Commentary: Final Exam Time for Housing in Davis As Well in Other California Cities

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

Davis, CA – Earlier this week, the Bay Area version of SACOG, Association of Bay Area Governments Administration Committee (ABAG), finalized its denial of 27 of 28 appeals.  Cities, most of them affluent suburbs in the Bay Area, had sought to reduce their housing allocation in the ABAG RHNA (Regional Housing Needs Allocation).

According to the California Planning and Development Report, “The committee rejected appeals from cities including Tiburon, Sausalito, Palo Alto, and Lafayette, as well as several county-based appeals. The one appeal that was upheld came from unincorporated Contra Costa County but occurred due to a minor error by ABAG staff. In this case, the county will be able to build 35 fewer units, but the city of Hercules will have to plan for 35 more.”

There is still the potential lawsuit route, but don’t count on that proving any more fruitful.

Governor Gavin Newsom and the state legislature have prioritized the housing crisis in recent years.  They have attempted to streamline regulations, and along with the federal government they have prioritized and funded low income housing and housing for homelessness.

This year, they passed a law that will allow for areas zoned for single-family homes to split their lots and build duplexes.

While I still think they have another card to play on re-establishing the increment tax to fund affordable housing and redevelop existing low density locations, the state has probably done what it can do at the state level.

As many now see it, the real challenge is at the local level.  Think about it, we are in a housing crisis and Bay Area cities, in the heart of unaffordable land, are actually making technical arguments to decrease their housing allotments.

I have been watching the response to the housing crisis locally here in Davis.  The response from a lot of citizens is not encouraging.  The city has already quietly acknowledged that they are running out of infill opportunities and there are still opportunities in the downtown, should funding become available—but, realistically, if Davis is going to build new housing, increasingly it will be on the periphery.

While the housing crisis is statewide, some of Davis’ housing woes are self-inflicted.  Davis has some of the most stringent growth control measures in the state—with voter requirements for approval of any ag-land conversions.

The reactions I see: (a) put on UC Davis campus (and then deny them access to town directly), (b) we don’t have an actual housing crisis, (c) I’m opposed to sprawl defined as any medium density peripheral housing development, and (d) I’m sure I am missing some.

The state has a lot more housing tools than it once had.  The state now has 20 new laws that have raised the bar on the requirements for a compliant housing element.

As Gustavo Velaquez, director of the California Department of Housing and Community Development, wrote in a recent op-ed, “If, however, localities are unwilling to do their part to realize this vision of more housing for all, the state will use its authority to compel them to do so.”

He noted that the Newsom administration filed suit against “Huntington Beach for its reluctance to abide by state housing requirements.”

In the past, he wrote that “housing plans could simply end at compliance without any follow-up. That ends on this administration’s watch. We are serious about local housing accountability.”

At the Department of Housing and Community Development, “we are committed to using the totality of strong pro-housing requirements codified in state law.”

Here in Davis, we are reaching a crucial juncture as we start running out of easily developed infill projects by which to stay compliant with RHNA.  Can the city of Davis meet its current housing needs under the current constraints of Measure J?

For some, after I floated the question earlier this week, the answer to that question was a resounding no.  For me, I will wait and see what happens between now and 2024 with a number of projects that are likely to go to the voters.

While we have focused heavily on the 83-17 vote to extend Measure J until 2030, one point that has gone undiscussed is Measure J has never faced legal challenge.  Is it vulnerable?  Potentially.  One reason that it has not been challenged is that it would likely take years to litigate, and would need big and deep pockets to challenge.

But what if the state came in and challenged it as they challenged Huntington Beach?  What Davis still has going for it is it’s a city of 70,000 people versus 200,000 for Huntington Beach, but a legal challenge might be interesting.

What I see is a community that is becoming more expensive and older.  We are losing the ability for young families with children to move here or stay here and raise their children and attend our schools.

