Commentary: A Strange Letter Punctuates the Moment in the Measure L Campaign

There was a moment in the Nishi campaign during the candidates forum during an exchange between opponent Colin Walsh and Sandy Whitcombe, representing the applicant team where weeks of absurd nitpicking comments by the opposition finally came home to roost.

Finally, Sandy Whitcombe had enough, she said, “There’s no way to get financing for a $100 million project telling the bank, oh and by the way, we don’t know how people are going to get here.”

She then said, “We need to focus on reality and the need and the merits of the project and not all these weird red herrings.  This is serious, let’s get rational.  People need housing.  This is good for everybody.”

That might not have been the “You’re no Jack Kennedy” moment that forever doomed Dan Quayle as a serious public figure, but it embodied the absurd arguments opposition on their way to being routed in the election.

That was kind of how I reacted upon receiving the letter from the Fair Housing Council of Orange County.  The email that came in just before 1 am from Alan Pryor seemed at first like it would simply double-down on fair housing claims already made by the opposition.

Directed to Katherine Hess, the group, not a government agency, but rather a private 501c3 located in Santa Ana with a more official sounding name, describes their mission as conducting “fair housing education, counseling and enforcement activities.”

In their letter they write: “We have recently become aware of the above-referenced development project proposed to be built within the city of Davis. We became aware of the project as a result of the concerns raised by some of the project’s opponents regarding a possible resident preference to be imposed in 90% of the housing in favor of individuals that are “Davis-connected.”

But instead of going down that road, they quickly veer away writing: “While we believe that aspect may raise some legitimate fair housing issues, that is not what has prompted this letter.”

What is their concern?

So what is their concern?

They write: “Our concern goes directly to the name that has been given to the project. More particularly the use of the term ‘active adult.'”

Why?  They explain that while fair housing and civil rights laws recognize senior housing, “those laws do not recognize or sanction adult-only or otherwise age restricted housing within California that falls outside of the specific definition of what constitutes senior housing. Straightforwardly, housing that is described as ‘adult’ housing rather than senior housing may give the impression that families with children are not welcome to live in that community.”

Of course this is a name – not a policy.

Nevertheless, we are then told, “don’t use” the following terms:

– “Adult” – It has been illegal to have an adults-only community since the addition of the Fair Housing Amendments Act in 1988.

– “Active” – Every senior should be welcome, whether active or not active. The Housing for Older Persons Act (HOPA) specifically addresses housing for persons over the age of 55 and/or 62 and the best way to identify those folks is the word “Senior.”

– “Empty nester” – the exemption is based upon age of occupants, not familial status.

– “Adult Living” or “Adult Community” – Some state and local enforcement agencies claim these phrases are illegal as the terms are incompatible with the requirement.”

Writes the opponents of the project: “It is apparent that this grievous – and possibly illegal – fundamental problem in the simple naming of the West Davis Active Adult Community senior project calls into question the overall competency of the entire project management team (David & Jason Taormino and Neighborhood Partners LLC) to manage such a complicated real estate endeavor. At minimum, there is going to have to be another apology to the community and some very quick rebranding to comply with legal marketing requirements.”

I have to tell you, it was really hard to take this thing seriously.  To make matters worse, the opposition had sent this to me at the last moment, asking me to post their statement along with the letter.  It seemed reasonable to simply post a link to the letter which I uploaded at the bottom of their statement.  That apparently wasn’t enough for them.

I have to tell you, I was up in Woodland most of yesterday covering three murder trials – one of which involved two teenagers who were missing for over a year and the other two involving Davis incidents – while down in Davis people are complaining about the name of a senior housing project and whether the words “Active” and “Adult” are appropriate words.

So here we have brutal murders going on in our own community and we are debating over whether the name “Active Adult Community” – again THE NAME – is “misguided and probably illegal.”

It is hard to take this stuff seriously.

As one poster put it: “I’m a far left liberal, but this is just PCism run amuck.”

