Commentary: What is a Moderate Path Forward on Growth For Davis?

In 2012 campaign, there was no talk about development or housing.  In a city like Davis, known for its divisive wars over growth from Mace Ranch to Wildhorse to Measure J and Covell Village this was a change.  A change marked by the collapse of the real estate market and perhaps by growth fatigue that led to the narrow passage of Measure J in 2000, and Measure J’s less-narrow renewal in 2010 in the form of Measure R.

But starting in 2015 with the rising concern over student housing and the impending LRDP by UC Davis, growth returned as an issue.  Nishi was on the ballot by 2016.  By 2018, Davis had passed its first two Measure R projects – two electoral outcomes that as recently as the spring of 2018 seemed questionable if not unlikely.

The voters in Davis are no longer inclined to oppose every project. We have seen a substantial change over the last decade. In 2005 and 2009, large majorities opposed two projects – Covell Village and Wildhorse Ranch. But by 2016, the voting results started to shift.  That year, Nishi was defeated, but much more narrowly than either Covell Village or Wildhorse Ranch, and then two years later in 2018, as the extent of the student housing crisis became clear and the housing crisis statewide has captured attention, both the projects put before the voters were approved by substantial margins.

Polling – some public and some private – now shows that housing affordability is the top issue in Davis, and nearly two-thirds of all voters are more likely than not to vote for new development(s).

Despite the recent Measure R electoral results, the opposition to growth in Davis remains strong.  Opponents waged small but vigorous opposition campaigns to both Nishi and WDAAC in 2018.  While they were decidedly on the minority side, the fights were strong – if perhaps a bit mild in comparison to Mace Ranch and Wildhorse of years past.

Davis voters remain highly polarized.  And while it is true that the most recent electoral results show a majority supporting those two developments, there is still a strong contingent of 35 to 40 percent that will simply vote against any project.  That reality means that every project that is put forward to a vote has a low margin for error – which is why in 2016, Nishi ended up losing despite a clear need for housing at that point.  Some Davis voters argue that creating that low margin for error is exactly the intent of Measure Ja and Measure R.  it forces developers to avoid any errors that move their project to the wrong side of the margin for error. Their argument is that better attention to detail in planning produces better projects – projects that are actually good for Davis.

If the pendulum has swung back toward the side of development, the major question for many people is, “Will that open the door to rapid growth like we saw from 1980 to 2000?”

In many ways, Davis has been the history of punctuated equilibrium.

From 1980 to 2000 for example, we saw the approval of major projects like Northstar, Wildhorse and Mace Ranch and the population during that period grew from 36,000 to 60,000.

And then it seemed to have gone too far and the pendulum swung back.  The approval of Wildhorse with an affirming vote after opponents places the measure on the ballot and a bitterly waged campaign, along with the looming Covell Village project led to the passage of Measure J in 2000 by a narrow margin.

That was a major policy swing.  From 2000 to 2013, there were no major projects approved in Davis and you can really argue that the full 20 year period marked a period of time where only the Cannery was built.  There were no other major projects that were approved and built-in Davis from 2000 to 2020.  The crash of the Housing Bubble and the “Great Recession” may have significantly contributed to that absence of major projects.

Indeed over the last twenty years have seen very little approved and a much more modest population growth going from 60 to 65 thousand in 2010.  And currently estimated at 69,000.

So are we headed for a period of massive growth?  Voting inclinations suggest that possibility.  But as historians have pointed out, Davis has always had slow growth tendencies even when the actual reality on the ground did not match up.

I would argue there are a number of reasons why we won’t see a massive shift at this time.  For one thing, Measure R is the law of the land.  It requires voter approval of new projects.  And while voters seem more inclined to support projects now than ten years ago, Measure R is a clear brake on growth.  Second, major infill spots are filled.  And third, even if the voters are more likely to support peripheral development – with the conservation easements that currently exist in the Davis Planning Area, the ability for the city to grow even if it wanted to peripherally is limited.

Finally, I would argue that boom and bust is not a great way to grow.  With the Downtown Plan coming to a head and a General Plan update on the near horizon, I would argue we ought to look for a moderate path forward – somewhere between the small but dedicated group that wishes to block most if not all development and the group that is relatively small that wants to repeal Measure R and grow more rapidly.

First, we need to identify the housing that we need.  With the student housing crisis, I was supportive of efforts to put mostly small scale apartments in town that could serve the needs of students.  I think that made for solid growth principles in that it was infill, it was dense, it provided for a clear need, and student renters were encroaching into neighborhoods previously dominated by single-family homes.

Those trying to block Nishi and Lincoln40 with lawsuits, I think they do so at their own peril.  Angering students as we have seen, slowing down the building of new homes could actually lead to the council approving more student housing.

With student housing largely taken care of for the next decade anyway, the city needs to look at ways to provide workforce and family housing.  With limited ability to build on the periphery, that may be a huge challenge.

