Commentary: Now What for Davis?


By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

Davis, CA – While there are still a lot of votes to be counted in Davis and Yolo County, none of the races that were contested are particularly close.  With Measure H behind by a wide margin, and Lucas Frerichs poised to win outright in the primary, we can speculate a bit on the future—which is actually pretty interesting for Davis.

The first domino that will drop is that at the end of this month, Gloria Partida will step down as mayor.  Remarkably she has only run one in-person meeting, but such is life these days.  While the council could technically select anyone it wants, it seems most likely that Lucas Frerichs, who is vice mayor and the longest running councilmember until he resigns in January, will take the reins for six months.

He would basically pull a Don Saylor from 2010.  Serve as mayor for six months, and then resign to become a county supervisor.  The council cannot put up a seat on the November election until Lucas Frerichs actually resigns, so they will most likely do what the council did in 2011, appoint a new councilmember.  In 2011, they appointed Dan Wolk, who then ran for his own term in 2012, and finished first, eventually becoming mayor himself.

We all know what happened in 2020 when the school board attempted to appoint someone to fill Cindy Pickett’s seat, but, at least at the moment, it seems unlikely that the voters would petition for a special election—but we shall see.

Meanwhile, the regularly scheduled council elections will provide their own intrigue.  There are two seats up in November—one is Mayor Gloria Partida and the other is Councilmember Dan Carson.  Both are running for a second term.

Both could be potentially sitting targets for slow growth opponents.  They both sat on the council subcommittee for DiSC and were strong proponents of the project.  In Partida’s case, that put her heavily at odds with her East Davis district that twice heavily voted against DiSC.

And while Dan Carson’s district was more supportive of DISC in 2020 at least, he now has a huge target on his back.

Many have called his decision to personally challenge the ballot statements a grave misstep that likely, in the eyes of many, cost DiSC 2022 at the polls and likely heavily contributed to the magnitude of its loss.

Carson, as you know, has been personally blamed for this conduct, called out by six former mayors in a letter and even by his colleagues for going into combat mode at a recent council meeting.

That all could play out in the fall.  But that will require strong opponents to step forward.  What we have seen in Davis over the last decade is that, while voters have opposed most projects, they have supported councilmembers who have been more pro-growth.

In a recent comment on social media by Colin Walsh, for example, he charged that the council is out of step with the public.  And yet, as we saw in 2020, Lucas Frerichs and Will Arnold faced opponents who were opposed to DISC 2020, and yet he won easily.

Council machinations are not the only issue of intrigue in Davis coming up.  While DiSC went down, the city remains in a housing shortage and at least as of now there are still some proposed projects in the planning stages.  Will Palomino, for example, still move forward despite the trashing that DiSC received?

The city is still going to need to address its Housing Element, the Downtown Plan and eventually a General Plan update.

I will focus my comments here on the Housing Element, which was sent back to the city late last year and, to my knowledge at least, the city has yet to resubmit.

One area that I think bears watching is the interplay between Measure J and the Housing Element.  Indeed, a key question that I have had is can the city meet its Affordable Housing requirements internally without having to rely on a Measure J vote?

For their part, the city has told me that the Housing Element was not relying on DiSC to meet its numbers.

But a read through both the city’s analysis and HCD (Housing and Community Development) calls that into question.

The Housing Element Draft report notes: “While Measure J adds costs, extends processing times, and has been used to halt development projects that would convert agricultural land to urban development, it is only a constraint to meeting housing needs if the city lacks sufficient infill housing sites.”

Key point: “[T]here is not currently (2021) enough land designated for residential development to meet the sixth-cycle RHNA.”  Further, “All of the sites identified to meet the lower-income RHNA are non-vacant sites. Although, Measure J supports infill development, these sites are not sufficient to meet the lower-income RHNA.”

They continue: “Even with the increased residential densities planned for the Downtown under the Draft Downtown Davis Specific Plan, the City will need to rezone additional sites to meet the RHNA.”

However, they find: “Had DISC passed, the City would have sufficient sites to meet the sixth-cycle RHNA upon adoption of the Downtown Davis Specific Plan and would not need to rezone additional sites.”

