By David M. Greenwald
Davis, CA – It was a provocative article in which Judy Corbett argued, “It appears that there are already enough opportunities for the City to provide the 7,036 more units that we need to meet State housing mandates.”
She said, “Rather than giving into the pressures of developers controlling properties to the East, the City should rely on its ability to promote development within the City’s boundaries. To expedite development, the City should redirect the economic development staff to interview parcel owners to find out what the city can do to help them move forward with development proposals.”
It sounds good—some readers immediately jumped on board with unqualified approvals. But the proof is in the pudding here and, drilling down, it doesn’t seem like this solves the dilemma of 2028—how will we meet the housing needs for the next RHNA?
Part of the problem here is that the analysis of sites is a bit dated. For instance, it lists University Commons as being plausible, when of course we know that is not the case.
A second problem is that, while she counts the overall units, she makes no effort to calculate how many of those will count toward Affordable Housing. That’s a bigger barrier for the city at this point.
Moreover—over and aside from RHNA—there is an over-reliance on apartments here, and one of the biggest problems Davis faces overall is the need for housing for families.
In terms of state requirements, about half her “infill potential sites” are already on the Housing Element draft to rezone to meet the current RHNA. For instance, Mace and Montgomery are already on there, 315 Mace is, Kennedy Place is, and 480 Mace is the site that has already been approved for the car wash.
If her goal is to demonstrate that the city has enough infill for the current Housing Element, I think that’s probably true.
She mentioned the 1000 units for the downtown which was also included in the current housing element. This week the Hibbert Lumber site dropped. They are expecting the ACE site to be submitted. A permit was pulled to begin the Research Park Mixed Use project.
Her recommendation that “the City should redirect the economic development staff” … the city currently doesn’t have any Economic Development staff.
The key question is not the current RHNA—although that is not yet certified—but the next one. How does she plan to address that? Interestingly enough, she puts the Covell Farms project and its 1400 units as an infill candidate.
While I would probably argue that Covell Farms is technically an infill site, it is also one of the five peripheral projects that have been proposed. Other than that, she recommends a few infill sites in town including the shopping center at the end of East Eighth Street, the City Corp yards and the District Headquarters—all of which could work for some infill.
The problem of course is finding enough affordable housing to meet what figures to be another 900 to 1000 units (at least) in the next cycle.
In short, for all the audacity of the initial claim, she is in the same boat as everyone else—how does Davis get enough housing with sufficient affordable housing to meet the needs of the community and the requirements of the state?
The suggestion of one of the foremost housing opponents is that Davis should do as “the massive population centers along the coast” do.
The strategy of following what cities like San Francisco are doing, meanwhile, doesn’t make a lot of sense for Davis. San Francisco has no choice but to build dense infill projects. They are going a lot higher and a lot more dense than Davis wants to do.
Moreover, why would you emulate one of the most expensive cities in the nation? Particularly if you don’t have to.
But perhaps the most ironic thing in all, is looking at how San Francisco is attempting to meet their housing obligations.
For instance, there is the 750-acre Shipyard at Hunters Point. It’s a master-planned community that accounts for 12,000 housing units and numerous affordable housing projects. Think about it, that’s about the size of Village Farms and Pioneer Community Project.
It seems important to note that Davis doesn’t have infill opportunities along that magnitude.
Of course, while Village and Pioneer contain about 2500 units, the Shipyard contains 12,000 units, nearly five times more dense.
Another point that seemingly gets lost here—San Francisco has nearly $100 million in funding going into one of the affordable projects in the Shipyard. That’s allowing people at 20 to 40 percent median income—basically less than $70,000—to be able to afford to move in.
Davis doesn’t have anything even approaching that in terms of affordable housing funding or infill land.
What Davis does have is the ability to build housing on the periphery—something that San Francisco lacks. Davis also remains far more affordable than San Francisco.
We can debate whether Village Farms or Pioneer Community Project are dense enough—I would agree that they probably are not.
But to me, meeting our housing needs the way San Francisco is going to approach it doesn’t make a lot of sense either.
A more intriguing approach is the one put forward by former Mayor Robb Davis. He argues—and I agree—the city “cannot successfully fulfill its RHNA requirements without a concerted effort to change the housing development landscape in the City.”
Ironically, I think Judy Corbett’s op-ed actually bears this out.
Davis makes a four-pronged proposal:
- Amend Measure D (formerly Measures J and R) to permit peripheral development to move forward without a citizen’s vote under specific conditions.
- Rezone specific current commercial sites to allow housing development by right if specified density goals are achieved.
- Designate key City-owned properties to develop permanently affordable rental units and release requests for proposals (RFPs) for their development in a phased approach.
- Negotiate with public and private entities to obtain land from them or encourage/incentivize them to develop the land themselves (either market-rate or affordable)
I think we need to look at ways that we can make Measure J work better because the overwhelming majority of residents at this point support it.
The city does have some vacant sites that could be rezoned for housing—but we need to carefully evaluate those sites as some of them are among the few vacant parcels that can be used for economic development, another critical need still.
While I am in favor of finding dense infill opportunities, we need to be mindful that they are not a solution to all our housing problems. It is difficult to build affordable housing on dense infill without substantial subsidies from the state and the federal government.
Moreover, dense infill is probably not going to attract the demographic of 30- to 50-year-olds, families with children that Davis so desperately needs.
What we need is a wide range of housing opportunities in town—and even with Judy Corbett’s optimistic attempt, it seems that the only way to get those is move outward not upward.