Sunday Commentary: Paying the Price For Lack of Planning on Housing

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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

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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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26 thoughts on “Sunday Commentary: Paying the Price For Lack of Planning on Housing”

  1. Tia Will

    David

    I think that this is a good “starter” presentation of the varying points of view on housing “needs” and housing “pressures” in our community. Words in quotes as I do not see them as synonymous.

    “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.”

    This is a belief that should be held by everyone in the community. It is a fact which has been stated outright by all of the developers that I have spoken to ( which includes all of those who have made a public presentation to date) and has also been admitted to be some of those most in favor of the “parks”.

    “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.”

    This claim is demonstrably not true given the willingness of the current residents to accept the city staff proposal. So now the only thing standing between Mr. Taoromino and a compromise solution is himself.

    I am in agreement with David that an updated plan is needed if for no other reason than to lessen the chances of more instances where agreements have been made with current residents and the rescinded when developers or others see the ability to maximize their goals, whether financial or personal, at the cost of the current residents.

    1. Barack Palin

      “This claim is demonstrably not true given the willingness of the current residents to accept the city staff proposal. So now the only thing standing between Mr. Taoromino and a compromise solution is himself.”

      Exactly true, it’s surprising to me the spin that’s being put on this. As staff has stated, “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.”

  2. SODA

    Surprised you do not mention Cannery; from the looks of it passing by on Covell, it is huge and appears it will satisfy a number of housing needs. comment?

    1. Barack Palin

      I was wondering the same thing, we soon have 600 new units coming on board at the Cannery. If the innovation parks get built creating many new jobs the rising demand will lead to more housing.

      1. Tia Will

        BP

        “If the innovation parks get built creating many new jobs the rising demand will lead to more housing.”

        And both of the developers were reluctantly honest about this point when questioned directly. Of note, neither of them volunteered this information during their presentations.

        1. Don Shor

          No, it won’t “lead to more housing,” even if it leads to demand for more housing. Housing development is a separate process. Only Nishi will lead to more housing, because that is part of the plan for that site.

          1. Barack Palin

            I disagree, with the influx of thousands of new jobs there will be a great need for new housing which will lead to more housing. They go hand in hand.

            Using your logic would be like saying that the need for new tax revenue for the city isn’t spurring the current push for new innovation parks.

          2. Don Shor

            Please explain to me how it will “lead to more housing.” We’ve had a need for more rental units for well over a decade, and there haven’t been any built.

          3. Barack Palin

            More people working in Davis with good jobs who want to live here putting more demand on the community to build new housing. It’s the same thing as the new innovation parks that are going to happen, more people realising that the city needs more revenue putting pressure on the city and the electorate to build new parks. Once the new jobs are here new housing will follow.

          4. Matt Williams

            Actually Barack, if the single family housing stock stays where it is then the number of people who commute to jobs in Sacramento will decline over time and their houses will be purchased by people who both work and live in Davis.

          5. Don Shor

            “putting more demand on the community to build new housing.”

            And how exactly will that manifest itself? Two housing projects have gone before the voters in the last decade. The results of those elections tell us that Davis residents don’t want housing development. Demand may increase. Prices and home values will certainly increase. Other than infill projects, housing stock will not increase any time soon. No sane developer would propose a peripheral housing project that requires a vote of the public. No developer with any sense would propose one big or controversial enough to spark an initiative.

          6. Barack Palin

            The innovation parks are going to get built, no sane developer would’ve predicted that would ever have happen either. They’re going to get built because there’s a demand. Because they get built and with the thousands of new good jobs, there will be demand for more housing, a demand much higher than we had when the Covell and Wildhorse Ranch projects were turned away.

          7. South of Davis

            Don wrote:

            > Please explain to me how it will “lead to more housing.”
            > We’ve had a need for more rental units for well over a
            > decade, and there haven’t been any built.

            The “city” Davis has had over 100 apartment units built in the last decade (including the 69 units at New Harmony that opened last year) and UCD (working with Tandem and Carmel Partners) has built well over 1,000 units just feet from the “city limit” in the past decade.

            Also in the last decade the city owned 112 unit Pacifico Apartments on Drew Circle have been sitting more than 50% empty for MOST of the past decade and the city owned GAMAT homes have been 50% vacant for SOME of the past decade (in a town that has never had a vacancy rate over 5%).

