My View: The Housing Problem Will Not Be Easily Solved

Mixed-use housing

This week, the Davis City Council voted 4-1 to certify the Mace Ranch Innovation Center EIR.  That opens the door to the developers to re-open the project and potentially attempt to put the measure on the ballot.

During the course of council discussions, three councilmembers – Brett Lee, Lucas Frerichs and Will Arnold – expressed their opposition to a mixed-use alternative.  You will recall that last spring the council was unanimous in opposing a mixed-use alternative and instead directed staff to continue processing a commercial-only option.

The comments by the councilmembers on Tuesday led Mayor Robb Davis, who is planning not to seek reelection, to observe, “I don’t see anything in the three members who are going to be here for the next three years that suggests that they’re going to embrace housing on that site.  And I don’t see anything that the community is going to vote for it in Measure R – which I think is a little bit sad.”

I have explained at a number of different times that I believe a mixed-use project would be better than a commercial-only project.  And I think if you asked most of the council in an ideal world if they would prefer such a project, their answer would be yes.

But the political reality is that most people, myself included, believe that putting housing on a peripheral site, even workforce specific housing, is going to doom the project.

Look no further than the comments of Eileen Samitz from July who argued that the EIR analysis of the impacts of the mixed-use project are flawed.  The staff concluded it to be the environmentally superior alternative, “assuming (that) the addition of a legally enforceable mechanism to ensure that at least 60 percent of the on-site units would be occupied by at least one MRIC employee can be provided.”

Ms. Samitz argued that there are “serious flaws in the EIR, particularly the false assumptions that you have to have 60 percent of the units – 850 units – (that) would have to be occupied by at least one employee. It’s ridiculous to assume that that (can) happen when it can’t be reinforced legally.”

Staff was unclear at this point in time whether there is a legally enforceable mechanism to ensure that 60 percent of the occupants would be MRIC employees – and, while I think there are ways to accomplish that, as I noted in yesterday’s column, the need for city revenue at this point trumps the need to solve housing on a site-specific basis.

That said, I think that Tia Will was correct in admonishing me for failing to address the issue of housing.  She writes, “You have not mentioned one key component regarding ‘slow growth’ even one time in the entire article. That is housing. You have said a sum total of zero about where these additional workers, students, interns and those who run businesses to serve their needs are going to live. If we provide housing for all of them, that is certainly not ‘slow growth.’ If we do not provide housing, are we encouraging commuting ?  Not one word, and yet you are ‘sure this project will help preserve our commitment to slow growth principles.’”

I think that she and others raise an important point – where are the people who work on this site going to live?

As we pointed out in our September 12 analysis, we already have a huge jobs-housing imbalance.  Of the 28,000 plus people who work in the Davis area (Davis or UC Davis), nearly three-quarters or 21,000 of them live outside of the area and have to commute.  At the same time, of those 24,000 or so who live here in Davis and work, 16,655 or 69 percent of them work outside of the area and have to commute.

In other words, every morning 21,000 people commute into Davis while 16,655 people drive outside of Davis.  That was in 2014, and, if anything, those numbers have gotten even worse since then.

I am concerned about the jobs-housing imbalance.  One of the hopes is that by creating an innovation center, we will create high quality, private sector jobs that will enable people who live in Davis to work closer to home.  But in the short term, adding 10,000 jobs and improving the local economy and tax base likely could exacerbate rather than solve the housing problem.

I know Eileen Samitz, when pushed on this issue, suggested that the property inside the curve by Harper Junior High might be conducive to housing for MRIC.

The bottom line: I will fully acknowledge that housing is a real issue and one that we have not adequately addressed.  Clearly, a mixed-use project will be much more difficult to sell to the voters.  Will the voters be concerned enough about this issue to vote down the project?  Hard to know.

What I do know is that the analysis I gave yesterday on the fiscal implications is important to keep in mind.  While I support cost containment, I do not see it as a cost-reduction strategy.  While I believe we need short-term taxes, I do not believe we can or should tax ourselves into prosperity.  And that leaves expanding the revenue base, and I believe retail is problematic.

Therefore, we are in a tough position, trying to meet our fiscal obligations and work within our current housing crisis.  I will leave this matter unresolved because, at this time, we are between a rock and a hard place and I see no simple or easy answers.

—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. Howard P

      How so?

      If you mean “filling in the blanks” (CV is bordered on 3 sides by existing development), about a third of it definitely not near ‘prime ag’, immediately adjacent to all the key infrastructure, existing transit routes, etc., it makes sense to focus there.

