Planning Commission Very Divided on URP Proposal, but Does Barely Support Approval

By David M. Greenwald

How divided was the Planning Commission on Wednesday over the University Research Park Mixed-Use project? They recommended approval by a 4-3 vote, after pulling out the affordable housing and architectural site plan.

The project is located in a vacant lot along Research Park Drive to the south of I-80. The proposal will consist of four buildings—each just under 30,000 square feet with four floors of residential apartment units over one floor of office/open plan tech space.

The project proposed a total of 160 dwelling units, including 32 studio units, 96 one-bedroom units, and 32 two-bedroom units.

The project is planned to provide a total of 138,431 square feet of residential space and 26,912 square feet of office/open plan tech space. The proposed building’s height is 60 feet.

Two of the biggest hurdles proved to be the affordable housing plan and the overall architectural site plan.

On affordable housing, the city made the determination that the project “qualifies for the Vertical Mixed Use Exemption pursuant to Section 18.05.080 of the City’s Municipal Code that was in effect for this project at the time of the application submittal in March 2018.”

“Although the City’s Affordable Housing Ordinance was amended in January 2019 with current requirements which included revisions to the exemptions, the proposed project was submitted prior to the amendments,” the city staff reasons, but they will require under the Sustainable Communities Project guidelines that “the provision of affordable housing be included as part of the project, regardless of local waivers. Therefore, the applicant has proposed that the payment of in-lieu fees to satisfy the requirement for affordable housing.”

This triggered some heavy differences of opinion among the members of the planning commission.

Emily Shandy said, “I share the concerns raised previously about affordable housing in this project. I have a strong preference to see those affordable units included on site in this project. That’s the main sticking point for me on this one.”

Darryl Rutherford expressed frustration on the affordable housing after speaking to Mark Friedman of Fulcrum, and he felt there was a real need to include housing on site.

He suggested that perhaps the applicant could cut back on the expense of the design and the materials, and “maybe if we reduced that… we could actually meet the inclusionary affordable housing component that this commission, the social services commission and many many people in this community want to see.”

He said this is “incumbent upon the developers who are asking the city to do a lot.”

Ultimately he said he couldn’t support the project without “more benefits given back to the community” in the form of meeting an affordable housing commitment.”

But Greg Rowe argued, “We all need to sort of step back in the concerns we have about affordable housing.” He noted that this was the outcome of attempting to address the issue of climate change and encouraging transit priority projects.

He noted that this was the result the state streamlining CEQA projects that demonstrating they would reduce VMT by being near high quality transit. Part of that trade off is reduced CEQA requirements (for which this project was CEQA exempt) and they also had a maximum of five percent affordable housing under state law.

“It’s a trade off,” he said. “We may not be happy with that… but that’s what our state legislature decided they wanted.” He said, “It’s a balancing act. It is what it is.”

Emily Shandy added, “I am disappointed that this is yet another project coming before us that’s sort of an island of buildings in the middle of a sea of parking.”

Darryl Rutherford said, “The design seems a little odd—pretty industrial.” He added, “It just doesn’t have a Davis feel to me.”

He noted the attempt to move to a “more modern design” but he said, “It still doesn’t seem to fit the community.”

Herman Boschken, who ultimately provided the deciding vote on the project, called it “a very sterile design,” which he compared to Russian Housing where he spent some time. “There is nothing much redeeming about the architectural style.”

Boschken noted that, given the close proximity to campus, “it is an open question as to who will live there” and he went so far as to argue if housing for students got tight, this could become a student housing project.

“I’m inclined to approve the project,” he concluded. “But I’m not completely happy with it.”

On the other hand, David Robertson was strongly opposed to it from the get go.

For one thing, he was angry that the city keeps pushing forward these projects without updating their overall planning.

He acknowledged that we need housing now and will need housing after this project.

“Will we ever run out of the need for housing in the city of Davis? Probably not while I’m alive,” he said. “When are we going to start addressing the issues on a broader scale of what is it we’re trying to achieve as a city? Or are we just going to keep proposing housing and hope that it matches up?”

He said, “This to me is a city issue.” But he noted that this project is actually 80 percent housing and 20 percent office space. “We’re going to build more housing and think that somehow it’s going to match up with the paltry amount of non-residential that’s being put on this site.”

But Greg Rowe had a different take, noting how “lucky we are that Mr. Friedman’s company bought this property back in 2016,” because UC Davis offered almost as much money for this entire business park. Had they successful in doing that, “that would have been the loss of millions in property tax revenue for this city” and this “is proposing to move forward with something that is pretty positive, pretty progressive.”

Steve Mikesell also noted his agreement with Greg Rowe and disagreement with David Robertson. “We make a mistake thinking about this as only a housing project,” he said.

He sees it as an extension of the research park that is immediately adjacent to it.

“We need to think of this as one piece of one part of the Interland Property,” he said, noting that there are plans to upgrade it over time.

