It was only two years ago when people were questioning whether a Measure R project – any Measure R project – could win. It was one thing for the 2005 Measure X, at the end of a huge swath of large developments and a massive 2000 units in size, to be soundly defeated. Measure P in 2009, during the heart of the great recession and real estate collapse, made a lot of sense.
But Nishi in 2016 losing by 700 or so votes created a lot of doubt. Here was a project that was largely infill. It filled a vital need, both for student housing as well as R&D space. It had support from the council and across the community, and yet it lost.
Could any development project win? In hindsight, the lack of affordable housing was probably a huge death knell, and people’s concerns about traffic on Richards – even with a work around and mitigation – played a role as well.
In 2018, with those off the table, Nishi cruised to a huge win. But perhaps surprisingly so too did WDAAC (West Davis Active Adult Community) at the end of the year.
There are a lot of questions going forward that we have laid out in the last few months. We have Aggie Research Campus (ARC) with 2.6 million square feet of R&D space and 850 housing units, we have the Measure R renewal, and we have the Davis Downtown Plan as well as a probable General Update.
As we have pointed out previously, we have a lack of housing space in town, with questions about the ability and willingness to approve peripheral development, and a lack of commercial space – where are we headed?
To answer these questions we have pulled together some recent public and private polls along with various conversations, and will present what should be read largely as a snapshot in time – less than a prediction.
We have talked a lot about traffic in the last several months, but how big a factor is it really? When the city asked that question in May – already the issue of Mace was burning on people’s radar – traffic registered but five percent of people’s concern as the biggest issue, behind things like affordable housing, growth and sustainability, homelessness, pay for teachers, and the city budget.
The sense from people talking with others in the community is that traffic is definitely an issue, especially in south Davis. People want to minimize the impact on traffic, but they have other issues that appear more important. How will that play out if a project like Aggie Research Campus comes before them? That’s a good question.
We firmly believe that addressing traffic concerns is going to be critical to passing ARC – but, looking at a mound of data, it is not clear that traffic concerns alone will be enough to defeat a project there or anywhere else.
On the other hand, the biggest issue by far seems to be affordable housing.
The city polled voters to volunteer their top concerns, and lack of affordable housing ranked at 31 percent – the top issue by far. The next highest was 10 percent, growth and sustainability. Followed by homelessness at seven percent.
Breaking that down, we see that the groups between ages 18 and 50 are most concerned about housing, with the older groups much less concerned.
In a way, this underestimates just how strong the need for housing is viewed in Davis these days. In other surveys, we have seen that between two-thirds and three-quarters of Davis residents see issues like housing that younger people can afford, affordable housing and workforce housing are crucial.
Against the backdrop of a statewide housing crisis, those issues in several surveys rank above issues like funding for public schools, jobs, and economic vitality of the downtown.
That is also reflected in the overall view of residents – many of whom say now that they would be more likely to vote for new development in Davis than voting against. In a generic match up, it is more than a two-to-one margin and approaching three-to-one. Compare that to a decade ago when three quarters of voters voted against Measure P, and you now see a huge sea change in Davis.
Finally, we do see an interesting split in terms of younger voters and also how long people have lived in Davis. Those under the age of 45 are highly supportive of new development, while those over 45 are only marginally in favor of new development. The split is even more interesting depending on years in town – those who moved here in the last five years are more supportive than not by a three-to-one margin, while those who have lived here over 20 years are still supportive, but by a less than two-to-one margin.
Renters are more likely to support new development, but owners are still more favorable than not. And the group that is least likely to support development is the middle class, while the poor and wealthy are more likely to do so.
Are these definitive views? By no means. But we do have two data points where Nishi passed by a 59 to 41 margin and WDAAC passed by a 56 to 44 margin. It is notable that in neither case was traffic a major consideration. So there is that. But at least right now, while there is concern for traffic, that concern appears to be dwarfed by other considerations.
—David M. Greenwald reporting