by David M. Greenwald
Davis, CA – The Davis Chamber of Commerce and Yolo Area Realtors hosted a candidates forum on Tuesday. Running in District One was Dan Carson the incumbent, challenged by Kelsey Fortune and Bapu Vaitla. The forum was held virtually.
Question: The business community, perhaps all of Davis has become increasingly concerned that crime is increasingly rampant in Davis. What first of all, what are your thoughts on that? And then what proposals do you have that might address crime?
Bapu Vaitla: It’s a difficult responsibility the City Council has to both acknowledge when we do see crime or rising, especially in property theft, and make sure that those concerns are being heard. But we also need to give our residents a more holistic picture of public safety. And that means talking publicly and consistently about trends in crime and crime reduction. We know from recent surveys, for example, that violent offenses and some other categories of crime are in fact declining. And for the crime categories that we see increasing, like property theft or staying stable, we need to highlight what remains to be done around addressing some of these social determinants of crime. It’s also important to recognize that this issue, crime perceptions, is partially due to the rise of neighborhood social media. And nonetheless, it’s our job as city council members to, to acknowledge that, to see what’s under our control, and provide accurate, accessible, nuanced information, and then develop a long term public safety vision that engages with the community’s concerns and use the best practices to, to help keep us safe.
Kelsey Fortune: Whether there is actual crime increase as we did see a slight property crime increase at the beginning of the pandemic, or whether it’s just perceived, we need to be communicating that information with the community so that we don’t see people getting their information from their neighbors on Nextdoor which is anecdotal and not data. It’s also important that we address the type of crime that has been left unaddressed in our community. And the fact of the matter is that there is a lot of unreported violent crime in the category of sexual assault. We live in a college town and this is something that we have not addressed. I think that, you know, when it comes to talking about crime, we need to make sure that we’re actually able to collect the data. And the fact of the matter is, is that a lot of that goes unreported. So I agree that we need a more holistic public safety approach that can deal with all of the types of crime that we see in our community.
Dan Carson: So the city did a do a city survey in the spring that did show an uptick in folks concerns. Identifying crime is a concern. In response to that, I asked, and my council, agreed to ask our chief to look at our crime data and try to see if we’re missing something, because the data that we’ve been seeing showed that early in Covid there was definitely a spike, but things seem to have settled down and stayed flat. But it doesn’t mean our citizens aren’t perceiving something that somehow isn’t being caught on that data. We need to look at that information very carefully to understand is it perceptions? Is that national debates over crime issues that are generating more interest in discussion here? Or is there something beyond perception and really happening on the ground? One area that I have identified as a real concern that we need to act on is traffic safety. I think we have need to have more cops riding speeding tickets. We’ve just seen too many crazy episodes, people doing donuts on Lake Boulevard at three in the morning and, and other crazy things going on. We also need to address it, not with manpower or person power in our forces, but by things like speed bumps. Also, I am pushing for the construction of a roundabout at Arlington and Russell in our district to slow down traffic and make things safer for motorist, pedestrians and bicyclists. There are things we can do to change our streets that will reduce this danger.
Question: A few jurisdictions statewide have used the point of sale of a home to implement certain changes or retrofits rather than requiring everybody to do it. Recently the city of Davis has begun discussing at a staff level requiring electrification of homes at the point of sale. You know, homes with gas appliances would have to electrify at some level. That hasn’t been determined yet, but would you support or oppose point of sale retrofits? Not necessarily specifically electrification, but in general.
Kelsey Fortune: I know that’s a question that is really relevant right now to the conversations happening in our community. And so I think it’s super important that we address it today. I really appreciate the question. No, I would not support a point of sale electrification requirements. One you’re creating you’re creating a policy that costs money to enforce, but not creating any revenue to actually enforce it. So you’re either going to end up, you know, needing to take money from someone from the general fund to enforce this policy, or you’re looking at a policy that goes on enforced which is no good to implementation at point of sale of these sometimes extremely high costs retrofits will decrease the turnover of stock of housing stock in our community. And that is not good for anyone – If we’re talking about wanting, you know, more people to be able to move to our community to start their life, as, you know, with their family, you’re not going to see those houses actually come on the market that they could purchase. Three, it’s inequitable. The people who are going to be most affected by this are the people who haven’t had the opportunity to choose electrification throughout their time of their home ownership. And those are often people who are lower income, or you may be looking at people, older people who are on a fixed income, even asking them to spend 30, 40, 50 grand on retrofits. I would suggest instead, an approach that encourages people to electrify at time of replacement. We don’t really actually want people to switch appliances, replace appliances before the end of their life. That’s not actually environmentally friendly.
