By David M. Greenwald
Davis, CA – There were no motions made, no direction taken yet, but the course of the council was laid out during this workshop pretty clearly. Several dozen public commenters largely split between two extremes—on the one side arguing that the Housing Element Committee didn’t go far enough, and, on the other side, arguing that they went too far … subverted the will of the voters … and that the city should pressure UC Davis to build more housing.
Sherri Metzger, Principal Planner in the Department of Community Development and Sustainability explained that the 10 recommendations from the HEC “are not currently in the draft housing element.
“They are represented on a list of recommendations that came out of the housing element committee process,” she explained. “What our intention is, is to take all of the comments that we receive from everyone, housing element committee members, planning, commission members, city, council members, members of the general public, and last but not least the HCD, and then take all of those recommendations and comments and come back to the city council and the planning commission with a list of recommendations of what staff think needs to be included in the housing element.”
However, in their discussion, the council focused heavily on the ten proposals—supporting some and opposing others.
Dan Carson, for example, argued that we should “keep our one percent annual growth cap.
“This is admittedly a symbolic action, but it is an important symbol to our community. The Legislature passed a 2019 measure, SB 330, that overrode this longstanding city policy until at least 2025. But the truth is, we’ve easily been able to abide by this policy,” he said.
He also opposed exemptions to Measure J/R/D.
“I don’t support the proposal to ‘pre- approve’ land inside the Mace Curve and at Shriner’s, and thus exempt them from Measure J/R/D,” he said. “This approach probably would not work, because any controversial proposal would still be subject to voter approval under state law via a referendum.”
With respect to Collaboration with UC Davis, he was of the view, “UC Davis is living up to the commitments it made to the city in a 2018 memorandum of understanding (Yolo County is also a signatory) to provide additional on-campus housing for its students.”
At the same time, he argued, “on-campus housing is not an affordable option for some students.”
He said, “Before the COVID pandemic hit, the campus convened an on-campus task force to improve affordable housing options at UC Davis. The city should employ its “2 by 2 by 2” process and staff-to-staff contacts to engage the campus and county housing officials in further discussion of what steps could be taken next by the campus and our community to address the problem.”
Lucas Frerichs and others expressed that, while ADUs are an important tool, they are not a solution to affordable housing, especially in Davis.
“I don’t think that holds true in Davis,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of debate over that over the course of a number of years, and I just don’t believe that it really passes muster.
“Very useful type of housing, especially to have more of, but I don’t think it should be included as what would be defined as ‘big A’ affordable housing,” he added.
Vice-Mayor Frerichs noted that one percent growth cap and parking minimums are “really good policy discussions, but I think we should have further follow up policy discussions” rather than discussing them during the housing element process.
On the other hand, regarding the R1 Zoning of single-family homes and the allowance of duplexes (or more) on a single-family lot, he said “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 said 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.
“Whether it’s done as part of the General Plan update, which is coming in the next year, or some other mechanism, separate policy discussion, I definitely would favor a concept like that.”
With respect to UC Davis, “I do support asking UC Davis for additional housing on campus. I think they’ve been an excellent partner.
“I think the key point for me in all of this is we need more housing, there’s no question,” Frerichs said. “But the key is of course where, what type, you know, I mean, how do we facilitate that?”
Councilmember Josh Chapman came down in largely the same place. “Starting this conversation knowing and acknowledging (in my opinion) that we need more housing, that we are in a crisis.”
He added, “I think overall in general, we have a community that genuinely recognizes that we need more affordable housing. How we get to that point is what we’re here to do.”
Chapman is in favor of looking at R1 Zoning but also “figuring out ways to put guard rails on that.” He said, “Not one big fell swoop of hey now R1 is gone.”
Staff had suggested one approach was to eliminate R1 for future zoning but not change existing neighborhoods, which would seem to quell a big fear of some of the public commenters.
“We know that infill has been a priority,” he said. “We know that that infill has been a priority, some of the projects that have gone to Measure J/R/D have not passed and the community has signaled that we want to look at infill and densify.”
But he added, “I am again not wanting to take and put a four-unit house or a four-story building right next to a single story, but I think there’s ways for us to figure that out and look at project by project or certain areas in neighborhoods and what that looks like.”
He agreed with Lucas Frerichs that “ADUs should (not) be counted” in the affordable housing tool kit.
“I think that they’re a great piece of housing, but not when we talk about the affordability side of what we’re trying to do,” he said.
He said he found the growth cap to be interesting: “But I think it’s hard to move that piece around” and toyed with the idea of finding “ways for us to suspend it for a period of time.”
He also favored looking at rezoning strip malls, perhaps project by project, but again not in one fell swoop.
Will Arnold noted, “My colleagues here have some similar approaches to what I have been considering.”
He did address some public comment with respect to students and the suggestion that council should be listening to long-term residents because students are only here a few years.
Councilmember Arnold noted that “it’s true factually that an individual student probably typically is only in town for a few years.” But he pointed out, “students as a cohort predate the city of Davis,” He said “the needs of students is an integral need for our community.”
He added that he rejects the idea that students or the needs of students should be secondary to the needs of long-term residents.
“Not only did that not come from the council, or from the public comment, but it’s also a concept that I reject,” he said.
As Will Arnold pointed out this is not an approval of the Housing Element at this point, the process still will have a public comment period, staff will then take all of the comments from council and the commissions and create a draft Housing Element that will go back to the Planning Commission and then the Council—with public hearings before its approval.
Based on the comments of council, it doesn’t seem like most of the more controversial proposals have a lot of traction at this point, but R1 Zoning and Mixed Use for neighborhood centers appears on the table at this point.
—David M. Greenwald reporting
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