Council Could Consider Processing an EIR for Housing Project to Go on Ballot by March 2025

Councilmember Vaitla talks housing at the I-House in May

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

Davis, CA – Council engaged in a lengthy discussion on Tuesday to determine how to proceed with five peripheral housing proposals.  Ultimately, to a person, they agreed that November 2024 was infeasible, but they may move forward by June 6 with a proposal to process an EIR for March 2025.

Councilmember Gloria Partida noted in the previous conversation, “I think we all mentioned that we are very supportive of housing and, and bringing housing forward.”

However, she argued, “Just getting anything on the ballot in 2024 is going to be tough.  At the same time, I think that it’s important for us to not come to a complete halt on the efforts that we are making to continue to move housing forward.”

She said, “I am very interested in having some project have their EIR process started.”

Vice Mayor Chapman added, “If we step back and say we want to have two projects, start the EIR process, get the ball going, um, how do we come to that decision on what two projects those are, if that’s where we decide we want to go tonight?”

Councilmember Bapu Vaitla said, on the one hand, “I believe in a growth boundary for Davis.  We’re surrounded by some unique and valuable soils in open space, and I want to preserve that.”

But he said, “That means maximizing the value of the parcels that we have, to work with both infill and these peripheral parcels which will inevitably be developed.”

He continued, “The parcels that are in question right now, I think it’s magical thinking to think that they won’t be, they will be.”

For Bapu Vaitla however, in order to “maximize the value of those partcels is to engage in a planning process.  So I’m not comfortable with starting an EIR right now for one project or another or even two.”  He said, “I think that puts the cart before the horse in terms of we haven’t created that vision with the community.”

Looking at the next RHNA, he said, “Without optimizing the amount of affordable units we get out there in these peripheral parcels that are up for discussion, we’re not going to meet those next cycle RHNA targets, we’re just not.”

Vaitla argued that instead of being reactive to what the project applicants come to us with, where “we have the power to say no or yes or ask for elements, but really we’ve been reactive and that creates for a contentious election environment.”

Partida responded, “I agree that we need to be very conscientious and involve the community, and have this be a process that does involve the community.”  But she added, “I don’t think that they have to be separate.”

She said that they don’t need a fully fleshed out project before allowing the EIR to be processed.

Partida noted, “When we talk about hitting our RHNA numbers every year that goes by, I think puts us farther and farther behind because it’s not just the year and a half that it takes for us to get through the EIR to get through the election of that project. It’s the actual building of those units that that takes some time as well.”

Vaitla said, “But that’s what I worry about, is it by, uh, starting an EIR process, we’ve committed ourselves, at least in part, to the vision that the developer has given us, instead of us setting a vision and then having people respond to that.”

He also expressed the notion that the city is in a “novel situation” with there being multiple applicants.

He said, “I think the applicants, because at least in part because they’re in competition with each other, are upping their offers to the city, in effect.”

At the same time, he noted, “We don’t know how much room any one of these applicants have to finally adjust their proposals.”  He said, “There are elements of every proposal that I really like, and there are elements of every proposal that I really dislike.”

Vice Mayor Chapman added that he understands where Vaitla is coming from, but the subcommittee’s work around the guiding principles, “that provides some framework for vision that we want to see happen.”

At the same time, he noted, “We know there are a very limited number of parcels that are available left to possibly develop.”  He said, “To me, I don’t see that there’s a lot of area in there where we’re going to be drastically apart from what the community wants to see moving forward.”

Chapman clarified, “I am not advocating for something to go on the 2024 ballot” and noted he stood by their decision from April.  But he said, “I think it’s important that if we do want to have an option to look at March 2025 or November 2025, that we can start an EIR process.”

Partida agreed, “I wasn’t thinking that we would start an EIR process now that would put anything on the ballot in 2024, because as we said before that there’s no way we can do that.”

Mayor Will Arnold jumped in and noted, “There’s, I believe, always going to be a balance between the project as presented and the needs of the folks presenting it versus or in tandem with the needs and desires of the policy makers to have created and executed a considered planning process.”

Arnold pointed out that, contrary to popular perception, the DISC project was in fact the result of a rather lengthy process, a community planning process that lasted a number of years, where the Innovation Park Taskforce put forward a request for proposals that netted the city three proposals, DISC was the last one standing.

Mayor Arnold explained, “Yet that didn’t spare us the conflict of the developers still presenting us with what they were able to do and the conflict of the community still saying, no, this isn’t what we’re looking for, voting it down.”

He also noted that a lot has changed since April 4.

He said, “At that time, we didn’t have a proposal for this property that’s infill by the textbook definition of infill in the middle of town—that is Village Farms.”  He noted that the project is just ten blocks from downtown.

