Commentary: Students Unhappy with Rhetoric by Community in Housing Discussions

After another round of public comment two weeks ago, Molly Mermin of College Democrats pushed back on Monday—posting on Twitter a 90-second montage of public comments from the recent discussion.

She tweeted, “This is the kind of vitriolic anti-student rhetoric you hear when you try to get more housing built in Davis. Students are part of Davis too, and we desperately need more housing, but instead of support for the most vulnerable members of our community, we get this.”

This isn’t the first time this year students have taken issue with community rhetoric.  In May, a commenter on the Vanguard referred to students as a “pestilence.”

The comment made on May 21: “I personally think students are a social pestilence…”  He added, “I do believe it serves the city of Davis to push UCD to house it’s own students.  It’s not like they’re not going to walk or ride downtown and spend their money anyway.  Davis would thrive if it catered to working professionals and not poor students.”

“I feel the need to comment on the language I have seen in regards to this and other housing projects,” said Gwen Chodeur, the external Vice President of the Graduate Student Association.  She noted that “an online commenter on the Vanguard last week referred to students as a ‘pestilence’ and students have been referred to as public nuisances.

“I think we all recognize that the student population is much more diverse than the remainder of Davis residents,” she said.

It was a point that Mayor Brett Lee jumped on as well—when he was discussing defunding the police.

He said, “UC Davis, the students, the pestilence.  Never mind that in our region probably the biggest agent of social change is UC Davis.”  He said, “40 percent of the students there are from first time college families.”  And “we have people in our community, comfortably calling students a pestilence.  That’s not the police.  Why aren’t those people called out?”

Don Gibson, the former GSA rep, on May 26 pushed back, “I rarely post on the comments section of the Vanguard even for the articles I write. That line you wrote was an incredibly hurtful thing to say. There are honest disagreements about land use planning in Davis but calling half of the population of a city a pestilence is beyond intolerant.”

The original commenter responded: “I like the students too.  I respect them.  Most of them are smarter than me.  I just don’t want to live near them.”

Of all the points here, Don Gibson’s is important to keep in mind.  There are legitimate differences of opinion on land use issues, but it seems when it comes to expressing those differences we go from intellectual arguments to personal ones very quickly.

Those opposing housing are called NIMBYs, those supporting it are termed tools for the development or, perhaps, pestilence.  When students come out in support of a project, it is assumed that the developer is paying them.

The reality that some miss is that students are pretty mobilized on this issue.  Many of them have been actively advocating for housing since 2015.

I had a pretty good conversation last week with a community member who asked why UC Davis students support all housing projects.  Their view of University Commons is that it would be unaffordable.

Mary Martinez, the external Vice President in a guest commentary on the Vanguard pointed out, “UC Davis students are just as much of the community as those who may have lived here all their lives. However, the housing shortage hits us students the hardest, yet we are not the decision-makers in this process.”

She writes: “I do not have every answer to solving the housing crisis, but I do know that to reject dense housing next to campus is the wrong answer. Less housing only increases the risk of housing insecurity and student homelessness.”

I think this captures a lot of the student concerns and their thinking on the University Commons issue.

They see a housing shortage in town that impacts them probably more than any other group that is actually residing within the city limits.  At the same time, they lack influence and power other than to show up in numbers.

Like me, they see University Commons as dense housing next to campus, where they don’t need cars and don’t have to worry about transit to get to and from school.  That’s a huge asset.

For those who argue that this is already the fifth such project—I get it.  But it’s across the street from campus.  It’s not like you are going to create housing for families with small children there.  You might be able to get some workforce housing and I would in fact argue we should rent by the unit to allow some non-students to rent there—but predominantly it will be students there.

I think most students see the location as a huge advantage.  They also see the need to provide more housing supply—even if there is plenty of housing in the works.  Students are living in cramped conditions, with lack of privacy, high rents, substandard conditions, and in some cases doubling, tripling up and sleeping on couches and in living rooms.