Later they put it another way: “ You’re actually not only harming your own campaign, but you’re setting back the cause of racial justice in this community by at least a decade.  The next time someone has a racial claim, it will be that much easier to dismiss.”

In fairness, I think Eric Gelber is correct that this issue “has nothing to do with race issues.”

But given the overall attempts by the No on L campaign to claim racial disparities, some will have to be forgiven for seeing this whole thing tied together.

From my perspective, the opponents of the project should have asked themselves a very simple question – at this point there is a group of people who are going to be voting for the project no matter what and there will be another group of people who will be voting against the project no matter what.

So then ask yourself, who is in the middle?  Are they likely to be swayed by this type of argument?

I have talked to a lot of people in the last few weeks that could go either way with their vote and they are weighing the sorts of issues that I am.  A lot of them like the large affordable project and do not see another way to address that need in the near future, but are concerned with peripheral development, the low density of the project, and whether single family homes for seniors is our biggest need.

In the last two weeks, the No on L project should double down on these issues that actually address people who are in the middle’s concerns and leave the weird red herrings for another day.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

Get Tickets To Vanguard’s Immigration Rights Event

Eventbrite - Immigration Law: Defending Immigrant Rights and Keeping Families Together

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.

Related posts


  1. Eric Gelber

    I agree that the name of the project is not a major issue in and of itself. Although, in the context of housing discrimination law, how housing is designated or marketed can have significant implications. Referring to housing as being for “active adults” does imply who the housing is not for.

    In the case of WDAAC, however, the name choice is just one more indication of the exclusionary focus of the development. The defining  feature of WDAAC is that it does not merely address the needs and preferences of many seniors, it explicitly excludes non-seniors who may have similar needs. While, theoretically, up to 20% of the homes could be sold to non-seniors, how many families with children would feel welcome in a neighborhood described as an “adult” community and where other families with children are prohibited from living in 80% of the homes? Added to that, we have the Davis-Based Buyers’ program, which is also about exclusion—in this case, of those deemed to be outsiders.

    Dismiss these concerns as mere PCism if you will.  But, in my view, Davis should be about developing inclusive neighborhoods, where all are welcome, not segregated enclaves with discriminatory rules about who is welcome and who is not.

    1. Mark West

      “Dismiss these concerns as mere PCism if you will.  But, in my view, Davis should be about developing inclusive neighborhoods, where all are welcome, not segregated enclaves with discriminatory rules about who is welcome and who is not.”

      I agree with this comment, and as I have said before, this is why I do not support this project. I want to point out, however, that if we are going to have a community “where all are welcome” that has to include people moving into to town from elsewhere (for whatever reason). If our residential development is limited to meeting internal needs only, as some have argued, then we are not welcoming to all, only to those who are already here. If your goal is truly to create a community “where all are welcome,” and not just using that statement as a campaign slogan, then it is time to start working to develop the housing required to make that a possibility.

      1. Eric Gelber

        Correct. I’m not stating it because I’ve stated it about a dozen times before (including directly in response to you) and because it’s not relevant to my points.

  2. Matt Williams

    Since I live outside the City Limits, I won’t be able to vote on Measure L, but I have followed the back and forth dialogue as it has unfolded.  Today’s article by David introduces a new variable into that dialogue mix.  Now David wants us to pay more attention to the murder trials of total strangers than to senior issues in our own community.

    I don’t know about you, but my personal opinion about Woodland murder trials is that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.

    How each of us weighs the importance of  the “labeling” arguments of the Fair Housing Council of Orange County is a personal decision.  A personal decision that I think Eric Gelber has done a very good job of illuminating in his comment above.

    The next two weeks can not come to an end soon enough.

