Commentary: Where Are Appropriate Sites For Densification?

Rendering of the proposed Trackside Project
Rendering of the proposed Trackside Project

I was reading the most recent letter to the editor lamenting the Trackside Development, which was entitled, “Choose appropriate sites for densification.”

In it, the author notes, “The view presented is that densification is our only civic goal and that building high-rises in inappropriate places is the only way to achieve that goal.” He adds, “The widely approved plans I’m aware of call for densification of the core rather than out in the neighborhoods and there are large sections of the core up for sale right now, which means that appropriate densification is within reach.”

While I disagree with the majority of the thrust of Kevin Wolf’s recent op-ed on housing, I think he makes an important point, “high-density infill projects inevitably face opposition from their neighbors.”

Mr. Wolf adds, “More cars will be driving through neighborhoods. Views and the landscapes change. People worry about impacts to local property values and whether lower-income renters will be good neighbors.”

The city is faced with a three-fold problem when it comes to housing.

First, most citizens are opposed to building on current agricultural land. In large part I think that is because most people who live in Davis prefer keeping Davis small. That is twisted into a selfish desire by some, but, at least for me, I have continued to live in Davis even though it means renting my housing because I prefer the smaller town to the big city, I like the schools, I like the intellectual and engaged atmosphere.

Bottom line is, while I am far from zero growth, I think most people in this town are living here because of what this town offers. I have lived in cities – Washington DC, St. Louis, Sacramento, etc. – and I prefer a college town like Davis to the big city experience.

Second, many will argue that if we are to preclude building on the periphery, then we have to build density in the core. I’m somewhat supportive of that alternative, but increasingly believe that is not a clean alternative either. Why? Because you are stuffing new housing next to people who live there and are accustomed to a certain atmosphere and lifestyle.

I’m sorry, but if I lived on the west side of I St, I would also be raising a ruckus about Trackside.

That leads to derisive calls about NIMBYism, but I think a lot of people who are opposed to Trackside, would be opposed to the same project in other neighborhoods, as well. They might not have the personal investment, but just because I come to city council to complain about speeding vehicles on my street, doesn’t mean that I think vehicles should speed on someone else’s street.

Third, and I think this is the smoking gun here. UC Davis is not doing its fair share here.

I don’t see Trackside as providing housing for students as I demonstrated before, but on the other hand, I agree with the letter writer saying, “As for needing more high-density housing for students — I’m not clear on when it became the city’s responsibility to build dormitories for university students. That responsibility is appropriately the university’s, and UC Davis has ample acreage on which to build any dormitories it needs.”

Eileen Samitz back in October pointed out that the agreement with the university and the city called for UC Davis to “[m]ake all efforts to provide the UC system wide goal of 42% student housing. The housing should consist primarily of core-campus, high-density student apartments that are able to accommodate individual and family student-households for the average term of student population at UC Davis.”

And yet they haven’t. Moreover, they have admitted, “Even in our highest on-campus housing scenario, we do not anticipate being able to house every new student.”

UC Davis is planning to add thousands of students, they have thousands of acres of land at their disposal and, yet, they are not willing to house even the new students – let alone the existing ones.

So we have three problems from the perspective of housing – the community doesn’t want to grow outside current boundaries, the neighbors don’t want high-density housing plopped in their backyards, and UC Davis wants to grow without accommodating new students with housing.

Kevin Wolf offers one solution – greater density and using this as “a model for sustainability.” He concludes, “The crucible of existing city requirements, pressure from local activists and the innovations being proposed by the developers themselves could become an inspiration for other communities to develop new housing that uses less water and energy, generates more electricity on-site and creates more affordable housing.”

Right now, the problem as I see it is that Measure R restricts the ability to grow outside of the boundaries, and that forces the city to attempt to develop and densify on an ad hoc basis. But no one wants to discuss the elephants in the room.

We need a plan. We need to decide what we are and what we want to be. If that means we’re not going to grow, then at least we will acknowledge that. If that means we’re going to try to densify, then we need to have that discussion about where and how. If that means we’re going to start developing on the periphery, then let’s make that decision.