The townfolk critics of these projects argue that this housing will be expensive.  Strangely I have never heard a student complain that these apartments will be too expensive.  That is something to consider.  Perhaps the students figure they can adapt or perhaps they figure by easing the supply crunch, the prices will take care of themselves.

In any event, the students are angry right now at the rhetoric flying from some quarters of the community.  That’s something people might want to consider the next time they leave a public comment.

—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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47 Comments

  1. Don Shor

     It’s not like they’re not going to walk or ride downtown and spend their money anyway.

    Of course they are. Students are huge drivers of the local economy.

    1. Bill Marshall

      Don’t disagree Don… but even in the 70’s Davis merchants overpriced many goods, counting on that… so I waited until I was home, in the Bay Area, to make significant purchases (Levi’s were 30% more expensive in Davis) [Lawrences’ was better than Wingers’, but not that much…]… but then, I came from a family that was low middle-class, economically… college was a significant financial strain on me and my parents… even with my Nat’l Merit scholarship covering tuition, and full time summer employment.  I was the first in my immediate family to attend/complete college…

      1. Ron Glick

        Davis has a long history of treating students as a profit center. You would think that we would therefore avoid treating them like second class citizens.

      2. Don Shor

        What is the relevance of this observation to the topic at hand? I assure you, I could easily put together a 90-second compilation of hostile comments about local businesses and business owners of Davis. Most would be compiled from the comments section of the Vanguard.

    2. Richard McCann

      Don, you’re right. Case in point: the lack of “adult” restaurants in downtown Davis. The vast majority cater to a very casual walk in low budget student clientele. (The same fare that I ate when I was in college–it’s not a criticism, except we don’t have a fabulous pizza place which I’ve seen every other college town I’ve lived or visited.) It would be great if these restaurants could change up their menus for the summer, but until then we’ll be stuck with most restaurants aiming for that lowest common denominator.

  2. Tia Will

    She noted that “an online commenter on the Vanguard last week referred to students as a ‘pestilence’ and students have been referred to as public nuisances.”

    Here we have a classic example of both sides arguing from the extreme. The initial comment was clearly odious. Can we not all agree it is wrong to compare other human beings to a “pestilence”? However, this commenter takes this single comment and characterizes it as though it is representative of an entire group of people who oppose the project not because they are evil student haters, but rather because of legitimate concerns, many of which the students do not appreciate because they have never faced them. ,

    Again I have not taken a position on this project, but I do see a number of legitimate concerns:

    1 Single group, students, targeted ( served) as David covered that does not take into account the already approved student projects. In my mind, this location would have been the best, but it has already been decided to build in ED, Olive Drive, and Nishi. A new needs assessment should be done taking into account the potential effects of COVID-19.

    2. 24/7 travel and noise concerns as opposed to business hours

    3. In my mind most important, the project is a classic pre-COVID proposal. As I write, and we consider this project, we really have no idea what the campus or community housing needs will be. I do not think we should be making huge community plans based on the needs of a world we may, or may not ever be returning to.

     

    1. David Greenwald

      Tia – while I agree it was a pre-COVID proposal and we lack certainty (I don’t agree we have no idea) about the future, I believe as a community-based strategy, we should concentrate students in areas across from campus to mitigate all sorts of impacts and at worst, this could open up other parts of towns for other types of demographics.

  3. Eric Gelber

    UCD is obviously the largest employer and contributor to the City economy. In fact, it’s the second largest employer in the region. Without UCD, Davis would be Dixon. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)

    UCD students should be appreciated, not maligned. I believe there should be a mechanism for giving students a more official  role on the City’s most pertinent advisory bodies—e.g., Planning Commission; Bicycle, Transportation, and Street Safety Commission; Social Services Commission.

    1. Todd Edelman

      The Bicycling, Transportation and Street Safety Commission has a UCD student on it who is also involved in ASUCD . I agree that ALL Commissions should have a student member at least as a matter of principle… similar I suppose to how the DJUSD board should be representative of their student population; I know that at least some of have this already, but with vacancies (also at the high school level).

