By David M. Greenwald
Davis, CA – An article that appears in the Sacramento Bee finds that Davis only grew by 2 percent over the past decade despite being “one of the most desirable places in the region.” The findings of course come as little surprise to anyone familiar with Davis.
“Steadily rising home prices and a lack of new housing development are two of the main reasons Davis grew by only 2% over the last decade, 2020 Census figures show,” the article notes. “Among the area’s cities, only the tiny communities of Colfax and Isleton saw slower growth.”
It continues: “Davis remains one of the Sacramento region’s most desirable places to live. Its schools are excellent, regularly sending students to the best colleges in the state and nation. It is one of the most bikeable cities in the country and makes a collective effort towards sustainable living.
“Due to its proximity to the University of California, Davis, it has a higher proportion of residents with bachelor’s degrees than the large majority of cities in the state.”
I would of course argue that the steadily rising home prices are a product of the lack of new housing development. The article finds that “Davis didn’t build much new housing over the last decade. The total number of housing units in Davis increased by about 1,200, roughly 4.6%, Census data shows.”
It’s notable that the actual housing units increased faster than the population.
Interesting comments by Councilmember Dan Carson.
The article notes Measure J, which gives the voters the right to vote on peripheral housing projects.
Councilmember Carson acknowledged that Davis has not been a “sprawling community.” Instead, “He said the focus has been to protect farmland, but he recognizes there are cases where accommodations need to be made for jobs and housing and said the council is working to address those issues.”
“This is actually a pro-housing Davis City Council, but we have in place, and voters just last year renewed, a local ordinance that says if you’re going to annex farmland or open space land to the city of Davis for urbanization, it can be commercial or housing that the public votes on whether to permit such an annexation,” Carson told the Bee.
The article then goes into just how unaffordable Davis is. Citing RentCafe, the average rental for a 955 sf apartment is around $2400. Home prices have been rising from a median of $494,000 in September 2010 to $832,000 in 2021.
That’s a bit misleading because 2010 was the nadir of the great recession and $494,000 was down from a high in 2005 of about $650,000—it took until the last few years to exceed the 2005 level, but over the past two years, housing prices have skyrocketed from around $700,000 to the current level.
While the article focused on housing shortfalls, it did not address what I would consider the core of the problem.
In their planning ahead section, Dan Carson focused not on new housing, but on “Reimagine Russell,” and the article says, “Which will work to address traffic issues on Russell Boulevard, a street Carson said is the north/south dividing line between where the city of Davis ends off and the campus begins.”
But it omits the growing challenge for housing in Davis. If you look at the growth of new housing units, 1200 over the last decade, all of that was from infill. The city voters did approve two Measure J projects, neither of which have been constructed yet—Nishi and WDAAC.
As the Davis Housing Element showed, finding locations for new housing is going to increasingly be a challenge.
The Housing Element was mentioned just once at the very end of the article.
Carson told the Bee that “there has been reasonable concern and a lot of debate in Davis that the city has not done enough to provide the new housing that is needed. He says a concerted effort is being made by the city to address these concerns through approval of housing projects targeted to meet the needs of the student population, the senior and disabled population and family and workforce population in Davis.
“Me and my colleagues on the council have repeatedly stated and have emphasized in our new housing element that’s an area where we need to do more work,” said Carson. “There are too many people who work in the city of Davis that can’t afford to live in the city of Davis, and we know we need to do better there.”
But missing here is the core of the problem.
First, the city has relied on infill for the most part—especially Cannery, the last large parcel in the city without Measure J requirements for most of its housing. It has also approved some large apartment complexes, but the land in the city for large scale housing is largely gone.
Second, the construction costs are going to make redevelopment very difficult to manage. The city has designed its downtown plan, to be taken up again in February or March, to look at redeveloping the downtown, but cost estimates may limit the ability to build housing there.
That leaves peripheral projects —and while it seems likely that we will see three or four peripheral projects that are either partly or fully housing, whether the voters approve them is dicey.
There was no discussion here of these limitations and, while the council has perhaps made a concerted effort to address some housing issues, there has been little discussion over the limitations of housing going forward, the costs and harms to the community (rising costs and declining school population) and the challenges of finding housing locations that voters will support.