My View: The Council Has a Chance to Pave a Reasonable Path Forward, but They Must Act

Photo by Marcus Lenk on Unsplash

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

Davis, CA – When we last saw the council, it was around 2 am and the council decided to continue their discussion of Long Range Growth Options until June 20.  The item has been agendized for Tuesday, but the staff report offers no additional information.

With the council 4-1 vote against even moving forward with an EIR on Shriner’s and Village Farms, the council is rapidly taking November 2024 out of the picture for a possible Measure J vote.  It is perhaps not impossible but may require some sort of truncated process which may not play well with the growth skeptics.

In the interceding time since the council meeting, a couple of key developments have given us a little clarity.

First, we now appear to have three projects in the downtown, though Davis ACE is still not official.  But if it happens, they will account for 454 of the 1000 units that were allocated in the Housing Element to Downtown Redevelopment.

That gives us clarity that there is indeed a high demand for housing.  At the same time, downtown infill shows us what we can and what we cannot get out of high density infill projects.

We are talking about multihousing projects.  Most of that will be rental housing.  We did better than expected with 20 percent affordable housing at one of the projects, but clearly this is not going to provide a path to the kind of family housing that we need.

The council and some community groups have pushed for infill as the first priority.  I understand that impulse.  Such projects will not require a Measure J vote.  In the downtown and if they are at least 20 percent affordable, they can be by-right, which means there is not even discretionary approvals.

But on the downside, we would be moving away from family and single-family housing which might meet our legal obligations, but that won’t solve the actual housing crisis in my opinion.

To be clear, I am advocating for strictly single-family housing.  I think we need a wide mix of housing from affordable apartments, to townhouses and condos, starter homes, the missing middle all the way up to market rate single-family homes.

In the end, we will need peripheral housing to meet a lot of our housing needs.  First of all, in order to reach the affordable housing allotment for 2029’s Housing Element, we are clearly going to need to add close to 1000 affordable housing units.  The only reasonable way we will accomplish that is through the kind of housing proposals we are seeing.

For example, Village Farms could provide around one-third of that allotment by itself.

Second, there just are not a ton of infill opportunities left.  Even the proposal from Judy Corbett relied on 1400 units at Village Farms, a Measure J project, to make the numbers work.

And third, if you look at a lot of the infill cited by Corbett, they were either already approved or completed, or they were small, or they were multifamily housing.

Unless the community is committed to not building additional housing for families, it is going to need to look to the periphery in order to build at least some of the housing (assuming you can make the numbers work without peripheral housing, with which I strongly disagree).

That leads to the final piece of this puzzle—how do you get peripheral housing in a place like Davis, where each proposal has to go before the voters?

Several points on that.

First, some have suggested we need to have a General Plan update.  I agree.  But that’s a lengthy process in Davis and while it creates some guidelines and standards, as long as Measure J is in place, each project will have to go before the voters for approval.  That will lead to the type of comparative exercises that we saw in a guest piece this week.

Second, we really at this point cannot wait for a full General Plan update, which is why the council is looking at criteria and creating an evaluation rubric.

I think there is some promise and even the potential for consensus that is emerging, not only in what Mayor Will Arnold and Councilmember Bapu Vaitla did, but some of the community-generated ideas.

We could foresee a relatively simple set of basic parameters:

  1. Higher affordable – at least 25 percent
  2. Zero net energy/sustainability goals
  3. Density goals
  4. Transportation and connectivity goals

Could that then become the basis for some sort of Measure J exemption?  A project that meets the set criteria could bypass the need for a Measure J vote?  You could put limitations on how many projects could be exempted and even cap the growth rate if you desired to keep the protections in place.

I know I have seen a lot of opposition to tweaking or changing Measure J, but to me at least, it is seems very cumbersome and costly to put every project through a long and expensive Measure J process which would make it more difficult to reach the high affordable and building standards people seem to want.

There is always a tradeoff, and you could tweak Measure J to thread that needle—protect the periphery from runaway growth while giving the community a mechanism by which to ease the housing crisis.

Finally, I think we really need to think about time strategically.  The window to make major changes is upon us.  The November 2024 ballot is the time to do the heavy lifting.  Waiting is not going to lessen the issues, it will just make it harder to be deliberative and thoughtful about them.

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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10 Comments

  1. Ron Oertel

    That gives us clarity that there is indeed a high demand for housing.  

    Student housing, with no parking.

    The council and some community groups have pushed for infill as the first priority.  I understand that impulse.  Such projects will not require a Measure J vote.  In the downtown and if they are at least 20 percent affordable, they can be by-right, which means there is not even discretionary approvals.

    I’ve actually been impressed by several of the “growth activists”, in regard to their push for infill and density.  Something I haven’t seen on here, before. Along with comments recommending AGAINST rushing an unprepared proposal onto the ballot. (Again, from folks who normally don’t do so.)

    But on the downside, we would be moving away from family and single-family housing which might meet our legal obligations, but that won’t solve the actual housing crisis in my opinion.

