Commentary: A Realistic Assessment of Davis’ Housing Situation

Infill along B Street

By David M. Greenwald

Listening to the housing discussion on Wednesday was a reminder that the housing issue, while diminished during times of COVID, is probably coming back—especially if the projections for the fall are correct, of full return to campus and record high enrollment.

We operated this year with just 6000 students on campus and 1800 in residence halls.  But the word was that, by this fall, they will be at design capacity.  Even with some new student housing coming on line both on and off campus, that figures to create a very different housing market in town.

Of course, for the most part, through the LRDP (Long Range Development Plan) and the campus commitment to nearly 10,000 new beds over the next planning cycle and the city approval of roughly 4000 beds in town, although student housing will probably not achieve the vacancy rate of five percent, it will not be at the student housing crisis level of less than one-half of one-percent either.

The big issue going forward for the city still figures to be housing, but that housing will probably shift away from student housing—which was the immediate concern for the period of 2015 to 2020—to more general housing needs, specifically affordable housing, family housing, and workforce housing.

The city has embarked on the Housing Element Update for the period of 2021 to 2029.  The RHNA (Regional Housing Needs Allocation) numbers for Davis are a total of 2075 units, with 930 of those units being needed as lower income.

Meeting those kinds of numbers in this community is likely to create a lot of challenges, and while at some point the issue of the Housing Element will get to places like the Planning Commission and the Council, one thing I worry about is that the community has not really engaged in a discussion on housing needs—once again.

That means when proposals do come down, there is likely to be shock and anger.

But as I have pointed out a few times here, I am not sure how we get to those numbers.  I’m not sure where we get over 900 units of affordable housing—we are talking about six affordable housing projects the size of the one at WDAAC (West Davis Active Adult Community), over eight years.

I am not sure even where market rate housing is going.

To illustrate this problem, we can look at the 2008 Housing Element Report.  They listed 37 “sites” for potential housing.  Several of those have now been either developed or approved.  But many of the ones that have not been approved are “pie in the sky” predictions or largely out of our hands.

For example, while the city has approved such sites as Grande, Verona, Willowbank, Willow Creek, Nishi, and Cannery, many of the top 10 locations are unrealistic—DJUSD Headquarters, downtown, PG&E, Transit Corridor, Corp Yards, Civic Center Fields, for example.

Of those, there was an active discussion on the DJUSD Headquarters about five years ago that seemed to fall off the radar for whatever reason.

Of the peripheral sites listed here—Signature, Wildhorse Ranch, Nugget Fields, Covell Village, the Northwest Quadrant, Stonegate (west of) and Oeste Ranch—none seem particularly likely at this point in the time.  Only a portion of the NW Quadrant has a property owner actively even in consideration, it would seem.

So where is our housing coming from in the next eight years?

Infill?  There are certainly a scattering of sites in town, as we have noted in our discussion of vacant commercially zoned properties.  Most of them are small.  None of them are going to carve out a big chunk of either 1000-plus market rate or 900-plus affordable sites.

The downtown?  This is probably the one area where I think the city can reasonably grow.  Everyone is aware that the downtown is relatively low density, with much of it at single-level or two-story buildings.

There are several problems, however.  Without RDA (Redevelopment Agency) money, the fiscal impediments to redevelopment in the downtown are immense.  Even with the ability to build out workforce housing on the upper floors—and that is fiscally dubious at this point—building large scale affordable in the downtown is going to be near impossible.

Densification?  There will be limited opportunities for redevelopment around town that leads to more density, but not at the rate needed to meet the next round of RHNA numbers and certainly not in eight years.

Peripheral?  We can look at a map and the difficulty there.  Even if we didn’t have to pass all of the proposals through a Measure J vote, which we do, can we get two or three larger peripheral proposals approved in the next eight years with enough affordable housing to meet those numbers?  Probably not.

Even without the RHNA requirements and potential of the state to exact some form of sanction for failure to meet those numbers, housing would be a problem.  We continue to see families priced out of Davis, a shrinking family household demographic with strain on schools and overall community balance—to say nothing about affordability.

Some of this we can probably manage, but the limited engagement on these issues remains a matter of concern.  As we did in 2008, we can create spots on a map and list potential sites, but if they are not likely to be developed any time in the next few decades, let alone the next eight years, what’s the point?  Other than an academic exercise.

Yes, we need to approve the Downtown Plan, the Housing Element, and hopefully update the General Plan.  Some time in there, however, we need to be realistic about what we want this community to be in the next 30 years—because the decisions we make today will have long-reaching consequences.

