Commentary: MRIC Applicants Couldn’t Close the Deal on Housing

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Dan Ramos listens to council comments surrounded by his team
Dan Ramos listens to council comments surrounded by his team

When the Innovation Park discussion first began in earnest in late 2013, I warned anyone who would listen to me, do not mention housing, do not think housing, and for God’s sake, do not have a housing proposal.

However, the more I looked into the issue, the more I thought we should at least analyze what housing would look like at Mace Ranch Innovation Center. That didn’t mean we had to have a proposal with housing, but the comment that hit me hardest, back in mid-January when we hosted a discussion, was how is Davis green if we force all our workers to drive from Elk Grove?

A lot of people assumed that housing would kill the project – but I would have liked to have seen polling not commissioned by the developer to bear that out. On the other end of the coin, I wasn’t overwhelmed by a one-third reduction of VMT (vehicle miles traveled) on the theoretical models. But I went into Tuesday’s meeting believing that an evidence-based approach rather than a presumptive and reactive policy was in order.

I was initially disappointed in the council discussion. With the exception of Brett Lee, to a person on the council, everyone seemed to believe that a project with housing would be a better project, however, they believed that housing would doom the project.

As a strong supporter of Measure R, that is troubling to me because I believe, for the most part, the Measure R process improves the planning process in that it forces council and by extension the applicant to take into account community concerns and project weaknesses. Nishi is a far better project today (whether you support it or oppose it) than it was two months ago.

Even Brett Lee, who was out front stating, “I’m not in favor of housing on that site,” acknowledged “the applicant has made a pretty good case for this idea that the better designed innovation centers do have a mixed-use component.”

Bob Medeiros was one of the heavy-weights advocating for a mixed-use project
Bob Medeiros was one of the heavyweights advocating for a mixed-use project

It was Councilmember Rochelle Swanson in the end who swayed me that this was the right decision. The stakes here, as she noted, were high: “Who bears the cost if this doesn’t pass, (it) is $2.2 million fiscal annually… a net $6 million potentially and a one-time $10 million fee.”

She said that a mixed-use project would grade as a “A,” without it, it is a “B” but “with no project it’s an F.” She added, “I really do see why the mixed use can work well… I just don’t think in this time frame, the November 2016 vote, I don’t think that this community will pass it.”

The point that she made to me after the item was through was persuasive – this was a heavy-lifting campaign. Opponents of the project would have pushed back hard against a housing proposal. Dan Ramos and his crew needed to be able to show that they could move voters, mobilize them, and, frankly, pack the audience. They didn’t.

Dan Ramos, in my view, made a great intellectual argument for why a mixed-use project was better. He brought in a few very respected citizens to back him up. But some of those citizens did not speak during public comment – they simply sat in the audience.

Moreover, while he had four or five highly respected individuals come to speak, he didn’t pack the audience. He did not show the council that he could move the average citizen or even the typical engaged citizen to his housing alternative proposal.

Frankly, neither “side” showed up en masse. There were only 17 people speaking on the issue during public comment – a far cry from the packed audience the week before for Nishi. And while neither side showed overwhelming support, the burden was on Dan Ramos and crew to make their case. They had to show that they could do the heavy lifting in the campaign and, while they made a great showing, in my view they did not close the deal with the average citizen.

It is not that he who packs the house wins the debate. Rather, it is that if there is going to be a tough campaign and you can only get five or six people to speak on your side, it is not inspiring to the council to go against their inclinations.

Meg Arnold, Davis Resident and former head of SARTA came to support the mixed use proposal
Meg Arnold, Davis resident and former head of SARTA, came to support the mixed-use proposal

Given that the developer did not rally the public to his cause on this critical issue, the council was well within their discretion to go with their prior-held beliefs that housing would be fatal to a Measure R campaign on Mace Ranch Innovation Center. Dan Ramos gave them no reason to doubt that hypothesis.

Frankly, this setback, if you want to call it that, represents a teachable moment not only for MRIC, but for Nishi. On Monday, the Vanguard had an op-ed from Dan Ramos and presented the editorial from the Davis Enterprise, both in support of the housing option.

However, Dan Ramos and his crew are operating like it is still 1998. Frankly, so is Nishi. While Mr. Ramos has spent time meeting with citizens, writing an op-ed and going to commission meetings, there is a whole world he has not touched. There is no social media presence by the developer and his team. When the housing option was pounded by numerous commenters on two articles on Monday, there was no response from the developer.

This is 2016. Campaigns are won and lost in cyberspace, and yet, both MRIC and Nishi have only very rudimentary web presences. Web sites are a necessity in the modern era, but they are a passive tool. New media: the Vanguard, Facebook, and Twitter are where campaigns can be won or lost.

Too often these campaigns are outflanked on social media and the Vanguard, and the result is that the message never gets out.

On Tuesday, the Davis City Council went into that meeting believing that housing on MRIC was probably a better project, but they were going to vote against it because they believed that the voters would oppose it. The developer never gave them a reason to waiver on that belief.

Many people believe that the council has cleared the way for MRIC to pass a Measure R vote. There is a lot up in the air, however, and we haven’t even looked at the EIR with a fine tooth comb yet. Traffic impacts are going to be critical, and now the developer is going to have to look at ways to get people to work at the MRIC through an already congested I-80 corridor.