Arnold continued, “Now we have five applications or pre-applications.  We’ve also since then had a lot of news from HCD in terms of certifying our housing element.”

Despite this, he said, “I continue to not see the wisdom in putting one of these proposals on November 2024 in what I believe would be competition with a revenue measure.”

He said that “even if we’re going to meet a March 4, 2025, election, there’s no need, or even in my opinion, real benefit to us compressing that timeline by getting the EIR rolling at sort of the last possible moment. I think we could get it going sooner.”

Arnold added “that would also have the added benefit of signaling to the community that perhaps it’s not on the November 2024 ballot, but we are very serious about addressing our housing needs.”

Later Arnold tipped his hand, “In my mind, there’s one projet that’s in a priority location and for that reason alone puts it as a priority for consideration.”

He added that, like Councilmember Vaitla, “There’s things about all the projects that I really like.  There’s things about all the projects that I don’t like and would like to see improved—some more than others.”

Arnold said, “I am interested in us beginning the EIR process—at least for that project.”

The council decided to send the issue back to the subcommittee of Will Arnold and Bapu Vaitla, to flesh out the principles and, potentially based on those principles, decide which projects to come forward in March 2025.

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.

Related posts

14 Comments

  1. Ron Oertel

    Davis, CA – Council engaged in a lengthy discussion on Tuesday to determine how to proceed with five peripheral housing proposals.

    That’s easy – put all five of them on the ballot.  See if you can get a sixth one as well, to make it an even half-dozen.

    Councilmember Bapu Vaitla said, on the one hand, “I believe in a growth boundary for Davis.  We’re surrounded by some unique and valuable soils in open space, and I want to preserve that.”

    And where is that boundary, exactly?

    But he said, “That means maximizing the value of the parcels that we have, to work with both infill and these peripheral parcels which will inevitably be developed.

    It doesn’t sound like you’ve found the boundary, so far.

    He continued, “The parcels that are in question right now, I think it’s magical thinking to think that they won’t be, they will be.”

    Why even have a Measure J vote or an urban growth boundary?  (By the way, growth potential is not limited to these five proposals.)

    The state’s population is declining.  Now, whether or not UCD will still be able to continue poaching students from other declining college systems to support their own goals indefinitely is a question.  And the impact of developments such as those in Woodland certainly “relieves” the Davis housing market of pressure.  Including the upcoming “technology park” development which somehow added 1,600 housing units during its “move” up Highway 113.

    He said, “I think that puts the cart before the horse in terms of we haven’t created that vision with the community.”

    You’re not going to obtain a singular vision from the community – regardless of how many workshops, etc., are held.  The people who show up to those things already have something in mind, and are not a representative sample.

    Partida noted, “When we talk about hitting our RHNA numbers every year that goes by, I think puts us farther and farther behind because it’s not just the year and a half that it takes for us to get through the EIR to get through the election of that project. It’s the actual building of those units that that takes some time as well.

    How about if the city addresses the current round of numbers before worrying about potential future ones?  Half the cities in the state haven’t even addressed the current requirements.  And the vast majority of them (e.g., along the coast) are not expanding outward to meet them.  (Those mandates were supposedly never intended to encourage sprawl in the first place.)

    He said, “I think the applicants, because at least in part because they’re in competition with each other, are upping their offers to the city, in effect.”

    Like I said, put all five of them on the ballot – simultaneously.  Let’s see what each of them “promises” (assuming that they don’t subsequently pursue the “builder’s remedy” on those sites – regardless of development agreements or baseline features).

    He said, “To me, I don’t see that there’s a lot of area in there where we’re going to be drastically apart from what the community wants to see moving forward.”

    This type of comment (assuming to know what the “community” wants – and that it’s the same thing that council members want) demonstrates the continuing divide between the community at large, vs. council members.  This is how these battles originate – they don’t arise out-of-the-blue.

    I am certain that a large contingent of the community doesn’t want to see any major peripheral proposals at all.  What about those folks?

    Arnold pointed out that, contrary to popular perception, the DISC project was in fact the result of a rather lengthy process, a community planning process that lasted a number of years, where the Innovation Park Taskforce put forward a request for proposals that netted the city three proposals, DISC was the last one standing.

    Mayor Arnold explained, “Yet that didn’t spare us the conflict of the developers still presenting us with what they were able to do and the conflict of the community still saying, no, this isn’t what we’re looking for, voting it down.”

    That’s what I’m (at least) personally hoping for (again).  Go ahead and hold your workshops, etc. Perhaps obtain another Studio 30 type of report, which explains why DISC has now morphed into a 100% housing proposal, and how that supposedly benefits the city.