—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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19 Comments

  1. Keith Y Echols

    I think the first thing is to figure out the goal for the housing plan in the city.

    Is it to simply supply housing for it’s projected needs?   Does the city continue to plan on taking on the burden of housing UCD’s students?

    What is the goal for the housing plan in the city of Davis?

  2. Alan Miller

    Davis JeRkeD itself.  End of story.

    And all Davis’ blogs, and all of Davis’ politicians, couldn’t put Humpty Davis back together again 🙁

  3. Ron Oertel

    City officials (Lucas in particular, since he’s on the SACOG board) have some explaining to do, unless the megadorms “count” toward RHNA requirements.  Needless to say, that should have been worked out prior to approval, as pointed out at the time.

    In the meantime, Marin supervisors (and possibly other locales) are pushing back against the state.  I wonder if Yolo county supervisors (and Davis) would ever consider doing the same.

    Marin supervisors push back against huge state housing mandate (mercurynews.com)

    Hopefully, folks like Weiner and Newsom won’t be around forever, at the state level.  Unfortunately, the organizations which support these types of goals are well-funded, which probably ensures that they’ll be continuing to try to cause problems for cities.  (I previously posted links to publicly-available financial records for a couple of those organizations.)

    Regardless, Woodland (in particular) is continuing to approve massive amounts of new housing in Spring Lake and at the planned technology park.  Probably exceeding local market demand, unless significantly more demand is “created” (e.g., by the technology park).

    On a more positive note, the state itself has essentially stopped growing.

      1. Ron Oertel

        If you’re going to limit commenters to 5 comments per article, perhaps you can avoid asking questions that have already been answered in the comment:

        City officials (Lucas in particular, since he’s on the SACOG board) have some explaining to do, unless the megadorms “count” toward RHNA requirements.  Needless to say, that should have been worked out prior to approval, as pointed out at the time.

         the meantime, Marin supervisors (and possibly other locales) are pushing back against the state.  I wonder if Yolo county supervisors (and Davis) would ever consider doing the same.

        On a more positive note, the state itself has essentially stopped growing.

        In any case, I suspect that some additional sites will be zoned for denser housing that will never actually be built. Ultimately resulting in not much more than hot air. 🙂

         

        1. David Greenwald

          I didn’t understand your comment the first time, so you just repeat it again?  I still don’t understand the explaining to do comment.

        2. Richard_McCann

          Ron O

          David is not the only one who doesn’t understand your comment. Please be detailed in your comment as to what SACOG needs to do differently or additionally.

          1. Don Shor

            I believe Ron is referring to the issue of whether the multi-family units recently approved count for the current cycle of RHNA housing units. Here is my reply when we discussed this issue a few months ago.

            “In a letter dated Dec. 21 2019 from the city manager and staff to SACOG, they seek to develop a methodology for giving Davis credit for the unique multi-family units that the city had just approved or had under review. The letter specifically cites Davis Live, Lincoln 40, and Nishi.

            The purpose of this memorandum is to begin a dialogue between the City and the California
Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD), with the goal of developing a
mutually agreeable methodology for how to convert the City’s deed-restricted affordable beds
into affordable units that will count towards Davis’ Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA)
obligation.

            Since they are proposing a formula for how to count those toward the city’s RHNA allocation in a manner more favorable to Davis, I think we can assume that those projects are included in the RHNA numbers in this cycle.

            https://www.sacog.org/sites/main/files/file-attachments/appendix_e_menu_comments_and_responses_0.pdf

            By the way, there is some interesting discussion in that appendix in response to a letter from Dave Taormino about how UCD’s housing is considered. See the SACOG staff reply to his letter….”

            This comment is from this discussion:
            https://www.davisvanguard.org/2020/11/guest-commentary-looking-ahead-to-the-housing-element-update-process/#comment-438157

        3. Alan Miller

          In any case, I suspect that some additional sites will be zoned for denser housing that will never actually be built. Ultimately resulting in not much more than hot air.

          Nishi seems to have gone from toxic soup to hot air.  Nice place for the weevils.

          1. David Greenwald

            Nishi is moving along according to the folks involved. I think they break ground in the fall or so.

        4. Alan Miller

          OK, I withdraw my comment then.  I haven’t talked to the developer in a few years so was just going by what I was (not) seeing on the ground.

  4. Richard_McCann

    Marin supervisors (and possibly other locales) are pushing back against the state. 

