By David M. Greenwald
Davis, CA – There is a tendency for people to violate the maxim that the simplest reasonable explanation is usually the correct one and that, while alluring, fallback to conspiratorial theories is generally not a great approach.
On Tuesday night, listening to almost an hour and 20 minutes of public comment, a few things became very clear. First, that we were listening to dueling talking points. But secondly, it quickly became clear that whether one believed that the Housing Element Committee (HEC) recommendations went too far or not far enough largely depended on the age of the caller.
No one under the age of 50, that we could tell, called in to oppose the HEC recommendations, while most people over the age of 50 called in to complain that the recommendations went too far or that the process was not transparent.
“Please oppose all eight recommendations of the Housing Element Committee. These recommendations do not respect the years of citizen input on growth issues or our local democratic process,” one caller said.
Another said, “I am very disturbed at the lack of transparency and advanced notice of this agenda item. Putting it out on a Friday afternoon is not conducive to public awareness or consideration and it really limits the amount of, timely compliant details on these very important matters.”
Still another: “I’m discouraged by the ongoing attempts to undermine what voters have expressly chosen. If the latest pro-growth shenanigans … all the housing committee members appointed by the city council. Sustainable Growth Yolo, the twisted attempt to disguise or housing and greener development process as a lofty renewable goal for society. I urge you to firmly reject their subterfuge.”
On the other hand, students and young professionals worried that the proposal fell short of the housing needs of the community.
“The proposal as issued falls drastically short of the urgent housing needs for the city of Davis,” a student said. “I personally know people who have experienced housing insecurity in this community and the housing element in its current form will do nowhere near enough to solve the worsening housing crisis that we face.”
A recent graduate added, “I recently graduated from UC Davis. I just want to say that this housing situation in Davis is ridiculous.”
Another added, “The draft released a few weeks ago is terribly inadequate and does not address the needs of many Davisites including myself. I cannot even afford to live in Davis due the mainly high rent prices.”
Students worried about housing security as students, and having places to live and work once they graduate in order to stay in town.
A couple of the comments really hit home. One person said they just found out about the Housing Element discussion but found online summaries of the proposal.
“I am shocked to learn the radical steps being proposed, ending single family, housing zoning, and allowing development by right, seems like a really drastic measure. This would result in my neighbors’ houses potentially being purchased by investors, bulldozed and replaced with many apartment complexes all without even a public approval process or any notice to the neighborhood that would devastate our neighborhoods,” one said.
Never mind that he severely misunderstood the proposal.
Another resident was apparently stunned that the voices of students are given the same weight as other residents.
“I must say that I find it nonsensical and abhorrent that the voices of students are given as much weight as those of city residents in these matters. Students are here for a short, limited time. Whereas those of us who live in Davis have a much greater stake in determining the future of our city and our voices should consequently be given greater weight.”
One of my initial takeaways here was that there was simply a lot of misinformation about the process and the proposals themselves—not to mention the fact that this was not a final proposal in any way, shape or form.
It was clear from listening that there were two competing agendas here—one attempting to maintain a status quo and another attempting to create more housing opportunities.
There is really no rocket science here. We have seen, over the years, an attempt to argue that students are being either bought or manipulated by development interests. There is also an attempt to disparage long-term citizens as NIMBYs. I don’t think either characterization is accurate.
Are there students who are working for various projects or even some developers? Sure. But that is probably not a driving force for their views.
There are three simple and relatively benign explanations for student support for development.
For the last several years, students have faced the housing crunch on a very personal level—soaring rents, scarcity of rental housing, housing insecurity, packing huge numbers of students into places designed for much fewer, and the need in more extreme cases for students to couch surf or even live in cars and sleep in the library.
Therefore, students would have a concern for housing supply. Students started to activate and mobilize around 2015 and that coincided with the rise of the current housing crisis.
Students as a whole are supportive of more student housing, both on and off campus—they were also supportive of projects like DISC which could provide them with post-graduate jobs and they remain concerned about the potential for future housing to provide for those students who decide to remain in town with a place to live.
On the other hand, the people mostly concerned that the HEC and Draft Housing Element went too far, by and large, were older. Many have lived in the community for decades and remember when it was much smaller, they already have their homes and many are retired and are worried about keeping Davis as they remember it—and believe that adding a lot of new housing would harm the character of the community.
Frankly, while it is not a position I share at this point, I can understand it.
It seems then that the common denominator is that current life experience—and whether one is housing secure or insecure, a renter or owner—is a clear dividing line on this issue.
There are a lot of complaints about the make up of the HEC and whether it is representative. It is worth noting that five of the members come from existing commissions and another five were appointed by the council.
It is also worth noting, for instance, that there is actually a lot more variance that some would suggest. For instance, Greg Rowe, who serves on the Planning Commission, has generally been on the slow growth side. Darryl Rutherford, while not necessarily slow growth, has often opposed projects because they have inadequate affordable housing.
Georgina Valencia has been critical of the city’s affordable housing policy and also voted against the motion to add more housing over the RHNA total.
Furthermore, just three of the members of the HEC are under the critical age of 45. That means that the group of residents most housing insecure were actually underrepresented on the HEC.
In the end, the HEC was probably far less important than many of the critics have made it out to be.
The council ultimately ended up rejecting most of the more radical proposals.
Having been involved in this since 2006, I find it interesting where the trends go.
I find it ironic that one person indicated the one percent growth cap was necessary for our slow growth policies—I remember in 2006 and 2007, the one percent growth cap was too fast for Sue Greenwald. It was the pro-growth council majority that instituted it. As far as I know, and staff elaborated on it, we have never come close to hitting it.
Council is not inclined do pre-approvals—which I think is a mistake, though I do agree with Dan Carson’s warning that “any controversial proposal would still be subject to voter approval under state law via a referendum.”
While true, the key is “controversial” and the other key is that it puts the onus on citizens to collect signatures, which means it truly would have to be controversial to trigger it. Nevertheless, it’s off the table but I am glad it was at least broached.
More interesting could be R1 Zoning, but I think staff and council dispelled the notion that this would have to impact existing neighborhoods, which I agree could become a serious problem.
As Vice-Mayor Frerichs put it, “this may actually already be something that’s taken out of our hands by the state legislature.”
The bill from Senate President Toni Atkins, SB 9, would automatically allow for duplexes on a single-family zoned lot. He said that was something that they may not find out until September though.
He was in favor of “up zoning” at the neighborhood shopping centers.
“Let’s allow for up zoning there,” he said. “There’s already a number of shopping centers in town (where) there’s already mixed use. That’s not a bad thing. There will be more of that in the future.”
So with all of that, we may get R1 changes if SB 9 becomes law and we may rezone neighborhood shopping centers, which we already were doing anyway.
And council supports “asking UC Davis for additional housing on campus.”
Bottom line—for all the concern about the influence of certain interests and all the concern about the process, the council took most of the more radical proposals off the table. And the community not only got heard on Tuesday, but they still have time to submit comments, then there will be another public Planning Commission meeting and City Council meeting.
Unfortunately, I would argue the city really does have an impending crisis here on housing. Where we are going to go to add housing, especially in the next cycle, is very much up in the air and in doubt.
For some residents, those who already have their homes and career, they probably are not that worried about it. But for those who do not have secure housing or would like to stay in this community, that issue will become of greater importance still.
There is no rocket science here. We are seeing simple demographics, home ownership, housing security issues driving the divide in this community right now and it will fall to council to figure out creative ways to thread that needle.
—David M. Greenwald reporting
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