Commentary: Measure R is Not THE Barrier to Development in Davis

UC Davis is still waiting on its single-family homes at West Village
UC Davis is still waiting on its single-family homes at West Village

Last summer we argued that Measure J’s impact on housing and development in Davis was overstated. The debate over the impact of Measure J and now Measure R often returns, as some express frustration for the process and believe that Measure J/Measure R has stifled growth in Davis.

As we noted last summer, Measure J arose in 2000 following a sustained period of growth in Davis. Davis saw Wildhorse and Mace Ranch emerge as large projects with Covell Village next on the horizon.

Mike Fitch, in his history of Davis, “Growing Pains,” wrote that there was a growing concern that land around the city would be continually developed. “City officials responded by assuring critics that the pace of housing construction would slow down in following years, noting that Covell Center was the last big residential project envisioned in the General Plan before the year 2010, and there was talk about removing it as part of the update process.”

While Measure J and the 2010 renewal, Measure R, arose out of that period, we have seen several recent examples that Measure J/Measure R is not the only mechanism by which growth is restricted. Four recent examples lead me to the opposite conclusion. Measure R is a symptom of a much larger growth mindset in Davis, rather than the cause of slow growth.

Take the Cannery project for instance. Cannery Park was finally approved by the Davis City council in late 2013. It was the last major parcel that was undeveloped within the city limits and therefore the last large project that could go through without a vote of the people.

The outcome of the Cannery depends on whom you ask. Mayor Dan Wolk called it a “forward-thinking” project, and at his recent state of the city address he said it “reestablishes Davis as a leader in innovative housing.”

But both former Mayor Joe Krovoza and Councilmember Brett Lee opposed the project, believing that it did not deliver all that it could. Mayor Pro Tem Robb Davis, who was not on the council, has been critical of the process.

As a candidate, he stated publicly, “Here even as we are about to break ground, we still have not gotten the firm commitments that we are going to get the grade-separated crossings that we have been discussing for three years.”

While the results are mixed, one thing is clear, and that is we were talking about Cannery back in 2006-2007 when the Vanguard first started. By 2009, Lewis Homes had pulled the plug on the project when council tried to put through an equal weight EIR on whether it should be housing or a business park. ConAgra by 2010 returned with a new proposal and even then it took three years for approval.

So, even a project that does not require a Measure R vote took years to get approved by council.

We have been discussing Paso Fino in the past week as it moves toward coming before council. This is an eight-unit proposed infill project. The project was originally approved nearly five years ago as a four-unit infill development, but was never built.

In August of 2013 it came back as an eight-unit project. By April of 2014 it was eight units plus four ADUs. It has had various iterations since then.

Back in October, the Davis Planning Commission voted 3-2 to ask the developers to consider Plan D, which would allow for six homes, despite developer Jason Taormino’s statement that the plan did not work and would not allow the developer to build on three of the lots.

Plan D would preserve the greenbelt, reduce the number of lots from eight to six, and preserve all nine Canary Island pine trees in public ownership.

This week, the developers have come back with a new proposal that would leave in place eight units while preserving the greenbelt and keeping the Canary Island pine trees on public land. However, that plan has come under fire from neighbors, as well as some tree experts.

“But it is a poor exchange that gives up too much public land for too little private land. It does not afford the heritage trees the space that arborists say is needed to safeguard their long-term survival,” writes Claudia Morain, a neighbor on Sargent Court.

Instead, she asks that the developers return to the “drawing board one last time to draft a plan more consistent with the city staff‘s recommendation.” She states, “That recommendation, endorsed by the Planning Commission, fully protects the pines by respecting their drip lines and safeguarding their sensitive root zones.”

“My understanding from the proceedings of the Planning Commission was that the pines are to be protected on public land. I have been asked if the current design layout, which has eight houses on the site, gives adequate protection to the trees,” Don Shor writes. “My opinion is that the current layout has the homes too close to the trees and provides inadequate protection for their long-term health.”

Thus, at this time, Paso Fino, an eight-unit infill project requiring no Measure R, could be defeated due to concerns about the trees and previous concerns about the sale or swap of a publicly held greenbelt – an issue that remains alive.