Rochelle Swanson is right, the costs that we bear if this doesn’t pass are huge. The $2.2 million fiscal annually is a low number that EPS (Economic & Planning Systems, Inc.) modeled. The number, in reality, could be up to $6 million a year with a one-time $10 million in fees. That’s a lot of risk for the city – the developer was taught a lesson here, one that, for the sake of the city, he needs to learn and learn well.

—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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53 thoughts on “Commentary: MRIC Applicants Couldn’t Close the Deal on Housing”

  1. Barack Palin

    Moreover, while he had four or five highly respected individuals come to speak, he didn’t pack the audience. 

    As I’ve stated before, council shouldn’t be making decisions on who can “pack” the audience.  Activists are more organized and can get their constituents out to show up at council meetings but their views many times don’t represent the community.  Often times I feel the council lets a minority of the same voices sway their decisions.

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      As I wrote: “It is not that he who packs the house wins the debate. Rather, it is that if there is going to be a tough campaign and you can only get five or six people to speak on your side, it is not inspiring to council to go against their inclinations.”

        1. The Pugilist

          I think he’s saying they had to show the council they could mobilize voters to do something the council saw as a losing proposition and the developer didn’t.

  2. Tia Will

    do not mention housing, do not think housing, and for God sakes, do not have a housing proposal.”

    I think that David has neatly summarized the original problem. The city council choose to take this approach from the beginning. This was the basic concept that they deliberately chose. They did not ask for a wide variety of project proposals. They requested only projects that did not include housing and themselves sold this idea to the citizens thus creating the concept of a “bait and switch” when the likely superior ( in the eyes of 4 of the 5 as well as mime) mixed use was introduced.

    I think that a far better approach would have been a holistic look at the more modern mixed use projects as well as industrial only rather than excluding any at the start. I simply do not see the benefit of taking one desirable option off the table before the conversation has even begun. This will likely have cost the project my vote.

    One other thought. David has stated that the mixed use would be a “heavy lift” for the developer and this I believe is true. However, what I did not hear him say is anything about the city council members as advocates for a project. If they believe as I do, that the mixed use is the superior model, why could they not add their voices to the debate and come out strong in favor of the mixed use stating their reasons clearly. While it is true that some voters are so entrenched in their views that they will never change, I believe that there are many who will respond to new evidence when explained clearly.

    1. Barack Palin

      They requested only projects that did not include housing and themselves sold this idea to the citizens thus creating the concept of a “bait and switch”

      I agree, as I stated yesterday:

      Barack Palin 
      February 24, 2016 at 7:13 am
       

      It’s the right decision and will now pass a Measure R vote.   If we have future innovation parks still in the mix I would advise the council and any developers to come forward from the beginning that they want housing on the site, not present a plan just to try and change it down the road.

      1. David Greenwald Post author

        The only thing I would ask is if you believe that housing would improve the project, why do you want to lock us into a mistake that politicians made in the past?

  3. Barack Palin

    Too often these campaigns are outflanked on social media and the Vanguard, and the result is that the message never gets out.

    Please explain why you mentioned the Vanguard in outflanking these campaigns.

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      Simple: the council is reading the Vanguard, we are getting thousands of reads on these articles, and comments matter. When you have 100 comments and they are running 10 to 1 against a project, a candidate, or a proposal, it has an impact. If I’m a campaign and I ignore things like letters to the editor, social media, and the comments section of the Vanguard and to a lesser extent the Enterprise, I’m going to face an uphill battle.

  4. Misanthrop

    “New media: the Vanguard, Facebook, and Twitter are where campaigns can be won or lost.”

    Three giants of the industry. Better tell The Donald, Billery and the Bern to claim their Vanguard handle before  inaction lets some rube cruz past them and into the Whie House.

  5. Eileen Samitz

    David,

    I appreciate that you acknowledge that you advocated against the MRIC housing component yourself for the very same reasons you now say should have been ignored at Tuesday’s Council meeting. You were pretty clear about your position in your article from last September stating that MRIC housing needed to “come off the table now”.

    https://www.davisvanguard.org/2015/09/commentary-council-deals-with-draft-eir-now-needs-to-take-housing-off-table/

    Had the MRIC come forward initially with the initial application to include 850 high density housing units on the edge of town, it never would have gotten off the ground. The purpose of the project was to bring revenue to the City from the commercial. Adding the enormous number of 850 housing units would have brought long term-costs which defeats the purpose of building a revenue generating innovation park.

    So, now that it seems that you are advocating for most any project with housing, let’s just say we we don’t agree on that approach. If housing is being proposed, that be needs to be up -front, and it needs to be in a location that makes sense, needs to be well designed, compatible with what is around it, and it is best if it offers not just high density housing which incidentally, now is usually excluding affordable housing. In case you did not know it, the 850 units at MRIC would have had little or no affordable housing like Nishi. That counter-productive policy of “vertical-mixed use” zoning has the developers coming out of the woodwork to build ultra-high density projects which have no affordable housing requirement if they put non-ancillary commercial uses on the ground level. This is what the MRIC developers were really after. You might want to defend this exemption for affordable housing, but I think it needs being changed.

