Guest Commentary: Keeping My Commitment to the Community

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By David Taormino

The list of challenges for residential developers and builders in Davis is long and well known.

To be honest, our community’s reputation for opposing nearly all growth was a major hurdle when we presented Bretton Woods to 14 financially qualified and experienced national home builders. Almost all solicited builders turned down Bretton Woods without any consideration of the project’s merits, with its Davis location cited as their deciding factor. Several builders that turned it down are currently building in Spring Lake, aka “North North Davis,” where 80 percent of buyers come from Davis.

Voters approved Measure L in November 2018, with the understanding that Bretton Woods would be a community intended to accommodate current Davis residents, and that 90 percent of sales would be limited to Davis connected buyers. This was what I pledged, and my commitment to achieving this goal remains unchanged.

In October 2019, I asked the City, on behalf of the builder, to amend the Development Agreement (DA). The builder requested that the City remove the 90 percent Davis connected limitation from the DA for two reasons — they would have more autonomy if the market for Davis based seniors was not as substantial as expected; or if someone filed a discrimination-oriented lawsuit. Some in the community criticized this request to remove the language pertaining to the Davis Connected Buyers Program as a “bait and switch.” I want to explain why that is not the case.

Most people are not aware that this spring we began a preconstruction early release plan to demonstrate to the builder that there is no shortage of Davis buyers who are ready, willing and able to purchase homes in Bretton Woods. In fact, two-thirds of Phase 1 is currently committed with deposits in escrow from 100 percent Davis connected buyers without any formal marketing or advertising. The proven success of the early release has been encouraging on several fronts. I am optimistic that the project will be just as described during the campaign, a housing community that overwhelmingly serves those connected to Davis.

Nevertheless, for the builder the question remains: What if Davis connected buyers are in insufficient supply to purchase 90 percent of the homes at buildout? While I do not believe that Davis connected buyers will be in short supply, I can certainly understand the concern.

In addition, the builder’s East Coast-based executives worry that any exclusion of any purchasers might invite another round of litigation asserting discriminatory practices. They are not as concerned about potentially losing the litigation, but rather that a lawsuit means losing more time and at a great expense. A potential plaintiff who is not truly worried about discrimination but is merely opposed to the project doesn’t have to ultimately win the litigation to prevail. To them, derailing the project while it is under construction is a victory. This is especially true if the pending contracts to Davis connected buyers are nullified or put on hold pending a decision by the court, which could take three to five years. That would mean years waiting for homes that we need now.

The builder is right to be concerned about potential delay. A local group organized and financed the filing of a lawsuit right before the 2018 election, claiming that the proposal to sell only to Davis-connected buyers was racially discriminatory. The judge dismissed the case because the City had yet to approve the actual program and its limitations and conditions. However, the claimant reserved the right to bring the suit again as soon as a plan is adopted. It is rather ironic that many of those same individuals who claimed the plan was discriminatory are now criticizing me for seeking to make refinements to the program. You could surmise that they are frustrated that they may be losing their last chance to attack the project.

Based upon these two well-reasoned concerns from the builder — potential for inadequate buyer demand and discrimination litigation — I filed a request for a DA amendment on the builder’s behalf last October. This spring, well after my application last October, the world came to a standstill as COVID-19 spread across the country and the globe. Simultaneously, upon viewing the widely circulated recording of the murder of George Floyd, our streets erupted to decry systemic racial injustice. These recent events have, justifiably, heightened the builder’s reservations about imposing any unnecessary limitations on the potential buyer pool. To be honest, this has also made me increasingly uncomfortable turning away any potential homebuyer, particularly if that individual feels that they are being discriminated against. To be clear, discrimination was never my intent (nor do I believe it is the community’s intent), but I also do not welcome the thought that people might feel discriminated against because of my promise to focus almost exclusively on current Davis residents.

I firmly believe Davis needs our senior-oriented neighborhood. Our community doesn’t have adequate housing for everyone who needs or wants to live here. By creating opportunities for seniors to sell their existing family-oriented homes to people with school age children, Bretton Woods will help to keep our existing schools open. And I remain confident in my own mind that’s what will happen, and we’ll meet the 90 percent goal.

