By David M. Greenwald
Davis, CA – Put me down in the category—I am skeptical that the city of Davis can meet its housing needs. That’s my takeaway point after writing earlier this week on the state of the Housing Element.
Davis basically faces two problems simultaneously. One, it has a lack of vacant sites in town for housing. Two, anything that requires conversion to urban uses requires a vote of the people and the people have only approved two projects in the last 20 years.
One commenter this week argued that “we have tons of space not related to Measure J.” We really don’t.
His big suggestion—redevelopment of shopping centers. Don’t get me wrong, I supported the notion of mixed-use at neighborhood shopping centers. But as *a* solution to housing not *the* solution to housing.
There are a number of big problems here with relying on this kind of development. First of all, redevelopment especially right now is extraordinarily expensive. That’s why we saw the University Commons proposal at seven stories.
The council was willing to bite that bullet once—on a 3-2 vote with the tiebreaking vote leaving council and not having to face the voters in the next election.
What did we get out of that? Rental, student housing. I don’t have a problem with student housing, I have supported student housing, and student housing makes sense across the street from the university, but let’s not start pretending like that is going to solve our housing problem.
That’s the main problem—this kind of redevelopment is not going to produce housing for families. It’s not going to produce single-family homes.
Look no further than the Trackside project that now is back on track. Another incredibly divisive project, it is a large facility and, yet, what do we get out of Trackside? Twenty-seven units of housing—which is luxury rental housing.
This was a big reason I opposed the project a few years ago—incredibly divisive and did not get us a lot of housing and certainly not the kind of housing that moves the ball forward.
In short, redevelopment outside of the core area is expensive, it will need to be dense and, if it is dense, it will be very controversial.
Second, in the coming months we will see the city hopefully approve the new Downtown Plan. I have long supported the need for mixed use in the downtown. But, again, we are talking about redevelopment. Again, we will be talking about rental housing, perhaps more along the lines of workforce housing.
Again, this will be helpful. But when this was analyzed a few years ago, construction costs were high and there were questions about whether this will financially pencil out for developers.
There might be some deep-pocketed developers who want to redevelop swaths of downtown. We have underutilized land space there for sure, but unless we get Redevelopment or some kind of tax increment re-established, I just don’t see it as a large-scale solution.
That leaves us with perhaps some bolder proposals—redevelopment of the Civic Fields along B Street, redevelopment of the District Office or, perhaps the ultimate pipedream, the PG&E yards.
In the end, I know people including myself wanted to avoid peripheral housing, but if you want to bring in single-family homes, if you want to provide housing for families, you have to at some point bite the bullet.
We could see a lot in the way of housing proposed—if the voters are willing to approve. You have what is now 460 units proposed at DiSC, another 26 acres at Palomino Place, and the biggest proposal at this point is at Shriner’s. Will any of these get approved?
The biggest common denominator for approving Measure J projects is traffic impacts. It took a relatively benign proposal for traffic along Covell, for what is now Bretton Woods, and removing access to Richards for Nishi to pass those two projects in 2018.
We will not see the same luxury in 2022 with any of the projects along the Mace-Covell corridor.
So, at this point I see our housing options as expensive, and small infill housing at redevelopment sites or the downtown or greenfield proposals that will require approval by the voters.
Ironically it is easier for the council to simply put Measure J projects on the ballot and punt the issue to the voters. To this day, I have not seen a single councilmember losing office in Davis for putting such a measure on the ballot. Whereas infill is incredibly dangerous, since the buck stops with the person voting for the project.
We saw that with the University Commons project. The two incumbents on the ballot in 2020, Will Arnold and Lucas Frerichs, both voted no and the deciding vote was cast by Brett Lee, exiting council.
Can Davis solve its housing needs? Yes. Will it? Color me skeptical.