Commentary: Seriously, Where is Davis Planning to Put New Housing?

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By David M. Greenwald

The question of where the city plans to put new housing is not merely one of academic interest.  With the housing crisis and state requirements for the next housing element, the city is going to have to figure out especially how to get more than 900 new affordable units over the next eight years.  Looking at a map, that’s no easy task.

That will be one of the jobs for the Housing Element Committee.

Let’s start with a quick recap here:  As I wrote the column, “The Canary in the Coal Mine” and read the reports from Davis Demographics, one thing became very clear—while the city has approved quite a bit of housing over the last five years, very little of that will offer any sort of housing for families.

Some people undoubtedly will use this to hammer the university again for failing to provide enough housing for students—but clearly the city, which did not develop a single multifamily housing complex that was market rate and for students between 2002 and this past fall when Sterling opened, needed to build more student housing as well.

From 2005 until 2015, there were no market rate multifamily homes, and in fact, other than Cannery which finally was opened a few years ago, there were no major housing projects both approved and built over that time.

Since then we have seen quite a few approved, some in various stages of development.  Some like WDAAC (West Davis Active Adult Community, now Bretton Woods), Plaza 2555, University Commons, and Research Park Mixed-Use still need additional approvals.

But what becomes clear is that there is just one “major” development project in the works and that is the Olive Drive Mixed-Use project.

Of the six projects listed as in process, four of them have already been approved, one has been rejected by the voters (DISC, Davis Innovation and Sustainability Campus)) and only Olive Drive remains to be determined.

When I reached out to the city on this, the explanation I got is that, while there are some smaller projects in the pipeline that do not need full entitlements, Olive Drive is the only “major” project that is in the works and not approved by council.

For example, 14 units of apartments at 413 E Street.  An application for a parcel map to create four lots at 1140 Los Robles.  And a CUP (conditional use permit) for some service station modification at 4810 Chiles.  But that’s it.

We asked, in a column last week, where the next phase of housing is going.  That would seem to be a rather serious concern at this point.

As we noted in last week’s column, it is not clear where the housing will even go at this point.

When we looked at the 2008 Housing Element report which was quite thorough, most of the peripheral sites listed—Signature, Wildhorse Ranch, Nugget Fields, Covell Village, the Northwest Quadrant, Stonegate (west of) and Oeste Ranch—do not seem particularly likely to be proposed, let alone built, at this point in the time.  Only a portion of the NW Quadrant has a property owner actively even in consideration, it would seem.

I would argue that, while a number of the projects listed as potential housing sites came through—Grande, Verona, Simmons Ranch, Willowbank, Nishi, and Cannery—many were, in fact, more aptly described as “pie in the sky.”  Things like DJUSD, PG&E service yard, the Downtown, the Corp yard, Signature, Nugget Fields, etc.

That leaves us in 2021 with a huge problem—the city is looking to build housing for a lot of reasons, including state pressure and local needs, and there really aren’t a lot of viable and realistic options at this point.

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

While that is obviously a huge problem that the Housing Element will take up, I wonder how much of their proposals will be aspirational again.

Infill?  We have the Olive Drive project that is obviously in the works, but not a very large project.  After that, we are probably looking at a bunch of projects that are relatively small.  The city, as we have reported, has about 64 acres of commercially zoned land, some of which might be appropriate for housing—though that will detract from needs for commercial development.

The city should probably do an analysis of immediately available land in the city for housing.  It is possible that things like DJUSD Headquarters or Civic Fields—both listed in the 2008 HESC (Housing Element Steering Committee) Report—get converted to housing, but, realistically, can you stake your planning on it?

That would seem to be an important distinction—housing we can build now versus housing that can be built if things line up correctly.

The downtown?  We are going to have a Downtown Specific Plan.  But there are three problems with putting housing in the downtown.  First, without redevelopment money, it is going to be a long and very slow process for owners to level large areas of the downtown and redevelopment them.  Second, the fiscal analysis shows that housing might not pencil out.  And third, even if market rate housing pencils out, affordable housing is going to be even more difficult to pencil out.

Peripheral?  There actually are not a huge amount of peripheral sites that can work at this point.  Voters have already turned down projects at Mace, Wildhorse Ranch and Covell Village.  A smaller proposal at Covell Village makes some sense, a project next to Bretton Woods in the NW Quadrant does, so does Wildhorse as well as Signature.  But other than perhaps the NW Quadrant site, I don’t believe that any of those spots are being actively considered.  And even if it is considered, proposed, and approved by the council, all of it relies on the voters for final approval—which as we know is rather problematic.

