My View: We Need to Be Able to Have an Informed Discussion on WDAAC

In theory, Measure R allows for the citizens to have the final say on development projects that involve the conversion of peripheral farmland into urban uses.  But that process only works if we can have an informed discussion on the merits of the project.  In order to do that, the voters have to have the relevant facts before them and decide for themselves whether the project merits support.

My problem so far: the facts are being at best misconstrued and that has occurred both with the ballot statement and comments made by project opponents.

For example: “West Davis Active Adult Community will not build ANY low-income housing itself like every other major development in Davis has done in recent years.”

This is simply not true.  There have been numerous projects that use a land dedication model, including Sterling.

There is also the argument that the developer is “donating less than 10% of the total project land on which low-income housing MAY be built – but only IF another non-profit can raise the millions of grant monies needed for construction.”

While none of this is outright false, it is highly misleading.  First of all, there is no requirement for a developer to set aside a specific percentage of the land.  The requirement is that they set aside sufficient land to build the required affordable units.  Second, land dedication works by donating land to an affordable housing developer, who then applies for grants and other funding.

The opponents added: “In this time of shrinking government budgets, there is no assurance these funds will EVER be available to build this required low-income housing.”

David Thompson and Luke Watkins, who have been doing this for over 40 years, told the Vanguard this week that there are many sources for money these days and, contrary to the claims made by Mr. Pryor and the other opponents, “we are in the most funding rich era for affordable housing despite the loss of redevelopment money.”

They explained that funding is a process, that you keep applying for different grants until you have enough funding to do the project.  Mr. Watkins said that he believes it will probably take about seven sources of funding by the time they are done.  The first money will probably be from the Multi-Family Housing Program (MHP).

The developers point out that, in 40 years of this work, they have never not been able to build the housing.

Case in point, this project is modeled after the very successful Eleanor Roosevelt Circle (ERC).  They are just completing a similar project in Dixon.  So why do we expect that funding and building this project will be a problem now?

With Sterling, they did not provide enough units with the on-site affordable, and so they added an in-lieu fee to make up the difference.

However, Mr. Pryor argues, “The amount of money actually provided by the WDAAC developer toward his low income housing obligation at WDAAC is $0.”

The problem is, as we have pointed out, he is ignoring that the fact they are donating around four acres for the affordable site for the building of 150 units.  Those four acres are worth approximately $4 million.  As another reader points out, you can legitimately debate over the value of those acres, but what you cannot do is claim that their value is $0.

In the rebuttal, I think the opponents do a better job of focusing on core issues and not making factually questionable or false statements.  But there are still some problems.

Still I’m not sure I would want to lead with this comment: “Regionally, Davis has been the least racially diverse city for many decades.”

I would agree with them that Davis is among the least diverse cities.  However, Davis has become much more diverse than it once was.

Davis has become increasingly diverse over the the last 20 years, moving from about 70 percent white in 2000 to about 65 percent in 2010 and, by the time the 2020 census comes out, that number could be down town 60 percent.  It is worth noting that the schools reflect about a 54 percent white student population.

This is not Woodland yet, but it is far different from the Davis of 20 years ago.

On the other hand, they make a more problematic argument: “Our population is also the ‘oldest’ and the most ‘wealthy’ in terms of income but the City has very limited affordable housing for working families.  West Davis Active Adult Community exacerbates ALL of these demographic imbalances in Davis. By limiting almost all home purchases in perpetuity to seniors, the project will continue to rob the City of the vitality of young families.”

What is striking is to consider the data provided by David Thompson and Luke Watkins in our interview.  Here we learn that there is a current waiting list of about 441 for low income seniors to move into four existing affordable senior housing facilities.

Most notably, this project would model after ERC which serves low to extremely low income seniors.  These, they say, are residents on average earning less than $13,000 per year or $800 per month.

While this project is notably a senior housing project, it actually addresses a good deal of the problems facing low income seniors in the community.  The opponents are correct that this affordable housing is limited to seniors, but, in fairness, it does address a large and demonstrable need.

