Commentary: Still Unanswered – Do We Need 610 Units of Additional Housing Right Now?

Con-Agra-FebThere are so many different angles and aspects to the Cannery Project that it is taking a lot of time to untangle them.  Already we have talked about the implications of re-zoning the property and pushing any business parks to the periphery where they will be subject to a Measure J vote and an uncertain status.

But just as big is the question as to whether we need additional housing at this time.

The arguments against housing at this point are that we have 500 to 600 entitled units in the City of Davis, another sector of housing being built by UC Davis at West Village, and finally we are still in the midst of a real estate collapse which has slowed the construction even of entitled properties.

The arguments for housing are that we lack affordable housing in the City of Davis, young families with school children are diminishing in numbers, we are suffering from declining enrollment and the housing market is about to turn around and we need to have units ready to go.

However, real estate people I have talked to indicate that we are not going to see much of a turn around for at least two more years.

The council is really divided on the need for housing.  Councilmember Greenwald said flatly on Tuesday night that we have no need for new housing. 

Councilmember Stephen Souza argued that recessions do end, times will be good again and that we will grow again.

Others were a bit more mixed in their views. For example, while Councilmember Dan Wolk called it a worthy and innovative project, he had questions as to whether we need this amount of housing, given what is in the pipeline, and he asked, “is this the time to be entitling 610 units?”

Mayor Joe Krovoza made that point that where the economy currently is, it is harder to make finances work and get the kind of features that we are looking for.

Perhaps most telling was an exchange between Mayor Pro Tem Rochelle Swanson and Mike Webb from the Community Development Department.

On the surface, Mike Webb appeared to try to minimize the various developments that have been entitled: Grande, Verona, Chiles, the two Willowbank projects, New Harmony and Carlton Plaza.

Indeed, Carlton Plaza is assisted-living and New Harmony is affordable.  It could be argued that these are specialty projects that do not serve the general population.

Of the others, Grande has no final map for development, Verona is slowly proceeding with a number of units under construction, Chiles is not proceeding and the Willowbank projects are proceeding but slowly.

Meanwhile, West Village will eventually have a large number of faculty and staff units, but they are not being built as rapidly as thought and the indication was that the build-out rate would be strongly market-dependent.

So, one could look at this from the perspective I think city staff was coming from, that the number of units were less than suggested by their numbers.

However, I take it another way. They are a sign that, despite the fact that the units have been entitled, the market is not there right now for building homes.

To me that suggests that we do not need another 600 entitled units on the market. 

There are a lot of advantages, in fact, to waiting.

First, both Joe Krovoza and Stephen Souza were pushing hard for a more innovative project.  But the economics are not there for an innovative project at this time.

Second, the business park situation needs to be resolved.  Some are arguing that the business park is being pushed as a way to kill development. However, every councilmember last fall prioritized economic development within the city. The city is using redevelopment money on the University Park property in order to bring us a Hotel Conference center that can bring in real money to the city.

But there are limited opportunities to do that and the key finding last year was our lack of business park land.  The biggest property available for that is Cannery.

Are there problems with it?  Sure.  But no more than anywhere else.  The biggest asset it has – the same asset it has for housing by the way – is that it is already in the city and would not require a Measure J vote.

As I argued yesterday, maybe you can pass a Measure J vote to build east of Mace or at the Northwest Quadrant, but I am skeptical that you can.  One thing you can buy right now is time to explore those options and to see if the city can perhaps put together an incentive package to bring major business to the Cannery site.

Time is on our side here, because right now we do not need new housing.

Moreover, as Sue Greenwald pointed out, there will probably be a pent-up demand to sell homes once the economy bounces back, which will put a lot more houses on the market.

I think people, for the most part, live in dream land if they believe that the city is going to suddenly have lots of marketrate affordable units for families with young children to purchase.

First, the projects in the works will not reduce real estate prices and second, the homes in most of these proposed projects are too large for that type of clientele anyway.

Moreover, while 600 units is a large number, it is not large enough to increase the number of children or, in the long term, stave off declining school enrollment, if one believes that is the big looming threat.

Right now, the public is unwilling to develop further out on the periphery, as even a relatively small 200-unit project was overwhelmingly defeated.

The reality is that even with Cannery this will remain a slow-growth community, and even with Cannery the same expressed concerns would remain.

I would thus argue that there is a reason units are not being built, and that does not mean we need more entitled units, it means the economy is not ready for more houses.

