Public Pushes Back on Affordable Housing Amendment, But Council Still Backs It

By David M. Greenwald

The Yolo Crisis Nursery, running out of room had an agreement with the developers of the Plaza 2555 for one acre of land to be dedicated for a new facility.  The land dedication would be part of a unique affordable housing deal which also included the five percent allocation as required by state law on Transit Priority Projects that are exempt from CEQA review.

But for many in the community that was a step too far and a large number of public commenters opposed the amendment.

Councilmember Will Arnold following a motion by Dan Carson, seconded by Lucas Frerichs, proposed a six month sunset “to make it is so that this isn’t how we fill our affordable housing needs.”

“If it weren’t for the opportunity I see here, I wouldn’t plan to support this,” Arnold said noting “our affordable housing need is so great” and he wanted to make it clear this was “not intended as part of our long term affordable housing strategy.”

But there was a lot of pushback from public commenters.  An attorney representing the Sacramento Housing Alliance pushed the council to not allow projects to meet their affordable housing obligations “through services rather than with housing.”

She noted, “The affordable housing ordinance is the only tool that the city has to require the development of low and very low affordable housing, and allowing projects to provide services instead of housing undercuts the purpose of the inclusionary housing ordinance.”

Steven Streeter from the Planning Commission speaking during public comment asked for the council to defer action on the item until the Planning Commission considered the ordinance amendment.

“The Planning Commission has a role in reviewing updates to the Housing Element of the General Plan and affordable housing is a significant part of the document,” he said. The Planning Commission last saw the application for Plaza 2555 in summer of 2018, two years ago and before the recent proposal changes. In light the changes to the project including the reduction of the affordable units from 15 percent to 5 percent with the Crisis Nursery, he argued it was appropriate for the Planning Commission to hear the project again.

Eileen Samitz argued, “This is a significant policy change proposed which is far-reaching.” She said, “it is apparently being rushed through for this one project, however this policy will affect future projects, therefore we first need a discussion of the pros and cons of it, and flesh out any unintended consequences before any decision is made on it.”

She said that while this policy is “well intended” it “undermines the need to build additional affordable housing.”

Matt Williams argued that there was “no compelling reason why the ordinance for the affordable housing of the whole city should be amended for this very specific thing that is only pertinent to this project.”

Bill Abricross said he was opposed to this project, “I think it’s better to have affordable housing rather than just transitional housing.”

A South Davis resident referred to the project as “dorms” and said “it is already a serious lack of proper process and a lack of transparency for our community.” He urged the council to “not approve the affordable housing ordinance amendment needed for that project” as he said “it needs to go to the Planning Commission.”

Lucas Frerichs noted that while there have been complaints about lack of public hearings on this, “this is a public hearing, there have been numerous public hearings on this particular project… it’s been discussed in the media, it has been before the city for a number of years.”

Will Arnold’s friendly amendment addressed some of the concerns from the public that the project would set a precedent for future affordable housing – his amendment which was adopted sunsetted the affordable housing amendment with the end of the current temporary ordinance.

Mayor Gloria Partida expressed concerns about the level of change to the ordinance in this proposed amendment.

“I would be much more comfortable if it was written in a different way,” she said. She is concerned that this includes services. She understands the need for flexibility in how the affordable requirement is provided. “Our affordable housing ordinance as its written now states that the council at its discretion can approve higher or lower percentages depending on if the project is small.”

As an SB 375 project, she noted that there is already a five percent requirement, and the state has determined that this is a small project.

“This is why I’m not a fan of these little projects because I think we could get more density,” the Mayor said. “We can just say, we are approving this on the five percent affordability because it’s a small project. Not sure we have to add the piece that says there are services that are counting towards our affordable ordinance.”

Councilmember Brett Lee said, “I think some component of this would not be out of place for the long term affordable housing ordinance.”

He noted “we have a lot of unmet needs” and “limited funds” along with “limited funds that we can extract from the development proposals.”

Lee noted that one caller said to reject the project because it’s *only* 10 units of “Affordable” housing but the next caller urges them to vote yes, needing the 200 housing units overall.

“These kids need a real place to stay,” he said. “The reality by doing this we’re helping these folks out.”

He noted, Yolo Crisis Nursery is struggling, they don’t have enough space to help more people out.

Dan Carson noted that the value of this in addressing our homelessness issue in our community and argued that some are “not being completely clear to the public that this is just another dimension to that problem.”

