Analysis: Davis City Council Candidates and the Growth Issue

By David Greenwald

Wanted to start with some appreciation for the efforts of the Sierra Club—they have made their candidate and issue recommendations and we can agree or disagree with them, but their detailed questionnaire and work to curate the answers gives us a lot of data to work with.

Here I look at one of the more important but also divisive issues facing the city—the growth issue.  Two of the questions—Measure B and, interestingly enough, bed rentals gave us a lot of information on the differences between the candidates.  Less so the answers on downtown and UC Davis housing.

I would say there are a few surprises on Measure B.  It looks like five in favor and four against.

Those clearly in favor: Connor Gorman, Dillan Horton, Lucas Frerichs, Rochelle Swanson and Will Arnold.

Clearly opposed: Colin Walsh, Larry Guenther, Kelsey Fortune.

Frankly, I was a little surprised by Josh Chapman’s answer.  To the Sierra Club, he laid out: “For me, when I weigh a pending project it starts with transparency and community/neighborhood outreach. All projects must meet this test before I even begin to weigh the project merits.”

He says he has a problem “with how it came about.”  And then he concludes, saying that “so it fails that first test for me.”

What’s interesting is that he gave a different answer to the Vanguard.  He had that first part.  But then added, “That being said, I recognize the need for projects like DISC and have advocated for similar ones in the past. We need space for companies to grow, foster innovation and help spur economic development and job growth. We need jobs for students when they graduate and we need affordable housing for employees and community members.

“There isn’t enough space within city limits to accommodate a project of this magnitude so we find ourselves in another situation that is contentious. The city drastically needs the funds generated by this project and this can be one piece in helping close our deficit.

“I am fully supportive of mixed use projects and research shows that mixed use development is the most cohesive type of development a city can and should pursue.”

So, to the Sierra Club, he gave the first part of his answer which indicated opposition—but to the Vanguard he added supportive words.

On the issue of bed rentals, there is again some differentiation.  This is an interesting issue in that we are nearing, if not at the end, of the large student apartment proposals.  I expect that when Plaza 3555 comes back to council, it will be more traditional housing.  This might end up being a non-issue.  Also, it seems like the compromise offered by University Commons—allowing the tenant to decide about bed rentals—might be the way to go anyway.

Nevertheless we get some divergent views here.

Colin Walsh, Dillan Horton, Josh Chapman, Larry Guenther and Kelsey Fortune are all clearly opposed to B.

There is no one who really argues—for rent-by-the-bed.  Instead, it is a more mixed approached.

Connor Gorman: “I support rent-by-the-bedroom and in some cases rent-by-the-bed since this provides certain types of renters (primarily students and young professionals without families) more secure leases where they don’t have to worry about, or try to police, their housemates’ financial situations (in other words, it puts the financial burden on the landlord rather than putting more burdens on renters or pitting renters against each other).”

Lucas Frerichs notes that he supported Sterling, Lincoln40, DavisLive and Nishi, but opposed University Commons.  Rochelle Swanson said she “supported the concepts of rent-by-bed as it was a needed component of our housing stock to accommodate a growing reality of students commuting long distances or being homeless,” but argues it should not “be the dominate trend of post University Commons projects.”

Will Arnold focuses on his overall housing view, but said “we needed to pivot to a housing model that allows for greater diversity of potential residents, exclusive of no one.”

On the issues of the downtown and UC Davis housing, there is less differentiation between the candidates.  Most favor densification of some sort in the downtown—the question is how high.

For instance, Colin Walsh says, “I do not favor building heights that would create shadow canyons and make it difficult for trees to flourish, however. I would also like to see residential downtown that catered to year-round residents to support retail downtown year-round. “

Connor Gorman in the heart of downtown supports larger buildings, seven stories or so—but lower at three to four stories near neighborhoods.

Dillan Horton adds, “The dynamic of downtown suggests that it is the best part of town for higher mixed use properties, yes I support it being explored.”

Josh Chapman, likewise: “I am in favor of increased height of buildings in the core of the core downtown and would support the DPAC recommendations that were put forward.”

Even Larry Guenther, an opponent of Trackside said, “I advocated for taller buildings in the downtown. The draft plan shows 5 stories in several places and 7 stories in a few places. I support that part of the plan.”  He does believe that there should be a three-story transition at University and a two-story one at Old North Davis.

Lucas Frerichs responded, “The future of Downtown Davis is to densify responsibly, and to strive to have an increased combination of vibrant mixed uses, including various types of housing above ground floor retail and office spaces.  Infill is also the environmentally superior option.”

Kelsey Fortune said, “I am in support of increased height in the downtown core and transitional areas. I would recommend height restrictions only to ensure that historic areas are preserved in the future. I would require that developments work directly with the neighborhood and believe that this is a better alternative to height limits. “

Rochelle Swanson said that she supports a five to seven stories in the core and transitional heights into surrounding neighborhoods.  Will Arnold offers a similar view.

Finally, there is not a huge amount of differentiation on the issue of UC Davis housing—despite the attempt by the Sierra Club to frame the issue as UC Davis not proposing enough to meet a 50 percent requirement.

The candidates in general are in favor of more housing on the UC Davis campus.

Colin Walsh complained that the MOU “is weak and does not require enough housing. There are no direct levers to force the university to build more housing, so as a council person I will continue to advocate for more housing on campus and encourage the rest of the council to join me, and even consider passing resolutions formally requesting it.”

Connor Gorman is in favor of more housing on campus.  Dillan Horton said he believes the city should encourage UCD to live up to its expectations.  Josh Chapman said, “I favor the city utilizing every single opportunity to encourage the university to develop their fair share of new housing.”

Larry Guenther wants to “pressure” the university at the Regents’ level.

Lucas Frerichs worked on the MOU, which he believes was successful, and said, “We need to continue to pursue good faith negotiations with UCD (and the county) in the coming years, and I’m confident we can negotiate an updated MOU, should the situation demand it.”

Kelsey Fortune: “I believe that the recent commitment is an achievement to celebrate, and the UC system goal should be used by the City to encourage further commitments from the university”

Rochelle Swanson: “Considering the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic and an anticipated reduction of a full student body over the next few years, I think the City needs to work with the University to project realistic numbers and housing needs between now and 2024.”

Will Arnold also expressed pride at the agreement and said that “we are continuing monitoring and joint reporting out of progress. So far, they are meeting their obligations, and there are mechanisms in place should that not continue to be the case.”

Bottom line: There is a wide array of divergence on issues like DISC.  I’m not sure how helpful the rent-by-the-bed issue is going forward or what it really means.  The candidates in general seem supportive of densification of the core of downtown and may diverge slightly on heights in the transition areas, and most believe that UCD needs more housing on campus, but there is some disagreement as to whether the current agreement is sufficient.

—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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