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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