Commentary: We Can’t Solve Our Housing Problems with Wishes and Prayers

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By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

Davis, CA – Whenever I raise the point that Davis needs to figure out how to add housing, someone points out that the problem is Measure J and that I made a mistake (or more colorful language) supporting Measure J.

Measure J is a huge factor in controlling Davis’ growth.  West Sacramento since the passage of Measure J went from just over 31,000 people to over 53,000 people.  Woodland during the same time went from 50 to 60,000 people.  

In contrast, from 2000 to 2020, Davis’ population increased from about 60,000 to 70,000 and has only gained 4000 people since 2010.

In addition, if you look at the RHNA (Regional Housing Needs Allocation) numbers: West Sacramento has 9471 RHNA units, Woodland 3087 and Davis, with the largest population and world class university UC Davis in its backyard, has an allotment of just 2075.

And yet people are complaining that Davis is being forced to grow too fast because of the university, while the RHNA numbers show that actually Davis is being asked to provide far less housing than West Sacramento and 50 percent fewer units than Woodland.

Measure J is clearly part of the equation there.  But while I would prefer to see more housing in Davis for a number of reasons, the calls to come out against Measure J are diversionary and, if anything, distracting from where I personally think the conversation needs to go.

For one thing, I’m actually not against Measure J.  There are downsides to Measure J, including the defeats of Nishi 2016 and DISC 2020.

That said, I actually think that, while Measure J is a clear barrier to housing, it also serves a lot of important functions, including preventing runaway sprawl (which was happening prior to 2000) and creating a slightly more predictable process.  

Removing Measure J would not remove barriers to housing.  Infill process itself has shown that with neighbor complaints and lawsuits.

In addition, there is nothing to prevent voters from putting controversial measures on the ballot. Wildhorse went to a vote anyway in the 1990s, and Mace Ranch was a holy mess in its own right even without Measure J.

Better to have a structured process than what existed prior to the 1990s.

But even if I were against Measure J, why would I waste my time on that as a solution to housing now?  The renewal of Measure J passed 83-17.  

The demographics in Davis may be shifting, but we are still dumbbell shaped with a large over-50 population, a small 30 to 50 population, and a large student population that mostly either doesn’t vote or doesn’t vote here.

When I analyzed polling last year, we saw that age was a huge determinant of housing policy preferences.  Those who were younger were more likely to recognize the housing crisis and more likely to support more housing.

We saw this play out in public comment over the HEC—those over 50 were almost exclusively opposed to relaxing growth control measures, whereas those under 50 almost exclusively believed that the Housing Element did not go far enough.

For now the older ground holds most of the trump cards in Davis.

The reality is, it’s hard enough to get a ballot measure passed.  Polling shows there is a set 35 to 40 percent of the voters who won’t vote for any project.  On a given project, about half the people who vote for the project—usually a lot more—also support Measure J.

So now every time I post an article highlighting housing problems, one response is something along the lines of what was posted this weekend.

I wrote: “The City does not currently contain enough vacant land appropriately zoned for the development of the housing necessary to meet the city’s estimated housing needs for the period 2021 and 2029.”

He responded: “Wow! Did you just notice this or were you aware of it before supporting measure D? If you were aware of it before Measure D did you ignore it? If you were unaware of it does it now change your support for the limit line?”

But we still live in something that resembles a democracy.  It seems weird to me that you would throw out democratic elections just because you don’t like the results sometimes.  To take an example from another context, we don’t like the Presidential Election, so we end the popular voting for presidents?

The bigger problem I see is we end up not having the discussions that we need to have not only on this site—and guess what, the entire city council reads the Vanguard every day; some people may downplay it, but the Vanguard plays an important role in the community discourse.

I have to think rather than debating over Measure J, which is not going anywhere any time soon—if ever, we should have a discussion based on what the housing needs are and how we can address those needs.

People are probably not going to simply want to do away with Measure J, but if they can see a big picture, they may be more likely to support peripheral housing projects if that appears to be the only reasonable way to add more affordable housing in the community.

The reality is that we do have a problem in this respect.  It would be good to talk about potentially viable solutions to that problem without getting bogged down on this tiresome debate over a ballot measure that has increased its popularity each time over the last 20 years.

On the other hand, there are other solutions to housing besides eliminating Measure J.  

One is infill, which I increasingly see as impractical.  

