My View: A Thought on Housing in Davis

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

Davis, CA – A comment posted yesterday noted an audience question at the Rothstein event which was to the effect of, should UC Davis be responsible for a RHNA allocation and thus be subject to enforcement of that allocation by the state?

It’s such a Davis question.

There is a segment of the community that essentially blames UC Davis for the pressures to grow it exerts on the city of Davis.  Prior to the last LRDP (Long Range Development Plan) by UC Davis, the university only housed just over a quarter of its total student population on campus.  Given the housing shortage for students, that was a big problem and was unacceptable.

With pressure from the community, the city and the like, the university ultimately increased their share from about 28 percent to 48 percent.  While not quite where I think most wanted it, it is much better than it was—ASSUMING they actually build the housing.

I don’t have a huge appetite to go a lot further than this in terms of student housing on campus.  The immediate crisis has been alleviated if not completely solved.  At this point, I think the city really needs to focus on family and workforce and low- to middle-income housing.

There are both advantages and disadvantages to more housing on campus.

On the plus side, UC Davis does not have to get voter approval for new housing.  As a number of people have pointed out, UC Davis unlike a lot of other universities has ample land.  And finally, the location of that housing, south of Russell would be more ideal than alternative peripheral locations.

But there are several downsides to it as well.  Unless, we are willing to annex the housing, UC Davis is essentially building disenfranchised housing—a potential drain on the city in terms of traffic and public safety without revenue and without voting rights.

In fact, in theory, the university could end up developing a sister community next to Davis with business and other amenities that operates outside of the purview of Davis municipal policies.

Finally, because of a strange agreement, we have cut them off from the city altogether, by prohibiting direct access to Russell and forcing them to access the city either through the university or Highway 113.

As we have discussed, the city is going to need to find a lot of additional housing—particularly affordable housing—this cycle and in particular the next RHNA cycle, and it’s not completely obvious how that’s going to happen.

Basically, the city has four geographic options.  First, they are looking at downtown redevelopment.  Second there are three likely peripheral zones—(1) the Mace Curve where there are three potential proposed projects, (2) Covell Village and (3) the Northwest Quadrant.

While Downtown looks alluring, actually building housing there is going to difficult and expensive and, while the city is relying on the redevelopment for its affordable housing numbers, it is not clear to me that this is a feasible plan.

The other three zones will rely on Measure J votes.  Traffic congestion along Mace is going to make it more difficult, but the right project at Covell could work, and the Northwest Quadrant remains at least possible.

But the reality is that advantages of building south of Russell should be considered.

If you are going to put new housing on the periphery, putting it next to campus clearly makes a huge amount more sense than putting it way out on, say, Mace.

Add to the fact that you wouldn’t need to do a Measure J vote and there are huge advantages to finding ways to work with the university on housing there.

The disadvantages, as it turns out are real, but can be addressed.

First, you would need some sort of agreement with the university for the housing.  That seems feasible and practical, after all, with the university agreement to do the MOU with the city and county.

Second, you would need to open up Russell Blvd. access.  That’s a community hornets’ nest for sure, but a fight that is going to need to happen anyway.

Third, you would need an annexation agreement with the university and the county.  That’s not simple but figuring out costs and revenue sharing could make it feasible.

The upside here is tremendous, however.  If you can reach an agreement with the university to build faculty and staff housing, you address a lot of community needs, you do it fairly simply, and if you can annex it, it would certainly count toward RHNA.

It could be a win-win-win for the university, for the community, for the environment, even for the slow growthers.

Even with the complexities and the need for agreement from a lot of different parties—city, county, university, West Davis neighbors, it might be the best way forward for reasonable housing in a good location.  And by filling the need for faculty and staff housing, it could help to address the need for housing for school age children as well.

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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31 Comments

  1. Ron Glick

    What an absurd thought experiment. First of all you would still need a Measure J vote to annex the land into the city if you wanted to allow these new people to vote in city elections. Then of course you would have the unseemly positioning of once again annexing staff housing while refusing to do so for student housing.

    But the bigger problem is your  attempt to work around Measure J while you support Measure J. Why not simply admit that Measure J has exacerbated our housing problems and work to get rid of it? The first step, would be to admit to reality, something you have failed to do for so many years.

    And can you please stop referring to Covell Village as  peripheral development. It is surrounded on three sides by development. It would be better characterized as a un-annexed infill site.

     

    1. David Greenwald

      1. I never said we shouldn’t annex student housing. Clearly if we annex anything out there, we should do it all.

      2. The issue is that you can’t eliminate Measure J, while you can work on a project by project basis to approve housing and this is a way to do that – potentially at least.