As Ms. Morain writes, “The proposal now before the council calls for a land swap, in which public land is traded for private land needed to create a bike path along Covell and bring a grove of towering, 60-year-old pines into public ownership.”

But, as we have recently noted, it is not just the city of Davis itself that has struggled with development projects.

UC Davis had originally proposed demolishing student housing at Solano and Orchard Parks in Davis, and rebuilding the units with greater density. However in June, students turned in a petition requesting an extension of the deadline citing concerns that “the July evictions from Orchard Park and the planned Solano Park termination are unjust. “

Concerns were raised about the lack of subsidized graduate student housing and projected rate increases.

UC Davis and the Chancellor’s office have been sensitive to protests since the aftermath and fallout of the 2011 Pepper Spray incident. As a result, UC Davis seems to have stalled their plans for redeveloping Solano Park, which may be resulting in their slowing down their partnership in the Nishi-Gateway project.

Then we have West Village, which is a 200-acre community designed to house 3,000 UC Davis students and 500 staff and faculty in apartments and single-family homes. It officially opened in September 2011 with the first student apartments.

However, the construction of the single-family homes was expected to begin several years ago, and still has not.

West Village took years of planning and discussions with the neighborhoods and, ultimately, UC Davis agreed to not have Russell Blvd. access to the new development.

The bottom line is that Measure R is not the only impediment to housing in Davis, and the city of Davis is not exclusive in the difficulties of development.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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 Comments

  1. Frankly

    Last night I was listening to some audio of mayor Kevin Johnson’s state of the city of Sacramento presentation.

    http://www.kcra.com/news/local-news/news-sacramento/sacramento-mayor-slated-to-give-state-of-the-city-address/24443172

    There was/is a obvious and glaring fundamental difference.

    Sacramento is excited about a future of economic and residential development.  The Mayor comments on one development vision or project after another and the crowd applauds in approval.

    I found myself getting grumpy about his vision of Sacramento becoming a center of “food”.   This is the opportunity that Davis is squandering in its failure to effectively partner with UCD and develop a local economy around food and food science.  Davis could be a food destination as Napa is a wine destination.  Davis could lead that charge.  But instead we wring our hands over the competing vision of Davis continuing its trajectory toward a retirement village and we let that opportunity slip away to be exploited by our larger neighbor to the east.

    Measure J/R is a tyranny of the minority AND a tyranny of the majority problem.  It undermines representative governance.  It destructively influences policy decisions.  It gives more power to city leaders determined to prevent or stall development and also those that are keen on building a farmland moat around the city.  Even with evidence that voters will sometimes vote with their heads and approve a quality project like the Cannery (and related to this, please, please everyone repeat after me… IT IS ALWAYS GOING TO BE IMPOSSIBLE FOR EVERYONE TO GET EVERYTHING THEY WANT IN A DEVELOPMENT…  PERFECTION IS NEVER ATTAINABLE… IT IS ONLY THE ENEMY OF THE GOOD!)… there are other good projects that have and will face unreasonable opposition to the determent of the future of the city.

    Lastly, Measure J/R establishes a troubling direct-democracy mindset in the average Davis voter… and even with our most highly educated city in the left coast, the average voter tends to be significantly ignorant of the details required to draw a comprehensive and informed vision of pros-cons, causes-effects and consequences.  Measure J/R gives more power to the blocker and critic and makes the job of a visionary and champion of positive change more difficult to impossible.   These negative impacts are not as readily apparent unless you spend time talking to the type of people that are visionary and champions of positive change.   And when you do talk to these people, more often than not they are working on their vision and championing of positive change in communities other than Davis.

     

     

    1. South of Davis

      Frankly wrote:

      > Even with evidence that voters will sometimes vote with their

      > heads and approve a quality project like the Cannery

      The “voters” did not “vote” to approve the Cannery.

