By David M. Greenwald
Davis, CA – Last week the Vanguard broke the story on the pre-app submitted for a housing development on the Mace Curve. That makes it the third project lining up for consideration and there could be at least one or perhaps two or more additional projects that emerge in the coming months.
Reading some of the discussion about which project should come forward got me thinking about the need to be a little more strategic and having a plan, rather than arbitrarily processing projects as they come forward.
In other words, what we really need is a General Plan update that can help provide clarity and prioritize projects by which projects provide us with the most needed housing and where those projects should go.
The problem right now: we are nowhere near having such clarity because we have not even begun the General Plan update process. Given what’s happening at the state level with housing and the HCD and given our housing needs, this is a big problem.
The fact is I have been more patient on this point than most. Some wanted the city to have their General Plan done before even embarking on projects like DISC (2020 or 2022). I largely saw that as an effort to delay processing vital projects.
The city had made the decision to proceed with the Downtown Plan first and then go into the General Plan. I won’t weigh in on whether that was wise or necessary. It was what was done.
However, the downtown plan has been ready to go for several years now and has been largely delayed by COVID. It was not until July 15 that the city finally opened the Downtown Plan Draft EIR comment period.
That comment period closes on September 16. Best case scenario, that means that the city council might approval the plan by the end of 2022. That’s three years after the majority of the work was done.
That would mean that the earliest a General Plan update begins officially would be the Winter or Spring of 2023. Realistically, with all of the work needed to be done and community feedback, we would be looking at 2025 by the time a new General Plan Update is actually adopted.
This is a problem.
Right now the city is struggling to get its Housing Element approved by the state. The city is going to have find around 1000 units of affordable housing. As I have pointed out, that’s going to be problematic unless the city can go peripheral.
While the city manager has said he believes they can do it, HCD is tightening the screws on speculative development. The feasibility of infill affordable housing seems to be very much in doubt, particularly in the downtown where it would be dense, tall, infill.
So how does the city plan to get there without going peripheral?
One answer to this puzzle might be to loosen the Measure J requirements for affordable housing on periphery—but that is going take a vote of the people and it would make a lot of sense to attempt to do it in conjunction with a broader housing plan that would be taken with extensive community discussion in the General Plan. The problem is now the RHNA cycle will now be nearly half over by the earliest we can get a General Plan amendment done.
Another key issue is this. The projects that are entering the pre-application phase are looking at November 2024 for a potential vote date. To state the obvious, the first project to go forward is going to have a tremendous advantage.
But the city needs to be strategic. Chances are, most of the projects are not going to get approval by the voters. That means the city should put forward the project that both best meets the needs of the community and has the best chance of passing.
How does it determine both of those things? Well, having a General Plan update would provide guidance and clarity to the planning process. The community could talk about its housing needs and prioritize both types of housing and locations.
The problem now is that because we have delayed the General Plan update so much, the update might not provide us with the guidance we need because projects are likely to be coming up before the plan is ready.
Some will be tempted to say, what is the rush? We don’t know yet. One possible rush however is that the city may be out of compliance with HCD and its Housing Element. Another possible rush is that we might not have enough identified affordable housing in the pipeline. And a third problem is the general housing crisis—we don’t have enough housing for our internal housing needs, which is driving up cost and causing downstream problems.
That’s the problem. I understand that COVID disrupted a lot of what the city was hoping to do. At the same time, the city had to know this crunch was coming, with projects bearing down on them and the state likely demanding more action in the face of the housing crisis.
And now, instead of a plan that is laid out for how the city will likely want to develop over the next ten to twenty years, we are likely to have an ad hoc process or, worse yet, paralysis that leads the state to step in.
Davis might not have the importance of San Francisco, but I have been told by too many different people that the state absolutely has its eyes on Davis and could be prepared to step in if Davis cannot figure things out. That’s the last thing anyone who actually lives in Davis really wants.