  3. Ken A

    When Eric writes: “In the case of WDAAC, however, the name choice is just one more indication of the exclusionary focus of the development.” I’m wondering if Eric (or anyone else) knows if there are plans to actually make signs and and marketing material that says WDAAC?  Before the UC Davis West Village was built many called it the West Village Student Housing Project or WVSHP, but when it was under construction the marketing material (with photos of an ethnically diverse mix of good looking people) came out marketing the different parts of the property as “Viridian”, “Solstice” and “The Ramble”.  If the WDAAC is approved my guess is that the name will change and slick marketing flyers with an ethnically diverse group of 60+ models will come out to market nicer homes on the edge as “Fieldview in West Davis” and the smaller homes will be “Meadowview in West Davis” and the affordable part will be “Anita Hill Village” (that wins out in a close vote over “Christine Blasey Ford Circle”)…

    1. Matt Williams

      Ken, if you migrate a couple miles to the east the names are Segundo, Tercero, Cuarto, etc.  At Cornell they were called University Halls 1 and University Halls 2 and University Halls 3 and University Halls 4 and University Halls 5 and University Halls 6.

      I’m not sure how those University naming conventions for student housing relate to an off-campus senior housing development.

      1. Ken A

        It is not just “University naming conventions”.

        In the 80’s developers were trying to build a high rise apartment called “Centrage” between the Cap Cities freeway and the railroad tracks.  For years it was the “Cap City Curve” site (showing an insensitivity to “curvy” people packing a few extra pounds).  When Phil Angelides started working with the New Home/Cannery Developer years ago they called the site McKinley Village since it was north of East Sac’s McKinley Park.  When they actually started selling homes they printed a bunch of slick brochures with an ethnically diverse group of good looking people and came up with the ALDER,Parkside Flats, BIRCH Cottage Greens, and COTTONWOOD Park Homes names for each part of the development.

  4. Alan Miller

    I have to tell you, I was up in Woodland most of yesterday covering three murder trials . . . while down in Davis people are complaining about the name of a senior housing project . . .

    I have to tell you, it’s really funny to have the Vanguard making comparisons about what is brought forward as important.

    But I do agree the NO people are so extreme they are ruining their own campaign.

    Thankfully, the developers are doing just as poor a job.

    There are really no favorites here as far as desirable sides to follow their leaders.

    1. Keith O

      There are really no favorites here as far as desirable sides to follow their leaders.

      Come on Alan, the Yes on L campaign donated food for the immigration symposium.  That has to count for something.

        1. Keith O

          Maybe the No on L campaign used their money for lawn signs, mailers and that sort of stuff, you know the things that pro or anti development campaigns usually use their money for.

        2. Craig Ross

          What money?  In any case, the No on L campaign has spent their time on issues like naming conventions rather than figuring out how to get housing for people.

  5. Ron

    Alan M.  “I have to tell you, it’s really funny to have the Vanguard making comparisons about what is brought forward as important.”

    Was thinking the same thing.

    But yeah – the name of the development doesn’t seem like a persuasive campaign issue, at least.

  6. Rik Keller

    The actual “strange” thing about this is that apparently the WDAAC project does not have anyone competent enough on staff to realize they are violating decades-old guidance on proper naming and advertising of age-restricted communities to avoid fair housing violations.

    1. Craig Ross

      This is exactly why liberals will lose against in 2018 and probably 2020.  You’re more concerned with names than homes.  I’m actually channeling Jeff here, but he’s not exactly wrong.

    2. Ken A

      It seems that Rik does not understand that they have not “named” and are not “advertising” the project yet (since it is not even approved).

      When the city approved a development at the “Hunt-Wesson Cannery Site” but that name did not make it on to any signs or ads (with the ethnically diverse mix of good looking people).

      Voters in Davis approved development of the “Nishi Site” and I’m betting that we won’t see a sign that says “Welcome to the Nishi Site” or ads that just feature photos of Japanese people.

