Monday Morning Thoughts: Does Anyone Think 850 Housing Units at MRIC Will Fly?

Mace Ranch Innovation Center
Mace Ranch Innovation Center
Internal View of Mace Ranch Innovation Center

Kevin Wolf in an op-ed in the local paper lays out a well-written and well-thought out vision for sustainable housing.

“A majority of Davisites want to preserve open space and reduce pollution. This became clear in 2008 when I chaired the city’s Steering Committee for the 2013 General Plan Housing Element Update,” he writes. “We heard from hundreds of residents and reached near consensus that the new housing should primarily be dense infill located near jobs, schools and shopping.”

What he doesn’t write is perhaps just as important, if not more important. His vision of Davis is not necessarily shared by the majority of people in this community. A decade ago, he was one of the leading and most outspoken supporters of Covell Village – a massive development that would have added 2000 housing units.

But the proposal was too big, with not enough mitigation for traffic impacts along the Pole Line and Covell Corridors, and the voters ultimately resoundingly defeated the proposal.

He acknowledges this when he notes that “traditional developments are also less likely to be approved by Davis voters. Between those who don’t want to lose more ag land and those who think any new housing and more traffic could harm their home values, the coalition against a Covell Village or a new Wildhorse-type development is daunting.”

However, he believes the unmet demand for housing in town “relentlessly increases,” along with “the associated problems.”

He argues, “An increasing number of Davis’ students and workers commute from nearby towns where housing is more available and affordable. The added driving obviously increases greenhouse gas emissions, but the trend has other, less obvious, environmental impacts.”

His solution is to push for housing at Nishi and Mace, along with Trackside and Sterling apartments.

While Mr. Wolf lays out a strong case for the developments he supports, he fails to note alternative solutions to the problem, as well as other considerations.

First, he notes, “An increasing number of Davis’ students and workers commute from nearby towns where housing is more available and affordable. The added driving obviously increases greenhouse gas emissions, but the trend has other, less obvious, environmental impacts.”

But what he fails to note is that Davis suffers from a jobs-housing imbalance. And while many focus on the housing end, the reality is that the huge amount of VMT (vehicle miles traveled) results not just from in-commuting from other areas to Davis, but also from out-commuting from Davis to other communities. This becomes important when he notes the need to create jobs in Davis.

Second, while he is quick to note that Davis students commute from nearby towns, he fails to note that a huge part of that is caused by growth from the university, in which the university has acknowledged they will not be able to provide housing for all of the new students: “Even in our highest on-campus housing scenario, we’re going to study some very high on-campus housing scenarios, we don’t anticipate being able to house every single new student.”

Mr. Wolf completely ignores this elephant in the room.

But that is not the only elephant he ignores. He notes, “With 440 units providing 1,500 bedrooms for students and another 210 for-sale condos/flats averaging 1,300 square feet  (650 units total), the Nishi project can meet some of the backlogged demand for housing.”

He says, “This once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to lower our carbon footprint by providing housing with such a low driving-per-unit impact shouldn’t be missed.”

At the same time, we are talking about just 650 units on 45 acres of land. While Nishi represents a potential once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, we can argue that perhaps it is under-utilizing the land and therefore passing by an opportunity.

However, my biggest problem is that politics is the art of the possible. And in Davis, both Nishi and Mace have to achieve Measure R victories in order to be realized. This is a lesson that Mr. Wolf has not learned from Covell Village.

Under his brief discussion of the Mace Ranch Innovation Center, he writes, “More than 5,800 jobs are eventually expected from the project, resulting in demand for more than 3,000 housing units.  However, a mixed-use alternative could include live/work housing units on-site. Even if the new employees weren’t the ones occupying these units, their location near the bus lines to Sacramento and UCD and within walking distance to schools and shopping would help reduce the project’s GHG emissions.”

He adds, “The 850 units proposed, at densities of 20 to 40 units per acre, would not offset all of the housing demand created by the new jobs, but are enormously better than if the project came without any.”

When the city of Davis was looking for new revenue sources in order to make the economy more diverse and sustainable, many people who were ordinarily opposed to growth on the periphery were willing to consider sites like Mace and the Northwest Quadrant with the understanding that it not contain housing.

One of the project objectives in the application process was, “Maintain the City’s slow growth policy by prohibiting residential uses within the site, thereby emphasizing the sole objective to rapidly achieve economic growth and financial stability.”

When the idea of a mixed-use alternative was floated, there was certainly an argument to be made that a live-work arrangement might be a dynamic mix. However, there is a reality. Many people I have spoken to – probably well over 100 by this point – have told me that they would consider an innovation park at Mace but if housing is there, not only would they not vote for it, they would actively work to oppose it.

