By David M. Greenwald
Davis, CA – There are people in this community who I don’t think there’s value being the host city of a world class university, many blame UC Davis for growing, and many believe new student housing should be on campus.
I don’t share most of those viewpoints to be honest. I think we benefit from the presence of UC Davis and, while I agree that the university has traditionally not done enough on student housing in particular, I do think they have made some progress here in the last eight years.
That said, I think the university can and should do more.
In a recent column, Chancellor May wrote: “One of my goals is for UC Davis to be a good neighbor with the city and surrounding community.”
I appreciate that—although I’m not sure I agree—as I will explain shortly.
Most of his column addresses student housing.
“For some years, access to affordable student housing has been a key concern for both the campus community and community leaders. We’ve also heard the call for traffic improvements that would benefit bicyclists and pedestrians near the university,” he writes. “As many of you know, in 2018 we signed an agreement with the city of Davis and Yolo County to commit to making real progress around these goals. “
May continues: “I’m pleased that UC Davis has met our commitments around housing and traffic improvements.”
May announces that on August 16, they will have the grand opening of Orachard Park with approximately 1500 beds. They also announced the completion of The Green at West Village with 3290 beds.
Said Chancellor May, “With the completion of Orchard Park, we’ve reached the milestone outlined in our agreement with the city of Davis and Yolo County to have 15,000 beds by fall of 2023.”
He added that “due to our focus on housing, nearly 40% of enrolled students based in Davis now have access to campus housing. “
All of that sounds good, but with that last line, it throws up a bit of a yellow caution flag—and maybe even a red flag.
Forty percent is of course not what the university agreed to in the LRDP. The community was pushing for 50 percent. They finally topped out at around 48 percent.
So why are we at 40 percent now?
Back in 2018, the city council pushed for 50 percent: “The University will commit to housing a minimum of 100 percent of the projected student enrollment of all new incoming students and at least 50 percent of total University campus student population in the LRDP.”
The university came a long way during the LRDP process. In 2015, only around 28 percent of students were housed on campus, and that is now 40 percent. That’s an improvement.
In 2018 we noted that “at this point the university has gone from 6200 to 8500 to 9050 beds. That still leaves them short of the 10,000 new beds needed to provide housing on campus for half the student population, but it does dramatically move them in the right direction from 28 percent to 48 percent.”
But the university should have done more.
In the MOU for example, he noted that they would reach 15,000 students by 2024 as something they will meet. But also, 100 percent of new students overall.
And yet, here we are falling short of what was originally agreed upon by only getting to 40 percent rather than 50 percent?
Does this matter? The short answer is yes. We still have a student housing crisis. In January students reported that they were having to camp out to sign up for new housing the fall (nine months away). That was even with the expectation that all of this new on-campus housing would come on line.
The city of Davis is not blameless here. The city was asleep at the switch for nearly 17 years, until they finally approved Sterling Housing for students—a project that opened a few years ago.
And while the city has approved several larger housing projects for students in recent years, one of the biggest—Nishi—still has not broken ground.
In short, we still have a student housing crisis.
And while Chancellor May went out of his way to pat himself and his colleagues on the back, nowhere in his column was there any acknowledgement that we still have a shortfall, even if he believes that “UC Davis has exceeded its goal to house 100% of the enrollment growth on campus since the campus Long Range Development Plan’s base year of 2016-17. In the last academic year, 3,790 more students were living on campus. That represents nearly 130% of the enrollment growth.”
All of that falls well short of the acknowledged goal of 9000 and the projected need of 10,000 additional student beds this cycle.
My other problem with the Chancellor’s claim is that he says they want to be a good neighbor to the city. And yet, as we well know, the university has completed a major economic development project in Sacramento and yet largely ignored any economic development prospects in Davis.
Economic development is a huge part of the future of UC Davis and an area that the city can and must find ways to tap into in order to meet its goals on reduction of VMT and GHG, as well as fiscal and job growth.
In order to meet those needs, the city needs to work just as collaboratively with the university as they have recently on housing. That is going to take major leadership on the part of the city council but also the Chancellor and his administration to make it happen.
In short, while what the Chancellor suggests is a good start, but I am disappointed that there is no acknowledgement that we all must do more.