Commentary: Housing is the Third Rail

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housing

I was reading a recent letter to the editor. It is short, but it raises some interesting issues. The writer argues that the innovation centers need housing – something that will at least be addressed in the EIR process that the council has pushed forward.

They write, “The ‘guiding principles’ for the proposed innovation centers are good as far as they go. There is, however, one glaring omission: housing!”

“Workers will be commuting from far and farther, polluting the air, congesting the already crowded streets, spending their salaries in their home communities. If housing is provided in the innovation centers, many of these problems will not happen,” the writer continues.

Then the writer adds, “UC Davis already has decided to circumvent the problem of inadequate housing in the city. We should take a cue from their playbook before we pour any concrete!”

We had a fairly good discussion of the housing option in the innovation parks when the EIR alternative was presented to council. An argument can be made for workforce housing on the innovation park sites, but, as a commenter noted, “the reality is that these innovation parks have to get past a Measure R vote of citizens, and are not likely to if housing is added to the mix of the two large innovation parks. That is why both the larger innovation parks agreed not to add any housing.”

I want to address three key points that are raised by this letter. I would argue that if the letter writer thinks we should take a cue from the UC Davis playbook, they ought to read the playbook a little more carefully.

What I see is that, back a few years, UC Davis made plans to build West Village. While West Village is not the best looking development, looking at it from Russell Blvd, if you go inside it is actually quite nice. But while they have built a town center and some student housing, what has not been built is the faculty housing.

UC Davis and the city of Davis have jointly begun the planning process for Nishi and the university’s nearly equal-sized property. As we have noted, student protests and the potential for student protests at the demolition of Solano Park have at least delayed efforts by the university to build higher density affordable student housing on campus.

In the meantime, the university is planning on growing, which will put more pressure on the city of Davis and the surrounding communities to provide housing for their students. As we have noted in the past, UC Davis has typically had a relatively low percentage of on-campus student housing, compared to other UCs.

So, from one perspective, what UC Davis has done is grow the university without increasing its internal housing to keep up with the new supply of students. Is that really the model playbook we want to follow?

In a sense, UC Davis is doing what the writer is accusing the city of Davis of doing. In the city of Davis’ case, we would be developing innovation parks which bring jobs, which means people will have to commute to Davis because they would not have local housing options.

Rather than bash either the city or the university, however, I think we should instead acknowledge that UC Davis is having similar challenges to planning for future growth, economic development, university research, spinoffs and startups that the city of Davis is having.

Instead of looking at each other as rivals, or arguing that Davis is not being a good partner with UC Davis because of lack of housing or that UC Davis is not being a good partner with the city of Davis because it is putting growth pressures on the city by increasing enrollment without a corresponding increase to housing – let us find ways to work together.

For one thing, while I understand the concerns about increased VMTs (vehicle miles traveled) and our carbon footprint caused by commutes, I still think that the housing-jobs balance needs to be a regional issue.

While the cost of housing is high in Davis – and some would argue artificially high, due to growth control issues, we should also note that the cost of housing is far less than in the Bay Area. I’m less interested in the cause of that price differential than the opportunity it creates.

Still, a regionally based approach would look at jobs-housing in a different way. Why add workforce housing in areas where housing prices – even if we add considerable supply – will remain much higher than the surrounding region? Why not utilize efficiencies and economies of scale when dealing with housing issues?

To put it simply – put housing where housing is cheap, land is plentiful.

If we do that, housing becomes less the issue and the new issue becomes one of transportation. The SACOG (Sacramento Area Council of Governments) goal, and the reason that Davis has included an onsite housing alternative on the innovation park sites, is that we are looking for the best ways to reduce carbon emissions.

However, onsite housing is just one option. Improving our transportation network is another – buses, trains, bike paths, alternative transportation modes can create the same set up. Two of the proposed innovation park sites, Mace and Nishi, are along rail lines. Would a commuter substation be possible? Maybe not.

How about a shuttle from the train station to the innovation park? Bike sharing programs? A good bike network?

Not everything, of course, has to be dealt with on a regional basis. Some can be cooperative efforts between the city and university.

For example, as we discussed back in October, Davis sees an interesting commute – you have the people who come into town to work at UC Davis and the people who leave town to work in Sacramento or the Bay Area. Our jobs-housing balance is off even now, and perhaps by adding jobs, over time, more people who live in Davis will work in Davis and that restoration of the jobs-housing balance will ease the impact of VMT.

The other point is the notion we have pushed for Nishi, high-density student housing at Nishi or on-campus, with the idea being to free up the in-town rental housing for workforce housing options and put student housing closer to campus.

All of this takes planning and coordination. These are the types of things that we have not done so well in the past, and are hopefully errors we can avoid in the future. If Davis and UC Davis can work together, it will be to the advantage of both entities.

—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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16 thoughts on “Commentary: Housing is the Third Rail”

  1. Anon

    Nice, well thought out article.  Building more housing is not the only way to address the housing issue.  I agree that improving transportation is another way to tackle the housing problem, particularly with the innovation parks other than Nishi.

    Rather than bash either the city or the university, however, I think we should instead acknowledge that UC Davis is having similar challenges to planning for future growth, economic development, university research, spinoffs and startups that the city of Davis is having.