The Downtown Plan however at the very least could provide – if funding works out over time – opportunities to add to the housing base without huge disruptions to existing neighborhoods and without building on peripheral lands.

In terms of housing for families, that is more problematic.  Here I think that apartments are poorly suited for families and too expensive.  Looking at affordable by design – smaller homes as well as big “A” affordability is probably the way to go, but in the absence of government-provided redevelopment subsidies, funding will be problematic.

Finally, this city is not going to thrive without more revenue sources and a diverse economy.  The city has long lacked a mechanism without taxation to provide for critical revenue and expand its economy.  Moreover, we lack sufficient accessible and developable commercial space and any large space at all over about 14 acres.

A project like ARC would provide that space.  But it also fits well with a middle-ground approach to development.  Critics will point to 200 acres of development, 2.6 million square feet of R&D space, and 4300 or so parking spaces and argue this isn’t a middle ground approach – this is a massive project out of scale with the rest of Davis.

But that’s a limited view of the project.  The flipside is that it is limited in several key ways.  First, with a prolonged buildout period it could reasonably fill our commercial needs for as long as a quarter to half a century.  That means that while would approve 200 acres today, it could take until 2040 or even 2070 before the land is filled and there is a need for more commercial space.

Moreover, the project itself is largely bounded by conservation easements which means that the project will not lead to more growth outward onto farmland.  In fact, the project is more likely to help close a more or less permanent urban limit line preventing much in the way of additional growth in that part of the town.

Finally, it will help the city take care of its commercial and fiscal needs without the need to introduce more in the way of retail sprawl, of big boxes, and other means that cities add to their retail base.

In short, while it appears large on the surface, it actually helps limit future growth in Davis.

And that’s the key – approving growth that does not lead to more growth while filling current needs.  Finding a sustainable middle path will be crucial to creating a viable future for Davis.

—David M. Greenwald reporting


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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.

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67 Comments

  1. Alan Miller

    What is a Moderate Path Forward on Growth For Davis?

    Ask a moderate.

    there is stil a strong contingent of 35 to 40 percent that will simply vote against any project

    And there are 10-20%, the swing-stupid vote, who vote for students, old people, ‘affordable’ (subsidized) housing, and puppies.  Thus, how Measure R projects will be passed – pander to the stupid-swing vote in Davis.

    major infill spots are filled

    And since DV is in favor of Measure R and infill, it is part of the problem.

    by single-family homes. Those trying to block Nishi and Lincoln40 with lawsuits, I think they do so at their own peril.

    Is that a threat?

    the city needs to look at ways to provide workforce and family housing . . .  that may be a huge challenge.

    I have an idea, let’s subsidize workforce and family housing just like affordable housing.  That way everyone is taxed to pay for everyone to live, and the government and their cronies get to scrape billions off the top!  Brilliant!

    smaller homes as well as big “A” affordability is probably the way to go

    smaller homes with even smaller yards — teeny, teeny yards — and small homes stacked on top of each other with common walls — oh, that’s an apartment.  Whoops.

    we lack sufficient accessible and developable commercial space and any large space at all over about 14 acres.

    More space!  Less filling!

  2. Ron Oertel

    Moreover, the project itself is largely bounded by conservation easements which means that the project will not lead to more growth outward onto farmland.  In fact, the project is more likely to help close a more or less permanent urban limit line preventing much in the way of additional growth in that part of the town.

    Regardless of the number of times this is repeated, it’s simply not true. Approval of ARC would likely lead to pressure to develop the Shriner’s property, Covell Village, etc.

    Perhaps even the 25-acre city owned site – which was previously proposed for inclusion in the MRIC development.

      1. Ron Oertel

        You’d think that those who believe that would be at the front lines, protesting against making the situation more challenging via a development like ARC.

        It’s about this point in which I start believing that some supporters don’t actually care about the “housing shortage” that they continuously tout.

        1. Ron Oertel

          Maybe they’re not being “forthcoming” regarding the actual reason(s) for their support – since the one that they’re presenting doesn’t hold up under even the most basic scrutiny. (Even when referring to the assumptions in the EIR.)

          1. Don Shor

            I don’t know why you need to cast aspersions on the “reasons for their support.” You are basically accusing others of being dishonest. The main difference, in my opinion, is that some see Davis as a stand-alone housing and jobs market while others consider it from a regional standpoint. That makes a big difference in how one assesses the impact of a particular project.

        2. Ron Oertel

          Don:  Refer to the EIR.  From what I recall, it “relies” upon existing housing in Davis to accommodate workers who won’t live on the site.

          If someone states that they’re concerned about “housing shortages”, it’s pretty difficult for them to logically tout ARC in the same breath.

          Regarding those who put forth such statements, I find their stated concerns difficult to believe.

          And then, there’s another group (sometimes consisting of the same “members”), who claim to be concerned about “affordable” housing, local contributions to greenhouse gasses, etc. Sometimes, these are the same folks who tout “green” research companies (and bemoan it when they leave for much cheaper destinations) – such as the one that produces RoundUp, or support the oil/gas industry.