    Yes, the NIMBYs who don’t want to be part of the needed solution. Protect their own and let the less fortunate fend for themselves as housing becomes less attainable in the job centers. You’re just about the only one saying that calls for new housing exceed “actual market demand.”

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2021/01/11/2021-housing-market-predictions/

    1. Ron Oertel

      I cannot access your link, but does it describe how “market demand” is defined in a state that has stopped growing?

      As far as Lucas (and the other council members) are concerned, I’d suggest that they consider RHNA requirements before approving developments such as the megadorms, rather than after.  Especially since it was predictable that the requirements would increase (and they were warned of that).

      Strange, how you and David claim to have not understood that point – given its obviousness in my original comment.

      So now, I guess that Lucas (being on the SACOG board) is now scrambling to ensure that they’re counted, after approval. I recall seeing something about that on a council agenda, as well.

       

    2. Keith Y Echols

      I find your use of the term “NIMBY” amusing as it is one of those hot button words.  You speak as if “NIMBYs” are a bad thing (and I’ve been yelled at by a gathering of them for a proposed development where we were supposed to having a friendly get together for community input; a gathering where I hadn’t said a thing at that point).

      I’ve told this story before but it’s applicable to the NIMBY comment.  I was at a community meeting in San Francisco’s Dog Patch neighborhood and heard presentations by a housing developer, PG&E and UCSF/Mission Bay to local neighborhood groups.  The housing developer mentioned construction going on at nearby adjacent Bay View.  PG&E talked about running another huge power cable through the bay and having it come up in the Dog Patch with a power relay station of some sort there.  And UCSF talked about the need for more bus stops which would require converting 4-7 street parking spots.   So, heavy construction activity near the main road (3rd street), sending 1.21 gigawatts through the bay into a power structure in the neighborhood or losing a handful of public parking spots; which one do you think the NIMBYs became highly vocal and agitated about?

      Protect their own and let the less fortunate fend for themselves as housing becomes less attainable in the job centers.

      What exactly does that mean; an Associate Professor that has to live in Woodland?  Students commuting from Dixon?  To what degree are communities required to support the “less fortunate”?  What are those goals for the community?  What are parameters?

       

  5. Ron Glick

    “City officials (Lucas in particular, since he’s on the SACOG board) have some explaining to do, unless the megadorms “count” toward RHNA requirements.”

    Lucas was recently re-elected for a third term. I think the voters of Davis and those in his district feel he acquitted himself well for his actions over the last four years.

    As for SACOG and RHNA, this has been a political football for the last two decades. When West Village was being planned more than a decade ago part of the decision whether to annex or not was an argument over whether to count the housing towards Davis’ RHNA requirement with Sue Greenwald favoring annexation and inclusion of the housing towards RHNA and Don Saylor opposing. Of course annexation should have resulted in a recalculation so the argument was obscure and petty.

    Of course derailing good policy with obscure and petty argument is what Davis does best.

    I think Keith Echols provides the best approach. Define the big picture of what you are trying to accomplish and then fill in the details of how you get to your goals.

    1. Ron Oertel

      I am not sure why Davis elects officials which don’t represent the will of the voters (e.g., in regard to DISC, etc.).  Or at least, a proportional representation.

      Maybe they figure that Measure D keeps them from doing too much damage.

      Of course, that didn’t prevent them from approving Trackside, University Mall, Sterling, etc.

      1. David Greenwald

        DISC is not the only issue that people vote on and the city was pretty narrowly split. The people on the ballot opposing disc were fairly extreme overall on the issue of growth.

        1. Ron Oertel

          The people who opposed DISC were the majority of voters.

          In contrast, council members unanimously supported it.  With Gloria going so far as to send out letters in support (as I recall).  (Unless you believe that they just were providing an opportunity for voters to decide.)

          If the council actually represented voters, a majority of the council would have also opposed it.  (Same principle regarding any other proposal, as well.) And yet, this is almost never the case.

          For some reason, the folks that get elected are almost always more supportive of development than voters.  In other towns, this discrepancy is even more extreme.

          And yet, this is one of the most important issues that councils decide.

          (Far more important than a statue in Central Park, for example. Or, whether or not the police department should display a flag with a blue stripe in it.)

          1. David Greenwald

            “For some reason, the folks that get elected are almost always more supportive of development than voters.”

            It was a narrow majority. Then you look at the individual matchups, none of the candidates who were strongly opposed to DISC had a chance really. People were not voting on the basis of DISC for the most part. Those who did, probably voted for Colin and Larry instead in of Will or Lucas. But Will and Lucas both had huge advantages.

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