By David M. Greenwald
Davis, CA – Today the Vanguard published a proposal for development planning priorities. The very fact that the list of signers include some of the current leaders of the slow growth movement and some opponents of recent development projects in and of itself is a tremendous step forward for this community.
It seems to be a clear acknowledgment of the urgency of our housing crisis and the threat it poses to the very future of our community that many have fought so hard to protect.
That I don’t agree with all the proposals should not detract from the fact that they were made and that, in my view, this represents a gamechanger. The discussion now swings from whether we need to what we need, where we need it, and what it can possibly look like.
I want to be clear—even though I believe we need to move further—that I have the utmost respect for this proposal and believe it puts us in the position to now have an honest and earnest discussion about our future.
With that said, I would like to offer a few key points here.
In my view, I still don’t think we are going to get that far looking only at infill. Talking with city staff last week, we have now seen the Hibbert proposal drop and there is every expectation that the Davis ACE site will have a housing proposal as well.
But even with those two sites, that is only about one-third of the 1000 units in the downtown. The city is definitely optimistic they can reach 1000, but remember that 1000 will count for current RHNA, not the next RHNA which is, in my view, the real challenge.
This proposal notes the city-owned parcels on Fifth Street as well as the school district property at 5th and B, which in my discussion with the school district is a clear site for redevelopment. But even if that occurs, we are looking at a relatively small number of units, perhaps 40 to 60 per the 2007 Housing Element.
Are we really going to get a ton more from infill at this point? We’ve already lost the mixed-use housing at University Commons.
I am all for dense infill. But dense infill is likely to be expensive, it is unlikely to appeal to families, and it is difficult to finance—and especially difficult to finance with affordable housing unless we start getting a lot more state and federal money coming in.
I am very pleased to see what seems to be an acknowledgment that we will need peripheral housing. I think that might be the showstopping, game changing news in this proposal.
I appreciate pushing the density envelope here. While I generally am supportive of the five projects that have come forward, I do think the density needs to be increased—perhaps by a lot. One fact that might have limited the density is fear of getting killed on a Measure J vote, so such a proposal is likely to give them cover.
I think there are two key points here that bear more scrutiny.
The first is the question of whether a 25 percent affordable threshold could be reached.
They put this forward, “At least 25% of units permanently affordable to low or very low incomes. This can be accomplished through direct construction of units, land dedicated to nonprofits for affordable housing in parcels of 4 acres of more, and/or use of limited-equity coops or co-housing projects as part of the housing mix of any large project to gain permanent ownership affordability. The majority of affordable housing should be located near transit.”
I have always believed we could reach a higher affordable threshold with land dedication approaches. The fact that David Thompson has signed off on this proposal gives me a more confidence—as he has forgotten more about limited-equity affordable housing than most of us will ever know.
That said, if it were *that* easy, every peripheral project could get to 25% and we haven’t seen that—even on projects that Thompson himself has worked on.
What seems to be missing here is some sort of Measure J modification or adjustment. I believe you might be able to get much higher levels of affordable housing if you allowed projects to avoid a Measure J vote.
You’re trading cost for certainty in that trade off.
This biggest carrot might be that implementing such an approach reduces the likelihood for opposition to individual projects that meet these criteria—but there is of course no guarantee that that will happen.
In short, I firmly believe we can ask for more if we reduce uncertainty and reduce costs on the front end. But that probably needs to be fleshed out.
What is very clear to me is that, in the last week, we have seen two community visions for what a planning process could look like—both are rigorous but both also show us that there is a path forward to addressing housing concerns.
The optimist in me says that the handwriting is on the wall that this community will address its housing needs—but I warn, we are still very, very early.