By David M. Greenwald
Davis, CA – After much consideration and discussion, the Davis City Council on Tuesday passed the Housing Element on a 5-0 vote.
Among the add-ons was support of a policy where the city would identify and implement more robust sources of funding for affordable housing as well as the inclusion of the Social Services Commission in the affordable housing ordinance process.
In a separate vote the council agreed to explore putting a package of housing initiatives on the ballot for voter approval, which would include a property transfer tax and exploration of amending the language already in Measure J/R/D that exempts from its public vote requirements projects that provide affordable housing or facilities needed for City services. Both would require a subsequent vote of the people.
The council also decided to explore expanding the legal authority under Article 34 of the State Constitution for the City to develop public housing that would otherwise expire in 2025.
The council also supported an item to work with UC Davis to maximize housing on campus, including affordable housing and producing more high density housing.
While there was not a lot of public comment, some of the comments sought to avoid any changes to Measure J.
The council ultimately was willing to look further at the proposal to modify Measure J for the purposes of affordable housing. However, as Dan Carson explained, “We’re not accepting, at least I’m not recommending, one of the proposals that come forth to pre-zone some properties in the city at the end of town.”
Carson explains, “To me, it creates a confusing problem of EIRs and potentially multiple votes. I just don’t think it works, but we are in fact proposing, as was described, the targeted change. There was already an exception written into measure J/R/D for affordable housing, but the language in that exception makes it unworkable, it hasn’t been used in 20 years.”
He said, “We need to make this a useful and workable tool because of the challenges that we have.”
Carson said that he supported Measure J, he voted for it, “but it isn’t perfect and it can be improved.” He said, “I hope you feel the same way about any policy guiding the governance of our city. We can do better, and help address our affordable housing needs, which was supposedly part of what this measure was going to do.”
Carson noted that UC Davis has “been an extraordinarily good partner.”
“They have delivered what they said they would do in the MOU,” he said. “Sometimes I feel like we’re living in a parallel universe here where folks are talking about the 29% promise that the campus made for housing years ago.”
The reality he said is that UCD just brought online 3200 units, and the chancellor indicated those units are going to be completely filled.
“They are abiding by what we agreed, worked out with them in the MOU,” he said. “Some of the folks speaking here tonight had predicted we would get no housing out of that MOU. They were wrong.”
Councilmember Will Arnold expressed concern “that these larger units are not being adequately counted — I think that does give me pause.”
He said, “I’m not interested in more of these projects that have these big four and five-bedroom units.” He urged that the city be cautious about approving these types of developments going forward until the legal issue and legislative actions are clarified.
Councilmember Arnold reiterated a key point and addressed a key concern raised during public comment, “We can’t amend Measure J tonight. Even if we wanted to — which we don’t … or at least I don’t — but, technically we can’t even begin the process of exploring amending any ordinance in town.”
He noted, “This doesn’t kick off a process, this doesn’t move us toward an end goal. What we could possibly do tonight is propose a policy that would include exploring an amendment to an existing city ordinance that’s not specific to Measure J.”
“The idea that this is somehow using the side door to thwart the will of the voters — I don’t think that stands the test of whether that’s true.”
“Because, if we ever wanted to amend — for any reason — Measure J, it would need to go in front of the voters, period,” he added. “And that whole process would have to take place with public outreach, with the council moving it forward, and all the commission input that would go into that. And of course, the voters having the final word.”
Dan Carson jumped in and added, “I do think it’s reasonable that if you support Measure J/R/D and you trust the voters’ judgment, you ought to trust their judgment about amending J/R/D too.”
Councilmember Josh Chapman agreed with Dan Carson, “I do not want to go there … around Measure J/R/D with zoning inside the curve and identifying those properties.” He then said, “But I do think it’s been laid out here this evening, and I’m supportive of exploring what that looks like.”
He added, “This document — it is just tweaking around the edges.”
Vice Mayor Lucas Frerichs pointed out that this is his third RHNA cycle and probably the most challenging, “Because we’ve had a continued build-out around town in the intervening years, we have been building, a decent amount of housing in the past, we’ll say 10-plus years, and a lot of infill, a lot of vacant lots, that once existed – either have been constructed upon or are in the process of being instructed upon currently.”
“That leaves us with not a lot of inventory,” he said.
However, he said, “One thing though that still remains the same — we’re still at a crisis point and we need additional housing.”
Frerichs, while appreciative of UC Davis’ efforts over the past couple of years to build housing, went on to say, “But I also certainly think that we can encourage them to do more,” he said. “I don’t see them as being mutually exclusive.”
He used Orchard Park as a perfect example.
“That’s a perfect location for higher density housing,” he said. “There are no near neighbors and it’s directly on campus, it’s directly on campus.”
“It is frankly, pretty upsetting to me to see them continue to build three and four-story buildings. I’ll just say it, I mean, especially on the core parts of the campus,” he said noting other UC Campuses are building eight-story buildings directly on campus. “(UC Davis) could absolutely be building denser housing on campus.”
Frerichs indicated that SB 9 which he expects to be signed by the governor, “is another tool in the toolkit for housing construction.”
“I’m not sure how well utilized it’s going to be in Davis,” he said. “But I think it could be a positive tool for the city and for the creation of additional housing on some of our residential lots.”
He also expressed frustration at the RHNA allocations and the fact that Yolo County received a total of 57 units, but that UC Davis was building in West VIllage which is in the county and it is was not getting counted at all.
“All those units, all those hundreds of beds… they are not accounted for in the methodology with regard to currently with Yolo County,” Frerichs said. “It’s as if those units basically don’t exist.”
Yet he pointed out there are real impacts from those units.
Mayor Gloria Partida added that it is really baffling to understand why Orchard Park is not taller.
She said, “I think what we’ve learned through the MOU and the Healthy Davis Together program is that it is so important to keep those lines of communication open with UC Davis.”
“I think we get more accomplished when we’re actually in collaboration and having open conversations,” she added.