By David M. Greenwald
Davis, CA – The Planning Commission this week will hold a public hearing on the Housing Element. There are some really interesting comments and responses that I will spend the majority of this column highlighting.
I will make two general comments at the outset here. First, it feels like the city is losing a huge opportunity here. The city has a big problem with respect to housing—it doesn’t really have a place to put the housing it needs to build, especially the affordable housing. So why not center the Housing Element discussion and public outreach around this important issue?
Second, most people do not have a good sense of what the Housing Element is.
The staff tries to unpack that: “It is worth noting that the Housing Element is not an ordinance. It does not set any development standards and it does not rezone any properties mentioned within it. Instead, as a part of the General Plan, the Housing Element is a policy document. It sets the framework for what the City sets out to accomplish during the life cycle of the Housing Element.”
But that does not “ensure the units will be built.”
Buried in this explanation is the key point that I mentioned above: “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 between 2021 and 2029.”
They also point out: “Inclusion on this list does not necessarily mean that an identified property will be rezoned or developed.”
Finally: “The intent of soliciting comments from the public is to get a general sense from the community of common themes across comments and to ensure that the Housing Element reflects the community’s overall concerns.”
My problem here is that the city is burying the lead. The lead should be: we don’t have enough land that is zoned appropriately to accommodate the housing that the state says we should be planning for. And then ask them how they would solve that problem.
What happened instead is that the HEC came down with a list of ten recommendations and people weighed in on whether they were agreeable to them—including the council. I would argue that is “bassackwards.” Start with the community actually responding to the problem rather than the proposed solutions and you get a much better discussion.
(As an aside, I would strongly encourage readers to pick out some of their own comments and responses to discuss as well).
One comment addressed the R-1 Zoning.
As I keep pointing out, the impact of this proposal is much more limited than anyone thinks.
For example, “The State of California has already passed mandatory legislation requiring cities to approve certain accessory dwelling units by right. Therefore, a homeowner can already have up to two accessory units (an ADU and JADU) on their property, effectively making the single family dwelling a 3 unit dwelling. Of course, certain criteria must be met. Nevertheless, it is already possible.”
The city believes, “This item may be appropriate to explore as part of the General Plan update rather than as an implementation measure in the Housing Element. If supported during the General Plan update process, the Housing Element could be amended accordingly with adoption of an updated General Plan.”
They further note: “There is not a great deal of available land to subdivide to achieve high densities. Therefore, the net effect would be limited.”
Comment: The city should focus on its need for workforce and family housing. No more 4 and 5 bedroom units should be permitted. But when they are, how does the city get RHNA credit for these large units. How is the city receiving credit for the by the bed methodology? Why use by the bed if it doesn’t meet the federal definition of affordable housing? Do we have any indication of what other university towns are doing in their efforts to align university growth pressures and RHNA numbers?
Some interesting parts to this response.
First, I don’t really understand the logic of counting bed rental as individual units. If you have a five-bedroom apartment or a house that houses 10 people, it’s still a single unit.
The city notes: “By-the-bed rentals do not meet the federal definition of a housing unit, but they are located in apartment units that do meet the standard, with separate bathroom facilities and a separate entrance from other units. The methodology for RHNA credit for these bed rentals acknowledges that each bed is not, and should be, counted as a separate unit for RHNA purposes, but it establishes an equivalency.”
Staff adds: “HCD staff confirmed that HCD would not accept any alternative methodology for calculating RHNA credit for larger format (i.e., 4 or 5+ bedroom) apartments.”
That doesn’t mean that they won’t be counted. It just means that a five-bedroom unit is simply a single unit for the purpose of RHNA.
At least to me, that makes sense. You really believe we can build Nishi and that should count for our entire eight-year housing needs? That would seem to violate the spirit of housing needs, in my mind.
On the PG&E Corp yard, perhaps this will settle this point for the near future (probably not). Staff writes: “Earlier this year, PG&E came to the city with a request for an entitlement for a new building on their corporation yard site at 5th and L Street. PG&E indicated to staff that they have no intention at this time of moving their corporation yard from Davis. They find that the location is very centralized to their northern California operations. Therefore, the PG&E site would not meet the Legislature’s requirement for a property to be ‘reasonably likely to develop.'”
In addition, staff notes: “Both the city and the School District have not indicated that their properties are surplus and available for development.”
Finally this was interesting: “How and why are the Nishi project and WDACC projects acceptable to count when there is no existing utility connection or infrastructure? If WDACC is in the floodplain, how is the infrastructure to be funded? How can Trackside be counted when it is in court? Will Chiles Ranch subdivision ever be built?”
Here is the staff response in full:
The central question in all of these comments is how can the City take credit for projects that seem to have construction obstacles. Each one of the above referenced projects still plans to move forward. Granted, each one is in a different place in the approval process, but it is the expectation of the developer to construct. For example, staff has been in discussion recently with the Nishi developer. When the project was brought to the city, the developer knew and has accepted conditions of approval to extend the utilities onto the project site at the developer’s expense. The same is true of the WDACC project. When a project site is approved and the utilities are conditioned to be provided by the developer, it is acceptable to count the site as a viable site. It is worth noting that both sites are adjacent to existing utilities, which will enable them to connect.
It is also true that the WDACC site is in the floodplain. The developer plans to put additional fill on the site to raise it out of the floodplain. All expenses related to the work will be paid by the developer. The condition to do so has been agreed to by the developer.
The Trackside project is on appeal in a Yolo County court. Until the developer decides they no longer want to defend the lawsuit and the courts have decided in favor of the plaintiff, the project remains viable.
The Chiles Ranch project was approved many years ago. However, a development agreement was also approved, which extended the time available to the developer to build. The City has received a very recent email from the developer stating that the project is still planned to move forward.
In closing here, I will once again point out that I think a much more fruitful discussion would be to engage the community on a problem that they have to solve rather than a serious of recommendations that they are free to oppose in a vacuum.
For those who have longed for a visioning process, this is another lost opportunity. For those who wish to see a certain city ordinance repealed, this is a lost opportunity.