Sunday Commentary: Assessing The Case For Housing at the Innovation Parks

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It is the proverbial third rail of Davis – a discussion of housing. Everyone has tried to avoid the subject, not because it is not a worthy subject of discussion, but rather because everyone fears that the specter of housing will kill the innovation parks.

Interestingly enough, that’s probably based on two data points. The first from 2005, where the massive 2000 unit Covell Village project went down in flames by a 60-40 margin. Last summer I had analysis on Covell Village arguing that they bit off more than the community could chew.

The other data point was Wildhorse Ranch which was put forward in November of 2009 – during the heart of the real estate collapse.

In preparing the CEQA document, city staff posed a mixed-use alternative. Staff writes, “This alternative assumes the introduction of a balance of high-density residential uses in both projects. The type of housing anticipated would be high density (over 30 du/ac), attached, multi-story live/work units designed specifically to house and support workers within the Innovation Center. It would include a mix of ownership and lease/rental units. Designs would incorporate green technology, high efficiency, compact form, with the latest technology and lifestyle features, and emphasis on low to no-vehicle use.”

Staff notes, “Housing was not recommended for inclusion in project(s) during the RFEI process, nor are the applicants proposing housing as part of their proposals. However, CEQA requires that the lead agency test alternatives that could reasonably reduce significant impacts of the project.”

They continue, “Staff anticipates that the project EIRs may identify significant impacts related to vehicle miles traveled, and air quality and greenhouse gas emissions. As a result, staff has concluded that a mixed use alternative will likely be necessary to satisfy CEQA requirements.”

They add, “There is a growing field of study that demonstrates that mixed uses can lower the traffic, air quality, greenhouse gas, energy efficiency, and related impacts of separated land uses. This alternative will test the possibility that a mix of innovation center and residential uses will generate lowered amounts of regional traffic, vehicle miles traveled (VMT), and greenhouse gas emissions as compared to the business-only proposals.”

Immediately even the most pro-growth advocate on the Vanguard stated, “It will likely kill the projects from a Measure R rejection if this happens. I hope the EIR factors the gradual shift from having more Davis residents working outside of Davis to more living and working in Davis.”

I get it – and in fact have frequently made that argument.

But let us as at least consider an alternative proposal. Last August, I had an opportunity to tour some developments around Sacramento. One group that was intriguing was townhouses where one floor was work, one floor was a private residence, and on the interior of the building was high density apartments and a parking structure – all built into a city block.

Imagine the following conditions for mixed-use housing on the innovation park site.

First, the residents of that housing must work on site. That does several things – the more people who live and work on site, the less the traffic impact coming and going from the innovation park every morning and evening.

Second, the housing would not be generally on the market and therefore would not compete with the general real estate market or impact the cost of housing or property values.

Third, the impact of the housing would be minimal. It would require a somewhat denser project, but would not encroach on more agricultural land and would actually reduce traffic impacts and greenhouse effects.

The bottom line is – designed correctly, the housing would have very few impacts on the rest of the community because it would be specific to innovation park employees and would allow for a live-work environment, greatly reduce the need for commuters, traffic impacts, emissions — all the reasons we are normally skeptical of new housing developments.

Nevertheless, whether it is a good or bad idea, the perception is out there – and maybe correctly – that including even workforce housing, very specific to the employees of the innovation park, would result in an innovation park not getting past a Measure R vote.

The downside of course is that if you are talking about thousands of jobs – you’re not going to build enough units to accommodate all of those folks anyway.

Developers were instructed not to include housing in their proposals for this very reason. Therefore, while the city has included the idea as a possible alternative, mitigation measure, we see it as an extreme longshot. The developers will have a difficult enough time getting an innovation park passed even without any sort of housing component.

At the Vanguard’s Innovation Park discussion, most of the participants, in response to a question on SACOG and housing requirement, noted that the jobs-housing balance was out of whack. As Michael Bisch stated, “Over half our workforce is driving to Davis from somewhere else. And half our residents are driving to another community for their jobs. So we’re upside down when it comes to small urban planning principles.”

Yolo County Supervisor Jim Provenza said that Davis may be a community where the jobs-housing balance is out of balance. “We see a mass migration every morning if you get up at 7 in the morning and look at I-80 going east, you see a good half of Davis going into Sacramento to jobs.”