This community has always valued its schools, valued its small town appeal, and fought hard against sprawl and mass development in order to preserve that character.  But the character is changing one way or the other, and we are just now starting to see the impact of two decades of growth control policies.

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.

Related posts

25 Comments

  1. Ron Glick

    “Davis has some of the most stringent growth control measures in the state – with voter requirements for approval of any agland conversions.”

    Growth controls you have always supported and continued to support. All the while you pretend to care about the housing insecure. You want it both ways, but sorry, I’m not buying it. You are part of the problem and I find your dissembling on the issue reprehensible. This article would have more merit if you wrote it as warning to the housed that their privilege might be at risk. At least that would be consistent with the policy choices you support.

    “But the character is changing one way or the other and we are just now starting to see the impact of two decades of growth control policies.”

    Speak for yourself or be specific  who the “we” in this sentence represents. As someone who wrote at least a decade ago that by trying to preserve Davis we were changing it I find it absurd that you claim we are only now seeing the impacts of growth control policies. Maybe you are only now seeing it. That wouldn’t surprise me in the least. Yet still, once again, you walk right up to the limit line of condemning the limit line policy you support yet once again fail to do so.

    Yes, we are likely to see several annexation elections in the next few years. So what? The problems of adding supply will not be resolved by a yes vote just as the problem of supply hasn’t been solved by past votes. Remember that after 21 year not one unit of housing has been built subject to the ordinance. Expecting to get a different result by doing the same thing over and over is the definition of insanity.

     

  2. Keith Y Echols

    (c) I’m opposed to sprawl defined as any medium density peripheral housing development, and I’m sure I am missing some.

    David, I tried in at least two comments in a previous article to describe what sprawl is from a socio-community planning perspective.  You fail to acknowledge or maybe just don’t understand it.  For someone that likes to frequently write articles about land use; I’d suggest taking some classes in Urban Planning or at least reading up, joining or talking to proponents of the “New” Urbanist movement.  It’s not simply about planned density.

    What I see is a community that is becoming more expensive and older.  We are losing the ability for young families with children to move here or stay here and raise their children and attend our schools.

    Less economically advantaged families.  Where do you draw the line on who can afford to live here?  Does everyone who wants to live where ever they want get to live there?  Do you just show up to the city planning department and say; “I need a home” and the city will provide one for you?

    This community has always valued its schools, valued its small town appeal, and fought hard against sprawl and mass development in order to preserve that character. 

    That small town appeal is actually baked directly into the General Plan…which was what….written in the 80s?

    But the character is changing one way or the other and we are just now starting to see the impact of two decades of growth control policies.

    The community is becoming more and more a part of the growing Sacramento metro area.  It’s less and less a silly little college town island to itself.

    Yes, I foresee Measure J eventually being challenged by the state.  But what is not clear is if the state can force a city to geographically grow.  That may push cities and the RHNA (through the ministerial process) to approve high density housing on infill sites.  Then the question comes if those sites are economically feasible.  One of the requirements of RHNA compliance is the actual viability/feasibility of the planned units.  Forced infill projects may require a developer to tear up streets for traffic and parking mitigation, dig for underground parking, stick in a new water or sewer line.  Just building vertically itself is a major expense over simply building 1-2 story homes.  Cities may have to increase their sewer treatment capacity.   All this infrastructure improvement may be cost prohibitive which then runs into the probable feasibility that the RHNA considers for compliance.

      1. Keith Y Echols

        You want me to comb through 15-20 years of reading stuff online, books and going to seminars (I used to listen to New Urbanist lectures from different perspectives through Habitat for Humanity, SPUR as well as at the Pacific Coast Builders Conference/PCBC.) and provide articles to you?  All I’m saying to you is to do some research on a subject you seem very heavily interested in.  If I can find something (maybe on my bookshelf), I’ll send it to you

        New Urbansim put simply is building communities that are:

        Walkable, mixed use with centralized activity and connected to mass transit.

