By David M. Greenwald
Davis, CA – When the Planning Commission met in August to discuss adoption of the Housing Element and potential changes, they decided to return in September for additional discussion and consideration of amendments, even after the approval by council.
Among the changes to be considered are the removal of the affordable housing component of the Nishi project from the residential site inventory, for the city to develop a Housing Trust Fund program clearly identifying the needs of the community, and to devise a ballot measure for funding that fund to be placed on the ballot for the 2022 General Election.
When the council a few weeks ago, August 31, approved the Housing Element, they directed staff to make a few minor revisions which included adding the Social Services Commission to the responsible agencies column, identifying a source of permanent funding for the Housing Trust Fund, and rezoning 23.6 acres to address the city’s shortfall of 472 lower-income RHNA units.
The council also wants to encourage UC Davis to seek state funding to provide additional affordable student housing, to maximize campus housing by producing more high density housing, and to increase on-campus housing to more than 50 percent of the student population.
The Planning Commission on a 5-1-1 vote recommended approval of the final draft but also “scheduled a meeting on September 22, 2021 for further discussion and consideration of amendments to the Housing Element.”
Among other issues that drew consideration was a discussion in the Planning Commission that was concerned about counting 105 income-restricted units for the Residential Sites Inventory.
“The concern is that the project’s affordable housing plan states that the income-restricted beds would only be available to students demonstrating financial need,” staff writes. “Therefore, rental to only students would be a violation of those laws. Ultimately, the Planning Commission recommended the elimination of the Nishi project affordable housing from the Residential Sites Inventory.”
Staff responds: “Based on the professional experience of staff and the consultant team, the 105 income-restricted units listed under the Nishi project in the Residential Sites Inventory meet HCD’s criteria for inclusion on the inventory.”
Staff concludes: “The City Council certainly has the option of accepting the recommendation of the Planning Commission to remove the Nishi units from the Residential Sites Inventory. However, it is important to understand the impact of doing so, as these units represent approximately 18 percent of the City’s RHNA obligation for Very Low-Income units for 2021-2029.”
The Planning Commission also recommended that the Social Services Commission Housing Trust Fund proposal draft be a “standalone program and not incorporated into Housing Element Program Action 2.2.1.”
Staff believes that “there is no reason to remove the programs from the Housing Element, as having them documented in the Housing Element would not hinder the Housing Trust Fund in any way.”
Members of the Planning Commission also noted concerns that “the Housing Element does not go far enough or is not aggressive enough to aid in developing affordable housing in Davis.”
A big question that the Planning Commission may take up is how to address the issue of R-1 (single family) zoning from the Zoning Ordinance.
While staff notes they had a number of comments on both sides of the issues, SB 9, which will remove single family zoning at the state level, was signed by the governor this week.
“Public comment proved this topic to be one of the more divisive issues,” staff writes. “Many people (were) either strongly for or strongly against this concept.”
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.”
On August 31, the city council did not act on this issue, though “they agreed it would be a big policy shift for the City and would require further discussion and analysis.”
The staff report notes that the state “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.”
Single-family residential can already be built at many densities. The smallest lot size allowed under the zoning ordinance is 6000 square feet. Staff writes, “In other cities (and under some Planned Developments in Davis) where smaller lots have been permitted for detached housing, the yield can be increased to about 7 to 9 dwelling units per acre. So, if the general plan were amended to allow greater densities, the yields could be increased.”
However, “There is not a great deal of available land to subdivide to achieve high densities. Therefore, the net effect would be limited.” They point out: “The city’s existing General Plan Land Use categories go up as high as 70 dwelling units per acre. At the existing permitted densities, density is already maximized.”
Staff suggests that this item may be appropriate to explore as part of the General Plan update rather than as part of the implementation of the Housing Element.