Another is getting the public to the point where they acknowledge that we need more housing (a lot don’t) and that we don’t have a lot of good infill options (a lot don’t recognize this) and then figure out community-based solutions to that—the city has avoided this conversation in the Housing Element process and that was one of the things I called for in Sunday’s column.

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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41 thoughts on “Commentary: We Can’t Solve Our Housing Problems with Wishes and Prayers”

  1. Ron Oertel

    I have to think rather than debating over Measure J, which is not going anywhere any time soon—if ever, we should have a discussion based on what the housing needs are and how we can address those needs.

    They’re whatever HCD tells Davis (and every other city in California) that they are.  Too bad that UCD doesn’t have any.

    And perhaps more importantly- it’s only a plan, at this point.

    I see no way that cities around California are going to realistically meet those “goals”, especially since much of the requirements are focused on Affordable units. What is it, something like a half million units in the Bay Area alone? In a state that’s no longer growing (and were folks are moving OUT of dense cities?)

    We saw this play out in public comment over the HEC—those over 50 were almost exclusively opposed to relaxing growth control measures, whereas those under 50 almost exclusively believed that the Housing Element did not go far enough.

    Some of those who are over 50 have the same views they had when they were 20.

    Those under 50 will be “over” 50, soon enough.  Sooner than they think.

    I was just watching a video, which notes that millennials set to be the largest inheritors of wealth in history.  Maybe it’s time that they stopped fighting their “parents”.

     

  2. Keith Y Echols

    But we still live in something that resembles a democracy.  It seems weird to me that you would throw out democratic elections just because you don’t like the results sometimes.  To take an example from another context, we don’t like the Presidential Election, so we end the popular voting for presidents?

    Wait..what???  You realize that most cities don’t have a micromanaging land management law in place that hinders professionals from doing their jobs?  The REPRESENTATIVE democracy election process is meant for the people’s wishes to put leaders in place to make those decisions.

    You’re far more likely to get opposing representatives (even ones that oppose each other) to compromise (at least that’s how it used to work in the United States) to come to a compromise on an issue than get the unwashed masses to think about the long term and come to reasonable compromised solutions.  Solutions where nobody is happy and nobody gets everything they want is how democracy is supposed to work.

    So your continued support of Measure J and desire for housing solutions is absolutely absurd. You cry for a solution yet support the largest obstacle to a solution.

    Btw.  You mention the RHNA requirements?  Four years ago the RHNA was given some serious teeth (which has been and will be continuously challenged).  If Davis doesn’t meet the RHNA housing element requirements (and at least PLAN for future housing)….then they have the ability to take control of the decision making process from the city.  You probably can’t meet the needs with infill…so it will be interesting to see if and how the RHNA can override Measure J

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      You hit on a key point here: “Btw. You mention the RHNA requirements? Four years ago the RHNA was given some serious teeth (which has been and will be continuously challenged). If Davis doesn’t meet the RHNA housing element requirements (and at least PLAN for future housing)….then they have the ability to take control of the decision making process from the city. You probably can’t meet the needs with infill…so it will be interesting to see if and how the RHNA can override Measure J”

      This is precisely the point I have been trying to raise for several months that no one seems to want to pay attention to – including city leaders.

      1. Ron Oertel

        They absolutely can meet the requirements with infill.  The 366-page housing element itself shows that.

        The city even put out a map online, asking where everyone thinks housing should go.  All of it fit within city limits.

        Just like every other city in the Bay Area, and most in Southern California.

        1. Ron Oertel

          Where does it say that, and what exactly do they say? (Specific reference to the document, please.)

          And, is that the answer they give every city in the Bay Area, for example?

        2. Ron Oertel

          I’ve quoted in the past articles, look it up.

          That’s a pretty important, specific claim that you make, which you now tell me to look up.  Really?  In an article where you’re trying to facilitate a discussion?

          NO Bay Area city is expanding its boundaries, as a result of this.

          And now you’re claiming that Davis is somehow “unique”, in that it can’t address this within its boundaries? Something doesn’t smell right about your claim.

          1. David Greenwald Post author

            Because I can’t right now. It’s in the Housing Element. It’s not like it’s hidden.

        3. Keith Y Echols

          There’s a key element in the RHNA requirements: realistically or likely to be developed.  So an extreme example would be: a couple 50 story buildings on the edge of the city limits surrounded by ag land won’t meet the RHNA requirements.  Or zoning a superfund site wouldn’t work either (though I’d like to see it tried and then have the RHNA challenge it).

