I don’t really understand the timing of why the opponents picked this week to launch their attack on the West Davis Active Adult Community (WDAAC). From a strategic standpoint, it would have made more sense to wait for students to be in town and on campus fully before launching. As it turns out, a lot of the oxygen got sucked out of the room this week on a number of issues because of what happened on the national stage.
Nevertheless, despite a lot of coverage in the Sacramento media market early this week, I just don’t see much in the way of traction on the issue of the Davis-Based Buyers Program being a civil rights issue.
In this age of social media, things either go viral or they don’t. I have a whole bunch of theories as to why this one has not – but it just hasn’t. Maybe it is too contrived. Maybe people don’t see the connection between a senior housing project and racial discrimination. Maybe some of the same people who would normally be concerned about racial discrimination are angry that the same people making this case are the same people trying to stop badly needed housing in town.
Maybe this has become the ultimate in lawsuit fatigue – the slow growth movement has become the boy that cried wolf, suing on every issue. Maybe it’s the fact that no one knows the plaintiff, Samuel Ignacio, who doesn’t even seem to be a registered voter in Davis.
I don’t know what the reason is. I just know, at the end of the day, there is very little push back here. Very few people showed up to the council meeting. Social media is focused heavily on national issues. I’ve not received any emails on it other than from a certain former councilmember. There are no letters to the editor.
Could things change in the last month? Yes. But, as of now, I don’t see any traction on the issue of civil rights.
The irony is that opponents of this project really didn’t need to use the race card to attack the Davis-Based Buyer’s Program. The opponents are correct, this program is central to the developers’ story and their theory of this project. It’s vulnerable enough on legal grounds.
The narrative that they will tell you goes something like this. Davis is an aging population. Many folks who are aging live in large single-family homes which they purchased 30 years or more ago when they had families and needed the space. But now that they are in their 60s and 70s and beyond, they no longer need that space.
Many of them remain active and healthy, but they don’t need a four-bedroom home which they don’t use and don’t need to maintain and clean. So, if given an option, some would purchase a smaller home and then sell their core area home to another younger family who has school children.
The problem is that the way the market is structured right now, new homes on the market in Davis are going to get snatched up by Bay Area folks looking for homes that they can afford and fleeing the high over-baked housing market of the Bay Area.
In order to ensure that we are not simply growing the community and providing a housing outlet to the Bay Area, they devised the Davis-Based Buyer’s Program. They tried to make it broad enough to pass legal muster allowing people with ties to the community or who went to UC Davis or families of people in the area.
The developer has explained to me at multiple points in time that when they met with people in the community, there was a real perceived need for housing for seniors not ready for assisted living but wanting to downsize. But they also felt the sting of mistakes made with the Cannery, where the perception is that the project has been overly expensive – and quickly bought up by people moving here from the Bay Area rather than serving the needs of those who already live in the community.
Here’s the thing – there are real legal questions about the legality of this program. Opponents are criticizing the developer for not putting this into the Baseline Project Features, but it seems likely that is because the city is afraid of its legality.
The language is in the development agreement. The language is quite speculative, as well.
First, it states, “Prior to issuance of any building permit, Developer and its successors and assigns shall (a) develop and implement appropriate local-connection requirements and verification procedures for such a program that are consistent with all applicable Federal and State fair housing requirements, including but not limited to the Federal Fair Housing Act (42 U.S.C. §3604), the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (Gov’t Code 12900 et seq.) and the California Unruh Act (Civil Code §51 et seq.) (the “Fair Housing Requirements”)..”
That makes it clear that, first, the program is not developed yet. Second, that the city is fearful it may not pass legal muster. And third, there are provisions that “hold City harmless from any and all claims arising out of Developer’s failure to comply with applicable legal requirements as set forth in or related to the Fair Housing Requirements…”
Want to attack something? The central premise of the project is based on this buyer’s program that no one knows will pass legal muster.
But instead of attacking it on those grounds, they go for the race card.
I saw this coming a month or so ago and attempted to warn several people not to go this direction. One reason I think the race card is problematic here is that it is unclear where this project is going to draw from and also what the net impact of the project is going to be on race. Yes, you have the buyers’ program but the buyers’ program is drawing from seniors, not only those who live in Davis but also who attended UC Davis, which is a bit more diverse.
Seniors as a whole may well be less diverse than the rest of the population, but if that’s the case, you may have trouble making this kind of suit stick. Further, you have the affordable population and the huge population of extremely low income folks it would draw from. You’re talking about people making less than $12,000 a year – that is probably going to be fairly diverse.
Unfortunately, I have attempted to get data from the city on the diversity of the 1500 or so low income units – but they don’t have such data. Tried to do the same with Eleanor Roosevelt Center, which this project is modeled after, and could not get that either.
Finally, there is another problem here – this opens a door to Measure R itself. Want to argue that Davis is less diverse than the rest of the region? It’s an easy case to make. Want to argue that the original residential patterns helped create these realities? You have a strong point.
But what is keeping the residential patterns and the overall lack of diversity in Davis? It is not just the cost of housing, because you see much more diverse communities that have higher housing costs.
How about current growth control policies? Led by Measure R? So if WDAAC is discriminatory, how is it that Measure R is not? That’s a door I don’t particularly want to see opened, but that’s the natural and probable outcome of all of this.
I had some opponents of Measure L tell me that Measure R is inclusive because it exempts affordable housing from its requirements. Yes, so if someone on the periphery of Davis donates their entire land to an affordable developer to put affordable housing on it, it would be exempt. That seems extremely unlikely to occur.
One of the reasons I am having a hard time here is that the best way to get affordable housing is to have projects come forward that donate land to build on it. If the WDAAC is approved, the 150-unit affordable site would be by far the largest one in Davis. Creekside, which just got funding, is 73 units. New Harmony is 69 units. Moore Village is 59 units. And WDAAC is 150 units.
If you don’t like WDAAC because it is peripheral housing, because it is relatively low density, because you think the Davis-Based Buyers Program is illegal, those are all legitimate reasons to oppose this project. But playing the race card here could easily backfire with the actual impact being a legal challenge on Measure R that has been avoided to date.
This was poorly thought out, it doesn’t seem to be working, and it might in fact have huge ramifications that are unforeseen down the line.
—David M. Greenwald reporting