By David M. Greenwald
When the city approved the Cannery, there were two aspects of it that were particularly troubling—one was that rather than fill current housing needs, it was largely marketed to Bay Area transports, and the second was how many times the builders/developers came back to the table to renegotiate carefully considered provisions.
The out-of-towner concerns have often been misinterpreted. From my standpoint, the problem is that we have a huge number of people who cannot afford to buy housing or are unable to buy housing in Davis, but who work here—and instead of addressing that population, the project has become a place where people with few connections to the community have moved because it is more affordable than the Bay Area.
My view of the Cannery has been that it was the wrong project at the wrong time. Ironically, I think the developers saw the flaws with the Cannery when they designed Bretton Woods and developed the Davis-Based Buyers Program in response.
Overall, I largely supported West Davis Active Adult Community (WDAAC) because I saw we needed housing and was okay with the Davis-Based Buyers Program largely because I saw it as an opportunity to get people to downsize their homes and thus open existing housing to younger families.
As I have explained elsewhere, it might have been marginally less diverse than other developments, but that could be offset with both the 150 units of Affordable Housing and as well as the potential for move up.
The problem is that the city largely punted on the issue of legality of the program—which has always been questionable. In so doing, they basically indemnified themselves and put it completely on the developers to work out.
That decision now takes the city largely out of the decision-making at this point.
At the Planning Commission meeting on Thursday, City Attorney Inder Khalsa explained: “This is not an enforceable obligation in the development agreement as between the city and the developer.”
Instead, she described, “The development agreement specified that the developer elects to do this program and he will present it to the city and that he will comply with all applicable laws. It does not give the city any approval or disapproval authority over the program.”
As Assistant City Manager Ashley Feeney put it in a text, “This an applicant program that they elected to do and was included in the DA to ensure follow-through on the commitment as Dave Taormino continued to talk about it throughout the approval process but it was his program not something the City initiated.”
He explained, “At the time of approval of the project, the City avoided taking on any approval or disapproval role over the program because of concerns that it can be difficult to operate a local buyers’ program in compliance with state and federal Fair Housing Requirements.”
That turns out to be a mistake, because now the city is on the outside looking in on the decisions involving the program.
Last summer, Dave Taormino attempted to remove the program all together, but backed down under pressure.
Critics have called efforts to modify the program a “bait and switch.” I think that’s the wrong charge. The bigger problem is attempting to create a program that is legal.
As Darryl Rutherford put it, “I don’t necessarily agree with some of the comments that this is a bait and switch, I think this is more of a project that’s trying to maintain fidelity to fair housing law but doing it in a way that’s pretty weak and lacking creativity and ingenuity in creating a program that a majority of voters I think were anticipating while addressing fair housing law.”
The problem with the city’s original approach, which was clearly attempting to keep their hands out of the Davis-Based Buyers Program even as they allowed it to go forward, is that they now lack the ability to fix the problems.
And so by keeping that piece open-ended they have allowed the specter of Cannery to creep back into this project—the very specter everyone was attempting to avoid.
So what is the remedy here? Clearly the city has taken the approach that this isn’t their problem. They will likely allow the developers to get sued, which I assume they will be at some point—the original suit was not ripe, but once they build this thing, it becomes a germane and litigable issue.
I think the better approach would be to renegotiate the Developers Agreement.
Ashley Feeney explained, “When he wanted to remove it last year that was a potential to have the DA reopened. He withdrew it and developed this program.”
The city still has some leverage here and could renegotiate.
The other option would be to put the modified program on the ballot. This would not be a re-vote per se, because the status quo is now an approval, but rather a vote to determine whether the public is okay with the modified buyers program.
All of this troubles me. The process which had been fairly clean now looks sloppy. And the problems here will make some people less likely to support future projects. This whole process has opened uncertainty that Measure J attempted to avoid all together through the Baseline Project Features.
—David M. Greenwald reporting
Support our work – to become a sustaining at $5 – $10- $25 per month hit the link: