My View: It Appears Bretton Woods Will Break Ground This Month – But the Future of Housing in Davis Remains Clouded in Uncertainty

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

Davis, CA – An announcement went on Friday that there will be a Groundbreaking Ceremony held on July 26 at the site of the future Bretton Woods neighborhood.  For most places, that is a nice to know, but for Davis it is itself a groundbreaking development as Bretton Woods will become the first Measure J project to actually break ground.

That’s 560 total units and, perhaps more importantly, 150 very low-income affordable units that will count for the city’s 2021-29 RHNA requirements.

This follows on the heels of the vote by the city council on Tuesday to extend the Development Agreement for two more years to allow the Chiles Ranch and its 22 moderate-income units and 108 total units to be built.

Still the overall picture is at best unsettled.  While the city easily exceeds the moderate-income and above moderate income RHNA requirements in projects that have already been planned and approved, it faces a shortfall of about 472 low and very low-income units, even when adding in vacant and underutilized sites and ADUs.

According to the Housing Element, which has still not been approved by HCD, “the City of Davis has a shortfall of 472 units to accommodate its lower-income RHNA (930 units). Per State law, the City must rezone land within three years of the Housing Element adoption deadline that allows at least 30 units per acre with a minimum density of 20 units per acre. At a minimum density of 20 units per acre, the City is obligated to rezone at least 23.6 acres.”

As previously reported, for this cycle the city is confident that they can hit that target.

“I don’t really think it will be a problem,” City Manager Mike Webb told me.

The city will have to lay out a rationale for the sites that will have to be pursued.  But even with the loss of DiSC, Webb expects they can lay out enough infill sites to not have a problem meeting the housing needs.  Though he did say Housing and Community Development might want to see a timeline where the housing can be built sooner rather than later in the cycle.

“The next Housing Element cycle, that’s where the community will need to be reengaged,” Webb acknowledged.  “I don’t see us infilling our way to a Housing Element next time.”

That means that, by 2029, the city will have to figure out how to get the allotment of affordable housing.

“That’s a key drive to the next General Plan Update,” Webb said.  “Looking ahead to the new RHNA cycle.”

While some have laid out a vision whereby housing needs could be hit through infill, I’m not really that optimistic it is feasible.  For example, University Commons was approved for 264 units including 13 low-income and 13 moderate-income units.  By Davis standards, that’s a large project, and yet it only adds 13 low-income units and there are real questions about whether and when those units will even be built.

A piece put out last weekend by Judy Corbett laid out the possibility of redevelopment of the Downtown (approximately 900) units, and they also focus on “[m]ajor developable sites exist north of the Food Co-op, at the school district block at Fifth and B streets, and at the East Eighth Street shopping center. However, the area with the most potential is along East Fifth Street.”

However, it seems questionable at this point that any of that could be developed in the near future—even the downtown seems problematic, even though it is vitally needed.  And if the downtown is redevelopment, it is doubtful it will produce much in the way of the desperately needed low- or very low-income affordable units.

I tend to agree with Mike Webb that we will not be able to infill our way out of the affordable housing shortfall for the next cycle, and I’m more skeptical that we can even do it for this cycle.

As the Housing Element points out, the main problem is, “[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 (2020) 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.”

That’s one problem.  The other is: the prospects for Measure J projects is sketchy at best.

The past has shown that the only two projects that were approved did not come with traffic concerns.  DISC went down in both 2020 and 2022 amid traffic concerns, and those concerns continue along the Mace Corridor where two other projects—Palomino and Shriner’s have been proposed.

The prospects might be better next to Bretton Woods or even a scaled down proposal at Covell and Pole Line where traffic is less of a concern.

The city could also try to get creative—tweaking their affordable housing exemption which would have to go to a vote, or do some sort of preapproval route in the next general plan, which would go to the voters, but not require changes to Measure J.

Both of those strategies have their own pitfalls.  But it is clear that the city will have to do something to change things or they are likely to see HCD or the Attorney General’s office step in at some point.

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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25 Comments

  1. Ron Glick

    “…or do some sort of preapproval route in the next general plan, which would go to the voters, but not require changes to Measure J.”

    For some reason you fixate on this idea that has about as much chance of happening as PG&E deciding to build housing on the land they own along Fifth St. You need to move on, this isn’t going to happen.

    1. David Greenwald

      That comment is EXCEEDINGLY ironic since you have fixated for years on an idea that has no chance either – Measure J going away. It was passed with over 80 percent of the vote. Yet it seems every single comment of yours is guided toward that point. And then you want to criticize me – pot meet kettle!