      3. Even if you need a Measure J vote, it would be easier to get approve to annex than the convert open space.

      4. However you want to define Cowell Village, it requires a Measure J vote to approve.

    2. Matt Williams

      Although Ron falls into the trap of beating up David just for the fun of beating him up, Ron is correct that David has introduced complexities into his thought experiment that are not necessary.  There are simpler ways of pursuing this idea … ways that are more likely to succeed.

      In the 13th Century the philosopher William of Ockham said that “plurality should not be posited without necessity.” Ockham’s principle argues that simplicity supersedes complexity.  If you have two competing alternatives, then the simpler explanation/alternative is to be preferred. The principle is also expressed as “Entities are not to be multiplied beyond necessity.”

  2. Keith Y Echols

    a potential drain on the city in terms of traffic and public safety without revenue and without voting rights.

    Uh…how is not financially supporting the services and maintenance required for residential development a bad thing?  They live there.  They come into the city to spend money.  Then go back home.  Just like anyone from Woodland or Dixon.  In fact many of them will probably walk, bike, take the bus or take one of those silly scooters into town so that traffic impact isn’t that huge.   As for spill over I think the city needs to figure out if it can make UCD pay for services if it connects it’s new developments to city roads for ingress and egress or make sure that UCD developments funnel traffic to their freeway on ramp (Hutchinson I believe?).

    In fact, in theory, the university could end up developing a sister community next to Davis with business and other amenities that operates outside of the purview of Davis municipal policies.

    Yes, I proposed this possibility a few years ago. If I were UCD, I’d do it.  This is why I maintain that the city should create a student quarter/neighborhood for the city that focuses on student retail and restaurants along with mixed in housing.  My emphasis would be the retail component but the affordable/student housing component would check off a lot of boxes in terms of creating a captive customer base for the retail services, satisfy the RHNA and satisfy politically all the irrational bleeding heart let’s support UCD crowd which unfortunately make up a good portion of the Davis electorate.

    1. Richard_McCann

      A focused student oriented district would be good. It looked like we would have a second one on Russell until the developers downscaled the University Mall redevelopment. (Third Street being the other one.) Many universities have these types of districts.

      That said, ANY  new student oriented development must be within City limits to enfranchise the residents. We cannot establish segregated housing districts that don’t provide the right to vote on City issues.

      The irrationality comes from those who cannot acknowledge that the State of California has provided huge benefits to this community at taxpayer expense and that this community has a reciprocal obligation to provide support to UCD. Nothing to do with “bleeding hearts” and everything to do with stepping up to our responsibility. Running away from such responsibility has become rampant in our society of late.

      1. Matt Williams

        the State of California has provided huge benefits to this community at taxpayer expense

        .
        Richard, you repeat this statement over and over and over again, but provide no real substance to back your assertion up.  When I look at the current Davis economy, I really do not see a whole lot of evidence of these benefits you reference.  Specifically,

        — the downtown Davis economy is predominantly a food court.  The proportion of downtown workers whose jobs exist as a”UCD benefit” are very few and very far between.

        — there is very few actual Davis employers of any magnitude outside of the downtown other than DJUSD and Sutter Davis Hospital and Kaiser Health and the scattering of hotels.

        — the Davis retail economy has been consistently shrinking over the 24 years I have lived in Davis, and is essentially on life support.  Target and Davis Ace appear to be the only “large” retailers in evidence.

        — the Davis housing market gets very little, if any, taxpayer dollars from the State.  The one exception being Aggie Village.

        — UCD contributes to Unitrans, but unlike UC Berkeley and UC Santa Cruz makes no direct annual multi-million dollar contributions to the City of Davis budget.

        As I said, the taxpayer paid-for benefits you describe elude me.  I’m prepared to be educated though, and I look forward to hearing your response.

        1. Richard_McCann

          Matt

          You know the statement that I haven’t provided information of substance isn’t true (unless perhaps you didn’t go back and read my previous responses to your comments  on other articles.) Your definitions of “contributions” are extremely narrow as any experienced regional economist (such as Matt Kowta at BAE or those at EPS) will say. The income flows in Davis are highly dependent on funds through UCD. We only need to look at the number of (1) employees and (2) students living in Davis. I could look up those numbers but I think we’re in agreement that there’s more than 10,000 of each. (I may run the IMPLAN Regional Economic Model data for Yolo County (and the 95616/95618 zips) since I have it for a different project to prove my point.)