      The last time the “voters” got to “vote” for more homes in Davis was 2009 and 74.7% said NO:

      http://ballotpedia.org/City_of_Davis_Wildhorse_Ranch_Project,_Measure_P_%28November_2009%29

      > and even with our most highly educated city in the left coast, the average

      > voter tends to be significantly ignorant of the details required to draw a

      > comprehensive and informed vision of pros-cons

      It looks like they understand how “supply and demand” affects home prices and know that the less homes get built in a city that has good schools (due to lots of parcel tax revenue) the value of their home (or homes) will stay high (since there is demand for homes in a city with good schools).  I predict the majority of the “highly educated” homeowners in town continue to “vote for higher home values” by “voting” for more school parcel taxes and less home construction…

    2. Anon

      Measure J/R was a backlash against the runaway development of Mace Ranch, etc. that was occurring at the time, that was going to cost citizens a huge amount of money in taxes to pay for the extra city services.  The City Council at the time was essentially rubber stamping any residential development that came along, and vetoing almost any economic development.

      This reminds me of the initiative process.  It came about as a result of so many senior citizens being forced to sell their homes and move out of CA because taxes on their homes became so high they were unsustainable.  A backlash caused the passage of Prop 13 to address the problem.  Unfortunately Prop 13 has has some unintended consequences, and definitely needs some tweaking.  But would anyone really want to go back to the way it was prior to Prop 13?

      I, for one, would not want to return to the days prior to Measure J/R, when development got approved by the City Council willy-nilly, without a care to how much it was going to cost the city and citizens.

      1. Don Shor

        Interesting that the voters approved Mace Ranch. But the process that led up to it was very ugly, and I think the strong support for Measure J reflected the overwhelming desire of the voters that no process like that should happen again. I have little doubt that, in the absence of Measure J and then R, it would have happened again. And, very likely, it would have happened with the properties adjacent to Mace Ranch.

        1. Davis Progressive

          good point don.  in fact, we can argue that davis voters approved mace ranch, target, and the water project.  target was put on the ballot willingly by council after outcry.  mace ranch and the water project had multiple petitions and law suits.  i agree, seems a lot cleaner to make the process automatic.

    3. Davis Progressive

      sacramento is a huge city approaching half a million people with an even larger greater population, it’s not exactly fair to compare davis to sacramento in that regard.  however, i know from talking to people that individual projects often have strong opposition.  in fact, the sacramento kings arena had multiple ceqa lawsuits at one point.  so it seems to me that you’re viewing this with a bit of a bias against davis from the beginning.

      1. Frankly

        The point is that leadership in Sacramento, and the majority, applaud development plans as progress.

        The opposite is the case in Davis even though we are blessed with the fortune of the UCD relationship.

        1. Davis Progressive

          that may be your point – i’m far from convinced you are correct about that.  the real lessons are more complex.  first, people are less engaged in sacramento than davis.  second, people are less concerned about growth of a huge city than a smaller one.  the impact of growth is much larger on davis than sacramento.  third, those who are engaged in sacramento politics fight over the fruits and there are efforts to stop some projects.  sometimes they prevail.

        2. Don Shor

          Actually, you have no idea what ‘the majority’ in Sacramento applauds or supports. You only know what the audience in the room with the mayor applauded. Just as one example, the city council and the mayor routinely pressed forward with plans for a new arena for the Kings, even though public opinion surveys have shown majority public opposition.
          It’s always easier to get a majority vote of a city council or a board of supervisors than it is to get a majority vote of the public.

        3. Frankly

          The push back for the new arena was simply due to the city and voters having to pay for it… and concerns about the difficulty getting in and out. Go to Sacramento downtown and midtown and ask what people think about the new arena now.  The vast majority are highly excited and positive.

        4. David Greenwald

          My point of this article is backed by your comment – it’s not Measure R but rather the overall community attitudes about growth and development that have produced the slowdown in growth and development.

    4. Tia Will

      Frankly

       Measure J/R gives more power to the blocker and critic and makes the job of a visionary and champion of positive change more difficult to impossible.”

      I simply do not believe that this is true. Not all change is beneficial. Not all new development is innovative. Not all champions of change are visionary. I  believe that when there is a true visionary and a true champion of positive and innovative change, that person’s ideas will be accepted. What I would like to see is the forwarding ideas that truly are new, not reworks of ideas that were new 20-25 years ago. I am still hoping that a truly innovative project may be forthcoming.