        I thought I was pretty clear that the Shriner’s property proposed project had “no there there”.  There’s nothing that connects it to the greater community (other than a small bike path that goes under Mace near Alhambra).  In fact there’s little that makes it it’s own community.   A well designed project would seek to connect the local neighborhood community to the greater community and seek to have the greater community connect to the local neighborhood community.  Essentially plan/build a reason for the rest of the town to go to the new local community from time to time.  Local retail shops, coffee shops, restaurants, pubs, local entertainment.   Tim Keller had a similar idea back when we were talking about DISC.  He wanted a second downtown built.  That’s a bit extreme IMO….but it’s the right idea.  I would advocate for integrated neighborhood retail/entertainment/community amenities.

        Just simply eyeballing the proposed project:  Imagine that central green walk way expanded into a pedestrian street walkway.  Now imagine that those medium density residential buildings are mixed used with retail on the bottom.  So that there are retail shops, cafes, coffee shops..etc..  Maybe a small plaza in the middle   Imagine that it goes all the way back to that park/pond area.  The rear MDR buildings are also mixed use with retail facing the pond/park area.  Imagine sitting outside on a patio/terrace and dining next to that park.  The idea is to plan for mini European like neighborhood plazas or a mini La Rambla.  This kind gets the local community out and about and interacting as well as attracts the rest of the community to visit the new community.

        If all you have is a bunch of houses built on the periphery without any social (or much physical) connection to the rest of the community….that’s sprawl.

        1. Don Shor

          Essentially plan/build a reason for the rest of the town to go to the new local community from time to time. Local retail shops, coffee shops, restaurants, pubs, local entertainment. Tim Keller had a similar idea back when we were talking about DISC. He wanted a second downtown built. That’s a bit extreme IMO….but it’s the right idea. I would advocate for integrated neighborhood retail/entertainment/community amenities.

          Just simply eyeballing the proposed project: Imagine that central green walk way expanded into a pedestrian street walkway. Now imagine that those medium density residential buildings are mixed used with retail on the bottom. So that there are retail shops, cafes, coffee shops..etc.. Maybe a small plaza in the middle Imagine that it goes all the way back to that park/pond area. The rear MDR buildings are also mixed use with retail facing the pond/park area. Imagine sitting outside on a patio/terrace and dining next to that park. The idea is to plan for mini European like neighborhood plazas or a mini La Rambla.

          Imagine finding a business owner willing to invest in starting a retail store or restaurant in the middle of a residential neighborhood.
          A core problem with New Urbanism: it doesn’t function in the real world. Did you know that there was supposed to be a retail component to Village Homes, the crown jewel of New Urbanism? There’s one really nice restaurant there now.
          You don’t actually want destination retail in the midst of residential housing. And as to the likelihood, just ask the owners of The Cannery how their search for retailers is going.

        2. Keith Y Echols

          Imagine finding a business owner willing to invest in starting a retail store or restaurant in the middle of a residential neighborhood.

          You’re thinking about this all wrong.  It’s not about getting destination retail.  It’s about getting local retail that may appeal to others in the town.  It doesn’t have to be a magnificent retail offering like San Jose’s Santana Row.  I’m well aware of the limitations of  New Urbanism.  I’ve been studying it for years.  I’ve actually been to the former crown jewel of New Urbanism multiple times since it’s been redeveloped; Stapleton Airport in Colorado.   The criticisms are valid.

          . Did you know that there was supposed to be a retail component to Village Homes, the crown jewel of New Urbanism?

          How in the world is Village Homes new Urbanism?  Isn’t that the area with the streets named after Lord of the Rings places? It’s a bunch of low…maybe medium density homes and some greenbelt park space.  It’s the opposite of New Urbansim.

          The Cannery how their search for retailers is going.

