In yesterday’s Vanguard, I laid out five questionable claims by the opposition to the West Davis Active Adult Community (WDAAC). According to David Taormino, there are many more.
In a response column on Friday, Mr. Taormino writes, “There are so many misstatements, distortions, fabrications and nit picking in the second article by Mr. Pryor and Ms. Nieberg I’m not going to waste the reader’s time by responding to each. Together, their articles contain at least 50 distortions all protected by the United States Constitution.”
As I pointed out in yesterday’s column, it would have been more helpful for Mr. Taormino to simply correct the record by sampling a list of what he viewed as inaccurate statements and then correcting them on an objective basis.
For voters attempting to determine whether they are going to support the project – how does this help?
My View: We Need a Better Discussion Here on Measure L – Part One
Yesterday we laid out a number of inaccuracies with the opposition case. Today, I will go through problems I see with the project.
The first problem with this proposal is that it is basically a classic low-density, peripheral housing project.
This is a 560-unit project on 74 acres of land north of Covell and just west of Sutter Davis Hospital. Think about this, the last time Davis approved a peripheral project primarily made up of single-family homes was the 1995 development of Wildhorse – placed on the ballot by a citizens’ initiative. The next two, the 2005 Covell Village and the 2009 Wildhorse Ranch projects, were rejected by the voters.
You could argue that the 2013 Cannery project fits the mold, although technically that was infill and did not require a Measure R vote.
Even more striking is the fact that, if WDAAC passes a vote, it is not clear where or when the next peripheral housing project will take place. There is no obvious next project.
While the renewal of Measure R in 2020 is expected to be the next big battle, all of the next big projects are expected to be infill projects – whether it is the University Mall redevelopment or projects within the downtown.
The passage of Measure J in 2000, and the rejection of Measure X in 2005, signaled that the voters of Davis wanted to limit the extent to which the city grew outward. Measure L marks an exception to that rule.
One key question for the voters is, given that we are not going to have a lot of peripheral projects, do we want to pass one that is relatively low density and for the most part made up of old-style, detached single-family homes?
Or should even peripheral projects take into account smart growth principals – better utilization of existing space, smaller and more multi-family homes, more density, more height, etc. These are critical questions for the voters, but we can’t have that discussion if we don’t lay these issues on the table.
To me this critical philosophical issue should be front and center in this campaign and it has not been.
Second is that Davis has never built a senior housing neighborhood before – should it start now?
Eighty percent of the units are restricted to buyers and renters aged 55 and over.
Is it lawful to build age-restricted housing? Yes. But just because something is lawful does not make it sound policy.
We could build housing that meets the needs of many seniors – with features like universal design, single-story flats, moderate to small size – without it being exclusively senior housing. In fact, once upon a time, the city talked in terms of making all housing universal design. That doesn’t mean we would need it to be exclusively single-story buildings.
On the contrary, designing homes for people to age in place is critical – that means you have some of the bedrooms and bathrooms on the ground floor, so as an individual ages, they can utilize their home without having to go upstairs.
In fact, some of this has already been adopted by the city through the Senior Housing Model.
A key point though is that the need for small- to moderate-sized homes, single-story with universal design, meets the needs not just of seniors, but many other groups that are in need of housing and for which housing is in short supply. That includes those who are lower income or even at median income for the city of Davis, smaller households, and those people with disabilities.
Bottom line: having a mix of housing with the features and amenities situated within WDAAC is helpful, but those homes could be built for many different populations, not just seniors.
Third is a problematic housing theory.
The developers at WDAAC have laid out one theory of their project. People who currently live in Davis and want to downsize could move to WDAAC. By doing that, it will free up single-family housing in existing neighborhoods for families and other younger people to move in.
But there is a critical flaw in this theory – even if they can legally restrict purchases to Davis residents (see below).
Right now, many seniors occupy fairly large homes that were built in another era within the core of the city. Some may want to downsize, others may not. Some may want to live in a predominantly senior community, but others may not.
The bigger problem is this: let us say that seniors wish to do this – sell their existing homes and downsize. Who is likely to purchase the vacated homes in existing neighborhoods? It is not going to be young families with kids for the most part, because they are not going to be able to afford the large single-family homes.
It is either going to be folks moving from the Bay Area fleeing those ridiculous home prices, or wealthy people from around the region. Either way, while there is nothing wrong with people moving here from elsewhere, it is not exactly filling the existing housing needs of this community.
Fourth – why are we not building the housing for existing needs?
Bottom line – if we are looking to create housing for families with children to move into, it is not going to be large, existing homes that come onto the market. We are going to need to either create a number of smaller, less expensive, affordable-by-design homes for families – kind of like what is being proposed at WDAAC for seniors – or we are going to need to create subsidized big “A” affordable housing for families.
I have told this story before, but it bears repeating. There are seven townhouses in south Davis that are formerly DACHA (Davis Area Cooperative Housing Association) homes. They are now rental homes for people who are right around median income, less than $70,000 a year. In every one of those homes are professionals, or families with children.
That is what it takes to produce housing for families in Davis. Larger homes in the core of the city are not going to be purchased by people making around $70,000 a year. Or even $100,000 a year.
If we want more homes for those folks – we have to build them.
Fifth – is the Davis-Based Buyer’s Program even legal?
Some people have attacked the motivations of the Davis-Based Buyer’s Program. But let us for right now accept at face value that what the developers are hoping is a way to make their theory work. Their theory is that retired folks or folks nearing retirement who are empty-nesters currently live in homes which are well beyond the size of their needs.
Therefore, if given the opportunity, they will move from existing neighborhoods to WDAAC and then sell their homes and free them up for others.
We have already criticized the back end of that theory – the idea that these large homes are going to serve people with children seems unlikely.
But the front end is equally problematic. Without restrictions, the concern is that these new homes will simply be snatched up by seniors trying to flee the ridiculous housing market of the Bay Area.
So they came up with a plan to restrict buyers to people already living in Davis, or people with ties to people living in Davis.
The latter is a problem anyway, because it could be so permissive so as to render the program moot.
But the other problem is there is no way to know that this is going to pass legal muster. As noted at the council meeting, these restrictions are not tied into the Project Baseline Features or even the Developer’s Agreement. So, the developers are in no way bound to adhere to it.
They have a legal opinion from their counsel that this would pass a court challenge, but until there is actually a suit and one which gets to a court and we get a ruling, we will have no way of knowing.
Without the Davis-Based Buyer’s Program, this is basically Cannery all over again. Market rate, single-family homes, some of which may serve the purpose as outlined by the developers – but we have no way of really knowing.
At the end of the day, this is what we should be discussing: Do we want a large, peripheral subdivision? Do we want mostly detached single-family homes on the periphery? Should we age restrict? Is this filling our biggest housing needs? And is the Davis-Based Buyers’ Program legal?
These are all subjective questions, but is that what Measure R should be based on? We shouldn’t have to question the underlying “facts” – only whether or not we want this project and this project serves the community’s needs.
—David M. Greenwald reporting
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