      1. Mark West

        “you have fixated for years on an idea that has no chance either – Measure J going away.”

        There is no ‘solution’ to Davis’ problems that does not start with getting rid of Measure J. You cannot honestly claim to be interested in solving the City’s housing shortage, its economic development shortcomings, or its overall fiscal problems if you continue to support J. That is plain and simple. Everything else you are doing or suggesting is dishonest obfuscation and obstruction. J has to be rejected first. The proposed ‘workarounds’ are nothing but lipstick on a pig. Glick has this right, Greenwald, not so much.

         

         

         

         

        1. David Greenwald

          “There is no ‘solution’ to Davis’ problems that does not start with getting rid of Measure J. ”

          I might not disagree with that point in concept. The problem is the practicality of achieving that. 83 percent of the voters supported Measure D in 2020. Short of intervention from the state – which is possible – I see no way that Measure J goes away. So where “Glick has this wrong” is the feasibility of his plan. If you want to criticize my workarounds as being lipstick on a pig, hey fine, but it also deals in reality – Measure J is most likely not going away in the conceivable future barring outside intervention.

        2. Ron Oertel

          Quoting Mark:  There is no ‘solution’ to Davis’ problems that does not start with getting rid of Measure J. ”

          David’s response:  I might not disagree with that point in concept.

          We already knew that you don’t support Measure J.

          Davis’ “problem” is the folks who are constantly attempting to undermine or eliminate Measure J.

          The “other” problem (for all cities) is people like Wiener.

        3. Richard_McCann

          First we can modify Measure J in a way that I’ve suggested before such as voting on preapproval conditions. But more importantly, Measure D is open a court challenge as violating the 2005 state law on growth controls. It’s a renewal of a law with a sunset date, which should make it a new law. Waiting to see who will challenge it.

        4. Ron Oertel

          Good luck with that challenge.

          Measure J does not change any zoning to prevent housing.  In fact, it’s only limited to land that is already zoned for farmland that is OUTSIDE of city limits in the first place.

          If anyone wants to challenge this, they’d be challenging urban growth boundaries throughout the state.  Including other local boundaries, and farmland throughout the state.

          My guess is that any local developer who might challenge this would regret it – more so than the developer who enlisted the “help” of a council member in regarding to DiSC.

        5. Ron Glick

          Yeah, What Mark West said!

          At least with Measure J we have the opportunity every ten years to speak truth to power, something, that when it comes to Measure J, David has never been willing to do.

        6. Mark West

          “First we can modify Measure J in a way that I’ve suggested before such as voting on preapproval conditions.”

          It is laughable that anyone thinks we can find preapproval conditions that the voters will support that are also viable enough to entice developers to bring forward new projects. More likely, we will end up with ‘preapproved conditions’ that act to preclude all development, much like our overly restrictive Affordable Housing Ordinance did.

           

           

           

           

  2. Ron Glick

    No uncertainty. Housing will remain scarce and expensive for the foreseeable future. Commute distances will continue to favor autos over alternatives for UCD faculty and staff living in Woodland, Dixon and West Sacramento. More Davis youth will end up living unsheltered in the town they grew up in. High rents will continue to keep working class and young people poor.

  3. Don Shor

    A piece put out last weekend by Judy Corbett laid out the possibility of redevelopment of the Downtown (approximately 900) units, and they also focus on “[m]ajor developable sites exist north of the Food Co-op, at the school district block at Fifth and B streets, and at the East Eighth Street shopping center. However, the area with the most potential is along East Fifth Street.”

    I really wonder if people realize how difficult it is going to be to develop these sites and achieve these conflicting goals that people seem to want. These are all small parcels, each with numerous houses around it. Any building more than three stories is going to ignite a furor of opposition.

    These sites are already being discussed as if somehow they’re going to provide business sites and housing, including (of course) the kinds of housing that aren’t profitable to build. My guess is that no project on any of those sites would pencil out unless it’s at least 5 – 6 stories. Planning to build 5-story buildings on the city corporation yard, to shade and block the views from several dozen homes to the north of them? How about on the school district building at 5th and B? I suspect the Old North Davis residents would have a few things to say about all that.

    All in all, these parcels don’t add up to much. Yes, it would be great to see them redeveloped in some cases. But I really suggest people not fixate on infill as anything close to a panacea for what Davis needs in terms of housing and economic development.

     

    1. Todd Edelman

      block the views from several dozen homes to the north of them?

