By David M. Greenwald
Davis, CA – I maintain that the single most disastrous thing to happen to housing in Davis was the Cannery. Not because the Cannery was a bad project, and that didn’t really address our housing needs—both of which in my opinion are true.
But rather because the developers have kept coming back to the city time and time again for alterations to the development agreement. That has served anti-housing forces extremely well because it is a reminder that developers cannot be trusted to adhere to their commitments (and thus everything needs to be in the project baseline features) and the city council cannot be trusted to make sure that developers keep their commitments (and thus everything needs to be in the project baseline features).
This is a reminder that these things have consequences down the line—already the city and developers are not well trusted in many circles, and every time a developer comes back to ask for more, it continues to undermine the process and that trust.
That leads me to the conflict between David Taormino and the City of Davis.
The good news is that in 2022, 22 years after Davis Voters approved Measure J in 2000, the first ever Measure J project, Bretton Woods (passed as WDAAC, West Davis Active Adult Community) is under construction.
In an op-ed last week, Taormino mused, “The actual election process was easy compared to finalizing the details with Davis staff. We still have half-a-dozen important and extremely costly imposed conditions that impact costs to homebuyers.”
Easy for him to say, as his is one of only two Measure J projects to even get past the voters. Five of the seven Measure J votes have now been unsuccessful.
Taormino writes, “The actual election process was easy compared to finalizing the details with Davis staff. We still have half-a-dozen important and extremely costly imposed conditions that impact costs to homebuyers.”
Taormino continues that “two Davis staffers are demanding the two bigger, better, fancier, customized 110-foot-long tunnels paralleling Covell Boulevard near Risling Drive, and two more in our Bretton Woods Channel to accommodate critters.”
Additionally, he said, “the same two city staffers also demand the addition of an 18-inch wide, hand-made, 110-foot-long, wooden boardwalk roughly half-way up the 4-foot-tall tunnel walls so that critters who are uncomfortable with wet feet, (mice, rats and other rodents), are provided an inviting and comforting passage into the long, dark tunnels. No expense spared, especially since it’s paid by Bretton Woods’ homebuyers.”
The city disagrees.
They note that the Planning Commission in November 2020 “approved the Bretton Woods tentative subdivision map during a public hearing and subject to certain conditions of approval.”
Among those conditions “were requirements for specific pathway materials and widths, a wildlife crossing shelf/ledge and natural bottom for a culvert crossing, certain streets in the project to be maintained by the Homeowner’s Association instead of the City, and a requirement to use native plant materials.”
More importantly, they note, Taormino “had the opportunity to appeal the project to the City Council, which would have allowed the applicant the opportunity to contest conditions of approval, but no appeal was made.”
Instead, nearly two years after this approval, Taormino has filed an application to modify the project requirements and conditions.
I understand where both sides are coming from here. The developer sees an added cost, the city sees the developer complaining about something they could have appealed two years ago.
What I see is another problem for those of us who just want to find ways to reasonably build housing in this community.
The community trust factor right now is pretty low. Developer in Davis is analogous to a proverbial four-letter word and, frankly, city staff is not much better. So when developers and city staff feud in cases like this, we all lose. At least all of us who actually want to see housing built in this community.
I’m supportive of a streamlined Measure J process. WDAAC wasn’t quite a preapproval, but I actually think Taormino did the right thing by getting a general approval for the project first, and then ironing out the details later.
The problem is that the community trust factor comes into play when members of the community now see the developer complaining about details that they could have hashed out in real time in late 2020 rather than firing off an op-ed and accusing the city of imposing conditions (conditions that they themselves could have appealed in real time).
This is just going to become another Cannery type situation, where every time the development agreement comes back to the Planning Commission or Council.
I get it—the cost of these tunnels is not cheap at $200,000. But as he himself points out, it’s also not really a huge added cost when you consider the overall cost of housing.
Writes Taormino, “To ‘critter customize’ these tunnels will cost each senior home buyer in Bretton Woods somewhere around $600 per home. While not a ‘princely sum,’ it is only one of a dozen unnecessary costs heaped on Bretton Woods by city staff.”
But there is another side to this—each time Taormino raises these points they are burning currency in the community. Currency with the city staff and more importantly currency for the voters.
One of the advantages of a local developer is that these projects are never a one-off deal. Taormino is already looking at another project that would have to go before the voters.
The danger is that Taormino could win this round but lose the war. And by losing the war, I mean making the next project less likely to gain voter approval. Not just for him, but for all developers. If that happens, everyone who cares about the community having sufficient housing is a loser.
We are in a housing crisis in a community where approving new housing is difficult, particularly via a Measure J vote—we don’t have to make the situation more difficult.