    So even though the state’s targets would be addressed – it’s a crisis, a crisis, I tell ya!

    For example, Village Farms could provide around one-third of that allotment by itself.

    If (for example) a 400-acre Covell Village II proposal doesn’t completely address all of the future allotment (which won’t even be known until years from now), there is no way it (or any of the others) will be approved. Why would it be?

    “Hey – here’s a massive amount of sprawl and traffic for you, but no – it doesn’t address the state’s targets”. (Sounds like a “winning” campaign slogan to me!)

    (Assuming, of course, that the state hasn’t acknowledged defeat by then across the entire state.)

  2. Matt Williams

    To be clear, I am advocating for strictly single-family housing.  I think we need a wide mix of housing from affordable apartments, to townhouses and condos, starter homes, the missing middle all the way up to market rate single-family homes.
    We could foresee a relatively simple set of basic parameters:

    Higher affordable – at least 25 percent

    Zero net energy/sustainability goals

    Density goals

    Transportation and connectivity goals

    .

    You are missing the most important parameter

    No single-family home with a sale price of over $600,000.

    The other parameter that needs to be included is deed restrictions that keep the initial affordable price affordable over time.  The history in Davis is full of examples where affordable houses were resold at full market price, making them no longer qualify as affordable.  In the process the reseller pocketed a boatload of windfall cash at the expense of the community.  We need to learn from our mistakes.

    Oone way to keep affordable affordable is for the Housing Trust Fund to own 15% of each house in perpetuity.  That kind of limited equity program has worked well for close to three decades at Aggie Village off 1st Street … with UC Davis owning an equivalent of the 15%. So, I would add the following additional parameter.

    The Housing Trust Fund would own 15% of each single-family home in perpetuity.  This would not be a deed restriction. It would be a fee-simple ownership embedded in the title, so title search and title insurance programs would ensure that it never is lost.

    1. Ron Oertel

      The Housing Trust Fund would own 15% of each single-family home in perpetuity.  This would not be a deed restriction. It would be a fee-simple ownership embedded in the title, so title search and title insurance programs would ensure that it never is lost.

      Under this proposal, would the Housing Trust Fund (also) receive 15% of the rent, should the owner(s) decide to rent out their individual properties?

       

  3. Keith Olsen

    I hope the council realizes that David and his blog is just one voice in a sea of tens of thousands of Davis voices and doesn’t give him any more credence than any other voice just because he has a bigger platform from which to project.

    1. Richard McCann

      Keith O

      Based on your assertion, Thomas Paine also would have been a meaningless voice overwhelmed by the Tories living in the Colonies. The fact is that publishing ones’ viewpoint is important in engaging in the discussion, and politicians rightfully look to the ensuing debate to inform them about how to move forward. The absolutely worst way to govern is somehow rely on polls or some other method of sticking a finger in the wind to figure out what the public wants. We are in a representative democracy where we elect the Council to make key decisions for us. If we don’t like those decisions, then we elect someone new. In the last general election, we saw that happen with one incumbent rejected and the other reelected. When you can get that “sea of voices” to coherently express a point of view, let us know.

  4. Don Shor

    To be clear, I am advocating for strictly single-family housing.

    I assume the important word ‘not’ is missing from this sentence.

    You are missing the most important parameter

    No single-family home with a sale price of over $600,000.

    That’s ridiculous.

    1. Matt Williams

      Why is it ridiculous Don.  Over and over and over again the call has been for housing for Davis workers like the ones who work at Redwood Barn and other retail and service businesses around town.  You yourself have posted the Zillow number that a household income of $134,000 is needed to afford the payments on a $500,000 house.  A $600,000 house requires even more household income.

      The missing middle and young families aren’t likely to be able to afford a market price home in Davis. According to Zillow “The average Davis home value is $865,745, down 5.2% over the past year and goes to pending in around 8 days.”  

      The current universe of Davis developers prefer to build single-family homes for higher than the average Davis home value.  They make more money that way … and it is easier.  They are capable of building $600,000 homes, but they choose not to do so.  Is it unreasonable to ask them to change their million dollar homes business model to a $600,000 homes business model?  To not ask them to do so would be ridiculous.

      I can sum up all the above with a simple question to you, ”What do you have against $600,000 homes?”

      1. Ron Glick

        The new Covell Village proposal includes a number of 1100 square foot homes priced in the $600,000 range with some subordinated debt to make it easier for working families to qualify for financing.

        1. Matt Williams

          That is a step in the right direction Ron.  I believe their proposal would be even better if all the single-family residences were sized and priced at 1100 square feet and no more than $600,000 out of pocket for the buyer, net of the 15% Housing Trust Fund provision.

          That would be very effective “missing middle” pricing.

      2. Richard McCann

        Matt

        I agree with Don. Imposing such price controls will largely be unworkable. How do you plan to allocate those houses among buyers if you have a price cap? (And please don’t tell us something as foolish as a lottery or a queue.) It also fails to address the real problem which is that our housing market is out of equilibrium. I have more to say about that on Tim Keller’s article, Part 3.

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