Commentary: November 2024 or Bust?

Photo by Tiffany Tertipes on Unsplash

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

Davis, CA – In April, the council decided they were going to defer a housing decision and determined that they would not put a measure on the November 2024 ballot.  Slow growth advocates cheered the decision.

But the decision makes very little in the way of sense.  That has only become more apparent as things have progressed.

Consider that several of the councilmembers have acknowledged that without going peripheral in the next RHNA cycle, the city will have no chance of meeting its obligations.  And while some have questioned why focus on the next cycle, the timeline for addressing housing is coming perilously near—the city cannot reuse the downtown for its next housing allotment, it must rezone any land it wants to consider for the 2028 RHNA cycle and, thus, it must pass a Measure J vote.

The soonest the city says it can process an application would be for a March 2025 special election.

But wait a second—that’s just four months after November 2024.

If you want to pass a Measure J vote, November 2024 is the time to do it.  November 2024 figures to be a high turnout, highly competitive Presidential Election year.  We are talking about 80 percent turnout.  And unlike 2020, when COVID and remote learning pushed students out of town, students will be here and students figure to come out and vote and support new housing projects.

And so, if the council wants to put a project before the voters that can get passed, then their best chance is November 2024.

The council, to a person, says they support housing.  If they do—they need to maximize their opportunity to get a project passed and that is very clearly November 2024 rather than a special election.

To give you an idea of how much of a difference the turnout was from November of 2020, a Presidential General Election, to a Special Election in an odd year—in District 3, there were 6628 votes cast in November 2020; this month in the same district, the number was 2413.

The council however has said they want to prioritize a revenue measure rather than housing.  I have all sorts of problems with that prioritization.  The last revenue measure fell short of the two-thirds vote required for passage.  The council will almost certainly put a measure on that requires only a bare majority.  We will see what happens with things like a ladder truck and employee compensation.

But council in April argued that the city lacks the bandwidth to get a Measure J measure on the ballot for November.

It would be a tight squeeze for sure at this point—but not much tighter than March 2025.

One of the reasons given in April was they are short-staffed.  But there is a simple solution to that—hire a consultant to run the EIR.  That will free up city staff to do their everyday work.

How would such a position get funded?  The applicant would need to pay for it.  Given the huge expense of planning and building a project, an added consultant fee would be a drop in the bucket.

Can they do an EIR in time to get all the feedback they need from the community without squeezing the timeline too tightly?  Yes—but only if they go to a joint commission hearing to streamline the feedback process.

Will the city get accused of rushing the process?  They always do.  It’s not clear to me that the charge of rushing the process is very effective.  The projects that have failed at the polls mainly had concerns about traffic.

But the stakes here are incredibly high.  The city has a serious shortfall in housing.  They will have increased pressure from the state.  And by all accounts, they will need to go beyond the current boundaries to meet the housing needs.

In a guest commentary last week, Alan Pryor cited changes in state law in arguing, “The reason I am now advocating for a peripheral housing project be placed on the ballot as soon as possible is simple, Times Have Changed!”

Pryor argues, “If cities do not comply with these requirements by submitting plans accepted to HCD showing a pathway to increase their housing stock, the state may impose severe penalties including removing some control over local housing development from the local government.”

He continued, “Should the City’s proposal to HCD continue to be rejected and eventually result in litigation against the City to impose more housing development, the obvious target of any such litigation likely would be to overturn the City’s voter-approved Measure J/R/D allowing citizens the right to vote on peripheral housing projects in Davis.

“I believe this to be a real and urgent concern.”

Given that the overwhelming majority of Measure J projects have failed, the city council needs to take advantage of the high voter turnout/high student turnout at the next November Election.

Does the city council really want to hinge the future of the community, including possibly Measure J, on a low turnout special election?  I would think not.

But in order to get a project on the ballot, the council must show some urgency that they have so far lacked.

The choice is clear: to remain in compliance with state housing laws, the city is going to need to rezone peripheral land.  The chances of doing so successfully are much higher next year than in 2025 via a special election.