        4. Ron Oertel

          It’s in the Housing Element. It’s not like it’s hidden.

          The document is 366 pages, but I suspect it’s more than hidden – and is actually not there.

          I suspect the answer is something closer to what Keith E. provided below, and that it’s not fully-settled yet. And in the meantime, you’ve found another way to stir things up regarding housing without actually putting forth any facts.

          Watch the monkeys dance, as it were.

          Just like it is for the 500,000 units that the Bay Area must account for (on paper), at least.  And without any expansion of their boundaries, in already-dense environments.

          I wonder if those cities are as obsessed about it as the Vanguard is. For that matter, some of those cities might actually fight it (see Keith’s speculation, below). Unlike the milktoasts in Davis.
          I

        5. Ron Oertel

          Since you don’t live in Davis, you really have no sense of what’s feasible to build here. 

          Weren’t you just advocating on behalf of developer “outsiders”, in regard to Measure D?  And are (it seems) suggesting that they can’t figure out what’s “feasible”, due to their outsider status?

          Really?  From a professional economist, no less?

          Do you question the city’s responsibility to accommodate their “demands”, as you so eloquently put it?

      2. Keith Y Echols

        To my knowledge; the HCD hasn’t taken over a city’s planning yet.  I think cities still have a little time left to come into compliance.   Because so many cities are out of compliance; I’m guessing that the deadline will be extended.  But when there is a hard deadline and cities still haven’t met the requirements; then it all hits the fan.

        I don’t think the HCD has the ability to go after all of the non-compliant cities.  But once the first one hits…we’ll see local municipalities dig in and if the HDC can truly take over a cities land planning operations.  I’m guessing that in cities that really want to hinder development…and they fail to push back on the HCD’s jurisdiction…that they’ll pass local building codes, fees and taxes that will hinder any future planned development.

      3. Edgar Wai

        If Davis doesn’t meet the RHNA housing element requirements (and at least PLAN for future housing)….then they have the ability to take control of the decision making process from the city.”

        The city that should lose control is the source of emigrants, not a potential helper city that accommodates immigrants.

        Such RHNA policy pattern propagates social injustice, while benefiting property owners of the emigrant exporters.

        A city should have no obligations to build housing unless it is a net emigrant source. Population growth is irrelevant. It is net emigration that matters.

      4. Bill Marshall

        You hit on a key possible solution here…

        If Davis doesn’t meet the RHNA housing element requirements (and at least PLAN for future housing)….then they have the ability to take control of the decision making process from the city. You probably can’t meet the needs with infill…so it will be interesting to see if and how the RHNA can override Measure J”

        A) it will be interesting; B) why not?  Saves a lot of staff time, costs, and political upheaval; C) might keep the JeRkeD process mostly intact; D) may provide more affordable housing.

        Am thinking it may not be bad to ‘test the system’ and let it ‘playout’.  A learning opportunity.

    2. Matt Williams

      Wait..what???  You realize that most cities don’t have a micromanaging land management law in place that hinders professionals from doing their jobs?  The REPRESENTATIVE democracy election process is meant for the people’s wishes to put leaders in place to make those decisions.

      .
      Keith, I believe all of Solano County has the equivalent of Measure J/R/D for the conversion of Ag zoned land to an urbanized zoning.  In their case the vote is not city-wide, but rather county-wide.

      1. Bill Marshall

        In their case the vote is not city-wide, but rather county-wide.

        That actually makes more sense than the JeRkeD process… then it would truly be about ‘conversion of Ag land’ instead of the other “agendas”… oft hid behind the ‘preservation of Ag land’ smoke screen…

        I’d swap the City-wide approach for the County-wide one, in a NY second…

      2. Keith Y Echols

        So, I’ve advocated for more affordable housing….actually public housing in the community and that market rate housing should be built if it pays for itself and provides a benefit to the community.  There’s a bill that was passed about 4 years ago (SB 35) that streamlined the process for affordable housing to be built in the state.  Now, I have my opinions on how affordable housing should be allocated (teachers, fire fighters, police, existing residents…etc…)  but that’s another debate. The infill people will love this.  It does not negate the difficulty in making infill density economically feasible….but at least for affordable housing the bureaucratic process has been simplified.   So here’s how the bill goes:
        SB 35 applies to cities and counties that have not made sufficient progress toward meeting their affordable housing goals for above-moderate and lower income levels as mandated by the State. In an effort to meet the affordable housing goals, SB 35 requires cities and counties to streamline the review and approval of certain qualifying affordable housing projects through a ministerial process.