    In addition, there seems to be an assumption that the project would be better with 850 high density housing units. Well that opinion is based upon assumptions that were simply absurd. Such as all 850 units would have needed to have at least one MRIC worker living in it to lower vehicle trips. Well, what if most of these”one MRIC worker” residences have 2-3 roommates or family members, all of whom were drivers who were not MRIC workers? Therefore they commute to their job, or bring the child to school etc., and do typical daily driving trips. Well, that actually multiplies the vehicle trips a minimum of 2-3 times, it does not reduce vehicle trips.

    What cannot be mandated or controlled is who would live in those 850 housing units, and how many people per unit who need to commute, so all of this “better project” opinion is based on a purely theoretical, and un-enforcable concept to politically spin the project into appearing to be “greener”. The main motivation behind this was for the developers to have an excuse to be able to built an enormous number of ultra-high density units for more profit, units that people generally do not choose to live in long-term. This in turn generates the need for even more desirable housing which is not ultra-high density. Finally, many people have brought up the concern that it would wind up being student housing which would generate plenty of vehicle trips as well.

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      Just to be clear on my position: I did not support housing at MRIC, I supported further exploration into whether housing at MRIC would have made it a better project for the community. I was troubled initially by the fact that councilmembers were discarding what they acknowledged to be a better alternative based on assumed risk assessment. As I wrote, ” the more I thought we should at least analyze what housing would look like at Mace Ranch Innovation Center. That didn’t mean we had to have a proposal with housing…” However, I also wrote, “It was Councilmember Rochelle Swanson in the end who swayed me that this was the right decision.” So I don’t know how you get from that to: “now that it seems that you are advocating for most any project with housing.”

    2. ruralknight

      The second item Council discussed the other night was reversing the exemption on stacked flats/mixed use to have to include affordable homes.  Moving it was Frerichs motioning for a floor requiring stacked flats to inlude at least 10% affordability and mixed use to inlude 5% based on project size.

      If only they would’ve done this 3-4 weeks ago, Nishi would look totally different.

      1. Matt Williams

        Governor Brown’s elimination of the RDAs (Redevelopment Agencies) across the state essentially made the City’s historical (and still current) affordable housing approach inffective.  The reason is that it is tied to “building events.”  Even when we have those kind of “building events,” given the crying need Davis has for multi-family housing, and the clear community pressure to follow an infill “build up, not out” approach, the result is that we end up with situations like the current Sterling 5th Street Apartments proposal where the affordable units are carved out into an isolated location rather than dispersed within and among the “market rate” residences.  Some people have used the term “ghetto” when describing that approach.

        RDA funding isn’t coming back soon, and after Grande and Chiles Ranch and Cannery are built out it is hard to imagine when the next detached Single Family Residential neighborhood is likely to be built.  That means the Wait List method of the current Affordable Housing program will either sit motionless, or occasionally provide new housing opportunities in “100% affordable” complexes like Sterling is proposing.

        What is the alternative … implement a voucher system whereby all the existing residences in Davis become available for Davis residents seeking affordable housing.  Under such a program the goals of the old program that created mixed communities of affordable and market rate units would be more actively achieved.  The impact on developers of multi-family complexes like Nishi and Sterling and the recently proposed HighBridge complex on East Olive Drive would be very straightforward. they would know exactly what their dollars and sense contribution would be to the Affordable Voucher program, and they wouldn’t have to “shoehorn” a segregated affordable area into an isolated portion of their site.  Further, their contributions to the Affordable Voucher program would be providing benefits to Davis residents immediately at the time their entitlements are approved, rather than waiting years for the actual affordable units to be built.

        Immediate impact/benefit to Davis is what a voucher program would deliver.  Robb Davis even proposed a way to accelerate that immediate benefit on Tuesday when he used the Measure O Open Space Program annual assessment as an example for a similar Affordable Housing program here in Davis.  With the rapid and continued growth of the Senior demographic segment of the Davis population, having a workable, and working, Affordable Housing program is good governance.

  6. Eileen Samitz

    David,

    I guess given the title and the the tone of some parts of your article, I felt that there was an undertow about the outcome of the Council vote on Tuesday. Maybe I misread that. Basically I think the developers knew the score early on that an innovation park on their land was a non-starter from the beginning if they tried including housing. However, the mixed-use attempt emerged later and it is  seems clear that the developers trying for the 850 housing units towards the end was a profit based issue for them, but it simply did not make the project “greener”. That stunt really got my attention, and many other people whom I spoke to who were very clear on voting “no” on MRIC if the housing was added. You acknowledged in several articles that many people you spoke too were totally turned off on the attempt to add the housing. So let’s just say the lesson that these developers and others need to learn from this is don’t try to pull this again in the future. Honesty and transparency are critical for Davis citizens to have any confidence in knowing what is really being offered to them from the beginning for any project for a Measure J/R vote.

    Again, I was receptive to this project primarily because of the revenue generation benefits. As soon as they tried dropping in the 850 high density units, which cuts into the revenue generation from the commercial, due to the long term costs – that was where I lost any interest in supporting it.  Added to the fact that they would be little or no affordable housing due the “vertical mixed use” zoning that they were really after, just really reveals their intentions as far as I am concerned.

    So hopefully we are done with the “mixed use” issue at MRIC and I think we need to put it behind us and focus on what the MRIC commercial only proposal is going to be including its design.

