Commentary: Can Housing Ever “Win” in Davis?


This column should not be read as support for any particular project, but rather as a call for reconsidering how we approach the issue of housing in general.  Over the past 18 months or I have had the chance to meet with numerous students and discuss the crisis that they face in the wake of a housing shortfall.

The projects thus far which have come forward have largely addressed student housing needs, but the fact remains, the housing crisis hurts all renters – students and families – and by alleviating the shortage of student housing it will in turn, I believe, help all renters.

Turning to the issue at hand here, however, we have the West Davis Active Adult Community, proposed largely as senior housing with a larger than required dedicated affordable housing component.

Part of the problem we face in this community is that we have a large segment of the population that works in Davis, but either cannot afford to live in Davis or cannot find a place to live in Davis – either way, that leads to people who end up commuting to work which in turn leads to additional GHG emissions and traffic congestion.

As another point on this, the Cannery was developed to provide housing for families, but the units ended up being too large and too expensive and, as a result, much of the population that ended up moving into those homes was not a population internal to Davis to help alleviate our housing crisis – rather they were people from the Bay Area fleeing housing crises elsewhere.

The point here – at least from my perspective – is not to create an exclusive community, but to actually figure out a way to alleviate our housing crisis.

The question that will be before council first and then the voters is whether the theory behind the West Davis Active Adult Community actually works.  Dave Taormino believes that if we build senior
housing, then figure out a way to fill it with residents who are already in Davis, it will free up additional housing internally that will go for families and whatnot.

A reasonable question is why not just build the housing for families directly instead of indirectly, and that’s a reasonable point – although a case can be made that there is indeed need for senior housing in Davis.

Regardless, just as the developer has been trying, with the affordable housing portion of his project, we should at least give his concept a fair reading as he is attempting to create a mechanism by which to meet internally generated demands.

As the article yesterday noted, Mr. Taormino points out that the language of Measure R itself contains critical language: “The purpose of this article is to establish a mechanism for direct citizen participation in land use decisions affecting city policies for compact urban form, agricultural land preservation and an adequate housing supply to meet internal city needs, by providing the people of the City of Davis the right to vote…”

For him the key language is “to meet internal city needs” and, in order to that, it means we need to provide housing for what would be considered internally generated needs: students, families looking to move up to own their own homes, and those who work here – and not for people in the Bay Area looking for more affordable forms of housing.

His solution is to create qualifying classifications to set aside most of the housing for current residents or people who work here or people who have relatives here.  That ends up creating a larger class of people than perhaps he might hope and, as some readers pointed out, there may be enforcement issues.

There are also questions about legality here.  The city manager did not want to wager a guess and it has yet to be vetted by the city attorney – Mr. Taormino believes, based on conversations with his attorney, that case law supports him and he is eventually going to provide the Vanguard with some documentation.

Another criticism comes back to the exclusionary policy: “Now, in addition to discriminating against families with children, the West Davis senior housing developers propose further restrictions by instituting local preferences and discriminating based on residency. The legality of such restrictions is questionable, with a number of potential constitutional and fair housing implications.”

There are noted issues for re-selling, but then again that figures to be an issue for any senior-only housing.

The commenter adds, “Will making an already exclusionary housing proposal even more exclusionary really foster an image and promote a policy and outcome we want for our community?”

That is certainly a legitimate concern, but, on the other hand, the intent here doesn’t seem to be to create exclusionary policies, but to create a mechanism by which we can start to address internal housing needs.  The problem that we have right now is that Davis is not the only city in a housing crisis, and not even the worst city in housing crisis.

Therefore, any attempt to open up housing on the market is likely to draw, one way or the other, from people moving to Davis as much as people who already are in Davis.

The key question is how do you fix Davis’ housing needs when Davis is not the only city in the state that is facing housing crises?  I completely get the criticism, but the problem is a lot more vexing than it might appear.

A more general criticism comes from Mark West: “The availability of appropriate housing is a service that cities provide to their residents. Our community has decided that we want our City to consider developable land to be a limited resource, consequently, in order to maximize the service of appropriate housing we need to become more efficient in the way we utilize our available land. Annexing land in order to create another sprawling subdivision of detached single family homes is not an efficient use of that limited resource.”

First of all, Mr. West really elegantly articulates the problem here.  The community has in fact, through Measure R and its voting patterns, determined that developable land, especially on the periphery, is a limited resource – and he believes and many agree that this development is not dense.

This is an issue that has come up a number of times and seems worthy of additional discussion.

With that said, I think that the developer has identified some critical problems facing the community with this project, and has attempted to find some out-of-the-box ways to address them.  I think in particular with the qualification classifications, we need to have a more in-depth discussion because, while the criticism has merit, Mr. Taormino is correct that we need to figure out ways to meet internal needs – and the market is such that simply putting housing on the market is more likely to siphon from the Bay Area than meet internal needs.

—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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30 thoughts on “Commentary: Can Housing Ever “Win” in Davis?”