The report notes that while Measure J does not “fully prevent the City” from redesignating agricultural land to meet RHNA, “Measure J does place limitations on the City’s ability to rely on rezoning and annexations to meet the RHNA.”

HCD expresses concern about the impact of Measure J and other growth control measures on the city’s ability to deliver on its housing needs.

“As recognized in the housing element, Measure J poses a constraint to the development of housing by requiring voter approval of any land use designation change from agricultural, open space, or urban reserve land use to an urban use designation,” HCD writes. “Since the ordinance was enacted in March of 2000, four of the six proposed rezones have failed.

“As the element has identified the need for rezoning to accommodate a shortfall of sites to accommodate the housing need, the element should clarify if any of the candidate sites to rezone would be subject to this measure and provide analysis on the constraints that this measure might impose on the development of these sites.”

There was talk about potential tweaks to Measure J to make it more likely to approve heavily Affordable (big A) projects.  But that would require the voters to support changes to Measure J that they have not been willing to do so previously.

And what happens if they don’t?  Would the state intervene?  This could develop into something to watch in the coming weeks and months.


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.

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23 thoughts on “Commentary: Now What for Davis?”

  1. Keith Olson

    We all know what happened in 2020 when the school board attempted to appoint someone to fill Cindy Pickett’s seat, but, at least at the moment, it seems unlikely that the voters would petition for a special election—but we shall see.

    Yes we all know.  How could the people of Davis forget?  In my opinion that episode will forever be a scab on the city of Davis.

  2. Richard_McCann

    One question is whether the Measure H loss might trigger a deeper consideration of truly developing an economic vision and plan with full community input, as several of us on both sides of the DISC issue have advocated for.

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      I think the opposite is likely to occur.  The Measure H loss will trigger more of a focus on the downtown where it doesn’t take a vote to enact changes and an abandonment of a broader economic development vision.

  3. Richard_McCann

    I know of at least 2 potential Council candidates among the 3 open seats who will bring innovative thought to the Council and who clearly understand what ills the City.

    1. Keith Y Echols

      who clearly understand what ills the City.

      That’s the problem.  “What ills the city” is largely dependent on the vision and quality of life one expects.

      I think the common ground for this kind of measurement is the least required in terms of growth and cutting costs to maintain the current standard of living in Davis (timely road repairs, better policing…however you define it, effective park maintenance/trees/weeds…etc..) is where this discussion and analysis should start.  From there the discussion can move on towards what the people want (if at all) beyond the current standard of living and what the would require (growth, increased taxes…etc..).



      1. Don Shor

        “What ills the city”

        Insufficient tax revenue? Insufficient housing inventory? Not enough affordable housing? Resources for the homeless? Lack of space for growing ag bio-tech businesses? I hear some people want more sports facilities.

        1. Keith Y Echols

          Insufficient tax revenue? Insufficient housing inventory? Not enough affordable housing? Resources for the homeless? Lack of space for growing ag bio-tech businesses? I hear some people want more sports facilities.

          Remember, some people don’t want Davis to grow at all or in anyway that causes it to grow on the periphery or has a major impact inside the city…..etc….

          Insufficient tax revenue?  What does that mean for the common voter?  Insufficient housing inventory?  For whom?  People wanting to move to Davis and force it to grow?  Not enough affordable housing?  Well, many don’t want affordable housing in their neighborhood but then they don’t want peripheral development either.

          You gotta look at it from the other side’s point of view.  From there we can hopefully build a workable compromise.  That’s why I think figuring out what can at least fund the status quo is a place to start.  The message is simple; we either expand a little bit or we take away services and start raising taxes.


  4. Ron Oertel

    One question is whether the Measure H loss might trigger a deeper consideration of truly developing an economic vision and plan with full community input, as several of us on both sides of the DISC issue have advocated for.

    I’d suggest a Studio (54) type report.  (Probably up to Studio 55, by now.)


