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Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Lawsuits claim UC Davis’ Aggie Square project brings gentrification and environmental impacts to Oak Park neighborhood

The university is planning to move forward with its schedule for design and construction of Phase 1 despite the lawsuits, according to a UC Davis administrator

Sacramento Investment Without Displacement (SIWD), a local community group, and UC employer union AFSCME 3299 have filed lawsuits against the UC Davis’ Aggie Square project being built in the Oak Park neighborhood in Sacramento. 

The lawsuits filed against the UC Board of Regents claim that the Aggie Square project, a $1.1 billion investment from UC Davis, is in violation of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) through its failure to properly mitigate air pollution and housing displacement. The project is being designed as an innovation hub that will bring forth new research facilities for students and employees. 

“We don’t seek to stop or delay Aggie Square,” said Erica Jaramillo, a board member of SIWD and long-term resident of Oak Park. “We only seek to ensure that it’s the best project it can be for UC Davis, our city, for our community. We’re seeking to ensure existing residents, predominantly low-income communities of color, equitably reap the benefits that the project can bring. We want to make sure that the residents that are currently here who aren’t making a lot of money right now, especially because of the pandemic, are going to be prioritized.” 

AFSCME 3299’s lawsuit states similar concerns about the Aggie Square project, with some UC employees being directly impacted by it. 

“AFSCME Local 3299 represents more than 3,000 Sacramento area workers, including hundreds that live in the neighborhoods that will be most directly affected by the proposed Aggie Square development,” Todd Stenhouse said, the spokesman for AFSCME 3299, via email. “Aggie Square’s Supplemental EIR fails to comply with the CEQA statute in a number of substantive ways—including (but not limited to) its failure to analyze or address the housing, health and transit needs of the families that will inevitably bear the brunt of this development’s impacts on air quality, traffic congestion and housing affordability.”

Despite the lawsuits, Matt Dulcich, the UC Davis director of environmental planning and local government directions, stated in an email that the university is planning to move forward with its schedule for design and construction of Phase 1. Dulcich referred to UC Davis’ compliance with the CEQA and its completion of the environmental review of the impacts of the project and said that UC Davis cannot comment on the legal aspects of pending litigations. 

Mayor Darrell Steinberg of Sacramento, who has been collaborating on the project with UC Davis, along with Sacramento Councilmembers Jay Schenirer and Eric Guerra, released a joint statement criticizing the SIWD lawsuit, commenting on the lawsuit’s potential delay on the project and calling it both, “unfortunate and, ultimately, unproductive.” 

“There is no community benefits agreement without a project. Five thousand union construction jobs and 3,500-5,000 ongoing jobs, many of which will be reserved for local residents, will be lost without a project,” the statement reads.

Kevin Ferreira, the executive director of the Sacramento-Sierra’s Building and Construction Trades Council, also commented on the lawsuit in the same statement. 

“This lawsuit sends a direct message to thousands of would-be workers that it is better for them to receive unemployment checks than to have a job that pays living wages and benefits,” Ferreira said. 

Jamarillo, however, said claims like Ferreira’s are meant to scare people and the aim of the lawsuit is to ensure UC Davis follows state laws.. 

 “The narrative that the city is putting out is fear, saying that this is going to threaten that investment from happening, this is going to threaten people’s opportunity for jobs,” Jamarillo said. “That’s not what this is about, the litigation is holding UC Davis accountable for [failing] to follow state rules.”

In addition to more jobs, Aggie Square is also planning to develop more than 700 housing units, 400 of which are planned to be affordable. 

“That’s breadcrumbs,” Jamarillo said. “We have over 11,000 [estimated] unhoused people here in Sacramento […] who are being violently swept by law enforcement with the city. If we’re not adequately equipped to provide housing for them, we’re not equipped to give housing to people who are not even here yet.”

She stated that, with the project bringing new jobs and housing, it is estimated that over 7,000 new residents will be joining the surrounding area. With more people coming in than housing being built by UC Davis, she said she worries housing demands will displace existing residents. 

Despite the City of Sacramento, UC Davis, SIWD and other community groups being in communication of developing a community benefits agreement, Steinberg announced they will no longer collaborate with those involved in the lawsuit, but continue to be in communication with other local groups and residents. 

“The recent comments made to the press by the city […] and refusing to work with us any longer are unfortunate,” Jamarillo said. “Our concern is also, why is the mayor, who works for us, for Sacramento, being the spokesperson for UC Davis?” 

Alberto Marcado, another SIWD organizer and resident of Oak Park, also expressed concern on how the Aggie Square project will impact the community. 

“I’m interested in making sure this is not going to affect local residents like myself, because it is something that UC Davis has done with other projects,” Mercado said, mentioning that despite UC Davis Medical Center being the local community hospital, it does not always accepting Medi-Cal, despite many of the local residents who use it as their primary health insurance. 

Mercado, who has been a resident of Oak Park since 1997, said he has seen the on-going effects gentrification has had on his community over the years. 

“It was a community where you saw a lot of communities of color: You saw Hispanics, African Americans, Asians—it was very diverse,” Mercado said. “In the last 10 years, a lot of our neighbors have lost their homes due to a lot of financial difficulties and values of homes [increasing]. Now what we’ve seen is a lot of white people have come in there because they have more money and secure jobs and so they’ve been displacing communities of color to the point where on my street, we are one of the only ones of color living there.” 

Written by: Annette Campos — campus@theaggie.org 

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