Guest Commentary: Examining the Effect of Housing Density on Open Space

by Matt Williams

Friday in his Guest Commentary, Kevin Wolf covered a lot of well thought out points. I would like to focus on one of those points . . . the effect that decisions about housing density will have on how effectively we protect/use the open space around Davis. Rather than force everyone to reread Kevin’s whole commentary, I have excerpted the portions that focus on density here:

The Housing Element Steering Committee asked the public for feedback on what principles and goals [the committee] should use to prioritize where new growth should occur. The top five highest rated principles translate into placing new housing near the downtown and university and/or close to schools and shopping.

I translate this to mean that Davisites prefer we grow at higher densities than lower densities, or for some that we do not grow at all. For example, Lewis Homes’ Cannery Project will eat up one acre of land for every six units it develops even though its densities will average 8 – 22 units per acre. The reason for the lower average for the 98 acres is because of the land that gets taken up by streets, drainage ponds, parks and non-residential buildings. If we increase a site’s density by six units, we will have save an acre of Ag land or habitat from being lost in the future.

The Steering Committee, the City Council, and ultimately, with any new major development outside of existing city limits, the citizens of Davis should prioritize those developments that do the most good in relationship to the negatives they cause. I

If we think out 30 years and have a 1% growth rate, which would be among the very lowest in the region, we will build out just about every one of the 37 sites presented to our committee if we build at the density proposed for Grande (39 homes on 7 acres) or Lewis Homes (6 homes per acre). In every location, we need to build wonderful, engaging, and highly energy efficient homes, townhouses, condos and apartments at higher densities than in the past to reduce the amount of driving that is needed by residents and to protect ag land and habitat in the region. I hope my work on the Housing Committee helps achieve that.

They say, “a picture is worth 1,000 words.” The following graphic prepared by the Planning Department Staff, takes Kevin’s words and converts them into a very compelling picture.



The story this picture tells is both simple and compelling.

  • If Davis grows at a rate of 300 units per year between now and the year 2050, that will add 12,600 New Units.
  • If those 12,600 units are added at an average density of 8 units per acre, then the developed footprint of Davis will expand 2,472 acres.
  • If the average density increases to 14 units per acre, the footprint expansion will reduce over 1,000 acres to 1,410, and
  • If the average density increases to 20 units per acre, the footprint decreases another 500 acres to 894
20 units per acre is a much higher average density than Davis has historically experienced, but when I look at the three maps, I find the top one is the one with the most appeal. Thursday night I will have the chance to share that opinion with the Housing Element Steering Committee at their Community Workshop at Holmes Junior High School. Don’t miss the opportunity to share your opinion as well.

By the way, the three-map graphic can be just as effective in demonstrating the effect of varying annual growth rates at constant density. Mathematically, at a fixed density of 8 units per acre, the bottom map represents an annual growth rate of 1.2% (300 new units per year), the middle map represents an annual growth rate of 0.7% (170 new units per year), and the top map represents an annual growth rate of 0.5% (120 new units per year). As the smoking Nazi soldier, Arte Johnson used to say, “Very interesting . . . “

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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28 Comments

  1. Anonymous

    What would be quite interesting would be a graphic illustrating how much and who owns the black- shaded land. While not necessarily determinative, social/business relationships as well as indirect personal gain can then be added to the “principled” arguments put foward.

  2. Anonymous

    What would be quite interesting would be a graphic illustrating how much and who owns the black- shaded land. While not necessarily determinative, social/business relationships as well as indirect personal gain can then be added to the “principled” arguments put foward.

  3. Anonymous

    What would be quite interesting would be a graphic illustrating how much and who owns the black- shaded land. While not necessarily determinative, social/business relationships as well as indirect personal gain can then be added to the “principled” arguments put foward.

  4. Anonymous

    What would be quite interesting would be a graphic illustrating how much and who owns the black- shaded land. While not necessarily determinative, social/business relationships as well as indirect personal gain can then be added to the “principled” arguments put foward.

  5. Anonymous

    Who on earth is the “smoking Nazi soldier, Arte Johnson?” [and what is he, or Matt, smoking?]
    Also, why would a Nazi find plans to develop fertile farm land “Very interesting . . . “?