        HCD’s determination is based on whether the locality has issued fewer building permits than its pro-rata share of the regional housing need, by income level, for that reporting period. The “reporting period” is defined as either the first half or the second half of the regional housing needs assessment cycle (Section 65913.4(i)(10)) and is based upon the locality’s annual progress report (“APR”). This determination remains in effect until HCD’s determination for the next reporting period.

        As of the date of this paper, the current Determination Summary represents Housing Element Annual Progress Report data received as of January 31, 2018. According to this data, 13 jurisdictions have met their prorated Lower (Very-Low and Low) and Above-Moderate Income Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA) for the reporting period and are not currently subject to the streamlined ministerial approval process. All other cities and counties are subject to at least some form of SB 35 streamlining.

        There are 378 jurisdictions that have made insufficient progress toward their Above Moderate income RHNA numbers and/or have not submitted their latest Housing Element Annual Progress Report (2016) and there are 148 jurisdictions that have made insufficient progress toward their Lower income RHNA numbers (Very-Low and Low income).

        SB 35 requires cities and counties to streamline review and approval of eligible affordable housing projects through a ministerial approval process, exempting such projects from environmental review under the California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”). This process does not allow public hearings to consider the merits of the project; rather, only design review or public oversight of the development is allowed, which must be objective and strictly focused on assessing compliance with criteria required for streamlined projects as well as objective design review of the project (Section 65913.4(c)(1).

        Depending on the number of housing units proposed in the project, the jurisdiction has only a short timeframe within which to review the application to determine if it is eligible for processing under SB 35 (between 60-90 days). If it is determined that the project is eligible, SB 35 specifies the timeframes within which the jurisdiction has to make a final decision on the application (between 90-180 days).

        ELIGIBILITY CRITERIA FOR THE SB 35 STREAMLINED, MINISTERIAL APPROVAL PROCESS

        (a) Urban Infill. Are located in an urban area, with 75% of the site’s perimeter already developed (Section 65913.4(a)(2)(A) and (B)).

        (b) Number of Units. Propose at least two residential units (Section 65913.4(a)(1)).

        (c) Designated for Residential Uses. Have a general plan and/or zoning designation that allows residential or mixed-use with at least 2/3 of the square footage as residential use (Section 65913.4(a)(2)(C)).

        (d) Location. Cannot be located on property within any of the following areas: a coastal zone, prime farmland, wetlands, very high fire hazard severity zone, hazardous waste site, delineated earthquake fault zone, flood plain, floodway, community conservation plan area, habitat for protected species, under a conservation easement, or located on a qualifying mobile home site (Section 65913.4(a)(6)).

        (e) Demolition of Residential Units. The development would not demolish any housing units that have been occupied by tenants in the last 10 years; are subject to any form of rent or price control, or are subject to a recorded covenant, ordinance, or law that restricts rents to levels affordable to persons and families of moderate, low, or very low incomes (Section 65913.4(a)(7)).

        (f) Historic Buildings. The development would not demolish a historic structure that is on a national, state, or local historic register (Section 65913.4(a)(7)(C)).

        (g) Consistent with Objective Planning Standards. Must meet all objective general plan, zoning, subdivision and design review standards in effect at the time the application is submitted. Objective standards are those that require no personal or subjective (discretionary) judgment, and must be verifiable by reference to an external and uniform source available prior to submittal (Section 65913.4(a)(5)).

        (h) Prevailing Wages. If the development is not in its entirety a public work, as defined in Government Code Section 65913.4(a)(8)(A), all construction workers employed in the execution of the development must be paid at least the general prevailing rate of per diem wages for the type of work and geographic area. (Section 65913.4(a)(8)(A)). This requirement does not apply to projects that include 10 or fewer units and is not a public work project (Section 65913.4(a)(8)(C)).

        (i) Skilled and Trained Workforce Provisions. A skilled and trained workforce must complete the development if the project consists of 75 or more units that are not 100 percent subsidized affordable housing (Section 65913.4(a)(8)(B)). This requirement does not apply to projects that include 10 or fewer units and is not a public work project (Section 65913.4(a)(8)(C)).

        (j) Subdivisions. Does not involve a subdivision subject to the Subdivision Map Act, unless the development either (i) receives a low-income housing tax credit and is subject to the requirement that prevailing wages be paid, or (ii) is subject to the requirements to pay prevailing wages and to use a skilled and trained workforce (Section 65913.4(a)(9)).

