Commentary: Can We Have a Such Thing As a Non-Controversial Measure R Project?

Is it possible to have a non-controversial project that is a Measure R project?  Will WDAAC be that project?

Coming fresh off what appears to be a rather resounding Nishi victory, very quietly and without controversy or much fanfare, the council voted to put the West Davis Active Adult Community senior housing project on the ballot.

How remarkable was that?  I was there when Wildhorse Ranch was approved by council on a 3-2 vote.  There was uproar from the citizens and neighbors.  The council was split and the project went down to defeat 75-25.

In 2016, Nishi was the first project to even come close to approval via Measure J/Measure R.  Still, that was a late night meeting, there was a ton of opposition and ultimately it went down to defeat by about 700 votes.

The second Nishi project did not have a lot of opposition at the meeting – but there was some and it was a lengthy public comment and the project was approved by council and it appears by the voters.

Contrast those processes to what we have seen with WDAAC.  There just hasn’t been opposition that has come to either the Planning Commission meeting, the first council meeting or this recent one.

There is some opposition out there.  We have seen it, ironically more on the Vanguard than at public meetings.  Some have complained about the exclusive nature of senior housing.  Some are concerned about the lack of density and the fact that it is basically a peripheral subdivision.  Some have complained about the lack of connectivity and see commonalities with the Cannery in terms
of being able to get bikes and pedestrians across Covell.

But that hasn’t translated to community opposition.  Unless there is a group that will organize, that will lead the push back, that will mau-mau against the development, it is hard to see a way that this project will be defeated.

That is probably an enormous change in the last few years, that we have gone from questioning whether any Measure R project can pass a vote to believing that this project is going to be tough to defeat.

I view this project differently from how I view Nishi.  With Nishi, while there were other designs I would have preferred at the site, including more commercial and innovation space, at the end of the day the driver was what I saw as a crisis in the need for additional student housing in this community.

There are college students crowded ten to a five-bedroom house, sometimes even more.  Students are sleeping in their cars.  They are sleeping in libraries.  They are couch surfing.

While housing in general is a problem in Davis, I don’t see that level of urgency for senior housing.  So I am not going to take the same approach with this project.

To be honest, I have mixed feelings about the project in general.

The first thing I will say here is that I think the developers are to be commended on several things.  First, they have really walked the walk on outreach to the community.  Whatever criticisms that Nishi generated, a lot of them I feel unwarranted due to the recent project being the second bite at the apple, the Taorminos have really gone out of their way to engage public outreach.

They have really set the standard for what public outreach and planning process should be on a Measure R project.

Second, they have done some really innovative things with their approach.  They have proposed 150 affordable housing units, when they were not required to go about 62.  That’s a big deal and they should be commended for that.  I say that as someone who understands why we need to go down to 15 percent for most projects.

I find the Davis-Based Buyers Program interesting.  Some see this as a way to be more exclusive and keep Davis for Davis.  What I see is the developers trying to find a way to make sure that, at least in the first wave, the housing is built for existing residents, freeing up existing housing stock for other demographics.

With that said, I agree with some of the criticism of the buyer’s program and the project as a whole.  I have no idea if the program will fly legally.  That will remain to be seen until and not unless it is challenged in a court of law.

We have seen some opposition, not at official meetings but on the Vanguard – the question I have is whether those will transform into a formal opposition.  I don’t know where that formal opposition is going to come from when the usual groups seem at worst split on the issue, and they may lack energy and resources to mount another challenge to a Measure R project.

Despite my positives for the project I will say I am not totally sold.  Senior housing is probably lower on my list of needs and I don’t completely buy into the idea that large scale downsizing would lead to housing for families (and if we want housing for families, why not directly build it)?

I am in agreement on the concerns about density and the fact that this is basically a traditional subdivision on the periphery with some twists rather than high density, urban housing for families and workers.

That is not enough to garner my opposition, but it has pushed me to sit back and watch this unfold.

At this point, I see this project passing easily unless opposition mobilizes shortly; I just don’t see enough here that is going to inspire the masses to revolt.

This would make the record on Measure R projects 2-3, with a two-project winning streak.  Given where things were not that long ago, that’s kind of remarkable.

—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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40 thoughts on “Commentary: Can We Have a Such Thing As a Non-Controversial Measure R Project?”

  1. Tia Will

     Senior housing is probably lower on my need and I don’t completely buy into the idea of large scale downsizing that would lead to housing for families (and if we want housing for families, why not directly build it)?”

    I am not even sure where to start on this.

    “Lower on my need”. You are no longer a student, and yet you did not fail to see the student need. You seem to be neglecting to see a societal trend away from keeping the home in which one raised one’s family and towards a living arrangement that allows greater flexibility. I believe that this is a normal lack in your perception. We cannot truly understand the needs/wants of another until we have been in their circumstances. One does not truly appreciate the effects of sleep deprivation ( maybe a bad example in your case) until one has brought the newborn home.