          Here’s the direct impacts for UCD (again) and supporting evidence of the benefits conferred:

          Inflows to Davis:

          – Billions of state and federal tax money invested in campus infrastructure over the last century.

          – Billions in state money paid to staff and faculty (and I’ve pointed out that at least 37% of UCD funds comes from state and federal sources).

          – Billions of state and federal student aid and loan funds, much it spent as disposable income on Davis food, services and goods.

          Evidence previously presented on the gains to Davis:

          – 50% faster population growth than neighboring similarly situated communities, e.g., West Sacramento and Dixon.

          – Higher household median incomes than neighboring similarly situated communities, e.g., Woodland, West Sacramento and Dixon.

          – Higher house prices by as much as 85% than neighboring similarly situated communities, e.g., Woodland, West Sacramento and Dixon.

          – Higher school performance scores and higher availability of premium academic classes and programs such as Advanced Placement than any other district in the Central Valley.

          None of these benefits would have existed without the presence of UCD. Rather we would look a lot like Dixon or Woodland. Perhaps you can come up with a counterfactual explanation of how Davis accrued these benefits without any provision of resources by state and federal taxpayers through UCD expenditures?

          Keith E

          A college education benefits SOCIETY as a whole. Our standard of living is higher than other countries because of the success of our higher education system. That’s why so many researchers come from other countries to work in our universities. College education is not about the individual–that’s why we have public education and public colleges.

          No, there isn’t a demarcation line between UCD and the City. The spillover from UCD to the City is manifest and easily demonstrable. Living in denial of that fact doesn’t make it true.

           

      2. Keith Y Echols

        That said, ANY  new student oriented development must be within City limits to enfranchise the residents. We cannot establish segregated housing districts that don’t provide the right to vote on City issues.

        Uh…if the students live in the city limits then they get to vote in city elections.  I’m not sure where the confusion about the issue is.

        The irrationality comes from those who cannot acknowledge that the State of California has provided huge benefits to this community at taxpayer expense and that this community has a reciprocal obligation to provide support to UCD.

        And this is the most  irrationally belief on the subject that I have ever seen written,   No one owes college kids the opportunity to go to college.  How do you define this magical responsibility?  Do we owe our support to Woodland’s industries?  How about supporting those cool wineries in Winters?  UCD IS A SEPARATE ENTITY FROM THE CITY OF DAVIS.  UCD and the City want to be separate.  If only there some designation or line that denotes where a city’s responsibilities end.   But you continue irrationally cling to the cult of the University of California.  It’s like you and your neighbor agree to take care your own lawns.  But you keep insisting on paying for gardening services for your neighbor’s lawn.

         

  3. Jim Frame

    David:

     If you can reach an agreement with the university to build faculty and staff housing, you address a lot of community needs, you do it fairly simply, and if you can annex it, it would certainly count toward RHNA.

    Ron G:

     First of all you would still need a Measure J vote to annex the land into the city if you wanted to allow these new people to vote in city elections.

    Me:

    A Measure J vote is only required when proposing to change zoning from agricultural or urban reserve to urban, or from agricultural to urban reserve.  UCD property is zoned Public/Quasi-Public, so I don’t think a Measure J vote would be required under the law as written.

    1. Keith Y Echols

      It occurred to me again:  what if someone were get a county approved residential (or commercial) project and then seek to annex it the city of Davis?  It’s kind of the opposite of what LAFCo was intended for but in this new state wide push for residential development, I could see county land planning for cities going in this direction.

        1. Keith Y Echols

          Really?  Is there a county ordinance of some sort?  I believe their policy is to encourage development in the cities.  But don’t think it’s an absolute.  And my initial premise is that the state is pushing for more housing in the county and Davis specifically so that’s why I speculated that county might be more willing to consider alternatives for the county and city of Davis to work together.

        2. Jim Frame

          Once upon a time the effective enforcement mechanism for the county not developing outside of cities was the tax pass-through agreement.  With RDAs dead I don’t know if that still pertains.

        3. Richard_McCann

          The County must zone the land of housing–there are only 3 such specific plans left outside of the cities, and two of them are about to be allowed to expire (one is in Dunnigan). The remaining one is the Covell plot next to the Cannery and the County wants Davis to annex it. Sec. 8-2.902 Specific Plan Zone https://www.yolocounty.org/home/showpublisheddocument?id=23689 (The list in the document is obsolete.)

          and Sec. 8-2.403 Clustered Agricultural Housing for Antiquated Subdivisions

          (3) Parcels are not eligible for clustering if any of the following criteria apply:

          i. The legal parcel(s) are located within an adopted city Sphere of Influence, Urban Limit Line, or Growth Boundary, unless the City or other affected agency does not object to the proposal; or

          ii. The legal parcel(s) are subject to an existing agricultural, habitat, or other type of conservation easement that restricts use of the land; or

          iii. The legal parcel(s) are less than five (5) acres in size and are occupied with an existing home.

