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Residents sue over loss of ag land

By Lisa Lapin on January 9, 2004 in University

A group of West Davis residents who live near the site of a planned university residential neighborhood filed a lawsuit late last month challenging the campus's Long Range Development Plan and the adequacy of its environmental review.

At a Dec. 19 news conference at the site of the new neighborhood, members of West Davis Neighbors criticized the campus for planning to build housing on what is now agricultural land, for not further scaling back the size of the neighborhood and for "minimizing environmental damage caused by the project." The group also issued an appeal for donations to its litigation fund.

The project, approved in late November by the UC Board of Regents, would occupy 224 acres west of Highway 113 and south of Russell Boulevard and provide about 1,600 affordable housing units for students, faculty and staff. Reduced in size by more than half in response to community comment, the neighborhood could ultimately house about 4,350 residents when completed by 2015.

West Davis Neighbors spokesperson Mary-Alice Coleman said the group includes some 400 people and isn't "anti-university" or "anti-growth." "But we believe there are better ways to go about it than paving over this land," she said.

West Davis Neighbors member Stan Robinson said the university should accept the group's proposed alternatives for a much smaller neighborhood located closer to Highway 113. With the university's plan, "three to four times as much ag land is lost than is truly necessary," he said. "Now we're forced to go to the courts to intervene…I trust the citizens of Davis and of California will support us."

West Davis resident Jo Clare Peterman attended the news conference and challenged the group's stated level of support. "You're not 400 people; you're 70. My friends and I don't support your cause. The city doesn't support your cause. This is clearly a NIMBY issue."

Robinson responded that a NIMBY charge was "an attack on motivations….The best use of the land is to continue what it's been."

John Meyer, vice chancellor for resource management and planning, expressed confidence in the long-range development plan and the comprehensiveness of its environmental impact report.

"I believe the plan sets a new and higher standard for such projects," Meyer said. "It relies on alternative transportation, increases density from the community standard, and it will reflect a new level of energy conservation. It embraces the community's love of amenities such as greenbelts, habitat areas, play fields and community gathering spaces, enabling us to extend the same high quality of life that other residents enjoy to our new faculty, staff and students."

The biological and agricultural mitigation measures that the campus will implement "will preserve hundreds of acres of farmland, create hundreds of acres of wildlife habitat contiguous with the Putah Creek corridor, and potentially contribute to an open space buffer between Davis and Dixon," Meyer added.

The lawsuit, filed in Alameda County Superior Court, asks the court to invalidate the EIR and plans approved by the regents, including the new neighborhood and a research park.