Commentary: If I Were to Vote No on WDAA, It Would Be Because It Is Low Density Housing on the Periphery

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


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

34 Comments

  1. Keith O

    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.

    And here I thought I was going to read an “If I Were To Vote No” article.

  2. Keith O

    The community has to decide how big and crowded it wants to become.  How much extra time residents want to have to wait at stop lights and stop signs, how much longer they’re willing to circle the block looking for a parking space downtown and to what degree they want their community to look like the sprawl of Elk Grove and Natomas.

    1. David Greenwald

      With the university continuing to grow, I would say that some of it is out of the community’s control. By not building sufficient housing in town, it will force more commuters which will create more traffic and delays. Something to keep in mind. Also, if the city continues its current one percent growth policies, you can calculate what the population looks like in 10 years, 20 years, etc. Just some thoughts there.

      1. Rik Keller

        For perspective and context, if Davis grows at a 1% rate in terms of housing, that will be about twice the rate that the Sacramento metro region and California as a whole have been growing since 2010.

  3. Tia Will

    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.”

    It is not so much that I disagree with this statement, it is that I feel you have left out the most important and valuable item. So I will rephrase.

    “The question before the voters is really whether the community is better off having this project over having an empty field, with all the potential thereof…”

    It is the loss of a better plan for this location, with this amount of space that is troublesome to me.  This particular developer, when pushed a little further, made a compromise solution in the case of Paso Fino that in the end was agreeable to all involved. More recently, the Nishi developers, after a failed first attempt, came back with a plan which regardless of whether better or worse, was more acceptable to the only decision makers that mattered, the voters.

    I think it is entirely possible that we might see such a compromise solution again.

      1. Alan Pryor

        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.

        I participated on the No side for all of the Nishi 1.0 campaign debates. In every single debate I was told “If we don’t do this now, we won’t see another development on the site… for another 20 years!…in our lifetime!…for another generation!  The time frame kept changing but the message was the same…WE NEED TO DO THIS NOW!!

        I dismissed all that talk as nonsense and predicted if we voted No on the Nishi ballot it would be back in 4 years. I was off a little…IT WAS BACK IN ONLY 2 YEARS!

        Seems like the WDAAC (or whatever they will change their name to) developers pulled this same ‘sky is falling’ page from the developers’ playbook.

    1. Alan Miller

      made a compromise solution in the case of Paso Fino that in the end was agreeable to all involved.

      Not really.  They came back to council and complained about it after signing the agreement.

  4. Eric Gelber

    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.

    In other words, are we willing to accept the bribe of 150 affordable units in exchange for approving a low density project that will not address critical housing needs and will eliminate  any possibility of that site being used to address those critical needs in the future? I’m not.

  5. Todd Edelman

    The “perfect is the enemy of the good” argument, like a flat, artificially-sweetened soft drink, is only good for putting out fires if the can containing it can be opened. But in this case the pull tab is missing: The project cannot be improved upon once built, i.e. the good – not saying that this is good, just bein’ gracious for the sake of political poetry – cannot be made perfect.  Therefore, the only good, reasonable and mature answer is to vote NO on Measure L.

    At the earliest opportunity the City Council needs to convene a meeting to jump start the production of affordable senior housing on land that it owns, such as Civic Plaza and the DJUSD site or the 5th St. Corporation Yard, and then also start work with PG&E to convert their huge property on L St. into something truly energetic, in trade for the planned MRIC site with its easy access to I-80.

      1. Ron

        Howard:  Welcome back!

        From what I recall, you laid out some other reasons that you are opposed to WDAAC.  Would you mind repeating those, as I’ve honestly forgotten.

    1. Don Shor

      start work with PG&E to convert their huge property on L St. into something truly energetic, in trade for the planned MRIC site with its easy access to I-80.

      That seems, to be as polite as possible, like a fiscally foolish plan.

      the DJUSD site or the 5th St. Corporation Yard,

      There are far fewer shopping options near that site than there are near the proposed WDAAC location, unless you consider 7-11 a full-service grocery store. However, I’d be all for it as I’d expect a major uptick in house plant sales.

  6. Ron

    From article:  “In short, there seems little chance of more peripheral development – which can be reviewed as a positive and a negative.”