          The Cannery is a cluster @#$% of a design.  I can’t fathom why it was designed that way.  Of course no retailer wants to go into the Cannery.  Siting the Cannery as an indictment of New Urbanism is like siting the Ford Pinto as a reason to not build cars.

          1. Don Shor

            How in the world is Village Homes new Urbanism? Isn’t that the area with the streets named after Lord of the Rings places? It’s a bunch of low…maybe medium density homes and some greenbelt park space. It’s the opposite of New Urbanism.

            When I took urban planning at UCD, Village Homes was THE pinnacle of modern urban planning. People came from all over the world to tour it. The term New Urbanism came a few years later. Mike Corbett is considered a pioneer in the field, as I’m sure you know.

            Village Homes predates the evolution of smart growth,
            new urbanism, sustainable development, and green
            buildings, among other contemporary causes or “flavors
            of the month”. However, Village Homes contains
            components that many advocates have claimed as part of
            their alternative development agenda to the status quo.
            Only the Corbett’s can claim legitimate bragging rights
            to the success (and a few failures) of Village Homes. In
            addition to the notion that Village Homes offers ideas
            for sustainable development, the Corbett’s have clearly
            connected Village Homes to the New Urbanism banner
            through the Ahwahnee Principles, which promote a sense
            of community, respect for regionalism, and the importance
            of effective implementation (Corbett and Corbett, 1999)

            https://digitalcommons.calpoly.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=&httpsredir=1&article=1035&context=focus

            The Cannery is a cluster @#$% of a design. I can’t fathom why it was designed that way. Of course no retailer wants to go into the Cannery. Siting the Cannery as an indictment of New Urbanism is like siting the Ford Pinto as a reason to not build cars.

            The Cannery was basically designed by committee.
            Traffic was the major concern of the public, though it wasn’t subject to a Measure J vote so they really only had to sell 3 councilmembers on the design. Any project nearby it will have the same public concerns, and will be, of course, subject to a vote. Adding any retail or any significant commercial component to a new subdivision will likely engender opposition as it will increase traffic there and nearby. The Cannery tried to get permission for an LA Fitness, which required a (yet another) change to the development agreement. The residents objected strenuously due to parking and traffic circulation issues.

  3. Ron Oertel

    There is an initiative to overturn the new state laws.  There may be more than one group involved with this:

    “Provides That Local Land-use And Zoning Laws Override Conflicting State Laws. Initiative Constitutional Amendment. Provides that city and county land-use and zoning laws (including local housing laws) override all conflicting state laws, except in certain circumstances related to three areas of statewide concern: (1) the California Coastal Act of 1976; (2) siting of power plants; or (3) development of water, communication, or transportation infrastructure projects. Prevents state legislature and local legislative bodies from passing laws invalidating voter-approved local land-use or zoning initiatives. Prohibits state from changing, granting, or denying funding to local governments based on their implementation of this measure. Summary of estimate by Legislative Analyst and Director of Finance of fiscal impact on state and local governments: Fiscal effects of the measure depend on future decisions by the cities and counties and therefore are unknown. (21-0016A1.)“

    https://www.livablecalifornia.org/livable-california-endorses-the-our-neighborhood-voices-initiative/

    https://ourneighborhoodvoices.com/

    Regardless, David continually attempts to suggest that the state laws force sprawl, and uses that to attack Measure J.

    The new laws do not force sprawl – it’s about infill. Again, the communities protesting this are not sprawling outward.

    1. Keith Y Echols

      I do not know what legal standing this initiative has.  I’m sure you know that federal and State law has the right to preempt local ordinances.  So why do you think this initiative is significant?  There’s a difference in overturning the housing initiatives and RHNA mandates vs. outright saying that the state can’t make these changes.

      I think the bigger question is if the state will be able to fully enforce their new laws and if they will survive a change in political will in the next election cycle.

      1. Ron Oertel

        So why do you think this initiative is significant?

        I think your question is better-directed to those promoting this initiative.  Are you suggesting that they haven’t looked into the legalities, and are wasting their time?