Dan Carson: Our city council discussed these ideas on December 7, 2021. Maybe it’s significant, it was Pearl Harbor Day but we were very clear all of us that we are not going to impose tens of thousands of dollars in costs for folks trying to buy a home at point of sale. Our direction to, to staff was that we wanted a cautious and voluntary approach, recognizing we can’t control what the state might do down the line to mandate things. And in fact, just the other day, state regulators started talking about prohibiting the sale, for example, gas furnaces after 2030. We have to be mindful that, that the state may do things that we need to adjust to because they put local governments then in the role of trying to enforcing those things, we need to be very cautious. But it’s also completely sensible down the line that after we start a voluntary approach, that we could see a situation where if somebody has an old gas furnace that is beyond its useful life, that we do say to them, You should do a heat pump or you should do another type of approach to replace that someday that actually would then save that person or that family money. And we will try very hard to be there with tax credits or rebates such as, I personally got, must have been about eight or nine years ago that I got PG&E rebates to replace an old out of date dying air conditioner and furnace. I’ve lived this change. I’ve seen the dramatic drop in our energy costs from making that change. What I’m not going to do is make people rip out tens of thousands of dollars of equipment out of their house we never wanted. That is welcome to social media spreading that. It’s just not where we’re at.
Bapu Vaitla: Frankly, I agree with my colleagues here. I think end of useful life is a much more sensible principle than in mandates at the time of sale. Even from an environmental perspective, much less an economic perspective. It doesn’t make sense to trash appliances before the end of their useful life. Even the end of useful life principle, I think we need enough staff in place to handle the permitting requests and we’re able to subsidize this transition for households. And there might be some wisdom in waiting until the current inflation and contractor bottleneck issues eased. But the spirit of what we’re trying to do really is when appliances, when other needed retrofits make sense from an ecological perspective, from an economic perspective, then we support them. There will be some folks who want to voluntarily change their equipment to electrification, and the city can support that through tax credits, through rebates, through other kinds of subsidies. So yeah, support the end of useful life principle rather than the retrofit at time of sale.
Question: Your approach on addressing homelessness.
Dan Carson: Our council has taken very strong actions to address this issue. You should note that the new point in time counts for homeless, not perfect data, but at least some data have just been released that showed that the numbers in Davis have actually gone down slightly. I would really characterize it as flat. And, and it’s interesting because other surrounding communities have seen 40 to 70% increases in their homeless population during the same time period. What have we done? We created a respite center near the city corporation yard that we have data that’s showing that we’re starting to get folks moving into mental health treatment, drug abuse treatment, permanent housing, full health benefits, trying to move them on, up and out of that life. We helped provide money for Paul’s place, and I voted for the land use decision to allow that place to be built there on H Street. I’m very proud of the work I did on a council subcommittee trying to modify the Plaza 2555 project to help provide a a space for Yellow Crisis nursery to expand. That’s your hidden homelessness. That’s moms, many of them affected by situations with domestic violence and their children who are affected too, who are couch surfing and trying to figure out a safe place for their kids. This is an excellent program that we saved several years ago. Now we have a chance to greatly expand it. Our council played a critical role in allowing that land for that place to count as affordable housing, which indeed it is for those children.
Bapu Vaitla: I’ve been on the Social Services Commission for the last three and a half years, so we’ve really focused on this particular issue. Also serve on the steering committee of the Davis Homelessness Alliance. A lot of what I do is focused around houselessness and homelessness. We know what works. It’s to get people into permanent supportive housing. There’s a fraction of our houseless population that if you have the ability to do the outreach, if you have the housing to provide them the case management, social worker services, they’ll avail themselves of those services. In city after city, that upfront investment in permanent supportive housing has paid great dividends over time. There’s also a fraction of our population that will not voluntarily accept services or go into housing. And the only solution that’s really worked in other cities is to develop an outreach program where you have folks whose only job is to develop relationships of trust with that community, and over time build this kind of acceptance of the services and housing to which they’re entitled. Again, that’s worked in other places. We can make it work here. I’ll say that the proudest thing in my time in Davis that I’ve done is helped lead the creation of this Department of Housing and Social Services we have right now, which is a very rare thing for a city our size to have. It now has a director and will hire additional personnel, including personnel that do outreach to our houseless population and help address mental health, substance use, the other kind of underlying needs among that population. So there’s a lot of hope on the horizon. There’s a lot of state and federal funds coming through, but we do need leadership and strategic vision to make sure that we prioritize and finance what we know works in other communities.