He said, “There is a visible homelessness problem in this community and there is an invisible one. The invisible one relates mainly to women and children. They are couch surfing. They are out there. They are not so much on street corners and not so much in tents, but they are out there.”

He called “harmful” comments that “diminish the value of this to addressing our homelessness issue in this community.”

Carson said, “At the end of the day, this is about protecting human life and the weakest and most vulnerable among us.”

Finally WIll Arnold argued the critical importance of the work of the Yolo Crisis Nursery to this community and lamented the possibility that the nursery would move to another community.

The council supported the affordable housing amendment with the sunset date unanimously.

—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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  1. Don Shor

    If you’re going to do infill projects, there has to be flexibility on the affordable housing component or a lot of them simply won’t get built. Every site and every project has unique limitations and opportunities. I am concerned that any update to the city’s affordable housing policy will create additional hurdles that make these kinds of projects even less likely to come forward. It really is necessary to look at site-specific limitations and give the council broad discretion.

    The council’s decision here was, IMO, completely appropriate to the site and size of the project, and provides a great opportunity for expansion of a much-needed program.

    1. Matt Williams

      Don, I have no quarrel at all with a Council decision for this specific location and proposal. I trust the Council and the process in that respect, and Yolo Crisis Nursery appears to tick all the right boxes … and then some.

      The question I have is why this specific situation can’t be handled by the Council within the specific Development Agreement for the specific project/proposal.  Amending the Affordable Housing Ordinance to apply this specific Yolo Crisis Nursery set of circumstances to the whole City appears to be hammering a nail with a sledge hammer.

      It isn’t like Yolo Crisis Nursery is going to be looking to do this again at another development site in Davis any time in the forseeable future.  They were very clear in their presentation that their ability to obtain funding through either grants or charitable donations is going to stretch their abilities.

      1. Eric Gelber

        Not sure I agree, Matt. The ordinance provides pretty broad discretion for modifying or waiving requirements; but exemptions from any affordable housing requirement would seem to go beyond what the ordinance contemplates for development agreements. This is evidenced by the fact that other exemptions (e.g., stacked condominiums, small developments) are explicitly listed.

        Perhaps the amendment could have been more narrowly crafted; but, I believe it was proper to go through the public process for amending the law to authorize this exemption, rather than to allow such an exemption through the development agreement process alone, without authorization via the ordinance.

        1. Matt Williams

          Eric, I’m not sure why the Crisis Nursery accommodation by the developer, and the provision of Affordable housing need to overlap.  They appear to me to be two separate and distinct positive additions to the fabric of our community.  One of the two is required by ordinance (and more than likely by State Law) … affordable housing.  The other of the two is discretionary … optional … and is happening because the developer believes including that optional feature will increase the number of allies for the proposed project.

          I don’t see any reason that those two separate buckets need to be poured into a single bucket … other than as a convenience for the developer.


        2. Eric Gelber

          I agree the two should not be treated in the same category, or bucket. That was the point of my earlier (9:06 am) comment. The affordable housing mandate is distinct from other low income service needs. But at least this new exemption will result in a benefit to low income families, unlike other existing exemptions (e.g., stacked condominiums, in lieu fees) that don’t result in either affordable housing or other needed services.

          I’m concerned with the precedent this action sets. But those concerns are somewhat mitigated by the sunset provision, which means that there will be a reevaluation of this issue at some point.


  2. Eric Gelber

    My concern is enacting yet another exception to affordable housing requirements and, in this instance, pitting one needed low income service against another. The sunset at least ensures that the issue will be revisited.

  3. Ron Glick

    The project was opposed by the usual suspects, who, in this case believe, you should never let a Crisis Nursery go to waste.

    Saul Alinsky  is turning over in his grave.

    1. Matt Williams

      Ron, I don’t think you were listening very well if that was your takeaway.  I didn’t hear a single person say that they opposed the project … especially its targeting of workforce housing for families.  Many people, myself included, saw value in the project going ahead on that site, but with clear assurances that it would truly be housing for the members of the workforce, rather than just more housing for UCD students.

      1. David Greenwald

         rather than just more housing for UCD students.”

        And you wonder why students feel singled out.  I thought the idea was to create housing that families could move in – no?

  4. Ron Glick

    “Many people, myself included, saw value in the project going ahead on that site, but with clear assurances that it would truly be housing for the members of the workforce, rather than just more housing for UCD students.”