We are talking about 2000-plus units and 900-plus affordable units by 2029.  While there is no doubt we can find spots on a map to make it work, getting the actual housing is going to be rather challenging.

—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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35 thoughts on “Commentary: Seriously, Where is Davis Planning to Put New Housing?”

  1. Todd Edelman

    Where?

    First of all, I’ve recently moved to the northwest corner of Mace Ranch… and it’s starting to feel distant, by bicycle. Never mind walking. It’s only a few minutes east of where I lived before, but it creates a bit of a psychological barrier. I’m used to cycling, have been doing it for years.

    Peripheral projects are going to have a sustainable transportation problem. There’s no argument there.

    Level Downtown.

    We did that once, and we have lots of parking lots… that are already level.  If we need to keep any parking it would be cheapest to keep it at grade, but behind store fronts on streets.

    There are lots of parking lots at commercial centers around town. Some are peripheral, but at least they’ll have food steps away! Closer in, imagine housing on top of or in place of the parking lot at the Co-op, with the Co-op patio turned into a mini-plaza between the housing that’s flush with the property line on G St. Yes, we will have to deal with trees, and keep as many as possible.

    Keeping any surface parking at University Commons is a big mistake during a housing crisis, but it’s so obvious that it seems idealistic, or to put it another way, we need to balance good things with bad things!

    Church parking lots, too! There’s lots of ’em! If he lived at these places, what would Jesus do? He’d walk to church!

    Sterling 5th is also a huge mistake. It could have been taller by a few stories without crowding anyone to the north (with shadows), of course only if it had much less parking than would be typical. It’s two intersections away from campus by bicycle, once the Pole Line to Olive connector is complete.

    I understand that the PG&E yard has some toxicity issues, and that all the owners of commercial centers with parking lots will have to think long and hard if getting paid to allow developers to build on and above the lots is a good thing ;-).

    1. Keith Y Echols

      Peripheral projects need to be properly planned out.  It should just be another large tract of housing developments.  Proper planning has to include the development of communities.   What I mean are neighborhood based parks (which Davis usually includes in their plans) but also localized retail and other community structures and services (theater/amphitheater, public pool/splash pad, farmers market, library..etc..).  Neighborhood and community development as a city spreads out needs to be thought of as almost like a new mini-town.   The Canary was sort of a half-measured planned community.  It has ample social park space but the retail and how it’s mostly cut off from the rest of the community is really poorly planned.

      1. Todd Edelman

        A small commercial plaza right next to peripheral housing is simply not enough to keep people coming by car to sample the relatively greater diversity of a downtown/center etc.

  2. Alan Miller

    even if market rate housing pencils out, affordable housing is going to be even more difficult to pencil out.

    Truer words were never spoken.

  3. Matt Williams

    From 2005 until 2015, there were no market rate multifamily homes, and in fact, other than Cannery which finally was opened a few years ago, there were no major housing projects both approved and built over that time.

    .
    Grande?

    Willowbank Park?

    Willowbank 10?

    Rowe Building at 5th and G?

  4. Matt Williams

    Infill?  We have the Olive Drive project that is obviously in the works, but not a very large project.  After that, we are probably looking at a bunch of projects that are relatively small.  The city, as we have reported, has about 64 acres of commercially zoned land, some of which might be appropriate for housing—though that will detract from needs for commercial development.

    .
    You have forgotten about Chiles Ranch adjacent to the Cemetery.

  5. Matt Williams

    … of course only if it had much less parking than would be typical.

    .
    That “typical” problem could be solved with (A) parking maximums in the zoning code rather than parking minimums, and (B) a commitment to public transit rather than parked cars.

  6. Ron Oertel

    While there is no doubt we can find spots on a map to make it work, getting the actual housing is going to be rather challenging.

    So, which one are you concerned about – “making it work” on a map, or “getting” the actual housing?

    Those are two different things.

    Woodland (“North, North Davis”) is going to continue providing more and more housing, regardless of what Davis does.  Regardless of RHNA requirements, as well. And since it will always be relatively cheaper, that’s where new families are going to continue to move. Especially as housing costs have risen everywhere. For a new one, they’re basically a half-million dollars or more in Woodland, as it is. You can be sure that no matter what – they’d cost significantly more than that in Davis.

    Still to be determined is how the previously-approved megadorms address the requirements.  Also, I believe you’ve left Chiles Ranch out of the list.

    As I wrote the column, “The Canary in the Coal Mine” and read the reports from Davis Demographics,

    It should be noted that The Cannery did not provide many new students, despite its obvious appeal for families.  That’s exactly the type of housing that families pursue (though generally with larger lot sizes).

