Analysis: What the Five Housing Proposals Bring

Photo by Sigmund on Unsplash

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

Davis, CA – A reader made an interesting comment yesterday in response to the state action in San Bernardino.  It seemed like a good idea to address this issue and have some sort of discussion.

Tim Keller wrote: “This is the thing that really irks me….    We have this exact same problem here in Davis:  local workers, university staff and students are priced out of the market…   And a lot of Davis voters echo these exact same concerns re: our workforce.

“BUT… the housing proposed on our docket, the single family developments, IF they go through and ‘save us’ from having the state come after us like they are doing for San Bernadino.. that housing is ALSO not going to be affordable for these local workers…   It will be a) expensive and b) largely sold to regional commuters..  So unless we change HOW we build, none of our current front-line options actually help that much.”

So I created a matrix to try to assess the extent to which this concern is true.

There is a good deal of nuance here that I will attempt to break out in a moment, but my eyeballing of the situation suggests this may not be as bad as Tim believes.

First thing to note is that these are really initial proposals—the proposals have not gone through community discussions, for the most part not gone to the commissions, and in some cases, particularly with respect to “On the Curve,” probably very premature.

Nevertheless, there is an effort to put in both middle and high-density housing.  And the over affordable component gets to 866 which is not much lower than the state is likely to require in the next cycle.

Of course it will take about 5200 units to get to those 866 (about 16.7 percent affordable).  That is certainly something the city is wanting to bump up.

Finally, each project is attempting to address some of the middle housing needs—we can of course dispute, debate and discuss whether that is sufficient.

But I think that 30,000-foot view picture is somewhat misleading.  So let’s look at the actual proposals—such as they are.

Palomino Place

Palomino as we reported earlier this week has revised their proposal.

“The Project proposes one multi-family parcel, 130 for-sale residential lots, and one remainder lot, which will provide a broad mix of housing types and offer everything from a rental flat or one-bedroom to a four bedroom/three bath ownership home.”

In addition to beefing up their affordable housing plan, they still allow for the construction of 55 ADUs which could actually increase the number of new units to 218, creating affordability by design—at least in theory.

They also attempt to address the missing middle, saying “the Project offers entry-level cottages that will implement a first-time homebuyers program, mid-sized townhomes great for young families or for households that do not desire more than two bedrooms, and then more traditional single-family detached (SFD) units with both medium-sized format and large format units to accommodate a variety of household needs.”

Village Farms

Village Farms is proposing about 1800 units including 300 Affordable homes.  They are also suggesting about 310 “starter homes” with their “Developer Contribution Program.”  Their goal is: “Affordable-by-design homes will enable the Davis workforce, families with children in Davis schools and many others, to own a home near their work, family and schools.”

“Made possible by an innovative financing mechanism, the DCP will pay 15% of a down-payment to match the Home Buyer’s 5% down-payment, helping to clear the biggest obstacle for most middle-income earners. The home must be Owner-occupied for a minimum of 2 years.”

In the end they end up with 300 of the Affordable, 310 of the starter, another 160 townhomes and cottages, 200 apartments that are market rate, 150 condos and stacked flats and then about 680 market rate single family units that are low density.


Shriners is also attempting to appeal to these sectors.

Among their goals:

Provide 20% of the total residential units for the construction of “Capital A” affordable housing for low, very low and extremely low-income households.

Provide another 10% of the total residential units for single family homes priced at an average of 70% of the Davis median home price.

Prioritize the use of high and medium density housing for the missing middle and young families who are currently unable to find or afford housing in Davis.

That comes to 250 of the 1200 units as traditional low density residential, but 518 as medium and 432 as high density.

From the proposal:

“The Medium Density Residential (MDR) land use designation accommodates single family detached as well as attached residential units. 518 dwelling units (43% of the total) are designated for MDR product types. These units will fall within the General Plan density range of 6.00- 13.99 dwelling units per acre (averaging approximately 7.8 units per acre), where housing types such as small single family, alley-loaded, greencourt, duplex, and townhomes are possible. The project includes fourteen MDR sites.

“The High Density Residential (HDR) land use designation primarily accommodates attached residential units. 432 dwelling units (36% of the total) are designated for HDR product types. These units will fall within the General Plan density range of 14.00-25.00 dwelling units per acre (averaging approximately 19.0 units per acre), where housing types such as apartments, both affordable and market rate, townhomes, condominiums, or stacked flats are possible. These housing types may be for sale or rental units. The project includes three HDR sites.”

Pioneer Residential Community

Pioneer is planning: “At buildout, the Pioneer Residential Community will accommodate a range of between 700 and 775 single-family and a range of between 400 and 475 multi-family dwelling units.”