He noted that this is a local company, not a NYSE property. “We are absolutely as lucky as can be that not only did the university not buy this parcel, but it is a developer who is as well respected as Mark Friedman and Fulcrum,” he said. “I have a lot of trust about the way they are putting this together.”

While Mikesell said he felt good about the design of the project, others disagreed and, in fact, pulled out the approval of the site design from their recommendations.

Emily Shandy said, “The more projects we accept that we don’t really feel are the best projects for this community at that location at this time, the more of those… subpar projects we accept, the lower we’re setting the bar for the next project that comes before us.”

Mark Friedman, the applicant, pushed back on some of these comments. One of the conundrums they have is how to meet many competing objectives.

“When we put this project together we were very focused on a number of benefits that we thought were important to the community,” Friedman explained. “One of the things we wanted to do was the densify the site. We felt it was an environmental good to create a place where people could walk to work.”

He noted that it is extraordinarily more expensive to build high than is to spread out. This was acknowledged in the city ordinance that had exempted mixed use development from having to provide affordable housing. That was an acknowledgement that this project was more expensive and there were other benefits that they chose that outweighed those.

He said that he could agree to add more affordable housing and other bells and whistles, “but all I’m doing is getting further from the feasibility and farther away from delivering housing.”

He told David Robertson that he appreciates his comments, “But quite frankly I don’t understand how the community is better off, how you solve your housing problems by making projects so infeasible that nobody builds them.”

Friedman put it bluntly, “I ask you to vote this project up or down. I promise that it will be beautiful if you allow us to build it. But I’m not willing to redesign it.”

Ultimately the motion would pass 4-3 with Robertson, Rutherford and Shandy opposing it.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

Enter the maximum amount you want to pay each month
Sign up for

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.

Related posts


  1. Ron Oertel

    So, can this be appealed to the council (as University Commons was)?

    For example – on the basis of ugliness, or lack of sufficient Affordable housing?

    If so, who can initiate that?

    He suggested that perhaps the applicant could cut back on the expense of the design and the materials,

    I find this comment ironic.

    Also, how many commercial tenants do they have lined up?


      1. Ron Oertel

        Thanks.  I thought that (unlike other commissions), planning commission decisions were binding (regarding infill) – unless someone appeals to the council.

        Is that not true?

      2. Matt Williams

        If Bill is replying to David, then I agree with Bill.  I believe David’s statement that “The Planning Commission only recommends, the council sets the policy” is not quite true.  The Planning Commission decision is final in most cases unless their decision is appealed.

    1. Bill Marshall

      A valid ‘appeal’ requires payment of a fee…it also generally requires someone(s) who ‘have standing’, based on how they have been ‘harmed’ (not just philosophical opinion)… it also requires jurisdiction… as David points out, this particular project, most of the approvals are for the CC.  The Planning Comm can make certain decisions, to be sure, and if they are normally the ‘final say’ in such matters, then it can be appealed to the CC.

      Hope that helps…


        1. Ron Oertel

          I got that, but does this mean that they’re leaving those issues up to the council?  Or, does it mean that they’re recommending that the council not look at that, and just approve it?

          I would think that the council might have an interest in including onsite Affordable housing. (Actually, didn’t staff previously recommend something like 8 units onsite, rather than the in-lieu fee that is now proposed?)

          1. David Greenwald

            The project can’t not have an affordable housing plan and an archetectural site plan

            In terms of whether the council has an interest in including an onsite Affordable housing plan, they may. But Friedman made it clear to pretty much everyone they will walk. This is the important part of the article and the discussion.

        2. Ron Oertel

          But Friedman made it clear to pretty much everyone they will walk.

          Seems to me that there’s an incentive for developers to make statements like that.

          With the implication that the site would never be developed?  They’ll just hang onto it forever, and leave it as is?

          Of the two parties (the city, and the owner), which do you suppose has the “most to lose” if a given proposal doesn’t go forward? (A general question, not specific to this situation.) Note that this is a rather “rhetorical” question, in case that’s not already obvious.


          1. David Greenwald

            The site is in the middle of URP. He told the Planning Commission he wanted an up or down vote, he would not submit a modified project. I happen to know that this has been a sticking point with him and the city for some time and it’s one reason it took nearly two years to get to the planning commission. So I think he’s sincere about walking from the project. Given what we know about vertical mixed use, I don’t think that should surprise us.

        3. Alan Miller

          With the implication that the site would never be developed?  They’ll just hang onto it forever, and leave it as is?


          “I promise that it will be beautiful if you allow us to build it. But I’m not willing to redesign it.”

          Looks like hang on to it forever, and leave it as is.

        4. Ron Oertel

          Looks like hang on to it forever, and leave it as is.

          Seems doubtful. as it would represent an ongoing loss to them. An asset which generates no revenue for them.

          Another option is to sell it.  Not all developers are “equal”.

          And again, the agreement with UCD should prevent a sale to them.

          I wonder if there’s an inventory of all the commercial AND residential sites/buildings in the city that UCD is still leasing (thereby preventing the city from obtaining property taxes to offset the costs of serving these sites).