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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27 Comments

  1. Walter Shwe

    As usual I totally agree with the urgency to put one or more of the proposed developments on the 2024 ballot.

    To suggest that one has to vote for a given sprawling proposal (or any proposal for that matter) in order to “save” Measure J is a form of extortion.

    Once again, I declare all assertions by Ron Oretel that this in any way amounts to extortion against Davis voters to be null and void. Extortion is clearly in his own imagination.

    Have you seen “who else” generally comments here (or more accurately – consistently challenges my comments my comments)? If those folks aren’t agreeing , that’s a GOOD sign! The harder they push back, the more I know I’ve touched a nerve.

    The reason that Ron thinks that no other commenter here has joined him is equally absurd. I challenge him to find a single current Davis voter that agrees with him that unless they vote for any new housing development, Measure J will be struck down and thus is a clear instance of extortion. Mind you, I am fully eligible to vote in the 2024 Davis election, but Ron clearly is not. Secondly, seeking to touch a nerve in his critics, he is admitting to being a troll on this site.

    If you want to witness a clear and convincing case of extortion, you only have to observe what’s currently taking place in Washington, DC between Congressional Republicans and the Biden Administration regarding lifting the deficit ceiling. One side is openly demanding that the other agree to deep spending cuts before they will agree to vote in favor of raising the debt ceiling. Never mind that the debit ceiling only applies to funds already spent, not future spending.

  2. Ron Glick

    Do you listen to what members of the City Council say? Vaitla was clear he wants dense infill because he believes it has a better carbon footprint. With the completion of the downtown plan you are likely to see at least 3 big buildings between second and fifth street near G St. proposed with the caveat that interest rates could be a drag on timing.

    The wild card here is what Neville wants to do when she is sworn in at the next meeting. With Will going along with Vaitla the current CC is deadlocked. Neville could be a tie breaker on the timing of a Measure J vote.

    I do find your argument that we need to pass a Measure J vote to save Measure J hilarious. Measure J is obviously a broken system in so many ways yet you cling to it like Hue during TET where it was said “It became necessary to destroy the town save it.” Why not admit that Measure J is a failure for anyone that doesn’t own property in Davis?

    1. David Greenwald

      I don’t know where Bapu thinks he’s going to get dense infill at this point. That said, I think he recognizes that the city is going to have to go outside the current boundaries.

      “With the completion of the downtown plan you are likely to see at least 3 big buildings between second and fifth street”

      Maybe. But that only will count for the current RHNA, not the next one.

  3. Ron Oertel

    Davis, CA – In April, the council decided they were going to defer a housing decision and determined that they would not put a measure on the November 2024 ballot.  Slow growth advocates cheered the decision.

    I would think that “fast-growth” supporters would “cheer” the decision – as explained below.

    Consider that several of the councilmembers have acknowledged that without going peripheral in the next RHNA cycle, the city will have no chance of meeting its obligations.

    In that case (according to the arguments presented on here), future proposals would fail, and Measure J would be overturned.

    What part of this do the “fast-growthers” “not like”?  For that matter, they should also vote no on every proposal, to ensure Measure J’s destruction.

    (Ignoring the fact the major population centers along the coast are not expanding outward to address RHNA targets.)

    The council however has said they want to prioritize a revenue measure rather than housing.  I have all sorts of problems with that prioritization.

    You ought to run for council.  That way, you can ensure that what you prioritize (at least) has a chance, assuming that you can get two other council members supporting it.

    Will the city get accused of rushing the process?

    Yes.

    They always do.

    They don’t always “go back on their word” to prioritize a particular proposal (e.g., Covell Village II).

    The projects that have failed at the polls mainly had concerns about traffic.

    Fortunately (or unfortunately), all of the proposals create traffic problems.  But probably the worst one regarding that is the 400-acre sprawling proposal that some of them prefer.

    The choice is clear: to remain in compliance with state housing laws, the city is going to need to rezone peripheral land.  The chances of doing so successfully are much higher next year than in 2025 via a special election.

