For years the city has refused to do any real long-term planning in terms of residential housing. It is bad policy and it may come back to bite the city in more ways than one. As we get further and further into the discussion of innovation parks, the question will grow louder that if we are creating jobs in Davis, where are we going to house those residents?
The answer may truly be that we do not need more housing for those workers. You can make a pretty strong case for a regional distribution of jobs and housing if you create jobs where they make the most sense and housing where housing is most affordable. You can also make an argument that we simply don’t need the housing – that right now, working age professionals live in Davis and commute to Sacramento or the Bay Area.
The problem with both answers is not that they are wrong or impractical, but rather that they are not fully believable. There will be those in the community – many in a desperate desire to stop all development – who will simply not believe the city council, planners, or developers that building these parks won’t increase housing pressure.
The problem that the city will have in responding to those concerns is that the city has no housing plan it can point to. We have an old general plan and the housing element is getting more and more dated.
The city’s lack of credibility here is a huge problem. Last August, the Davis City Council approved Mission Residence on B Street. On a 4-1 vote, the council approved a four-story building. However, in so doing, the city went back on guidelines established through an extensive visioning process for B Street. The process included a large amount of community feedback and extensive community buy in – give and take and compromise.
B Street overall is being redeveloped, but slowly, on a parcel-by-parcel basis that is likely to create a hodgepodge of different housing that fits together like an ill-designed jig-saw puzzle.
B Street is going to look like a series of disjointed buildings that loosely fit into a planning scheme that has been abrogated capriciously at the whims of council. So now we have Central Park West on one block, we have Mission Residence on another block, and we are going to have a series of other redevelopment and infill projects converting the older single story flats into dense infill projects.
The point: there is no cohesion here. The city is going to fill this project by project, rather than as a unified development like we present on the outskirts of town or even in a larger infill zone like Chiles or Verona. At least there, we have a unifying concept for a neighborhood.
The bigger problem, though, is the lack of overall plan and the fact that the neighbors here had agreed to one concept, only to be undercut by a new council only a few years later.
We now see a very similar process playing out at Paso Fino. In 2009, the planning commission and neighbors agreed on a four-unit project that never got developed. New developers came in and revamped it, but neighbors balked at the development of land that had been set aside as greenbelt.
The developers have come forward with an alternative that preserves both the trees and the 50 foot buffer, but neighbors continue to oppose it based on the fact that “the developers are seeking City approval to obtain designated public greenbelt space to accommodate their development. Plan C-2 is a ‘compromise’ only in the sense that the developer is ‘allowing’ the public to keep more public land than in the previous iterations A-C.”
The city has put forward its own compromise that the neighbors are willing to support that would not require any sale of greenbelt to the developers, but it reduces the size of the development from eight units down to six units.
Talking with planning staff, despite the developers’ objections and statement that they will not go down to six units, it seems like planning staff may push council and the planning commission to support this compromise.
When it was noted that this would call for another 25% reduction in the number of units, staff replied, yeah, but it’s a 50% increase over what was originally approved.
The problem here is that there is no overarching philosophy or plan guiding the planning process at this point. The developer has a piece of land, wants to develop it, and is struggling to get it through the process. For all of the complaining about Measure R, this is not even a Measure R project.
Jason Taormino, one of the developers, is understandably getting frustrated and told the Vanguard, “There is an opposition to building new homes in Davis in general and in particular to Paso Fino. Their unstated goal is to stop any building on this site and their tactics to accomplish this goal are to state the opposite while pushing the idea that there are too many shortcomings about any design I put forth to proceed. The reality is that perfection is unattainable.”
The city really needs to come up with a plan – what is the housing plan for the next ten years, twenty years, and into the future?
When the council pushed this idea six years ago, it was basically the same council that was willing to not only vote to put Covell Village on the ballot, but several of the councilmembers campaigned for it.
This is a different council and we are not going to see a wave of peripheral housing developments.
But what we do need to think about is how many new houses do we need in the next ten years, twenty years and beyond that. What does infill look like? What does densification look like? How do we handle situations where the needs of the community collide with the needs of the neighbors? What will our policy, for developing not just greenbelts but any community assets, look like?
This isn’t a process that presupposes an answer. Maybe the community at this time does not want to develop many new houses. Maybe the community is going to look at Nishi and say, this is a good site for a business park but not housing – or the reverse, high density student housing at Nishi.
We have other locations in town that we could look at for redevelopment – the district headquarters, PG&E, the City Corp yards, and possibly land along the train tracks if rail realignment occurs. Do we see housing there or business park opportunities?
Creating a plan creates certainty, it creates cohesion, and it allows us all to plan.
There are people who believe that we need a lot of new housing, that Davis is becoming too expensive and that it will price families and young people out of the community. There are people who believe the biggest need is rental housing to accommodate the expected growth at UC Davis.
And there are also people who believe that Davis should focus primarily on economic development and that small “a” affordable housing and workforce housing is a regional issue better provided elsewhere.
I am not arguing for one solution, I am just arguing that we need to figure out what the plan is and go with that, even if we don’t like the answer.
—David M. Greenwald reporting