SACOG’s conception of balance is “so that the greatest number of people possible can live and work in their work in their own community without driving somewhere else. It’s important for how we structure society going forward in terms of our CO2 footprint and in terms of Global Warming.”

No one advocated that, if we were going to add a bunch of new jobs, we needed local housing options to accommodate them. Instead, they hope that if we build the innovation parks, we can improve alternative modes of transportation while hoping that the innovation park will sort out the jobs-housing balance more equitably.

While some mixed-use housing could be innovative and enticing, given the landscape of Davis, these alternatives are probably the best ways to go.

—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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19 thoughts on “Sunday Commentary: Assessing The Case For Housing at the Innovation Parks”

  1. Don Shor

    First, the residents of that housing must work on site. … Second, the housing would not be generally on the market

    That would require them to discriminate in selling the housing. It’s bad enough that the university does this and gets away with it. Now you want private property owners to limit who they sell to? This is terrible policy at many levels.

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      To be clear, it was floated as an idea, it’s not necessarily that “I want” – however, creating a work-live environment has some advantages as laid out. You suggest this is a terrible policy, please explain your thinking.

      1. Don Shor

        I was specific as to the parts that I think are bad policy: restricting who can buy and live there. That’s discrimination.

        I have no problem with permitting housing in these business parks. But I don’t think it should be required, and if staff believes CEQA is going to require it then I’d be curious as to the basis for their assessment, and what other options might mitigate the regulators’ concerns.

        1. South of Davis

          Don wrote:

          > I was specific as to the parts that I think are bad policy:

          > restricting who can buy and live there. That’s discrimination.

          I was recently talking to a young (23 year old) guy who is going to be working in Davis for a year and he told me that the new West village housing will only rent to “students” any idea how Carmel Partners (a private company that owns the West Village apartments) gets away with that since any other apartment owner in the state would get in trouble for not renting to anyone that had the money to pay the rent?

          1. Don Shor

            I don’t know how it’s legal. And the housing they are building there is apparently exclusive for faculty and staff, and “new housing options will enable faculty and staff to purchase new homes locally, at below market prices.” Likewise, the Aggie Village development is for faculty and staff only, and is equity-limited (although apparently they can rent them out — http://daviswiki.org/Aggie_Village_Cottages). So evidently the university can discriminate in providing housing.

        2. Davis Progressive

          how is that any different from income or age restrictive housing?  i don’t see the outcry here – the housing would be provided for a specific purpose and to fill a specific need.

  2. Tia Will

    I am clearly still in the early though process about this kind of arrangement. On the surface it would seem not conducive to one of the main reasons I understand that these “innovation parks” are being advanced in the first place which is to provide a space in which “innovative” individuals will have multiple opportunities to “collide” with other creative individuals. If we limit who can and who cannot live in these communities are we not necessarily restricting to a smaller pool those with whom any given individual is likely to come in contact with in casual interactions ?

     

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      I can see that point. My understanding of the collision article is it would be workplace interactions rather than living arrangements. Hopefully someone who knows more can weigh in.

  3. Dan

    Something in me rebels against limiting how and where people can live. But the more important point to me is the notion that making these projects potentially much better (by including a housing element) would reduce their chances of voter approval. I know Davis has sustainability goals, and basically requiring everyone who works at one of these business parks to commute there would seem to conflict with those goals.

    At a deeper level, as I understand it the idea for a local business park is to keep more UC Davis STEM grads local. We know that millenials prefer to live in more urban areas, and prefer not to commute by car. But if one or more business parks is built to try to attract these folks, and housing is not a component, where are they going to live? Dixon, Vacaville, Winters, (West) Sacramento, Woodland. And how are they going to get to work every day? By car, of course. That’s ridiculous and infuriating.

  4. Anon

    I personally am not against workforce housing, and think it is a great idea.  However, my guess is that if residential housing of any kind is included in  innovation park proposals other than Nishi, the innovation parks will not get past a Measure R vote.  The Cannery is just coming online, and was extremely contentious – and took quite a few years to approve –  without a Measure R vote.  IMO any innovation park other than Nishi that comes with workforce housing will be DOA in terms of Measure R.  City staff needs to think long and hard about that reality.  I agree with Don Shor’s comment – I would like to know city staff’s reasoning for insisting that CEQA will almost surely require that there be some sort of workforce housing.  They have some explaining to do.