  4. Ron Oertel

    This article is classic political misdirection, attempting to create division (rather than discuss the actual issues and concerns). This is not unlike what Trump attempts to do.

    We could, for example, discuss the reasons that the planning commission unanimously rejected this proposal. Some (but not all) of those reasons overlap neighbors’ concerns.

    1. David Greenwald

      This comment is classic political misdirection.

      1. It accuses me of acting like Trump
      2. It ignores the fact that this was in response to a Tweet and video (posted above)
      3. It does raise actual issues and concerns and in fact attempted to seek out a little middle ground that seems to have been lost

      1. Ron Oertel

        3. It does raise actual issues and concerns 

        Where – in regard to what’s stated in the EIR (which was also rejected by the planning commission), by the planning commission itself, many of the neighbors, or some on the council?

        Also, did the finance and budget commission have any concerns? I haven’t watched that video.

        1. Ron Oertel

          You’re the one claiming that you’ve covered the issues, and are presenting a balanced article.

          Other than attempting to create division, where are those actual issues (mentioned above) discussed?

          1. David Greenwald

            “You’re the one claiming that you’ve covered the issues, and are presenting a balanced article.”

            Where did I say any of that?

          2. David Greenwald

            What I did alude to is this:

            Of all the points here, Don Gibson’s is important to keep in mind. There are legitimate differences of opinion on land use issues, but it seems when it comes to expressing those differences we go from intellectual arguments to personal ones very quickly.

            Those opposing housing are called NIMBYs, those supporting it are termed tools for the development or, perhaps, pestilence. When students come out in support of a project, it is assumed that the developer is paying them.

        2. Bill Marshall

          How about what the students believe?

          How about THAT, indeed?  Are beliefs, facts?  You have repeatedly denied that premise…

          Beliefs are beliefs… many are based on facts, many based on ‘faith’, and personal experience… all are generally valid… but not always… like the belief that all white males are inherently racist… you seem to believe that… I believe you are wrong… how about what about what I believe?  Nah… am not a student, nor a minority.. my beliefs are just wrong… right?

        3. Richard McCann

          Ron O

          Not every article needs to cover every aspect of an issue to bring an important perspective. And bringing in an associated issue, such as U Commons, doesn’t mean that the article needs to bring in all of the other associated issues. (However, I do believe that David should link MUCH more to previous related articles so that it’s MUCH easier to trace back through history–this is a blog after all, not a newspaper.) And reporting on what students believe, justified or not, is a very important issue. It’s not divisive at all to report this, unless you believe that all voices that dissent from the dominant or preferred viewpoint should be suppressed, (which is the white nationalist view on revisions to classic American history, including glorifying Civil War “heroes” (read traitors) and “states’ rights” (read protecting slavery).) We are largely ignoring the voices of those whom we are trying to house–that’s the point of this article.

           

        4. Ron Oertel

          Not every article needs to cover every aspect of an issue to bring an important perspective.

          And then, there’s this:

          It’s not divisive at all to report this, unless you believe that all voices that dissent from the dominant or preferred viewpoint should be suppressed, (which is the white nationalist view on revisions to classic American history, including glorifying Civil War “heroes” (read traitors) and “states’ rights” (read protecting slavery).

          No “drift” there. Talk about covering every non-related issue!  😉

          The Vanguard could serve a more useful purpose (e.g., by making at least SOME effort to cover the issues brought up by the commissions, the EIR, the neighbors, etc.

          We are largely ignoring the voices of those whom we are trying to house–that’s the point of this article.

          The city has already approved 4,000 student beds.  UCD has approved another 9,000 or so (I think).

          Almost every week, students are flooding the council with their “voices”. Apparently, in coordination with development interests.

          Due to Covid, there’s an “oversupply” even though NONE of those units has actually even come online, yet.  Students are desperate to dump those leases, as a result.

