The tone of the discussion on Measure L has taken an unfortunate turn in my estimation this week. Really since the start of the campaign when the first ballot statements were laid out, I felt that some of the opposition claims suffered from factual inaccuracies. There were also over-the-top statements made by opponents of the project.
For instance: “This Sun City-like senior project is the antithesis of modern urban planning and is the worst example of suburban sprawl proposed in Davis in over 25 years.” People are of course entitled to their opinions, but to me this was just hyperbole, especially with the problems that accompanied the Covell Village proposal and have actually manifested themselves in the Cannery project.
There is also: “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.” That is flat out inaccurate, as David Thompson has repeatedly pointed out to no acknowledgement by the opposition.
Further there is: “The amount of money actually provided by Taormino toward his low income housing obligation at WDAAC is $O.” Another blatant inaccuracy.
On the other hand, the response from David Taormino yesterday was not particularly helpful either. Mr. Taormino claims, “Their first article contained 23 misleading, distorted and exaggerated statements.”
He continued: “This has been the underlying strategy in ALL previous campaigns against more Davis housing. In Mr. Pryor’s and Ms. Nieberg’s world: Ineffectual City staff, supported by largely incapable volunteer commissioners and incompetent City Council persons conspire to line the pockets of greedy developers.”
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.
Instead we get: “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.”
For a voter attempting to determine whether they are going to support the project – how does this help us?
We have been accused of favoring the developers here – while that may be understandable, from my view, part of the problem is that most of the talking right now is occurring by the opposition and many of their claims I consider questionable if not outright fabrications.
What the voters need is an objective view of the facts, they need the proponents and opponents to make their best subjective arguments, and then make the determination. Given that this hasn’t happened thus far, it falls to us to set the record straight – this article will be the first attempt to do so.
We start with five questionable claims by the opposition. Some of these are factually inaccurate. Others are subjectively questionable. Tomorrow I will go through problems I see with the project.
First: “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 one is pretty much thoroughly debunked by David Thompson.
He argues: “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.”
He then goes on to list 12 projects that have donated land to build affordable units over the last 30 years. This includes: Windmere, Fox Creek, Heather Glen, Homestead, Tuscany Villas, Walnut Terrace, Twin Pines Community, Owendale Community, Tremont Green, Moore Village, Cesar Chavez, Eleanor Roosevelt.
Alan Pryor told me that he disagrees with the land dedication model, and I think that would be a better approach than attempting to repeat questionable if not factually inaccurate claims.
Second: “The amount of money actually provided by Taormino toward his low income housing obligation at WDAAC is $O.”
This is only true if you believe that the land that is donated for the affordable site has no value whatsoever. I pointed out that about four acres has been donated for the affordable site and the affordable developers then have to raise the money through grants to actually build the housing, but in the end, the land donated has actual value.
There has been some debate over what that value should be. I’ve argued $1 million per acre, but it really doesn’t matter. The value of the land, we can all agree, is not zero. When pointed out to Alan, he has doubled down on his argument.
They’ve also made the questionable argument that there is no guarantee the housing will ever get built. It is true that there is no guarantee, but the developers gain no advantage by not building it as this point. David Thompson and Luke Watkins have pointed out that in their considerable years in this business, they’ve always built their projects.
There may be fruitful approaches that the opposition can take here, but these claims I believe are inaccurate and not particularly helpful.
Third: “This Sun City-like senior project is the antithesis of modern urban planning and is the worst example of suburban sprawl proposed in Davis in over 25 years.”
This is a subjective argument, but I think it is hyperbolic. There was the massive Covell Village project that was voted down in 2005. Mr. Pryor argued in a comment that that project had far greater density, but density is not the only issue here. Part of the problem with Covell Village is that it was too large and its unmitigated traffic impacts were a huge problem.
There is also the Cannery Project that had all sorts of problems which led to a 3-2 vote for approval in 2013. Many of those problems have manifested themselves during build out.
There is a case to be made – and I will make shortly – that there are bad land use policies at work here, but calling it the worst example of suburban sprawl over the last 25 years is hyperbole in my view.
Fourth: “When calculated in that manner, the average return to the City becomes a negative $150,000 to $200,000 annually.”
Alan Pryor uses Commissioner Solomon’s alternative fiscal analysis to argue that this project results in a net fiscal negative to the city. Now I find this interesting, because Mr. Solomon had the same fiscal analysis showing that Nishi was in the red, and yet Alan Pryor supported that project.
It is important to note that the majority of the Finance and Budget Commission does not agree with Mr. Solomon on this point.
As I posted in a comment, I just do not buy the fiscal analysis. There are a number of problems here, and one is really asking what the real costs of the project are, separating out the overall city issue of unconstrained employee compensation from the issue of the impacts of any given project.
For example, when I examined Sterling’s fiscal analysis, it was actually a net fiscal positive all the way until year 14. What happened in year 14? Well the revenue and cost assumptions finally got to the point where the projected increases in employee compensation outstripped the assumptions on the increases to city revenue.
Change the assumptions to what consultant Bob Leland projected and you end up with a fiscally positive project throughout.
But there is a more important point than that – the problem is not the project, the problem is that we are not constraining employee compensation. Constrain employee compensation and the project remains positive in perpetuity. The problem therefore is a citywide problem, not project specific.
In any case, for WDAAC, I simply changed the assumptions on the cost for fire and police, reasoning that this project will not trigger additional police and fire, especially in the first ten years. I simply took their initial cost allocation and assumed an annual 5 percent increase (more than Leland projected) and the result was that there was a $2.28 million surplus rather than a deficit.
Bottom line: if WDAAC is bleeding over $1 million from the budget by year 10, then every project is doing the same and the city is facing multi-million deficits on an ongoing basis. I am not suggesting that the city doesn’t have fiscal issues, but that has less to do with development and more to do with unconstrained compensation growth.
Five – “The far edge of town is exactly the wrong location for a senior development and this project has exceedingly poor connectivity for seniors.”
This is another subjective statement. But I believe inaccurate.
When I interviewed David Thompson and Luke Watkins, they made a pretty compelling argument that this is actually a good location for seniors.
We need to understand something – everyone is different and a lot of people do not want to live near the downtown.
First of all, this is across the street from the University Retirement Community (URC), which has operated a successful senior facility for decades. So if the location works for URC, why not WDAAC?
There are advantages to this location. For seniors, close proximity to the hospital and also doctors’ offices is a huge advantage.
Moreover, the project is located in walking distance to shopping like Safeway and CVS. That means that seniors can walk to get groceries. They can use motorized mechanisms to do so. Or they can have a van or shuttle, or contract with URC for use of theirs.
In a way, everything that individual seniors would need is in close proximity. That would argue that it is a better location than others.
I asked the question of Alan Pryor and some others, because I think it is an important: if this location is problematic, is there any location that would work for peripheral development? Todd Edelman, who has also opposed the project, pointed out that there should be “no development north of West Covell.”
These are five problems I have with the opposition arguments. Given the length (1700 plus words), I will go through five problems that I have with the project for Sunday’s Commentary.
—David M. Greenwald reporting