That was before a number became attached. Eight hundred fifty units is more housing units than was ultimately approved for the Cannery. The community was perhaps willing to support building on the periphery to create jobs and help balance the budget and make our revenue stream both more diverse and more resilient, but adding 850 units of housing to the proposal will make the project dead on arrival.

Instead of talking about housing, we should be focused on a transportation system that can more efficiently move people from where they live to where they work, and upon the idea that by creating more jobs in town we can reduce VMT, because people will have less incentive to go out of town to go to work.

Second, we need to do a better job of utilizing our existing sites like Nishi to provide the housing we need.

Finally, the university needs to live up to their past agreements and at the very least accommodate new student growth with on-campus housing.

The community just isn’t going to support 850 housing units at Mace any more than they were going to support 2000-plus housing units at Covell – we need to stick to the art of the possible and allow ourselves to, at the very at least, start addressing our fiscal needs, which will greatly help in the long run to address housing needs by giving us the resources to redevelop in areas where it might be possible to seek greater densities.

—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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34 Comments

  1. Barack Palin

    Many people I have spoken to – probably well over 100 by this point have told me that they would consider an innovation park at Mace but if housing is there, not only would they vote for it, they would actively work to oppose it.

    David, you may want to change the “not only would they vote for it” to “not only would they not vote for it”.

    I have had the same experience when chatting with my some of my neighbors, they say if housing is included then the project is a no go.

  2. Barack Palin

    “Maintain the City’s slow growth policy by prohibiting residential uses within the site, thereby emphasizing the sole objective to rapidly achieve economic growth and financial stability.”

    Yes, this wording got the foot in the door but now we’re seeing it being herded in a different direction, not what we were led to believe.

  3. Tia Will

    Between those who don’t want to lose more ag land and those who think any new housing and more traffic could harm their home values”

    This leaves out an important group in Davis. Those who feel that new housing and more traffic could harm their lifestyle. This is simply not all reducible to monetary considerations. Many folks that I know choose to live in Davis for lifestyle choice, not for the property value. Ask many people why they chose to live in Davis and their answer will be “I love this town.”

    1. Mark West

      Tia Will:  “This leaves out an important group in Davis. Those who feel that new housing and more traffic could harm their lifestyle.”

      Lifestyle is a personal choice, based on one’s self-centered values for how they interact with the environment where they live. It is not, however, a prescription for how the environment should change (or not) to fit those personal desires. Lifestyle is a personal value, not a community one (though your right to choose your lifestyle certainly is).

      While we all bring our own self-centered views and needs to any discussion, when we are discussing potential changes to our community, our focus should be on how those changes will address community needs, not our own selfish wants. That means jobs, housing, City services (and how we will pay for them) and the needs of the disadvantaged. Decrying potential change because it threatens one’s personal lifestyle is an expression of selfishness, much like proclaiming ‘not in my backyard,’ and as such should have no value in the community’s conversation.

      1. Davis Progressive

        ” one’s self-centered values”  “While we all bring our own self-centered views and needs to any discussion, when we are discussing potential changes to our community, our focus should be on how those changes will address community needs, not our own selfish wants.”

        every value is self-center.  even an expression of community values is self-centered.

      2. Tia Will

        Lifestyle is a personal value, not a community one (though your right to choose your lifestyle certainly is).”

        I agree with the first phrase, and disagree with the second. Community values are determined by the values of the individuals who inhabit those communities. This is the heart of a representative democracy. The point for me is not to elevate my personal values above those who may hold other values, but rather to find that spot where each individual’s values can be appreciated. I believe that it is possible to do this, but not if we continue to brand each other’s perspective as selfish, while depicting our own as the only way forward.

        1. Mark West

          When we were graduate students in Baltimore, my wife and I rented a rowhouse in a predominantly ‘single race’ neighborhood that had only recently started to be integrated.  Soon after we moved in, the old man who lived next door told me how happy he was when he saw us move in, because he didn’t want “one of those kinds” living next door.

          Now if someone here in Davis were to write that they did not want more housing in town because they were concerned about the impact that more [choose one, or many] Whites,  Blacks, Latinos, Asians, Moslems, Jews, Christians, or, heaven forbid, Conservatives, in the neighborhood, might have on their lifestyle, they would be called out for their selfish and bigoted views.  For some reason, however, it is perfectly acceptable to proclaim ‘I don’t want any more people to move here.’

          How is that different?

          ‘I don’t want any more of those kinds (people) to come here and ruin my lifestyle.’

          ‘No growth,’ at its root, is selfish and bigoted, neither of which are community values.

           

  4. Misanthrop

    The people haven’t voted so all your assertions are anecdotal and somehow I think that the developers have polling that makes them think this is the path forward.

    People commute in to work and they commute out to work yet still there are lots of people in Yolo County who need jobs. Here in Yolo, where the poverty rate is around 30%, and in Davis, where the vacancy rate is under 1%, you seem to be too hung up on housing and too dismissive of poverty and the shortage of housing.