    I don’t think you can ever have such assurances. Students are people too and people need housing.

      1. Matt Williams

        Not assurances, but you can take steps to ensure that no group has an unbalanced competitive advantage over another group.  Rent by the bed, with its attendant one bathroom per bedroom design creates exactly that kind of competitive advantage for UCD students as a group over members of the local workforce and working families.

        1. Matt Williams

          David, help me … your comment confuses me.  It appears to be an anti-workforce comment.  How does that sync up with your pro-workforce comments regarding DISC?  It’s a puzzlement.

        2. Matt Williams

          With that said,  the following are thoughts I shared with Aurora Scheunemann several weeks ago regarding student housing.

          Aurora asked … What is your solution to the lack of housing and professional employment opportunities in Davis?

          Matt replied … Addressing Housing is really quite easy in concept. You start by looking at, and understanding, the drivers of housing demand. In Davis identifying and understanding those drivers is quite simple. The growth of UCD (enrollment, faculty, and support staff) has created the vast majority of the incremental housing demand. As a result (and this is where Regional Planning also comes in), the increase in housing demand should be matched with an incremental increase in housing supply provided by UCD … housing for students, housing for faculty, and housing for staff. When you look at the current cost of housing at Sterling and University Commons and Lincoln 40 in the City and compare it to the current cost of housing in West Village, the housing in West Village is actually cheaper than the housing at Sterling and University Commons and Lincoln 40. So the excuse that is used that building housing on the UCD campus isn’t supported by the data. So, here again the value of Regional Planning, with the City and UCD collaborating with Yolo County … and even Solano County for the areas on Old Davis Road south of the campus … is needed.

          You asked for solutions. Those are my realistic thoughts on both the challenges we face and the solutions that are most likely to make an impact.

          One more thing. The target population of the Downtown Davis neighborhood should be at the minimum 10,000 residents. Why 10,000 residents? Because that is the population that is needed to support a full service grocery store/super market. If we got to a population of 10,000 residents in the Downtown Core, that would create a whole lot of housing and a whole lot of service jobs. Hopefully in the flex space on the 2nd floor of those downtown mixed use buildings, there would be flex/office space that can be the logical destination for entrepreneurs looking to synergize with the UCD campus.

          The reason I bring that point up in the context of your comment above is because UCD students have both housing in the City and housing on the UCD campus as alternatives for local housing.  Working families and single members of the Davis workforce only have one such alternative.  By definition the “playing field” isn’t level under those conditions.  Allowing rent-by-the-bed to tilt the “playing field” further to the disadvantage of the local workforce should be avoided IMO.

          1. Don Shor

            The target population of the Downtown Davis neighborhood should be at the minimum 10,000 residents. Why 10,000 residents?

            I’d be surprised if even 10% of Davis residents agree with this goal.

            Because that is the population that is needed to support a full service grocery store/super market.

            There is no place for one of the size that grocery chains like to build nowadays.

        3. Matt Williams

          Don Shor said . . .  I’d be surprised if even 10% of Davis residents agree with this goal.

          I’ll be glad to take you up on that bet Don.  Out of curiosity, what do you think the current population of “downtown” is? and Is Tia Will a resident of a fiscally resilient “downtown”?

          Don Shor also said . . .  There is no place for one of the size that grocery chains like to build nowadays.

          I respectfully disagree Don.  There is absolutely a site of the approximately the same size as the Covell Nugget Market or either of the two Safeways in town.


    1. Don Shor

      that it would truly be housing for the members of the workforce, rather than just more housing for UCD students.”

      I don’t think you can ever have such assurances. Students are people too and people need housing.

      And they are part of the workforce as well.

        1. Bill Marshall

          Many, perhaps yes (depending how one defines “many”)… significant %-age, not so much… unless one is speaking of Masters, Doctorate, Post-Doctorate ‘students’… undergrad students, de minimus…even then, goes to the former observation…

          If you have reliable cites to the contrary, please share…

        2. Eric Gelber

          Interesting that you can conclude de minimus without cites but ask for cites from me. I have no idea what current UCD numbers are (nor, apparently, do you). General national stats from 2003-04 suggested approximately 14% of students at 4-year public institutions were married, and that doesn’t count unmarried partners. ( , Table 3.6, p. 97.) You can decide if that’s significant or de minimus. My only point is that students make up a segment of those in need of family housing.

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