My View: What Type of Housing Do We Need in Davis?

Earlier this week, the Vanguard posed the question, does Davis need senior housing?  In a very real way it’s the wrong question.  As one of our readers pointed out, there is a real market for senior housing – and thus the West Davis Active Adult Community.

Other readers expressed concern with the lack of density in the project and questioned whether the project has a big enough local constituency to pass a Measure R vote.

But I think there is a more fundamental point that needs discussion here, and that is whether the city council should take the approach that there is a finite limit to how much housing they can realistically add, given Davis’ growth control laws and also the community’s expressed desire for slow growth – and therefore whether the council should create some sort of framework for approving projects even to be considered for votes by the public.

This goes back to a point we made early this year, when we urged without success that the council come up with a number as to how much student housing the city needs to add, given the university enrollment plans and commitments to add on-campus housing.

The city declined to take up this approach, but we have a reasonable estimate that if the university sticks with the current 90/40 plan, the gap between 90/40 and 100/50 is roughly 3900 beds, so for fun, let’s round up to 4000 beds.

Will the university go higher than 90/40?  They have given some signals that they would consider it.  But when we directly asked Matt Dulcich, UC Davis’ Director of Environmental Planning and Local Government Relations Manager, all he would commit to is “we are continuing to examine opportunities for additional housing within our draft LRDP land use plan during the first stages of the environmental analysis which is currently underway.”

The city has approved Sterling, of course.  It will this fall have the opportunity to approve Lincoln40.  Those two projects will get the city to about 1500 of those 4000 or so units it needs.

There are some other projects that are coming down the pipeline.  There is the Chiles Road redevelopment project on 7.4 acres that would be some sort of residential neighborhood tailored to young professionals, graduate students and families.

There is the development across from Playfields Sports Park that is 179 units and would be affordable housing which would include UCD students and non-students: Affordable-by-Design Micro Units, Low-income individuals attending UCD, Low-income Families and Student Affinity Groups.

The Trackside development is looking at higher end rental housing – but has been a controversial project.

And then there is the senior housing project, that would be the only current Measure R project and which focuses on senior housing.

There are really preliminary talks about the possibility of utilizing the land currently housing the school district administration and converting it into single-family homes.

The city clearly has a lot of pent up housing needs.  While the Cannery has slowly come on line, Grande Village is going forward, and Chiles Ranch may once again commence construction, the city has not added much in the way of major subdivisions since Measure R was passed in 2000 – that’s now 17 years ago.

There are clear student housing needs that are urgent, with a 0.2 percent vacancy rate, and the council has taken some steps to accommodate that.

There are some senior housing needs – advocates there have often suggested that enabling seniors to downsize would allow families to move into their current homes.

And there are clear workforce and family housing needs.

The trick is that the council faces a situation where there is a shrinking amount of vacant infill sites within the town.

In addition, we have seen three Measure J/R votes in 17 years, and all have failed.  Would voters make the Davis Active Adult Community the first successful Measure R vote?  That remains to be seen.

But the problem that we note in the article from earlier in the week is, if they do, that might be the one project that the voters approve.

The council has taken the approach that developers are private individuals and the city has little control over what comes forward in the way of proposals.  That is completely accurate.  However, the council is the gatekeeper as to what projects they approve.

For the most part, we have seen the council evaluate projects on a project by project basis.  That means if they find the project acceptable – or, more to the point, when they find the project meets their guidelines – they have approved it.

There have not generally been considerations as to the bigger picture.  The question has been is this project acceptable, not how does the project fit within our priorities.  And maybe the answer there is we are so far behind at this point, that we need something of everything.

The city has made the decision to start the General Plan update process by focusing on the core area – and that makes some sense as we have pointed out in recent weeks.  A vision of downtown that includes densification could include several stories of workforce or rental housing in addition to retail and office space.

Our view is this: we have finite spaces to put new housing.  Measure R has not yet produced a project that the voters will approve and, therefore, the council should be very judicious about which projects they put on the ballot.

Neighbors have pushed back against traffic, noise and visual impacts on their homes and, therefore, there will be limits as to what can be redeveloped in terms of infill and how dense it can become.

Therefore, the council should think in terms of housing needs and prioritize which projects they approve accordingly.

—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. John Hobbs

    “Therefore, the council should think in terms of housing needs”

    Everyone needs housing. The Davis way is to prevent anyone who hasn’t already got housing from getting it. It’s sort of a passive aggressive “Do Not Disturb” sign.

    “In addition, we have seen three Measure J/ R votes in 17 years, all have failed.”

    A pretty good predictor of future performance, I’d say.

    ” A vision of downtown that includes densification could include several stories of workforce or rental housing in addition to retail and office space.”

    Won’t be acceptable to any of the activists who regularly scuttle proposed development.


    1. Matt Williams

      In addition, we have seen three Measure J/ R votes in 17 years, all have failed.

      A pretty good predictor of future performance, I’d say.

      When one looks at the five Measure J/R elections, the one good predictor of future performance is that the number of votes cast by the supporters of growth control will consistently be between 10,000 and 12,000, while the number of votes from the other side of the growth issue will vary substantially.