    1. Davis Progressive

      “The people haven’t voted so all your assertions are anecdotal and somehow I think that the developers have polling that makes them think this is the path forward.”

      and the covell partners didn’t have polling?  your first sentence would preclude any calculations for electability for ballot measures or candidates.

  5. Michael Harrington

    Kevin hugely worked for Covell Village Measure X in 2005.  I think he opposed Measure J in March 2000?

    Good idea: add a big slug of sprawl housing to that business park.

    Makes our jobs a lot easier.

  6. Mark West

    “Eight hundred fifty units is more housing units than was ultimately approved for the Cannery.”

    If the Cannery had been built at the density proposed here (20-40 units per acre), there would be roughly 1600-3200 housing units being built.  Using Google Earth and picking a random block in old east Davis (counting rooftops) it looks like 12 housing units on 2.25 acres, or 5-6 units per acre.  Doing the same in Wildhorse and I see 9 units on 1.7 acres, for a similar density. The proposal at Mace is not for detached single family homes such as you would find in old east Davis, Wildhorse, or what is predominantly being built at the Cannery.  You cannot fit 20-40 detached single family homes on an acre of ground.  We are talking about apartments, townhouses and condominiums, all things that are desperately needed in this town.  Apples and oranges.

  7. Michelle Millet

    My two cents. Council should put the best project forward. If that means including housing then they should include housing. Not including housing out of fear that it won’t pass a Measure R vote is a bad way to make policy decisions.

    1. Davis Progressive

      Disagree Michelle.  First, council needs to put the best project on the ballot that can pass.  One key question is whether no project is better than a sub perfect project?  In other words do you prefer a non-housing project over a vacant field?  There are times when the perfect is the enemy of the good.  This may be one of them.

      From my standpoint, I will not support a project with housing out there.

      1. Mark West

        I agree with Michelle.  The CC should select the project that best addresses the needs of the City and not worry about those few who mistake their knee reflexes for thought.

        1. Barack Palin

          The CC should select the project that best addresses the needs of the City and not worry about those few who mistake their knee reflexes for thought.

          Your rhetoric is getting a little tiresome.  Who’s to say your thoughts are not knee jerk reactions?  Why do you always seem to be condescending to other’s views unless they jibe with your’s?

      2. Mark West

        BP:  ” Why do you always seem to be condescending to other’s views unless they jibe with your’s?”

        I don’t care whether or not you agree with me.  I do care however whether you make your decision based on the details of the final proposal and the needs of the City, or prematurely based on your fear of what might be included. Look at the facts and make your choice on the balance, that is what I intend to do, both with Mace and Nishi. Perhaps we will agree, perhaps we will agree to disagree.

        Deciding in advance without benefit of the facts and you are making a knee-jerk reaction, whether in favor or in opposition, it doesn’t matter.

         

      1. Jim Frame

        Is that a serious question?  I can’t see it with the current council.  (Maybe I need to take my cynicism in for a checkup — yours is clearly healthier.)

        1. Frankly

          Admitted as cynical, but frankly (and I am that) this CC is so perplexing and seemingy collusive… and that realization combined with my painful epiphany that there is a non-vanguardian silent majority that is pushing an old standard agenda… has me leaning more cynical.

      2. Tia Will

        Frankly

        What if the majority politicians are pushing to include housing as a way to kill the project from a Measure R vote?”

        What if they are ?  That does not preclude you or any other voter making their decision based on their own assessment of the pros and cons of the proposal as finally submitted. Your fanciful projection of what might (or might not ) be the motivations of the council frankly does not add anything to the discussion.

  8. Michelle Millet

    Disagree Michelle.  First, council needs to put the best project on the ballot that can pass.

    Disagree, they should show some faith in the electorate and put the best possible project forward. Not doing so because they are afraid of voters again, in my opinion, is a bad way to make policy decisions, and leads to sub-par results. This is a huge project, if we are going to do it, we should do it the right way if that means including housing we should include it.

  9. Eileen Samitz

    I’ll start by first saying that I think like many others, if the Mace Ranch Innovation Park (MRIP) developers continue with their “bait and switch “attempt to jam in the residential housing on a parcel that supposedly was “not big enough” for the innovation park that was needed there, they will surely lose at the polls for a Measure J/R vote.

    The innovation parks, both MRIP and Nishi were introduced to the public as potential solutions to our City’s revenue problems. Instead, they now are morphing into residential projects as their primary intent, which is a big money-maker for developers, but wind up costing Davis residents in taxes for all the infrastructure maintenance and City services needed. I, like many folks I have spoken to, will oppose it if they pull this stunt of trying to fool the public to get their project approved. The Nishi project is a financial loser, so I like many Davis residents will not be supporting that either, particularly because of the many problems it brings including the traffic and access issues.

