An evening with Leah Rothstein
Part 3 Candidate Responses to the Sierra Club Yolano Group Questionnaire for the 2022 Davis City Council Election

Part 2 Candidate Responses to the Sierra Club Yolano Group Questionnaire for the 2022 Davis City Council Election

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Land Use and Housing Development – Downtown Core and Student Housing

Introduction - As has been our custom for over 20 years, the Sierra Club Yolano Group prepares a wide-ranging questionnaire and presents it to candidates in races of interest to our local membership. The questionnaire for the 2022 Davis City Council race received answers from all 5 candidates in the 2 of the 5 City Council Districts for which an election is held in Novemeber, 2022.

The candidates, listed in alphabetical order by their first name, are:

District 1 (West Davis): - Bapu Vaitla, Dan Carson, and Kelsey Fortune

District 4 (East Davis ) - Adam Morrill, Gloria Partida

Questions asked were in the following general categories:

Part 1 - Land Use and Housing Development – Peripheral Development

Part 2-- Land Use and Housing Development – Downtown Core and Student Housing

Part 3 - Energy Use and Greenhouse Gases

Part 4 - Transportation Management

Part 5 - Waste Management

Part 6 - Toxics in the Environment and Other Environmental Issues

Part 1 in this series can be viewed by clicking on that article's title above which is linked to the earlier publication.

This is the 2nd in the series of articles and focuses on Land Use and Housing Development – Downtown Core and Student Housing and provides candidate responses to the following questions:

Question #1 – Downtown Core Redevelopment

Do you support increased height of buildings in the downtown core to allow for more mixed residential/ commercial uses as envisioned in the Downtown Davis Plan? If yes, what is the maximum height in structures that you would support?

What do you think should be the maximum height in transitional areas adjacent to the downtown core (e.g. Trackside)?

Question #2 - Large apartment complexes rented by the bed

The Nishi, Sterling, Lincoln40, and University Commons apartment projects have been approved that will primarily offer students rent-by-the-bed in predominantly larger apartments with more bedrooms.

Do you support this developing trend of rent-by-the-bed in student housing in Davis and why or why not?

Question #3 – Amount of UCD On-Campus Housing

UCD has committed to building new on-campus housing to meet the UC system-wide goal of housing 50% of students on campus. But UCD will not meet this goal in the foreseeable near future.

What should the City do, if anything, about this proposed shortfall in on-campus housing build-out by UCD?

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Part 2 - Land Use and Housing Development – Downtown Core and Student Housing

Question #1 – Downtown Core Redevelopment

Do you support increased height of buildings in the downtown core to allow for more mixed residential/ commercial uses as envisioned in the Downtown Davis Plan? If yes, what is the maximum height in structures that you would support?

What do you think should be the maximum height in transitional areas adjacent to the downtown core (e.g. Trackside)?

Responses from District 1 Candidates

Bapu Vaitla - Yes. We must build additional housing in Davis for our workforce and low-income residents. We have two options to build additional housing: either pave over some of the world’s finest agricultural land, removing open space and habitat in the process, or densify within city limits. There are very few remaining vacant lots in town, and so densification means increasing building height. The downtown core is the natural place to start. It is the area best linked to transit alternatives to cars, which mitigates traffic concerns and also creates a pathway for parking minimums to be reduced, easing the cost of development. It’s also the area least likely to face neighborhood resistance to taller buildings; shade and viewshed concerns will be less pronounced.

I would support structures up to 7 stories in the downtown core. I also believe 7 stories in transitional areas adjacent to the downtown core is acceptable if it does not raise major shade and viewshed concerns. Three to five stories will often be more appropriate in these areas.

Dan Carson  - Several years ago I requested assignment as a councilmember to the Downtown Plan Advisory Committee (DPAC). In that role I regularly participated in DPAC meetings and, when that panel’s work was completed, voluntarily took on the responsibility to work with city staff to ensure that the plan moved forward for CEQA review as well as to ensure its timely forthcoming consideration by the Planning Commission so it can advance to the City Council for final approval.  I will await the outcome of those important processes, which include opportunities for further public comment and input on the plan and analysis of key legal issues, before personally settling on all of its specific details, such as the treatment of transition areas and maximum building heights.

But the concept of increased building heights and density set forth in the pending plan is a logical means for the city is to achieve its goals for additional housing and economic development in a way that minimizes environmental impacts and reduces future pressures for urban sprawl.  These potential benefits are detailed in the draft Environmental Impact Report for the downtown plan now circulating for public review.