    1. Robb Davis

      Anon (and Don): City staff is NOT saying “that CEQA will almost surely require that there be some sort of workforce housing.”  That is not what the staff report says.  It says the following:

       

      The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) requires analysis of a range of reasonable alternatives to the project, or the location of the project, which would feasibly attain most of the projects basic objectives and avoid or substantially lessen the significant effects of the project. 

      However, because “Staff anticipates that the project EIRs may identify significant impacts related to vehicle miles traveled, and air quality and greenhouse gas emissions… staff has concluded that a mixed use alternative will likely be necessary to satisfy CEQA requirements.”

      Thus, staff is not saying that CEQA will require workforce housing but rather that the review process will likely require that option to be explored.  This is an important difference.

    2. Miwok

      It sounds like someone has visited China when some describe “workforce housing”. You encourage transient housing, and only the cafe workers would probably be interested in them, but not able to afford them. You don’t get families, nor ownership in Davis. Isn’t this pretending to be investment in DAVIS?

      In my mind, they turn this housing into apartments for the companies that use them for contract workers, or the owners who want a crash pad? If you own a house, or raise a family, you don’t want to rent, but that is the result of the City policy on housing the last few decades. NOW they propose “thousands” of new jobs, and barely consider parking.

      With the University being ordered by the State to add another 5000 students in the near term, how will the City deal with that? Probably not on the radar yet?

      I really enjoy what you people have to say about this, thank you for adjusting  my views on many things.

      1. Don Shor

        With the University being ordered by the State to add another 5000 students in the near term, how will the City deal with that?

        It wasn’t an order from anywhere that I’m aware of. It’s Chancellor Katehi’s 2020 Initiative that is adding 5000 students, her way (IMO) of keeping UCD financially stable. You are correct that nobody is addressing that housing issue.

  5. TrueBlueDevil

    Over the past 6 months or more, I think mine was one of the first comments to raise this possibility as a small component of the innovation parks.

    I guess it’s a city’s job to crunch all of these scenarios, but why all the micro management?

    Look at if a small or modest number of live / work or dwellings would work. In the end, let the developer decide. Maybe there are reasons I am naive about that need to be addressed. The free market is a pretty dynamic place.

    Same for solar. If there is going to be a large area of rooftops that might work with solar, let the developer crunch the numbers to see if they would be economically feasible.

  6. Michael Harrington

    14 yrs ago I kept hearing from the pro-development crowd that their vision was a big big UCD presence and a Davis population of  about 150,000.  A “City on the Hill” concept.

    The surface water project gave them the necessary water and now the 200 acre commercial park will add more jobs and create the need for more citty housing.

    This planning and building pays for our Community Development Dept (renamed).

    If people don’t want this developer driven vision for Davis they are going to need to organize soon.

  7. Davis Progressive

    “If people don’t want this developer driven vision for Davis they are going to need to organize soon.”

    this wasn’t developer driven.  the city started this process out.  they solicited proposals.  the ramos group reluctantly came forward and a lot of people question whether he would have but for schilling robotics.  the other group was never involved in the planning process.  so this is as far from developer driven as you can get.

  8. Anon

    Robb Davis: “However, because “Staff anticipates that the project EIRs may identify significant impacts related to vehicle miles traveled, and air quality and greenhouse gas emissions… staff has concluded that a mixed use alternative will likely be necessary to satisfy CEQA requirements.”
    Thus, staff is not saying that CEQA will require workforce housing but rather that the review process will likely require that option to be explored.  This is an important difference.”

    From where I sit, this is a distinction without much of a difference.

    1. Robb Davis

      They are completely different, viz

      1. CEQA: “You must build workforce housing at the innovation sites.”

      vs

      2. CEQA: “You must analyze alternatives to the proposed project to mitigate impacts. One of those alternatives should include workforce housing to reduce the VMT.”

      Staff is responding to the second.  Staff is NOT responding to number 1 because CEQA does not require this.

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