      Measure A — June 7, 2016 — 66% voter turnout (23,909 of 36,196 registered) — 51.5% against passage (11,702 no votes)

      Measure R — June 8, 2010 — 38% voter turnout (14,651 of 38,660 registered) — 76.7% for passage (10,474 yes votes)

      Measure P — November 3, 2009 — 33% voter turnout (12,685 of 38,247 registered) — 74.5% against passage (9,465 no votes)

      Measure X — November 8, 2005 — 66% voter turnout (23,403 of 35,489 registered) — 51.5% against passage (12,578 no votes)

      Measure J — March 7, 2000 — 70% voter turnout (20,948 of 30,103 registered) — 53.7% for passage (10,386 yes votes)

  2. Ron

    For those who believe that Davis should purposefully exceed it’s “fair share” housing allotment assigned by SACOG, and should also “roll-over” and accept UCD’s plans, there is another factor that is consistently forgotten.

    We’re about 5-6 years into a real estate recovery, after a spectacular, unprecedented downturn.  (A “true crisis” for many across the country, essentially not seen since the Great Depression.)  However, a local real estate professional recently told me that he (his office?) expects the market to enter into another (less-severe) downturn, starting the year-after-next.

    This professional has previously provided me with remarkably accurate predictions (which I didn’t believe, at the time).

    He reminded me that real estate is always cyclical (approximately 7-year increments in any particular direction), despite how it seems at any given moment.  Davis has been able to avoid extreme swings seen in nearby communities, largely because Davis is a slow-growth community.

    1. David Greenwald

      I wonder… who has suggested we should exceed the RHNA numbers. Part of the point of this piece is that the city is naturally and structurally limited in growth and therefore they need to treat housing as a scarce resource and plan accordingly.

    2. Ron

      David:  Regarding exceeding SACOG, we already have examples – Sterling, and Lincoln 40 (if approved).  (Not sure if there are others.)

      Regarding your article, the “jist” of it seems to be that there are other (higher-priority) “needs” than senior housing, and that a Measure R vote (and possible approval) should not be “wasted” on that. For example:

      From article:  “But the problem that we note in the article from earlier in the week is, if they do, that might be the one project that the voters approve.”

      (I cannot see your comments when logged in, so this might be my only response for awhile.)

    3. Howard P

      Ron… this should have nothing to do with SACOG nor UCD.  Yes, we have to be aware of ‘externalities’, but at the end of the day, we need to act to control what we can.

      There are many who would ‘control’ by saying ‘no mas’.  Unless we can do that retroactively to 1980, I’ll not favor that zero approach.  Might be open to having everyone leave who came here after 1980, unless they were born to, or became family members of those who were here then.

      If we did that, we would solve pretty much all traffic issues, and the affordability of housing… am liking that idea…

      1. John Hobbs

        Who would be in charge of the expatriation? Would green hemp uniformed true Davisites go door to door, verifying the occupants legitimacy? would Davis still be a sanctuary city and would the indigenous refugees be covered under that umbrella? Will I have the opportunity to write “The Davis Diaspora?”



        1. Matt Williams

          David, SACOG’s own rules definitely “enter into the picture.” 

          In calculating a jurisdiction’s “fair share” of the Regional allocation, SACOG starts by looking at the full complement of land within the specific jurisdiction that either is currently zoned residential, or has the potential to be zoned residential.  That potential “supply” drives the eventual RHNA allocation. 

          If the potential supply of a jurisdiction is reduced by 50% then SACOG will reduce the RHNA allocation by approximately 50%.  SACOG does not assign allocation for land that does not exist in the jurisdiction.

        2. Ron

          Matt:  There are some knowledgeable individuals who completely disagree with your interpretation of SACOG’s regulations, regarding adjacent lands that can be considered for development.  I’ve also looked at these regulations, and do not find them entirely clear-cut.

          You are providing a disservice to all who might believe you, regarding your interpretation of SACOG regulations.  (I actually wish that you were correct, regarding your interpretations.)

          This has all been discussed at length on the Vanguard, in other articles. There were no firm conclusions.

          We will find out more in a couple of years from now, when new SACOG “fair share” growth allotments are assigned.

      2. Ron

        Howard:  “Ron… this should have nothing to do with SACOG nor UCD.”

        I agree – it “shouldn’t”.

        Howard:  “Unless we can do that retroactively to 1980 . . .”

        We’ve had this conversation, previously.  “Evicting” someone from town is an entirely different matter than “failing” to meet market demand (e.g., regarding individuals who might, or might not choose to move to a given community).

        As I mentioned above, let’s see how different the market is in a couple of years. We’re due for a downturn. The real estate market is, and always has been cyclical in nature. This time will be no different.



        1. David Greenwald

          I think we’ve turned SAcog into some kind of boogie man. for the most part I think we are naturally constrained in terms of how much we can grow. So I’m not sure sacog even enters into the equation

        2. Ron

          David:  I strongly suspect that those who (currently) “downplay” the role of SACOG will completely turn the argument around in the future, when Davis runs out of viable spaces for residential development within the city’s borders. (Which, as you’ve noted, appears to be on the horizon.)

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