  6. Anonymous

    Who on earth is the “smoking Nazi soldier, Arte Johnson?” [and what is he, or Matt, smoking?]
    Also, why would a Nazi find plans to develop fertile farm land “Very interesting . . . “?

  7. Anonymous

    Who on earth is the “smoking Nazi soldier, Arte Johnson?” [and what is he, or Matt, smoking?]
    Also, why would a Nazi find plans to develop fertile farm land “Very interesting . . . “?

  8. Anonymous

    Who on earth is the “smoking Nazi soldier, Arte Johnson?” [and what is he, or Matt, smoking?]
    Also, why would a Nazi find plans to develop fertile farm land “Very interesting . . . “?

  9. Matt Williams

    anonymous 10:28, you are showing your age . . . or I am showing mine 8>) Try Googling Arte Johnson and you will get an answer to your first question. You may even get an answer to your second question.

    anonymous 9:09, your question illuminates the nature of the land development business. But before I provide an answer, it is important to note that the specific location of the shaded areas was not meant to represent a specific predicition of what would happen, but rather a generalized senso of the amount of land that would be converted from Ag to housing.

    In fact, one of the HESC members Bob Traverso, questioned the Staff on why they had included any shaded area on the East side of Davis, given the openly stated lack of interest (to the HESC) by the people who own those parcels. The answer from Staff was that they were trying to portray the loss of Ag land in a way that showed no bias toward (or against) any current residential area in Davis.

    With that said, virtually all the land on the periphery of Davis (North, South, East and West) is owned by development interests or UCD. The fact that that is true is simply a reflection of the convergence of the supply/demand curve with risk/reward investment decisions. Developers, who have virtually infinite patience, have made decisions that the risks associated with tying up their dollars in land ownership now will pay future dividends when the demand for housing in Davis exceeds the supply. At that time the ability to add housing to meet the demand will only be able to be satisfied from the supply of peripheral land.

    The risk the developers take when they make that decision to purchase Ag land is that 1) the supply/demand curve will never end up with a need for Ag land conversion, 2) the citizens of Davis will exercise their Measure J rights and prevent the rezoning of the land, or 3) the competition between developers will result in some developers getting chosen and other developers being left behind.

  10. Matt Williams

    anonymous 10:28, you are showing your age . . . or I am showing mine 8>) Try Googling Arte Johnson and you will get an answer to your first question. You may even get an answer to your second question.

    anonymous 9:09, your question illuminates the nature of the land development business. But before I provide an answer, it is important to note that the specific location of the shaded areas was not meant to represent a specific predicition of what would happen, but rather a generalized senso of the amount of land that would be converted from Ag to housing.

    In fact, one of the HESC members Bob Traverso, questioned the Staff on why they had included any shaded area on the East side of Davis, given the openly stated lack of interest (to the HESC) by the people who own those parcels. The answer from Staff was that they were trying to portray the loss of Ag land in a way that showed no bias toward (or against) any current residential area in Davis.

    With that said, virtually all the land on the periphery of Davis (North, South, East and West) is owned by development interests or UCD. The fact that that is true is simply a reflection of the convergence of the supply/demand curve with risk/reward investment decisions. Developers, who have virtually infinite patience, have made decisions that the risks associated with tying up their dollars in land ownership now will pay future dividends when the demand for housing in Davis exceeds the supply. At that time the ability to add housing to meet the demand will only be able to be satisfied from the supply of peripheral land.

    The risk the developers take when they make that decision to purchase Ag land is that 1) the supply/demand curve will never end up with a need for Ag land conversion, 2) the citizens of Davis will exercise their Measure J rights and prevent the rezoning of the land, or 3) the competition between developers will result in some developers getting chosen and other developers being left behind.

  11. Matt Williams

    anonymous 10:28, you are showing your age . . . or I am showing mine 8>) Try Googling Arte Johnson and you will get an answer to your first question. You may even get an answer to your second question.

    anonymous 9:09, your question illuminates the nature of the land development business. But before I provide an answer, it is important to note that the specific location of the shaded areas was not meant to represent a specific predicition of what would happen, but rather a generalized senso of the amount of land that would be converted from Ag to housing.