          It’s much, much easier to cancel leases on campus.

          If students are concerned about creating housing shortages, maybe they should oppose DISC.

           

           

        5. Ron Oertel

          Almost every week, students are flooding the council with their “voices”. Apparently, in coordination with development interests.

          By the way, if even one of this particular group of students expresses ANY concern (in regard to the city) other than their own, please let us know.

          1. David Greenwald

            My question actually goes to the opposite point – does anybody? Can you name a single person who has expressed a concern before the city other than their own? I can’t. So why single them out?

            So this article started out with a tweet by students about how they are treated in the community – and through your own actions, you’ve basically proved them right.

        6. Ron Oertel

          My question actually goes to the opposite point – does anybody? Can you name a single person who has expressed a concern before the city other than their own? I can’t.

          Pretty much every other commenter on here, as well as those who serve on commissions.

          So why single them out?

          Again, do you have an example which shows otherwise?

          So this article started out with a tweet by students about how they are treated in the community – and through your own actions, you’ve basically proved them right.

          That’s just the worst kind of b.s. that you repeatedly attempt to engage in, rather than engage in actual journalism.
          Ignore

          1. David Greenwald

            This discussion is now over. Please post on topic or other responses will be deleted.

        7. Alan Miller

          unless you believe that all voices that dissent from the dominant or preferred viewpoint should be suppressed

          I would say the dominant or preferred viewpoint is those of the Campus Democrats and the developers.

          We are largely ignoring the voices of those whom we are trying to house–that’s the point of this article.

          Except students are being heard, and housing for them is being built all over town and on campus . . . so who’s ignoring them?

  5. Alan Miller

    DG:  In May, a commenter on the Vanguard referred to students as a “pestilence.”

    You’re gonna milk that for the rest of your career aren’t you, like the lawnmowing while black incident.

    Reposting some of my comments from June 3rd:Alan MillerJune 3, 2020 at 3:06 pm
    Maybe we should all protest with these students to make the point that Measure R is discriminatory… possibly even racist.
    I agree that it is.  But students don’t seem to want to fight measure J/R.  Never understood why.  Maybe because developers don’t give them talking points and favors for speaking on J/R.

    Alan MillerJune 3, 2020 at 6:40 pm
    Our knickers are still in a ruffle over that little comment from over a week ago?
    Not mine.  I love the entertainment value of watching people’s reaction to trolling, and unable to disengage, like they got in contact with a 440 volt power line.  I never got on Facebook (cuz I’m not on social media) and spread it “all over” as DG claimed happened.  I mean, I do think its an offensive way to characterize a group of people, but it’s not exactly racism. It’s so over-the-top as to be ridiculous, but people are a bit over-sensitive these days and lacking a sense irony, self-refection or the ability to laugh at oneself.
    I even apologized if it actually hurt anyone’s feelings
    That is the very definition of a non-apology: apologize if
    given that it wasn’t directed at anyone specifically.
    Or even a race of people.
    I continue to be suprised at how overly sensetive the internet is.
    Me too.  Then again, you did call students “a deadly and overwhelming disease that affects an entire community”.  Then again, that’s silly.  Then again, I’ve been called worse . . . right here in the Vaguard comments section.

    Log in to Reply

    Alan Miller June 3, 2020 at 3:02 pm

    “I feel the need to comment on the language I have seen in regards to this and other housing projects,” she said, noting “an online commenter on the Vanguard last week referred to students as a ‘pestilence’ and students have been referred to as public nuisances.
    One.  Troll.  Did.  This is the problem with the internet.  The troll would never have said this at a City Council Meeting — but the comment reaches “Facebook”, and people are “outraged” because “this is how Davis residents feel about students”.  The internet s@cks.
    I cannot state strongly enough that these dog whistlers uttered at students are abhorrent and I’m appalled to see them discussed so casually in these issues.
    Um . . . OK.  Calling students a pestilence is abhorrent.  I honestly have never heard another human being ever say that about anyone.  Clearly he was just trying to get a rise and enjoy a good online argument and attract some negative attention to himself.  Can’t we just call this one guy an arsehole and leave it at that?
    =======================

    This is right out of the Rush Limbaugh playbook.  Find the most extreme example, and paint your entire opposition with the brush of the extreme example, and ignore the real problems.  Like all the students who refuse to see that Measure R is the root cause.  Your tactic, DV, is lame, and this sort of low-brow politics is what is ruining America.