We are no longer seeking to remove the DA language pertaining to Davis connected buyers. Shortly, I will be outlining the Davis Connected Buyers marketing and outreach program as called for in the DA. It will contain appropriate guidance for the builder and will include verification so that the City and the public can understand the plan. My continuing job is to demonstrate to the builder that the Davis Connected Program will provide more than enough qualified buyers to meet their business needs, financial goals and will not be discriminatory. It is one thing to envision, design and plan a neighborhood but without a major builder, Bretton Woods won’t become reality.

I want to close with a reminder that I promised our community that I would develop badly needed senior housing, create an opportunity to keep our aging population local, and to do my part to help address the local housing crisis. That was and is my primary objective with Bretton Woods.

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Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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34 thoughts on “Guest Commentary: Keeping My Commitment to the Community”

  1. Alan Miller

    Cake, meet Eat it Too.

    the builder’s East Coast-based executives worry that any exclusion of any purchasers might invite another round of litigation asserting discriminatory practices

    Ya THINK ???!!!

    Beware the project that changes its name.  Are there creepy clowns on the edge of Bretton Woods?

  2. Tia Will

    I want to close with a reminder that I promised our community that I would develop badly needed senior housing, create an opportunity to keep our aging population local, and to do my part to help address the local housing crisis. That was and is my primary objective with Bretton Woods.”

    When I asked Mr. Taoromino directly at a public event what evidence he had that senior housing of this type was a major need for our community, outweighing, for example, the needs for workforce housing, student housing, or low-cost housing, his response was “I have seen a lot of interest”. When I asked for specific numbers, he offered none and ended the conversation. I do not know if such numbers demonstrating this to be the highest priority need exist, but I do know Mr. Taoromino did not feel transparency was a high priority need.

    1. Richard McCann

      At a public meeting last year a resident noted that the average age of the residents on Miller Drive was 70. They reside in homes built for larger families across the street from UCD. This housing is much more valuable for families (or even student housing) than for one or two seniors. How can we incent the current residents to move out and sell to younger families? Using existing housing is less expensive than building new housing. Taormino’s program is one idea, and we probably need others, but if we’re going to solve our housing problem, we can’t have 3-5 bedroom houses tied up in senior housing.

      1. Alan Miller

        How can we incent the current residents to move out and sell to younger families?

        Become a charter city and declare full dictatorial powers over property?

  3. Alan Miller

    upon viewing the widely circulated recording of the murder of George Floyd, our streets erupted to decry systemic racial injustice.

    This is true.

    These recent events have, justifiably, heightened the builder’s reservations about imposing any unnecessary limitations on the potential buyer pool.

    That sounds like a good idea.

    To be honest,

    !!!!!

    this has also made me increasingly uncomfortable turning away any potential homebuyer, particularly if that individual feels that they are being discriminated against.

    Yeah, that would be illegal, if true.

    To be clear, discrimination was never my intent

    Good to hear.  Though that should go without saying.  And it went with saying.

    (nor do I believe it is the community’s intent),

    True.  I do believe the community of Davis, as whole, would probably not want to discriminate against a homebuyer due to the color of their skin.

    but I also do not welcome the thought that people might feel discriminated against because of my promise to focus almost exclusively on current Davis residents.

    OK, so you’ll be removing the DA language pertaining to Davis connected buyers then?

    We are no longer seeking to remove the DA language pertaining to Davis connected buyers.

    Wait . . . what?  Wasn’t that the whole point of your rant above?  I’m lost.

    the Davis Connected Program will provide more than enough qualified buyers to meet their business needs, financial goals and will not be discriminatory.

    So say you … I found the whole Davis connected buyers program tone-deaf fake f*ckery from the moment I first read of it, clearly designed to gain votes for Measure R due to the stupidity of the average voter to fall for the children, puppies, shiny-objects and old people arguments.

    I don’t think anyone should need recent incidents (such as George Floyd cited above) to be reminded that Davis has a history of a highly homogeneous skin tone on the more-reflective end of the spectrum, and if you create some trumped-up buyer’s program connected to past trends of Davis skin-tone, that gives an advantage to the more reflective among us.

    1. Matt Williams

      Good to hear.  Though that should go without saying.  And it went with saying.

      I agree with Alan.  Shakespeare once said “oftentimes excusing of a fault doth make the fault the worse by the excuse.” {King John, Act 4 Scene 2, Line 30]

      Sometimes the less said the better.