    Again, the vast population centers along the coast are not expanding outward, but are subject to the same type of RHNA targets.  However, if you’d prefer to continue ignoring this fact, it seems to me that those who want to see Measure J overturned or modified would want to see the state attempt to overturn it, regardless.

    But I’m not sure that your analysis is correct regarding the chances of any proposal being approved (in regard to “timing”) in the first place.

    For sure, opponents would then point out that the process is rushed, intended to favor one particular proposal, and that the council went “back on their word” to do so.

     

     

    1. David Greenwald

      “the vast population centers along the coast are not expanding outward”

      But you’ve not explored how San Francisco has been able to meet their housing needs without expanding outward. It would take: dense infill. San Francisco is building large, high rise apartments. It’s also as a city/ county able to purchase vacant buildings and then contract with non-profits to redevelop with affordable housing.

      The city doesn’t have the affordable housing fund to do that. Should they? Probably. But that’s not going to be a short-term fix.

      Moreover, the type of housing that San Francisco is going to produce is not really the type of housing that Davis really needs at the moment.

      I think if you are going to make this argument, you need to flesh out exactly what that would mean for a small city like Davis as opposed to a large urban area like San Francisco.

      1. Richard_McCann

        The population centers on the coast aren’t expanding for two very simple reasons that do not apply to most Central Valley communities–they are hemmed in either by other incorporated cities or by unbuildable hills that are either too steep or in public ownership. Neither of these facts apply to most Sac Valley cities such as Davis. Please stop pretending that the situation in Davis is analogous to Bay Area cities.

        1. Ron Oertel

          The population centers on the coast aren’t expanding for two very simple reasons that do not apply to most Central Valley communities–they are hemmed in either by other incorporated cities or by unbuildable hills that are either too steep or in public ownership.

          Those are not the only reasons.  Other reasons include zoning, agricultural easements, urban growth boundaries, etc.

          But as far as being “hemmed in by other cities” – that’s exactly what should have been avoided in the first place.

          Neither of these facts apply to most Sac Valley cities such as Davis. Please stop pretending that the situation in Davis is analogous to Bay Area cities.

          Again, many of those same factors apply to Davis.

          Entire articles could be dedicated to exploring these types of factors.

          The Bay Area is one of the birthplaces of the slow-growth movement – perhaps THE primary area. By creating, as someone like you would term it – “artificial growth boundaries and restrictions”. Unfortunately, they did not simultaneously consider the impacts of “economic development” in some of those locales. (Especially in the locales which already abutted other cities, such as the peninsula/Silicon Valley.)

          I witnessed a lot of this occurring.

          Watch PBS’ “Rebels with a Cause” if you don’t believe me, in regard to one such locale (Marin county).

    2. David Greenwald

      “For sure, opponents would then point out that the process is rushed, intended to favor one particular proposal, and that the council went “back on their word” to do so.”

      The rushed argument is made every single time. I don’t believe it has a lot of traction and it is the argument I fear least from the opposition.

      1. Ron Oertel

        The rushed argument is made every single time.

        I don’t think you’ve heard the following “every time”.

        In fact, I think it’s the “first time”:

        With four peripheral development projects in the works on the northeastern edge of the city of Davis, the City Council last week hit the brakes on all of them for now, saying they would not favor any of those projects going before voters in the November 2024 election.

        Rather, said council members, they would prefer city staff focus on a revenue measure for that ballot and give residents a break from another contentious election cycle focused on a development project. Meanwhile, work continues by a council subcommittee on criteria the city should use in evaluating peripheral projects.

        A representative for one of the four proposals — the Shriners property north of Covell Boulevard and east of Wildhorse — told the council that none would be ready in time for that ballot anyway, absent shortcuts.

        But Davis resident and developer John Whitcombe disagrees.

        The project, Whitcombe said, would absolutely be ready for the November 2024 ballot if the city gives the go-ahead to begin preparing an environmental impact report.

        https://www.davisenterprise.com/news/developer-touts-village-farms-proposal-wants-it-on-2024-ballot/

        By the way, how long does it normally take to create a complete/comprehensive EIR for a 400-acre peripheral proposal (e.g., traffic studies, etc.)?