    Also – in reference to that same article, Sonoma county has rejected a tax to keep an unneeded high school open.  As a result, they’re going to reconsider combining two high schools into one.  This is as it should be, as a result of declining enrollment.

    https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/high-school-consolidation-looms-again-in-west-sonoma-county-after-tax-measu/

     

     

  7. Bill Marshall

    There’s lots of ’em! If he lived at these places, what would Jesus do? He’d walk to church!

    I find that offensive (and ignorant) on multiple levels…

    1. Todd Edelman

      The What Would Jesus Do? meme is quite popular, constructive, lovingly critical, a bit cheeky and probably mostly circulated by Christians. Islam reveres Jesus.. and, okay, should I have mentioned all the faith businesses in town? (This is not about people of faith, but religious congregations.)

      While many or most congregations in town provide services for economically-challenged families and persons, the only move towards In Iesu propinquitas that I’ve noticed is from Davis Community Church, which supports a higher than Downtown Plan’d housing structure on its property. Many congregations have large parking lots, and they’re among the least utilized parking lots in town.

  8. Keith Y Echols

    Some people undoubtedly will use this to hammer the university again for failing to provide enough housing for students—but clearly the city, which did not develop a single multifamily housing complex that was market rate and for students between 2002 and this past fall when Sterling opened, needed to build more student housing as well.

    Uh…yeah…some people will hammer the university for failing to provide housing for students.  “But clearly the city”…what?  The city has some obligation to pay (housing is a cost to the community) to house the UCD’s revenue stream?  You kind of just gloss over those objections and move on with….well, the city just needs to build more housing for students because they haven’t.

    In fact you refer to your previous article about elementary school students and the need for more housing for families.  The majority of college students don’t have kids.  How does more student housing help the school problem?

    But to simply answer your question as long as you let the inmates run the asylum with Measure J, the magical myth that infill (and I love dense urban plans and communities) solving everything will continue to fuel progressive’s hopes and dreams.

      1. Keith Y Echols

        The problem Keith is that we have multiple housing needs – some of them conflict

        Well, yes….and because of Measure J it’s left to the rabble (myself and all of us included) to directly decide on how to solve these problems…..which of course results in nothing getting done or done well.

         

    1. Richard_McCann

      More student housing frees up the family housing (e.g., 3 bedroom duplexes) currently occupied by students. Housing is largely fungible in that way, so we don’t need to increase a specific type of housing directly. Instead we expand housing in the lowest cost segment which then expands the overall supply.

      1. Keith Y Echols

        Why do we want to increase the overall supply?  (I’m not completely against it; I just want a good reason)

        What is your definition of “student housing”?  studio, 1 bedroom and 2 bedroom apartments? What if 3-4 bedroom houses and townhouses continue to be built?  The kind of housing that attracts workers at UCD that have been going to Woodland .  Or workers that work in Sac but like the Davis community?  (also attracts families…the kind that have kids that can solve that school funding problem David was talking about in his previous article.)    Renting those kinds of homes are going to be less and less viable for students.  So….I dunno…..UCD better get a move on in solving their student housing problem.

  9. Ron Glick

    Seriously? As long as Measure D is in force and as long as you refuse to denounce it you are not being serious about housing as Keith accurately points out.

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      Just as I criticized some of the proposed sites for being aspirational and pie in the sky, I would say the same here. 83% of the voters supported Measure D. The more realistic approach is to work within it, not hope in 10 years (after the end of the current RHNA period anyway), it somehow goes away.

      1. Ron Glick

        You supported it but now you point out its adverse impacts. You want it both ways and that’s fine but don’t even try to have a serious conversation  about housing supply when you supported the single largest impediment to a rational policy.

        Don’t take it from me look at what Keith Y Echols said:

        “But to simply answer your question as long as you let the inmates run the asylum with Measure J, the magical myth that infill (and I love dense urban plans and communities) solving everything will continue to fuel progressive’s hopes and dreams.”

        Engaging in this process is not a serious policy process so have fun but don’t pretend to be serious about addressing Davis’ perennial housing problem because your support of Measure D destroys your credibility on the issue.

  10. Ron Glick

    “Battle lines being drawn,

    Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong,

    Young people speaking their mind,

    Getting so much resistance from behind,

    You better stop, hey what’s that sound,

    Everybody look what’s going down.”

    Stephen Stills

  11. Don Shor

    A smaller proposal at Covell Village makes some sense,

    I seriously doubt the property owner is willing to pay for and endure another election.

    a project next to Bretton Woods in the NW Quadrant does,

    The land to the west is filling in with orchards, which closes them off from likely development for 20 – 30 years.