          8. Don Shor

            The “city” Davis has had over 100 apartment units built in the last decade (including the 69 units at New Harmony that opened last year) and UCD (working with Tandem and Carmel Partners) has built well over 1,000 units just feet from the “city limit” in the past decade.

            I was referring to the construction in town, not on campus. I don’t know which “1,000 units just feet from the ‘city limit'” you’re referring to. But the campus is so far behind with respect to supply and demand, that I consider their contribution beyond insufficient. We are thousands of beds short.

      2. Matt Williams

        BP, one of the realities that you are not including in your analysis is that Davis’ jobs/housing balance is currently unfavorable … creating more jobs without any quid-pro-quo addition of housing should over time result in a correction of that currently sub-optimal ratio as residents working in Davis replace existing Davis residents who don’t live in Davis at the time of a house sale.

        Also, as Don has pointed out time after time after time, there is currently a massive apartment shortage in Davis, mostly serving UCD students. Increased multi-family housing for UCD students will be highly unlikely to be located on the periphery of Davis … unless you consider Nishi as the periphery of Davis.

        1. Barack Palin

          Using UCD as an example just proves my point, there’s a need for more student housing so we now have West Village. Would West Village have been built if there wasn’t a need? And yes, we do need more.

          1. Matt Williams

            Agreed BP, but that has nothing to do with the impact on housing demand that an innovation park may have.

  3. Barack Palin

    “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 down from eight units to six units.”

    David, is this true? If I’m decyphering the Plan D map correctly it looks to me like the western greenbelt ends up being part of lots 1, 3 and 5.

    1. Matt Williams

      Mike, your comment appears to be focused on single family residential housing. Regarding multi-family residential housing, how do you believe Davis should address the additional 5,000 students, 500 faculty members, and 300 staff that UCD will be adding by 2020?

    2. Frankly

      Mike, it seems your definition of “sprawl” is a very low bar that would include any new peripheral development. Should we just build a wall or moat around the city? How do you suggest we address the university growing by 600 new students and 20 new employees every year?

  4. Miwok

    “Davis is becoming to expensive” – for who? While I choose not to live there because of the lack of code enforcement of their own codes, and manipulation of the real estate market, people would like to become a part of this fine community.

    I came to Davis in the 80’s and it was too expensive then, and the only people who could afford housing to buy or rent were faculty, at University subsidized interest rates, and developers, turning Davis into dorm housing. Then the faculty became slumlords as well. Working people at the University and City all commute, and never have a dream of buying in Davis.

    All the new development will be like Wild Horse, where it takes a buy-in beyond what many people can afford. And that is fine for the tax collectors, and the City, who reap the rewards of their “diverse” community. If you already live there, congrats. If you already OWN there, really nice, because you probably have another you rent out. It is one thing to remodel to raise a family, another to remodel to raise the rents and occupancy.

  5. Frankly

    Of course innovations parks will add to the pressure to add more housing. Everyone in support of the city expanding its local economy to bridge our significant revenue-spending gaps should honestly admit this.

    But no, Davis does not have to succumb to that pressure beyond what Davis is willing to accept because none of the employees of the businesses that populate the innovation parks will be able to vote in Davis elections unless they already live here.

    I suggest that anyone strongly concerned about the potential pressure to increase housing participate in developing and demanding transportation amenities and infrastructure meant to assist with the flow of increased workers to and from Davis. I don’t know all the feasible options, but assuming the expectation is for a high percentage of these new employees to live in surrounding cities, enhanced transportation connections between these cities and the Davis innovation parks will increase the value and attractiveness of the location for the employees of the business, and hence increase the value of the location for the business itself.

    1. Miwok

      Well Put. The landowners are pretty much the only voters, just like old times in America. The lack of transportation improvements in the core of Davis, and the increasing difficulty of safely maneuvering around downtown, has already seen the outlying areas see more traffic and parking pressure. Then the barely adequate street improvements to accommodate those industries make Davis look like amateur hour.

      When I started working and living in Davis 30 years ago, every time they proposed some change, there was always much discussion and disappointment of the people who worked in Davis, for the City and their decisions that disrupted traffic for years and never made it better, for business, employees, or residents. After 30 years or more, I would think people would have made enough errors to learn from them, but even with sons and daughters running for offices and being hired (No! It is not nepotism!) they repeat the mistakes of the past.

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