By David M. Greenwald
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.