    The more realistic approach is to work within it,

    There is nothing to work with. The voters have foreclosed any opportunity for the type of development that would broaden the demographics of Davis. And they have also foreclosed any opportunity for meaningful ‘affordable’ housing. There is no solution to this problem. And apparently a majority of Davis voters don’t think it’s a problem. This will lead to a decline in the quality of Davis schools as options get limited by shrinking enrollments, unless they can continue to fill up with interdistrict transfer students. But perhaps the aging population of homeowners no longer care about the quality of Davis schools.

     

    1. Ron Oertel

      This will lead to a decline in the quality of Davis schools as options get limited by shrinking enrollments,

      “Larger” does not equal “better”.

      If it did, public school systems in places like Sacramento, San Francisco, Oakland, and Los Angeles would be “better” than the one in Davis.

      1. David Greenwald Post author

        It’s not size that matters, it’s whether it is shrinking or not. Declining enrollment is the problem regardless of size of the district.

        1. Ron Oertel

          That would be a temporary problem, until relative equilibrium is reached again.

          Schools exist to serve a community, not the other-way around.

          Of course, some will fight that tooth-and-nail.

          1. David Greenwald Post author

            Suggest you read up on this stuff rather than just arguing for the sake of arguing.

        2. Ron Oertel

          I believe we’re seeing an example of this, in your response (and from a few others):

          Of course, some will fight that tooth-and-nail.

          Of course, when one’s own kids are finished with the system (which really isn’t all that long of a period), it becomes less of a personal issue for them.

          The only ones with “staying power” (regarding this fight) are those whose jobs depend upon it.

          Not unlike coal miners, in a way.

          1. David Greenwald Post author

            Do you ever like step back and go, oh, I really don’t know this stuff (you thought the problem was size for example), maybe I should learn more?

        3. Bill Marshall

          Schools exist to serve a community, not the other-way around.

          True of all government, all levels, including Fed, State, County, City, Districts…

          In the quoted passage, David, Ron O has that exactly right (as in ‘correct’)… it is called “public service” for a reason… another term that has been perverted by many… often used as degroatory, dismissive, by many… schools, Cities, Counties, etc. are important… but not “job centers”…

        4. Ron Oertel

          David: If you have a point to make (within your supposed “5-comment limit”), then do so.

          I’ve already noted what school districts consider, when enrollment (permanently) drops:

          https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/high-school-consolidation-looms-again-in-west-sonoma-county-after-tax-measu/

          Pretty sure that’s not the only example, either.

          Thanks, Bill – that’s also true regarding all public service.

          And for sure, I wouldn’t trust any financial analysis arising from self-interested entities.

          1. David Greenwald Post author

            And I’ve already pointed out the difference between a unified and high school school district.

        5. Bill Marshall

          Do you ever like step back and go, oh, I really don’t know this stuff (you thought the problem was size for example), maybe I should learn more?

          That comment (ripost?) was “out of line”, David… your inherent bias(es) showing?

          Particularly when you have not raised that before, other topics…

      2. Don Shor

        “Larger” does not equal “better”.

        At the secondary level, a certain number of students is necessary to keep a class full and continue to provide the range of options. I have compared the classes available at the nearest school districts. Foreign language is a good example: you have to have enough students to fill a classroom and pay for a teacher for each language. Davis schools offer several language options that are not available in other local districts. GATE and independent study programs are also much stronger in Davis. Fewer students equals less funding, which means fewer teachers with those skill sets.
        At the primary grade level, closing a school leads to very disruptive redrawing of school boundaries, a process we went through when Valley Oak closed and which I would not wish to see revisited on the families. The distribution of enrollment decline is uneven across the grade levels and would likely cause elementary schools to have to consolidate in awkward and inefficient manners. There is a minimum number of students needed to keep staffing at acceptable levels for student and teaching support.
        As one who has had children in this school district and seen how the unique programming benefitted them, I believe declining enrollment would lead to program cuts, which would lead to fewer course offerings. That would diminish the quality of Davis schools.
        If the state came up with a funding system that wasn’t directly tied to enrollment, there might be other ways to sustain those programs with fewer students. With the current funding system, fewer students will lead to fewer options.
        You never really know which courses turn out to be the important ones in your child’s future direction; for one of my kids it was auto shop, and for the other it was Japanese language classes and debate team. The more options the better. The more students, the more options.

  12. Bill Marshall

    One comment too late… you were @ six, with that last… I’m five and out…

    But I sincerely promise not to defend any post of yours, thus losing a ‘bullet’…

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