There has been a shift in Davis political dynamics over the last three or four years. As recently as 2016 it looked impossible to pass a Measure R vote. In 2018, two of them not only passed, but passed by double figures – 60-40 and 55-45.
Polling recently showed the top issue as “lack of affordable housing” with 31 percent responding to that open-ended question. But it actually goes deeper than even that – a full 79 percent of the voters cited dissatisfaction with the affordability of housing, with only 18 percent citing satisfaction. While that is notably larger than the percentage willing to vote yes on housing projects, it shows the depths of concerns.
The solution to that housing problem in Davis is less obvious.
A recent op-ed in the LA Times from early July, said that the housing crisis in California, in many ways self-inflicted, is attributable to “overregulation.”
Nine of the 15 most expensive metro areas in the nation are in California. The response by many will be to build more homes – in hopes that the increased supply will decrease pent-up demand. Governor Newsom wants to build 3.5 million new homes by 2025.
Some of the bills introduced into the legislature, like SB 50, believe that local land use regulations are blocking new housing construction.
The authors write: “The sponsors of SB 50 seem to recognize that the state’s housing problems are at least partially man-made. Indeed, California is a leader in regulating just about everything — including insurance carriers, public utilities and housing construction. If California’s regulatory code underwent some serious spring cleaning, it could help the state at least make a dent in its housing affordability crisis.”
Locally many believe that the biggest hindrance to new housing is Measure R. There is some truth to that, but the last two Measure R votes both passed. The voters will get a third shot at Measure R itself next spring or fall when the measure once again comes up for renewal.
The survey did not poll Measure R, but it seems rather unlikely that the voters will vote to dismantle Davis’ seminal land use ordinance.
Therein lies an interesting rub. While the voters of Davis are more likely to cite the lack of housing as a problem, more likely to vote on a project by project basis to approve housing, it is not clear how the city will go about solving the housing crisis locally.
Estimates of new housing requirements put the number of new residences required somewhere between 6000 and 10,000. Unlike previous iterations of RHNA (Regional Housing Need Allocation), this one could carry with it substantial penalties and lost funding opportunity if the city fails to grow at the prescribed rate.
A key question is going to be where does the city grow. In general, I have not favored the expansion of the city’s urban growth boundary. Infill opportunities are likely to be rather limited. We already have developed the Cannery – the largest plot of land inside the city. We have approved a project at Nishi – not inside the city, but surrounded by development.
While we have favored infill and redevelopment in the downtown, growth models show that cost-prohibitive. We could see some marginal development with the redevelopment of the University Mall and infill projects like Plaza 2555 – if they occur. But those are not going to supply much bang for the buck.
Some have suggested that Davis has artificially limited its growth, but that’s not completely true either. The city has the county-line boundary to the south that will limit new growth opportunities there. There is also university land surrounding it to the southwest. West does not seem to be much of an option at this point. The east is locked up in conservation easements and protected lands.
That leaves a few narrow plots to the north as possibilities. Assuming ARC (Aggie Research Campus) comes about, that largely takes care of the land to east of Mace. That largely leaves three different swaths of land to the north of Covell as possibilities.
We have Wildhorse Ranch and Shriner’s to the north of the city. There is a small area inside the Mace Curve as well that is possible, even though the landowners do not seem interested in developing that land. There is Covell Village between the Cannery and Pole Line – but voters rejected that land by a 60-40 margin in 2005. And then there is the Northwest Quadrant and land to the west of where WDAAC (West Davis Active Adult Community) was approved.
Looking at the map in this way, it appears that Davis’ growth potential is actually a lot more limited than a lot of people believe. That is one reason why I have generally supported densification and growing up rather than outward.
Driving through town, one thing is apparent – a lot of the apartment buildings are older and not very dense. There is potential to go higher and more dense with these apartments.
Bottom line – it is easy for voters to say the affordability of housing is a big and growing problem in Davis. However, the answer about what do about that problem seems trickier than we originally believed.
—David M. Greenwald reporting