  7. Mark West

    “On Tuesday, the Davis City Council went into that meeting believing that housing on MRIC was probably a better project, but they were going to vote against it because they believed that the voters would oppose it. The developer never gave them a reason to waiver on that belief.”

    The project application did not include housing, so why was the City Council even discussing the issue?  If the Developer wanted to include housing, then the application should have been amended. The only thing the City should be acting on is the application in front of them, so all of the Staff and Council time that was used to address the issue has been a complete waste. I keep hearing how the Staff are overworked and unable to keep up with their workload so it really is perplexing why anyone would unnecessarily add to that burden. The housing discussion should never have been placed on the City Council’s agenda.

    1. Matt Williams

      Mark West said . . . “The project application did not include housing, so why was the City Council even discussing the issue?”

      The answer to that question is printed in black and white in the December 16, 2014 Staff Report for the City Council deliberation of Innovation Center Projects – Update, Task Force, Guiding Principles, and CEQA Alternatives” which said the following. Council approved that Staff and consultant recommended approach.

      CEQA Requirements for Alternative Analysis

      The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) requires analysis of a range of reasonable alternatives to the project, or the location of the project, which would feasibly attain most of the projects basic objectives and avoid or substantially lessen the significant effects of the project. The range of alternatives is governed by the “rule of reason” which requires the EIR to set forth only those alternatives necessary to permit a reasoned choice (CEQA Guidelines Section 15126.6). The feasibility of an alternative may be determined based on a variety of factors, including but not limited to economic viability, availability of infrastructure, and plans or regulatory limitations (CEQA Guidelines 15126.6(f)(1)).

      At this early stage in the process the staff believes that the following range of alternatives satisfies these criteria and is appropriate and necessary for meeting the requirements of CEQA and ensuring legal defensibility. These alternatives will evolve based on information that will be generated from the technical studies. They will be further defined as more information is known about the likely impact of the projects.

      1. No Project Alternative –

      2. Off-site Alternative –

      3. Reduced Site Size –

      4. Reduced Project –

      5. Mixed Use Alternative – This alternative assumes the introduction of a balance of high- density residential uses in both projects. The type of housing anticipated would be high density (over 30 du/ac), attached, multi-story live/work units designed specifically to house and support workers within the Innovation Center. It would include a mix of ownership and lease/rental units. Designs would incorporate green technology, high efficiency, compact form, with the latest technology and lifestyle features, and emphasis on low to no-vehicle use.

      Housing was not recommended for inclusion in project(s) during the RFEI process, nor are the applicants proposing housing as part of their proposals. However, CEQA requires that the lead agency test alternatives that could reasonably reduce significant impacts of the project. Staff anticipates that the project EIRs may identify significant impacts related to vehicle miles traveled, and air quality and greenhouse gas emissions. As a result, staff has concluded that a mixed use alternative will likely be necessary to satisfy CEQA requirements. There is a growing field of study that demonstrates that mixed uses can lower the traffic, air quality, greenhouse gas, energy efficiency, and related impacts of separated land uses. This alternative will test the possibility that a mix of innovation center and residential uses will generate lowered amounts of regional traffic, vehicle miles traveled (VMT), and greenhouse gas emissions as compared to the business-only proposals.

      During the review of the Guiding Principles with the various City Commissions, questions about the inclusion of a residential component were raised by the Bicycling, Transportation, and Street Safety Commission, the Natural Resources Commission, and Cool Davis.

      . . . and then again in Section 7 of the Draft EIR prepared by City Staff and the consultants.

      EIRs are required to consider alternatives to the project that are capable of reducing or avoiding significant environmental impacts. Section 15126.6(f) of the CEQA Guidelines states:

      “Because an EIR must identify ways to mitigate or avoid the significant effects that a project may have on the environment (Public Resources Code Section 21002.1), the discussion of alternatives shall focus on alternatives to the project or its location which are capable of avoiding or substantially lessening any significant effects of the project, even if these alternatives would impede to some degree the attainment of the project objectives, or would be more costly.”

      Section 15126.6(a) of the Guidelines requires EIRs to describe “… a range of reasonable alternatives to the project, or to the location of the project, which would feasibly attain most of the basic objectives of the project but would avoid or substantially lessen any of the significant effects of the project, and evaluate the comparative merits of the alternatives. An EIR need not consider every conceivable alternative to a project. Rather it must consider a reasonable range of potentially feasible alternatives that will foster informed decision-making and public participation. An EIR is not required to consider alternatives that are infeasible. The lead agency is responsible for selecting a range of project alternatives for examination and must publicly disclose its reasoning for selecting those alternatives. There is no ironclad rule governing the nature or scope of the alternatives to be discussed other than the rule of reason.” (See also CEQA Guidelines

      Section 15126.6[f].) This section of the CEQA Guidelines also provides guidance regarding what the alternatives analysis should consider.

       

      1. Mark West

        That explains why the mixed-use was used for the CEQA analysis, but that is an entirely separate issue from the project proposal. Staff made the decisions, most likely with support from one or more CC members, to push forward with a mixed-use alternative for the project (not just the required CEQA analysis).  Since the Developer had not submitted an application with a mixed-use option, it was inappropriate for either Staff or the CC to even consider that as an option for the project. This is the Developer’s project.  Absent an application by the Developer for a mixed-use, that option should never have been included in the Staff Report, and never should have been on the CC agenda. Again, why are we creating unnecessary work in an environment where Staff and CC time are limited?