           

          1. Don Shor

            Refer to the EIR.

            The EIR for a particular project does not take a regional perspective. The logic of your position is that we should not create jobs locally because it would lead to housing growth locally. Others would reply that the housing shortage is regional, people already make decisions to commute for work, and that obstructing jobs and housing is harmful. I don’t question the honesty of your position. I just disagree with it. I suggest you not question the honesty of how others come to their positions.

        3. Ron Oertel

          Sounds like you have a “problem” with the EIR process.

          Again, when someone (not necessarily you) puts forth arguments which conflict with their own stated positions, it’s entirely appropriate to point it out.

        4. David Greenwald

          I don’t have a problem with the EIR process, but I think it is important to understand what it does and doesn’t do well.  Just as I have a problem when it looks at environmental impacts for a project without taking into account the totality of circumstances especially on traffic and impacts.

          Given the rate of buildout projected, I don’t think it will cause near the amount of housing growth pressure as you fear.  With the amount of housing onsite largely adequate as a buffer.

        5. Ron Oertel

          My comment regarding the EIR process was in response to Don’s comment.

          Regarding political pressure regarding yet another peripheral development, are you kidding?  There’s others clamoring for yet another peripheral development on this page right now – even without ARC.  Despite what you claim in your article. And again, the EIR itself states that the existing city is expected to house some of the workers. Is there some kind of “creative math” that you’re using again, which shows otherwise?

          Not to mention the “challengeable assumptions” regarding the percentage of workers who would actually live on-site in the first place.

          Building out to existing city limits is not “proof” of a shortage of any particular type of development.  It may, however, indicate that the city is not making good choices regarding land use within the city.

          At this point, I’m actually somewhat confident that ARC won’t be approved, regardless. Opposition to it is not entirely based upon slow growth goals.

        6. Ron Oertel

          And truth be told, I don’t think even your heart is fully involved, in this battle.  I think even you can see the “writing on the wall”, and the “traffic on the roads”.

          It’s almost too easy, this time.  Starting with 4,340 parking spaces.

          The only way this thing would win is if they promise to repave all of Davis’ roads using titanium, and fully-fund existing over-sized schools, teacher raises, etc. The “chicken in every pot” approach. (Which is probably coming, since that’s their only chance.) In fact, they’re somehow presenting a fiscal analysis for this still-UNDEFINED proposal, next month!

        7. Ron Oertel

          Oh, and fully paying off the city’s unfunded pensions, as well.  (That, of course, will need to be included in the “deal”.)  😉

          Then, there’s the Affordable housing, which might be proposed as yet ANOTHER peripheral development.  (Perhaps on the city-owned parcel?) And, how exactly is that accounted for in the existing EIR – or the fiscal analysis?

          I really suspect you’ve lost any previously-perceived influence, for a variety of reasons. (But, I won’t go into that, else my comment will be summarily “deleted”.)

        8. Ron Oertel

          MRIC would likely have been approved a long time ago (almost “under the radar”), had they simply followed-through on their original plan.  The inability to do so demonstrated a lack of financial viability for this type of development, outside of Davis’ city limits.

          The truth is that places such as West Sacramento will always “kick Davis’ rear-end”, regarding both existing space and cost to accommodate this type of development. (And frankly, they “need it” more than Davis does.)

        9. Matt Williams

          David Greenwald said … “I think you’re completely wrong on this”

          Because of the threading limitations, as well as the sequencing of comments, it is unclear what the “this” is that David is referring to.  Perhaps he can elaborate/clarify.

          In addition, David Greenwald said … “You’re missing a very critical variable in this – the perceived ability to pass a Measure R vote.”

          Here too the threading and sequencing makes the “this” unidentifiable.  What is the “this” and how was “this” affected by a Measure R vote?  Hopefully here too you can clarify/elaborate David.

          1. David Greenwald

            He said: “truth be told, I don’t think even your heart is fully involved, in this battle. I think even you can see the “writing on the wall”, and the “traffic on the roads”.”

            That was what I was referring to.

            The second was in reference to the ARC project coming forward now as opposed to when it first came out. I think the passage of Nishi and WDAAC changed the thinking of the applicants.

        10. Matt Williams

          I believe it is useful to re-read the June 2016 article published here in the Vanguard ( see https://www.davisvanguard.org/2016/06/november-vote-sought-scaled-mric-project/)

          When Mace Ranch Innovation Center (MRIC) developers put the project on pause, the community had every reason to believe the project was dead.  Already having put $3 to $4.5 million into the project, once the council nixed a mixed-use housing proposal, there was the belief that the financing hurdles were insurmountable.