           

           

  4. Jim Frame

    what if someone were get a county approved residential (or commercial) project and then seek to annex it the city of Davis?

    In order for this to have a chance of working, you’d have to have a City Council that was determined to build peripheral housing regardless of what their constituents want.

    Then the proposal would have to get through LAFCO.  If 25% of Davis voters protest the annexation, an election must be held to approve or disapprove the annexation.  If more than 50% of Davis voters protest, the annexation is canceled.

     

    1. Ron Oertel

      you’d have to have a City Council that was determined to build peripheral housing regardless of what their constituents want.

      Davis already has that, and the voters just reinforced it in the last election.

      Not sure that they actually understood that, or perhaps they’re just counting on Measure J.

      Though I suspect it’s highly unlikely that they (the council) would be successful, regardless. Nor do I think the state would go that far, when they’ve got bigger housing fish to fry across the entire state (in a declining housing market, no less).

      For example:

      Extraordinary hearing shows that Housing Element won’t work—and Newsom Administration just wants to help real-estate interests make money.

      https://48hills.org/2022/11/affordable-housing-advocates-push-for-major-changes-in-city-plan/

      It’s not the cities that are under pressure – it’s the officials pushing this who are.

    2. Don Shor

      In order for this to have a chance of working, you’d have to have a City Council that was determined to build peripheral housing regardless of what their constituents want.

      The public has approved peripheral housing twice now. They’ve rejected peripheral commercial projects.

    3. Keith Y Echols

      In order for this to have a chance of working, you’d have to have a City Council that was determined to build peripheral housing regardless of what their constituents want.

      I believe the entire city council supported DISC.

      Then the proposal would have to get through LAFCO.  If 25% of Davis voters protest the annexation, an election must be held to approve or disapprove the annexation.  If more than 50% of Davis voters protest, the annexation is canceled.

      What would LAFCO have to approve?  The land is in the county if it’s outside the city limits.  Once the project is approved by the county then if the city wants to annex it…then LAFCO simply follows through with the County and the City’s wishes (assuming the city goes through with it).

      I take the 25% voting threshold to come into play when annexing inhabited (land owners) areas and not planned areas.  That would be like Davis trying to annex El Macero and 25% of the land owners protested.

      1. Keith Y Echols

        Part of what a lot of people are missing is that – if you already built the housing next to the city, there is no advantage to opposing the annexation. 

        The city then has to pay for maintenance and services (which property tax doesn’t completely cover).  And of course if the county (or UCD) builds adjacent to the city; then maintenance agreements for ingress/egress streets need to be made or the county/ucd project needs it’s own ingress/egress.

    4. David Greenwald

      Part of what a lot of people are missing is that – if you already built the housing next to the city, there is no advantage to opposing the annexation. That’s in part what happened with Mace Ranch.

  5. Ron Oertel

    The public has approved peripheral housing twice now. They’ve rejected peripheral commercial projects.

    Well, they’ll certainly have a chance to do so with “100% Housing DISC” – which (as we all know) is what they wanted to build in the first place.

    Housing is the only thing that actually “pencils out” for developers. (Not so much for city finances, however.) The same reason that the “Davis Innovation Center” added 1,600 planned housing units during its 7 mile move up Highway 113 (to a location that was previously zoned for commercial-only, I understand).

    Some (including me) believe that the only reason that the first Nishi that was proposed had any commercial component at all was to avoid Affordable housing requirements.

    By the way, here’s an interesting fact from the article I posted above (and below) in regard to San Francisco (which can’t expand its boundaries):

    Preston noted that over the last RHNA cycle, the city approved and saw built 150 percent of the market-rate housing that the state mandated—and only 50 percent of the affordable housing.

    Community advocates push for major changes in city housing plan – 48 hills

     

     

  6. Jim Frame

    I take the 25% voting threshold to come into play when annexing inhabited (land owners) areas and not planned areas.  That would be like Davis trying to annex El Macero and 25% of the land owners protested.

    I think you’re right, I misinterpreted the term “affected territory.”

