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