period before there is a noticeable impact on enrollment. Less desirable schools will be impacted to a much greater degree. I expect that most colleges and universities will return to on-campus instruction by the fall of 2021 or perhaps 22 at the latest. That isn’t enough disruption to have a lasting impact on the housing market in Davis, especially since we are starting from a point of significant shortage with the first major apartment project coming on line (with two others (that I recall) under construction) in nearly two decades. I would expect that projects that have been approved but have not started construction may be delayed, but that is no reason to delay approval of other quality projects currently in the processing pipeline as the demand will return in short order.

        3. Alan Miller

          I don’t think we’re disagreeing much except I’m a bit more pessimistic, but all these factor’s timelines are unknown.  I never said anything about delaying approval.

  6. Ron Glick

    “I’ll bet even if approved this project is delayed by uncertainty . . . or never sees the light of day at all.”

    Of course. Brixmor is already planning on a 2022 ground breaking.

Leave a Reply

X Close

Newsletter Sign-Up

X Close

Monthly Subscriber Sign-Up

Enter the maximum amount you want to pay each month
Sign up for