         

        1. Matt Williams

          Mark West said . . . “That explains why the mixed-use was used for the CEQA analysis, but that is an entirely separate issue from the project proposal”

          The separation you are attempting to create does not exist under CEQA Law.  As quoted above, the relevant sections of CEQA sa:

          The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) requires analysis of a range of reasonable alternatives to the project, or the location of the project, which would feasibly attain most of the projects basic objectives and avoid or substantially lessen the significant effects of the project.

          Staff’s proposal of a mixed-use alternative clearly meets both the letter and spirit of CEQA’s “reasonable alternative.”  As with all EIRs, the entity proposing the project may choose to reject the findings of the EIR, and withdraw their proposal, or they may choose to modify the proposal in order to comply with the many unique and separate findings of the EIR once the EIR is certified.

        2. Mark West

          Matt:

          CEQA is an exercise that is required by law, but it is not the project.  The mixed-use analysis was part of that exercise as a required alternate option to compare with.  It was simply a hypothetical, with no real world application.  Unless the applicant amended the application to include the mixed-use option for the underlying project, there was no appropriate reason for the CC to weigh in on a mixed-use option for the project.  Just unnecessary busywork.

        3. CalAg

          Mark West: The mixed use alternative was not required under CEQA. Moreover, once the decision was made to include this alternative, there was no requirement under CEQA that it be given an equal weight analysis.

          Adding and alternative with housing was not required to meet the CEQA reasonableness standard.

        4. The Pugilist

          “Adding and alternative with housing was not required to meet the CEQA reasonableness standard.”

          Correct, they chose to pursue the mixed use alternative, council said no.  End of story.  Why does this matter?

        5. Matt Williams

          Mark, you are dancing on the head of a pin.  CEQA Law very specifically states:

          The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) requires analysis of a range of reasonable alternatives to the project, or the location of the project, which would feasibly attain most of the projects basic objectives and avoid or substantially lessen the significant effects of the project.

          As noted by both Brett and Robb in the December 16, 2014 discussion of the item, VMT mitigation is a quite new modification to CEQA.  The question they asked that night and I ask you now is what other alternative can mitigate the impact of the VMTs?  Other than a No Project alternative, there really isn’t an alternative other than providing on site housing.

          So CEQA does not specifically or explicitly require that an alternative with housing be analysed, but it does mandate that an alternative that mitigates the VMT impact be analysed.  The results of the analysis led staff to note the effectiveness of VMT mitigation of the alternative.  The recent portions of the process have been driven by wrestling with how important that effectiveness was/is.  The CEQA functionaries more than likely feel that the process played out very much as they intended it to play out.

        6. Mark West

          “Correct, they chose to pursue the mixed use alternative, council said no.  End of story.  Why does this matter?”

          Staff asked to pursue it. If the applicants had wanted to pursue it, they would have amended their project application. Since they did not do that, there was no reason for the CC to even consider the matter beyond the basic CEQA analysis. Planning Staff is currently falling behind on their workload, delaying many other projects around town. That is why it matters if they are unnecessarily adding to their workload.

        7. Matt Williams

          So what you appear to be saying is that you believe that Staff went off on a discretionary/unnecessary digression from what is required under California Law.  Is that correct?

          To help you put that concern of yours into context, the following is copied and pasted from the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research website (see https://www.opr.ca.gov/s_sb743.php )

          Governor Brown signed Senate Bill (SB) 743 (Steinberg, 2013), which creates a process to change the way that transportation impacts are analyzed under CEQA. Specifically, SB 743 requires the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research (OPR) to amend the CEQA Guidelines to provide an alternative to LOS for evaluating transportation impacts.

        8. Mark West

          “The applicant wanted to pursue housing. The letter is in the staff report.”

          The point is…the project that is on the table did not include a housing option.  The only way that a housing option could be considered is if the application was amended to include one. That did not happen, so there was no justification for the Staff or CC to even consider the option.  We have a process that we should be following and not playing ad-hoc games.  There are other projects in the pipeline that are being delayed due to these games.

  8. Eileen Samitz

    This needed to go to Council because it is in the Staff report that the developer requested that this decision needed to be made on which option being proposed was to go to the ballot. Otherwise,the processing of two different options was a waste of time and energy. Not only that, but citizens like myself were concerned about what was the MRIC proposal going to be, and was it going to change course? Everyone, including the developers, needed to know now.

    This decision needed to be made now, and the call had to be from Council as to which direction to take. I can say that I agree that the Council made the right decision because any more uncertainty on which way MRIC was headed was eroding support for the project which everyone thought was going to be a commercial-only project. The Chamber of Commerce was there in full force, as well as the people that the developers recruited all testifying to try to convince the Council that they needed to abandon the commercial-only proposal and move forward with mixed-use.

