By David M. Greenwald
Davis, CA – Sometimes I feel like we are living in the land of the Lilliputians attempting to overcome the behemoth when we are dealing with UC Davis. Under the leadership of Gary May, UC Davis has shown it will come to the table when it’s in their interest to do so, and collaborate with its Davis neighbors.
It makes a lot of sense for UC Davis to have been asked during the LRDP to put a lot more housing on campus, and to be able to accommodate more student housing growth and provide housing for all first- and second-year students.
But going much beyond that, I start questioning whether relying on the campus to further address housing is the best long-term course of action for this community.
For one thing, when we get to the point where we start questioning UCD because they are admitting more students because we don’t want to have to deal with building more apartments, I think we have to start questioning our priorities. After all, a UC Davis education is the path to prosperity for an increasing number of Black and Brown students in California. I am certainly not about to question or push back against the opportunities because it interferes with local land use.
I completely agree that UC Davis should be housing more than 29 percent of students on campus, but when the current housing gets built out, the LRDP should take that number up to 45 percent.
I am comfortable with UC Davis accommodating most first- and second-year students with housing on campus. That seems in line with what most students I have spoken to desire. Many see it as an advantage to have housing on campus for their second year, in part because the current system requires them to arrive on campus in September, and four months later find housing in town.
However, most students I have spoken to also want to get off campus after two years. They want to be part of the community. They want to be adults rather than living under university rules.
When we start moving beyond students to faculty and staff housing on campus, I think we need to start reevaluating things.
First of all, I don’t see a huge advantage to building on university experimental fields versus private agricultural lands. We are still converting ag land to urban use. It doesn’t really matter if it’s UC Davis property or private green fields.
Second, we end up creating urban impacts without revenue to accommodate them. Presumably if UC Davis builds faculty and staff housing, they might also build food and other services. That could create a drain on city establishments.
On the other hand, it would be akin to building a number of El Maceros next to town—a large number of people living outside of town, not paying city taxes, but relying on city services, using the downtown, etc.
Do we then say, UC Davis, are you going to build housing on campus and pay us for impacts in town? That would probably not go over well. Students alone coming into town on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights are likely to have public safety—both police and fire—impacts that are not funded.
But there is another factor as well. We are creating a huge class of people who essentially live in our community, but are unable to vote in municipal elections. So we have disenfranchised a huge number of residents through our land use policies.
But none of these downsides are really being discussed. Some want the city to pressure UC Davis to build more on campus, but then will likely turn around and demand UC Davis help mitigate impacts like added costs for parking in the downtown and public safety that are caused by the very policies people are advocating.
Those who argue that housing is a financial loser are actually creating the worst of both worlds—cost impacts without tax revenue to offset it.
And yes, I agree that some of the growth pressures in Davis are being caused by university growth. But UC Davis is not the only growth pressure on Davis.
Moreover, the city could probably more readily accommodate those growth pressures, but for self-inflicted restrictions on housing growth.
Again, I don’t have a problem asking UC Davis to do more. Certainly only 29 percent of students living on campus was not sustainable and unacceptable. But, at the same time, I also believe we should not be relying on campus solutions to housing.
I think Matt Williams is essentially correct in his description. They have largely not collaborated with other regional players—other than Sacramento on Aggie Square.
A large part of that is their experience dealing with Davis residents on West Village—where, in effect, UC Davis, during a time when the community was completely adverse to housing, did attempt to step up and accommodate more student, faculty and staff housing, and ended up with a gigantic headache as a result of it.
Those who argue that UC Davis should build more housing on campus need to recall what happened with West Village—lawsuits and a community that is cut off from Davis because the neighbors opposed a Russell Blvd. access point.
Why would UC Davis want to get involved in land use issues and create more headaches for themselves?
So yes, Matt Williams is correct: “They have essentially kept the community at arm’s length. That is true in housing. That is true in economic development. Remember what they wrote about DISC … ‘We don’t oppose it.’ That is a far cry from, ‘We support it.’”
Demanding more housing on campus is probably not a good way to change that.
I see UC Davis as part of a potential larger housing solution—especially if they have the ability to subsidize low income housing. But we have not given enough attention to revenue issues and disenfranchisement when it comes to larger scale housing for permanent residents.
—David M. Greenwald reporting
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