      1. Alan Miller

        Good Mr. S quote.

        Sometimes the less said the better.

        Since Mr. T is my 3rd-least-favorite Davis developer, if he wants to continue doth excusing, I say keep talking.

  4. Eric Gelber

    Alan’s comments are spot on. This article is full of doublespeak and obfuscation. Note that Taormino uses “Davis buyers” and “Davis connected buyers” interchangeably, even though they are not the same and the latter term has still not been officially defined (despite the detailed description in the Development Agreement). At this point, the program is concededly vague and incomprehensible. (“I will be outlining the Davis Connected Buyers marketing and outreach program as called for in the DA. It will contain appropriate guidance for the builder and will include verification so that the City and the public can understand the plan.”)

  5. Jim Frame

    To summarize:

    June, 2018:  If you vote for my project, I legally commit to restricting sales of 90% of the units to Davis-connected buyers.

    October, 2019:  I want to be released from my legal commitment because I may not be able to make money if it is enforced.

    July, 2020:  Since I was not released from my legal commitment, I wish to trumpet my unwavering commitment to restricting sales of 90% of the units to Davis-connected buyers.

     

  6. Alan Pryor

    In fact, two-thirds of Phase 1 is currently committed with deposits in escrow from 100 percent Davis connected buyers without any formal marketing or advertising.

    Being in escrow is a contractual arrangement in which a third party (the escrow agent) receives and disburse money and/or property for the primary transacting parties. In real estate, the escrow agent is typically the Title company. But how can the money have been put into “escrow” when there is no firm contract to buy or sell a house because the price has not even been set. This is BS.

    The reality is that the monies collected were a deposit and nothing more and those monies will be returned to the “buyer” if the asking sales price is too high for their budgets which would likely be the case if they have to compete with more well-to-do Bay Area buyers. This is exactly what Taormino wants because he can certainly make a lot more money if he sells to expatriate Bay Area buyers who are flush with cash from selling million dollar homes at far higher prices that similar sellers of homes in Davis. This is why the Cannery was marketed exclusively in the Bay Area. So how much money can Taormino make if he can renege on the “Davis Buyers” who made a deposit and instead get Bay Area buyers to come in a buy at substantial premium?

    Well, one real estate agent I talked to said the Cannery units were priced, on average, $100,000 per unit higher by selling almost exclusively to Bay Area buyers. So do the math, 410 units at Bretton Woods times $100,000 = $41,000,000 more!  – that’s 41 MILLION DOLLARS MORE if Taormino can screw the local seniors and import richer Bay Area folks . Seems to me that’s quite an incentive for him to go back on his word!

    In addition, the builder’s East Coast-based executives worry that any exclusion of any purchasers might invite another round of litigation asserting discriminatory practices. They are not as concerned about potentially losing the litigation, but rather that a lawsuit means losing more time and at a great expense.

    Those damn East Coast builders! But I am quite sure those builders would have a contingency clause in their contracts in which Taormino indemnified them from any lawsuits derived from the Buyers Program just like the City of Davis has a similar clause in their Development Agreement. So what Taormino is really worried about is that Taormino will be exposed to “the great expense” of defending any lawsuit. But I seem to recall that he promised us all during the election that the program was all legit and not to worry. He even had two letters from attorneys promising everyone it was completely fine.

    In October 2019, I asked the City, on behalf of the builder, to amend the Development Agreement (DA) (emphasis added).

    Funny thing! He appraoched the City in October 2019 to “switch the bait”, but we just heard about this a few weeks ago, 9 months later,  when Taormino tried to sneak it through the Planning Commission with a little fanfare as possible. Hmmm…I wonder what the delay was in publicly rolling out his secret litlle plan to switch the program.

  7. Ron Glick

    It was an election marketing ploy because of Measure R. Now its biting him in the butt. The sad part was that the voters of Davis found this an appealing perk instead of an appalling one.

    All this Measure R talk about the internal housing needs of the community should be scene for what it is, discrimination. Vote no on Measure R renewal.

    Of course Trump just the other day was making an overt appeal to the racist instincts of the suburbs by suggesting we get rid of housing policies that ban discrimination. If he does will the developer be free to put in his Davis based housing program? Will doing so make Davisites happy?

    1. Alan Miller

      The sad part was that the voters of Davis found this an appealing perk instead of an appalling one.