    It seemed pretty clear to me that the people who have nothing to gain financially, the citizens of Davis, who contacted the Council and testified made the difference. The Council had the courage to not give in to the entities who had the most to gain financially, and hear the citizens. I thank the Council for this. The majority vote who lead the way was Lucas, Brett, and Rochelle who carried the swing vote to make the final decision.  Robb Davis clearly preferred the mixed use, but to his credit realized that it would be better to move forward with a more united  Council vote, and made the motion which Rochelle seconded. Dan Wolk admitted that he knew where this was headed, so went along with the majority. In the end, the commercial-only project which our community was promised, is the one moving forward, and again, I appreciate the Council’s decision.

     

    1. Mark West

      There was no mixed-used project proposal in front of the City Council, only a Staff generated report that seemed to grow out of the CEQA analysis.  If the Developers had wanted a mixed-use project they would have taken the time to formally proposed one. We should not be wasting Staff or Council time on projects that have never been proposed. This was a process error, one which the CC and CM seem to like to replicate.  It is the Developer’s project, not the City’s.  If the City owned the land it would be a City project, and this sort of discussion would have been warranted.

      1. CalAg

        The developer tried to get a housing proposal in through the back door. The tactic was to game the CEQA process. I agree with MW that this shouldn’t have even been on the table.

        Very early in the process, the developer similarly tried to get a back door exemption from the Measure J/R process. In this instance, council nipped it in the bud and there was no real downside. In the case of the housing play, council allowed it to play out over an extended period of time and put the entitlements at risk.

        To their credit, they’ve got the process back on track. Hopefully, the broad coalition of support that was enjoyed by the original application can be rebuilt. What’s not helpful at this particular point in time is all the hand-wringing about the canard that 850 high-density apartments would have made the project materially better.

    2. ruralknight

      “The Chamber of Commerce was there in full force, as well as the people that the developers recruited all testifying to try to convince the Council that they needed to abandon the commercial-only proposal and move forward with mixed-use.”

      Be careful here…there were some very, thoughtful, concerned citizens there who are concerned with the long term impacts this sprawling project will have on the community.  I know there were at least 3 who wanted the housing component as leverage to improve the project including a substantial amount of onsite affordable housing and better open space mitigation. Just because people agree with the developer on an issue and disagree with you, doesn’t mean they are in bed with the developer…

  9. Tia Will

    ruralknight

    Agreed. I have absolutely nothing to gain from the MRIC personally. I do not favor the project without the housing component as being an outdated model with large land consumption and minimal space and environmental mitigation. I would be willing to consider a more forward looking project, but what is being presented is not it.

  10. Barack Palin

    I plan on voting for this project as now presented and want to thank the council for taking the housing component out so as to make sure the innovation park will pass a Measure R vote.

  11. Eileen Samitz

    Be careful here…there were some very, thoughtful, concerned citizens there who are concerned with the long term impacts this sprawling project will have on the community.  I know there were at least 3 who wanted the housing component as leverage to improve the project including a substantial amount of onsite affordable housing and better open space mitigation. Just because people agree with the developer on an issue and disagree with you, doesn’t mean they are in bed with the developer…

    ruralknight,

    I too knew many of the thoughtful, concerned, citizens there who spoke. However, this project would have little or not affordable housing since the developers were trying for the “vertical mixed-use” exemption for no affordable housing. So I am not sure where you got the impression that there would be “a substantial amount of affordable housing” but that was not the case. Careful, it is best to get the facts right before making any assertions…

    By the way, were you there and did you testify at that City Council meeting to express your opinion publicly?

    1. ruralknight

      2 things here – first are the revisions made to the city’s affordable housing ordinance which brought affordability requirements back to mixed use/condos…I’m not surprised that this component was delayed until after Nishi was approved and also in light of the campaign contributions published in the Vanguard. I can’t help but wonder if the mixed-use component was part of MRIC if Coucil/City would’ve continued to delay these revisions.

      Secondly, without mixed use component in MRIC, affordable housing advocates have no leverage to get anything (on-site development and/or fees in-lieu of developing). However, advocates had been discussing this with members of the development team and were ready with solutions to ensure the project met it’s fair share one way or the other.

      Lastly, there are many ways to skin a cat…but standing up on a soapbox, using bullying language, without providing solid solutions, is by far the least effective.

      Many people work behind the scenes with multiple interests from all walks of life. If we want to change the face of development in this town, we need to be willing to work together in a broad, diverse coalition and develop a process where we can use our collective power to negotiate more community benefits in return for our support of these things. Otherwise, the power lies with the developers and we get a Nishi or Cannery type project…

       

  12. Eileen Samitz

    ruralknight,

    I agree, as I have stated previously, that the affordable housing exemptions like the “vertical-mixed use” zoning needs to be changed and soon. My sense is that they were intended for the downtown specifically to encourage more commercial, like retail, but this particular zoning code needs to be changed now since developers are coming out of the woodwork to get away with building no affordable housing in high density housing.

    Second, I think it is interesting that you seem to know quite a bit about other “negotiations” with the Ramos group that no one else was aware of regarding “solutions being offered by the development team”. This is a transparency issue as well, particularly when there is agreement amongst many like myself that affordable housing needs to be included in all of these residential projects.

    So when you are stating that we “all need to work together” that means people like you, or whomever else was negotiating with these developers behind the scenes, it is really better to be upfront so everyone knows what is going on with the project being proposed.

