By David M. Greenwald
Davis, CA – One of the most critical findings in the Housing Element is that the city does not currently have “enough land designated for residential development to meet the sixth-cycle RHNA.” Moreover, “All of the sites identified to meet the lower-income RHNA are non-vacant sites. Although Measure J supports infill development, these sites are not sufficient to meet the lower-income RHNA [Regional Housing Needs Allocation].”
Further, “Even with the increased residential densities planned for the Downtown under the Draft Downtown Davis Specific Plan, the City will need to rezone additional sites to meet the RHNA.”
The Housing Element points out—again—“Had DISC [Davis Innovation Sustainability Campus] passed, the City would have sufficient sites to meet the sixth-cycle RHNA upon adoption of the Downtown Davis Specific Plan and would not need to rezone additional sites.”
This is the exact dilemma that the city faces—the city has basically run out of vacant infill land. They can still rezone land and they can still redevelop land.
I will unpack in a moment what this means from my perspective.
But let me know lay out a few points from the staff response to comments on the Housing Element.
The city has been assigned 2075 housing units this cycle. As staff points out: “When the city prepares the Housing Element Update to address the new RHNA assignment, it must show where the available residential properties are located.”
If there are not enough available sites, “the city must identify and rezone more sites within 3 years of adoption of the Housing Element. The sites identified to date are the candidate rezone sites to meet the shortfall.”
Because of the housing crisis, the state has “made the selection of sites more stringent.”
They write: “All sites must be viable and ‘ready for development’ meaning that if a city reports the inclusion of a site on its inventory, it must also show the reasonable likelihood of development.”
That means the PG&E site can’t count this time around, because PG&E has stated in writing they are not interested in selling the land or repurposing it.
The staff adds, “The sites selected, in the opinion of staff, have the most likelihood of development. If for some reason an adequate number of sites is not rezoned, then the city will be out of compliance with its General Plan, putting in jeopardy the ability to apply for grant funding and possibility the approval of other projects in the city.”
They further write: “It is true that simply rezoning a site does not mean units will actually be built. That is the reason why the city has an entire element designed to include policies that will further the production of housing. However, the City is not in the business of constructing housing. Therefore, it must rely on private developers to meet all of the requirements laid out by the city. And if the requirements are too burdensome, the affordable housing will not be built.”
They also point out that the legislature has now dictated that, for rezoned sites, “HCD [Housing & Community Development] will not accept any site under 0.5 acres.”
So is there land available to rezone that is commercially zoned? Yes. We estimated previously there are about 64 viable acres of land that could be rezoned in the city. That removes the land held by Sutter and Kaiser for medical facility expansion, it removes land along Second Street that is the Frontier Fertilizer site, and it excludes the 15 acres or so between Chiles and Cowell.
Realistically, you aren’t going to want to put any of the housing along Second St. or in much of University Research Park. The bottom line is, even looking at vacant rezonable land, Davis is pretty limited.
Plus, a few months ago people were complaining that Davis was rezoning commercial land for residential—they wanted that commercial land to be used rather than building an Innovation Center.
The bottom line: we don’t have much vacant land left. It is a small pie. It cannot possibly fill the needs for both housing and commercial.
So can we redevelop existing land? Of course. But it is more expensive. There is a reason why we had a Redevelopment Agency (RDA) at one point to finance large scale redevelopment.
And again, the city has to show that it is viable within three years of adoption of the Housing Element.
So anyone who wants to argue that it’s factually incorrect that Measure J is making it more difficult to meet the current RHNA requirements (we should not use terms like “prevent”—after all we can pass Measure J projects, at least theoretically) is setting the bar way too high.
Existing sites can be rezoned, they can include more density—but that requires the desire for existing landowners to do that and be able to afford the process.
We did see one example of that—University Mall. We saw how the residents around the area responded to it. They did do it. It took a large company, it took a long and contentious process, and it took a divided council willing to stand up to the owners.
This is what we are dealing with at this point.
I think we need to be honest with the community: we don’t have much vacant land, we don’t have an RDA, it’s expensive to redevelop, the neighbors don’t like densification, and the community has opposed peripheral for the most part.
Something has to give. It doesn’t have to be peripheral. But increasingly it is going to be hard—expensive and contentious to go up, and there is not much that is vacant.