          .
          The City website has the text of the April 13, 2016 “putting the proposal on hold” press release (see https://www.cityofdavis.org/Home/Components/News/News/1467/). Measure R is notg mentioned in that press release as a reason.  Rather, they clearly state the reason as follows:

          A study prepared by Economic & Planning Systems, Inc. and reviewed at the Monday, April 11, Finance & Budget Commission meeting concludes that the project might not be feasible given that only 128 acres or 60 percent of the site are considered developable and that infrastructure costs are high. The estimated infrastructure costs of more than $50 million are four times the industry standard for similar projects, according to the project sponsors.

          .
          The press release goes on to say

          We also need to explore other potential funding avenues such as the establishment of an enhanced infrastructure financing district, state grants, and cap and trade funding opportunities to improve the project’s economics. We will need to be very creative,

        11. David Greenwald

          But of course one of the reasons that they came out with the reduced project proposal was concern over whether the full project could pass a measure R vote.

        12. Ron Oertel

          Ironically that would exacerbate the concerns about additional housing needs you outlined above.

          “That” (in reference to MRIC) is directly related to the original “justification” for the proposal.  (To provide a “better balance” between commercial development, vs. existing housing.)

          The “revised” proposal does not address that supposed “need” as well.  In addition, the inclusion of housing will likely compromise the supposed fiscal benefit, as well the next peripheral housing development that is already being clamored-for, on this very page.

          The problem with all of these arguments is that Davis doesn’t “need” jobs, in the first place (due to UCD)>

        13. David Greenwald

          Also one of the reasons why council opposed the mixed use alternative in 2015 was they questioned whether a project with housing could pass a Measure R vote.

        14. David Greenwald

          And the kicker, the reason that the RFEI included no housing instructions was concern about whether a project with housing could pass a Measure R vote.

          Basically I’m arguing that the Measure R calculations changed and that’s allowed the project to come forward at this time.

        15. Ron Oertel

          (The “editing period” was cut-short, again.)

          The “calculations” will be reduced by the inclusion of the still-undefined housing. (As well as the “next” peripheral housing development that will partly be “justified” as a result of ARC.)

          At this point, ARC is a proposal “in search of” a reason to exist – other than to create traffic, greenhouse gasses, and elimination of prime farmland outside of a logical boundary for the city.

        16. Matt Williams

          David Greenwald said . . .

          He said: “truth be told, I don’t think even your heart is fully involved, in this battle. I think even you can see the “writing on the wall”, and the “traffic on the roads”.”

          That was what I was referring to.

          The second was in reference to the ARC project coming forward now as opposed to when it first came out. I think the passage of Nishi and WDAAC changed the thinking of the applicants.

          I’m still unclear on the first point. Is the “this” your hear not being fully involved, or is the “this” referring to the “writing on the wall” and/or the “traffic on the roads”?

          Regarding the second point, as I pointed with the cited and linked quotes above, there is no evidence that your supposition about the development team’s 2016 mindset is correct.  The Council had been very clear that a project proposal with housing wasn’t anywhere close to becoming a Measure R vote. There simply weren’t three Council members who were ready to move the project proposal on to a vote of the people.

        17. David Greenwald

          I think my three posts in response lay out my thinking.  Basically if we reverse them – the council opposed mixed use in part if not in large measure due to Measure R considerations, the reduced size attempted to address that but turned out not to be viable and once Measure R considerations shifted, the project came forward.  Other than them overtly stating it, which they did not at least in public do, I’m not sure what more you really need in that respect.

        18. Matt Williams

          David Greenwald said . . . “Also one of the reasons why council opposed the mixed use alternative in 2015 was they questioned whether a project with housing could pass a Measure R vote.”

          I believe your memory is faulty David.  As Barak Palin would be glad to point out to you, the Council was much more concerned with the “bait and switch” scenario that was playing out because of the injection of the mixed-use alternative into the mix after all the responents to the RFEI request from the City agreed to support the City’s formally stated desire for no housing in any of the Innovation Center responses to the RFEI.

        19. Ron Oertel

           the reduced size attempted to address that but turned out not to be viable.

          Are you sure that’s the reason?  If so, then it would follow that they need to increase the size/intensity of the commercial development at the site.

          (Evidence suggests that this “isn’t” the reason that they subsequently included housing within the proposal.)

          Evidence suggests that a commercial development is not feasible.

          1. Don Shor

            (Evidence suggests that this “isn’t” the reason that they subsequently included housing within the proposal.)

            I believe that the city staff at the time played a role in that.

        20. David Greenwald

          I believe three of the four opposing council members cited electoral considerations plus Will Arnold did in an interview with me the next spring when he ran for council

        21. Matt Williams

          David Greenwald said . . .

          I think my three posts in response lay out my thinking.  Basically if we reverse them – the council opposed mixed use in part if not in large measure due to Measure R considerations, the reduced size attempted to address that but turned out not to be viable and once Measure R considerations shifted, the project came forward.  Other than them overtly stating it, which they did not at least in public do, I’m not sure what more you really need in that respect.

