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Davis, California

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

City Council candidates discuss Davis housing issue

Students in Davis start searching for houses and signing leases six months before move-in day. If you need a place to live in the middle of the lease year, good luck.

Currently in Davis, there is less than 1 percent rental availability, while 8,000 students live outside the city and commute to school.

Elections will be held June 3, and voters will be choosing three Davis City Council members. So what would each candidate do to fix the housing issue?

Rob Roy is a recent UC Davis graduate who served on the ASUCD senate and is currently working as regional manager for Ben & Jerry’s. When thinking about the city’s growth, his approach is, “slow and steady wins the race. And the race is to be the best community we can be.”

Roy said he believes that any new housing should be built within the community itself and believes that the community should be a part of the building process.

“I’m not opposed to building new housing, but there are places to do it in the community,” he said.

Roy said he does not want to build outside of city lines, and it is important to him to save and preserve all farm land.

In news media covering this election, two terms have been used to describe candidate platforms on growth: “slow-growth” and “pro-growth.”

“Slow-growth are the students’ candidates,” Roy said, referring to himself, Cecilia Escamilla-Greenwald and Mayor Sue Greenwald. “We aren’t in the pockets of the developers, and we have the student’s best interests in mind.”

Stephen Souza, running for his second term, said he does not see the candidates divided into slow-growth vs. pro-growth.

“This is no growth vs. slow growth,” he said. “[Housing] must have a wow-factor, be energy efficient, aesthetically pleasing, affordable and be places that people are proud to call home.”

Souza said he is in favor of infill, which is using available open space or vacant lots within the city’s boundaries as part of redevelopment or growth management. He said he is also in favor of housing built along Davis perimeters. He has been working on a “multi-use facility” project for the past three years that would be built on the block of Third, Fourth, E and F streets. The facility would have parking, retail and condos.

“It is very close to coming to consummation,” Souza said.

Don Saylor, another incumbent, said infill is a good solution for the short to mid-term. However, when looking ahead 25 years, he sees a need for more.

“With less than a 1 percent apartment vacancy rate, rental prices rising, other students being forced to live in other communities – that’s a canary in a coalmine,” he said.

Saylor said he sees housing as being linked to the closing of elementary schools, due to the low attendance rate.

“Young families aren’t coming as much anymore, because they can’t afford to live here,” Saylor said. “What we need to do is look to see what kind of town Davis wants to be.”

Saylor, in alignment with most of his opponents, said he thinks a smart answer to the housing situation would involve the university building more on-campus housing, making downtown more accessible, reducing the need for cars and keeping living costs low.

Saylor said he believes that in order for a community to sustain itself, a certain amount of growth is necessary.

“I don’t think anybody is for growth for growth’s sake,” he said. “Other cities have done that, but we don’t want to be Elk Grove or Roseville.”

Sydney Vergis is another candidate who is often included in the pro-growth category.

“I have seen many friends who work on campus start new families, move to West Sacramento and commute into Davis for work,” Vergis said in an e-mail interview. “These could be our future community leaders.”

Infill is in her attack plan, but she is also willing to look at building outside of the compact Davis community, using land in accordance with Measure J.

“I’m pro long-term conscientious land use planning,” Vergis said. “I have seen that, when done right, when the community is encouraged to engage in resource conservation and housing decisions, the opportunity to provide for a range of housing needs can be met in a way that not only conserves natural resources but also encourages walk-ability and bike-ability.”

Cecilia Escamilla-Greenwald said she is concerned with the student population’s need for housing.

“There are two types of housing I am looking for – smaller, more affordable workforce housing in the form of duplexes, and condos in infill sites,” Escamilla-Greenwald said in an e-mail interview.

There are a number of open lots throughout the city that could be built upon, as well as buildings that could be renovated and used for additional housing.

“I also look for the university to work to provide more housing for students and young faculty and staff members,” Escamilla-Greenwald said. “Some of that will occur with the West Village development. But currently less than a quarter of students reside on campus, the lowest rate amongst all of the UCs.”

The three groups in the most need of housing are students, and elderly and young couples. Mayor Sue Greenwald, who is running to keep her place on the council, is hoping to answer many of these needs by building on an unused lot owned by PG&E, located between Second, Fifth and L streets.

“PG&E is interested, our staff is working with them and developers that have worked on other PG&E sites,” Greenwald said. “There is no evidence of particularly bad toxic problems.”

The lot is 27 acres, which Greenwald says will house “lots and lots of people without leaving a large footprint.”

She would also like to see tall apartment buildings on campus, like Sproul Hall, in order to house many but not eat up space.

“I love this neighborhood,” said Greenwald, who lives on Rice Lane. “I don’t want to see it changed too much.”

Greenwald said she believes building condos on the PG&E site will bring more business to downtown merchants and will work to keep Davis bike- and pedestrian-friendly.

This project, according to Greenwald, is what the town needs to help the housing issue.

Saylor said he disagrees with this proposed project.

“Infill projects will help the town now, but we need to think long-term. We need to look 25 years ahead.”

All candidates seem to agree that there is a need for affordable housing, but the approaches are different, as well as the perceived quantity needed.


ALI EDNEY can be reached at city@californiaaggie.com.


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