Council Approves B Street Infill Project

The Davis City Council was not happy to have to weigh in on the B Street infill project.  Several of them specifically noted that the project met the zoning requirements and they didn’t understand why the project was before them.

The council heard from a slew of neighbors well into the evening, unhappy with the size and scope as well as the fit of the project.

But ultimately, in a 4-0 vote with Lucas Frerichs recusing himself due to his home being within 500 feet of the project, the council approved the project and upheld the applicant’s appeal of the Planning Commission’s denial.

Councilmember Rochelle Swanson stated, “I’m surprised this came to us” and, in response to the neighbors, “Some of the comments actually make me sad.”

Like some of her colleagues, she noted, “The governor is pushing to get affordable housing by right, which is going to strip us of our rights.

“Infill is hard,” she said.  At the same time she noted that parking is an issue and she believes that more people should be biking and walking, given where this project is located.

“This meets all the things we say we want,” she said.

“We’re always talking about precedent, ” Councilmember Swanson said, noting that this pushes a minor “mod” of an architectural feature by two feet by a couple of setbacks, and “if we can’t do that in Davis a couple of blocks from downtown in an R3 infill in zoning that’s been that way for years, what can we do in infill in this community?”

She added, “If we were talking about something that is grossly outside of what is already allowed, it would be another thing.”  She continued,  “It’s not incompatible in the larger scheme of things.

“At some point we have to say yes,” she said.  “This is something that’s allowable in this district.  If we can’t say yes to what’s allowed, what can we possibly say yes to?”

Will Arnold was also critical of the Planning Commission, stating, “I took a little issue (to) the reasons given by the Planning Commission for their opposition to it, specifically… he or she seemed to say it’s unattractive.  I suppose that’s just somebody’s opinion and I don’t think that’s a reason to vote against something.”

Councilmember Arnold said he disagrees that this is a neighborhood of single-family homes.

Will Arnold also believed that the project fit within current guidelines.

“The General Plan takes neighborhood preservation very seriously, and yet this project fits within the zoning here,” he said.  “Typically when we’re reviewing development proposals, it’s because we’re reviewing a zoning amendment, but of course that’s not the case here.  The question is whether we allow for maximizing what is allowable.”

Of the four councilmembers it was Brett Lee who was most sympathetic to the neighbors’ position, defending them against calls of nimbyism, relating to the acronym for Not In My Back Yard.

“It’s quite reasonable they have concerns (that) their neighborhood is changing,” he said.  “I don’t think the correct response is to label someone as a NIMBY because of whether they live.”

He mentioned that he had voted against Mission Residence because something exceeded the zoning.  “This is a little different,” he said.  “The zoning is being adhered to.”  He said, “There has to be a good reason to change the zoning.”

He said, “It would be an economic taking if we essentially down zone this parcel.”  And he added, “It’s clearly not a single-family neighborhood when we talk about this R3 zoning, and this is a zoning that has been there for a while.

“I’m not really clear why the Planning Commission did what they did,” he said. But he added, “I’m not constrained by that.”

He argued for a more robust parking plan.  He said that, while we want to encourage bicycling, “how many here bicycled here tonight?

“I would be open to the idea that the design could be modestly changed in a way that was acceptable to the applicant but also more acceptable to the neighbors in terms of appearance and scale and try to find out if there is a way to soften the concerns of the neighbors.”

He suggested, “It would be a reasonable approach.”  He said he was open to hearing if there would be support for another round of discussions, while he recognized that there was some time urgency.

Mayor Davis seemed stuck between sympathy for the neighbors and his commitment to find housing for those in need.

He stated that the previous council had attempted to address housing by putting Nishi on the ballot.  That lost by 700 votes, he said.  “Personally I took it very hard because I put a lot of work into it, but also because it seemed to me that was an opportunity for us as a city to do the right thing in an environmental sense but also to provide what we haven’t been able to provide over the last decade – which is significant rental housing.

“The tradeoffs are always challenging,” he said.  “I really have learned to listen to the community about their concerns about keeping their place nice.” However, he said, “We have a growing population in the region, not just in Davis, which is really putting pressure on us.

“To me I have to give priority about giving someone a place to live and we have to figure out the rest,” he said.  “That’s where I’ve been and that’s where I continue to be.”

Mayor Davis continued, “I’m struck by how we’ve constantly been asked to do less” in terms of housing proposals coming before council “in the face of one of the worst housing crises in the country.”  He added, “I keep thinking about the people who really need housing now, who can’t find it,” he said.

He said he heard Mayor Pro Tem Lee suggesting it be sent back for more discussion, but ultimately sided against it.  “I really don’t want to,” he said.  “I don’t think this should have come to us.”