        (k) Parking. The project must provide at least one parking space per unit; however, no parking may be required if 1) the project is located within a) one half mile of a public transit stop, b) an architecturally and historically significant historic district, c) one block of a car share vehicle station, or 2) on-street parking permits are required but not offered to the development occupants (Section 65913.4(d)).

        (l) Mobilehome Site. The project site cannot be governed by the Mobilehome Residency Law, the Recreational Vehicle Park Occupancy Law, the Mobilehome Parks Act, or the Special Occupancy Parks Act (Section 65913.4(a)(10)).

  3. Edgar Wai

    Davis is being asked to provide far less housing than West Sacramento and 50 percent fewer units than Woodland.

    The pattern of a state asking a city to build is authoritarian and violates democracy by choice.

    The people who need housing come from somewhere (migration source). The responsibility to accommodate them goes to those sources. Both NIMBY and YIMBY ignore this responsibility in this context and give the exporter of emigrants a blank check, letting them cause a ripple effect pressuring all other cities to be less hospitable.

    Placing the responsibility back to those sources addresses the root cause. They need to take care of their own backyard or they shall lose their backyard because they are exporting negative externality.

    Transferring the control of backyards from those with net emigration to those with net immigration allows cities that are willingly hospitable to expand, with resources that already exist, without asking any city to do more than they want, and address the root cause of externality which is mismanagement of the original bad backyards.

    1. Bill Marshall

      The pattern of a state asking a city to build is authoritarian and violates democracy by choice.

      By that token,

      ‘a government asking citizens to get vaccinated is authoritarian and violates personal (democratic) choice‘…

      Interesting postulation.

       

    2. Richard_McCann

      The pattern of a state asking a city to build is authoritarian and violates democracy by choice.

      Far from it. Sometimes democracy leads to a clash of interests among jurisdictions. By your reasoning, the Confederacy was entitled to maintain slavery through the mythology of “states rights.” The solution is to have a constitution that assigns rights and responsibilities among the jurisdictions. The 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments basically cleared up the jurisdictional roles, although the courts have often failed to back that up.

      In the case of general law cities like Davis, they have little constitutional protection from state oversight. The constitution was approved in a democratic election (or so to speak at the time.) There are often statewide interests that override local ones, such as housing needs. I’ve pointed out that the Davis community has received billions of dollars from state taxpayers through UCD. If you want to see that effect, just  look at the difference between Davis and Dixon. So state taxpayers are entitled to ask for certain obligations from Davis residents in return. That’s democracy at work.

      1. Edgar Wai

        “Democracy by choice” is a particular type of democracy. It means achieving democracy by letting people choose for themselves (instead of using majority rule to rule over minorities).

        Slavery violates “Democracy by choice” unless the slaves choose to be slaves by themselves.

         

  4. Ron Glick

    “For one thing, I’m actually not against Measure J.”

    No need to read the article past that point. David supports the dark underbelly of Davis housing policy. I was hopeful from his remarks that we don’t have land in the city to grow that he was finally ready to throw off his San Luis Obispo style privilege but I guess its not going to happen.

    Reading above that line however you left out how much housing has been built on campus. Measure J stopped growth for young families but moved student housing on campus. You add in the on campus numbers and you get a different picture of where the growth is happening in this county.

  5. Matt Williams

    And yet people are complaining that Davis is being forced to grow too fast because of the university, while the RHNA numbers show that actually Davis is being asked to provide far less housing than West Sacramento and 50 percent fewer units than Woodland.

    .
    The problem with this statement is that it omits the fact that West Sac and Woodland asked SACOG to give them higher numbers than the standard allocation.  Ask any ye shall receive.

  6. Alan Miller

    Commentary: We Can’t Solve Our Housing Problems with Wishes and Prayers

    The true name of this article should be:

    “Commentary: We Can’t Solve Our Housing Problems”

    In twenty years, even if Weiner dicks us by passing some of his YIMBY-developer bills, we’re going to be in the same or worse boat, and the DV will have written approximately 6000 more articles on housing in Davis, all of which resemble the previous while rebutting what a commenter said.

    And all that may be accomplished by this jack-hammer-of-articles approach #rrrrrrrr-tat-tat-tat-tat-tat-tat rrrrrrrr-tat-tat-tat-tat-tat-tat# is that several developers over the years may be made rich with infill projects after long, protracted heated battles that tear the community fabric to shreds and make friends into enemies while destroying neighborhoods.  And the terms “NIMBY” and “Fear of Change” will be used liberally and not acknowledged as pejoratives and empty insults.

