Desperate Times, Not So Desperate Measures: Davis Residents to Vote on Measure J

BY ISABELLA LORD

University of California Tercero Student Housing, Phase 3
(Jared Carpenter)

South of the UC Davis campus between Interstate 80 and Old Davis Road, there is a 46-acre stretch of empty land owned by Nishi Farms, Inc. Though entirely abandoned, its classification as agricultural property requires that the city of Davis vote before any development in the area takes place. In 2000, voters passed the Citizen’s Right to Vote on Future Use of Open Space and Agricultural Lands Ordinance. This requires the city to hold a popular vote before any empty or agricultural property is developed and was renewed in 2010.

The intention of the ordinance was to fight developers, keep citizens informed and protected, and promote careful planning of housing projects. However, it has tremendously slowed the growth necessary for the city. The city is currently at a 0.4 percent vacancy rate. Davis  already rejected a plans to build in the Nishi area in 2016, with voters mostly citing congestion, traffic, and noise being their main concerns. On June 5th, Measure J will appear on the ballot again, and its rejection could fuel a financial crisis for both students and long time residents of Davis. Though many Davis residents oppose the change, Measure J has an overwhelming amount of support from UC Davis students, who are currently suffering the most from the increase in demand. An increase in housing, however, is imperative for the residents as well. The dangerously low vacancy rate will lead to a sharply increase in property values, which will potentially lead to foreclosures.

“My hope is that Davis voters will show some empathy for others and approve those needed projects,” says Richard Rifkin, a resident of Davis and columnist for the Davis Enterprise, “My expectation is that Davis remains as self-centered as it has been for the last 18 years.” In addition to supporting measure J, Rifkin believes the Citizens Right to Vote on Future Use of Open Space and Agricultural Lands Ordinance should not be renewed in 2020.

Prospective students at UC Davis are drawn to the area under the impression that the college town will be affordable in comparison to universities in dense, urban areas. According to Rent Café, the average rent for a studio apartment in San Francisco  is about three times the average rent for a studio in Davis. However, what is unique and particularly precarious about Davis’s housing situation is the size of the town in relation to the large student population.

The city of Davis has a population of approximately  68,000 people, with 9,257 UC Davis students enrolled for Fall 2017. Unlike urban housing, Davis is considerably less prepared for a large population influx. The city has been in need of new apartment complexes for years now, but now the situation is dire. Though UC Davis opened the new Tercero dorm buildings this year, these on-campus problems do next to nothing to satiate the problem. People are beginning to buy homes in Davis specifically to rent them out to students, and up to ten students at a time crowd in these homes.

Davis residents who vote down student-focused developments citing “congestion” must accept that the student population already exists, and is growing. Stagnating development of the city for any longer is not going to change that fact, and refusing to accommodate for it is already demonstrating its consequences. Turning down Measure J will push more students  into single-family homes, or out of Davis, commuting from West Sac, Dixon, and Woodland. Though the bill is likely to be rejected by Davis residents, it has the potential the amend many of the issues residents currently have with the city. The development is largely a student-housing project, similar to West-village. Building apartments close to campus will pull demand both from apartments within the city and single family homes. Its proximity to campus and accessibility to downtown will deter the use of cars. Though the outlook for students looks grim, with the vote taking place in a little over a month, if enough students register to vote and spread the word on this issue, we may finally see some change.

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