  5. Keith Y Echols

    The fight between cities and the state over the RHNA numbers is going to become more of an issue over the next few years.  There are many cities in CA in the same boat as Davis; unable to meet their housing requirement numbers.  Some cities are unwilling to meet them.  Others are like Davis; not objecting to the numbers but unwilling politically to do what is required to meet those numbers.

    Keep in mind that part of the criteria for judging compliance by cities with RHNA numbers is the HDC’s estimation of the likelihood that the planned housing element submitted will actually be developed.  So cities with a history of successfully preventing housing projects will likely be under greater scrutiny.

    1. Matt Williams

      So cities with a history of successfully preventing housing projects will likely be under greater scrutiny.

      This is where I believe Davis has a much stronger case than other cities in standing up to HCD scrutiny.  The annual housing progress reports that the City of Davis has filed with HCD over the 10-year period from 2011 through 2020 show Davis added 1,797 residential units to its 2010 baseline inventory of 24,873 residential units.  That is a 7.2% increase in the housing supply over that 10-year period.

      Year _ Units Added _ Running Total

      2011 ____ 122 ________ 122
      2012 ____ 188 ________ 310
      2013 _____ 54 ________ 364
      2014 _____ 13 ________ 377
      2015 ____ 105 ________ 482
      2016 ____ 266 ________ 748
      2017 ____ 214 ________ 962
      2018 ____ 374 ________ 1336
      2019 ____ 395 ________ 1731
      2020 _____ 66 ________ 1797

      1. Keith Y Echols

        So then the question is what would Davis been expected to add?   And what does Davis’ history of denied projects look like….not just the approved ones?  And if you did a ratio of approved and denied what would it look like?  And how would that compare relative to other cities in the area (how many did Woodland add)?  To other cities that have similar RHNA requirements?

        1. Matt Williams

          Interesting questions Keith.  Since almost all cities have valid, functioning General Plans … and in most cases meaningful Zoning, I imagine the universe of formally denied projects is very, very , very small.  Further, very few cities are as dense as Davis is, so they have considerably larger infill opportunities.

          The U.S. Census Bureau released an updated list of urban areas today, showing more people are migrating to population centers throughout the U.S.

          New estimates indicate 80.7 percent of Americans now reside in urban areas, up from 79 percent in 2000. Population density for these areas varies greatly, ranging from about 400 residents per square mile to more than 5,000 in larger cities.

          California is home to a significant number of the nation’s most densely-populated urbanized areas. Of the top 50 areas with the highest population density, all but 15 are located in the Golden State.

          Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, Calif. is the most densely populated area in the country, with nearly 7,000 residents per square mile. The following 10 urbanized areas have the highest population density:

          Population/sq. mile

          Los Angeles, Calif.

          San Francisco, Calif.

          San Jose, Calif.

          Delano, Calif.

          New York, N.Y.

          Davis, Calif.

          Lompoc, Calif.

          Honolulu, Hawaii

          Woodland, Calif.

          Las Vegas, Nev.

          The Census Bureau estimates 95 percent of Californians reside in urban areas – the highest nationwide.  New Jersey is close behind, with urban areas accounting for 94.7 percent of the population.

          Urban areas are divided into two groups: There are 486 “urbanized areas,” defined as having populations of at least 50,000. The Census Bureau considers smaller areas with 2,500 to 50,000 residents to be “urban clusters.”

          It is worth noting that the 5,157 density per square mile is for the Davis urbanized area, which contains El Macero, Willowbank, Patwin and North Davis Meadows. The City of Davis population density in the 2020 Census is 6,587 residents per square mile … mid way between the national #1 Los Angeles and the national #2 San Francisco.

        2. Ron Oertel

          Interesting.  Los Angeles is considered “more dense” than San Francisco?

          Something doesn’t seem right, regarding that.

          Also, does El Macero, Willowbank, Patwin, and North Davis Meadows have RHNA requirements? And if not, why not?

          Does the state simply “look the other way”, regarding those areas?

          No doubt, the student housing (which doesn’t even count for RHNA) in Davis is creating the “density”. A triple-loser for the city (density, failure to count toward requirements, and no doubt – higher cost for the city – as demonstrated by the rough analysis for Sterling).