    The Oracle Has Spoken

    1. Bill Marshall

      Oracle is down ~ 0.2% today, but at near highs for the year…

      [Source: Yahoo Finance]

      Basically agree with Alan M’s assessment, but wouldn’t it be better to blame the State for the state of affairs, than each other? just supposin’…

  7. Richard_McCann

    Removing Measure J would not remove barriers to housing. 

    David, it has been pointed out by many of  us, including at least one of your own board members, that Measure J/R/D presents a barrier to housing by increasing the risk substantially to any developer contemplating having to put a project on the ballot. They are betting a substantial sum on whether they will win the election. So it’s the lack of proposals, particularly by out of town developers, that show that this is a barrier. If a project is only put on the ballot through a petition process, that reduces the risk substantially because that puts the onus on the opponents to organize an effort. A developer may calculate that they can meet enough of the communities’ criteria that the opposition will be minimized and they won’t have to face an election.

    Please stop making this statement. It’s simply not true once you think through the dynamics and apply fundamental economic principles about how risk and transaction costs affect decisions.

  8. Richard_McCann

    No, your outside involvement doesn’t qualify you as member of the community, no more than my participation in Southern California politics makes me a member of the community there. Knowing people here doesn’t give you standing in the political process. Unless you’re knocking on the door to enter the community and that community is explicitly excluding you, which is the case for  those who are trying to break down the barriers that Davis has erected to more housing here, you can only be a bystander (even if offering relatively silent support for a particular position.) You cannot pretend to be a spokesman for a political stand in the community if you’re not a member of that community.

    1. Ron Oertel

      Darn.  Well, that excludes some others on here, as well.

      I’ll try not to knock on your door, during the next campaign.

      Ironically, though – you’re the one who is trying to “break down the barriers that Davis has erected” to house “outsiders”.  Given that you label me as an outsider or as you put it – a “bystander” (who might/might not want to be in Davis), how do you reconcile that? Aren’t you claiming to be the spokesperson for outsiders and bystanders?

      Like you, by the way – I also periodically comment in other communities, as well.  Look for my comments on The Chronicle, for example.  (Similar issues.)

      1. Richard_McCann

        Ron

        You’re not trying to actually join this community–you’re advocating for the continued maintenance of barriers to those outsiders despite that you’re living in a different community with a different set of values. I’m within the Davis community so I can advocate for what rules that we choose–I have standing. I see benefits to the community from being more inclusive, both to Davis and to the state, and I also recognize that we have obligations to others in the state. That doesn’t make me an advocate for outsiders–it makes me an advocate for a more inclusive community.

        And don’t care what you comment on in other communities. They can police their own political processes. I don’t live there.

  9. Moderator

    There is a five comment limit per person per article per day. Some here have reached that limit for this topic today. Further comments will be removed.

  10. Tim Keller

    I have a mixed feeling about Measure J

    It is inefficient, and it has definatley slowed the growth of this town, contributing to the housing crisis we now face – but it also has saved us from developing Davis POORLY also.   Now that we are seeing that car-centric sprawling suburban development patterns of the last century are essentially a failed proposition, we are fortunate, perhaps that we have not allowed our city to grow SO much horizontally  that is is forever beyond repair.

    But that doesn’t mean that un-necessary restrictions on growth going FORWARD are a good thing… i’m just pointing out a silver lining to the past.

    The fact is that, because we HAVE restricted growth in the past, there are now no “peripheral” candidate sites in this town which aren’t so far away from campus and downtown that they couldnt be easily linked there by transit, or which are beyond the “bikeable” range… especially now that e-Bikes are a thing.

    The problem though is that I dont think that developers, and a lot of citizens have gotten the memo.  And I dont really the community robustly planning what those annexation projects could or should be… its like the developers just propose what THEY want.. and the citizens say yes or no.   I would rather that the city have a plan for ALL of the peripheral sites, how they get built, how they link together, so that we can plan for transit, for city finances etc going forward.

    1. Keith Y Echols

      You never responded to my comment (3 of David’s posts ago) on this subject.