    Instead of looking at each other as rivals, or arguing that Davis is not being a good partner with UC Davis because of lack of housing or that UC Davis is not being a good partner with the city of Davis because it is putting growth pressures on the city by increasing enrollment without a corresponding increase to housing – let us find ways to work together.

    Very, very well said!  Instead of wasting time with the blame game, let’s work with UCD to resolve issues that arise.

  2. TrueBlueDevil

    I’d like to see more articles here like this that have a campus aspect.

    I agree that they missed the boat on design from the outside, tall square boxes, how many architects did it take to dream up that.

    I think as a desirable community, Davis will always have some level of problems regarding housing, demand will always exceed supply, except for summertime.

  3. DurantFan

    The old maxim “One hand washes the other” can be  applied here!  Investors desiring  to develop the  open agricultural property north of Davis (the former Covell Village site and other sites) will benefit when the local (Yolo County) railroad line that currently runs north-south to Woodland and back is rerouted eastward to the  County Waste Disposal Area.  With the offending tracks  torn up, a huge barrier to the development of east-west traffic routes through these properties will be eliminated.    With investor money pouring into our town at this time, there is much pressure for development, be it “innovative” or not.  Please use your Measure R vote wisely!

    1. Matt Williams

      DurantFan, I’m having a hard time following the linkage you have drawn. How does the local railroad line relocation relate to the Innovation Parks? Using your metaphor, whose hands are associated with the railroad line relocation, and whose hands are associated with the Innovation Parks?

      1. hpierce

        Matt… not sure what DurantFan is thinking, but a few of the investors historically linked to Nishi are also those historically linked to Covell Village.  Think (historically, at least) Whitcombe/Streng etc.

        1. Matt Williams

          Understood hpierce, but what does that have to do with the rail relocation? Using DurantFan’s metaphor, what/who are the hands associated with the rail relocation? … and how are those rail relocation hands washing and being washed by other hands like the Covell Village owners?

          DurantFan’s comments often leave me wondering whether he has been smoking whacky weed.

        2. hpierce

          Matt… if the tracks on the west side of Covell village are removed/relocated, access to F Street/CR 101-A would be easy (relatively).  That would remove a lot of the real/percieved access problems for both the Cannery and for Covell Boulevard.  It, in my opinion, might relieve enough of the issues to permit a successful vote for the development (at both CC and ‘public’ levels).

          1. Matt Williams

            I understand that physical reality hpierce. However, DurantFan went far beyond the illumination of that straightforward, self-evident reality in his comment. He clearly said, The old maxim “One hand washes the other” can be applied here! Investors desiring to develop the open agricultural property north of Davis (the former Covell Village site and other sites) will benefit when the local (Yolo County) railroad line that currently runs north-south to Woodland and back is rerouted eastward to the County Waste Disposal Area.”

            The choice of the phrase “One hand washes the other” followed by a clear description of half of the hands in the maxim, leaves no doubt that he believes there is nefarious, back-room, foul play at work in the efforts associated with the rail relocation. He then closes his comment saying “With investor money pouring into our town at this time, there is much pressure for development, be it “innovative” or not. Please use your Measure R vote wisely!” which any reader of the English language can see as an identification of the other hands as the people associated with the Innovation Parks.

            He has clearly defined the two evil empires. He has identified the weapon of choice to keep those evil empires in their place. What he has not done is show how either of them have anything to do with the rail relocation and/or the physical reality (or future disposition) of the tracks on the west side of Covell.

            So, with all the above said, I renew my questions to DurantFan. “what/who are the hands associated with the rail relocation? … and how are those rail relocation hands washing and being washed by other hands like the Covell Village owners?”

  4. Davis Progressive

    this raises an interesting point – everyone wants to talk about how growth control policies limit davis’ ability to grow, well ucd doesn’t have those policies and they are finding that developing housing is not as easy as they thought.

  5. Frankly

    To put it simply – put housing where housing is cheap, land is plentiful.

    I think Measure R might needs a legal challenge at some point.  Land IS plentiful.  It is a tyranny of the majority keeping it artificially constrained.

    1. Anon

      Actually Measure J/R was a citizen backlash against overdevelopment approved by an arrogant City Council that didn’t give a rap about how much such overdevelopment might end up costing the citizenry of this town, e.g. Mace Ranch.

    2. Don Shor

      I think Measure R might needs a legal challenge at some point.

      On what basis? Precedent has been established in lawsuits against Petaluma, Livermore, and other cities in California. As far as I know, the lawsuits all failed.

      1. hpierce

        You do understand, Don, that “precedent”, in the legal sense, doesn’t exist until addressed at, at the very least, at the appellate level, AND unless it is “certified” [that might not be the correct legal term]?  Don’t know if that applies to the cases you were referring to.

        1. Don Shor

          The Petaluma case was the main one. I don’t know if it was the first legal challenge to local growth initiatives, but it was important at the time in the 1970’s. It was upheld on appeal: http://www.cp-dr.com/node/962
          Most subsequent challenges to growth limits also failed, and I’m not aware of any that succeeded.

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