    Second, I appreciate and agree with the much of the Vanguard analysis of Kevin Wolf’s article which was more of a campaign piece for the developer’s than anything else. Kevin is an activist, however, he clearly is, and has been, an activist for development including his historical advocacy for Covell Village. His and and Kemble Pope’s association with the Covell Village Partners make it no surprise that he is rooting for Nishi (i.e.  Nishi partner John Whitcombe, was a Covell Village Partner) and Trackside (i.e. Kemble Pope is the project manager). It is interesting that Kevin was not rooting for high density housing at Covell Village years ago.  Covell Village was an enormous project proposal that Davis did not need and would only bring traffic, cost to Davis citizens and unaffordable housing. It was a disastrous proposal and fortunately the citizens of Davis understood that and voted it down.  However, the new ploy then became that Kevin and the local developers started advocating for “high density housing” in the name of saving ag land years ago, however, it was really because they just wanted to make more money.

    Third, what is not talked about in the article is the fact that the City has approved enough housing to satisfy out “fair share of growth“ requirement for the current SACOG cycle for roughly the next 6 years.   The City has already approved enough housing and any excess housing does NOT go towards the next SACOG requirement. In fact it invites a higher residential requirement from SACOG for the next cycle. Since housing ultimately costs more than it yields due to City services, excessive housing built only negatively impacts the community both financially and in terms of quality of life. Now that the City Manage is advocating to SACOG for housing at the Mace Innovation Park, what we can expect is SACOG welcoming more residential growth in Davis and assigning us more housing units.

    Fourth, the myth that overbuilding residential will make housing in Davis more affordable is simply that…a myth. In the 1990’s the City of Davis built 1,000 units in one year and the housing costs continued to rise. This is simply because Davis is a desirable place to live.

    Also, I served on the Housing Element Steering Committee as well, and I can tell you that Kevin does not speak for the entire committee. He advocated being made the chair since he felt that he had “mediation” skills. However, I can tell you that Kevin had his own agenda, and as chair, he often used that position to get his items through the committee.   We, as a committee, certainly did not have Davis residents asking the committee for over-densification, which is what Kevin was advocating for. And there certainly was no “consensus” on raising densities to the extremely high numbers, which Kevin manipulated though the committee, after the initial numbers had already been agreed to by the committee early-on in the process.

    Finally, it is astonishing that Kevin is claiming that if we bring on all of this residential it will basically help solve the University’s issue that they have created for themselves of inadequate on-campus housing promised for 26 years, but not produced by UCD.  His advocacy for building student housing for the University just enables UCD to continue deferring their housing needs on the City, and the costs and services that are needed for it long-term. So Kevin is not saving ag land at all in his advocacy for building more student housing in the City, he is simply using ag land around the City for the University’s needs, rather than having UCD use their own land for their own housing needs. Having UCD build the overdue on-campus, affordable student housing for their students is the best way to reduce Davis’ carbon footprint.

    1. sisterhood

      Re: Affordable housing: it is and always will be in the eye of the beholder. Weatlhy kids of wealthy parents still bi*h and moan that Davis housing is not affordable. Another extreme example, several yrs. ago, a single mom complained to me she was spending too much on housing, yet her kid was getting free day care while she attended UCD as a jr & sr. on a scholarship. after attending a community college in another area of CA. (I worked 50 hours in Sac & did not appreciate hearing how her son was getting free daycare in a place I could not afford for my own son and daughter.) She was getting a 2 bedroom apt in Solano Ct. vacinity and was selling her UCD parking pass to make a little extra money, too

      I do not begrudge that young woman for wanting a better life for her and her son. I just think that the term “affordable” will always be in the eyes of the beholder. I have overheard spoiled rich kids in Davis bemoan the cost of the rent their parents were paying for them. They were not even working five hours a week anywhere. They had the luxury of studying and playing full time.  I guess it cut into their allowance for booze and itunes….. Sorry that sounds bitter and it is not meant to be.

      I bet every reader on this site has a different opinion of what is affordable housing.

  10. CalAg

    The City’s staff doesn’t support 850 housing units at MRIC. From the Staff Report:

    Absent direction otherwise, staff’s intent has been to prepare this package only for the project as proposed, and not, for example, for any of the CEQA alternatives such as the Mixed Use Alternative.

    There are several reasons for this: 1) There is no application before the City for any project except the MRIC as proposed. 2) The City’s Request for Expressions of Interest (RFEI) expressly discouraged residential uses.

    I say we follow this recommendation from our planning professionals.

    1. Alan Miller

      I say we follow this recommendation from our planning professionals.

      I say we do whatever the developer wants, because, because, because, because, because.  Because of the wonderful things he does.

  11. Barack Palin

    I say we follow this recommendation from our planning professionals.

    Yes, I say we also follow what we the public were led to believe that no housing would be included.

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