  1. Tia Will

    One question. Why would any developer put forth a project that they know may not meet legal requirements prior to vetting this with the city attorney rather than just discussing this with their own ?  This seems to me to be an invitation to differences of legal opinion with the possibility for a law suit after the investment of much time, energy and money. I become more and more perplexed by the order of operations that developers seem to use in purchasing land, development planning/project design prior to even knowing what is legal, let alone feasible. This is an honest question based on my lack of knowledge of planning and development. Can someone explain ?

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      One answer is that they haven’t put anything forth, they’ve laid it out as a proposal that will go through the proper mechanisms and get vetted by legal staff.

    2. Don Shor

      He’s fostering the discussion out in the open. I am seeing a greater level of transparency about this project than we usually get. I think that’s beneficial. This particular suggestion doesn’t seem to be firm yet, more like a proposal to see what the reaction is. Personally I think that should be applauded. It may pan out, it may not, but it’s worth pursuing this way and I’m sure Dave is reading these comments with interest.

    3. Howard P

      Not sure it’s an explanation, but I have an opinion… starting ~ the time Covell Village was starting their quest for entitlements, the development team started with “focus groups, trying to find out what would gain ‘neighborhood support’, and “sell” the concepts… they sought out Eileen Samitz and BJ Klosterman, and other folk in La Buena Vida and Green Meadows; and, “usual crowd” activists/frequent CC commenters; ‘key’ planning commissioners,; etc. … they made changes to their plans to get what they felt would get wide ‘community support’… long before they talked to staff about codes, technical issues such as sanitary sewer main capacity, drainage/flood plain, and water supply issues.

      As a result, staff was basically told at times, “we’d really like to accommodate the codes, etc, but we’ve already promised certain things… you need to find a way to compromise to meet our commitments…”

      It was a ‘semi-collaborative’ process…

      There used to be a funky art-piece/sculpture in the Russell Blvd median, just west of Anderson Road… it was entitled “Bum-bum, you’ve been here before”…

      We’ve been here before…

  2. Todd Edelman

    This is one idea for winning:

    The city, county and DJUSD properties between A and B (and a bit east) and between 5th and 7th, and 6th and C contain city council chambers, county representatives offices, a swimming pool, ballfields, a continuation school… and a senior center, plus its across the street from a park and a farmer’s market.

    There’s so much for elders to do here to stay involved, and help others… and walk places (instead of in circles at the West Davis Active etc.). The Marketplace has some variety, it’s true — but the Co-op is closer to Civic Center than the Marketplace is to the West Davis Active etc. And the walk or cycle between the Civic Center and the Co-op – not to mention many other stores in Downtown – will always be much more pleasant than the West Active etc. to Marketplace trip by foot or pedal.

    Except for city hall, the park and the pool, and possibly the school, the whole area should be built up to three or four stories, with govt. and school district offices on the ground floor, and a mix of housing types.  A robust health clinic can be added to the senior center – and Sutter Davis is not far away by ambulance.

  3. Tia Will


    Sutter Davis is not far away by ambulance.”

    At first glance, I like your idea. I would also like to note that it is also not far by Uber or Lyfte for those instances where someone of limited mobility ( either acute or chronic) but otherwise stable needs transport for medical care that is not an emergency. These much less expensive options should be considered first especially by those of limited income for their non emergent medical transport both for their own economic well being, and for the timeliness of medical response to the entire community.


    1. Todd Edelman

      With the money saved on building parking, the Old North Davis Activelders* and their Friends Community can have a snazzy full-service clinic and thus mitigate the bitter aftertaste of Neo-Liberal conveyance to the aforementioned facility — but really my point is that: A community that walks can be healthier than a community that is walking distance to a hospital.

      *This will be the last branding term I will create before I am sworn in as the newest member of the BTSSC this evening. (Hey! Jason! As a gesture of my appreciation for your consideration of this central location for your geriatric housing gestalt, I will give you this term for free. Register the domain now, before the ‘bots see that a new word was coined herein.)

  4. Don Shor

    I would have less concern about this project if it were part of a larger land annexation pursuant to developments that would meet a larger range of housing needs.

  5. Michael Bisch

    “As another point on this, the Cannery was developed to provide housing for families, but the units ended up being too large and too expensive and as a result, much of the population that ended up moving into those homes were not a population that was internal to Davis and helped alleviate our housing crisis, rather they were people from the Bay Area fleeing housing crises elsewhere.”

    Is this an urban legend or is there actual evidence to support this claim? A marketing campaign is not evidence in my opinion. All I have is anecdotal evidence. Of the 6 families in The Cannery that I’m acquainted with, 4 were already Davis residents prior to moving to Cannery, 1 moved here for a job and was going to buy in Davis regardless, and 1 had made a decision to relocate to Davis from SoCal to launch a personal service business. Not one of these families fit the legend profile.