      1. Eric Gelber

        I see. So, they’re only using the name WDAAC to deceive voters:

        Measure L: Shall Resolution 18-094 amending the Davis General Plan to accommodate a senior housing development by changing the land use designation for the West Davis Active Adult Community property from Agriculture and Urban Agriculture Transition Area to Residential Medium Density, Residential High Density, Neighborhood Mixed Use, and Urban Agriculture Transition Area, as set forth in the Resolution and establishing the Baseline Project Features be approved?

        1. Craig Ross

          “To deceive voters”

          If we played the Measure R drinking game, I would set “deceive” as a trigger word for having a drink.  We’d all be completely passed out by now.  Everything is “deception” – the problem is that when everything become a deception, you have used the word up for when the real deception comes.  You’ve become the kids crying wolf.

        2. Ken A

          I would expect a post like that from Rik (since I truly believe that he thinks that all developers are evil people that sit in smoke filled rooms plotting on ways to trick families and people of color in to thinking that their development is not for them) , but I have to think that Eric knows that no one is trying to “deceive” voters and just because the Nishi Measure A said: “A yes vote was a vote in favor of changing the land use designation for the Nishi property from Agriculture to University-Related Research” does not mean that the apartment rental ads need to say “Come rent at Nishi” rather than Come rent at “The Spoke”, “The Edge” or “The Grove” (or something similar to these three actual Davis apartment names)…

        3. Rik Keller

          Ken A.: I’m perfectly willing to chalk up this particular issue as clueless incompetence rather than “evil” on the part of the developer. Given how their project name and motto looks now, they really haven’t taken their own directive in that op-ed penned by David Taormino that “Words Matter”:

          West Davis Active Adult Community*: Taking Care of Our Own**

          * needs to be deleted because against HUD guidance; likely illegal marketing language under Fair Housing guidelines because it potentially discriminates against persons with disabilities and families with children

          ** offensive “Trumpian” language deleted and apologized for by the developer (though variations of phrase still in use); civil rights lawsuit against this programunder the Fair Housing Act for racial/ethnic discrimination

          They still have “West Davis” though. so that’s something.

        4. Eric Gelber

          If “deceive” is too strong a word for you, how about “confuse”? WDAAC is the name used in the development agreement, the baseline features, the resolution, Measure L itself, and campaign arguments and materials. Or maybe, as Rik suggests, they’re just clueless as to the meaning behnid the name. It’s a bit disingenuous to say that’s not the name they may go with. In any event, “A rose by any other name … [etc.].” The intent has never been in doubt.

        5. Ken A

          Am I the only guy that thinks it is strange that Rik has picked one of the most successful real estate guys in Davis to call clueless and incompetent?  It is also strange that people are trying to call a guy who ran the Davis real estate firm that sold more homes in town to families and people of color than any other firm anti-family and racist…


        6. Craig Ross

          Do we really have to go into utter attack mode – they are either liars or incompetent?  I know so many people who are so sick of this crap.  They aren’t even necessarily supporters of the project, they just grow tired of mudslinging.  It’s non-stop.

      2. Rik Keller

        It’s “strange” indeed to think that the name of the project that has been advertised as that for months in an attempt to  sell voters on it and which appears on the ballot is the project name. 😉



  7. Rik Keller

    It is hilarious to imagine David Greenwald up at the wee hours banging together this rambling and unfocused screed against nondiscriminatory fair housing marketing principles and forbidden/highly-not-recommended phrases that have been established for decades and which even the lowliest apartment manager posting a vacancy on Craigslist is aware of.