UC Davis needs a plan. The city of Davis probably needs to update their general plan, but UC Davis is in the middle of developing their new Long Range Development Plan (LRDP). The citizens of Davis need to utilize this time to leverage the university to committing to accommodating at least any new growth with housing. It seems like the least we can do.

—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.

Related posts

18 thoughts on “Commentary: Where Are Appropriate Sites For Densification?”

  1. Barack Palin

    The citizens of Davis need to utilize this time to leverage the university committing to accommodating at least any new growth with housing. 

    Totally agree, the university should act accordingly and be a good neighbor.

  2. Tia Will

    “high-density infill projects inevitably face opposition from their neighbors.”

    Mr. Wolf adds, “More cars will be driving through neighborhoods. Views and the landscapes change. People worry about impacts to local property values and whether lower-income renters will be good neighbors.”

    While there are many other points in Mr. Wolf’s article with which I disagree, I would like to focus on a couple of points.

    As a first premise, I would suggest that perhaps these projects would not face so much opposition if the neighbors who will be affected directly were consulted prior to drawing up and submitting the plans. People usually respond much more cooperatively if they are informed of events before they occur than if they are blindsided with a fully articulated fait accompli. I would like to see developers adopt a different paradigm in which they have their community discussions prior to, not after, making their plans. This would make the developments reflective not only of the needs and desires of the developers, but also of the community in which they plan to house their project.

    Although these may be concerns with regard to other developments, they are not the major concerns amongst the majority of the neighborhood opponents to Trackside. The major concern from all of the 35 or so neighbors with whom I have had many interactions on this subject is not their property value, but rather their lifestyle. Likewise, traffic, while a secondary concern, is not the major consideration for most.

    A second point seems to have created a lot of confusion in the minds of many with whom I have spoken while tabling at Farmer’s Market. Trackside is not intended as housing for lower-income renters. If it were, I might be advocating for design and scale changes, but I would certainly not be presenting at City Council, nor tabling. This project is intended as luxury accommodations for those who can afford a concierge type building.

    I agree that there is a need for lower income housing in our community. I do not agree that there is a need to ignore design guidelines , zoning, and the expressed concerns of the existing neighborhood in order to help along the plans of those who wish to “transform” someone else’s neighborhood into the developer’s  vision for the benefit of the already affluent, themselves and their investors.

    I am in complete agreement with David’s statement that we need a plan. And that plan should include the voices of all of those who care to participate, not just those who have enough money and/or social connections to have their voices heard.



  3. Frankly

    Davis needs to grow out or grow up.  And the people opposing both need to wise up or move out.

    I am in Austin.  Spent a fun night on Raney Street.  Raney street is on the edge of the dowtown core area.  It is filled with old one-story bungalows converted to bars and restaurants.   On both sides of the street behind the backyards of these properties are high-rise appartment buildings.

    You really don’t even notice these tall buildings.  Your eyes and senses tend to focus on the first 1-2 stories of the surrounding viewscape.

    Talking to the ower of one of the establishments last night about the newest highrise under construction, he said that there was “the standard opposition”.  I said that I was surprised in a left-leaning city like Austin that the developers win.  He said that some people don’t like all the high-rise buildings, but it is only the core downtown and as long as there is a mix of old and new and tall and short, the majority of people in the city support building more housing because housing is expensive in the downtown where everyone wants to live.

    I thought that was interesting… the people of Austin support development of new hi-rise condos and apartments as long as they are mixed in with the old and low-rise.

    That makes sense to me.  That is what Davis is going to have to do if not grow peripherally.

    I still see the opposition to Trackside as classic Davis NIMBY-ism.  It is a malady of those lacking the abilitiy to calm down, observe the rest of the world and think sensibly about the situation.

    1. Jim Frame

      Davis needs to grow out or grow up.  And the people opposing both need to wise up or move out.

      Or just stay where they are and irritate the heck out of those who tell them what they “need” to do.

      1. Don Shor

        I think perhaps the people who want a town of <70,000 to resemble a city of >850,000 are the ones who should “move out.” Or perhaps they should stop insulting their neighbors.