There are advantages to waiting, in terms of costs, in terms of the type of project we can get and in terms of a better understanding of how to attract the type of businesses we are looking to attract, and more importantly, where.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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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20 Comments

  1. E Roberts Musser

    My questions:
    1) Why eliminate through rezoning what we do need – economic development – to build what we don’t need – new housing?
    2) If we do rezone the Cannery parcel residential, then where does economic development go in Davis?
    3) Will the city get tough, and use zoning as the leverage it needs, to build a really innovative project; make the developer pay for all the costs; and give the city what it truly needs? And what does the city truly need? Revenue generating business? Or housing?
    4) Why is BEDC supporting residential housing on this site, instead of economic development?
    5) Will this project be net fiscally neutral if rezoned residential, or end up costing the city money that the city can ill afford?
    6) If residential housing is built, will it provide any meaningful workforce housing, or relatively low quality housing for an exorbitant price?

  2. medwoman

    ERM

    1) Well spoken, and if I might add one more thought:
    2) For those concerned about the safety involved in having increased truck traffic in the area from use as an industrial site, there are also the safety concerns presented by having only one fully functional entrance/exit from the community for a population of this size. Lest anyone think this is a trivial or easily surmountable issue, you have no further to look than Olive Drive to see that these issues are frequently harder to resolve than would seem initially.

  3. davisite2

    “There are advantages to waiting, in terms of costs, in terms of the type of project we can get and in terms of a better understanding of how to attract the type of businesses we are looking to attract, and more importantly, where.”

    Above is an accurate assessment of the arguments against entitling the Cannery project now. The arguments in favor only benefit CITY STAFF(protecting their jobs from further downsizing),DEVELOPERS and ALLIED BUSINESS INTERESTS. The Council members’ votes will be a clear demonstration of whose interests they represent.

  4. rusty49

    I don’t see increased truck traffic being a big problem especially if a high-tech firm comes in. Nugget Market is already located nearby and getting trucks there never seems to be a problem and there’s a truck rental service close to the Cannery off of F St. and I have yet to hear people complaining about them.

  5. rusty49

    “The arguments in favor only benefit CITY STAFF(protecting their jobs from further downsizing),DEVELOPERS and ALLIED BUSINESS INTERESTS. The Council members’ votes will be a clear demonstration of whose interests they represent.”

    Davisite, well said. We’ve brought on three new council members with the hope that things would change from the pro developer days of the Gang of Three.

  6. Don Shor

    Even with West Village, Davis needs several hundred rental units to get the vacancy rate down to a healthy level. The only way affordable housing will occur on this site (or any other, probably) is if the council insists on high-density housing.

  7. Dr. Wu

    [quote]There are advantages to waiting, in terms of costs, in terms of the type of project we can get and in terms of a better understanding of how to attract the type of businesses we are looking to attract, and more importantly, where.[/quote]

    That sums it up.

  8. Becky

    Wow… yet another article by the Vanguard opposing the Con Agra project. That makes five days in a row of articles to say the same negative points over and over and over again. Perhaps the Vanguard should change its name to the “No on Con Agra project campaign“ website.

    The questioning of “do we need the units now” is particularly hypocritical since I now understand from other comments posted that the Vanguard supported the Wildhorse Ranch proposal two years ago. That was also during the recession. As stated in the article today, the predictions are that the housing market is expected to improve in the coming two years. This project would come on line right about then. So I’d have to say that it makes a lot of sense to me to move forward with the Con Agra project now.

    I can also see that the same folks that have been posting repeatedly, have convinced themselves of their positions to oppose this project. But it is clear to me that they are not likely to support any housing project. To expect Davis to never grow again, or to not try to get young families back into Davis to give our city, and our schools, a future is something that I just can’t agree with.

  9. medwoman

    Becky,

    I would like to know what it is in any of my posts that would lead you to believe that I would oppose “any housing project.” I would strongly support a project on a similar model to Village Homes, appropriately located, and affordably priced. I just don’t feel at this point, that the Cannery project, as currently described, meets those goals.

    What I have not seen in your posts is any objective data supporting this particular project. Yourl support as articulated so far, seems based only on your personal desire for a single family residence suitable for a young family. While this is a fine goal, I don’t think it is enough to base city policy on.

  10. Becky

    Medwoman,

    My concern is that I feel that there there is not really enough data out yet to reject the project. Furthermore, apparently not all of the information on the proposal is understood correctly. For instance you posted that you feel that one entrance is not enough, but the plan has 2 entrances.

    So my feeling is that it is far too early to pass judgment to reject what seems to be a project that is nicely designed and would be good for Davis.

  11. medwoman

    Becky,

    So you seem to feel that there is not yet enough data to not be in favor of the project, but you do feel that there is enough to support it ?
    I am not clear how that represents anything other than personal preference.