      What I think was a huge mistake was not designing University Place to be taller with the tallest elements as close as possible to Russell Blvd. The space seems sufficient to build high here but to keep the sun at the closest ground level housing to the north at Winter Solstice.

      Does the current General Plan have specific guidelines for this?

      Blocking sightlines is a weaker argument as we’re in a built-up area.

      I think that Rancho Yolo should stay but double-stacked, the existing mobile home park in South Davis (technically, the County) should be removed and replaced with dense housing, and that commercial buildings should be at least doubled in height with pre-fab units trucked in and placed on supports using a rig that will provide the same treatment all over town, so it will be economical even if it costs a lot to operate, transport and build.

  4. Ron Oertel

    But the Future of Housing Remains Clouded in Uncertainty

    I fully expect all of the housing in Davis to remain in place (with certainty).  Well, unless it’s torn down for a larger building.

    Even if a building burns down, it will be replaced. Again, probably with a larger building.

  5. Ron Oertel

    So again, I would ask how cities which aren’t expanding their boundaries (e.g., just about every major city within 30 miles of California’s coastline) are meeting their requirements (assuming that some of them are actually doing so). Both now, and into the future.

    I would also ask if HCD “expects” conversion of farmland outside of city limits (otherwise known as sprawl) to meet those requirements. Was that part of the state’s goal?

    Hopefully, in 7 years from now (the next housing cycle) – the situation will change (regarding political leadership).  Either regarding the leaders themselves, or the resulting failure regarding their goals.  Already, the governor has drastically-reduced his promised “delivery” regarding housing (statewide).  With no explanation, other than its obvious failure.

    Also factor in the economic downturn (and corresponding downturn in the housing market) to see what would actually get built. Not to mention the fact that the state’s population is DECLINING, with no corresponding elimination of HCD requirements in those areas which are experiencing a decline. (Tell us how that’s going to “pencil out” – especially without sufficient state funding for Affordable housing.)

    Regarding Affordable housing requirements, I suspect that most cities will respond by stating that they have space zoned for it, but that it’s up to the state to actually fund it.

    HCD is going to have their hands full, with cities across California.  Including those cities which are actively fighting the state.

    Measure J already has a provision which allows Affordable housing on farmland outside of city limits, without a vote.

    I’d suggest that folks who are concerned about the state’s direction stop supporting the politicians who do.

    1. Craig Ross

      I was in the Bay Area yesterday and the cities not expanding their borders are building 16 stories upward.  You can go up, it’s just very expensive.  When you have no other choices, you have no other choices.

      As for the affordable housing exemption to measure d, it’s not practical as Carson explained.

      1. Ron Oertel

        They’ve been building high-rises in places like San Francisco for years.

        But its population has been dropping for the past couple of years.  I’d like to see how high-rise, Affordable housing can “pencil out” in places like San Francisco without government subsidies (to the degree required by the state).

        As far as what Dan Carson “explains”, I haven’t heard any details regarding that.  But, he may not be in the best position to “explain” anything to the electorate, at this point. Affordable housing is likely going to require some kind of subsidy from the state, itself. (And there’s “competition” for those funds – probably favoring places that are a lot more expensive than Davis.) Probably the reason that Creekside took some 20 years to be funded.

        There’s really two separate issues:

        1) Approval of housing plans, across the state. Again, this puts as much pressure on the state itself, as it does regarding cities subject to those requirements.

        2) What the result would actually be.

      2. Ron Oertel

        And as far as the council “explaining” anything, maybe they should start with explaining the reason that they approved megadorms, knowing in advance that there’d be an issue in getting them “counted”.

        And maybe the state itself needs to explain why student housing (to accommodate a growing state-funded university which fails to address its own needs) doesn’t “count” in the first place.

        Those are some of the things I’d look forward to hearing an explanation of. (Not to mention the Mace Mess, unneeded ladder trucks, etc.)

        On a similar note, I’d like an explanation regarding the reason that cities continue to rely upon development Ponzi schemes.

        But, I doubt that we’re going to hear any explanation regarding THOSE issues.

        I think my “personal favorite” is how they completely-ignored the increased demand for housing created by something like DiSC – while simultaneously claiming to be concerned about housing shortages. How do they do so while claiming any credibility at all?

  6. Todd Edelman

    Covell and Pole Line where traffic is less of a concern.