    1. Alan Miller

      READABLE VERSION:

      DG:  In May, a commenter on the Vanguard referred to students as a “pestilence.”

      You’re gonna milk that for the rest of your career aren’t you, like the lawnmowing while black incident.

      ———————–

      Reposting some of my comments from June 3rd:

      Alan MillerJune 3, 2020 at 3:06 pm

      > Maybe we should all protest with these students to make the point that Measure R is discriminatory… possibly even racist.

      I agree that it is.  But students don’t seem to want to fight measure J/R.  Never understood why.  Maybe because developers don’t give them talking points and favors for speaking on J/R.

      Alan MillerJune 3, 2020 at 6:40 pm

      > Our knickers are still in a ruffle over that little comment from over a week ago?

      Not mine.  I love the entertainment value of watching people’s reaction to trolling, and unable to disengage, like they got in contact with a 440 volt power line.  I never got on Facebook (cuz I’m not on social media) and spread it “all over” as DG claimed happened.  I mean, I do think its an offensive way to characterize a group of people, but it’s not exactly racism. It’s so over-the-top as to be ridiculous, but people are a bit over-sensitive these days and lacking a sense irony, self-refection or the ability to laugh at oneself.

      > I even apologized if it actually hurt anyone’s feelings

      That is the very definition of a non-apology: apologize if

      > given that it wasn’t directed at anyone specifically.

      Or even a race of people.

      > I continue to be suprised at how overly sensetive the internet is.

      Me too.  Then again, you did call students “a deadly and overwhelming disease that affects an entire community”.  Then again, that’s silly.  Then again, I’ve been called worse . . . right here in the Vaguard comments section.

      Alan Miller June 3, 2020 at 3:02 pm

      > “I feel the need to comment on the language I have seen in regards to this and other housing projects,” she said, noting “an online commenter on the Vanguard last week referred to students as a ‘pestilence’ and students have been referred to as public nuisances.

      One.  Troll.  Did.  This is the problem with the internet.  The troll would never have said this at a City Council Meeting — but the comment reaches “Facebook”, and people are “outraged” because “this is how Davis residents feel about students”.  The internet s@cks.

      > I cannot state strongly enough that these dog whistlers uttered at students are abhorrent and I’m appalled to see them discussed so casually in these issues.

      Um . . . OK.  Calling students a pestilence is abhorrent.  I honestly have never heard another human being ever say that about anyone.  Clearly he was just trying to get a rise and enjoy a good online argument and attract some negative attention to himself.  Can’t we just call this one guy an arsehole and leave it at that?
      =======================

      This is right out of the Rush Limbaugh playbook.  Find the most extreme example, and paint your entire opposition with the brush of the extreme example, and ignore the real problems.  Like all the students who refuse to see that Measure R is the root cause.  Your tactic, DV, is lame, and this sort of low-brow politics is what is ruining America.

  6. Alan Miller

    Every time, it’s the College Democrats.  I can understand that they want housing, but why is it always a parade of College Dems with the same talking points over-and-over?  Aren’t there other groups on campus that care about housing?  Occasionally one person from ASUCD occasionally the Grad Student Association, but the only full-force, repeat the same bullet points force is the College Dems.

    I first got suspicious about this group when, after our neighborhood had been fighting Trackside for years and attending almost every council meeting and relevant commission meetings, at the very last meeting where the council votes, dozens of College Dems show up who had never had a thing to say about Trackside in the previous few years.  I mean, widespread student passion for a luxury-priced cluster-F geared to non-students?