The mayor noted that the Planning Commission “is upset at us for encouraging developments that ask for a General Plan Amendment.  They don’t like it when they get those – because they’re being ask to proclaim on something that go outside the boundaries.”  He said, “Here they get a project that’s in the boundaries and we still get it.  That frustrates me a little bit.  I don’t know why we got it.”

He said, “I believe my responsibility is to find to a way through the housing crisis in California.”

Meanwhile, Mayor Pro Tem Brett Lee pushed for a discussion between neighbors and the applicants, arguing the third or fourth go-round is better than the original proposal.

But even he agreed, “It fits the zoning.”

As Will Arnold explained, he didn’t want to go down the same path as they went with the hotel proposal.  “That was not only a change in zoning,” he said.  “It was about the use, that to me, that was a major difference from what we’re talking about.”

He said here, even the opponents don’t disagree with the use, “fundamentally this is the use that’s envisioned by the zoning.”

Ultimately the council decided against the additional discussions at this time and voted 4-0 to approve the project.

—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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  1. Ron

    From article:  He said, “I believe my responsibility is to find to a way through the housing crisis in California.”

    And therein lies the problem, with Mayor Davis.  From approximately 2007-2012, California had a “different type” of housing crisis.

    Providing housing for those who don’t already live in Davis is not the council’s responsibility.  And, there’s no way to “reserve” housing for those who have a connection to Davis or UCD (except on the campus, itself).  It’s a fool’s goal, but one with plenty of consequences for those who already live in Davis.

    Soon, SACOG’s “fair share” growth requirements may have some real “teeth”, that no one can argue.  And yet, we’re on track to “use up” whatever available spots remain, prior to the next round of upcoming requirements.

    I realize that the “usual suspects” will probably chime in again. But, all of these points have been argued repeatedly, and there’s no sense in continuing to do so. (Plus, I just don’t have time today, to engage foolish arguments.)

    Note:  I took no position on this particular proposal.


    1. David Greenwald

      “Providing housing for those who don’t already live in Davis is not the council’s responsibility. ”

      But I believe he would argue, providing housing for people already in Davis is.

      1. Ron

        Well, that didn’t take long.  Should I repeat the point stated above? And, note that those living in Davis (by definition) already have a place to live?

        And, there’s no way to “reserve” housing for those who have a connection to Davis or UCD (except on the campus, itself).  It’s a fool’s goal, but one with plenty of consequences for those who already live in Davis.

        It’s like arguing with crazy people, on here at times.

    1. Ron

      Keith:  I would agree, but the surrounding neighborhood has magically “disappeared” in the drawing. Nothing on the horizon/background, at all.

      Again, I took no position on this development.

      1. Keith O

        Good point, I do realise it’s the developer’s drawing.  I was responding to this quote:

         he or she seemed to say it’s unattractive.  I suppose that’s just somebody’s opinion and I don’t think that’s a reason to vote against something.”

        The drawing looks nice and if the actual project looks anything like the drawing I don’t see a problem with aesthetics.  But I don’t agree with the above quote, once an ugly building is allowed to be built the city is stuck with it for the next 100 years.

        1. Keith O

          Even though you didn’t elaborate on why it’s untrue Howard at least you were able to give much better responce than calling me whiney or telling me to shut up.


        2. Howard P

          Name 3 ugly buildings in Davis expected to, or have lasted 100 years… name two…

          Ugly buildings tend to get redeveloped….

          And, it’s whiny, not ‘whiney’…

  2. Ron

    By the way, I’ve noticed that Rochelle tends to make the most “insensitive” comments, on the council (a pattern, really).  (More so than Robb.)  Really, Rochelle is “saddened” by comments of concerned neighbors?

    Who the heck is the council supposed to represent?

    1. David Greenwald

      I think when the council/ project applicant wishes to have general plan amendments in order to get a project approved, there is a reasonable expectation that the neighbors will complain.  It’s one reason why I have recommended doing the CASP first before Trackside is approved.  But in this case you have a project that meets the zoning and design guidelines and people are still complaining about it.  I think that’s troubling especially during a time of 0.2 percent vacancy and housing insecurity.

      1. Ron

        David:  I’ll agree that I found nothing significant, regarding “violations” of existing zoning and design guidelines.  I looked at the staff report, and noticed that (apparently) only the highest point of the roof exceeded height limits.  (And, a pitched roof is more attractive than a flat roof.)

        Again, I didn’t take a position on this.  However, existing guidelines sometimes (still) do not negate legitimate concerns of neighbors, which don’t fully manifest themselves until there’s an actual proposal.  (Perhaps due to lack of awareness, changes in plans/zoning over time, etc.) (So, I wouldn’t belittle those concerns, at least.)