They offer the caveat: “The range of this housing allocation is a preliminary estimate and will be adjusted as the proposed project is refined.”

They are planning:

  • Single-Family Housing (range of 700 to 775 LDR and MDR units)
  • Multi-Family Housing (range of 250 to 300 HDR units)
  • Senior Housing (range of 150 to 175 HDR units)

Low density is about 5 du/ac, medium is 10.5, and the high density is 25.

On the Curve

We probably know the least about this project.  But they are planning a mix of multi-family, small lot detached and then a small number of single-family detached (67 to 89) units.

“The Project has been designed to offer the full gamut of housing options,” they explain.  “The multi-family units will predominately provide rental opportunities, including affordable rental opportunities, to younger individuals, new graduates, and families working in and around Davis.

“The for-sale small lot detached units may include townhomes, row homes, or small-lot detached units and will provide a housing type and price point that is within reach for moderate income earners, first-time homebuyers, and an array of civil servants currently priced-out of the housing market in Davis.

“Finally, the traditional single-family detached homes will meet an identified need within Davis (nearly 39% of Davis’s RHNA is for single-family detached) providing a ‘move-up’ opportunity and rounding off a community that offers housing opportunities for a broad range of socio-economic levels.”

Brief Comments:

There is an attempt to mix types of housing.  There is a component of traditional single-family homes here.  But the projects have also attempted to fill the gap between Affordable Housing and traditional single-family homes.

I will add an important caveat—this is really the first proposal.  These projects have not gone through the planning process yet.  They have not faced community input.  They have not gone before the Social Services, Planning Commissions and the Council.

So if the concern here is not enough housing, not enough density, not enough starter homes or missing middle, that can still be addressed.

1500 of the 5200 units are going to be right now at least low density, traditional single-family homes.  Now I know others disagree on this point, but I happen to believe that we still need those kinds of homes.  But there are also 1800 units of middle density and another 1700 that are high density—probably around half of those will be big “A” Affordable and another half will be rentals or other high-density housing.

Bottom line—I know people want to see more, at least some people—but as a starting point, I don’t think this is that bad.

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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  1. Tim Keller

    Thanks for pointing this out David.

    While it is tempting to be reassured that the proposals may “not be as bad as I fear”. there is still a decent gulf between what today’s developers consider to be “density” and what that terms means to others.

    There are multiple issues here that overlap when we talk about density:

    1) Is efficiency of land use… all forms of density are better when we get more people per acre, and looking at that kind of density IS really the leading way we can ‘actually’ prevent sprawl.

    2) Maintenance costs to the city.    Running water / power / sewer down a street is more cost efficient when there are more people on that street…   Any kind of density makes this better, but we dont yet know exactly where the transition point of “net loss” for the city happens.    From what we do know via strong towns, I don’t think that housing density is sufficient for breakeven anywhere in the single family category.   But it would behoove us to figure that out.     No matter what, if we have any single family houing, we need a good measure of much higher density housing to subsidize it… (yeah, you read that right…)

    3) Energy Efficiency ( via shared walls).   Denser single family homes are no better in energy efficiency than larger ones.   If we are looking at climate footprint by building style, attached multi-family is at least twice better because you aren’t losing heat / cold on every singly side of the unit.

    4) Conservation of water.    Housing types surrounded by landscaping use twice the water.     Lets conserve that water and that land use for large parks in these developments….  Giving people landscape to maintain isn’t the best idea.

    5) Efficacy of TRANSIT.     More people near fewer transit stops is the name of the game for making transit effective.   This really cant be under-stated because it is a factor that multiplies upon itself.    When you have density, then transit makes sense to run more often, which means that it is MUCH easier to use transit because you dont have to wait 1/2 hour for the next bus / tram….  Induced demand very much works this way.. but it isn’t sustainable if you don’t have the density to make it work.

    I would like to take a look at some of these updated proposals.  I know that village farms just upped their density as well… but this is not the case where just upping the net density from 8 to 10 is really going to move the needle.   We need the density, we need the right kinds of buildings AND we need a master plan to ensure that transit will flow through these things and connect from development to development.

    Transit density works as a function of a radius of density around the stop….    Running a bus line along the bottom of the higher density area above the curve is much less effective than running that line through the middle of the density.   So it is important that we pre-plan transit lines THROUGH all of these developments in order to make that work.

    If we don’t want development = lots more traffic this point cant be under-stated.   While I think i’m an “optimist” in general, I think the chances of this kind of coordinated development actually happening across 5 independent developments is functionally zero.

    1. David Greenwald

      “ While it is tempting to be reassured that the proposals may “not be as bad as I fear”. there is still a decent gulf between what today’s developers consider to be “density” and what that terms means to others.”

      Honestly I think this is the conversation the community needs to have on these issues. Like I point out – this is really a first go round, there is no reason why it’s the end of the story.