  2. Anon

    Mike Fitch, in his history of Davis, “Growing Pains,” wrote that there was a growing concern that land around the city would be continually developed.

    Many proponents of Measure J were in favor of slower growth because of the cost of residential development to the city, and the degree to which it would hit the pocketbooks of the citizenry.

    The outcome of the Cannery depends on whom you ask. Mayor Dan Wolk called it a “forward-thinking” project, and at his recent state of the city address he said it “reestablishes Davis as a leader in innovative housing.”
    But both former Mayor Joe Krovoza and Councilmember Dan Wolk opposed the project, believing that it did not deliver all that it could.
    The Cannery is definitely “innovative” for which it won an award.  Is the Cannery “perfect”?  Could it be “better”?  First of all, everyone’s definition of “perfect” or “better” is different.  Secondly, “perfection” is not possible.  The fact of the matter is that the Cannery has innovative features that no other Davis development has, e.g. Universal Design.

    Mayor Pro Tem Robb Davis, who was not on the council, has been critical of the process.
    As a candidate, he stated publicly, “Here even as we are about to break ground, we still have not gotten the firm commitments that we are going to get the grade-separated crossings that we have been discussing for three years.

    The Cannery did not promise two grade separated crossings as I remember it, but did agree to one grade-separated crossing and to put some funding into the Covell Corridor Improvement project.  From a Sept 25, 2013 staff report: “The project includes two primary bicycle connections to the south: • A grade-separated crossing under the Covell Boulevard bridge to connect to the east-west multi-use path adjacent to Covell Boulevard“.  Notice grade-separated crossing is singular, not plural.  If I am incorrect about the final decision by the City Council, please correct me.

    UC Davis seems to have stalled their plans for redeveloping Solano Park, which may be resulting in their slowing down their partnership in the Nishi-Gateway project.

    I haven’t seen any “slowing down” of the partnership between the city and UCD in the Nishi-Gateway project.  Mike Webb recently indicated talks between the city and UCD on Nishi were going extremely well and bearing fruit.  There is a public hearing on Monday night on Nishi – so it appears to be on track and moving along nicely.

    However, the construction of the single-family homes [in West Village] was expected to begin several years ago, and still has not.”

    Isn’t that what is under construction right now?

    Having pointed out what I believe to be errors in this article, I agree with the premise that there are more forces at work to slowing growth down than just Measure J/R.

    1. Davis Progressive

      “The Cannery did not promise two grade separated crossings as I remember it, but did agree to one grade-separated crossing and to put some funding into the Covell Corridor Improvement project. ”

      cannery has since reneged on that grade separated crossing as i understand it.

      1. Anon

        I do not think you are correct.  But it would be nice if someone in the know would weigh in. It may be that the Cannery did not agree to even one grade separated crossing, but did agree to place a certain amount of funds in the Covell Corridor Improvement project. What I do know is they did not agree to two grade-separated crossings.

      2. Mark West

        DP:  “cannery has since reneged”

         

        That claim was made on here a couple of weeks ago and was rebutted. Do you have recent information to support your claim, or are you just spreading unfounded gossip?

        1. David Greenwald

          I need to verify it, but I heard from at least two reliable sources – i.e. current and former members of the council that there will be only one grade separated crossing and it won’t be at the location it was originally approved for.

        2. Anon

          To DG: That was my understanding – there was a promise by the Cannery developer of 1 grade-separated crossing and the Cannery developer would put a certain amount of money into the Covell Corridor Improvement Plan.  As far as I am aware, the Cannery developer has not reneged on anything.

  3. Alan Miller

    “UC Davis and the Chancellor’s office have been sensitive to protests since the aftermath and fallout of the 2011 Pepper Spray incident. As a result, UC Davis seems to have stalled their plans for redeveloping Solano Park, which may be resulting in their slowing down their partnership in the Nishi-Gateway project.”

    Wow.  “Seems” seems to be the operative word here; pardon the double “seems”.  Pepper Spray —> Solano Park —> stalling on Nishi.  You could be right, but trying to attribute any particular line of motivational sources to an institution like UCD is at best a guess.

    “Seems” to me what people were asking for above all else was the removal of Katehi. If Katehi was that sensitive to the protests, she should have resigned.

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