          .
          As I said  in my 3:01pm comment above I believe you are wrong when you say “the council opposed mixed use in part if not in large measure due to Measure R considerations.”  Individually and collectively Council clearly stated its ethical concerns with injecting housing into a process that had started with the City’s request for “no housing” responses and the respondents’ clearly stated agreement to comply with that City request.

        22. Matt Williams

          David Greenwald said . . .  “I believe three of the four opposing council members cited electoral considerations plus Will Arnold did in an interview with me the next spring when he ran for council”

          I believe your memory is playing tricks on you.  I believe the concerns weren’t electoral, but rather ethical.

          Will Arnold is a future event … not part of the landscape on April 13, 2016.

          1. David Greenwald

            You’re just flat wrong here, Matt.

            Here’s what we reported in February 2016: https://www.davisvanguard.org/2016/02/council-pulls-plug-on-housing-option-at-mric/

            “For Councilmember Swanson, the key consideration was making sure that this project could pass and, quite simply, she did not believe a project with housing could pass.”

            Brett Lee: “I’ll just say it, I’m not in favor of housing on that site.”

            Lucas: “I think it threatens the electoral success of not only the Mace Ranch Innovation Center but very possibly any future innovation park plans.”

            Mayor Dan Wolk, seeing the writing on the wall, added that he was skeptical at first, “but I think there are a lot of strong arguments for the housing.” Like the others, he saw the politics as a hindrance to the consideration of housing. “I get at the same time the political calculation,” he stated.

            So Rochelle, Lucas, and Dan all cited electoral considerations, that’s three out of four. Brett Lee was just opposed to housing at the site.

        23. Ron Oertel

          Don:  “I believe that the city staff at the time played a role in that.”

          That’s what another commenter claimed on here, as well.  If nothing else, city staff provided an “opportunity” that the ARC developers are now pursuing.

          The same thing occurred with the University Mall proposal.  (Originally, the plan was apparently to “revitalize” the existing commercial mall.)  (Personally, I have somewhat fewer concerns with staff interference, regarding that.) Regardless, WHO exactly is providing such direction to staff – or are they initiating such actions on their own? Seems to me that whoever is responsible is “creating” unnecessary battles.

        24. Matt Williams

          Ron Oertel said . . .  “That’s what another commenter claimed on here, as well.  If nothing else, city staff provided an “opportunity” that the developers are pursuing.”

          Ron, I think you making an assumption that is not in evidence regarding what the developers were “pursuing.”

          My experience observing how developers interact with staff, is that they “read” staff’s intentions, and then match their behavior/application as closely to that “line of least resistance.”  I strongly believe that is what happened in both the project proposals you have described.  Staff “corrected” what it believed was a sub-optimal provision/requirement of the original RFEI when framing the parameters of the EIR, and the developer saw staff’s desire to include housing as a clear message about what the line of least resistance was going to be going forward … NOT what was stated in the RFEI, but rather the “read my lips” message coming from staff during the EIR preparation discussions.

           

        25. Ron Oertel

          Matt:  “My experience observing how developers interact with staff, is that they “read” staff’s intentions, and then match their behavior/application as closely to that “line of least resistance.”

          Is it the job of staff to subtly let their intentions be known?

          Matt:  “I strongly believe that is what happened in both the project proposals you have described.”

          From article, below:  “Brixmor, which has owned the mall for 14 years, initially planned to simply modernize the 52-year-old mall, but in talks with city staff, were encouraged to add residential units as well, company representatives have said.”

          https://www.davisenterprise.com/local-news/university-mall-redevelopment-moving-forward/

          Who is providing such direction to staff, in the first place?

          Matt:  “Staff “corrected” what it believed was a sub-optimal provision/requirement of the original RFEI when framing the parameters of the EIR, and the developer saw staff’s desire to include housing as a clear message about what the line of least resistance was going to be going forward … NOT what was stated in the RFEI, but rather the “read my lips” message coming from staff during the EIR preparation discussions.

          Again, is this an appropriate action for staff to engage in, on their own?  Why are staff “beliefs” allowed to result in such massive changes from the RFEI?

          Ironically, staff is steering these proposals towards the “greatest resistance”, not the “least resistance”.  Especially in the case of MRIC/ARC.

          In the meantime (e.g., if council is going to allow this to continue), perhaps developers might want to stop “reading lips” – for their own sake.

           

        26. Ron Oertel

          Matt:

          Ron, I think you making an assumption that is not in evidence regarding what the developers were “pursuing.”

          Also, developers certainly have an “opportunity” to pursue what was originally planned (and contained within RFEIs), regardless of “secret signals” from staff.

          Somebody really needs to figure out exactly what’s going on, here.  Perhaps a job for a “community watchdog” blog? (Yeah, probably not “this” one.)

          In the meantime, I don’t fully buy it. I strongly suspect that developers are quite happy to be “reading lips”, in these cases.

