By Pavan Potti, Linh Nguyen, Lauren Smith, and Jordan Varney
The Davis Vanguard recently hosted their monthly webinar on Mar. 29, which centered around new housing plans for the city of Davis.
The webinar panelists included Mayor of Davis Gloria Partida, Social Services Commission and Housing Element Subcommittee member Georgina Valencia, Housing Element Subcommittee member Don Gibson and former candidates for City Council Larry Guenther and Kelsey Fortune. The panelists engaged in an active discussion over some of the challenges faced, while also sharing their main goals and objectives for building new housing units in Davis over the next decade.
The first question asked was what kind of housing is needed in the city. Valencia and Partida agree that the housing needs must cater to the city’s demographics. Furthermore, if most of the living spaces will be for rent, they must account for any populations that may be excluded since the purpose of affordable housing is to give renting opportunities to a broader group of people.
“We don’t want to squeeze out middle-aged people and younger families,” Partida said. “Housing goes with economic development. We need to increase housing to go with economic development. This applies to people who are fresh graduates or are starting families.”
Valencia also accounted for the cost of architectural variation, suggesting that auxiliary dwelling units for rent are also an option.
Gibson pointed out that affordable housing has always been a problem in Davis, raising the concern that without an increase in housing for the next two decades, it will be difficult for people who work in Davis or are connected to Davis since they might not be able to live here.
Fortune stressed that the city must consider two things. The first is that much of the city is centered around the university, meaning that the students living here should be able to commute to where they want to be. This is also important for small businesses and their employees. Guenther also noted that UC Davis on-campus residents consist half of students and half of faculty, therefore housing must be affordable to both groups.
The second question asked where housing should be built and if the city is seeking density in neighborhoods.
Gibson noted that the city of Sacramento recently implemented the “most progressive housing policy,” in which reformed city zoning now allows up to four units on a single-family lot and eliminated parking minimums. Meanwhile, Davis can be condensed by building large, student-oriented apartment complexes, though this is not going to solve the problems. Gibson stated that small increases in density will help the city.
“Densifying our neighborhoods is a great idea until people start complaining about parking,” Partida said. “Previous neighborhoods across from campus expressed concern with this densification. There has also been concern over modern architecture not ‘fitting in’ with neighborhood vibes.”
Valencia revealed that a vote showed that people in the city want it to be the way it was for the most part, though parks and open spaces need to be considered since not all of those areas are utilized. For example, Wildhorse Park is large in size though not many people visit it. However, the city must ask the landowner for permission to renovate the space.
“There are view corridors between single-family homes that can be built in Wildhorse,” Valencia said. “There is also commercial space on the south side of Davis outside of the freeway. We do have land space within the community, which means giving up some things. You don’t get everything without giving something.”
The University Mall, which will be closing, is also a space that the city is considering for development.
“From my perspective, there doesn’t seem to be great engagement with city developers and neighborhoods,” Guenther said. “The University Mall’s issue was massive in scale, which was a design problem. Getting the developers in the room with the neighbors seems like a really good way to move forward.”
Partida also agreed on the importance of good relations between neighborhoods and developers, though neighborhoods rarely agree with the ideas proposed by developers.
“We had this problem with Pacifico,” Partida said. “A whole lot of people didn’t come back because the only thing that they could pencil out was something big. The neighborhood didn’t support something big. It just doesn’t work. We live in a place where construction is extremely expensive. Businesses are leaving because it’s becoming increasingly hard to house all their workers. This is a problem we need to work on together.
Support for affordable housing, or the “million dollar question,” said Valencia, comes from “incentivizing it.
“We need to, as a city, start actualizing a sustainable problem to help people that are hopeless and are at risk of losing rental problems. If we don’t do this soon, it means we really don’t care about these people in need” she stated.
Guenther supported the idea of making “affordable housing a requirement moving forward;” however, he claimed that the “big issue” with affordable housing “is removing the affordable housing that already exists. Tearing (down) cheaper apartments and replacing them with expensive apartments is a big no.”
Mayor Partida suggested helping “people with down payment [by] supplementing the Vouchers program” which she claims “happens in other states.”
In response to a question about the importance of social change and environmental justice, Gibson clarified why it’s important that Davis address them. “Davis is one of the highest opportunity areas in the region,” he said. “You want to build houses in areas where it’s good to grow up in…We need to make sure that people who lack quality housing have it in Davis.”
Mayor Partida bolstered his point with saying “if you can get people to move out of areas with low opportunity and into Davis, a whole generation can be influenced. Changing the quality of life for everyone here is important.”
She also explained that these types of changes sometimes mean “making difficult decisions that some people may not agree with.”
The panelists offered some closing remarks. Gibson talked about forthcoming changes in Davis. He said “in the next few weeks we’ll be seeing the draft report of the Davis Housing element and hopefully we see some proposals that incorporate more housing supply.”
Valencia talked about what the public has been emphasizing. “People have expressed concern for change,” she said, “and our housing policies and community engagement don’t reflect that. Folks, we need to do something and we can only do that when we apply ourselves.”
Fortune followed that up with, “We need people to be living where they work and play. There’s no option at this point. We need to change. It’s not going to be easy but it has to be big.”
Guenther advocated for the folks in Davis who do not have time to advocate for their housing needs. “Engagement could be more effective in getting to a solution,” he started. “Young families don’t have time to really get involved in city council meetings even though they are a silent majority. They are silent because they are busy but they need to be factored in.”
Partida emphasized community members getting involved in the future. “I’m looking forward to our Housing element process. Engaging the community will help fix this problem,” she said.
“Get out there and get engaged,” Partida continued. “Zoom has lifted a lot of barriers and I’m looking forward to hearing where the priorities are for the community. I’m willing to follow these while making sure that the main goal is to get people housed in the Davis area where people can prosper.”
Pavan is a third-year student studying Economics and is from Fremont, California.
Linh Nguyen is a third-year Political Science student at UC Davis, also pursuing a minor in Professional Writing. She is an aspiring investigative journalist from San Jose, California, who also shares interests in literature and baking. She is co-editor in chief of the Vanguard at UC Davis.
Lauren Smith, co-editor of the city news desk for the Vanguard at UC Davis, is a recent graduate UC Davis, who double majored in Political Science and Psychology. She is from San Diego, California.
Jordan Varney is co-editor of the city news desk for the Vanguard at UC Davis. Received her master’s from UC Davis in Psychology and a B.S. in Computer Science from Harvey Mudd.