Revised Housing Element Comes Back to Council for Final Approval

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

Davis, CA – Back in August, 2021, the Davis City Council adopted its 2021-2029 Housing Element.  But when they submitted it to the Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) for certification, HCD rejected the housing element as not being in compliance with state law.

City staff spent months working with HCD to revise the document and finally posted it for public comment in August 2022.

The Planning Commission gave the go ahead to move the Housing Element to the City Council.

Among the concerns by HCD was Nishi and suitability for the student housing project to have 105 units of housing that counts toward RHNA.

According to the letter from HCD, “To credit the 105 units toward the RHNA, the City must verify that the Nishi project meets the census definition of a housing unit and is not considered group quarters.”

They write, “For example, the City can provide documentation that assures verification of income status, and provides substantial evidence that rent is based on the student’s income, and not the corresponding legal guardian’s income.”

HCD added, “However, given that the restricted leases are only available to students and not the general population, the element should analyze the existing development agreement to ensure compliance with all applicable fair housing laws”

In response, the city noted, “The Nishi Student Housing project is intended to provide housing to help address the City’s long-standing low vacancy rates by providing by-the-bed rentals primarily marketed to UC Davis students, due to its proximity to UC Davis.”

However, consistent with fair housing laws, the units are available for rent to anyone “with no preference given to students over members of the general public.”

The city notes, “The rental model would be unlikely to appeal to families, but it could provide for some workforce housing, which, in addition to student-oriented housing, is also a great need in Davis.”

As such, “The project currently falls into a gray area within the Census definitions for housing units versus noninstitutionalized group quarters for college/university student housing. Each apartment would be a fully-contained housing unit with living and eating facilities and direct access to the outside of the building that is separate from other units.”

The city believes that this aligns with the Census definition of a housing unit.

HCD also expressed concern about suitability of non-vacant sites.

HCD writes that “the element must now provide substantial evidence that the existing use is not an impediment to additional residential development in the planning period and is likely to discontinue during the planning period.”

HCD notes that the revised analysis for 240 G Street, which was Ace Hardware, “is now sufficient, as it demonstrates a discontinued use, developer interest, and most importantly feasibility that the site has redevelopment potential during the planning period.”

However, HCD said, “The two remaining sites will need to demonstrate similar suitability for redevelopment and most importantly, link recent development trends to factors utilized for identifying these sites.”

One of those sites is “envisioned as the future E Street Plaza or Davis Square in the Downtown Davis Specific Plan, which would be a primary catalyst project for the area.”

The city explains, “The site is anticipated to become a central gathering place and key focal point of the Downtown. When completed, the E Street Plaza could support two mixed use buildings, up to seven stories in height, surrounding a large public plaza area.”

The city continues, “The City recognizes that several of the parcels would need to be consolidated and brought under common ownership in order to take on a project of this magnitude, either as one or two new large parcels.”

The city notes that “the City has approved several lot consolidations within the last planning period to facilitate housing development, including the Lincoln 40 Apartments project which consisted of 11 parcels many less than 0.5 acre in size.”

The City continues “to see redevelopment of commercial uses, including the Trackside Center, Paul’s Place, and University Commons projects, and anticipates that such trends will continue.”

They believe that approval of the Downtown Specific Plan will help support development by increasing building heights and allowable density while streamlining the review process.

HCD noted that the “revised element identifies a shortfall of adequate sites to accommodate the regional housing need for lower-income households. It also identifies candidate sites that will be rezoned within the first three years of the planning period.”

HCD then adds that “the element must demonstrate that sites of equivalent size were successfully developed during the prior planning period for an equivalent number of lower-income housing units as projected for the site or unless the housing element describes other evidence to HCD that the site is adequate to accommodate lower-income housing.”

HCD notes, “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. Since the ordinance was enacted in March of 2000, four of the six proposed rezones have failed.”

The city responded, “While Measure J adds costs, extends processing times, and has been used to halt development projects that would convert agricultural land to urban development, it is only a constraint to meeting housing needs if the city lacks sufficient infill housing sites.”

The added, “Had DISC passed, the City would have substantially more units to help meet the sixth-cycle RHNA. The City will need to rezone additional sites to meet the RHNA…”

The city continued, “The City has identified sufficient candidate rezone sites within its limits to meet the RHNA, averting the need for a Measure J vote. In addition, adoption of the Downtown Davis Specific Plan will increase infill potential within the City by allowing for increased building heights and higher density development.”

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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