    Huh? Everything with cars will make new traffic. Bretton Woods is going to create a lot between it and Downtown and on the ridiculous over-sized 113 to crowded 80. No new cars in a development here is crucial, but public transport will not be adequate unless there’s demand because there’s only public transport, bikes and nearby places to walk. But there’s not much to walk to and it’s unclear how good the cycling networks will be.  One good carfree project at the periphery will not create enough demand. One can travel around much of Davis more than one mile from campus or during the summer and see essentially no one on bikes.

    If the preamble etc for the new or updated General Plan doesn’t say e.g. “cars are not the future” it’s a big fail.

  7. Ron Oertel

    On a related note, below is a link to a group that is attempting to “take back” control of city zoning from the state.  (I suspect that efforts such as this will take off if the state actually starts forcing unwilling cities to cram oversized buildings into locations that will have a detrimental impact.)

    One has to ask if state representatives (who are elected by geographic areas in the first place) actually want to declare total war on those same cities.  We shall see, but the test cases are not likely to be in Davis.

    It’s one thing to challenge a city regarding “mountain lion habitat”, another thing entirely for the state to step in more aggressively.

    https://ourneighborhoodvoices.com/

  8. Bill Marshall

    Davis’ “problem” is the folks who are constantly attempting to undermine or eliminate Measure J.

    Incorrect… the “problem” was/is how Measure J was, (originally) deceptively “marketed/sold”, then ‘re-tailed’ (like a scorpion on the frog’s back) with all the JeRkeD measures… [btw, the scorpion died with the frog, in the story]

    You have to know the history of Measure J… you obviously don’t, or are a ‘denier’, even knowing the truth… who was ‘behind it’… their motivations… talk about “dark underbellies”… the VG has chosen not to explore those…

    But it is a ‘fait accompli’ (more like a ‘fiat accompli’)… it is what it is… sheep and lemmings are what they are, to the tune of 83% in some cases… it is written, “they shall reap what they sow”… and we endeavor to deal with it as best we can…  the question remains… will it be enough?  Time will tell…

    In the meantime, some folk will suggest (some already have) “right-sizing” (aka down-sizing) schools [others have and will suggest more taxes to ‘protect their interests]… cancelling/retracting pensions/medical benefits from current/former public employees… time will tell if those suggestions become reality… those don’t require votes (except, perhaps, from the dais)… might be contrary to law, but hey, we can change laws, as the JeRkeD measures did…  more power to the people… no matter where they reside…

    Whatever… que sera, sera.  By votes, fiats, circumstances, chance, whatever…  stay tuned…

     

  9. Bill Marshall

    In fact, it’s only limited to land that is already zoned for farmland that is OUTSIDE of city limits in the first place.

    Untrue, as written… thou dost lie, or are misinformed… you choose… Wildhorse Ranch, now aka Palomino Place, is within City limits… subject to Measure JeRkeD vote… failed once…

    1. Don Shor

      Wildhorse Ranch, now aka Palomino Place, is within City limits

      Subject to a vote because it is still zoned ag, I believe, even though it’s in the city limits.

    2. Ron Oertel

      thou dost lie, or are misinformed… you choose… 

      Could be that I just forgot about that exception (as Don described).  Does that make me a liar or misinformed?

      I don’t know if there’s other parcels like this (zoned for farmland, but inside of city limits).

      I do recall some recent comments from a UCD student who apparently lives in that old farmhouse (and doesn’t want to see the zoning change). As I recall, he did not want Davis to end-up like his own, sprawling home town (Modesto?). Nor did he want to lose his current Davis home (the farmhouse).

      It was refreshing to hear from a student (other than the usual College Development Democrats – who might as well be called the College Republicans).

  10. Ron Oertel

    Davis, CA – An announcement went on Friday that there will be a Groundbreaking Ceremony held on July 26 at the site of the future Bretton Woods neighborhood.  For most places, that is a nice to know, but for Davis it is itself a groundbreaking development as Bretton Woods will become the first Measure J project to actually break ground.

    Getting back to the main subject of the article, is there any word regarding price of these dwellings?  And, whether or not those who put down a deposit (at presumably, a lower price) are being contacted by the developer to see if they’re still interested?

    Any word on how those who put down a deposit feel about having their initial transactions cancelled? (Might be an interesting subject for interviews.)

    And, the status of its “Davis buyer’s” program?

    Isn’t this the same developer who is now seeking approval for Palomino Place?

    Might be more interesting topics, compared to continuing to hammer Measure J in multiple articles.

    However, I have one other question related to Measure J. Why do some of the strongest opponents of Measure J keep pushing David to oppose it? Do you actually think this would make any difference regarding your “cause”?

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