    The Fair Housing Institute, Inc., quoted in the No On Measure L statement, is a business set up to provide advice to developers to avoid situations just like this (the President of the company is known as “The Apartment Doctor”). But the WDAAC project is apparently so hopelessly incompetent that they have ignored this decades-old guidance. The statements in the Fair Housing Council of Orange County letter are non-controversial: straightforward stuff requiring the most minimal of google skills to confirm. For example:

    adult community
    adult living
    adults only

    [BOLD — not acceptable     ITALIC — caution]

    At this point, with the biggest advertiser for months being the West Davis Active Adult Community, and with them being a major sponsor of the upcoming Davis Vanguard fundraiser specifically called out by name in promo material, it’s hard to take seriously any notion that the Davis Vanguard is a “community watchdog” organization. It is a dog that has been fed by rich hands and is only all too happy to curl up with the owners.
    If Greenwald was a real reporter/journalist he wouldn’t try to smear the FHCOC with the following “not an official group, but rather a private 501c3 located in Santa Ana with a more official sounding name.” when he could have easily found the following  article:

    “In 2010, the council opened 81 cases off 5,200 complaints; in 2011, 71 cases developed from 5,061 call-ins…. If funding fair housing weren’t mandated by the federal government, the FHCOC might not even have money. The council is the only nonprofit to receive money from Santa Ana’s Community Development Block Grant, the last survivor of a fund that once gave grants to nearly 50 different such organizations…Compared to 2007, the FHCOC’s budget has been slashed in half, from approximately $1 million to $500,000. Its staff has been pared down from a high of 18 .”

    Or he could have simply gone to their website to see that the Council is not some fly-by-night organization:

    “The Fair Housing Council of Orange County was formed in 1965 in the wake of the civil rights movement that resulted in the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Council incorporated in 1968, the same year that Congress extended civil rights protections to cover housing with the adoption of the Fair Housing Act….An operating member of the National Fair Housing Alliance, the FHCOC… has been serving many local jurisdictions in Orange County for more than 40 years working to protect housing rights and opportunities for communities of color who have historically been disenfranchised and discriminated against in housing and employment. As additional legislation was passed, such as the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977 and the Fair Housing Initiatives Program (FHIP) in 1987 FHCOC was able to build on its existence and keep its doors open by receiving grant funding from HUD’s FHIP Program, private donors, and other resources.”


  8. Rik Keller

    Here is a photo of the organization–Fair Housing Council of Orange County–that David Greenwald tried to smear, saying they are “not an official group, but rather a private 501c3 located in Santa Ana with a more official sounding name.”

    The article has since been secretly edited with no correction or retraction listed as would be required by basic ethical journalistic standards: “not an official group government agency, but rather a private 501c3 located in Santa Ana with a more official sounding name…”

    David Greenwald: words matter. Time for some accountability. Also, fair housing councils in general, and this one in particular have existed since the passage for the Fair Housing Act. They are official recipients of HUD fair housing grant money.. So your edits to try to cover up your attempted smear don’t even make sense. With all that’s going on the world, I don’t know if this is the “worst cover-up ever”, but it does not speak well of journalistic standards at the Vanguard.

    From April 11, 2018. Captioned “Fair Housing Month 2018”:



  9. Ron

    For a little perspective (and wildly off-topic), check out the photos for this 110-acre piece of land in Tiburon.  Is this not better than anything in Davis?  Hope that the local open space committee preserves this, even if it keeps folks like me out.

    Whether or not it’s preserved is not likely to make any difference regarding my ability to move to that area, regardless. But, at least it might be preserved for everyone.

  10. Ron

    Pushing my luck a little further (with Don), I also happened upon this article (which contrasts with the one, above):

    “Eventually the laws of supply and demand are going to drive people to other parts of the country,” Glenn Kelman, CEO of the real-estate firm Redfin, told Bloomberg.”Boise isn’t five times worse than California as a place to live. But places in California are five times more expensive.”

    I don’t necessarily view this trend as a “bad thing”.

      1. Ron

        I don’t think it’s silly, but I’m not looking for an argument.

        The overriding point I see in both articles is that no place is obligated to continue growing/developing, and it’s actively resisted in many areas – not just Davis.  The reason it’s resisted is because it makes the quality of life worse, on roadways, water supplies, the environment, etc., for existing residents. In fact, we live on a finite planet. And, when limiting focus to a specific area, it’s even more “finite”.