    In fact, one of the HESC members Bob Traverso, questioned the Staff on why they had included any shaded area on the East side of Davis, given the openly stated lack of interest (to the HESC) by the people who own those parcels. The answer from Staff was that they were trying to portray the loss of Ag land in a way that showed no bias toward (or against) any current residential area in Davis.

    With that said, virtually all the land on the periphery of Davis (North, South, East and West) is owned by development interests or UCD. The fact that that is true is simply a reflection of the convergence of the supply/demand curve with risk/reward investment decisions. Developers, who have virtually infinite patience, have made decisions that the risks associated with tying up their dollars in land ownership now will pay future dividends when the demand for housing in Davis exceeds the supply. At that time the ability to add housing to meet the demand will only be able to be satisfied from the supply of peripheral land.

    The risk the developers take when they make that decision to purchase Ag land is that 1) the supply/demand curve will never end up with a need for Ag land conversion, 2) the citizens of Davis will exercise their Measure J rights and prevent the rezoning of the land, or 3) the competition between developers will result in some developers getting chosen and other developers being left behind.

  12. Matt Williams

    anonymous 10:28, you are showing your age . . . or I am showing mine 8>) Try Googling Arte Johnson and you will get an answer to your first question. You may even get an answer to your second question.

    anonymous 9:09, your question illuminates the nature of the land development business. But before I provide an answer, it is important to note that the specific location of the shaded areas was not meant to represent a specific predicition of what would happen, but rather a generalized senso of the amount of land that would be converted from Ag to housing.

    In fact, one of the HESC members Bob Traverso, questioned the Staff on why they had included any shaded area on the East side of Davis, given the openly stated lack of interest (to the HESC) by the people who own those parcels. The answer from Staff was that they were trying to portray the loss of Ag land in a way that showed no bias toward (or against) any current residential area in Davis.

    With that said, virtually all the land on the periphery of Davis (North, South, East and West) is owned by development interests or UCD. The fact that that is true is simply a reflection of the convergence of the supply/demand curve with risk/reward investment decisions. Developers, who have virtually infinite patience, have made decisions that the risks associated with tying up their dollars in land ownership now will pay future dividends when the demand for housing in Davis exceeds the supply. At that time the ability to add housing to meet the demand will only be able to be satisfied from the supply of peripheral land.

    The risk the developers take when they make that decision to purchase Ag land is that 1) the supply/demand curve will never end up with a need for Ag land conversion, 2) the citizens of Davis will exercise their Measure J rights and prevent the rezoning of the land, or 3) the competition between developers will result in some developers getting chosen and other developers being left behind.

  13. Rich Rifkin

    Matt,

    Didn’t the Nazi usually say, “Very interesting… but stupid!”?

    I was a wee tot when Laugh-In was on, so my memory may be wrong.

    Also, I recall when Reagan was president, Arte Johnson visited the White House and said that his Nazi character came from a Reagan movie (though Reagan was not “the Nazi”).

  14. Rich Rifkin

    Matt,

    Didn’t the Nazi usually say, “Very interesting… but stupid!”?

    I was a wee tot when Laugh-In was on, so my memory may be wrong.

    Also, I recall when Reagan was president, Arte Johnson visited the White House and said that his Nazi character came from a Reagan movie (though Reagan was not “the Nazi”).

  15. Rich Rifkin

    Matt,

    Didn’t the Nazi usually say, “Very interesting… but stupid!”?

    I was a wee tot when Laugh-In was on, so my memory may be wrong.

    Also, I recall when Reagan was president, Arte Johnson visited the White House and said that his Nazi character came from a Reagan movie (though Reagan was not “the Nazi”).

  16. Rich Rifkin

    Matt,

    Didn’t the Nazi usually say, “Very interesting… but stupid!”?

    I was a wee tot when Laugh-In was on, so my memory may be wrong.

    Also, I recall when Reagan was president, Arte Johnson visited the White House and said that his Nazi character came from a Reagan movie (though Reagan was not “the Nazi”).

