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Response to Davis Enterprise Article, UCD LRDP Goes to Regents

WestvillageBy Greg Rowe

The recent Davis Enterprise article about UCD’s 2018 Long Range Development Plan going to the Regents for approval on July 18 warrants rebuttal. UCD proclaims the LRDP builds on the success of the 2003 plan “…and charts ambitious sustainability and housing options…”  But this statement ignores that the 2003 LRDP expected that 36% of total enrollment of 30,000 students would live on campus by 2015-16, but in reality UCD missed the mark by 1400 beds, with only 29% of the 3-quarter average of 32,663 students that year living on campus (most in freshman dorms which they had to vacate for sophomore year).   

In addition, a Board of Regents student housing report issued in November 2002 expected UCD would house 38% of its students by 2012 (with a goal of 40% living on campus) but by 2015-16 only 29% lived on campus, translating to a shortfall exceeding 1800 beds. While UCD’s new housing goals seem ambitious, it obscures the fact that UCD has consistently surpassed enrollment projections while under-producing the housing needed meet the needs of its expanded enrollment.  The previous Chancellor’s overly ambitious “2020 Initiative,” which aimed to boost enrollment by 5,000 more students than required by the Regents, significantly exacerbated the student housing shortage.

UCD steadfastly refuses to make a commitment to a housing construction timeline and financing plan, meaning it could wait until the 2030-31 LRDP forecast year to meet the new housing targets. That would mean most UCD students would continue living off campus, competing with families and even UCD employees for scarce rental housing in Davis and surrounding cities.  (Over 60% of UCD students now live off campus in the City of Davis.) Given UCD’s abysmal record of producing student housing over the past three decades, the proposed 2018 LRDP provides no confidence that the promised new student housing will ever be actually constructed.  

Davis is a small town of about 68,000 citizens, living in a compact area comprising less than 10 square miles. (Compare this to the college town of Flagstaff, which has a similar population but spread out over 64 square miles.)  Our city’s concentrated development pattern facilitates non-motorized transportation options, but UCD’s unbridled growth, including the LRDP’s proposed addition of 5,175 students and 2,135 additional staff during the next 12 years, threatens the viability of our town’s infrastructure and ability to manage growth within the established city boundaries.   

UCD has also tried to pin the blame for the lack of student housing on the City of Davis.  During a November 2016 presentation to the Board of Regents, Interim Chancellor Ralph Hexter factually misled the Regents by claiming that UCD provides housing to 11,500 students, or 35% of enrollment. However, this inflated number included students living off-campus in apartment complexes over which UCD has executed “master leases,” a predatory practice that deprives the City of Davis of much needed property tax revenue. 

The reality is that during the past 15 months the City of Davis has done an exemplary job of providing the student housing that in reality should UCD’s responsibility.  Since April 2017 the City has approved 3 large, student oriented apartment projects, totaling 700 units that will comprise 3,448 beds—far more than UCD has provide in recent years.  (This includes the 700-unit, 2,200 bed “Nishi” project adjacent to the campus, which was approved by 60% of Davis voters in the recent June election.) The “Davis Live” project that will be heard by the Planning Commission on July 25 would add 71 more units and 330 beds, bringing recently approved off-campus student rental housing to 1061 units and 3,778 beds.  While Hexter asserted that Davis has “…an aversion to growth,” the City’s recent actions would seem to belie that notion. (Full disclosure: as a Davis Planning Commissioner, I support the “Davis Live” project due to its proximity to campus and 7-story design that UCD should be emulating.)

Genuine sustainability remains illusory in the proposed LRDP because UCD plans on continuing to build low-density, low-rise campus housing, instead of conserving valuable land resources by following the lead of the other UCs--such as UC San Diego (UCSD) and UC Irvine--that are pursuing high-rise campus apartment buildings.   Recognizing the deleterious impacts of continued low density campus housing development, the City’s letter urged adoption of a number of mitigation measures, including a request that the University “…commit to higher densities (e.g., four-plus stories) in redeveloped and new student housing than are currently being provided…”  

The approach UCD takes to building new housing is highly inefficient and ineffective. For example, the university is in the process of replacing the former 3-story Webster Hall at a cost of $45 million. The new facility will add just one more floor and increase the number of students housed from 260 to 390.  This is a ridiculous net gain of only 124 beds at a tremendous cost.  UCD defends its penchant for inefficient low-rise housing by arguing that erecting high-rise apartment buildings costs too much, a claim that has been disputed by the private sector developers, contractors and labor leaders with whom I’ve spoken. 

Currently 11% of UCD students commute to campus from other cities, ranging from Dixon and Vacaville to the south, Winters to the west, Woodland to the north, West Sacramento, to Sacramento and locales even further east.  A plan that touts sustainability rings hollow when it provides no relief for a growing pattern of single occupancy vehicle commuting by students whose financial status would benefit greatly by having a short walk or bike ride to classes from an on-campus apartment.   

What’s more, the draft EIR (DEIR) UCD produced for the LRDP only analyzes the environmental impacts that would occur 12 years in the future, during the 2030-31 forecast year.  But as the City of Davis pointed out in its detailed May 18 comment letter on the DEIR, guidance issued by the California Supreme Court in the Neighbors for Smart Rail case makes it clear that an EIR must analyze a project’s impact over time based on the phasing and sequencing of development.  As stated by the City, “…it is clear implementation of the plan will lead to impacts long before 2031…We believe the most appropriate way for the University to comply with CEQA would be to include phasing for the development proposed under the LRDP and then to disclose the impact of developing new facilities before it develops housing for the students who will be drawn to those facilities.” 

UCD claims the 2018 LRDP resulted from extensive public outreach and listening to community feedback. If that’s so, why has UCD refused to appoint 2 representatives to the City-County LRDP “2x2x2” committee?  Why have requests by Citizens for Responsible Planning to confer with the Chancellor been shunted to other administrators, after he orally agreed to meet?     In contrast, UCSD’s Chancellor told the Board of Regents in January 2017 that he is striving to give every student a 4-year on-campus housing guarantee by 2024-25.  Why can’t UCD show progressive leadership by doing the same thing?  Could it be that UCD really doesn’t really care about housing security for students?

If you share my views on UCD student housing, please send an email to the Board of Regents, urging them to turn back UCD’s draft 2018 LRDP and to not certify the EIR.  Tell the Regents that UCD should go back to the drawing board and commit to expeditiously housing no less than 50% of its students on campus, and to complying with the mitigation measures requested by the City of Davis in its May 18 comment letter on the LRDP and DEIR.   Please send an email to the Regents at this address:  regentsoffice@ucop.edu.

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