      Also, the area under the ‘Mace curve’… most of the utility infrastructure is there… bordered on two sides by development, and Covell/Mace could be a “thus far, but no further” line…

      Nah, that actually might make sense… not feasible!  Better to look at properties more in the floodplain (altho’ MRIC is less so than Covell/113)…

      Or, we could do ‘nada’… pull up the drawbridge, and be “Fortress (or Castle?) Davis”…


  1. Mark West

    David: “One of the hopes is that by creating an innovation center, we will create high quality, private sector jobs that will enable people who live in Davis to work closer to home.  But in the short term, adding 10,000 jobs and improving the local economy and tax base likely could exacerbate rather than solve the problem.”

    We will not be adding 10,000 jobs in the ‘short-term’ as the jobs will be created as the businesses are added to the center. You have reported several times that the expected buildout of the center will take 20-50 years, which is the same time frame that the jobs will be created. With a 20-year build rate, on average that would mean 500 new jobs each year, which would account for roughly 3% of our 16,600 outbound commuters. It is not unreasonable to believe that many, perhaps most, of those new jobs could be filled by people currently living in Davis but who work elsewhere.


  2. Greg Rowe

    The daily inflow of workers into Davis and UCD coupled with the outflow of Davis residents to jobs elsewhere is indeed a legitimate concern, but one which may not necessarily be solved by building housing at MRIC or anywhere else on the periphery of Davis.  That’s because there is no guarantee that workers necessarily want to live near they work, nor is there likely to be any legally enforceable mechanism to make them do so.  Human nature being what it is, people make rational decisions about where to live and work based on their perceived best self-interest. Here’s some anecdotal examples. 
    Some years ago I worked in downtown Sacramento. One of my colleagues commuted to work by car from his home in Fairfield. I once asked him why, since he worked in downtown Sac, that he didn’t live in Sac. He replied that his wife worked in downtown San Francisco.  Her commute consisted of driving to a BART station in Contra Costa County, then riding on BART to her job.  So, while neither of them lived close to work, for them, living between SF and Sac made perfect sense.   Doing so allowed both of them work in their respective job specialties, which he explained would not have been possible had they chosen instead to live in either Sac or SF.  
    Earlier this summer our neighbors across the street retired and moved from Davis. While working, the husband commuted to his employer’s offices in Dixon and near Sac State.  His wife drove to her medical practice in Vacaville.  Again, neither of them lived near their jobs.  They lived in Davis because it was a reasonable mid-point for their commutes. They liked the small-town atmosphere of Davis, and our town suited the husband’s biking lifestyle.
    I have an acquaintance who is an attorney for a government agency in Sacramento.  Her husband is a senior partner in a downtown Sac law firm.  They both commute by car to their jobs.  They choose to live in Davis because they value the small-town amenities and the excellent education their children are able to get in Davis schools.  Despite the traffic on I-80, I seriously doubt that either of them have ever thought about moving closer to their jobs.
    On a personal level, my wife and I built a home in Davis in 1999.  We chose Davis because of the nearby quiet rural roads that facilitate bike rides.  We can leave from home and do a short ride to Winters and back, or a longer ride to Napa or even Sonoma County while encountering virtually no traffic signals.  That’s something would be much hard to do if we lived in Sacramento, so we chose to live in Davis and commute there for jobs in our respective career specialties. 
    I think these few examples are good illustrations of how people often choose to live and work in far different locales, typically for very good reasons. And, of course, as people move among different jobs in the same urban region, it is unlikely they would sell their home and move with each job change.
    And I don’t mean to be repetitive, but if UCD were to build vastly more apartment units on campus, more apartments in our City could potentially become available for occupancy by workers at UCD and other Davis employers.   

    1. Ron

      Greg:  I agree, and found myself in a somewhat similar situation. My job (along with most others, I suspect) would not be “duplicated” at an innovation center.  Different fields/specialties.  (And, a different type of employer, especially when compared to a government agency located in Sacramento.) As I previously mentioned, I was joined by many other neighbors in Davis who (also) commuted to Sacramento, via Yolobus. (Government agencies subsidize public transit.)

      An “innovation center” would not have made any difference to me, in terms of a career. (Probably would have made the daily commute to/from Sacramento more difficult, though.)


      1. Howard P

        Funny… I always managed to live within 1-2 miles from where I worked, except for a one year stint in Woodland (part-time)… spouse spent about 2/3 of her career within 15 miles, one third within 2 miles… would have been less for her, if not for the vagaries of DJUSD… and DTA…

        Whatever floats your boat…

        We need local housing and local jobs… that will reduce commuting…

        1. Ron

          Howard:  As Greg noted, it’s usually not worth selling/buying a home when someone gets a new job in a nearby area.  (Perhaps renters are generally more transitory.) In addition, Davis is a much better place to live, compared to downtown Sacramento (in my humble opinion).