        5. Matt Williams

          It’s not like we don’t have proformas and other analysis arguing the same thing.

          David, we have access to proformas?  I just checked the staff report, and I could not find a single word about fiscal inpact, much less a proforma or the output from a fiscal model.  Where did you see/access the proforma information?

          1. David Greenwald

            There must be – I don’t see it but they referenced it during the meeting and in the large staff report (2000+ pages) on page 2098 there is a discussion by the Social Services commission asking about the pro forma and the numbers.

  2. Alan Miller

    • affordable housing
    • climate change
    • transit priority projects
    • streamlining CEQA
    • reduce VMT
    • high quality transit
    • state streamlining CEQA project

    • reduce VMT
    • high quality transit
    • reduced CEQA requirements
    • CEQA exempt

    Blah, blah, {bleep} blah.  Insipid pablum.

    1. Alan Miller

      Blah, blah, {bleep} blah.

      “{bleep} – ing”, to be exact.

      But seriously, thanks for just bleeping out the part that didn’t make the cut, rather than the whole comment.  That really is appreciated.


    2. Alan Miller

      The most consequential issues facing Davis planning.

      I wouldn’t disagree, were these things ‘real’.  The problem is, in government planning, the goal/outcome is most often ‘checking the boxes’ and ‘satisfying the causes’, rather than any useful outcome.

      1. Doby Fleeman


        Liked “Satisfying the causes” – while scrupulously avoiding any serious discussion of an intrgrated, underlying strategy that might otherwise aid in guiding, analyzing, and prioritizing of solutions aimed at redressing the issues underlying the symptoms ….

        perhaps a fathom too deep?


      2. Doby Fleeman

        Seriously, planning without a Vision, a Strategy or a clear set of Priorities for the priorities to guide the Conversation?  What do you even call that process?

        1. Matt Williams

          Doby’s question should be at the head of any set of questions being asked of the City Council candidates … What is your opinion about planning without a Vision, a Strategy or a clear set of Priorities for the priorities to guide the Conversation?  What do you even call that process?

        2. Alan Miller

          Yes, MW, and forever having the idea of starting a real and meaning process — just out of reach and promised a few years in the future.   Like forever holding that carrot-on-a-stick just out reach of the rabbit, until the rabbit dies of starvation.

  3. Bill Marshall

    If the City disapproves totally, and applicant ‘walks’, apparently UC would buy (when applicant puts it back on the market, which they likely would)… no revenue from property tax… less control (?) over uses… if that’s what folk want, fine… but they need to “own” the consequences… same/similar impacts, much less revenue stream… choose your poison… or, shoot yourself in the foot… a self-inflicted injury?

  4. Ron Oertel

    I understood that the city’s agreement with UCD addressed UCD “takeovers” of property located in the city.  If it didn’t, the council has some explaining to do.

    That question would apply to previous takeovers by UCD, as well.  Have they vacated those properties, yet?

  5. Don Shor

    This whole process and narrow outcome illustrates the need for the city council to finally update and clarify the policy on affordable housing. That would probably take place in the context of updating the General Plan, but that is likely to be a very long process. Affordable housing issues come up with every project now. This quote from the Davis Enterprise article gets to the core issue:

    “I could agree tonight … to add more affordable housing,” he [Friedman] said, “but all I’m doing is getting farther away from feasibility and farther away from delivering housing.

    “Quite frankly,” added, “I don’t understand how the community is better off, how you solve your housing problems, by making projects so infeasible that nobody builds them.”

    This is a fantastic project. It meets a variety of city needs. The housing isn’t designed for just one demographic; nobody has any reason to object to it. It is a classic example of effective infill. But it almost failed a planning commission vote. That makes no sense. The city’s affordable housing policy needs to be clear, to take into account the different types of projects and their varied costs, and focus on achievable goals.

    1. Doby Fleeman


      How about if we start with the City providing some background and explaining why new commercial & industrial space is such an important goal and priority for the community if we are to achieve fiscal and economic sustainability and resiliance?


  6. Ron Glick

    “When are we going to start addressing the issues on a broader scale of what is it we’re trying to achieve as a city? Or are we just going to keep proposing housing and hope that it matches up?”

    Yet the Planning Commission voted unanimously to renew Measure J for ten more years. Talk about putting the cart before the horse!

        1. Ron Oertel

          Not particularly.

          Other than a town which doesn’t incessantly spread outward (like all the rest in this region).

          But the horse seems to have different meanings to different people, depending upon their agenda.

        2. Richard McCann

          Not particularly.

          That’s why your comments aren’t particularly helpful or productive. You’re like someone saying “bring me a rock….oh, not that rock, bring me another rock.” All you can do is object to anyone who does put forward a vision, and you specifically avoid articulating what you see as the preferable alternative to a continuing downward economic spiral and rising walls of segregated housing.

Leave a Reply

X Close

Newsletter Sign-Up

X Close

Monthly Subscriber Sign-Up

Enter the maximum amount you want to pay each month
Sign up for