    Immediately after the vote all these College Dems were outside in the foyer with one of the Trackside Partners, talking about strategy regarding another development in town, and about going out later for food to celebrate their ‘victory’.  Every since then, the College Dems show up with the same talking points at a meeting for nearly every housing project in town.

    Rather than focus on one troll on a blog using a derisive term, how about some real investigative journalism about just how cozy this relationship is between developers and the College Dems?  I expect to see that journalism about the time people of color in Davis again feel safe mowing their lawns.

    1. Ron Oertel

      how about some real investigative journalism about just how cozy this relationship is between developers and the College Dems?  I expect to see that journalism about the time people of color in Davis again feel safe mowing their lawns.

      They are “Democrats”, so apparently that makes this “o.k.”

    2. David Greenwald

      “Rather than focus on one troll on a blog using a derisive term, how about some real investigative journalism about just how cozy this relationship is between developers and the College Dems? ”

      How about some investigative reporting about how that is a load? As I noted in the article – students have been mobilized on the issue of housing for about five years. I don’t think there is a relationship between the students and the developers, especially these developers because they’ve really been nowhere to be seen.

    3. Ron Oertel

       I don’t think there is a relationship between the students and the developers, especially these developers because they’ve really been nowhere to be seen.

      Now, that’s some hard-hitting “investigative reporting”.  😉

      By the way, what does this company do (in regard to development proposals), and do they employ some students?

      https://www.spaffordlincoln.com/
       

      1. Alan Miller

         I don’t think there is a relationship between the students and the developers, especially these developers because they’ve really been nowhere to be seen.

         

        Now, that’s some hard-hitting “investigative reporting”.

        The relevant part of that sentence regarding investigative reporting is:

        I don’t think . . .

      2. Alan Miller

        From a news article referenced on the Spafford-Lincoln website:

        Twenty people . . . traumatized by the election of Donald Trump, trying to channel desperation into constructive action.

        LOL

  7. Todd Edelman

    I’d like to know more about the support-of-any-housing thing – which could very well be this YIMBY thing about magic housing markets – but to respond to one point: There’s a huge oversupply now and from what I have seen very few offers of rent reductions from the owner side of things; on the other hand lots of students are offering discounts for lease takeovers.

    I lived in shared housing for years and only one time was it rent-by-the-room (in SF.) Deposits and so on to primary lease holders can help keep guarantees. There’s really no reason to only deal with the landlord. Rent-by-the-bed is ridiculous.

    There’s at least a long-term housing shortage here – leaving aside the pandemic situation – but there are many other cities where student housing is fully-integrated into normal rental housing stock and buildings. This is best for everyone. In this town, I can’t see why anyone would want to live in shared housing with only students, or not with any students. Mixed housing obviously also encourages age-mixing; how representative the Tweet etc is of anti-student bias is not precisely clear to me, though it’s clearly at a significant level, but there’s also certainly some discrimination against older people who want to share homes.

    1. Ron Oertel

      I’d like to know more about the support-of-any-housing thing . . . 

      Seems to me that it’s closely-related to the “support-of-any-car-centric” peripheral / freeway-oriented, development proposal, as well.  (While simultaneously claiming to be concerned about climate change.)

      You noted something related to that, as well.

  8. Ron Glick

    “Rather than focus on one troll on a blog using a derisive term, …”

    Problem is its not one troll, instead its a whole bunch of privileged local voices who aren’t in the least restrained in voicing antipathy towards young people.

    Even Tia, who is a model of grace when writing, presents a stereotype with this point:

     “24/7 travel and noise concerns as opposed to business hours”

    One thing I have learned over the years is that the later the hour the younger the crowd.

    When I was in college I made a point of staying up as late as I possibly could sometimes listening to music while studying. Today I’m lucky if I make it to midnight on New Years Eve.

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