    As to the existence of two entrances, that also was not addressed sufficiently at the informational meeting and not at all at the CCM,
    Unless I missed it. At the educational meeting, the question was raised about the feasibility of the second proposed entrance located
    closer to F street. Neither the ConAgra representative or city representative present were able to provide a definitive answer to whether that was structurally or economically feasible and stated it needed further review. Perhaps that review has occurred and been found acceptable, in which case that would come off my list of concerns.
    Do you know that that is the case?

  12. Sue Greenwald

    There is talk about an at-grade crossing over the railroad tracks for emergency vehicles, but it has very strong opposition from neighbors because trains are required to sound their horns for quite some distance if they are approaching an at grade crossing, and it is very loud. Freight trains travel all night long.

    I have heard from a number of neighbors who prefer a business park, who prefer housing and who are open to both, but all are opposed to the at-grade crossing with its accompanying train horn noise.

  13. Becky

    Medwoman,

    What I am saying is that I have enough information to be in support of the project but apparently you do not. I was suggesting that you might want until you get your questions answered regarding the data you need before you make a final decision of whether you support the project or not.

    On the secondary entrance, yes it is in the new design and it is illustrated in the diagram above. It may be that you went to the early meetings and before this design change occurred.

  14. medwoman

    Becky,

    If you are referring to the westernmost entrance on Covell, that is the one that was felt to be in question at the second meeting.
    The emergency vehicle crossing to the north apparently requires negotiation with Union Pacific and is felt to be highly undesirable by the neighbors due to the additional train noise.

  15. AllanSr.

    After just having a chance today to catch up on email I read today’s Vanguard on the subject of Con Agra. I am disappointed to see the Vanguard’s endless negativity about the project, but I found it to be rather excessive after an entire week of daily oppositional articles. The constant negativity on this subject by the Vanguard makes it evident that there is not going to be a fair and objective discussion, but a constant stream of opposition regarding the Con Agra project.

    I am sorry to see the Vanguard lose its objectivity and become such a dedicated naysayer on this issue. It is clear to me now that Vanguard does not represent the opinion of the majority of Davis residents on issues like the Con Agra project.

    Using the “firehose” method of trying to disseminate the Vanguard’s negative opinion on the Con Agra project proposal is quite a turn off. This overkill of negative blog stories day after day really just reveals an agenda by the Vanguard to continue to try to kill the Con Agra project (as stated in one of the Vanguard headlines).

    I am disappointed to see the obvious lack of “objective reporting” by the Vanguard on this issue.

  16. Frank

    Becky and Allan Sr.:

    Some observations:
    (1) David shamelessly promoted the Wildhorse Ranch proposal.
    (2) He had close personal ties to the Parlin political consultant.
    (3) Lamar and many of the players in the Vanguard orbit behaved out-of-character during the Wildhorse Ranch decision.
    (4) Parlin consultants have been showing up to the ConAgra meetings.

    These and other observations all suggest to me that David’s “kill ConAgra by any means possible agenda” is driven by one or more of the following motivations:
    (1) Sour grapes from the Wildhorse Ranch defeat.
    (2) Payback/revenge directed towards opponents of Wildhorse Ranch that support ConAgra.
    (3) Political positioning to set the table for some future Parlin submission.

    As a consequence, I would take his commentary with a BIG grain of salt. He is also propagating various pieces of misinformation, so be wary of his statements of fact.

  17. Dr. Wu

    [quote]the predictions are that the housing market is expected to improve[/quote]

    The leading authority here is Robert Shiller at Yale (and co-creator of Case-Shiller Index).

    He sees a very long bottoming process and says there is probably still farther to go on the downside. plus, as David pointed out, we have other projects entitled or planned.

  18. rusty49

    “I am sorry to see the Vanguard lose its objectivity and become such a dedicated naysayer on this issue. It is clear to me now that Vanguard does not represent the opinion of the majority of Davis residents on issues like the Con Agra project.”

    Actually, the Vanguard does represent the opinion of most of the Davis residents on Con Agra. In the last election 75% of us emphatically stated that we don’t want new housing at this time.

  19. E Roberts Musser

    Becky: “So my feeling is that it is far too early to pass judgment to reject what seems to be a project that is nicely designed and would be good for Davis.”

    How do you know it would be good for Davis? Do you know, for instance, what its fiscal impact will be? You couldn’t possibly know that, bc city staff and the developers don’t even know. Would you be in favor of this project if it raises the taxes/fees of current citizens significantly? Or do you even care, bc you don’t live in Davis? Will you or other young families be able to afford a home in this project, w home prices between $450K and $650K?

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