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