    3. Ron Oertel

      David:  “But you’ve not explored how San Francisco has been able to meet their housing needs without expanding outward. It would take: dense infill. San Francisco is building large, high rise apartments. It’s also as a city/ county able to purchase vacant buildings and then contract with non-profits to redevelop with affordable housing.”

      It’s not just San Francisco which is subject to the RHNA targets.  But again, it’s failing there, as well.

      The state’s housing goals are nothing more than a farce

      Why is everyone so set on meeting RHNA standards when the evidence is very clear that it will never happen?

      In San Francisco alone, the price tag for the RHNA affordable housing madates is $19 billion.

      https://48hills.org/2022/09/the-states-local-housing-goals-are-nothing-more-than-a-farce/

      David:  “The city (San Francisco) does not have the affordable housing fund to do that.”

      That’s for sure, as noted in the article above.

      David:  “Moreover, the type of housing that San Francisco is going to produce is not really the type of housing that Davis really needs at the moment.”

      Neither does San Francisco, or any other city in the state.

      David: “I think if you are going to make this argument, you need to flesh out exactly what that would mean for a small city like Davis as opposed to a large urban area like San Francisco.”

      You’re stating that it’s “up to me” to prove that the RHNA targets aren’t feasible in “small cities” along the coast?  At a time when about half of them don’t even have an approved housing element?

      Again, these are cities which AREN’T expanding outward. So if they’re able to address those targets, why wouldn’t Davis be able to do so?

      In any case, wait for a few years, and it will be obvious.  In ALL cities.

       

        1. Ron Oertel

          I wasn’t sure what you were referencing, but no city has the funds needed to implement these “plans”.  And that’s just for the “affordable” component(s).

          There’s an interesting article regarding this issue from David Thompson, in the “other” blog.

          Although there’s lots of cities of various sizes among the vast population centers along the coast, I’m comfortable stating that none of them are expanding outward for the purpose of meeting RHNA targets. I’d suggest that it’s “up to you” to prove that wrong, since you’re the one claiming that Davis must uniquely do so.

          As a side note, one wonders how much Rob Bonta will actually expand his war on cities, since he’s reportedly planning to run for governor. At some point (if the war expands beyond his relatively empty threats so far), it would impact his chances of political success.

          In some ways, I’d like to see the state actually “succeed” in some cities, as that’s the only time there’d be a real backlash. Sometimes, it takes actual suffering (rather than threats) to make voters react. (That’s how proposition 13 arose, for example.)

          1. David Greenwald

            I believe David ran the same article here.

            Regardless of which they expand, they are building more housing. If you think we can meet our needs/ RHNA requirements via dense infill, show me the money.

        2. Ron Oertel

          Regardless of which they expand, they are building more housing.

          They are not going to build housing which even remotely meets the RHNA “targets”.  Even you have acknowledged this.

          If you think we can meet our needs/ RHNA requirements via dense infill, show me the money.

          “Our needs” and “RHNA requirements” are two different things.  And I would argue that “our needs” hasn’t been defined – assuming it even exists.

          For that matter, the only thing that sprawl provides is a potential “placeholder”, while government funds are pursued.  It is rare that developers provide anything other than a potential “spot” for subsidized housing. (And for every dollar of government funds that are used for Affordable housing in Davis, that’s a dollar which is then not available elsewhere.)

          The state’s targets were never intended to create an incentive for sprawl.

          But again, “show me the money” for any of the other cities which aren’t expanding outward, either.  That’s the point, isn’t it?

          (I may be closing in on five comments, since the time that the moderator established the limit.)

           

          1. David Greenwald

            You’ve dodged the issue – if you believe that Davis can meet its needs through other means, show us how.

        3. Ron Oertel

          David:  Again, I would look toward all of the cities along the coast (where the vast population center resides), to see how they’re accommodating those plans.

          I can tell you that I’ve seen very little activity in places like San Francisco when it comes to tearing down existing houses, etc. For that matter, I doubt that they’ve even started on the Stonestown mall redevelopment. We’re in a housing collapse (even market-rate), at this time.