    1. Matt Williams

      Eileen Samitz said . . .“as I have stated previously, that the affordable housing exemptions like the “vertical-mixed use” zoning needs to be changed and soon.”

      I agree that the exemptions need to be addressed, but I think the whole affordable housing approach needs to be addressed/refocused.

      Governor Brown’s elimination of the RDAs (Redevelopment Agencies) across the state essentially made the City’s historical (and still current) affordable housing approach inffective.  The reason is that it is tied to “building events.”  Even when we have those kind of “building events,” given the crying need Davis has for multi-family housing, and the clear community pressure to follow an infill “build up, not out” approach, the result is that we end up with situations like the current Sterling 5th Street Apartments proposal where the affordable units are carved out into an isolated location rather than dispersed within and among the “market rate” residences.  Some people have used the term “ghetto” when describing that approach.

      RDA funding isn’t coming back soon, and after Grande and Chiles Ranch and Cannery are built out it is hard to imagine when the next detached Single Family Residential neighborhood is likely to be built.  That means the Wait List method of the current Affordable Housing program will either sit motionless, or occasionally provide new housing opportunities in “100% affordable” complexes like Sterling is proposing.

      What is the alternative … implement a voucher system whereby all the existing residences in Davis become available for Davis residents seeking affordable housing.  Under such a program the goals of the old program that created mixed communities of affordable and market rate units would be more actively achieved.  The impact on developers of multi-family complexes like Nishi and Sterling and the recently proposed HighBridge complex on East Olive Drive would be very straightforward. they would know exactly what their dollars and sense contribution would be to the Affordable Voucher program, and they wouldn’t have to “shoehorn” a segregated affordable area into an isolated portion of their site.  Further, their contributions to the Affordable Voucher program would be providing benefits to Davis residents immediately at the time their entitlements are approved, rather than waiting years for the actual affordable units to be built.

      Immediate impact/benefit to Davis is what a voucher program would deliver.  Robb Davis even proposed a way to accelerate that immediate benefit on Tuesday when he used the Measure O Open Space Program annual assessment as an example for a similar Affordable Housing program here in Davis.  With the rapid and continued growth of the Senior demographic segment of the Davis population, having a workable, and working, Affordable Housing program is good governance.

    2. ruralknight

      You’re completely missing the point. The community was split and not everyone had an opportunity to “negotiate” with the developer. It’s a classic strategy implemented to keep the community unorganized and disempowered.  Some of us prepared with solutions didn’t even get to have a chance to negotiate because housing wasn’t a component…it was just a number of discussions. And with all those adamantly opposed to mixed use anyway, there was no leverage…

      FYI – mixed use/stacked flats requirement to include affordable housing was passed…no longer are they exempt.

  13. Eileen Samitz

    Matt,

    Well this is the first time that you have said anything in defense of affordable housing. You were quite silent on this issue, particularly on Nishi Gateway and MRIC up until now. I know that you are running for Council, so now it seems you wish to want to champion affordable housing. You were nowhere to be seen defending affordable housing on Nishi Gateway and the MRIC housing proposal, neither of which had affordable housing.

    1. Matt Williams

      Eileen, feel free to criticize me all you want to.  MRIC has not presented a proposal that the FBC can even begin analyzing.  To torture Ray Salomon’s expression, MRIC’s proposal is not MATERIALLY complete, and as such is at best inaccurate.  Once a materially complete and accurate proposal is submitted then weighing in on how that specific proposal contributes to the fiscal and quality of life strengths of the city/community is appropriate.  Before then, all we are doing is speculating.

      Further, affordable housing isn’t a project-specific issue.  It is a program-wide breakdown of the historical affordable housing program principally because of the end of the RDA funding sources.  As a case in point, here is the most recent timetable for the Creekside Courts Affordable project submitted on 10/12/2015.  Bottom-line, barring any glitches in any of the fourteen (14) major steps, the earliest possible time that any Davis citizen needing help with the affordability of housing is October 2019.  Further, that timeline is already at least three months behind  since it was published in  October . . . so 2020 is the earliest possible time that valuable benefits can/will be delivered.  It does not require someone to be a rocket scientist to know that that makes no sense.   The evidence of this painful reality has only come to my attention in the recent months, so I plead guilty to not having this key issue that affects so many Davis citizens on my radar earlier.

      Now that there is clear evidence of the problem, and possible methods for addressing this program-wide breakdown have been proposed, then it is time to do our due diligence and look seriously at addressing the problem.  If you think that is a bad idea, then please let me know.  I am listening.

       

       

      d) Revised Development Timeline

      The revised development timeline is as follows:
      October 2015 —— City awards project site to developer
      March 2016 – Submit $1.5 million application to Federal Home Loan Bank Affordable Housing
      Program (AHP)
      June 2016 »- Submit schematic architectural drawings to City of Davis for design review approval
      October 2016 – Receive final City of Davis approval of project design
      August 2016 – Receive award of AHP funding
      March 2017 — Submit $9,126,700 application to Affordable Housing and Sustainable
      Communities Program (AHSC)
      August 2017 – Receive award of AHSC loan funds
      October 2017 — Submit application for tax-exempt bond authority to CA Debt Limit Allocation Committee (CDLAC)
      December 2017 – Receive award of tax-exempt bonds from CDLAC
      March 2018 – Submit application for low»-income housing tax credits to Tax Credit Allocation
      Committee (TCAC)
      June 2018 — Receive award of low-»-income housing tax credits from T CAC
      August 2018 —- Sign Letter of Intent with Limited Partner
      November 2018 — Close construction financing and start construction
      October 2019 -— Initial occupancy

       

      1. ruralknight

        Very interesting response Matt. The issue with “affordable housing” is that it’s very complex issue to address. It takes a mix of solid progressive policies, programs (HOME, CDBG, as well as resident services i.e. financial education, mental health, etc.) and financing. RDAs were just a drop in the bucket but we want to think it was some sort of panacea which is wasn’t. And it’s  very expensive to build and maintain based mostly on the amount of rent that’s collected – the deeper income targeting equals more subsidies. Local jurisdictions need to find new sources of funding that is flexible with it’s use. For instance, a lot of people throughout the region are up in arms over the homelessness issue. Short term shelters are the easiest thing for local government to do – permanent supportive housing, transitional housing, is very expensive and harder to do because the developer won’t receive a lot of income from the tenants – meaning they will need more subsidy in order to service the debt on the project.

        I can go on and on byt dont want to bore everyone to death. All that to say, I agree with the spirit of your response (and previous comments ). Vouchers could be part of the solution but there are very few to go around.

        What about rent control?

        What about a fee on real estate transactions that goes to the housing trust fund that can be used how the community sees fit to use it?
        What about addrssing income inequality by raising the minimum wage?

        Many solutions exist but they’re not easy ones…

         

         

        1. Matt Williams

          Thank you for the thoughtful response ruralknight.  I know my limitations.  They are very real, but more than anything I’m biased towards listening.  Lots and lots to learn.  Further, up until now I have been a volunteer on specific issues/topics, which inherently focuses one’s attention.  But, in taking the next step in my “If you are willing to complain, you’ve got to be willing to contribute” commitment to be more than just a volunteer, then stepping up my game and multiplying my listening is essential.

          I agree wholeheartedly with your “very complex issue to address” assessment.  The programs have a life of their own, and maximizing their individual and collective value is essential.  With that said, my years in finance have taught me that there are often very large differences in how one looks at sources of funds as opposed to uses of funds.  And then there are process issues.  The Creekside Courts timeline tells us a great deal about how process impacts our community’s ability to actually get to the “use of funds step” where actual value is delivered to those in need.

          What I believe we should explore is not relying solely on new development that may (or may not) come sometime in the future, but rather to look at our existing stock of housing as an immediately available, in-place resource that can be providing shelter and comfort to productive, valued members of our community with housing affordability challenges.  I also suspect, but need lots of education to get beyond the suspicion stage, that we focus too much on ownership housing and not enough on  rental housing in addressing affordability.  In 2013 Yale Economics Professor Robert Shiller wrote an excellent article Owning a Home Isn’t Always a Virtue that says the following:

          […] this is a good time to ask a basic question: In today’s world, is it wise for the government to subsidize homeownership?
          In answering it, we have to look at the big picture by considering all the presumed advantages of owning a home, including the encouragement of thrift that animated the founders of “Own Your Own Home Day.”
          ENCOURAGING homeownership has been considered a national goal at least since “Own Your Own Home Day” was introduced in 1920 by various business and civic groups as part of a National Thrift Week. The newly popular word “homeownership” represented a goal and a virtue for every good citizen — to get out of the tenements and into one’s own home. Homeownership was thought to encourage planning, discipline, permanency and community spirit.
          CERTAINLY, many of us have a basic drive to create our own habitats. We enjoy personalizing our living spaces, inside and out. But there are also important practical advantages to renting to consider — especially when asking if government should support or discourage homeownership.
          For example, renters are more mobile. That means they are more likely to accept jobs in another city, or even on the other side of a large metropolis. In addition, it’s hardly wise to put all of one’s life savings into a single, highly leveraged investment in a home — as millions of underwater borrowers today can attest.

          My suspicion is that the issues that Professor Shiller lays out above are even more compelling for those Davis citizens whose incomes are low enough to qualify them under any one of the affordable housing programs.

          In cities where rent control has been implemented, I believe it has created as many problems as it has provided solutions.  I also believe the UCD enrollment tsunami would magnify those problems if we implemented rent control here.

          Keep the cards and letters coming.  I’m listening . . . and learning.

        2. hpierce

          Matt.. for many, rental housing is affordable housing… we wanted to own a home, rent free, and do, but given property taxes, maintenance, etc., and the time value of money, I don’t know if that would have been a good priority when we were ‘starting out’… have had a couple of close relatives who never ‘owned’ property, but did quite well financially as renters [w/o rent control]… seems much of the City’s efforts over the last forty years, sought “affordable ownership” development projects.  Maybe wrong priority…

        1. Matt Williams

          I have both the time and the commitment to devote to the task of being fully engaged.   When I made the decision to evolve from being a part-time volunteer to being a full-time public servant I had a good sense of what I was in for.

          I take guidance from the words of Rudyard Kipling, who once said,

          If you can keep your head when all about you   
              Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,   
          If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
              But make allowance for their doubting too;   
          If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
              Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
          Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
              And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

          If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;   
              If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;   
          If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
              And treat those two impostors just the same;  

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