By David M. Greenwald
Davis, CA – Time is not our friend in this. Council was acutely aware of this fact at 1 AM as Mayor Will Arnold suggested the discussion be continued—perhaps to June 20.
June 20, as City Manager Mike Webb hinted on Tuesday, might be the last realistic opportunity to reasonably get something on the ballot for 2024. Council had the option to at least start the EIR process—which would have cost them nothing and committed them to nothing—and only one councilmember even voted for that proposal.
Two councilmembers basically said they already made the decision to forego November 2024 and so they effectively don’t care.
But they should care… because while they were acutely aware of the time at 1 AM, they seem to be oblivious to the larger clock that keeps on ticking.
Many are arguing that we need to look inward first. I agree. The problem is that we have. The number that has been thrown out is actually a mix of RHNA projects that have already been approved, some already in fact built, and most already counted in the current RHNA.
That even includes 1000 units in the downtown. So yes, we are getting some projects—Hibbert has dropped, Davis ACE is expected to drop. But both of those will count toward the current allotment of housing.
It appears that the school district is ready to sell and redevelop their administrative offices, but we are looking at just 40 to 60 units there. The city could look into their properties along Fifth Street, but taking University Commons out for its housing means not only do we lose that for the current Housing Element, but also the housing has to be replaced—which will take other potential infill projects out for 2028.
The reality is that we can look at infill first, but we don’t have large tracts of land that are undeveloped or even underdeveloped within the city.
And so, we are likely to have to find another 2000 units, and 1000 of them affordable, for the next RHNA cycle. For those still arguing those are unrealistic numbers, remember we are already getting a huge break. Woodland in this cycle is being asked to produce over 5000 units, West Sacramento over 9000 units. We are larger still than both of those cities (not for long), and required to do far less.
To get to 1000 or so affordable units is going to require peripheral housing. That’s the reality. That’s the math. Even the proposal put forward by Judy Corbett included 1400 units at Village Farms to make it work.
I don’t have a problem calling that infill, but it’s still going to require a Measure J vote to approve.
Representatives from Village Farms on Tuesday suggested they would increase density up to 1800 units. That addresses some of the concerns by members of the community that the project is not dense enough considering its nearly 400 acre size—but even with that and a healthy allotment of affordable housing onsite, it will likely take at least two and probably three of these projects to get the next RHNA.
You want the city to worry only about this RHNA? Well you have a problem… the clock is ticking.
In order for a project to count for RHNA, it has to be rezoned for housing. For infill, that’s relatively easy. But for peripheral in Davis, that requires that housing be rezoned and, in order to rezone it, it has to pass a Measure J vote.
That means by 2028, the city has to rezone all the land they wish to utilize to meet their housing allotment.
That’s going to take time—and again, the clock is ticking.
As I have pointed out elsewhere, 2024 is the best year by far to pass a Measure J vote.
Even with an aggressive timeline, 2024 is now almost off the table.
If we lose November 2024, we push things to 2025. But 2025 is not an election year. That requires special elections. Special elections where the only thing on the ballot is land use issue. The last two times we had land use issues on special elections—2005 Measure X and 2009 Measure P—they lost with 60 and 75 percent opposition.
We don’t have a lot of margin for error. Do we want to put ourselves into a position where we have to pass two or three projects in 2026? That’s also a recipe for failure.
Want to see us lose some of these? There are a lot of scenarios where that would occur and the ramifications for many will not be pleasant.
Right now Measure J doesn’t have a great track record for actually being able to pass projects—only two of seven have passed.
What will the state do if it becomes two of ten?
Moreover, fail and the city will be out of compliance with RHNA and that fact alone could compel the state to bring down the hammer.
They could take the city to court declaring that Measure J is a barrier to housing and it is difficult to see how the city would prevail under those conditions.
Some see this as a threat—I see this as a math equation.
Some have characterized modifications and changes potentially to Measure J as “gutting” the ordinance, but the city actually risks a lot more by going down this path.
There seems to be very little acknowledgement that the city is facing a ticking clock and the timeline is no longer on our side. The council has refused to act with a sense of urgency here. The community does not seem to sense the danger, even if there seems to finally be an acknowledgement for everyone that we need to figure out ways to build housing.