Therefore, the idea that this project would perpetuate and exacerbate all of the demographic imbalances is at best subjective.

On the other hand, the opponents ignore where I think this project is far more vulnerable.  They attack the Davis-Based Buyers Program as exclusive, but not as impractical and legally in question.

A big problem I see with the proposal is the developers theorize that there is a large population of seniors who are wishing to downsize, and that will free up their housing stock for younger families to move in.  They attempt to ensure that with the Davis-Based Buyers Program.

One problem with that view is who is likely to move into the existing housing stock?

The housing that these seniors are theoretically moving out of is probably already far too large and too expensive for young families with children to move into.  So the people most likely to move in are wealthier people from outside of the community, or the children of those who already own the land.

Bottom line, even if they can get the kind of generational shift they theorize, it is not clear to me that it solves the problem of providing housing to younger families with children.

To me, this is the discussion that should take place.  Instead, we have in the initial ballot argument a bunch of vague land use claims and unsupportable affordable housing claim, and in the rebuttal, we have largely an argument that this project is exclusive, elitist and discriminatory.

That is a highly inflammatory argument that seems unlikely to win the day.

—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. Ken A

      It looks like David wants to be responsive to his readers so when Alan posted: “Daddy, can we have 27 more looks at the WDAAC Affordable Housing Proposal before November?  Pleeeeeeez” he is making an effort to make Alan happy (at the rate he is going we will hit the 27 WDAAC stories before “October”)…

      1. Alan Miller

        It looks like David wants to be responsive to his readers so . . .  he is making an effort to make Alan happy.

        I believe David and I would both agree that is never his motivation for anything.

  1. Greg Rowe

    David, I don’t think that my comments will add anything to a data-based discussion on WDAAC, but for what it is worth, here are some of my observations.  I attended 2 of the project briefings the developer presented, both at Patwin Elementary School, aimed at residents of the Evergreen area.  I calculate that about 30 people attended each session.  All of the attendees were attentive, enthusiastic and basically wanted to know only 3 things:  how soon, how much, and whether there would be a dog park.  There was no interest in nor discussion of the types of concerns–pro or con–that have appeared recently in the Vanguard or in the ballot arguments.

    The primary motivation cited by the attendees was the desire for fewer bedrooms and overall space with children no longer at home.  Another  priority was no longer having a large yard to care for.   Having the Dignity Health and UCD Medical Group offices nearby was another plus for many.

    My wife and I have lived in North Evergreen for 19 years, which perhaps gives me a somewhat different perspective than the authors of the ballot statements.  The URC was built at about the same time we built our home.  I witness on a daily basis many senior citizens walking from the URC to do shopping at the nearby Marketplace shopping center.  They either carry bags of groceries back home, or use small wheeled carts.  Some even make the trip on motorized wheelchairs.  And, a great number also cross Covell Blvd to buy fresh fruit and vegetables at the weekly farmers market held at Sutter Davis hospital.  None of these seniors seem deterred in the least by having to use the crosswalk at Covell and Shasta Drive.  I’m 67 and likewise regularly walk or ride my “town bike” to the Marketplace, and to other destinations such as the Aggie Ace store further east on Covell (which can be easily reached by using the nearby SR113 bike bridge and residential streets).  I have consistently found the traffic on these routes is well regulated and manageable.

    A fair number of URC residents can also be seen going to and from the URC on recreational bike rides.  This includes a couple of elderly men I often see riding on the network of rural roads south and west of Davis.  Like the URC, the location of the WDAAC will provide easy access to those seniors who wish to continue recreational riding well into their golden years.

    My wife and I built our home in 1999 with only 2 bedrooms, so downsizing our residence as we grow older is not an issue for us.  But, at some point we know that we’ll tire of yardwork.  We are enthusiastic about the prospect of some day having the option of moving to a home with a small yard (or no yard), but with continued easy access to rural biking on our tandem.  The other facilities the WDAAC will offer (gym, restaurant, walking trails) will definitely be an attractive feature for us, as will the continued ability to walk to the UCD primary care office and pharmacy.  Being able to more easily mingle with other seniors will also be an attractive feature. Our current location offers an excellent opportunity to be “car-independent,” which we could easily continue doing at the WDAAC.  To us, we don’t really see any “downside.”  Since last year the City of Davis has approved a number of large “purpose-built” student apartment projects (Sterling, Lincoln40, Nishi2, Davis Live).  In my opinion, it is now time to give the “green light” to housing “purpose built” for people at a different stage of their lives.