      You seem to have a New Urbanists’ vision of things.  I think it’s funny because I used to have a similar one in general back in 2004.  I had just directly contributed urban sprawl in the Central Valley and moved to San Francisco and enjoyed being able to walk to parks, restaurants, bars, coffee shops, stores…etc..   In fact when I first moved here I told then mayor Rob Davis (who was at the Farmer’s Market with a planner explaining their downtown plans), how much I was disappointed in Grande Village because I wanted to be able to walk to a place to get my coffee.  I used to track New Urbanist projects across the country.  One of the early ones back then was Stapleton Airport in Denver.  I’ve actually been to it a few times.

      The problem I see with your comments is that you keep assuming that Davis is some island market unto itself.  Davis is part of the greater Sacramento region it’s not the same little podunk college town.   Because Sacramento is growing at a monstrous rate, the surrounding suburbs will too.   I’ve said before that this is the land of single family homes.  If you’re going to buy a home you’re probably going to want a single family home.  So when someone looks to buy home; they can look around and consider a smaller attached multi-family unit or a single family unit in Woodland.  North North Davis as they call it is filling up with Davis expats and new comers that choose to live there and commute to Davis (which to me is ideal for the city financially).   You can’t just dictate to the market and say: here’s a bunch of medium and high density homes…here ya go!  Take it or leave it!  Builders build what sells.

      What I said in my other post is that what will work is specially targeted higher density neighborhood zones.  I previously suggested one with my student focused one around A & 2nd. That would work because of it’s proximity to the University.  I think there was a proposal to rezone the strip malls for mixed use residential.  So the shopping center on 8th street (with Symposium and Dollar Tree) is a prime candidate.  There are also lots of 2 story apartment buildings around it that could be redeveloped once the shopping center redevelopment is built out.  There was a proposal for the University Mall to be redeveloped; like my proposal, it’s proximity to the university makes it a feasible higher density mixed use project.  What I’m trying to say is instead of wishing for a 2nd downtown (which the current downtown merchants would never go for), focus on a piecemeal approach in the existing neighborhoods.  Infill is not the endall be all solution.  It’s just a small part of the solution…again because Davis is part of the greater Sacramento region….the land of the single family home.

      As to the city planning what they want built ahead of time on the periphery?  Sure in a normal functioning city that’s laid out in the general plan within the sphere of influence.  But thanks the Measure J that processes is messed up.

      1. Tim Keller

        You never responded to my comment (3 of David’s posts ago) on this subject.

        Sorry.. I already spend too much time on this forum.. must have missed it…  just went back to try to find.. not seeing it.  Ask again here and I’ll try to respond.

        That said, I dont see that much of a gap between our thinking.  Yes I know that there are people who are okay with living here and commuting elsewhere and those people might want single family housing.   But that doesn’t mean that we need to build it for them.   🙂

        I most resonate with something you said the other day – about building a range of housing of different types and all in the higher-density, lower cost ranges.   More apartments, maybe some condo towers…. ( and no… not “luxury condos”..  Just condos – affordable living that first time homebuyers can afford and start building some equity. )  And when I say “towers”… the density I have in mind is roughly “Paris-like”  “towers” – by Davis standards only.    If those development projects because of their density are financially net positive for the City.. then I say let’s build as much of that as we can.

        I don’t think we need literal a “second downtown” I used that phrase the other day to describe the kind of DENSITY that I think the innovation campus should have.  The service businesses there would just be enough to serve the residents in that district.. not something designed to compete with downtown as a social scene.   But during the day, I would like for it to be dense enough that people walk from their offices and labs to local restaurants and delis and cafe’s for lunch and bump into each other… those kinds of interactions are REALLY important for innovation districts.

        Agree to the housing over all of the strip malls…  I like the U-mall project.  My only gripe is that the project killed the Grad.. which was singularly responsible for 80% of my lifetime liver damage…  Hopefully a new grad will be part of the new buildout… the next generation MUST know the pleasures of 7-for-1 well drinks…

        As to the city planning what they want built ahead of time on the periphery?  Sure in a normal functioning city that’s laid out in the general plan within the sphere of influence.  But thanks the Measure J that processes is messed up.

        I think this is the biggest point.  Because developers have to fight at the ballot box for every project, they are going to propose what they propose, probably something that maximizes their upside and minimizes anything possibly controversial.  Then we as a city are going to have to just say yes or no…  That is NO way to “plan” a city.

    2. Alan Miller

      Plan for transit . . . pish posh! . . .  do you really think we’ll ever be a town where, sans students, a significant portion of our population rides the bus?  Let’s be serious!  And even more so in a post-Covid-19 world when Uber is back in place.  Uber was already tanking short-distance local transit all over the nation (numerous studies showed this, including a UCD study), and slightly helping longer-distance public transit such (rail).