  6. Ron Oertel

    So, immediately after DiSC loses (which would have ADDED to RHNA requirements in future rounds), the Vanguard is now concerned about existing RHNA requirements.

    (Strange, how David wasn’t concerned about that when advocating for DiSC. Just as he and supporters weren’t concerned about the housing shortage it would create.

    RHNA requirements are primarily focused on major population centers (which aren’t expanding outward at all) – to increase density.

    It seems doubtful that SACOG would ever accept a plan which depends upon voter approval, as noted in the comment that David cited above (regarding the city’s responsibility to provide an analysis of any possible “constraints”).

    And if city officials ever attempted it as their “plan”, that would be a dereliction of duty.

    Now, it may be possible that someone will attempt to weasel their way around this (for the purpose of supporting a development), but I wouldn’t want to be the one to have to explain this to voters.  Seems to me that some on the council have already damaged their credibility and trust with voters.

    In addition, “timing” is involved, as there’s going to be some kind of a “due date” for all cities to get their plans approved. Also, there isn’t any large-scale development on the horizon, and we’re facing a housing/economic crash to boot.

    (And for that matter, that also puts pressure on the state to approve those plans – unless they want to sue half or more of the cities throughout the state.)

    All-in-all, this article is a continuation of the Vanguard’s attempt to “find problems” to fit its predetermined “solution”.

    Again, I’d gladly keep a pothole, rather than advocate for more Ponzi-scheme, environmentally-destructive peripheral developments.

    Watch what happens. There will be a bunch of “paper plans” approved, but the housing won’t actually get built, other than market-rate, high-end housing (including sprawl in places like Folsom).

    The population of the state itself has also been DECLINING, which doesn’t help their cause. Neither does the drought and water shortage.

    It’s almost as if the state is saying, “grow, damn it” – to a garden that simply won’t.

    1. Don Shor

      The submitted Housing Elements of the City of Davis as well as City of Woodland are out of compliance with the state housing department. They join 200+ other cities, about 40% of those in the state. DISC would have brought the city into compliance. Since it failed to pass, the city now has to identify other sites that would meet the state housing department requirements within this planning cycle.
      A review of the state’s letter will illustrate the challenge:

      1. Ron Oertel

        Thanks for posting the letter from last December.  There’s almost no detail included, and one of the links from it doesn’t work.

        DiSC was not submitted as part of the housing element.  Had it been, it likely would have been rejected (as it is subject to the constraints already discussed).

        DiSC likely would have caused future rounds of RHNA housing requirements to increase, as SACOG considers the number of jobs in a given area when assigning those numbers.  And since DiSC would have reportedly created 2,500 jobs (but only 460 housing units), the city of Davis likely “dodged a bullet” by rejecting DiSC.

        Seems to me that this is the type of thing that the council should be explaining, rather than advocating for an additional problem for Davis.

        1. Ron Oertel

          Correction – I see that there is detail included, below the letter itself.  Including the rejection of student housing, which the city was warned about by some of the commenters on here – repeatedly (and BEFORE they approved it).

          The city chose to ignore those warnings.

          I’ll study this further.

  7. Bill Marshall

    Also, does El Macero, Willowbank, Patwin, and North Davis Meadows have RHNA requirements? And if not, why not?

    They are not ‘entities’… they are in the County… County RHNA requirements for the County apply, not those enclaves.  Get a clue.  Inform thyself…

    Any ‘growth’ in the County, particularly those you cite, plus Binning Tract, Royal Oaks, etc., (which you failed to mention) would require redevelopment (unlikely, big time) or ‘sprawl’ (your term, not mine) onto prime Ag lands/open space… you seem to be speaking out of both sides of your mouth… or is the “H” word in play?  I wonder…

      1. Bill Marshall

        Although poorly framed, by the poster I responded to, it is a good question if worded as,

         Does anybody know what the County obligations under RHNA are? Also, does the county have a plan?

        The original question posed was not truly a valid question, but as you reworded it, it is truly a valid and good question… I, too, would be very interested in the answers…


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