          1. Don Shor

            This was more of an issue a few years ago than it is now, in my opinion. When the innovation park task force completed its process and issued a report, council and staff were on board and staff was very engaged in economic development proposals. Adding housing to commercial development is pretty much standard urban planning dogma these days. The EIR, if I recall, showed that it actually made a more carbon-friendly outcome than having just commercial. We are now two city managers later, economic development staff moved on, and I don’t think you’re seeing that kind of input at staff level. But the gradual increase of housing in the MRIC proposal seems to date from 4 – 5 years ago at this point.

            Somebody really needs to figure out exactly what’s going on, here.

            At this point the housing proposal for ARC appears to be entirely coming from the development team. Perhaps they sense that the council objection is waning, and maybe they have some internal polling that shows it might pass a Measure R vote. I don’t know. Considering that the site was supposed to be entirely commercial initially, it seems like a real gamble to me.

        27. Ron Oertel

          Don: “Considering that the site was supposed to be entirely commercial initially, it seems like a real gamble to me.”

          I agree.  I also don’t think that “staff” should be engaging in “lip reading”, or “lip telegraphing” for the purpose of derailing what’s in an RFEI, for example. From what I understand, it’s not staff’s job to do so, or to disregard council direction.

          As noted, I think that MRIC could have slipped in “under the radar” by now, had it proceeded at planned.  But again, the failure to do so appears to be driven more by lack of feasibility, vs. anything else.

          It all goes back to having to compete with locations such as West Sacramento, as well.

          In any case, MRIC/ARC (and its 4,340 parking spaces) is certainly “on the radar”, now.  (In my opinion, they are underestimating the resistance that will be generated from that fact, alone. It’s not something I would have personally paid as much attention to, at the time.)

          I suspect that it will be easy to encourage opposition, despite the “chicken in every pot” fiscal claims that are sure to come forth.

          I guess we’ll see.

        28. Ron Oertel

          Don:  “I don’t think you’re seeing that kind of input at staff level.”

          I’m not sure that’s true.  Witness the University Mall proposal, for example.  The one that the planning commission had concerns about, as a result of “staff encouragement”.

          (See quote from Enterprise article, above.)

        29. Matt Williams

          Ron, who assembled the RFEI?

          Staff did.

          So Staff changing the RFEI is simply Staff adjusting Staff work.

          It was once observed about Davis that Staff historically has made more policy in Davis than any other Northern California jurisdiction.

        30. Ron Oertel

          Ron, who assembled the RFEI?
          Staff did.
          So Staff changing the RFEI is simply Staff adjusting Staff work.

          Thanks, Matt.

          Did staff also come up with the parameters regarding what’s supposed to be in the RFEI? Who is supposed to be making such decisions and approving such changes? (Isn’t that normally the job of the council?)

          It was once observed about Davis that Staff historically has made more policy in Davis than any other Northern California jurisdiction.

          Seems like a significant problem.  Why is this (uniquely) allowed to occur in Davis?

          And (not a question for Matt), but why hasn’t this problem been discussed on this blog before?

          1. Don Shor

            Seems like a significant problem. Why is this (uniquely) allowed to occur in Davis?

            It’s not unique. When I followed Dixon politics and development issues, this was a standard issue. Same with Stockton. Staff drives development decisions in many municipalities. There is actually far less public oversight of these things in most communities than in Davis.

        31. Ron Oertel

          Don:  Your conclusion conflicts with Matt’s conclusion.

          Regardless, the process is both eye-opening, and highly concerning.  Un-elected individuals (staff’s “personal preferences”) are driving development decisions.

          Unilateral staff decisions are apparently creating divisiveness within the community itself (e.g., University Mall, MRIC/ARC).

          Did “staff preferences” have anything to do with other controversial development proposals?

          1. Don Shor

            Your conclusion conflicts with Matt’s conclusion.

            My observations conflict somewhat with Matt’s anecdote. Nothing provable or verifiable here, so it’s just a matter of conjecture. I did know a high-level staff person in Stockton and was apprised of how things worked there. And there was a spectacular staff-driven debacle in Dixon a few years ago (Google ‘Dixon movie studio’ if you’re interested). But everywhere development occurs, staff are involved and give input at various stages of the process. They’re professionals. Council members rarely have any professional background on development issues and must rely on staff to help keep the process moving forward. There is no way for council members to provide oversight at the detailed level that is necessary for these things. If they overstep their bounds, it’s up to council to issue guidance. But what staff is doing here is not unique or unusual.

        32. Ron Oertel

          Although, perhaps it’s more accurate to state that staff decisions are driving “direction”, since the council ultimately still has to approve such decisions.  But at that point, “staff recommendations” and “momentum” (aided by development interests, as well as all of the preliminary work completed by that point) might overwhelm the process.

          And if council (or the voters, if it’s a peripheral development) go against it at that point, lots of “crying” about all of the investment that the poor developers “had to make”, up until that point.

          All started due to staff’s unilateral decisions/preferences, early in the process.

