Brody for Beeman for Davis City Council
Getting the Nishi Discussion Out of the Rabbit Hole: Part 2 of 2 (Red herrings? No, bad planning)

Please support – and push even further – City staff's recommendations on housing in UCD's Long Range Development Plan

Watertower-ucdavisBy Greg Rowe

Item 4.L. on next Tuesday’s City Council consent agenda is a report on the draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) for the UC Davis Long Range Development Plan.  The report recommends that the City Council authorize the City Manager or his designee to finalize and submit a comment letter on the DEIR to UCD by the May 29 deadline.   The draft comment letter is attached to the staff report.  

The link to next Tuesday’s City Council report and draft comment letter is below. Although the report is on the Council’s consent agenda, readers are encouraged to support the draft comment letter during the Council meeting’s public comment period.  Due to ceremonial presentations, the regular agenda is not scheduled to start until 7:10 PM.

The proposed draft comment letter prepared by City staff is right on target, hitting all of the shortcomings of the draft LRDP and DEIR. In January of last year the City transmitted a detailed 9-page comment letter to UCD on the letterhead of the City Attorney’s law firm, Best Best & Krieger.  That letter, which responded to the DEIR Notice of Preparation (NOP) issued early last year by UCD, provided excellent critical analysis, comments and suggestions.  It was, in fact, one of the best NOP comment letters I’ve seen in more than 30 years working with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). It is now unfortunate that UCD decided once again to completely ignore the City’s concerns. I developed a similarly detailed comment letter, which it now appears was likewise ignored by UCD in developing both the draft LRDP and the recently released DEIR.

I’ve read the entire 100-page LRDP issued in April, and concluded that it is completely devoid of any meaningful substance. It’s full of attractive photos but limited text. It is hard to believe that UCD spent 3 years developing such a vacuous document.  The plan continually emphasizes how it will contribute to the future “richness” of the campus and how the university experience will be “enriched” for students and employees, but provides no useful information on when additional campus housing will actually be constructed to accommodate the anticipated growth in the student population.

The plan also partially relies on increasing housing capacity by “doubling up” students in the existing West Village complex rather than placing emphasis on erecting new apartment buildings.  It claims to provide more new housing than the number of students expected to be added during the 12 years between 2018 and 2030, but of course completely ignores the fact that UCD still has not achieved the housing construction goals set forth in the 2002 Board of Regents student housing report (“UC Housing for the 21st Century”) nor the 2003 UCD LRDP.  The plan does nothing to compensate for UCD’s past housing construction shortcomings.

The plan also makes no commitment to the kind of high-rise, high density on-campus apartment construction that other UC campuses are pursuing, which would demonstrate a true commitment by UCD to sustainability and stewardship of public land.  A good example is the redevelopment of Webster Hall. UCD is in the process of replacing a 3-story building accommodating 266 beds with a new structure only one floor higher and with just 390 beds. In other words, $45 million of public funds is being spent to add just 124 beds.  This is a tragic waste of public funds and a missed opportunity to build a much higher building scaled to UCD’s future housing needs.

It’s also evident that the LRDP and DEIR continue UCD’s habitual disregard for the negative impacts and infrastructure needs that its growth exerts on its host city.  The City staff is to be congratulated for an excellent summation of the shortcomings of the two documents and recommendations for truly meaningful mitigation measures.  The City Council is encouraged to authorize transmittal of the letter.

Moreover, I suggest that the Council should go even further by requesting that the entire LRDP process be halted so that UCD can “go back to the drawing board” and develop a truly substantive LRDP that addresses how to accommodate and mitigate future growth in a meaningful way.  If UCD fails to do so, it may be opening itself up to the kind of litigation that has been successfully pursued against UC and Cal State campuses elsewhere in California.

Please attend the May 15 City Council meeting to show your support for the staff’s recommended LRDP EIR comment letter.  Also tell the Council that the letter should be amended to request that UCD completely replace the draft LRDP with a plan that includes the specific actions and mitigation measures identified by the City.  

Author’s note: As a matter of full disclosure, this article was written solely in my capacity as a private citizen, and not as a member of the City of Davis Planning Commission.


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