    2. Rodney Robinson

      Mr Frankly, who ever you are , it is nice to know you are having fun in Austin. Perhaps you noticed that Austin is the state capitol which sprawls out over 271.8 mi² and as of 2013 had a population of 885,400. Austin is more comparable to our own Sacramento than to Davis in my opinion. Actually, Austin is nearly three times the size of Sacramento (100 sq. mi.) and nearly twice Sacramento’s 2013 population of 479,686.  You seem to be comparing watermelons and grapefruits.


      1. Frankly

        Rodney – The point was the exitance of 1-story bungalows and hi-rise condos adjacent to them. Guess what?  Land prices in Austin’s core area are not any more expensive than are Davis’s core area land prices.  Austin’s population density is about half of what Davis’s is.  There is no other city like Davis is the US that I can find in terms of population size, geographic size, amount of open peripheral land, per capita general fund budget, population density, per capita business tax revenue and percentage of NIMBY, change-averse, no-growers.  We are a stupid fish swimming somewhere so far outside the school that we deserve our own inevitable demise.

  4. Davis Progressive

    “Davis needs to grow out or grow up.  And the people opposing both need to wise up or move out.”

    here’s a question why do you get to decide?

    1. Frankly

      What decision?  It is an opinion.

      Davis does not have a choice.  It needs more housing and it needs much more commerical space.

      That is a fact.

      So those that reject both growing out AND growing up are just irrational obstinate NIMBY people.  Their problem is primarily UCD.  UCD growing and Davis failing to develop its economy irrationally thinking it could pay all its bills off the soft money of the university, tax increases and wishful thinking.

      They are just unluckly that UCD has become a world-class research university and that it is growing and that the region is growing and that Davis has not had quality leadership to help the city grow its economy enough.

      It it time to accept reality or leave.

      1. Matt Williams

        Frankly said . . .  “What decision?  It is an opinion. Davis does not have a choice.  It needs more housing and it needs much more commerical space. That is a fact.”

        Frankly, I am with you 100% on housing … rental housing, but housing nonetheless.

        More commercial space isn’t as much of a slam dunk for me.  With the retail engine of Davis declining 20% from 2000 to 2010 (as a proportion of the total Davis population), and likely to decline another 20% (or more) from 2010 to 2020, I question whether additional retail businesses are going to be wanting to locate in Davis.  That means the service sector of the local economy will be responsible for virtually all of any increased demand for commercial space.  Which parts of the service economy in Davis do you see having growth potential?

        1. Frankly

          Come on Matt.  I am disappointed in this from you.  We need both commercial space for the new business supporting UCD tech transfer AND more retail to capture the purchasing power unleased by these new businesses and employees.

          I absolutely do not trust the “studies” that have been done to date to accurately estimate the revenue potential from the innovation parks… because they must use Davis’s existing demographic, which you know is problematic for  tax revenue from consumption.  The old don’t like to let go of their money and the young do not have much money.  It is young professionals and young families that do the spending.

          And I keep coming back to that logical question… if commercial does not return net positive tax revenue, then what does?

        2. Matt Williams

          First, I was excluding the Innovation Park space from my comment, because there isn’t an either/or grow up/grow out choice with respect to them.

          Second, I’m hesitant about relying on the purchasing power of the new businesses and employees in the retail sector unless those employees live in Davis.

          Third, I’m much less hesitant (actually not hesitant at all) about relying on the purchasing power of the new businesses and employees in the services sector.

          Fourth, you have nailed the “existing Davis demographic” issue, but again, if those young professionals and young families don’t live in Davis (where they will be working) then I think the tax revenues from retail consumption will be suppressed because of the “existing Davis demographic” issue.  The tax revenues from services consumption will not be suppressed at all.

  5. Misanthrop

    I agree, who stays and who goes is a personal decision, often informed by that great capitalist Mr. Market. Yet while Davis does what it does best, argue about its future, Mr. Market is at work. Mr. Market is telling us we are behind the curve in housing construction, something that benefits the old landed gentry at the expense of the young human capital of California and the world. To read about Mr. Market’s latest views see below:

Leave a Reply

X Close

Newsletter Sign-Up

X Close

Monthly Subscriber Sign-Up

Enter the maximum amount you want to pay each month
Sign up for