        33. Ron Oertel

           Don:  ” . . . and must rely on staff to help keep the process moving forward.”

          In the case of the two proposals discussed (MRIC, University Mall), they are apparently doing more than “moving the process forward”.

          Don:  “But what staff is doing here is not unique or unusual.”

          Perhaps that’s the problem.  Regardless, it’s certainly “eye-opening”.

        34. Matt Williams

          Ron, I wholeheartedly disagree that Don’s conclusion conflicts with what I observed.  I agree with the spirit of Don’s follow-up response, “My observations conflict somewhat with Matt’s anecdote. Nothing provable or verifiable here, so it’s just a matter of conjecture” although I wouldn’t say they conflict, but rather would say that they supplement the substance of my anecdotal example.  I respect Don’s extensive experience observing the workings of multiple jurisdictions

          The fact that you see the process as highly concerning is no surprise; however, to label it as “eye-popping” appears to indicate that you have not been paying attention to how local governments work in either Davis, or other California General law cities. It isn’t eye-popping, it is the status quo.

          Government Code section 35516 (see below) limits what we can pay our elected officials approximately $1,000 per month.   If, for the purposes of comparison and context, we set on Full Time Equivalent (FTE) as the monthly amount you were paid in your job as a government auditor, and then compare the section 35516 amount to that FTE standard, it becomes clear that Davis gets significantly less than one quarter of an FTE from each Council member, perhaps less than one tenth of an FTE.

          Government Code section 365161 authorizes a city to provide its city council members with an initial salary of between $300 and $1,000 per month, depending upon the city’s population. Section 36516.5 also authorizes an increase in Council salaries in an amount not to exceed 5% for each calendar year from the operative date of the last adjustment.

          The reality of policy decision making is that it takes a whole lot more than 25% (or 10%) of person’s work week.  Therefore, it is no surprise that un-elected individuals supplement the elected individuals’ efforts in policy/decision making by the City (not only in development decisions, but in all forms of governmental policy/decisions.

        35. Ron Oertel

          It appears that my response to Matt’s comment (above) has been deleted.  Just noting it, here.

          But again, I don’t think that salary is a motivating factor, for most seeking to be elected to the council.

          The more “important” point is the degree to which “staff preferences” influence development decisions.

  3. Don Shor

    A moderate path forward would be to identify an urban limit line, begin the process of planning and annexing that land, establish the requirements for development of the land with regard to affordable housing, transportation, funding, energy use, street trees, etc., and determine the pace of development in advance. In keeping with the general plan principles of both the city and the county, conservation of prime ag land and wildlife habitat would be one major consideration in determining where to grow.

    I suggest it is time to stop trying to plan high-density infill projects. Those will happen or not if the sites have sufficient value to the owners in conjunction with developers willing to try to work within the Davis planning environment. By their nature, they aren’t going to yield low-cost housing. If housing is going to be built, a large percentage of it will need to be single-family homes with yards. That is what the majority of home buyers want.

    The city council has done a good job of approving rental housing projects now, so that logjam is broken and the seemingly intractable low vacancy rate might finally start to budge. Now it is time to look at the long-term planning and development needed to get housing built in a price range that might be accessible to families and “workforce.” The city and the voters can control the pace of development.

    The only way that will happen is to set aside the new urbanist principles that want to try to force people into high density, small lot housing, and start building what people actually want.

    1. Alan Miller

      If housing is going to be built, a large percentage of it will need to be single-family homes with yards. That is what the majority of home buyers want.

      Creating what the consumer wants, what a concept.  Utopia housing plans similar to utopia car plans of building tiny electric cars, as gasoline SUVs grow in size and sales.

    2. Don Shor

      Establish an urban limit line to include the northwest quadrant and properties north of the hospital along 113.
      Properties north of Covell Village site could be included for planning purposes and/or conservation in the urban limit line. A new access road could be considered on the north side of Covell Village site. Or those sites could be added to an ag buffer via conservation easements.
      Mace Blvd. to be an urban limit line to the west (ARC would be an exception if approved with housing by the voters).
      Minimize development in South Davis due to land quality and important riparian areas. Consider infill between El Macero and south Davis, and some commercial/residential along Chiles Rd.

      Voters set the pace of buildout when the land is annexed. Normal would be 30 to 50 years.
      Density bonuses for builders as offsets to affordable housing requirements in new subdivisions.
      Establish a percentage of land set-asides in new developments for lowest-income affordable housing to be provided by non-profit developers.
      Combination of Measure O funds and ag mitigation to be used to strategically create an ag/open space buffer between Davis and Woodland.

      1. Bill Marshall

        A new access road could be considered on the north side of Covell Village site.

        Bad idea… basic planning/engineering concepts would indicate @ Moore (preferred), and/or Donner, Picasso as secondary/alternatives.

        Mace Blvd. to be an urban limit line to the west 

        Yeah right, as it relates to the area under the “Mace Curve”… given proximity to Jr HS and residential, and size, not particularly “farmable”.

