By David M. Greenwald
Davis, CA – The Housing Element Committee last week voted in favor of ten largely pro-housing comments in the draft housing element proposal. Ultimately the council and the broader community will have to approve of these as well as the overall proposal for them to take effect, but these additions are likely to rile up some members of the community — once they actually read the substance of what is included.
While I agree in concept with a lot of the proposals, I think, in her comment on the article last night, Eileen Samitz raised a number of important concerns.
For example, she noted that the article did not mention the issue of, “a very reasonable motion made by one of the Planning Commissioners, which was then followed up by a Social Services Commissioner, which sadly failed due to a split vote. That motion was simply to request that UCD to provide more on-campus housing to relieve some of the housing pressure for Davis workers and families.”
I agree that that proposal is very reasonable. While there is a group of people who have strongly pushed for UC Davis to develop more on campus — perhaps to the exclusion of housing in the community — I have long supported both as the best way to alleviate the housing crunch.
As such, I supported the 50-50 plan — 50 percent of all the new housing in the community (City and UCD combined) and 50 percent of the overall student housing on campus. During the LRDP, we fell a bit short of the aspirational target of 10,000 new housing units, but I see no reason why we shouldn’t continue to push for more on-campus housing, while at the same time we push for more housing in town.
That’s especially true given the limited housing opportunities in town, which I believe we shall see soon.
Eileen Samitz continues: “It made clear that in the future, the City needs to have more than ten people on a committee determining the future of the city, with a more fair and better balanced representation of the community. As a result, the recommendations did not represent a broad cross section of the community, particularly since a number of the committee members had not had the advantage and experience of participating on any City committees in the past on housing land use issues in order to be more familiar with the issues.”
Again, I absolutely agree with this point. One of the reasons the 2007-08 Housing Element (HESC) was so good was that it really had a broad range of citizens serving as its fifteen (15) members, and all of the community voices were heard.
It is also the reason I have lamented the recent chain of events where certain citizens have either stepped away from, or been excluded from, commissions. I have pointed out that one of the failures of the Innovation Park Task Force process was the failure to have half of the Davis community in the meeting room during the key discussions of that Task Force.
And I believe that will be a problem here, because there are a number of the ten proposals that are very good, but that do not currently have sufficient community buy-in.
With those points of agreement stated, let me go through a couple of points of divergence now with Eileen Samitz, and express my support (mostly) for the proposals adopted.
On the removal of single-family zoning. I think that is largely the direction the state is headed. We have seen a number of proposals at the state level on this. The city should at the very least start this discussion, so that it is an informed community decision rather than a state-imposed change.
Samitz doesn’t agree with the concept of removing single-family zoning, which I can understand. She writes that “the concept of eliminating single-family housing zoning to allow 2-4 (or more) units built on a single-family lot lot next to a single-family residential unit — bought because it was in a single-family zoned neighborhood — had the reasonable expectation for it to remain a single-family neighborhood.”
She argues, “This proposal would particularly impact lower income neighborhoods, such as in East Davis since some of the lots may be cheaper if the house on it is needing major renovation or repairs. However, the seller makes a bundle of money exiting the neighborhood, then placing the impacts upon the rest of the remaining neighborhood.”
There is some risk of that — but on the other hand, one way to achieve better affordability is to downsize lots from single-family homes to duplexes and quadplexes. Also, the city is going to take another hard look at ADUs as a way to get affordability by design.
On the pre-approval of development on the two properties — Inside the Mace Curve and Wildhorse Ranch — I have long viewed this as an important step.
Eileen Samitz sees this as an “end-run” around Measure J, but actually it has to adhere to Measure J. It simply puts the vote for rezoning the parcels from agriculture to residential up front — and the voters get to decide whether or not they will support a zoning change at a given location. The up or down nature of such a vote means the voters may not aprove such a zoning change.
Eileen Samitz continues, “So, Davis citizens need to understand that if they support an initiative like this they would have no say on what got built on these properties. It would basically be a ‘blank check’ for the developers of those properties to build anything without the public having any meaningful input.”
Actually I don’t think it would be a blank check. First, any proposed residential zoning would almost surely have parameters such as units and density.
Second, the voters would have to approve.
Third, the council would then have to approve it through a normal planning process, just like they did with Cannery.
She writes, “For instance, it could mean more mega-dorms or more McMansions on these parcels, neither of which help to provide affordable housing for our average workforce or families.”
The council has kind of soured on mega-dorms, and they have not approved McMansions in recent years either. But most of that could be baked into a baseline features that governs the development of the property on the pre-approval. Baseline features, which have to be part of a Measure J/R/D vote.
If it is too vague, the voters will likely vote no.
Ironically, I question the two choices. The property under the Mace Curve seems like a good area to develop without expanding the current boundaries, but the owner has never had the inclination to do so. Wildhorse Ranch also appears to be a decent location, except we know what happened in 2009.
Those are definitely two locations to look at, but I would also look at the Northwest Quadrant as well as a portion of Covell Village—I could see a mixed-use development with commercial along Covell and maybe 400 to 500 units of housing north of there on the lower quarter or third of the property.
Those are alternatives to explore. I like the concept of pre-approval, and I think a pre-approval could be designed to avoid the pitfalls that Eileen Samitz rightly points out.
I like the by-right approval for new housing. One key there is it would have to meeting Zoning Code and the Affordable Housing ordinance. One of the problems that I have pointed out is that right now it is cost prohibitive to redevelop infill. That is a huge red flag, and streamlining the process would alleviate some of that.
Eileen Samitz is concerned about going above the RHNA assignment of 2,075 units, writing, “The other issue — adding more units than the RHNA assignment of 2,075 units — is another disastrous proposal since the City does not even have enough land for traditional housing including smaller housing units on a small lot, for 2,075 units.”
She is clearly worried about more “mega-dorms,” but the reality is we have probably seen the last of those for the foreseeable future — maybe forever.
They also propose removing the one percent growth cap.
Both of those seem aspirational. Neither are likely to impact anything. As Eileen Samitz points out, we seem to lack the land to get to 2,075 in the first place, and since the one percent growth cap was passed, we have never come close to approaching the one percent growth limitations.
Bottom line, I agree more people should have been engaged in the Housing Element Process, and I think some of Eileen Samitz’s fears are reasonable, but can and should be addressed — and with effort and community involvement, most of them can be avoided.
—David M. Greenwald reporting
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