        Perhaps this is will help serve as a “wake-up” call, for those who aren’t paying attention to the council’s plans to update the CASP and general plan.

        I’m going to try to limit my comments, today (and going forward for awhile).  (I keep saying that, but somehow never follow-through for any extended period.)  I’m hoping that no one “baits” me (but I might just stop looking at this for awhile, anyway).  (I kind of regret saying anything today, already.)  🙂


        1. David Greenwald

          Ron – not trying to bait you – I believe there are legitimate concerns but that if a project falls within design guidelines those concerns have to be overwhelming to become a reason for denial, otherwise why have guidelines in the first place.

    2. Howard P

      Who the heck is the council supposed to represent?

      That would be the ENTIRE city… not a handful of “concerned neighbors” [although they need to listen, but not necessarily ‘heed’).  They are also obligated to follow local law (or change it, but not ex post facto), State and federal law, and the State and Federal constitutions.

      They did so.

  3. Howard P

    Good thing I’m not on the Council… would have asked the neighbors opposing, under the circumstances, whether they were prepared to reimburse the applicant for the proposed acquisition price (am assuming their offer to buy was ‘contingent’ on approvals) plus all processing costs to date.

    Damn good thing I’ll never be on the CC!

    Brett definitely had one thing right: “It would be an economic taking if we essentially down zone this parcel.” True story!

  4. Ron

    Howard:  While allowing for disagreement regarding vision and goals (which I’d rather not argue with you), there are eventually cumulative impacts on the entire city, not just the immediate neighbors.

    Keith:  Thank you.

    David:  Agree somewhat, in that this development appears to fall (reasonably) within existing guidelines (which apparently include incentives that allow the developer to cram in as many extra units as possible and reduce the setbacks in regard to adjacent properties, and provide the absolute minimum amount of parking).  Not convinced that it will make any difference regarding the “vacancy rate”.

      1. Ron

        Adding new residents “never” increases the vacancy rate. (Unless one thinks that it won’t be occupied.)

        Brings us back to Robb’s statement, regarding the housing crisis in “California”, and his “responsibility” to resolve it (see first comment/quote, above).

    1. Howard P

      While allowing for disagreement regarding vision and goals

      Does ‘vision and goals’ include existing local, state and federal laws/principles?  That was the major gist of my comment.

      “Yes” or “No” would suffice as a fair answer….

  5. Robb Davis

    So before my quote about the housing crisis in CA becomes some sort of internet meme, let me remind Ron  and everyone else that I am a committed localist.  I have written about that theme in these pages in the past (long before Ron was a reader).  As such, I look at state and national challenges from the perspective of what I can and should do in my local community to address the issue (whatever it might be).  I have chosen to serve locally (and already committed to never seeking any higher office).  In one of my first meetings on the CC I noted that we have a housing crisis in the state and in Davis.

    So, I know how you are trying to frame this but my commitments have always been to figuring out how to provide more housing for the people who live and want to live in Davis.  Yes, I include those who currently live in Davis who want to change their lifestyle (downsize, for example), and those who will come because this is a great town to live in.

    My commitments are to solving the crisis locally.  I know you disagree with me on this goal, but I am not going to change it for that reason.  I ran on the promise to try to help create more multi-family rental housing.  I never, ever hid that and it was on my campaign literature.  Many people (I assume) decided not to vote for me because of that.

    My suggestion for you going forward is to support candidates for City Council who share your views on these issues.  I would argue that the community is quite divided on this issue (though there seems to be consensus that infill is “good”, just not “here”), and I would be surprised if several candidates in next year’s election do not run on this very issue. You should have a clear choice in that case.  I have made it clear that I will not be running again.  Until then, I will pursue what I believe is in the best interest of the community. I really have no other guiding principle than that.

  6. Robb Davis

    And, just to be crystal clear: I will evaluate and judge each project on its own merits.  I will demand quality and adherence to other critical CC goals related to GHG emission reductions and affordable housing.  So, my desire to see more multi-family rental housing produced is bounded and constrained by other CC goals.

  7. Matt Williams

    “Councilmember Arnold said he disagrees that this is a neighborhood of single-family homes.”

    The graphic below comes from the City website (see

    All the colored parcels are apartments according to the City.  The parcel immediately to the south is the David Lutheran Church.  If you consider “the neighborhood” as being from 11th Street on the north to 7th Street on the south and from Miller Street on the west to F Street on the east, the neighborhood is mixed at best … approximately 50% single-family homes and 50% apartments.  If you narrow “the neighborhood” down to to the block from 8th to 9th and B to D, it is about one-third church, one-third apartments and one-third single-family residences.

    Councilmember Arnold’s disagreement with the public comment appears to be well founded.

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