          Again, I’m not claiming that these plans will be successful – I’m claiming that it will fail (in spectacular fashion, for that matter). At least, when it comes to actually following-through on those plans. Especially in regard to “affordable” housing.

          But it’s not just me who is noting this.

          It will be interesting to see how the state reacts to this massive-scale failure, in a few years. Even more so since Bonta is running for governor.

          Should be good for some laughs, at least.

          1. David Greenwald

            Basically your answer is we don’t need to attempt to meet our housing needs.

            I certainly strongly disagree with that – regardless of what the state can or will do about it.

            But if that’s the case, your point about peripheral housing is irrelevanot because you also are not willing to find infill locations.

          2. Don Shor

            Again, I would look toward all of the cities along the coast (where the vast population center resides), to see how they’re accommodating those plans.

            You bring this up repeatedly and it’s been answered. The state laws are intended to get sites zoned correctly and in sufficient numbers, and to remove local planning obstacles. The intent of all of these measures is that private builders will provide most of the housing. Market conditions will certainly affect how likely, how soon, how much gets built. Everyone, I believe, acknowledges that very low-cost housing will have to be subsidized. Other housing is to be built by private developers or by private/public partnerships. Nobody can predict exactly how much will get built or how quickly. If the building industry can’t yield sufficient housing to meet the RHNA numbers, I feel confident that the state will take further action or will just plunge directly into the housing market.
            Personally I’d prefer to have private home builders doing the work, but that means the community has to accept some higher-profit homes in order to subsidize the lower-profit ones in order for the builder to get an adequate ROI and get financing. Others may prefer to have the state build housing units.

            It will be interesting to see how the state reacts to this massive-scale failure, in a few years.

            Just saying that ‘nothing is going to work, nothing is needed, there is no shortage, there shouldn’t be any attempt at getting more and lower-cost housing produced’ doesn’t address the issues of housing cost burden, short-term homelessness caused by financial emergencies, and the disparate impacts that housing shortages have on lower-income residents. Just suggesting that people who are cost-burdended should move somewhere else is also not realistic.
            Hopefully the state will address financing issues for very low-cost housing. That would be within their purview and resources.

            Should be good for some laughs

            Sure, if you already own a couple of houses, it might be amusing.

            ——
            May:
            Ron:
            (Ignoring the fact the major population centers along the coast are not expanding outward to address RHNA targets.)
            Again, the vast population centers along the coast are not expanding outward, but are subject to the same type of RHNA targets. However, if you’d prefer to continue ignoring this fact

            April:
            Ron: It seems that no matter how many times its pointed out, the fact that many of the cities subject to these requirements are NOT expanding outward is purposefully overlooked on here. Why do you suppose that is?

            Don:
            San Francisco: “The planning commission unanimously approved legislation designed to increase density on November 19. About 60 percent of San Francisco’s residential areas are zoned for single- and two-family homes, largely in the western half of the city. The legislation also allows up to four units on lots now zoned for one-, two- and three-family homes.”
            That’s certainly an option for Davis.

            San Francisco achieved their housing element approval by allowing higher densities in existing neighborhoods. Davis could certainly do that as well.

            Their housing element was approved without annexation because they voted to allow for greater density in areas presently zoned for single-family homes. You asked a question and I answered it by looking up the answer for you.
            —-
            Ron:
            “no one has explained how many of the most-populated, dense cities (e.g., along the coast) which aren’t expanding outward are expected to meet these requirements, while simultaneously putting forth an argument that Davis (uniquely) cannot (without sprawl).”

            David: There are some good articles about how San Francisco is doing it – dense infill, vacant parcels, housing trust fund with state and federal monies (this is something Davis really does need to do much better on), city owned property, etc.

            January:
            Ron: But again, until you examine how other cities are meeting these requirements (without expanding outward), your “discussion” is not complete.

            Don: Here is San Francisco’s Housing Element, passed by their planning commission and pending review by the state housing department. I’ve linked to a portion of the implementation section. Pages 7 – 22 should answer your questions. Let us know when you’ve read it and we can discuss how SF and Davis differ regarding meeting the RHNA numbers.
            https://sfhousingelement.org/appendix-b-sites-inventory-and-analysis-0

        4. Ron Oertel

          Basically your answer is we don’t need to attempt to meet our housing needs.