     

  7. Ron Oertel

    Meanwhile – in Marin county:

    Marin officials pan environmental report on housing mandate

    The EIR identified 15 impacts that are significant and unavoidable,” Rachel Reid, a county planner, told the officials.
    These included negative effects on air quality; greenhouse gas emissions; transportation; visual character; water supply and wastewater treatment; noise; and tribal resources.

    https://www.marinij.com/2022/11/18/marin-officials-pan-environmental-report-on-housing-mandate/

    The article then goes on to discuss “alternatives”, but leaves out the most probable outcome:

    A complete and total failure regarding the state’s war on its own cities throughout the state, in which state politicians not only dictated the unrealistic “terms” (with support from business/development interests which got them elected in the first place), but are also now threatening to “enforce” them.  (Good luck with that.)

    Especially in regard to Affordable (subsidized) housing in a state that has already squandered a massive budgetary surplus, turning it into a $25 billion deficit. (I suspect that Jerry Brown wouldn’t have allowed that to occur.)

  8. Keith Y Echols

    Housing is the only thing that actually “pencils out” for developers.

    This is a ridiculous statement.  I suspect that housing helps get the project financed.  But no developer is just going to plan build a business park at no or little profit just to build some homes.   The developer can’t just eat the cost of the commercially zoned land.  The design of these projects mostly integrate the housing and the commercial component.  You’re not going to sell homes that are next to a likely large empty commercial lot.

    (Not so much for city finances, however.) 

    This part is true.

    1. Ron Oertel

      But no developer is just going to plan build a business park at no or little profit just to build some homes.

      All evidence shows otherwise, including MRIC/ARC/DISC, Nishi, the Davis Innovation Center (which added 1,600 housing units during its “move” up Highway 113), The Cannery, etc.

      DISC is now being proposed as 100% housing.

      For that matter, even University Research Park will now include housing.

      https://www.cityofdavis.org/city-hall/community-development-and-sustainability/development-projects/research-park-mixed-use

      The only local development which doesn’t fit this “mold” (so far) is the University Mall redevelopment proposal.  Maybe they’re waiting for state regulations to fully kick-in, if they’re not happy with the residential component that the city already approved.

      There are massive commercial vacancies throughout the state (e.g., in San Francisco).

      Developers have had more-than-ample opportunity to propose a local peripheral commercial development, as originally envisioned by some associated with the city.  Not even one has come forward.

      The proof is in actions, not words.

      The developer can’t just eat the cost of the commercially zoned land.

      Exactly, though what we’re referring to is agricultural land outside of city limits, proposed for urbanization. And even though they already own the land, they still can’t (or won’t) make it “pencil out” without a massive housing component. (Even in Woodland, after one of them failed to even advance to a vote in Davis.)

      Could be that the city is going to have to stop spending money that it doesn’t have, while hoping for a “Hail Mary” which isn’t going to appear.

      And don’t get me started regarding the oversized school district’s “needs”. They ought to be satisfied with (just) poaching students from Woodland, but apparently – that’s not good enough for them.

  9. Richard_McCann

    The West Campus access limitation is not a “strange agreement”–it was a necessity for UCD to avoid a CEQA lawsuit in 2005. As one of the community negotiators, I can tell you the “strange” part was the unwillingness of UCD to reorient the development to align north south and connect to both roads crossing 113. It was all about internal UCD politics–that the admin couldn’t tell the faculty that their pet projects needed to be moved. If UCD goes back on this agreement, the citizens of Davis will not be able to trust any promises by UCD on future development agreements. This agreement is the equivalent of a Baseline Feature–do you want to open that can of worms? There’s better ways to open that access without connecting the road directly.

    1. Matt Williams

      Richard is much better informed on the history of the Russell access agreement than I am, so I defer to his judgment.  Since it is a two party agreement, can’t either of the two parties seek to adjust the terms of the agreement to better match current/changed circumstances.  UCD does not “have to go back on this agreement” in order to actually see it modified.  I agree with Richard that such a unilateral approach would be a major problem; however, if the City were to invite UCD to the table … for mutual talks … the unilaterality would disappear.

      With that said, I would like to know more about “There’s better ways to open that access without connecting the road directly.”

        1. Matt Williams

          David, there are a whole raft of opportunities for UCD and the City to collaborate.  A mutually beneficial Economic Development Plan focused on technology transfer is certainly one of those opportunities.  Revisiting traffic Circulation to and from the campus is another.  Improving public transportation is a third.

          Healthy Davis Together is a template for the good that such collaboration can yield.  Unfortunately, the demise of Healthy Davis Together is a cautionary tale.  Similarly, joint management of the City and UCD fire departments was an excellent example of the benefits of collaboration, but again the demise of that joint management agreement is a cautionary tale.

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