    1. Eric Gelber

      To Greg and others in similar situations: It sounds like WDAAC will be a good fit for you and your wife at some point.  But is it necessary that others who want similar features and amenities—non-seniors, including families with children, first-time homebuyers, people with mobility impairments, etc.—be restricted from buying a home in your neighborhood for you to enjoy that lifestyle? Is it necessary to exclude the retired couple who are former Davis school teachers and live in Woodland from purchasing a home because of the local buyers program? We can and should design housing that addresses the needs of many seniors without discriminating against others with similar needs.

  2. Ron

    It’s certainly far less-expensive to stay in one’s own home (even if you have to hire a gardener/housekeeper).  Eventually, the biggest cost is when you no longer can take care of yourself (let alone a house – of any type).

    Until such time, many seniors will actually prefer to stay in a (somewhat) larger home, since they’re home all day (and no longer working).  And, that space is also needed to provide a “break” from one’s significant other (who is also no longer working, and is home all the time).

    I had an elderly relative who lived in a several-floor structure, essentially until her death (in her mid-90s).  She was not in particularly good shape, but those stairs provided daily exercise for her.  (For those who can no longer manage stairs, there are devices to assist with that.)

    I suspect that (if this proposal is approved), the developer will eventually reach out to non-residents, in the same way that the Cannery developer apparently did.  Also, Proposition 5 (on the upcoming ballot) will allow seniors from anywhere in California to transfer their low property tax to any other property in California, further enabling non-residents to move to developments such as this. Proposition 5 would also enable seniors (who no longer wish to live in Davis) to move elsewhere, as well. (The proposition is expected to pass.)

    1. Howard P

      Many seniors still “work” (on more than one level!)… most not “full-time”, though…

      Not always less expensive to stay in place… the “place” may need ‘accommodations’ as one ages, that can be expensive… but in the main, you are correct.  And ‘expense’ can be measured in terms other than strictly financial.

      The rest is opinion, and should be treated as such… might be valid for many, might not…

  3. David Thompson

    This statement is indeed not true. “West Davis Active Adult Community will not build ANY low-income housing itself like every other major development in Davis has done in recent years.”
     There is lots of information being shared on the Vanguard blog. However, it needs to be understood that over the past almost 30 years there have been many different ways for developers to meet their affordable housing requirements. 
    Those requirements differ considerable as to how many units in the development are multi-family or single family residences. The 150 apartments built at WDAAC will be individual units of housing subsidized to be affordable to seniors who are either in the extremely low income to low income categories. The apartments set aside for extremely low income seniors are the ones most in need in Davis. That category is for seniors living on only social security with annual income of about $10,000 per year.  
    The developers in the same category  are the following over nearly a 30 year history. The donation of land to be set aside for affordable housing is the most valuable mechanism used by the city. The value of the land contributed to a non profit allows that land to be leveraged through state and federal programs to provide the highest subsidies and the lowest apartment rents. This category has provided more affordable housing apartments than any other during this past nearly 30 years. The accusation made is incorrect. Every other major development in this same category since the policy began in recent years is listed below. 
    Windmere 1 and 2 106 units land donated no other developer funds
    Fox Creek 36 units land donated no other developer funds
    Heather Glen 62 units land donated no other developer funds
    Homestead 16 units land donated no other developer funds
    Tuscany Villas 30 units land donated no other developer funds
    Walnut Terrace 31 units land donated no other developer funds
    Twin Pines Community 36 units land donated no other developer funds
    Owendale Community 45 units land donated no other developer funds
    Tremont Green 36 units land donated no other developer funds
    Moore Village 59 units land donated no other developer funds
    Cesar Chavez Plaza 53 units land donated no other developer funds
    Eleanor Roosevelt Circle 60 units land donated no other developer funds
    Please vote yes on Measure L to add another 150 affordable senior apartments to meet the needs of the 441 on the waiting lists in Davis.
    For the sake of the reader and the citizen voter, sensible planning and meeting internal need we completely agree with the Vanguard’s title “We Need to Be Able to Have an Informed Discussion on WDAAC.”
     We will play a responsible role in the discussion of the information about the role of the affordable housing apartments at WDAAC.After all this is the largest number of affordable apartments (senior or otherwise) ever built in the history of Davis. In this time of need, that unique measureable set aside should be acknowledged and appreciated.  
    We know the 441 seniors who will be so thankful and relieved to have an affordable apartment in Davis.