    I also have mixed feelings about this development, but my concern is mostly with regard to location. Seniors are, as a group, subject to fairly rapid decreasing mobility over time. Neither the location, nor the design of the project as I understand it, will meet increasing transportation needs of a mostly senior population. Seniors are progressively less able to walk or bike long distances. This is happening at the time of our lives when we also become less able to drive safely due to vision and reflex limitations. Since I am in that phase of my life, the downsides to a peripheral senior development are apparent to me whereas they may not be to those who are not facing such limitations in the foreseeable future.

        1. Howard P

          As always, Highbeam/Cathy you “rock”…  ‘thank you for your service’, truly… David owes you, and to help him on that, am sending a $50 check to David, earmarked for you and/or yours, to have a great night out,or whatever you choose to do with it… will go out before end of business tomorrow, maybe today (having a semi-invasive procedure done on our floors today)… best to you, Cathy, and yours!

        2. Highbeam

          That is so sweet, Howard, but truly not necessary! And besides, I still miss things here and there (of course I can only volunteer so much of my time, I am also hunting for a job!), which drives me crazy. I appreciate your kind words, more than you know.


  2. Alan Miller

    Not sure the logic that the burden is on the NO side.  I would say the burden is to convince the voters to vote for it.  Unlike Nishi, this will be perceived as increasing housing stock and therefore suppressing massive increases in property value for Davis property owners.  My prediction is there will never be another Measure R pass.

    1. David Greenwald

      I don’t agree Alan.  I think WDAAC is going to pass easily if there is no organized opposition.  I wouldn’t call it a burden so much as an indicator.

      1. Alan Miller

        Unlike opinions, this one will prove one of us right and one of us wrong with a solid poll known as an election.  I have always thought Nishi has a chance of passing a Measure R vote.  Nothing else.  Not that its impossible.  Like all good sales to the zombie masses, tug at the heart strings:  children or students or homeless or seniors.  See “roads” for an example of something too dry to pull at the zombie masses’ heart strings.

      2. Keith O

        It’s not going to pass easily David, it’s not student housing next to the campus.  This will be seen as sprawl spreading on our periphery and I feel will get soundly defeated.

        1. Ken A

          There were not a lot of people opposed to Wildhorse Ranch either:

          There is a big difference between people voting to allow student apartments on land that I’m betting most people think of as “on campus” vs. “in the city” and voting to allow homes that a rich Bay Area senior might want to buy more than homes owned by voters.

        2. David Greenwald

          No that’s not true Ken.  It was very contentious.  There was a whole neighborhood opposed, they came to council to oppose it, it was contentious from the start and only approved on a 3-2.

  3. Todd Edelman

    OK. Here I am, in the Davis Vanguard. The opposition is light at this point because… because:
    * Seniors – from wherever, ultimately – are Taormino’s human shields against Davis policy on greenhouse gases, density, safety, integration and bicycle modal share?
    *You have never mentioned me by name when I’ve opposed anything at City Council meetings? (Not to make it about me, but so much of the Davisergestalt is personality-driven, yes?)
    * I’ve not submitted op-eds on the subject? (Here is one letter I sent to the City Council about WDAAC being a gift to the City and Cool Davis’s partners in Neo-Liberal disruption using partly-uninsured contractors & – something I’ve mentioned here in comments several time – my most recent letter to the Council about why a Central Davis Active Adult Community – CDAAC, in the Civic Plaza blocks – is a nearly-infinitely better choice for elder dwelling than the Old People & Hospitals Megamix on our town’s precious periphery.

    But I’m just a developer and radical anti-narcissists don’t love me
    He’s just a nice boy from a Davis family
    But spare us his vision of this monstrosity
    Easy come easy go will you let me grow
    Bismillah! No we will not let you grow – let him grow
    Bismillah! We will not let you grow – let him grow
    Bismillah! We will not let you grow –  let me grow
    Will not let you go let me go (never)
    Never let you go let me grow
    Never let me grow ow ow
    No, no, no, no, no, no, no

  4. Eric Gelber

     … the fact that this is basically a traditional subdivision on the periphery with some twists rather than high density, urban housing for families and workers.

    Not only is it not housing for families and workers, it would, by design, exclude most families and workers who might also need smaller scale, more affordable housing. I agree with Todd, however, to the extent that it’s hard to drum up organized opposition to senior housing. After all, what kind of person is against housing for bubbie and zadie? I did submit an opposition letter to the Council prior to the March 29th meeting, and I’ll likely continue to express my unorganized opposition.



        1. Ron

          Five. (To the surprise of no one.) 🙂

          Perhaps a “leader” isn’t needed.

          If it wasn’t for the Nishi fiscal analysis, I would have preferred Nishi, over this. (Still think the air quality issue was not properly addressed, though.)

        2. Ken A

          I predict that we will see a letter to the editor from Eileen and Dr. Cahill pointing out the dangers of building where west winds will first pick up the diesel fumes from the railroad tracks, mix with exhaust fumes from 113 and then form a “toxic soup” as the super dirty air passes over the biohazard vents on the roof of Sutter Davis and in to the lungs of anyone foolish enough to live in the West Davis Active Adult Community.  I don’t think we have heard from them but once the residents of Jeff’s North West Davis neighborhood find out that the people of South West Davis were able block all car traffic from the West Village I predict they will want the same thing (allow seniors on bikes to ride out into town at Covell but making seniors in cars backtrack to County Road 29).

