By David M. Greenwald
Davis, CA – For a long time the growth question has been framed at density versus sprawl. With the advent of Measure J, it was argued, the path toward peripheral development has been largely cut off, and therefore the city has focused heavily on infill and increased density to meet its housing needs.
To me there are a lot of problems with this framing of the issue.
First of all, let me say that there has been a conflation between peripheral development and sprawl. Sprawl is generally depicted as the “uncontrolled expansion of urban areas.” Moreover, it is a “rapid expansion” that is often characterized by “by low-density residential housing, single-use zoning, and increased reliance on the private automobile for transportation.”
Bottom line is that you can add responsible peripheral development that is by definition not sprawl, but it takes careful planning.
A second problem with this narrative is a good number of people who live in the community simply do not buy into the need for additional housing. I would argue against that view, but consistently in polling a sizable portion of the population simply opposes all or most new housing.
Third, as we have seen we are running out of open space within the city. And it will be increasingly difficult and increasingly more expensive to develop infill and densify. Some have pointed
out that areas like Sacramento are able to do this. And some have pointed to the regulation-heavy planning process in Davis as a partial culprit, which is why some have pushed for by-right approval processes to streamline the planning process.
My view is that we have probably run out of easy solutions for more housing in Davis, and the remaining projects—with some potential exceptions—are likely to run into controversy. We see that in the Housing Element process and the acknowledgement of the city that we have run out of sufficient space to easily accommodate current housing requirements.
We saw the push for the changes to the Housing Element to acknowledge at least tacitly some of these challenges.
I found this letter by Ellen Kolarik in the Enterprise interesting
She writes, “I acknowledge that Davis is a racially and economically segregated community” and she notes that her faith “demands” that she support “the building of an adequate supply of affordable housing in this town.”
Here are a few key points that she raises:
First, she supports, “rezoning all the sites identified because the amount of parcels available in our city limits is woefully small and the need is exceedingly large. Rezoning parcels only allows for the possibility that these parcels be used for low-income housing. It does not commit them to that purpose.”
Second, she supports the removal of parking minimums, legalizing the creation of “up to four units on a single-family lot” similar to SB 9, and “finally, given the ‘Not in My Back Yard’ sentiment of many of my neighbors, I support the ‘By-right’ approval process to insure that small infill affordable housing projects can proceed expeditiously.”
Finally, “the Housing Trust Fund should be included as an appendix in the Housing Element. We must also acknowledge that the current balance in the HTF is woefully inadequate to support housing needs in this town. Our city needs to create an income stream to support this fund.”
She concludes: “I acknowledge that these interventions will increase housing density, put more cars on our roads and make parking more difficult for everyone. Taxes to support an HTF will come from our pockets. Nothing comes free. But in the long term, these interventions will invigorate our community with the influx of younger families from diverse economic and racial groups. And that will create a more sustainable and livable Davis. It is also simply the right thing to do.”
This is not a view you generally see in the letters in the Enterprise and probably one that is opposed by a sizable portion of the community.
But, going forward, this appears to be the biggest looming battle. It figures to start with the Housing Element and perhaps culminate with the new general plan.
I think this community really needs to weigh in on the key questions of how much housing we need and where we are going to go to accommodate it. The answers will likely vary and there may not be any form of consensus that can develop. In a way, the easy work has already occurred during the last 20 years—the remaining work will be even more difficult.
Because of that it is vital that we find good processes to include all the voices and reach as fair a decision as we can.
—David M. Greenwald reporting
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