    I’d suggest that this conclusion is entirely incorrect, and is actually a subtle but insidious statement in support of WDAAC.

    I fully expect there to be more peripheral proposals (including the MRIC, Covell Village, Shriner’s property) in the relatively near future – perhaps encouraged if WDAAC is approved. Also, note that WDAAC is actually the second proposal at that same site, within the past few years:

    http://davisinnovationcenter.org/the-project/project-location/

    Developers do not “sit on” land that they own, indefinitely. They’re generally not interested in becoming farmers.

    1. Ron

      And of course, there’s Nishi.  Who would have guessed that a second (successful) proposal would arise within such a short period of time of the original proposal?

    2. David Greenwald

      I disagree Ron.  MRIC is the only one that’s a possibility and they’ve basically pulled up shop.

      I think people are arguing the trees rather than the forest.  My point is that if there are only going to be one peripheral development in the next decade, that means we have to be more and not less discerning as to what that is and whether it is the best use and need.

  7. Alan Miller

    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.

    They might is if it’s attached to children, seniors or puppies.  That’s what the developers are betting on — cynically believing Davis voters will vote for a new Davis suburb if it is ‘labeled’ — and they may be right.  I’m betting (literally) that they are wrong, but concede I may underestimate residents ability to be swayed by division and labeling via a shakey program.  [Note I’m no no-growther, I favored the business park in that area — because I liked that plan, not just to develop it because otherwise it might not be developed – a lousy argument]

    1. Ron

      Alan:  “I favored the business park in that area — because I liked that plan, not just to develop it because otherwise it might not be developed – a lousy argument.”

      Good point.

      It’s not only a lousy argument – it can be used in a dishonest manner.

    1. Russ Kanz

      I attended neighborhood meetings and have actively participated in the environmental review process for the WDAAC.  I reviewed the EIR and provided comments to the Planning Commission and the City Council.  I provided written comments to the City Council, but the comments were not placed in the public record as required by the Brown Open Meeting Act.  The EIR for the project does not comply with the requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act.  The California Environmental Quality Act requires a lead agency to avoid, reduce, or mitigate environmental impacts.  The city refused to reduce several significant environmental impacts. The City Council adopted a Statement of Overriding Considerations because of significant impacts to traffic, visual character, and conversion of agricultural land.  

      The city was provided feasible alternatives to reduce the visual impacts but these were rejected.    This EIR did not describe the height or architectural details of any of the buildings.  Nothing in the EIR would prevent construction of a high rise on the site.  

      Cal Trans said that the impacts to the 113/West Covell interchange could be reduced with a contribution of fair share from the City of Davis.  The city refused to enter discussion with Cal Trans to reduce the traffic impact.  In addition, the EIR likely underestimates the traffic impacts due to uncertain and incomplete methodology.

      The EIR stated there is currently a deficit of firefighters, and this project will require an additional 1.5 firefighters.  This can only be corrected by the City Council budget process.  
       
      The project includes a flood retention basin to mitigate storm runoff from the project.  The design calculations in the draft EIR were flawed and were not corrected in the final EIR.  It is unclear if the flood retention basin is large enough for the project.  This could cause flooding on West Covell, local roads, and the Sutter Hospital.

        1. Ron

          Why would I challenge Russ’ comments/analysis?  Seems like something that you, Don and a few others on here might do.

          In any case, I didn’t look at the Vanguard again until just now.  What do you and Don think of Russ’ comments/analysis? Do you think that each point has been sufficiently addressed, for example?

          If I recall correctly, I think Howard might have mentioned one of these points. I’ve asked him several times to elaborate, but he has declined to do so, so far.

        2. Ron

          Well, do you feel that each point has been sufficiently addressed?  In other words, each of Russ’ points have no validity?  If so, please fill us in regarding your reasoning. Or, are you simply relying upon the staff analysis, without reading and analyzing it?

          It’s admittedly a complex task.  But, in skimming through it, I’ve already noticed that the city has acknowledged a shortage of fire fighters, a lack of final plans for flood protection, building design/height, and an acknowledgement that cumulative traffic impacts resulting from other developments in process is not being considered.

          In any case, it seems to me that this is the type of analysis and discussion that’s sorely lacking on the Vanguard.