        I think the bigger question is if the state will be able to fully enforce their new laws and if they will survive a change in political will in the next election cycle.

        Also factors.

        Another question is, what happens when all of these mandates are found to be not feasible (in terms of actual results), due to the costs that you outlined?  How does a city “ensure” that the results will be feasible?

        Basically, the state seems to be telling cities (such as Sausalito, to use one of the examples cited in the article) that “they” have to zone for affordable housing.  Good luck with that, in terms of actual results. Regardless of how many YIMBY lawyers are sent out to monitor it.

        I can see cities going back to the state, saying “we zoned it as you asked, now YOU tell us how that’s “feasible”. And, what options would the state actually have in response to that?
         

         

        1. Keith Y Echols

          Are you suggesting that they haven’t looked into the legalities, and are wasting their time?

          Yes

          I can see cities going back to the state, saying “we zoned it as you asked, now YOU tell us how that’s “feasible”.

          Yes, that probably will happen.

          And, what options would the state actually have in response to that?

          That’s when things get interesting.  Can the state force a city to annex more property to grow because it’s economically more feasible to build out vs. build up?  So far the initiatives have focused on enforcing the established General Plan created by cities.

        2. Ron Oertel

          Are you suggesting that they haven’t looked into the legalities, and are wasting their time?

          Yes

          Somehow, I doubt that’s the case.  But honestly, don’t know enough about the law (and the ability of voters to change the state constitution, for example) to defend it.  I would think that those behind this have received some kind of legal advice, before proceeding.  But again, don’t know.

          Who knows if it will actually make it on the ballot, for that matter. But, anyone concerned about the state’s reach might want to sign it.

          Can the state force a city to annex more property to grow because it’s economically more feasible to build out vs. build up? 

          Many of the cities that are protesting the requirements can’t sprawl outward.  And yet, their appeals have been denied.  That’s where the battle actually is, and is likely what will lead to the ineffectiveness and ultimately – failure of the state’s efforts. (That, plus all of the ways that cities will try to resist, either passively or aggressively.)

          But, Davis is not one of those type of cities. It’s represented by those who support the state’s efforts, in the first place. Essentially, the fox guarding the henhouse, as they say. That sounds kind of sexist, now that I think about it.
           

           

           

  4. Matt Williams

    to stay compliant with RHNA.  Can the city of Davis meet its current housing needs under the current constraints of Measure J?

    For some, after I floated the question earlier this week, the answer to that question was a resounding no.  For me, I will wait and see what happens between now and 2024 with a number of projects that are likely to go to the voters.

    My personal answer to that question is that for this current RHNA cycle, which lasts for the period from 2023 through 2031, we have more than sufficient available infill land … either long-term zoned appropriately and/or recently approved with new zoning (Nishi, WDAAC, Chiles Ranch, University Commons, the remaining portion of the Cannery, and possibly even the occupancy permits associated with Davis Live and Sterling and Lincoln40) plus the zoning changes that will come with the Downtown Plan Update.

    If Davis has an “available sites” problem, that problem isn’t “in play” until the next RHNA cycle, which begins in 2031 and lasts until 2039.

      1. Matt Williams

        My bad.  I got the 2023 to 2031 date range from the City website.

        With that sword fallen on, the date adjustment does not change my basic point … If Davis has an “available sites” problem, that problem isn’t “in play” until the next RHNA cycle, which begins in 2029 and lasts until 2037.

        1. Bill Marshall

          And the crux comes down to ‘available’ sites, vs.  ‘practical/practicable’ sites… big diff… the largest ‘available’ sites (to someone who just looks at a map, as some do) have UG/construction issues/useful area, for anything approaching dense or sorta’ dense housing (as a professional would see them)… many have similar problems for non-res purposes… reasons why they have not been developed for many years… then at least one is ‘problematic’ due to UG toxics… “brownfield”, but still officially labelled, or closely related to, a “superfund” site.