        Minimize development in South Davis due to land quality and important riparian areas

        I hope you mean south fork of Putah Creek… much of that land is in Solano County… but yeah, I’d even ban fully urban development there, if I was king (but, frankly, I’m not)

         Consider infill between El Macero and south Davis

        ????????????????

        El Macero and south Davis fully abut with development… redevelopment, maybe… infill, not…

         

        1. Bill Marshall

          Don… thank you for the clarification… that mainly makes sense for very practical reasons… having to do with flood zone risk, and utilities.  Can also see it philosophically… if you are looking north, west is on the left, east is to the right… goes possibly to voting patterns in El Macero…

          Funny… I’ve never had a problem N/S… but E/W is an ‘issue’ I’ve had to deal with… as a professional engineer, and professional surveyor… I believe the ‘problem’ is on the “bell curve” of dyslexia, on the lower end… I always had to check myself.

          Famous quote:  “Dyslexics Untie!”

          But yes, an urban/development limit east of Mace (ARC is a “tweener” … not same issues as to flood zone risk or utilities… minimal) makes sense… the area east of Mace, south of El Macero, have much more significant, pragmatic, issues… said as an engineer.  Not philosophical…

    3. Todd Edelman

      If housing is going to be built, a large percentage of it will need to be single-family homes with yards.

      Methinks not a great way for the City to achieve its goals on carbon neutrality? I may try to get an initiative on aggressive entitlement on the ballot while others look to overturn this City policy…

  4. Alan Miller

    Minimize development in South Davis due to land quality and important riparian areas.

    And let the rich keep their houses and open space?  Not a chance!  Land quality?  Pasah!  Open space is waste!  As the rich die, take their land (end legal inheritance) and build apartments, until all their rich neighbors get annoyed and move away.  Take the land!  Eat the rich!

  5. Ron Oertel

    David:  “So Rochelle, Lucas, and Dan all cited electoral considerations, that’s three out of four. Brett Lee was just opposed to housing at the site.”

    The underlying reason for suspecting that the proposal would not be approved with housing is likely due to Matt’s conclusion:

    Matt:  “As I said in my 3:01pm comment above I believe you are wrong when you say “the council opposed mixed use in part if not in large measure due to Measure R considerations.”  Individually and collectively Council clearly stated its ethical concerns with injecting housing into a process that had started with the City’s request for “no housing” responses and the respondents’ clearly stated agreement to comply with that City request.

    In other words, that’s the reason that council suspected that it would not be approved.  They understood (and perhaps still do) that opponents would likely “remind” voters of this fact.

     

     

  6. Ron Oertel

    Did “staff preferences” have anything to do with other controversial development proposals?

    Interestingly enough, I just saw an article expressing similar concerns on another local blog.  (No – I didn’t see that prior to making the comment, above.)

  7. Bill Marshall

    I see comment drifting into the area of ,

    Staff drives development decisions in many municipalities. There is actually far less public oversight of these things in most communities than in Davis.

    That topic is actually worthy of a separate discussion, besides that of this topic.

    It has more than a kernel of truth, but also has another side… those staff who did not try to influence, but who followed the ordinances, and were a damper on those who did try to ‘legislate’…

    But I have always felt that professional staff has to objectively weigh in, make recommendations, try to drive decisions.  Had the CC followed the ‘driving’ attempts of staff as to road maintenance, going back to he mid ’80’s, I believe we’d be in a much better situation.

    Mixed bag.

    But the topic of staff ‘driving’ (or attempting to) development direction, is a fair and appropriate topic.  Tangentially  related to the history of ARC/MRIC, whatever.

    Don is correct… there are problems and they should not be ignored… those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it. [Read that somewhere]

    I am suggesting a separate topic, though…  ARC/development issues are symptoms.  Other factors (beyond staff), as well… it is similar to ‘rocket science’…

     

  8. Bill Marshall

    you did not understand that staff making policy is not the exception, but rather the rule.

    Well, as I said before, this statement merits a separate topic/discussion… that said, it is fully appropriate for City staff to develop and recommend policy to the electeds… actually, a key task… it is not their place to “create it”…

    The second part of that is the interpretation and implementation of policies adopted by the CC… that is where things get “squishy” [and where things are subject to error/mischief/abuse of ‘power’/whatever]… and a lot of that is made possible by the vague and/or squishy language that the CC uses when it adopts policy. Often, the CC has confused the policies, when their own actions are inconsistent with the policies they have adopted.  In many areas, this has led to the CC to send “mixed messages” to staff and to the public.  Without clarity.

    The ‘nature of the beast’.

    This is not simple, therefore appropriate separate discussion would be appropriate.

     

    1. Ron Oertel

      I would agree that this topic is “worthy” of an article, of its own. And, not from a development “advocacy” position – either way.

      Probably won’t see one, though. Despite the profound impact it’s having on decisions.

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