          Again, “our housing needs” and “RHNA targets” are two different things.  And for that matter, no one even knows what will happen during future rounds – especially since the current round will fail – statewide.

          But if that’s the case, your point about peripheral housing is irrelevanot because you also are not willing to find infill locations.

          You’re asking me to do the job of a city planner.  Don provided a bunch of information regarding how San Francisco, for example – is supposedly attempting to address those targets.  Again, this is going to fail.  (I can tell you that very few single-family dwellings are being torn down and replaced, for example. And yet, one would think that in an expensive city like San Francisco, this would occur.)

          Again, it would likely be “helpful” to overturn the state’s mandates, if they were actually successful in forcing some cities to “comply”. If this ever occurs, it’s virtually guaranteed that there’d be an enormous reaction to it – with major news media “flipping” to cover THAT story.

          You bring this up repeatedly and it’s been answered. 

          I do, and I keep responding to it as well.  To which you and others on here “don’t like” the answer.  Or more accurately, haven’t actually provided a (viable) answer.

          What I see occurring on this blog are repeated attempts to justify sprawl to meet some supposed future round of RHNA targets – when even the current round will fail well-before then – statewide.

           

           

           

          1. David Greenwald

            “ Again, “our housing needs” and “RHNA targets” are two different things. ”

            I agree. But then again, I think our housing needs are CONSIDERABLY HIGHER than the RHNA number.

            At the end of the day, you’re still arguing if other cities don’t meet their requirements, we shouldn’t try. That makes no sense. And it would be irresponsible for the city to follow that path.

  4. Dave Hart

    David, have you actually asked each city council member why they aren’t in favor of putting a Measure J vote on this ballot?  By asking, I mean engaging them in a conversation.  That’s the only reporting that will shed any light on the mystery.  I have expressed a theory for their decision that nobody chooses to believe, yet you’re still mystified.  It’s the only one that explains this decision. How about a little investigative reporting to at least debunk my theory so we can all be mystified together?

  5. Tim Keller

    While I think that the 2024 election is a window of opportunity.   I don’t see rushing a badly planned project through an EIR in order to meet that deadline as a wise thing.

    If we build a “bad” development we are going to be stuck with it… just like how we are going to be stuck with a strip mall where a perfect mixed-use project could have been.

    In this case, “bad” to me means low-density:  Any peripheral project which is 90+% single family homes just makes it harder for future planners to come up with good design options- walkable, transit-focused neighborhoods with thoughtful bike infrastructure etc…

    NONE of the currently proposed peripheral projects impress me in that regard… they don’t connect to each-other or pay attention to their context and role in the overall neighborhood…  and Im someone who REALLY wants that land to be developed ASAP…  so this is a little hard for me to say… but yes, I WOULD rather wait and get a well planned development rather than push through a bad one for the sake of political timing / expediency.

    That said…  what we DO have time to get done in 2024 perhaps is a ballot measure to just fix the measure J process itself.    Some people have been talking about an urban limit line as a substitute, which from what I have heard makes a LOT of sense as an alternative because then “normal” planning processes have their time to work themselves out and we CAN get good developments… not just individual projects.

    Let’s focus on getting THAT done in 2024!

     

  6. Matt Williams

    David Greenwald said … “Moreover, the type of housing that San Francisco is going to produce is not really the type of housing that Davis really needs at the moment.”

    David’s statement gets to the heart of the housing issues in Davis, but only anecdotally.  What is the type of housing Davis needs?

    The recent articles here in the Vanguard indicate that Davis needs housing for the homeless.  Davis also needs housing for the working poor who come to Davis and complete a job that services Davis residents and/or the University.  Davis needs housing that is affordable for young families.

    All those needs have been clearly articulated.  What Davis does not need is more unaffordable houses that cater to wealthy buyers and/or households with two jobs and no intention of ever having children.

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