Kelsey Fortune -  I am in support of increased height in the downtown core and transitional areas. I would recommend height restrictions only to ensure that historic areas are preserved in the future. I would require that developments work directly with the neighborhood and believe that this is a better alternative to height limits.

In transitional areas, I believe that a height maximum of two stories higher than the adjacent properties is appropriate. This would only act as a backstop, as I do not believe there are cases where neighborhoods would support anything taller.

In the downtown core, I do not believe that height limits are necessary. People want to live near and in downtown, and if we can see more mixed-use spaces, this will benefit businesses in many ways as well as create much needed housing in an area where people will not need vehicles.

Responses from District 4 Candidates

Adam Morrill - Yes, infill and densifying are preferable to sprawl.  It is also necessary to reduce the rent pressures on established businesses and remove barriers to new businesses due high rents.  Growing vertically increases square footage while allowing landlords to charge lower rents.  Ideally, this type of development will ultimately reduce car use and GHG emissions.  As far as a limit in the core area, I think there at least should be step backs so as to not to create a walled canyon to allow green spaces and trees to still be present.  In regard to transition areas, I believe that the needs to be active engagement with the residents and businesses in those areas.  I would object to anything over 3 stories in these zones, but ultimately their needs to be buy in from those residents and businesses.

Gloria Partida - I absolutely believe that infill will be important to solve our housing shortage and to create more walkable neighborhoods. Maxium height depends on several things. What our infrastructure can support, what public safety can support, and what density makes sense for an area. With regard to transitional area in the downtown core, I believe it depends where the transition is. That said I am supportive of taller buildings.  

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Question #2 - Large apartment complexes rented by the bed

The Nishi, Sterling, Lincoln40, and University Commons apartment projects have been approved that will primarily offer students rent-by-the-bed in predominantly larger apartments with more bedrooms?

Do you support this developing trend of rent-by-the-bed in student housing in Davis and why or why not?

Responses from District 1 Candidates

Bapu Vaitla - I do not think the rent-by-the-bed model is a good answer to student housing pressures. However, we must act to reduce housing insecurity among students. The 2017-18 ASUCD-GSA Housing Affordability and Insecurity Survey found that “almost 18% of students experienced either homelessness or some other form of housing insecurity, such as making only partial rent or utility payments, doubling up in rooms without a lease, moving in with others because of financial problems, or moving more than twice during the year.” This is unacceptable. Students are part of our community and both the University and City have a responsibility to ensure that they have safe, affordable housing. We must engage proactively in pursuing developments that offer alternatives to the rent-by-the-bed model, and that means densifying development in city limits, especially by building up.

Dan Carson - A variety of different kinds of student housing, including housing with different types of rental arrangements, should be encouraged to maximize the choices for students as well as for their families, who often help pay their rents.  As the parent of three sons who each graduated from a different UC system school, we found that rent-by-the-bed arrangements offered an advantage to families like ours by minimizing the risk that we might be subject to picking up the additional cost burden for a roommate who defaulted on their rent.  A rent-by-the-bed situation ensures a family is responsible for paying the rent only for their own student regardless of whether their roommates pay their share of rental housing costs. We experienced additional costs for a roommate of one of our sons in a traditional shared apartment arrangement who defaulted on his share of the rent. By providing a variety of rental arrangements in student housing, students and families can choose the situation they believe best suits them. The good news is that both local projects within the City of Davis and on the UC Davis campus have begun to provide significant additional rental housing for the student rental market which, when fully built out, will give students and the families that support them more choices in their choice of student rental accommodations.

Kelsey Fortune - I oppose rent-by-the-bed housing, as it allows complexes to charge high prices and excludes a significant portion of the renting population; those with partners and families. In addition, it doesn’t provide affordable housing and cannot help us fulfill RHNA affordable housing requirements.

Responses from District 4 Candidates

Adam Morrill - I do not support this trend as it limits the housing primarily to students and it is a poor use of space.  I would rather see rent by the bed designed as more of a cooperative type of living with shared common areas.  This would enable more people to live in the same space and reduce rental costs as a result.

Gloria Partida - Rent by the bed on it’s own makes sense for students. Having had students and roommates myself, the dynamic nature of this type of renter needs the flexability so as not to burden individual students with a roommate that leave them with unpaid rent and create stress and instability. The trend of larger apartments with more bedrooms has fulfilled a need and currently going forward I do not think we should focus on larger apartments. Although I know that combined families sometimes find these larger units convenient for their purposes as well.

