AFSCME’s lawsuit against UC Davis could stall construction of student housing

ZOË REINHARDT / AGGIE

AFSCME alleges UC Davis not complying with California environmental law

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), which represents over 25,000 UC workers, filed a lawsuit regarding UC Davis’ Long Range Development Plan (LRDP), which includes projects aimed to increase student housing in Davis. The lawsuit claimed the university did not adequately analyze the potential impact of these projects on “agriculture resources, air quality, biological resources, greenhouse gas emissions, noise, traffic, housing and populations and aesthetics.”

Both university and student government leaders have condemned and criticized the lawsuit for its potential to stall the construction of additional student housing amid a lengthy housing crisis in the City of Davis.

When asked for comment, John de Los Angeles, a spokesperson for AFSCME, said via email that he “cannot comment on the lawsuit at this time.”

According to Vice Chancellor of Finance, Operations and Administration Kelly Ratliff, the LRDP included an expansion of West Village and Orchard Park, with plans to add an additional 3,270 beds in West Village.

According to Kirsten Stevenson, the senior campus counsel for the UC Office of the President, the university went through a public input process before finalizing the LRDP. Stevenson said that AFSCME was one of many entities that weighed in on the environmental impact of the LRDP.

“Lots of individuals and entities — the City of Davis, Yolo County — submitted comment letters to say, ‘Hey you didn’t properly analyze this or mitigate this impact appropriately,’” Stevenson said. “Part of the law requires that whatever public agency is going through [this] process listens to those comments, reflects upon those problems and makes some decisions before they actually finalize the environmental impact report that is associated with the Long Range Development Plan.”

The law Stevenson referenced is the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), which aims to maintain the quality of the environment.

More information about the environmental impacts of the LRDP can be found on the UC Davis Campus Tomorrow website, which includes a document of all the comments received on the LRDP and the university’s responses to the comments.

Stevenson said that the City of Davis and Yolo County raised concerns about the LRDP and its environmental impact and eventually came to an agreement after negotiations. According to Stevenson, however, when AFSCME raised concerns later on, the university and AFSCME were unable to reach an agreement.

“[AFSCME] wound up filing a lawsuit and their claim is that the university has not complied with the California Environmental Quality Act,” Stevenson said. “They claim that, in a variety of different areas, we haven’t adequately mitigated the environmental impacts — for example, greenhouse gases or impacts to roads — of the plans that we are proposing to undertake.”

In a statement released Sept. 28, the university said it is “perplexed and profoundly disappointed” by the lawsuit.

“We have previously made a series of generous offers to AFSCME that would have benefited UC Davis’ represented service workers and enabled UC Davis’ housing projects to move forward,” the statement read. “Despite agreement that more student housing is a benefit to all, AFSCME’s suit will likely prevent UC Davis from building affordable student housing in the near term.”

Stevenson explained what she believes to be AFSCME’s argument in the lawsuit.

“I believe their position is that if the employees used for student housing projects on this campus are not university employees, there will be environmental impacts because the people who ultimately fill those positions will come from further away to work on the UC Davis campus,” Stevenson said. “So there will be more greenhouse gas emissions, and there will be more damage to the roads.”

One of AFSCME’s primary concerns is the UC’s outsourcing of jobs. While discussing potential outcomes of this lawsuit, Stevenson mentioned that she believes a court will never require the university to use UC employees during or after the completion of the LRDP.

“Bottom line, there is a very limited number of remedies available in this type of litigation, and there is no remedy whatsoever where a court would order us to hire university employees for a project,” Stevenson said.

AFSCME’s concern with outsourcing — the use of non-UC employees for work on campus projects — may be valid, as Stevenson said the employees that private developers hire are not chosen by the university.

“There’s a very discreet set of projects — public private partnerships — and they’re used for student housing projects, and it is a means of developing student housing that can be done more affordably for students,” Stevenson said. “When we bid those projects out to developers, we tell them to use whatever they want. They have to come back to us with a proposal, and if it’s university [workers], great.”

ASUCD President Michael Gofman, External Vice President Edgar Masias-Malagon and Democrat Delegate and Union Steward Sean Raycraft signed a joint statement discouraging AFSCME’s lawsuit and any efforts “that would delay progress on the university’s housing plan.”

“[We] condemn the use of students’ welfare as a bargaining chip, and urge AFSCME to consider the effect on students their actions will take,” the statement read.

The statement claimed that UC Davis students “have played a critical role in many of AFSCME’s efforts over the past few years,” making AFSCME’s lawsuit “appalling and disheartening” in that it might delay or stall the construction of additional student housing.

In response, the ASUCD Ethnic and Cultural Affairs Commission, posted a statement to Facebook regarding both the joint statement published by ASUCD and AFSCME’s lawsuit.

AFSCME’s concern with the LRDP was/is valid in that they believe student housing should not be taken up on the basis of contracting out UC jobs and putting womxn, immigrant, black and brown, working class individuals at harm,” the post said. “Moreover, it is utterly disappointing and immoral to […] somehow [imply] that ASUCD has, as an association, taken several initiatives to support UC workers. The truth is, it has not.”

A separate statement from ASUCD signed by Gofman, Masias-Malagon, Office of Advocacy and Student Representation Legislative Director Jake Sedgley and student Senator Alisha Hacker, discouraged any efforts that would delay progress on the construction of housing.

“[We] urge all parties to understand the real and acute consequences we the students would feel in any delay,” the statement read.

 

Written By: Sabrina Habchi  — campus@theaggie.org