          Regarding “local jobs”, the article above already notes that there’s a net inflow of “commuters” to Davis.  But, there’s lots of people commuting in both directions.

          More housing and jobs will not “reduce commuting”.  (Surprised to hear that kind of argument coming from you.)


        2. Howard P

          Yeah, we know where you’re really coming from… a  former commuter who has his, and wants to pull up the draw-bridge, and close the doors… thank you for your transparency… very welcome…

          To get back on point/topic… the housing problem will not easily be solved as long as people, who behave as you say you did, are a significant part of the equation… we should be looking for the jobs/housing balance…

          1. Don Shor

            I think that behavior is very common and is not going to change. Davis is widely perceived as a nice bedroom community with great schools and nice amenities. When my son was looking for a job he looked as far afield as Elk Grove and Fairfield without even considering moving to either of those places. In my opinion the commute in/commute out ratio is not likely to change one bit if MRIC is built, with or without housing. It just isn’t how most people behave.

        3. Ron

          Howard:  It’s not worth arguing with you.  It won’t change your negative outlook, regardless.  As you said above, whatever “floats your boat”.

          I only wish that every city provided its citizens with the opportunity to vote on developments beyond its borders. (Actually, the city didn’t “provide” it. There was a citizen-based movement to ensure that it happened.)

        4. Howard P

          I said “housing”, not ‘home ownership’… big difference, particularly when folk are early in their careers… when I was early in mine, apartments were great!

          My Aunt had a great job, good income, and never bought a house…

          You made a big, erroneous assumption… no real surprise there…

          “It’s not worth arguing with you. ” Then, don’t… just use the’ ignore commenter’ option…

          I have no need to convince you on anything… don’t flatter yourself… but when your logic and/or facts are wrong, I’ll refute them…

        5. Ron

          Howard:  Yes – apartment living does provide greater flexibility.  Never said that it didn’t.

          Your argument was that “we need local housing and local jobs . . . that will reduce commuting.”

          That’s ludicrous, regardless of the type of living situation.

          The reason that I said it’s not worth arguing is because you simply view those with “slow-growth” views in an extremely negative manner. The arguments don’t really seem to matter, to you. (That is, other than your own.)

    1. Howard P

      And, of course you have none that you’d ever admit to…

      Unlike you, I realize that I’ve lived in Davis, apartments and houses, that were approved before folk with views like yours were stridently vocal.  As do you.

      1. Ron

        Howard:  I wouldn’t make that assumption.  (There’s lots of development occurring now, in Davis.  And, a lot more planned.)

        If folks never “move” to a given area (for whatever reason), than I’m failing to see what their (personal) “loss” is. (And, last time I checked, there was no “law” against renting or buying a property in Davis – new, or “used”.)


  3. Ron

    By the way – the goal to have sufficient student housing on-campus is another “citizen-based” movement.  From my perspective, it appears that (once again) ordinary citizens are primarily taking the lead on this. I hope that students themselves will push harder on this, as well (e.g., perhaps at the Vanguard’s upcoming “growth forum”).

    1. Howard P

      Just like you preferred to live in Davis and commute, many students prefer to live in an apartment or rental house in Davis, rather than on campus… think about that… same-same…

      1. Ron

        Howard:  Well, they can certainly do so (even now – as many already do).  The Sterling “megadorm” was approved, as well.

        If sufficient housing is located on campus, there will be less competition for those who are intent upon renting in the city. (For students, and others as well.) There is a lot of rental housing stock in Davis.


        1. Ron

          Of course, no one is “forcing” UCD to primarily pursue International students (who pay $42,000 in tuition).  Without that concerted effort, the local housing “crisis” would be greatly reduced. In that sense, it is a “manufactured/voluntary” crisis. (At least, if you believe that UC’s primary mission is to provide education for California students.)

          At least ask UCD to take responsibility for that choice.

          1. David Greenwald

            “At least ask UCD to take responsibility for that choice.”

            UC Davis would say we are taking on 6200 beds in the next decade to accommodate our growth.

            You would respond: That’s not enough, they should take on 10,000 (what 50% of student housing means in terms of additional beds).

            I tend to agree that 6200 isn’t enough, but I’m not sure you can really argue that they have totally failed to take responsibility for their student enrollment growth in the current LRDP.

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