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Question #3 – Amount of UCD On-Campus Housing

UCD has committed to building new on-campus housing to meet the UC system-wide goal of housing 50% of students on campus. But UCD will not meet this goal in the foreseeable near future.

What should the City do, if anything, about this proposed shortfall in on-campus housing build-out by UCD?

Responses from District 1 Candidates

Bapu Vaitla UCD has the primary responsibility of building housing for students. Until very recently, the City of Davis has largely had an antagonistic relationship with UCD on housing issues. I believe this has hindered our ability to obtain commitments from UCD on the construction of on-campus housing. I think the City Council should strive to hold monthly high-level meetings—ideally with the Chancellor—to build trust and create a unified housing strategy. Again, I see students as a vital part of our community, and I want to work with UCD to ensure that every student has a safe, affordable place to live in Davis.

Dan Carson - Under a binding and enforceable agreement achieved in 2018 by UC Davis and the City of Davis (as well as Yolo County) about 6,200 new student beds (almost all of them on campus) are being built and the share of students living on campus is growing dramatically.  The university has made a lot of progress in actually delivering these units, such as 3,000 students beds that opened in West Village last fall, and at this rate will meet the obligations it made in the agreement in the next few years. The city, UC Davis, and the county have a “2 by 2 by 2” process involving representatives of these three jurisdictions as a safeguard to ensure that the agreement continues to be implemented in all respects.

A more important current concern I believe relates to the shortfall of affordable student housing on campus. Billions of dollars in state funding has been budgeted for affordable housing for California’s institutions of higher learning, including a share allocated to the UC system.  My council colleagues and I added language to our draft Housing Element to encourage UC Davis to apply for such funding and provide more affordable housing for students in our community who need it.   

Kelsey Fortune - I believe that the MOU between the city and university an achievement to celebrate and that the UC system goal should be used by the city to encourage further commitments from the university. I also believe that the university’s current plan relies too heavily on turning single rooms into doubles and doubles into triples and creating automobile centric sprawl to the west of the core of campus.

I would like to see the city specifically focus on helping the university connect with developers interested specifically in developing affordable housing and developments centered around active and public transportation.

As interdependent entities, the city and the university should communicate and collaborate. This is a relationship I believe needs to be much stronger. I’d like to see the university act faster around housing, and I hope that the city can help encourage this by using the UC system goal and by working to accommodate more housing as well.

Responses from District 4 Candidates

Adam Morrill - The city needs to still pressure the UC Davis through all means possible to house more students.  There needs to be a formal cooperative long-range plan between the city and university for housing of students.  Additionally, the city needs to negotiate for impact fees from the university to cover the costs associated with services primarily utilized by students and the impacts on city infrastructure.

Gloria Partida - The MOU worked out with UCD has gone a long way to open a relationship that makes it easer to negotiate on variety of issues. The Healthy Davis Together program was a prime example of this. Continue check ins with UCD to ensure they are meeting the agreed upon goals is important. Asking for an accelerated goal is reasonable if we find that housing continues to be impacted.

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The Sierra Club Yolano Group is a local Sierra Club group comprising members in all of Yolo and small parts of Solano and Colusa Counties. We can be contacted at sierraclubyolanogroup@gmail.com.

Comments

Roberta L. Millstein

I really like that Kelsey Fortune is a recent student and a current renter -- something the Council hasn't seen since Lamar Heystack, I believe. She brings that perspective and is attuned to the situation on the ground, not as it is interpreted by people who aren't actually in those situations. I also really appreciate that she values working with neighborhoods. Coming up with workable solutions that everyone can live with would go a long way toward improving the discourse in Davis, reducing the need for lawsuits and other political battles. Her answers give me confidence that she is seeking what is best for Davis in a balanced way.

Keith

Unfortunately Fortune and Vaitla are going to split the "anyone but Carson" vote leaving Carson a very good chance of sliding by. Too bad the District can't have a primary election between Fortune and Vaitla leaving just one opponent to Carson,

Colin Walsh

Carson talks about the addition of student housing in West Village as a positive, but he was part of a group that sued to stop West Village from ever being built in the first place. It is hard to tell what Carson really thinks about West Village and students with his mixed record, but he sure does like to sue.

Bob Milbrodt

Keith
The "anyone but Carson" vote won't be decisive because that crowd is not as large as many would like to believe, and Carson's political faux pas is not so widely known or disapproved. What is more likely to be decisive is that Vaitla and Carson both supported Measure H. Fortune and about 2/3 of the voters in District 1 opposed Measure H. That makes a pretty compelling argument that, when it comes to values, voters are most closely aligned with Fortune.

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