    Neighborhood Partners.

      1. Ron

        In reference to Jim’s comment, it’s not likely they’d be taking applications for an Affordable development that they’re not building, in which the builder has (apparently) not been identified, and which is not funded.  🙂

      2. Ron

        By the way, this seems to be the exact opposite of what the Vanguard claims:

        From article:  “. . . we are in the most funding rich era for affordable housing despite the loss of redevelopment money.”

        If I had a nickel for each time that David and Don essentially said that no Affordable housing would be built unless developer requirements were weakened . . .

        1. Don Shor

          If I had a nickel for each time that David and Don essentially said that no Affordable housing would be built unless developer requirements were weakened . . .

          I believe the higher mandated amount was an obstacle to private housing development within the city limits, and that it needed to be reduced or waived in order to get high-density rental housing built. I also believed that was necessary for Nishi. As to previous comments, here are excerpts that summarize my position on affordable housing. You might want to save this, since you incorrectly reference my views on a regular basis.

          The only way Davis will be able to provide more affordable housing is by annexing land and allowing a larger subdivision to be built, and mandating a certain percentage of it be affordable housing.

          The properties that would be suitable or likely for annexation and housing development have not been considered for ag conservation easements. Each has its own issues, but the properties west of the hospital and the Covell Village site would be the most likely.

          I have long stated here that I believe our current affordable housing policies are ineffective and should be completely abandoned, that we should start over completely in assessing how to provide affordable housing. The history of the program in Davis is murky, corrupt, and simply not cost-effective. But I have also long-since resigned myself to the reality that there are strong interest groups that favor the current approach and that changing it would probably not be worth the fight.
          To the extent that current policies become obstacles to the development of rental housing, I urge that they be set aside. The in-lieu fees are pointless. Contrary to popular opinion, developers are not endless sources of revenue for this. People want affordable housing for families, but not for students. And everyone wants someone else to pay for it.
          We are fortunate to have a few local developers who are willing to make less money building affordable housing now and then, so if we can find land for them to do so — great. Otherwise, the current system is a mess and isn’t likely to get any better.

          — Dec 16 2017

        2. Ron

          Don:  I stand by my comment.  Also (in direct reference to your comment above), this proposal (as well as Nishi) are annexations of land.

          I should probably finish my comment, as follows:

          If I had a nickel for each time that David and Don essentially said that no Affordable housing would be built unless developer requirements were weakened, I’d probably have enough to build it, myself!  🙂

          1. David Greenwald

            You can stand by your comment, but it demonstrates that you aren’t paying sufficient attention to what either of us have said nor does it demonstrate much understanding for the technicalities of the issue. I’ve pointed out on numerous occasions that if you want to be able to build a higher percentage of affordable housing you need a land dedication site. Now David and Luke pointed out to me that you can do it with infill sites, and certainly Sterling is a partial example. However, what you can do is a student housing affordable project. So Nishi could have done a land dedication on their project, but it would not have been a student affordable. There is a trade off. For the most part, though, if we want large scale affordable, it is going to take larger peripheral sites. That’s the other trade off. I continue to find it ironic (which is being kind) that you in one breath advocate for affordable housing while in the next breath, oppose every reasonable means to achieve it.

        3. Ron

          David:  Regarding Nishi, it is (supposedly) not limited to students.  Therefore, I’m failing to see how your comment applies.