  2. Tim Keller

    For Bapu Vaitla however, in order to “maximize the value of those partcels is to engage in a planning process.  So I’m not comfortable with starting an EIR right now for one project or another or even two.”  He said, “I think that puts the cart before the horse in terms of we haven’t created that vision with the community.”

    Amen to that.  Thats my biggest beef with the measure J process – that there isnt a community vision, its the developer’s vision.. and that vision ( by definition ) never extends beyond their own property… so its impossible to create a “neighborhood” out of individual distinct “projects”

    The real question is:  Since we agree that we WANT a plan and a vision from the community, is the city actually going to put in the work to create that?  We cant kick both cans down the road.

    At the same time, he noted, “We know there are a very limited number of parcels that are available left to possibly develop.”  He said, “To me, I don’t see that there’s a lot of area in there where we’re going to be drastically apart from what the community wants to see moving forward.”

    This is the biggest thing that I think we need to get our heads around as a community.   We have a handful of parcels that make sense to develop, only a handful.   While some who comment here dont see a need for any additional housing, I see it very differently:  we have 4-5 properties that ( along with a very limited supply of infill and redevelopment) need to be able to accommodate ALL of our city growth for the next 30 years or maybe more.

    The developers will want to propose something that they think is palatable and can pass at the ballot box, which probably means something low density… but that is out of sync with our actual needs… so a LOT of work needs to go into planning all of this.

    As someone who lives very close to the mace curve, I would like to see a moderatley dense set of projects there, complete with commercial development so that we have food, a pub, a barber, a cafe.. a local grocer..  within biking / walking distance.     But none of the developers of those peripheral projects are thinking about the “overall neighborhood”.. so there is none of that being proposed.

    And that is where even though I REALLY am for growth in general terms, I think it would be a mistake to move forward with an EIR of a developer-conceived project before we have some kind of high-level planning process… because that EIR would have to be re-done if for example the shriners project got changed to include some local-focused commercial space…

    Lets plan first, which means Lets do planning NOW.    THAT is the urgent need here.

    1. Don Shor

      But none of the developers of those peripheral projects are thinking about the “overall neighborhood”.. so there is none of that being proposed.

      They’re housing developers, not commercial developers.

      I think it would be a mistake to move forward with an EIR of a developer-conceived project before we have some kind of high-level planning process…

      “We need to plan” and “we need a vision” is just a recipe for delaying housing development at this point.

  3. Matt Williams

    Vice Mayor Chapman added, “If we step back and say we want to have two projects, start the EIR process, get the ball going, um, how do we come to that decision on what two projects those are, if that’s where we decide we want to go tonight?”

    The simple answer to Vice Mayor Chapman’s question is to not choose.  Move forward with all the proposals that have been submitted, and let each respective developer’s readiness to provide the materials and details (even the ones with the devil in them) determine how fast each respective proposal progresses.  The lack of City planning resources is a red herring because the developers pay for the costs of processing.  Hiring contract planners with dollars that the developers provide up front solves the resources problem.  If a developer isn’t willing to prepay for the costs of processing, their proposal will fall behind the others in the queue.

    Anything less than that kind of commitment on the City’s part sends a very clear message to the voters … and I agree with Alan Pryor and Ron Glick that that very clear message from the City that it is incapable of doing two (or five) things at once will create lots and lots of “no” votes on any tax measure.

    Further, Tim Keller is 100% correct that perpetuating the current developer-driven approach is tantamount to planning suicide.  Current City planning staff should be focused on getting the community engaged in updating the General Plan, which would include a Vision that addresses:

    (A) A Community Profile “Where are We?”
    (B) Trends Analysis “Where Are We Going?”
    (C) Vision of the Future “Where Do We Want To Be?”
    (D) Action Plan “How Do We Get There?” and
    (E) Implementation and Monitoring “Are We Getting There?”

  4. Ron Glick

    “For Bapu Vaitla however, in order to “maximize the value of those partcels is to engage in a planning process.”

    During the last election someone told me he was worried that Vaitla would gum things up with a perfect is the enemy of the good governance. I now fear that person was correct.

    The demand for housing is huge. If it wasn’t there wouldn’t be five different proposals trying to get to the ballot. Davis has had lots of planning on housing. More planning simply means more delay.

    1. Tim Keller

      I definitely don’t think we should let the perfect be the enemy of the good.  I agree with that 100%…

      I am a strong believer in the Pareto principle: the fact that you can normally get 80% of the results you want with 20% of the effort.

      In this case, I think that means we DONT need a full general plan update, because yes, we are in a housing crisis and that will take YEARS…   But SOME planning process, SOME inclusive thought process to plan what WE want to see in these properties and not leaving it all up to the developer would be REALLY good…   I think we can manage at least that, and it would be worthwhile to do so, because once we build the wrong thing on these sites, its going to be somethig that is very hard to un-do.