  5. Matt Williams

    The much bigger problem that Davis has is that it starts every Fiscal Year with an $8 million to $14 million budget shortfall.  That means annual revenues are $8 million to $14 million a year lowewr than annual necessary expenses.  Said another way, the City of Davis finds itself in a huge fiscal “hole” each and every year … and there is a time-honored expression that says “if you find yourself in a hole with a shovel in your hands, then you should stop digging.” 

    It is important to note that the recurring annual $8 million to $14 million “hole” is almost completely due to the fact that for almost all new housing in Davis the annual costs of providing services exceed the annual revenues received from the new housing.  This is not a new problem.  The minutes of the April 6th, 2010 City Council meeting read as follows:

    Assistant City Manager Paul Navazio stated it is challenging for communities to grow in a way that supports services. Break even point for residential developments is approx $470,000-$500,000; affordable housing and multi-family projects fall short of supporting services.

    .
    I believe the State of California needs to factor that fiscal reality into its policy actions.

  6. Alan Miller

    (d) I’m sure I am missing some.

    I’m sure when you figure those out you’ll write an article about them.

    Speak for yourself or be specific  who the “we” in this sentence represents.

    There’s a lot of people around here who need to clearly define their “we”.

  7. Ron Glick

    “The Cannery is a cluster @#$% of a design.  I can’t fathom why it was designed that way. ”

    Its because of Measure J. In a sane world Covell Village and Cannery would have mastered planned together or at least multiple points of access would have been shared. However since Covell Village was outside the city limit it was subject to a Measure J vote that failed. Cannery was already inside the city limit so it was exempt from a Measure J vote and the property owners were not going to wait around until Covell Village could pass an annexation vote.

    Still, the people I know who bought a home in the Cannery like it, so, I don’t really understand why people who don’t live there are always so disrespectful of the project instead of deferring to the people who actually live there.

    1. Bill Marshall

      In a sane world Covell Village and Cannery would have mastered planned together or at least multiple points of access would have been shared.

      Gee… for access, drainage, utilities, City PW engineers pushed for that… City planners, two-three CC members and public said that would be growth inducing, and said that wasn’t ‘sane’…  whatever…

  8. Ron Glick

    “Break even point for residential developments is approx $470,000-$500,000; affordable housing and multi-family projects fall short of supporting services.”

    I wonder what that nut is today where single family homes are nearing $1,00,000?

  9. Ron Glick

    “Yes, I foresee Measure J eventually being challenged by the state.  But what is not clear is if the state can force a city to geographically grow.”

    Land outside the City could be developed by the County but isn’t due to historic policy choices. The State could push the  County if the City refuses.

  10. Jim Frame

    they really only had to sell 3 councilmembers

    They only had to buy 3 councilmembers.

     

    The State could push the  County if the City refuses.

    I think the county has even less discretionary money than the city has.  Taking on a project guaranteed to be net negative within 15 years might not sound like a good idea to the supes.

     

  11. Ron Oertel

    Just happened across this article:

    California housing crisis drifts toward political war

    The long-simmering conflict between state officials and local governments over housing construction — or the lack thereof — escalated this month and may be headed for a showdown at the polls next year.

    Bonta’s announcement drew sharp criticism from the League of California Cities.

    “The comments made during the attorney general’s press conference today, demonizing all cities for things they do not control, will not put roofs over the heads of Californians,” the organization’s executive director, Carolyn Coleman, said.

    https://calmatters.org/commentary/2021/11/california-housing-crisis-political-bonta-initiative/

    Republicans would be wise to focus on the fact that Democrats (and their business allies) were behind this in the first place. And that goes for the attorney general, as well.

Leave a Reply

X Close

Newsletter Sign-Up

X Close

Monthly Subscriber Sign-Up

Enter the maximum amount you want to pay each month
$ USD
Sign up for