  8. Ron

    Rather than making this about “me”, I thought I’d go ahead and repost Russ’ original comment, from above.  Perhaps the supporters of the proposal are reluctant to discuss this (other than referring to the staff response, without analyzing whether or not it adequately addresses the points that Russ brought up). I’ve already weighed in, based upon a cursory review of staff responses. I may look at it further, but am wondering what David and Don think of it (especially since Don knew exactly where to find it, in the EIR).

    Russ:  “I attended neighborhood meetings and have actively participated in the environmental review process for the WDAAC.  I reviewed the EIR and provided comments to the Planning Commission and the City Council.  I provided written comments to the City Council, but the comments were not placed in the public record as required by the Brown Open Meeting Act.  The EIR for the project does not comply with the requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act.  The California Environmental Quality Act requires a lead agency to avoid, reduce, or mitigate environmental impacts.  The city refused to reduce several significant environmental impacts. The City Council adopted a Statement of Overriding Considerations because of significant impacts to traffic, visual character, and conversion of agricultural land.
     
    The city was provided feasible alternatives to reduce the visual impacts but these were rejected.    This EIR did not describe the height or architectural details of any of the buildings.  Nothing in the EIR would prevent construction of a high rise on the site.
     
    Cal Trans said that the impacts to the 113/West Covell interchange could be reduced with a contribution of fair share from the City of Davis.  The city refused to enter discussion with Cal Trans to reduce the traffic impact.  In addition, the EIR likely underestimates the traffic impacts due to uncertain and incomplete methodology.
     
    The EIR stated there is currently a deficit of firefighters, and this project will require an additional 1.5 firefighters.  This can only be corrected by the City Council budget process.     The project includes a flood retention basin to mitigate storm runoff from the project.  The design calculations in the draft EIR were flawed and were not corrected in the final EIR.  It is unclear if the flood retention basin is large enough for the project.  This could cause flooding on West Covell, local roads, and the Sutter Hospital”

     

    1. David Greenwald

      I’m not a supporter of the project, but I see immediately two problems with the comment.

      The first is: ” I provided written comments to the City Council, but the comments were not placed in the public record as required by the Brown Open Meeting Act. ”

      Don’s post of the EIR proves that is incorrect.

      The second problem is that the EIR is primarily, as Howard would put it, a disclosure document. So for example, “The EIR stated there is currently a deficit of firefighters, and this project will require an additional 1.5 firefighters. This can only be corrected by the City Council budget process.” So the EIR has done it’s job in disclosing the impact and the mitigation. The city is not required to provide the firefighters.

      1. Russ Kanz

        The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) is more than a public disclosure law.  CEQA requires a lead agency to avoid, reduce, or mitigate environmental impacts.  In the case of the WDAAC the city has refused to considered reasonable recommendations to reduce traffic impacts and visual impacts.  Cal Trans provided a way, through contribution of fair share, to reduce the significant impacts at the Highway 113/West Covell interchange.  The city rejected this recommendation.  The Draft EIR said the visual impacts of the project were significant.  The building closest to West Covell is for the low income housing.  Nowhere in the EIR is there any description of the height of any of the buildings.  I suggested the visual impacts could be reduced by moving the largest building away from West Covell.  The city refused to study this alternative.  

        The Final EIR included a new design for the Shasta/West Covell intersection.  Including this design in the Final EIR precluded public and agency comment.  The city claimed the new design was not a significant change from the current intersection.  This is untrue.  The new design eliminates the bike lanes, and has cyclists ride from the street onto a trail.  The design is clearly a significant change from the current intersection and may create and unsafe environment for cyclists.

         
        The City Council, as a public board, is required to comply with the requirement of the Brown Act.  The requirements of the Brown Act are separate from the obligations in CEQA.  Because the Planning Commission did not provide me with enough time to complete my verbal comments (despite giving the developer well over an hour), I submitted my comments in writing to the City Council.  These comments were specific to the hearing on the Certification of the EIR.  The Brown Act requires a city council to include written comments received in the public record.  I know the City Council received my comments, but failed to include them in the public record.

Leave a Reply

X Close

Newsletter Sign-Up

X Close

Monthly Subscriber Sign-Up

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