  17. Matt Williams

    Rich, what did we do without Google? From http://www.webpan.com/thelaughin/jokesii.htm, “Johnson indicated later that the phrase came from Desperate Journey, a 1942 World War II film with Errol Flynn and Ronald Reagan playing Royal Air Force pilots shot down in Nazi Germany; they managed to cross much of the country without speaking German or knowing the territory, but when captured, their Nazi interrogator doubts their story with the phrase.

    BTW, for anyone who is interested in what some example Residential Densities in Davis are, go to http://www.city.davis.ca.us/cdd/GPUpdate/pdfs/20070621/gp_up_examples_of_res_densities.pdf which was provided by Staff to the HESC.

  18. Matt Williams

    Rich, what did we do without Google? From http://www.webpan.com/thelaughin/jokesii.htm, “Johnson indicated later that the phrase came from Desperate Journey, a 1942 World War II film with Errol Flynn and Ronald Reagan playing Royal Air Force pilots shot down in Nazi Germany; they managed to cross much of the country without speaking German or knowing the territory, but when captured, their Nazi interrogator doubts their story with the phrase.

    BTW, for anyone who is interested in what some example Residential Densities in Davis are, go to http://www.city.davis.ca.us/cdd/GPUpdate/pdfs/20070621/gp_up_examples_of_res_densities.pdf which was provided by Staff to the HESC.

  19. Matt Williams

    Rich, what did we do without Google? From http://www.webpan.com/thelaughin/jokesii.htm, “Johnson indicated later that the phrase came from Desperate Journey, a 1942 World War II film with Errol Flynn and Ronald Reagan playing Royal Air Force pilots shot down in Nazi Germany; they managed to cross much of the country without speaking German or knowing the territory, but when captured, their Nazi interrogator doubts their story with the phrase.

    BTW, for anyone who is interested in what some example Residential Densities in Davis are, go to http://www.city.davis.ca.us/cdd/GPUpdate/pdfs/20070621/gp_up_examples_of_res_densities.pdf which was provided by Staff to the HESC.

  20. Matt Williams

    Rich, what did we do without Google? From http://www.webpan.com/thelaughin/jokesii.htm, “Johnson indicated later that the phrase came from Desperate Journey, a 1942 World War II film with Errol Flynn and Ronald Reagan playing Royal Air Force pilots shot down in Nazi Germany; they managed to cross much of the country without speaking German or knowing the territory, but when captured, their Nazi interrogator doubts their story with the phrase.

    BTW, for anyone who is interested in what some example Residential Densities in Davis are, go to http://www.city.davis.ca.us/cdd/GPUpdate/pdfs/20070621/gp_up_examples_of_res_densities.pdf which was provided by Staff to the HESC.

  21. 無名 - wu ming

    increasing density in areas already within the city limits would accomodate a lot of that growth without using any ag land. the trick is in choosing where to do it without overloading transportation infrastructure. if you make a place dense, but everyone still has to drive their cars to get to work or do errands or go to school, then you create traffic problems.

    if you can get things so that one does not have to get in the car, then you can get that density, and that growth, without those traffic issues.

    a nice graphical way of making the point.

  22. 無名 - wu ming

    increasing density in areas already within the city limits would accomodate a lot of that growth without using any ag land. the trick is in choosing where to do it without overloading transportation infrastructure. if you make a place dense, but everyone still has to drive their cars to get to work or do errands or go to school, then you create traffic problems.

    if you can get things so that one does not have to get in the car, then you can get that density, and that growth, without those traffic issues.

    a nice graphical way of making the point.

  23. 無名 - wu ming

    increasing density in areas already within the city limits would accomodate a lot of that growth without using any ag land. the trick is in choosing where to do it without overloading transportation infrastructure. if you make a place dense, but everyone still has to drive their cars to get to work or do errands or go to school, then you create traffic problems.

    if you can get things so that one does not have to get in the car, then you can get that density, and that growth, without those traffic issues.

    a nice graphical way of making the point.

  24. 無名 - wu ming

    increasing density in areas already within the city limits would accomodate a lot of that growth without using any ag land. the trick is in choosing where to do it without overloading transportation infrastructure. if you make a place dense, but everyone still has to drive their cars to get to work or do errands or go to school, then you create traffic problems.

    if you can get things so that one does not have to get in the car, then you can get that density, and that growth, without those traffic issues.

    a nice graphical way of making the point.

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