By David M. Greenwald
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.”
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.