Please Endorse the Planning Commission's Unanimous Vote Against the Umall Project
Improving City of Davis Decision Making: An Open Letter

Rebuttal to University Commons Staff Report

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By Greg Rowe

This is a rebuttal to the staff report on the proposed University Commons project.  It falsely implies that limiting 4-bedroom units to 45% of the 264 units (or 119 units) is a developer concession.  But as stated in the EIR Notice of Preparation (November 16, 2018, p. 4), the developer originally proposed that 66 units (25%) would have 4 bedrooms. The 45% cap now offered is higher than the original proposal by 20 percentage points and 53 units. Specifying there would be no units with 5 or more bedrooms is meaningless because the original proposal had no such units.

The report asserts student oriented rental projects can have a beneficial impact by easing pressure on single-family neighborhoods and reducing competition for single-family rentals. That would be true if UCD's student population remained static, but UCD's July 16 "University News" confirms that UCD is continuing its relentless enrollment growth far beyond the City's ability to respond. UCD offered fall 2020 freshman and transfer admission to a record high 45,820 applicants, including 35,838 freshman admissions, a jump of 17.5% above last year.  The campus expects to enroll 9,500 freshmen and transfer students, or 5% more than fall 2019. The upshot is that UCD's student growth will outpace available housing no matter how many more student projects the City approves. The need for rental housing near campus for UCD employees has meanwhile not been addressed.

Brixmor and City staff want to impose a 7-story, 80-foot high building on the neighborhood, with the justification that the nearby "Davis Live" apartment building will have 7 floors. That project, however, is confined to a one-acre parcel, while Brixmor's new building will cover the width of the entire block between Sycamore Land and Anderson Road.  Meanwhile, UCD still refuses to build campus housing above five floors.

Staff reiterates the illusion that 264 parking spaces will be sufficient for 894 students because they could walk or bike to campus, but it is unrealistic to assume the other 630 students won't need to store a vehicle somewhere for employment and recreational travel. The "Davis Live" developer realized one parking space for each of the project's 71 units would not meet the needs of 440 students, but his attempt to arrange for vehicle storage on an unused portion of campus was rebuffed by UCD.

The report notes that the City in recent years has approved four large, purpose-built student apartment projects, and that UCD is (finally) adding campus housing pursuant to the 2018 MOU with the City. But the MOU says only that UCD will strive to match expected enrollment between 2018 and 2030. It does nothing to correct the deficiencies caused by UCD's failure to meet the 2011-12 and 2015-16 housing goals in the Regents' 2002 housing report and the UCD 2003 Long Range Development Plan respectively. As a result, on-campus housing remains 1400 - 1800 beds short of where it should be today.

The Planning Commission's careful and lengthy evaluation of the DISC project led to a unanimous recommendation for acceptance by Council. The Commission devoted 17 months to in-depth analysis of the U-Commons proposal, which the Commission emphatically rejected in a unanimous vote. Like the DISC project, Council should accept the Planning Commission's U-Commons recommendation.

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