  5. Howard P

    Funny… not strongly opposed to the concept, except am concerned about the sub-concept of exclusionary…

    Unlike many who raise “strawman arguments”, or toss out “red herrings”, I’ll be quite plain… like the real estate folk say, “location, location, location”… the site is in a floodplain… dealing with that will require a lot of fill (dirt from elsewhere, perhaps prime topsoil), relocation of the Covell Drain (likely) and a detention/retention pond (more land, and more ongoing maintenance/operational costs)… additional sanitary sewer main capacity (re-do and/or addition of pipes upto 20 feet underground)… with enough engineering, and money, those can be ‘solved’… at an upfront, and continuing costs…

    It also, will tempt folk to not just solve those issues, but “over-do”, to open up the area between the site, likely to CR 99… in some ways, don’t care about it, but folk not seeing what may be involved are, well (not allowed to use the “s”-word), “not seeing the big picture”… Covell Village site, or the area under the Mace curve, would be superior, by far… but the proponents neither own nor control those sites, and not thing one we can do about that…

    Funny… Nishi was opposed by folk that wanted a more intense use, but did not question the location… here (same?) folk seem content with the use and have little clue that it is in a poor location…  whatever… I’ll spend no money to oppose it, but, as it stands, am strongly inclined to vote NO…

  6. Jeff M

    Most the retired, educated activist types live in the core area and are generally only agitating to block impacts to their own backyard.  And since they are seniors, they also tend to support development for people like them… especially since they would bring more change aversion with them after they move here.  I live over there and I will probably vote yes… although I think attracting more old people to live in Davis is  demographic mistake.

      1. Jeff M

        I think I am atypical compared to the typical Davis “old” cohort.  Starting a brand new business at 58.  Agree that some would call that young, but most in Davis I talk to consider me nuts at my age.  In my view they are nuts to retire in their 50s.  Plan to work until my health gives out.  Like change.  Have been diagnosing and fighting change-aversion my entire professional life.

        But mine was not so much a shot at old people.  I like old people… they tend to have more pragmatism and common sense.   It is just a data-backed fact that the older we get the less we tend to support change that impacts us.   It is easy to understand how change creates anxiety as we age as we tend to slow down and lose some cognitive edge.

        Typically the older people would just get together for coffee and complain about all the change.  But in Davis we give them a change blocking weapon called Measure R.

  7. Jim Frame

    I think attracting more old people to live in Davis is  demographic mistake

    As I understand it, an explicit goal of the project is to restrict sales to people who already live here.  If that is successfully implemented — I’m a little skeptical that there’s a legal mechanism to ensure this — WDAAC won’t bring more old people to Davis, and could free up family-sized houses for young families to occupy (though many of those freed-up houses will probably be purchased by Bay Area emigrants, who can outbid the locals).

    My opinion of the project is largely unformed at this point.  I’m not enthusiastic about the location for seniors (although I live across the street from Civic Center Park and appreciate having that chunk of open space there, I agree with Todd Edelman that it’s a great spot for high-density senior housing), and I’m leery of annexing land for what will undoubtedly be pretty expensive housing, the developers are offering some interesting features that could end up swaying my vote.

    1. Howard P

      Will let Todd respond as to his thinking, but seem to recall that the location was problematic for him…

      Location is problematic to me for non-“mobility” issues…

        1. Jim Frame

          My last touch of the DJUSD block was the charrette the district held to get ideas for the site.  District staff were pretty clear that they don’t have the money to implement any of the nifty mixed-use ideas that participants developed.  Unless the District can overcome the “we can’t do that” inertia *and* come up with a financing mechanism, I think we’re going to see them heading toward a ho-hum new office building that only accommodates District uses.

          Now, if a deep-pockets developer could build DJUSD a new office complex somewhere in exchange for the downtown site…

  8. Dave Hart

    There is some opposition out there.  We have seen it, ironically more on the Vanguard than at public meetings.

    That’s because it is so much easier to pop off on the Vanguard to your ten best buddies than to look someone in the eye in public and debate them face to face.  Full disclosure:  I’m a senior who voted for both Nishi projects (what the heck else could ever be done with that land) which were my first Measure R yes votes, and I’m inclined to vote yes for this project due to the upfront community involvement by our local developer.  I don’t see how voting it down will get a better project built in any other location.  If people want to see a good senior development built downtown, they should work to get something built downtown.

    The WDAAC isn’t where I would choose to live, and I like the thought of living closer to the core.  On the other hand, most of the seniors I know don’t walk or ride their bikes on a daily basis anyway, so the location isn’t that big of an issue for the people who would choose to buy or live there…

    The one aspect of WDAAC that I will influence my vote is how well crafted and tight the development agreement is for making sure the city isn’t saddled with unanticipated infrastructure costs or compliance for the low income housing.  I particularly want to see a Plan B included in the agreement that offers some balanced benefit if the residency requirements can’t be enforced.  I don’t want to see a repeat of the Cannery experience where the developers were allowed to defer or avoid  promises made because of “unforseen circumstances” [my made up quote].

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