Kelsey Fortune: There’s no need to reinvent the wheel here. Other communities have programming that works and what works is getting people into housing. So we can start there and then we can make sure that we’re offering appropriate services. So when it comes to people who are currently unhoused there’s the perceived population and the actual population. So this perceived population is relatively transient, they’re more visible and often there are mental health or substance abuse issues going on within that population. And that is why they are in this situation that they’ve ended up in. But there are also people who are very permanent in this community who are unhoused. I have spoken to some of the people who have been in this community longer than I have who are, that is the life that they are living. When I spoke with them specifically at the beginning of the pandemic their concern was for their older neighbors, not for themselves in getting them into a safe place. We need to make sure that as a city, we’re a part of engaging that community so that we can get them the help the services, provide housing if that’s something that is wanted and we’re utilizing that we’re taking advantage of the funding coming down both for this and for climate. We know there’s going to be a lot of funding coming down, making sure that we can take advantage of that funding so that we can provide services that are necessary for our community. It’s unfortunate that being homeless has kind of become criminalized.
Question: What type of new residential development would you support in Davis?
Kelsey Fortune: I really would like for us to focus on infill. It creates opportunities for the city to increase its tax base without increasing infrastructure and maintenance costs. Things like our downtown plan that will, you know, build up multiple different types of housing within the core of our community. Apartments, condos, town homes, you know, denser, denser housing near where people want to live is hugely important. I also think that we haven’t done enough when it comes to accessory dwelling units, a granny flat in one’s yard. We have fallen way behind other communities on the actual building of these units, and I think it helps to fill a missing portion of our housing. And so having floor plans that are preapproved at the city that people can just pick up and copy, paste into their yard, it one creates housing for people in our community, which is fantastic. Two, it creates revenue for that person who is building that housing in their yard. And three, increases our tax base because we get the property taxes on that ADU at today’s value rather than the property taxes at time of sale of the house value. It’s a win win win. It’s this type of housing that we really need to focus more on increasing density near our core and throughout our neighborhoods in a way that benefits everyone.
Dan Carson: I think we need to move forward on both market rate and affordable housing because from an economic perspective, adding units, adding supply makes a huge difference. I’ve fought the good fight won some, lost some for housing projects at the ballot at the council. And I will continue to do so. We’ve made great progress. We’ve added many units that are into construction now like Bretton Woods that will result in about a year or two in 150 units of affordable housing units for seniors and disabled. I asked to be put on our downtown plan committee a lot of night meetings, so I could help foster our plan that will provide a thousand units in our downtown over time for about 2200 people. We have a weird downtown that nobody lives in. We need to fix that, and that will help bring vitality. And maybe we get some restaurants besides Thai and pizza. We could create a real different interesting urban environment. But I’ve tried the lead in our writing of our housing element. I wrote a white paper that I presented to my colleagues just before we finished submitting our proposal to the state included a number of the proposals. I put forward. just two examples. One was, in addition to the accessory dwelling unit mandates of the state, could we do what some other communities are doing in providing financial subsidies for folks to create permanently affordable ADUs that we could build at a fraction of the cost of having to build new housing from scratch. For all the reasons that actually Kelsey (said) you already got the land she’s quite right about that. I also proposed that we, we pursue discussions with our school district, which does have some surplus lands to see if they would be interested in creating market rate or affordable housing for their teachers and faculty on their own grounds. Tthe city could be great help in enabling that through such things as pre-zoning that could help them come straighten out the financing to do things like that. But at the end of the day, we only solve our problem if we add the units, not only the ones that, that the state requires us to do, but the ones that we just know are seniors, our other poor folks, folks who work in Davis and can’t afford to live in Davis. We need to figure out how to help all of them.
Bapu Vaitla: We have a clear scorecard on how we’re doing on housing, and that’s the RHNA number. We know how we did in the last cycle. We know we’ve got a daunting task ahead of us. We’re down 930 low income units, a thousand moderate income units, and we also know we need lots of market rate construction. So we are in a housing crisis, and we need to acknowledge that. I think the focus initially should be in fill housing, downtown dense, affordable climate friendly, transit linked infill. And we have some policy levers to make that happen, including increasing density bonuses, reducing, eliminating parking minimums, fast tracking permitting for developments with a high affordable percentage up zoning to allow these kind of modest increases in density and height. The other thing I would say about, about affordable is that we’ve had a temporary affordable ordinance for the last four or five years, and that doesn’t create any policy predictability in the housing market either for developers or any, or the people who are actually seeking housing. So the immediate priority has to be to create a permanent and strong affordable housing ordinance with inclusionary percentages that are rigorous analysis shows are feasible and won’t shut down housing construction entirely. I’d also say we need to prioritize financing our housing trust fund making sure that the fund receives every year enough monies in the budgeting process to maintain a viable balance. And I would just finish by saying all of this speaks to the need for a general plan update – clear vision of what our community’s housing should look like 5, 10, 20 years down the road. And that’ll attract the kind of develop developments that fit our values of equity and sustainability.