    2. Don Shor

      Housing types surrounded by landscaping use twice the water. Lets conserve that water and that land use for large parks in these developments…. Giving people landscape to maintain isn’t the best idea.

      The benefits of irrigated landscapes are local to where they are. The tree over your house, the irrigated shrubs and ground covers, the gardens — all cool the air locally for you, your street, and your neighbors. One of the most important adaptations to increasing frequency of summer heat events is to provide more local vegetation, not less. Careful plant selection and correct irrigation can significantly reduce water usage compared to traditional irrigation schedules. Even turf areas can be appropriate but should be where they’ll actually get used. That doesn’t just mean parks. The notion that open, irrigated green areas should be away from houses and out in parks is just not a good policy direction.

      1. Tim Keller

        Don, im not against “plants near houses”, I’m just questioning whether every home needs a lawn and private yard of its own.

        Certainly we need plenty of trees lining our streets, but if you came to my house today… i could show you almost 2000 sqft of landscaping at my rental home which i am obligated to maintain…. Grass on all 4 sides, and only one outdoor spot that has ever been enjoyed by anyone in my family all year long….  Its a waste of land, a waste of water, and a waste of my time to mow and maintain…. But maintain it I do… because its in my lease.

  2. David Thompson

    David, this chart is a good start to have people look at the proposed developments. Might I ask that you break down the Affordable Column into two columns rather that the one you have.

    One column of the Affordable should  carry the RHNA numbers for Very Low Income (VLI) and Low Income (LI) and the additional column would carry the RHNA numbers for the MOD (Moderate Income).

    And then show how each proposal provides X number of each category (VLI&LI and MOD of those units.

    Our RHNA numbers for VLI and LI are the ones that HCD will look at the most. Our inability to get state approval is mostly based on the deficiency of the VLI and LI units in the city’s submission. By adding those additional columns we will see how none of the proposals adequately meet the RHNA targets.

    Not meeting the VLI and LI numbers is where Davis loses local control.

    My own thoughts and not representative of either Twin Pines Cooperative Foundation or Neighborhood Partners, LLC.



  3. Alex Achimore

    I don’t understand why Davis would need any additional detached single-family homes at this time, even if there are many who want and can afford them. Our RHNA for “Above Moderate Income” is only 310 units, and that can easily be fulfilled with attached townhouses in Davis. The assertion that they must be detached houses is incorrect; they only need to be unaffordable to people with “Moderate” (under $127,000 for a family of 4) incomes, i.e., in the low $600,000’s. It’s not difficult to imagine townhouses or duplexes worth more than that in Davis.
    The zoning designation of “Low density residential” is less than 6 units per gross acre, which translates to lots of at least 5,000 SF and essentially means detached single-family houses. In Davis, even a modest-sized new house (3 br, 2 ba) on a lot that large will likely be worth than our median price of $900,000. People with the means to afford it have plenty of options, including existing houses in Davis, and I would argue there are more urgent uses of the land that low density residential consumes.
    Still, most of the proposed projects on our periphery have substantial amounts of low density residential: Village Farms is 38% low density on 157 acres (4.3 units/gross acre), and Shriner’s is 21% on 45 acres (5.6 units/gross acre).

    But On the Curve’s developers are able to make it work with only 12% “Low-Medium Density” (it’s not completely spelled out) on 11 acres (6-8 units/gross acre according to their statement). The Cannery is only about 10% low density, and there are plenty of detached houses in medium densities of over 6 units per acre worth more than $900,000.

    If it’s a bridge too far to actually exclude any new single-family housing in Davis, how about at least capping the amount of low density residential at something similar to On the Curve or The Cannery? Even if that wouldn’t do a lot to hold down prices, it could save a lot of land: at Village Farms, changing 680 units from averaging 4.3 per acre to 8.5 (still detached houses) would save up to 77 acres of farmland; for Shriner’s, changing 250 units from 5.6 to 8.5 would save up to 16 acres. Perhaps in the upcoming EIS for those two projects, alternatives with minimal amounts of Low Density Residential could be explored and compared.

    1. Matt Williams

      Very well said Archie.  I agree 100%, and would take your point a step further, and ask the City Council to pass an ordinance that makes the building of $500,000 to $600,000 priced homes a priority.  They can do that by (1) providing a fast track for proposals that provide 100% of the homes in their development with (A) a sale price between $500,000 and $600,000, and (B) deed restrictions that on resale of the house keep the annual price appreciation to 2% or the overall inflation rate of the economy which ever is greater. Or (2) having the housing sale costs of the development match the proportions in the RHNA allocation for the City.

      Passing that as an ordinance would truly make a difference in housing affordability in Davis.

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