By David M. Greenwald
Davis, CA – Six weeks ago some community members were up in arms—mostly those who were older and already owned homes—as they saw a threat from the proposals from the Housing Element Committee.
One by one, the proposals that might have led to more housing have been either shelved or killed.
Davis faces an inevitable reality. Over the last 20 years it has effectively not been able to build out. Only two peripheral sites have been approved by voters—Nishi and WDAAC. Neither has been built yet. But effectively the city’s land use law—Measure J—has blocked most peripheral development.
I have often proposed a halfway measure—allowing for the preapproval of housing sites before a full Measure J process occurs. That allows the voters to vote on a site, which would preapprove the site for development under some parameters, but avoid having to go through the entire cumbersome Measure J vote if the voters are not inclined to support housing or development on that site.
Even that modest proposal, which requires no changes to Measure J, was a bridge too far.
Eileen Samitz called this an “end-run” around Measure J. She wrote, “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.”
Of course, as Dan Carson pointed out, there is no such thing as a blank check, because voters can always petition and put something on the ballot anyway.
Carson 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.”
One by one, the council in June indicated that they were not inclined to make major changes to housing in Davis.
One area that might be out of the city’s hands is the changes to R1 zoning.
Vice Mayor Lucas Frerichs noted in June that “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.
There has been a lot of focus on SB 9 on this site and throughout the state. But the report we cited out of Berkeley last week shows it would be a more modest change—particularly in Davis.
Why? We already saw with the prospectus on redevelopment in the downtown, the costs are prohibitive. The analysis from a few years ago showed it needed to be really dense and expensive housing to pan out. A fourplex in the middle of a neighborhood that has to adhere to size and scale restrictions is not likely to be enough bang for the buck to pan out.
That means that any changes to R1 zoning are more likely to impact new neighborhoods in Davis, and there probably won’t be a lot of new neighborhoods in Davis.
And that’s the big problem. Council is willing to continue to “up zone” in Neighborhood Shopping Centers for instance. That means, just as they approved housing at University Mall, they might at other locations as well.
“Let’s allow for up zoning there,” Frerichs 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.”
But even with that—and as contentious as it was last year—it is unlikely that there are going to be a lot of neighborhood shopping centers rezoning. For one thing, we don’t have that many and, for another thing, it is still expensive.
The HEC also wanted the city to explore by-right approval for new housing if it meets the Zoning Code and Affordable Housing Ordinance. That seemed to be a contentious issue even though it would have to meet existing zoning codes and, again, would not produce a lot of new housing.
That’s the problem. The most likely changes to current housing—R1 zoning (possibly) and Neighborhood Shopping Centers—are unlikely to generate much in the way of new housing.
Housing in the downtown is unlikely to occur on a large scale without the reestablishment of redevelopment and, for whatever reason, the legislature seems disinclined to go there.
Locally then, the only major game-changer would be the elimination of Measure J and we can’t even get a modest change that doesn’t materially impact the law to gain traction.
Bottom line is that Davis is unlikely to add more housing in the next eight years. It is likely to get more expensive.
Personally I would like to see what happens if we have a planning/visioning session for the community that could lay some of these issues out and see if the residents have solutions. That’s unlikely to change things any time soon, but would make for interesting discussion.