        It can make sense for those who don’t already live in a specific area to consider locations where it makes more financial sense (and where growth/development is not yet as actively resisted). I have yet to see any coherent argument why any location should open its doors to whatever the external market forces suggest might be viable, from the point of view of developers. That’s how sprawl occurs.

        The first article describes local efforts to preserve a large piece of land in an area that’s already prohibitively expensive for newcomers.  The second article describes how Californians are already “wearing out their welcome” and driving up prices in some other locations.

        So again, none of this is unique to Davis.

  11. Rik Keller

    Why doesn’t David Greenwald know what fair housing councils are and what they do?  Why doesn’t he know about HUD FHIP grants? Why did he attempt to smear the Fair Housing Council of Orange County (FHCOC)–an organization that was established in 1965–as “not an official group, but rather a private 501c3 located in Santa Ana with a more official sounding name.”?


    Under the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Fair Housing Initiatives Program (FHIP) grants, in 2017 FHCOC was one of 8 fair housing councils and other organizations in California to receive HUD FHIP Education and Outreach Initiative (EOI) grants of $125,000 each. They were also one of 12 “official groups” to receive HUD FHIP $300,000 Private Enforcement Initiative (PEI) grants.


    1. Craig Ross

      Here’s an interesting question – if that’s the case, and you knew, why didn’t you post this information much earlier?  Also, first line of the letter says: “Orange County Fair Housing Council, Inc. [dba Fair Housing Council of Orange County (FHCOC)] is a private 501(c)(3) non-profit located in Santa Ana, California.”

      1. Ron

        Isn’t the Vanguard also a private, 501(c)(3) non-profit business, often advocating for development?

        Seems strange that David would object to another organization, using this same status.

        Note the “official” government grants, that Rik described above.

        1. Rik Keller

          For an organization that David Greenwald tried to smear as “not an official group,” the Fair Housing Council of Orange County are doing pretty well! They have been around 53 years and got almost over $400,000 in HUD grant funding last year!

          (Maybe the problem is Greenwald is not a real journalist.)

        2. Ron

          The fact that the organization is receiving federal funding would mean that they’re subject to federal government compliance audits, as well.  (And, there’s a good chance that they’ve already experienced this, at some points during those 53 years.)

          It’s not likely that they’d suddenly risk those funds, by engaging in non-compliant actions.

          Having said that, I’m probably less critical of the developer regarding this particular “naming” issue, than perhaps you are. There’s plenty of other reasons to conclude that this isn’t the best use of the land in question.

        3. Ron

          The reason that I’m “less critical” of the name is because there’s no attempt to misrepresent, regarding the proposed reason for the development.

          Contrast this with Nishi, in which Dr. Cahill’s recommendations and expertise were repeatedly questioned on here, for months on end. By some development supporters who actually had no expertise in that field.

          It was disgraceful – regardless of whether or not the development made sense for other reasons.

  12. Jeff M

    Don’t ya love it how certain people that tend to all vote similarly and struggle with simple money math tend to do ledger accounting using name and symbol labels and a “good” and “bad” moral identity column to try and win an argument and take over the world.

    On the “Bad” side of the ledger is:

    – Developer

    – Wealthy

    – Profit

    – White (especially white conservative male)

    – Trumpian

    – Growth

    – Landlord

    On the “Good” side of the ledger we have:

    – “No on” Campaigner

    – Poor

    – Other people’s money

    – Any race other than white and any gender other than male unless liberal with no #MeToo issues

    – Hillaryian

    – Dense or no-growth

    – Renter

    And then there is this more abstract, nebulous and largely disingenuous moral identity label of exclusionary verse inclusive where those doing the labeling are generally the biggest offenders with their opposition to every development project because it isn’t perfect enough.

Leave a Reply

X Close

Newsletter Sign-Up

X Close

Monthly Subscriber Sign-Up

Enter the maximum amount you want to pay each month
Sign up for