By David M. Greenwald
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.”
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.