By David M. Greenwald
Davis, CA – The Davis City Council approved the Housing Element on Tuesday night. But while the Housing Element represented a formal document that needs to be approved by HCD, the discussion generated further areas for the city to explore—including the potential of the first ever amendment to Measure J.
One of the possibilities is the suggestion that the city council could “[p]ut a package of housing policy initiatives on the ballot to, among other things, amend language already in Measure J/R/D that exempts from its public vote requirements projects that provide affordable housing or facilities needed for city services, or other changes to city ordinances that would help create affordable housing.”
The council not only approved the Housing Element but directed that the Affordable Housing Subcommittee look into issues of this sort to come back to the community and council for further discussion at a later point.
For Bapu Vaitla he noted, “Peripheral, we can look at the RHNA numbers. It’s broken down in the Housing Element. We have potential, if everything goes very well, to satisfy a certain fraction of that with infill downtown.”
He continued, “Every development, every single parcel downtown becomes absolutely critical. We need to optimize for the amount affordable, but it’s also time to talk about affordable on the periphery.”
So he said, “It’s time to talk about an affordable exemption for Measure J/R/D. It’s time. So let’s open the community conversation. Let’s hear about it.”
At the same time, he noted, “We know that we have limited viable peripheral sites. We know that we want to protect as much agricultural and open space and habitat as possible. So we need to use every one of the sites that we have available judicially.”
He believes we need to maximize the amount of affordable, saying, “To me, the pathway to do that is to open the conversation about an affordable exemption to Measure J/R/D.”
Vice Mayor Josh Chapman noted that he would be supportive of putting this issue on long range and, “Looking at them and having this council have a full discussion on that.”
He said he is hopeful that “this opens the door to the conversations that we drastically need to have in this community around affordable housing, around growth around the periphery, (and) around infill around city owned properties.”
Councilmember Gloria Partida noted that she and Bapu Vaitla “are on the subcommittee on affordability, and I am looking forward to really tackling that.”
She added, “I think some of the ideas that you put forward this evening about having these hard conversations around our periphery, our peripheral growth and just getting creative and really sort of pushing the envelope on, on ways that we can produce some affordable housing is where I think we’re at now.”
Mayor Will Arnold also addressed some of the concerns about Nishi, in terms of whether the housing would count toward the city’s affordable housing requirements.
Mayor Arnold noted that he is “proud” of the work that the council has done in its “long history of taking on the challenge of housing, the housing crisis that we’re in and taking it head on.”
He said, “Over the course of my tenure on the council… on providing student beds, getting very creative with how we’re able to do that, inventing a system effective for providing affordable housing that is available to full-time students, which was not the case in the past.”
He continued, “We did so with eyes wide open to the fact that ran the risk of not getting full credit from HCD. Sure enough, that’s what we’re looking at, but it didn’t move us off of the right thing—because it was the right thing to do.”
Mayor Arnold added, “I would encourage that we include language that encourages UC Davis to join the city in building higher density housing for its students—as well as faculty and staff housing on campus.”
He said, “The city has approved seven-story projects near campus and recently approved a downtown plan that calls for much higher densities in the core including large swaths of the downtown where seven stories is now possible.”
He said, “Higher density housing is more sustainable. It makes more efficient use of the land.”
City Attorney Inger Khalsa clarified with respect to the affordable housing at Nishi, “We believe that they’ll count. We clarified that those units are not restricted to students and that they are units that the general public would be able to to rent in the same manner as a student would. So there’s no student restriction and HCD is satisfied.”