      Truer words . . .

      All this Measure R talk about the internal housing needs of the community should be scene for what it is, discrimination.

      Truer words . . .

        1. Ron Oertel

          I’m pretty sure that both of you understood my point.  (Which isn’t even “my” point, in the first place.)

          Measure R would help prevent an unnecessary (and unaddressed) increase in housing demand, if voters reject DISC.

          1. David Greenwald

            “Measure R would help prevent an unnecessary increase in housing demand, if voters reject DISC.”

            Your opinion.

            “Measure R would help prevent (a needed) increase in housing demand, if voters reject DISC.”

            Mine

            Neither of them Ron Glick’s point.

        2. Ron Oertel

          As with Ron G, your “disagreement” is with the SEIR, not with me.

          But again, Measure R can actually be used to prevent housing shortages, as in the case of a rejection of DISC.

          I realize that this is extremely uncomfortable for some to acknowledge, so I am not surprised by your response.

        3. Ron Oertel

          Actually, in re-reading your response, I see that you do acknowledge it.

          Suggest ending the thread here, as it’s becoming off-topic. (Starting with Ron G.’s comment, as usual – in which every topic turns into an attack on Measure R.)

        4. Ron Glick

          Actually Measure R is central to this issue. Without it there would be an easy fix. Because of Measure R its this whole convoluted argument where the opponents are trying to get another bite at the no growth apple. Remember litigation is a feature of Measure R not a bug.

          Vote no on Measure R renewal.

        5. Ron Oertel

          Remember litigation is a feature of Measure R not a bug.

          It is neither a “feature” or a “bug”.

          The Davis buyer’s program was approved (and defended by) the council. Seems to me that they have some explaining to do, as usual.

           

    2. Eric Gelber

      If he does will the developer be free to put in his Davis based housing program?

      No. The rule Trump proposed to rescind would not change federal law prohibiting discrimination in housing. And even if it did, California fair housing law would still apply.

  8. Ron Glick

    “Measure R would help prevent an unnecessary (and unaddressed) increase in housing demand, if voters reject DISC.”

    I guess it depends on whether you think jobs are a good thing. I like when people have jobs. Its good for them and the families they support. More jobs begets housing demand that begets more jobs.

    With half the families in America recently losing income because of the pandemic you would think that having more jobs driving more housing demand would be seen as a positive for our local economy. Only in the most dogmatic vision of no growth are jobs and houses seen as a net negative for the community.

    1. Ron Oertel

      Depends upon whether or not you think that creating housing shortages is a “good thing”.

      (Assuming, of course, that there is actual commercial demand for it, beyond the phases which are subsidized by the housing.)

      1. Ron Oertel

        Not exactly what I said, either.

        But, I would suggest that communities (such as West Sacramento) “need” them more, than Davis does.

        And, that there’s far more environmentally-friendly places to put business parks, as well. Both from a commuting standpoint, and a land preservation standpoint.

        By the way, 3 of the finance and budget commissioners couldn’t even agree that the proposal would generate ANY fiscal profit, for Davis. One called it a “fairytale”, among other things. (And that guy is not even what I’d call a “slow-growth” person)

        1. Ron Oertel

          And ALL of the commissioners agreed that the concerns are valid, and should be “worked out” in the development agreement.

          How’s that development agreement working out for Bretton Woods (after it was approved by voters, of course)?

          As Yogi Berra said, it’s “deja vue, all over again”.

          A lesson forgotten again, regarding the failure to address issues in the baseline features – and not in a development agreement (after-the-fact).

  9. Ron Oertel

    A lesson forgotten again, regarding the failure to address issues in the baseline features – and not in a development agreement (after-the-fact).

    Though, I suppose that if you want to “yank out” a given feature (such as a discriminatory program) after-the-fact, you’d better not put it in the baseline features.

    This whole thing is an embarrassment for the council, the developer, and those who voted for it based upon this program.  Even more so, for those who claim a special “concern” regarding discrimination – but are somehow able to justify this program to themselves.

    But in this case, it’s rather amusing to watch.

    1. Alan Miller

      for those who claim a special “concern” regarding discrimination

      That, and for those who advocate for high density and justify this.

      It’s low density, sprawing, and discriminatory.  The “Davis Way” !!!

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