Economic Baselines for UCD and Oak Park

Economic History of UCD’s Medical Campus

UCD operates on two campuses. The main campus is in Davis, California, a college town just 15 miles to the west of Sacramento. The other campus is in the Oak Park neighborhood of Sacramento and contains the medical school and the headquarters for the health system operated by the university. The UC Davis Health System (UCDHS) includes satellite outpatient facilities throughout the region.

UCD’s Oak Park campus was established in 1972 when the university purchased the Sacramento County hospital for $8 million.[1] Today, UCD’s hospital system assets total more than $2.4 billion. In the past 30 years the footprint of the health system facilities has grown from 1.1. million gross square feet in 1991 to 3.4 million gross square feet today. The expansion of the campus footprint was enabled by the liquidation of adjacent properties owned by the State of California. These properties became surplus to in 1968 when it moved the State Fairgrounds out of Oak Park to a suburban location.

UCD’s primary economic activity is providing health care to the community. In this respect, UCD competes with private and nonprofit service providers to capture a portion of the income residents use to purchase healthcare services. Very little of UCD’s existing economic activity falls into the category of tradeable activities which are targeted by policymakers as means to expand the local economy.

What was disclosed in planning documents?

In the various planning documents for the Aggie Square Project there is no baseline economic data presented for the UCD Medical campus in Oak Park. The baseline data, however, can be gleaned from reviewing press releases associated with the general promotion of UCD, and reviewing published financial statements for UCD.

Economic History of Oak Park

The significant asset appreciation in the UCD medical campus stands in stark contrast to the economic history of the Oak Park neighborhood.  UCD is aware of this contrast. In press releases touting the historic growth of the medical campus, they note the pattern of disinvestment in adjacent neighborhoods, but only to represent UCD’s good fortune as a benefit to nearby residents. The unfortunate reality is that the same State actors which propelled the growth of the UCD Medical Campus, also worked successfully to suppress economic opportunities for people of color in the Oak Park neighborhoods.

The map of the Oak Park community below is from the 1920’s (Figure 1). On this map you can see the location of the County Hospital (purchased by UCD in 1972) and the now former State Fair Grounds, abandoned in 1968.  The source of UCD’s impressive asset accumulation over the last half century was access to this property. This purpose of this map was to flag neighborhoods, based on the presence of African American other minority renters, as risky locations for home loans (only available to white residents). The yellow shading classified areas as “definitely declining.” Examples of notes for these areas include statements like “: Realtors state taht (sic) the few scattered Negro families (six known) are old residents and do not affect values beyond adjoining property,” and “The few Negro families (two known) are said to affect values of only adjacent properties.”

Figure 1:

To stop the continued infiltration of African American and other minority renters, and the continued devaluation of white-owned properties, special restrictions were added to property titles in Oak Park prohibiting the occupancy of homes by any people of color – unless they were servants to the white occupants. An example of this covenant is provides in Figure 2. This example comes from the title to property held by the Women’s Civic Improvement Club in Oak Park – the oldest African-American women’s organization in Sacramento. When these tactics failed to stabilize the neighborhoods for white residents, homes were turned into rentals and were occupied by a variety of minorities. To create a physical barrier between the Oak Park neighborhood and wealthier neighborhoods to the north and west, the interstate highway system was routed between white and non-white neighborhoods in the late 1950’s and early 60’s. The dashed lines on Figure 1 indicate the approximate location of these new interstate freeways. 

                During the 1960’s, as with the other parts of the country facing the same barriers to prosperity, life in the Oak Park neighborhood was marked by episodes of civil unrest. As a response to police brutality during these protests, Oak Park residents formed a chapter of the Black Panthers to protect residents from police violence and provide needed social services. In 1970, City of Sacramento police raided the Black Panthers offices and effectively shuttered its services to the community (Dingemans & Datel, 1995).

Robert K. Nelson, LaDale Winling, Richard Marciano, Nathan Connolly, et al., “Mapping Inequality,” American Panorama, ed. Robert K. Nelson and Edward L. Ayers, accessed August 20, 2021, https://dsl.richmond.edu/panorama/redlining/

The relentless decades-long suppression of economic opportunities for minority residents in Oak Park precluded hundreds of families from building generational wealth through home equity – the primary source of wealth accumulation for the middle class (Rosenstein, 2017).

What was disclosed in planning documents?

The planning documents generated by the project proponents during the Aggie Square planning process did not describe the impact of historic and systemic racism on economic opportunities for minority residents of Oak Park. Documents which provide the long-range development plan for the medical campus and which describe the environmental impacts of the project provide this non-descript narrative of the community:

“To the west (west of commercial business buildings along Stockton Boulevard) is the North Oak Park neighborhood, with a mix of single-family and multi-family residences. These neighborhoods can be characterized as pre-World War II traditional neighborhoods. “

The site selection document issued jointly by UC Davis and the City provides a romanticized view of Oak Park’s history, while implying the City had rectified any inequities it created: 

“UC Davis Health is nestled in the historic community called Oak Park. While once a thriving residential and town center for African Americans and Sacramento’s diverse community, Oak Park experienced years of economic disinvestment, resulting in a decline in safety, services, education and quality of life for people living in the community. After over 30 years of redevelopment, Oak Park is returning to the vibrancy it once had.”

This omission of Oak Park’s economic history within key planning documents, minimized the need for policy makers to address the lost opportunities of Oak Park residents to build generation wealth during the past 90 years.


[1] https://health.ucdavis.edu/aboutus/150th-anniversary/articles/enter-UC-Davis-start-of-world-class-institution.html