      1. Tim Keller

        Yes, I believe we CAN be.  I heared an interesting story from a new friend who was previously on the planning commission in Ithaca NY.   There they actually increased bus ridership by scheduling the busses more frequently.   ‘Induced demand” apparently works for transit too.

        but much better density, and better, less student centric routing wouldn’t hurt either.

        but if we plan our community in the ad-hoc measured J method…  then,,, no.

      2. Alan Miller

        Yes, I believe we CAN be.

        You think DAVIS can be a town where we ride the bus across town?  Let me ask you, do you know one single person — who’s not a student who doesn’t like riding their bike to campus in the rain — who rides the bus to get across Davis on anything resembling regularly?  This is a sad fallacy – the idea buses will save Davis.  And the kind of density you speak of that would bring about such change in a town this size would be the result of bulldozing almost the entire town. 

        There is no economic incentive for that, nor community support.  You might, someday, get the area east of Mace developed, or one tall building in downtown, or an infill project of any size.  But everyone on the table wouldn’t even begin to make that happen.  And anyway, Uber and Lyft have changed the entire scene.  SF Muni was grateful for Covid-19 because it allowed them to abandon little-used routes that Uber and Lyft were already killing.

        And remember, we live in a town that has TRAFFIC JAMS (to use your ‘style’) around schools morning and evenings — from parents dropping off kids in SUVs because they don’t make the kids bike the 0-3 miles to school !!!!!

        Yes, there are ways to improve bus ridership – I’m well aware of those methods as I am by profession a public transit planner and a passionate believer in improving service.  But being able to dump parking requirements because a giant development is 1/4-mile from a bus stop in a small town isn’t transit planning – it’s a political giveaway to developers.  If you DOUBLED (to use your ‘style’) bus use among residents of Davis, a near impossibility, you’d still barely put a dent in auto use.  This transit fallacy needs to be flushed along with everything else in the toilet bowl.

  11. Jim Frame

    I would rather that the city have a plan for ALL of the peripheral sites, how they get built, how they link together, so that we can plan for transit, for city finances etc going forward.

    There seems to be general agreement that we need housing that is affordable for the various flavors of low income (likely have to be subsidized) to middle income (e.g. young families).  I don’t think anyone is arguing that we need to supply the high end, as those folks always have options.  But unless the city comes into some sort of funding windfall and actually builds housing itself (lol), it can’t (I don’t think) dictate the price points that a developer has to meet in its zoning laws.  It can nibble around the edges of affordability by encouraging developers to incorporate some level of affordable units in a project, but no for-profit developer is going to build affordable housing on a large scale on its own — they’re in business to make money, not give it away.  Which means that annexing peripheral sites for housing is only going to result in high-end homes for Bay Area refugees, with a couple of bones thrown in the direction of the “we need affordable!” activists.

    The way things are currently structured, if the city annexes peripheral land for housing it’s going to get more of the same:  high-priced homes with a couple of modest units thrown in.  And City Councils have repeatedly demonstrated that they’ll consider the proposals and approve the least bad one, failing to meet the real need and adding to the burden that comes with all additional development.  Thus was Measure J born.

    The ire directed at Measure J and its supporters is misplaced.  Getting rid of J (or R or K or whatever it is now) isn’t going to fix the problem.  In the mean time, Measure J keeps the situation from deteriorating any faster than it already is.

    I haven’t read the state proposals in any depth, so am unfamiliar with their terms.  But if the state were to pass legislation that required the city to annex land and build *only* affordable units, I could get behind that.  Until then, I remain in support of Measure J.

    1. Tim Keller

      But unless the city comes into some sort of funding windfall and actually builds housing itself (lol), it can’t (I don’t think) dictate the price points that a developer has to meet in its zoning laws.

      This is an interesting point.  The City has the ability to borrow money almost infinitley as far as I know.  So if they wanted to build public housing, they certainly COULD.

      As for dictating pricing.. the city could set housing prices in that public housing… but damn if there arent a lot of examples of THAT being done poorly…  And I actually dont think that the city really needs to provide that much subsidized housing.   If we CAN build a decent supply of higher density housing, those property taxes should, in fact, be a net positive in terms of tax revenues for the city.   That can be done just by the city enabling the private sector to build more of that kind of thing.

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