By David M. Greenwald
Davis, CA – A comment posted yesterday noted an audience question at the Rothstein event which was to the effect of, should UC Davis be responsible for a RHNA allocation and thus be subject to enforcement of that allocation by the state?
It’s such a Davis question.
There is a segment of the community that essentially blames UC Davis for the pressures to grow it exerts on the city of Davis. Prior to the last LRDP (Long Range Development Plan) by UC Davis, the university only housed just over a quarter of its total student population on campus. Given the housing shortage for students, that was a big problem and was unacceptable.
With pressure from the community, the city and the like, the university ultimately increased their share from about 28 percent to 48 percent. While not quite where I think most wanted it, it is much better than it was—ASSUMING they actually build the housing.
I don’t have a huge appetite to go a lot further than this in terms of student housing on campus. The immediate crisis has been alleviated if not completely solved. At this point, I think the city really needs to focus on family and workforce and low- to middle-income housing.
There are both advantages and disadvantages to more housing on campus.
On the plus side, UC Davis does not have to get voter approval for new housing. As a number of people have pointed out, UC Davis unlike a lot of other universities has ample land. And finally, the location of that housing, south of Russell would be more ideal than alternative peripheral locations.
But there are several downsides to it as well. Unless, we are willing to annex the housing, UC Davis is essentially building disenfranchised housing—a potential drain on the city in terms of traffic and public safety without revenue and without voting rights.
In fact, in theory, the university could end up developing a sister community next to Davis with business and other amenities that operates outside of the purview of Davis municipal policies.
Finally, because of a strange agreement, we have cut them off from the city altogether, by prohibiting direct access to Russell and forcing them to access the city either through the university or Highway 113.
As we have discussed, the city is going to need to find a lot of additional housing—particularly affordable housing—this cycle and in particular the next RHNA cycle, and it’s not completely obvious how that’s going to happen.
Basically, the city has four geographic options. First, they are looking at downtown redevelopment. Second there are three likely peripheral zones—(1) the Mace Curve where there are three potential proposed projects, (2) Covell Village and (3) the Northwest Quadrant.
While Downtown looks alluring, actually building housing there is going to difficult and expensive and, while the city is relying on the redevelopment for its affordable housing numbers, it is not clear to me that this is a feasible plan.
The other three zones will rely on Measure J votes. Traffic congestion along Mace is going to make it more difficult, but the right project at Covell could work, and the Northwest Quadrant remains at least possible.
But the reality is that advantages of building south of Russell should be considered.
If you are going to put new housing on the periphery, putting it next to campus clearly makes a huge amount more sense than putting it way out on, say, Mace.
Add to the fact that you wouldn’t need to do a Measure J vote and there are huge advantages to finding ways to work with the university on housing there.
The disadvantages, as it turns out are real, but can be addressed.
First, you would need some sort of agreement with the university for the housing. That seems feasible and practical, after all, with the university agreement to do the MOU with the city and county.
Second, you would need to open up Russell Blvd. access. That’s a community hornets’ nest for sure, but a fight that is going to need to happen anyway.
Third, you would need an annexation agreement with the university and the county. That’s not simple but figuring out costs and revenue sharing could make it feasible.
The upside here is tremendous, however. If you can reach an agreement with the university to build faculty and staff housing, you address a lot of community needs, you do it fairly simply, and if you can annex it, it would certainly count toward RHNA.
It could be a win-win-win for the university, for the community, for the environment, even for the slow growthers.
Even with the complexities and the need for agreement from a lot of different parties—city, county, university, West Davis neighbors, it might be the best way forward for reasonable housing in a good location. And by filling the need for faculty and staff housing, it could help to address the need for housing for school age children as well.