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.”
“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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