    1. Keith O

      Exactly the point I made yesterday, how many home buyers would actually not qualify for the “related to Davis” category anyway?  I doubt it’s very many.

      How would or could they even enforce it?


      1. David Greenwald Post author

        The question about the enforcement is interesting and of course something that would need to be addressed if this becomes a formal policy.  There are ways to do it.

        1. Keith O

          There are ways to do it.

          Please explain.

          If I tell you I have a close cousin who lives in Davis how do you want me to prove it?

          Do I have t bring in a copy of my family tree?

          How do you know it hasn’t been altered?


        2. Howard P

          Ask Tia… suspect there are ways to figure out if your cousin was ‘altered’  (apologize in advance, ‘devil made me do it’)

          But back to topic, you raise a very valid point, Keith… am definitely not disagreeing here…

        3. Howard P

          David… the point is, who will enforce, and at what cost? Time, compensation for enforcers… how funded?

          You have not effectively addressed Keith’s question(s)…

          1. David Greenwald Post author

            How do they enforce age restricted housing? Someone is going to have to enforce this housing anyway.

            I’m not going to effectively answer his question because I don’t have the answer and I suspect that the developer will have to figure this stuff out, but clearly age and income restrictions get enforced some how.

          1. David Greenwald Post author

            Like I said, I suspect it will end up being a lot narrower. But Howard’s question was on enforcement not necessarily verification.

    2. Howard P

      My father-in-law lives in Marin… in the local paper, the Independent Journal (I-J) there were/are frequent ads for the Davis Cannery project… don’t worry, he’s 94, and will ‘age in place’… his 1968, 3 br/2.5 ba house, similar to well kept up, but not enhanced, East Davis Stanley-Davis homes, is worth upwards of $1,000,000.

      It was a bit (but not much) above a “starter home”… our Davis “starter home” [3 br, 2 ba, constructed in 1968] was $71,000 in 1980… on a sixth of an acre.  About $52.60/sf of house… our current home was brand new, and we got it @ $100/sf of house… but on a smaller lot.

      Current prices in Davis are ~ $300-350/sf.  Used.

  6. John D

    Speaking of urban legends, David writes:

    Part of the problem we face in this community is that we have a large segment of the population that works in Davis, but either cannot afford to live in Davis or cannot find a place to live in Davis – either way, that leads to people who end up commuting to work which in turns leads to additional GHG emissions and traffic congestion.

    The reality is that very few residents who live in Davis are actually employed or work in Davis.  It’s not only a GHG problem, it’s also reflected in the absence of commercial property tax revenues and reduced local sales tax revenues to support municipal services.

    In other words, the challenge facing Davis and our planning for the future is not strictly limited to its housing needs.

    1. Howard P

      Well, you make a good point about “urban myth”, yet the reality for years, is that those (couples) who live in Davis often have two “bread-winners”… with, typically, one working or studying in Davis, the other, not.  Have known many families where this was/is the case (including ours), lots who both had jobs in Davis (some years we were in that group), but very few where a couple lived in Davis and both worked/studied elsewhere…

      The problem with generalizations is they are generally not accurate (irony intended)…

      1. Keith O

        They’re about the same, but in fact the people living in Davis but working elsewhere is increasing at a higher rate.  Maybe those outside of Davis communities need to house more of the Davis commuters working in their cities?

    2. John D

      Howard & David,

      Thanks for the additional stats, but to a large degree, both of you are missing my main point – the absence of “Davis domiciled” employers offering compensation commensurate with Davis housing prices.   One would expect this to be an issue of concern for UC Davis graduates seeking employment, but also for the mundane reality of how our Davis municipal revenues are generated.

      Both in Howard’s comments and David’s table – it appears you are conflating “Davis with UC Davis” as if they were one entity.  My comments are specifically directed to the issue of “sustainable revenues for operations of the municipal enterprise” – particularly with respect to where property taxes and sales taxes are generated and subsequently where they are remitted.

      As I have comment before “location matters”.  Wish it weren’t such a big deal – with respect to the current and future revenue streams for the municipal enterprise – but that’s how it is.

      1. Howard P

        Clarification as to your intended point, noted.  As far as,

         the absence of “Davis domiciled” employers offering compensation commensurate with Davis housing prices.

        City of Davis and DJUSD, and UCD come to mind… likely many others in the private sector….

        Also dependent if you are talking about MF vs. SF, and whether for a couple/family if there is one income or two…

        Also dependent on whether an individual/family comes to town with existing equity/resources… we didn’t, it was a “stretch” but we made it work…

        1. John D


          There is not doubt that the university, school district and city are the major employers in the community and that they offer any number of well compensated jobs and wonderful career opportunities.

          It is very rare, particularly in host communities to World class research universities, that these three employers would be the only large employers (say over 500 employees) in the entire City/community – with not a single private sector enterprise running even a close second.

          That reality is reflected in both the absolute number of jobs within the City as well as the volume of commercial and sales taxes generated for the benefit of the municipal enterprise.

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