On Tuesday Mayor Dan Wolk sang the praises of Cannery, which he said “reestablishes Davis as a leader in innovative housing.” But beneath that positive news is a clear concern. As the mayor noted, the cohort of those between 25 and 45 years old, “that demographic is shrinking.”
This he considers a real concern for the future of the city, part of which he put forth in his “Renew Davis” mantra. But what is interesting is if you look at his 2015 list of goals under “Renew Davis,” while he lists healthy families along with economic development, infrastructure, clean energy and local and regional partnerships, notably absent is any kind of initiative for housing for families.
It is not that this is a new concern – in fact, it was a key component of his 2012 election campaign.
He said in his announcement, one of his reasons for running was that he represents “a new generation of leadership in our community, one that is keenly aware of the challenges that my generation and my children’s generation are being saddled with… a lack of affordable housing for young and low-income families.”
He ran on this idea, stating, “The demographic data are clear: our city is aging, and there are fewer young households. While there is no shortage of parents who want to move to Davis because of our safe and outstanding parks and schools, our existing housing stock is unaffordable and often not well suited to new families. No affordable housing for families means less funding for our schools and even school closures. At the same time, many aging householders who wish to retire and remain in Davis want smaller, more accessible housing. If elected, I will spearhead these issues and make attracting and serving young families and developing a ‘senior housing strategy’ a top priority.”
But now, two and a half years after his resounding 2012 election and six months after his term as mayor began, there is little plan for how to change this. This is less of a criticism of Mr. Wolk and more of an acknowledgment of how difficult a problem this is to resolve.
The focus on the land use front has been on economic development. The next Measure R votes – whether it be on Nishi, Mace Ranch Innovation Center or Davis Innovation Center, whether it is one project or all three – will largely focus on the issue of economic development with right now only Nishi, a relatively small piece of land, having a housing component.
Obviously, Measure R represents a non-insignificant hurdle to any housing development. The last two peripheral projects to be put forth in the city of Davis since the passage of Measure J in 2000 were handily defeated. That included the large and soaring Covell Village project that went down 60-40 a decade ago in 2005, as well as the smaller Wild Horse Ranch projected defeated by nearly a three-to-one margin in 2009 during the heart of the real estate collapse.
However, as we have previously put forth, Measure R and before that Measure J do explain all of the downturn. Even before Measure J became a factor, Covell Village was said to be the last of the major peripheral subdivisions for the foreseeable future. The city had greatly expanded over the previous decade which led to the Measure J passage and even those on the more development-supportive side were seeing the writing on the wall.
Moreover, as Cannery – a non-Measure J property – demonstrates, even a modest 600-unit project – in town and without a voter requirement – is a significant hurdle. All we have to do is look at what has happened with Paso Fino, based on the objections of many to cutting down trees and paving over a greenbelt, to see that slow growth forces are alive and well and quite formidable, even absent a Measure R vote requirement.
So one of the questions we have going forward is how do we embrace the reality of the political landscape in Davis with regard to growth, and yet also address concerns that Dan Wolk and others have raised about the aging population, declining student enrollment, and the unaffordability of Davis to families? Or do we?
Dan Wolk puts forth Cannery as the project that “reestablishes Davis as a leader in innovative housing,” while many would argue that Cannery fell short of that standard. It was not net zero. It lacks basic connectivity to alternative transportation – an issue that will only become more evident as it becomes clear that Cannery will struggle to have the basic connectivity to the bike paths that were promised to the council upon the 3-2 vote in 2013.
Moreover, at 600 units, it does little to resolve the housing issues and affordability issues for families.
One idea that we have put forward would be for UC Davis to find ways to house more students, which would open up rental housing in town for families and older residents. That might open up housing stock, currently utilized by student populations that might be better served closer to campus.
While Nishi will have to resolve circulation issues, one way to address that might be high density student housing with no car requirements that could house a large number of students within walking and biking distance of both campus and downtown – take the students out of the core of the city and avoiding the circulation issues with the Richards underpass.
Are there other suggestions for addressing this problem during an era of slow growth, where we are unlikely to see another major peripheral housing development for 10 to 20 years?
The other way to address these issues is to not address housing directly. One of the ideas I put forward over the winter was creating a regional distribution system where Davis uses its proximity to the university to develop jobs and an innovation park, and other parts of the region are better able to provide those workers with cheap and affordable housing options.
So perhaps the answer is not to build housing but rather to build a transportation system that enables those workers to come to Davis without increasing their vehicle miles traveled.
What are some other thoughts? How does the mayor see this problem resolving itself?
—David M. Greenwald reporting