Where to begin? That’s my dilemma here, but it is really the same problem that the city of Davis has. To me the housing picture in Davis is really about balance – and the struggle to find that balance.
A lot of people in this community, myself included, felt like this city grew too fast and changed too much over the previous few decades and so, when 2000 came along, a narrow majority supported Measure J to better manage peripheral growth – and then backed that up with two much larger defeats of Measure J projects in 2005 and 2009.
But by the middle portion of this decade, a lot of people, again myself included, felt that the pendulum had swung too far in the other direction. Student housing was a big problem and, by a large margin, voters approved Nishi when it came before them the second time. You can put some blame on the university’s growth for creating that problem – but even if you had steady university growth over two decades, when you go from 2002 to 2020 before opening a new market rate apartment complex, you are asking for problems.
And for good measure, the voters of Davis also approved the senior housing project later in the year in 2018, also by a healthy margin.
The message here seems clear, as we saw with the city survey – the voters are concerned with the availability and affordability of housing in Davis.
While the city has done a good job along with the university in addressing the supply needs for student housing, there are a lot of other housing needs that the community has.
All indications are that RHNA (Regional Housing Need Allocation) and SACOG (Sacramento Area Council of Governments) are going to up the city’s requirements for housing in the next cycle. We could find out those numbers in the next few months.
The voters will be asked to weigh in on the renewal of Measure R at some point in 2020.
I know a lot of people probably believe otherwise, but for the most part I would prefer not to expand onto the periphery and I think the Measure J management tool is a sound one. The voters showed that they were willing to approve projects when they deemed them to be solid projects and deemed there to be a critical need for housing.
On the other hand, it is also clear the voters sensed by 2000, and certainly by 2005, that there was a need to put a brake on growth.
My only problem is that we have created wild pendulum swings – two decades of rapid growth led to the Measure J braking mechanism that probably slowed down growth by too much. Davis was unique in its growth control measure, but not unique in making building housing difficult in Davis.
Is there a way to better manage the boom and bust cycle here?
In a way that is going to be the challenge for the next eight to nine years.
My belief is that Davis will renew Measure R in a fairly similar capacity as already exists and, at the same time, both the state and voters see the need for more housing.
Where Davis will go to for more housing is going to be a huge challenge going forward.
Davis can continue to plug in some infill sites as it has in the past few years. But a lot of those have gone more for student housing. You have the Chiles Road apartments that will be workforce, and you still have possibly Plaza 2555, although it is not clear where that project stands right now. In addition, there is the mixed-use workforce housing project at University Research Park and the redevelopment at University Mall – which right now is slated to be student housing, but has yet to come to the Planning Commission.
There is a clear need for workforce housing and a clear need for family housing – the question is where we are going to get those.
Downtown could be one answer – but that’s tricky, as we have seen with fiscal modeling about the viability of developing mixed-use high-density housing in the downtown. That’s definitely where I see workforce housing going, as it doesn’t require peripheral development, paving over agricultural land or a vote. But it does require financing and that could be tricky.
The other option is peripheral really. The problem there is it is not clear where the next peripheral project is going to come from or be located. Even with the approvals in 2018, getting an approval on peripheral site is a bit of rolling the dice.
You have to invest a huge amount of time and money upfront with the understanding that you might not get housing on the backend. Moreover, the uncertainty of that process creates the economic incentive to develop large-lot, single-family homes where you can most easily get your return on investment.
The reality is that that is not the kind of housing Davis needs. So that is the other part of this puzzle. The Measure R mechanism gives the voters the control they need over the process and the allocation of housing, but it imposes costs and conditions which actually mean that most peripheral projects are going to be the type of housing the voters may not think we actually need.
Bottom line: Davis’ housing situation remains a puzzle. I think most people believe we need housing and we need to find a way to create more housing which is affordable, and most people are going to be reluctant to simply approve housing on the periphery that creates more of the same large single-family homes.
The challenge for the city leaders is finding a way to strike that balance between too slow and too fast, and doing so in a way that creates housing which is affordable and fills the needs of this community
—David M. Greenwald reporting