  5. Richard_McCann

    I agree with Matt and Tim that we need to move forward quickly with a planning process to establish a vision that most can agree with. Developers don’t have real guidance and City staff has undermined attempts by Commissions to establish planning principles, asserting that the Council hasn’t approved them. (Not sure why the Staff gets to veto Commission recommendations as somehow being the arbiters of Council wishes, but that’s a different topic.) DISC, and even Nishi I, showed how development proposals can be rejected because those planning guidelines aren’t available, leaving the proposals open to criticisms of not having sufficient community input. So I think Ron G is being shortsighted about the likely success of the proposals without that planning process. And we still need it even if Measure J/R/D is overturned to transform our community for the coming changes in climate and demographics.

    1. Ron Glick

      Richard, asking for more study is is often a delay tactic or a way to cast doubt. The housing debate has gone on for years, people know the issues. The developers know the issues as is evidenced by the way they have incorporated those issues into the five proposals waiting to be processed by the city. A new study is unlikely to illuminate the issue further. If there is some new information to be gathered by more study I wonder what it could be?

       

      1. Matt Williams

        Ron G, neither Richard nor Tim nor I are asking for a study.  What we ARE asking for is direction/leadership … a compass.  The City has had no direction for over 20 years.  No sense of what we are as a community.  No sense of where we are going as a community.  No accountability for achieving a goal as a community.  We have wandered about aimlessly for over 20 years.  Nothing has been done proactively.  Everything has been a reaction to events … often unforeseen events.

        When I moved here in 1998 I thought Davis was a university town, with core competencies that flowed from UCD into the community,  building intellectual capital and economic resilience and STEM jobs the process.  What I now KNOW is that Davis is NOT a university town, it is a bedroom community for jobs that are external to the City … across the Causeway and in the East Bay.  Less than 31% of UCD employees live in Davis.  There is no flow of core competency from the campus into the town.

        We don’t need a study.  We need an identity.  Right now our identity is borrowed.

        1. Ron Glick

          For the first 90 years, more or less, until you got here in 1998, there was an understanding between Davis and UC. UC would build the campus and Davis would build the supporting housing and infrastructure. Housing got built by the locals as needed and everyone prospered. A good rule of thumb to support my argument is the earlier you invested in Davis real estate the richer your family became.

          All of this changed in the 80’s with opposition to development of Mace Ranch and in the 90’s with the failed referendum to overturn the Wildhorse development.  The failure of opposition to new development  led to the  subsequent passage of Measure J in 2000.

          Since then housing construction plummeted while the University continued to grow to satisfy external demand for UC diplomas.

          With Measure J it became clear to City Council after City Council that updating the General Plan was meaningless since the City itself was for the most part built out and decisions about housing would be determined not by a general planning process but instead on a parcel by parcel basis by the voters.  That desire to avoid contention that has developed  around peripheral housing coupled with the reality that the voters have a veto on rezoning ag land through Measure J has made both electeds and staff believe that a general plan update was moot. Now 23 years later the general consensus is that a new general plan is needed. However the idea that doing so wouldn’t be extremely contentious is naive. In the meantime, since Davis underbuilt for so long asking for a general plan update before processing any of the five proposals before the city is nothing but a recipe for further delay and inaction on housing.

    2. Mark West

      “Not sure why the Staff gets to veto Commission recommendations as somehow being the arbiters of Council wishes”

      Staff follow the directions of the City Manager. The City Manager is able to veto Commission’s recommendations because he has at least three votes saying he can. If you want a better outcome, find three votes willing to demand it. Until then, nothing will change, no matter how much discussion, planning or community visioning there is.

      We are in this position largely because the CM failed to build a capable team to manage the process. Same could be said for our economic development failures.

      1. Richard_McCann

        The City Manager has 3 votes to keep his job, not to curtail citizen input. It may end up to be essentially the same thing if the Council isn’t voicing objections to his actions, but the distinction is important.

        1. Mark West

          “The City Manager has 3 votes to keep his job…”

          The City Council had the opportunity to write an employment contract that would have incentivized the City Manager to do as the CC wanted. Instead, they provided a sweetheart deal for the in-house candidate, with a significant pay raise over the incumbent, without even bothering to interview anyone else for the job. Now the only option for controlling the choices the CM makes is to replace him. Given that, Richard, there is no distinction of note, and it would be naive of you to believe or state  otherwise.

          The situation we are facing is directly due to the actions of the current CM and the failures of both the previous and current CC’s. We don’t need more visioning or engagement, we need competent management.

           

Leave a Reply

X Close

Newsletter Sign-Up

X Close

Monthly Subscriber Sign-Up

Enter the maximum amount you want to pay each month
$ USD
Sign up for