In yesterday’s column, I laid out the chief reason I would consider voting yes on Measure L, the West Davis Active Adult Community (WDAAC). That is the issue of affordable housing, the need for affordable senior housing and the fact that WDAAC offers the largest affordable housing site in Davis.
But as others have pointed out, in order to get that affordable housing, it has to be attached to a relatively low density, peripheral housing development – and that for me is a bit problematic.
Measure R gives citizens the right to vote on a project – up or down. We do not get a chance to decide what gets proposed, only a decision on whether to support the current proposal. There is no guarantee if you vote no on the project that it will come back to the voters in another form, and there is even less guarantee that it will be an improvement over the original project.
Therefore – and while I know some disagree with this – the question before the voters is really whether the community is better off having this project over having an empty field, in this case on relatively poor agricultural land.
In general, the projects I have supported have been infill projects – that is, projects in town, surrounded by other developments. And, while Nishi was a Measure R project, it was like an infill project surrounded by UC Davis and the city, in walking distance from the campus and downtown and bordered by I-80 to the south. By contrast, WDAAC is a purely peripheral project and I have been reluctant to expand outside of our current borders.
As I commented last week, WDAAC may be the last peripheral housing project in Davis for some time. There really does not appear to be any other proposal on the horizon. MRIC (Mace Ranch Innovation Center) – which is conceived as commercial at this time – does not appear to be moving forward. The owners of the land just inside the curve next to Harper Junior High do not appear interested in developing their land.
The land that was Wildhorse Ranch had a proposal nearly a decade ago that was voted down, and more recent efforts to revive a scaled-down project did not materialize. And it doesn’t seem that the current owners there or next door are that interested in developing.
The land at Covell Village makes some sense at some point, but having had a large project shot down in 2005, the owners had Nishi passed and still needing to be developed, the most educated guess is that nothing gets down there until the next generation of owners takes over – guess that would be at least 10 years and probably longer.
The only possible location might be in the northwest quadrant itself, but, again, at this time there is no real movement or owner. And the last to the west and east doesn’t seem likely. There are more barriers to the south.
In short, there seems little chance of more peripheral development – which can be reviewed as a positive and a negative. A positive in that I don’t think a yes vote is sprawl inducing as the opponents have argued. A negative in that this is really the last best chance for awhile to develop peripherally, and that leads to questions about best use.
The opponents argue that the WDAAC opens up the entire northwest quadrant of the city to speculative, piecemeal development. I would argue that they are wrong. The development of that location would require votes of the public – a public that is not that willing to extend its support for such development.
I have previously discussed my concerns with density at this site. To put it simply, having single-family, single-story homes on the periphery in a low density development in a community not likely to continue expanding much and during a time of environmental concerns doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.
Moreover, even if other proposals do arise, Measure R is still the law of the land and unlikely to go anywhere, even when it comes up for renewal in two years.
As such, peripheral land is scarce in Davis. We have a decreasing amount of available infill land and the result is that, if we wish to find ways to provide additional housing, we must be as efficient as possible with the land.
Compact development is the way to achieve much of this.
The second part of this is a bit different but related. I am just not convinced of the developer’s theory here. They believe that by building smaller single-family homes for seniors, existing seniors will purchase these homes as a way to downsize and will thereby free up housing inside the community for families.
There are a number of problems here.
One is that the whole idea is predicated on the notion that they can limit who purchases these homes to existing Davis residents. But even if the buyer’s program passes legal muster, even that would only limit ownership to people who are current residents, attended Davis schools, or went to UC Davis. That means you could be a Bay Area resident and end up purchasing a home here because you went to UC Davis in the 1970s – how does that help us?
Second, there may be some seniors that wish to downsize. If you’re 55 and in good health, perhaps you purchase a new home that is a bit smaller with the hopes of being able to age in place in a home that has universal design. But perhaps you hope to age in place in your current home?
Third, the housing that this will free up is going to be large and expensive. That will make it more difficult for families to be able to purchase homes there. And so I question both the front end of the theory as well as the back end.
The 2014 Housing Element Update noted that, with the high level of housing demand and the limited supply of housing, the cost of housing is quite high. In their report, the median home was at $463,500 and that was based on 2013 figures.
The report notes that “the Davis for-sale housing market is affordable only to households with above-moderate income levels. Very few for-sale housing options exist for households earning less than $100,000 annually, outside of City inclusionary programs.”
One of the bigger needs would appear to be smaller housing or subsidized affordable housing that families who earn less than $100,000 annually can afford.
In short, if I were to vote no on this project it would be based on the fact that the homes are primarily low-density single-family homes, and they do not help with the critical housing need of providing housing for people who earn less than $100,000 – whether that is market rate housing or big “A” affordable housing for families.
Those concerns, however, are somewhat offset by the fact that this project does provide 150 affordable units for seniors earning less than $13,000 year.
—David M. Greenwald reporting