          Again, both Nishi and the WDAAC proposal are relatively large sites, which were/are outside of city limits.  And, if I recall correctly, only about 10% of the WDAAC site is being reserved for some other, unidentified developer to someday build Affordable housing (for which funding has not been identified).

          And, you and Don constantly note the lack of funding for Affordable housing, which (again) directly contradicts what the WDAAC developer is apparently claiming.

          If the WDAAC developer is correct (when claiming that funding is available), why are you constantly stating that robust Affordable housing requirements will virtually ensure that no developments are built? (Pretty sure I can find multiple quotes implying this, at least.)

          There’s something that isn’t “adding up”, regarding the difference between what the WDAAC developer is claiming, vs. what you’ve been claiming (e.g., in regard to the elimination of RDA money).

        4. Ron

          A question:  Is the Nishi development open to non-students, but the Affordable beds therein are not?  If so, what a mess.

          And if so, is that also the case at Lincoln40?

        5. David Greenwald

          “David:  Regarding Nishi, it is (supposedly) not limited to students.  Therefore, I’m failing to see how your comment applies.”

          The point is not whether it’s limited to students, students cannot qualify for most subsidized affordable housing, Nishi allows them to do so.

        6. Ron

          David:  There’s reasons why students generally do not qualify for Affordable housing.  However, those same reasons do not generally apply to non-students.

          But, this is drifting away from the main point.  That is, do you agree with the quote from the WDAAC developer, below?  If so, this seems to be the complete opposite of what you’ve previously stated (in which you essentially claimed that robust Affordable housing requirements are endangering development proposals, in the absence of RDA money).

          From article:  “. . . we are in the most funding rich era for affordable housing despite the loss of redevelopment money.”

          And, if we’re in a “rich era” for Affordable housing, why can’t the developer dedicate more than approximately 10% of the site for it? (10% of the site being what I recall, from another commenter.)

          1. David Greenwald

            Why is it that you wish to argue even obvious points here? Clearly students don’t normally qualify for affordable housing in land dedication sites and will qualify at places like Nishi – why not just let that point lie and move on?

            In terms of the quote, David and Luke have worked in this industry for 40 years. I have not. That’s their viewpoint. I’ve made the point a number of times that the only way to do larger scale affordable is through land dedication because RDA is gone. In terms of percentage, this one is at 20 percent. So I’m not sure your point. The other point you are neglecting is that cost of building the housing is only one variable. The other variable is that they are (A) dedicated land that has value and (B) not receiving compensation for that dedication or the opportunity cost of that dedication – so just because they get funded to build the housing, does not making dedicating the land and not building for sale housing on it, costless.

        7. Ron

          Regarding Nishi, you’re the one who brought up large-scale peripheral developments as a way to get a “higher percentage” of sites dedicated to Affordable housing.  I then pointed out that Nishi is such a site, as well as the site of the proposed WDAAC.

          Not sure how you’re calculating 20%.  I understood that the amount of land being dedicated for Affordable housing at the WDAAC is around 10% of the site.  Doesn’t the 20% refer to the amount of unfunded units, that would supposedly be built be an undetermined developer at some point in the future?

          As a side note, dedicating Affordable housing solely for students ensures that the type of external funding that the WDAAC developers referred to is not accessible.  (In other words, total available funding is actually reduced, if Affordable sites are reserved solely for students.

          In any case, it seems that you’re now acknowledging the primary point – that the WDAAC developers have a very different view than you do, regarding external funding that’s available for Affordable housing. (As long as it’s not reserved exclusively for students, which would prevent the use of such funding.) On this politically-charged blog, it’s difficult to determine which view/claim is “correct”.

    1. Alan Miller

      For the sake of the reader and the citizen voter, sensible planning and meeting internal need we completely agree with the Vanguard’s title “We Need to Be Able to Have an Informed Discussion on WDAAC.”


  4. Moderator

    Hi folks,

    We’ve had a few comments going into the spam filter for some reason. I release them when I see them there, but if it takes a little longer for your post to appear that is likely the reason.


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