By David M. Greenwald
Davis, CA – Two weeks after receiving a letter from the state Housing and Community Development (HCD) informing the city that their current Housing Element will not be certified by the state, the council listened to the staff response to the letter.
While it was largely a muted response by council—response that perhaps avoided some of the coming issues—City Manager Mike Webb acknowledged that in retrospect he should have handled the release of the letter to the council and community differently, and the council acknowledged that, while they expect to be in compliance in this round, next round will be much more difficult.
The council got a small taste of what may be coming during public comment.
Judy Ennis, a member of the Social Services Commission and a member of the Davis Community Action Network, a newly-formed group focusing on affordable housing and climate, noted, “We’re falling short. We’re falling short when it comes to RHNA, but also I think we’re falling short in our honesty about why that continues to be true.”
City Council candidate Francesca Wright accused the city of having “some magical thinking happening about 485 affordable units.
“How can we zone for that?” she asked. “Where will these be built?”
Vice Mayor Josh Chapman acknowledged, “We do know that this process has been a much more difficult process for us than it has been in the past.”
He noted the housing crisis in the state and that “this is probably the level of scrutiny that we’re going to be seeing moving forward it comes to housing elements.”
Chapman added that HCD is going through a process here that is “what they’re supposed to be doing.”
He said that in the end, “We are having a housing element, though it really doesn’t have any teeth, it doesn’t build any housing, but that we are looking at it in the current state of our market.”
Chapman noted, “In our jurisdiction, what we need to to do (is) to get more affordable housing forward.”
“It’s not just us, half the cities in the entire state of California that are basically in the same boat right now because HCD has really tried to impress upon everybody the housing crisis that we are having,” Gloria Parida added. “The homeless crisis that we’re seeing is a direct link to the lack of housing that’s available and it’s not just affordable housing, it’s just housing. All housing has become unaffordable.”
Bapu Vaitla explained, “Staff is constrained. Staff is constrained by culture, by Measure J by any number of difficult circumstances that, that prevail in our community.”
He continued, “In the future though, under these present circumstances, we have no chance of fulfilling our next RHNA obligations.”
He said, “What that means is that we need to get really bold with what we do with infill and we need some peripheral development planning principles.”
Echoing a public comment from earlier, Vaitla said that “it’s magical thinking to assume that we’re going to be able to meet our housing needs without major changes in our legislation and in our culture.”
Bapu Vaitla also encouraged City Manager Webb to explain the thinking by staff with the handling of the HCD letter with respect to transparency and the timing of the last council meeting.
“It’s a very fair and reasonable question,” Webb said. “I know that we were in receipt of at least an email to some staff as early as Monday of that week.”
The letter was received on April 3 and the council meeting was on April 4.
“So most of our staff time and energies were focused on preparation for the council meeting that night on April 4th, including Sherry and myself, um, in preparation for a number of pretty heavy agenda items that night,” he explained. “While there was an understanding certainly on my part that a letter from HCD existed, that we had it in our hands, we did not really have any opportunity to sort of go through it and assess what is this, what does this mean, what are the implications of it?”
He said that the timing of receiving that letter from HCD “really did not provide vis-à-vis other activities that were going on over that day and a half.”
But he did say, in “20/20 hindsight, knowing what we know now, I think I definitely would’ve taken a different approach and simply conveyed the HCD letter and said that staff assessment of this will need to follow.”
With that, council moved forward to allow staff to respond to HCD and left other issues for another day.