Legal Services Issues Letter to Davis Re: Compliance with Housing Element

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

Davis, CA – The city of Davis is facing mounting pressure due to their thus-far non-compliant Housing Element.  The Vanguard recently received a copy of a letter from Legal Services of Northern California, dated July 13, 2023, which gives the city 30 days to respond and 60 days to adopt a Housing Element that complies with state law or face additional potential legal action.

The letter is signed by Briell Mansell, Acting Managing Attorney, Valerie Feldman, Staff Attorney for Public Interest Law Project and Alysa Meyer, Director of Advocacy for Legal Services.

The letter notes, “Housing Element Version 2 is deficient because the City failed to: (1) make a diligent effort to achieve public participation; (2) properly identify land suitable to meet the housing need; (3) complete the rezone obligation necessary to accommodate the shortfall of sites; (4) analyze constraints on developing affordable housing and housing for people with disabilities; and (5) develop adequate scheduled programs.”

The city of Davis has adopted two Housing Elements in the current cycle that have failed to comply with current laws.

Writes Legal Services, “The City’s failure to adopt a legally adequate Sixth Cycle Housing Element negatively impacts our clients because it contributes to the severe shortage of decent affordable housing in the region.”

Among their clients, the Sacramento Housing Alliance and a single mother who lives in Davis.

The woman “is a single mother to two minor children, a para-educator, and a low-income Davis resident. She wants to continue living and working in Davis, but she is at a high risk of displacement because she cannot find an affordable place to rent.”

Sacramento Housing Alliance “is a non-profit organization that advocates for safe, stable, accessible, and affordable homes in the greater Sacramento region. Sacramento Housing Alliance builds healthy communities through education, leadership, and policy change.”

They add, “Both of our clients have an interest in seeing the City encourage the local development of affordable housing, but the City’s failure to adopt a legally compliant Housing Element negatively impacts these interests.”

The letter outlines fives areas of deficiency.  The first is that the city failed to make a diligent effort to achieve public participation.

“The City failed to make a diligent effort to achieve public participation for Housing Element Version 2,” they write.  “Housing Element Version 2 is deficient because it does not describe how it will consider and incorporate outstanding comments from the public, including the contents of our letters.”

Second, the city failed to properly identify land suitable to meet the housing need.

“A jurisdiction must identify an inventory of land suitable and available for residential development to meet the locality’s housing need,” they argue.  “We and HCD have continuously identified issues with the City’s reliance on the Nishi Project to meet its Regional Housing Needs Allocation (‘RHNA’) for low and extremely low income households. However, Housing Element Version 2 still fails to address these issues.”

They cite the agreement with the Nishi developer, noting that the developer agreement “requires that all the affordable units be rented to students” referring to page 57 which reads, “The Affordable Beds will be made available to full time students.”

Last year, they write, “we suggested that the City amend the regulatory agreement to remove the requirement that affordable units be rented only to students if the City intends to rely on the Nishi units to meet their low income RHNA. We are not aware of any amendment.”

They argue, “The City should also conduct a more robust analysis of the constraints on the Nishi development, including the expected timing and steps for annexation and granting of access by the railroad.”

In addition, “Housing Element Version 2 still includes the Brixmor/University Commons Project, but the residential component of that project has since been removed. The City must identify other sites to meet the shortfall.”

Legal Services also notes that the city failed to complete its rezone obligation when the “the City failed to submit a compliant adopted housing element by its sixth cycle due date of May 15, 2021. This means that HCD cannot find the City in compliance with Housing Element law until it completes all rezones necessary to accommodate the shortfall of sites.”

They also failed “to analyze constraints on developing affordable housing and housing for people with disabilities.”

Here they note, that is “because the City failed to analyze the impact of: (a) land use controls; (b) growth management measures; (c) permit processing; (d) design reviews; (e) fees; (f) code enforcement; (g) the affordable housing ordinance; and (h) other constraints on developing housing for people with disabilities.”

Of interest here—parking standards including reductions in parking and growth management measures such as Measure J/R/D which they note is not adequately analyzed.

The Housing Element Version “2 indicates that encouraging infill development results in more complicated projects that result in greater City and community benefits, but does not describe how those complications impact costs and affordability.”

They argue, “Housing Element Version 2 continues to conclude that Measure J is only a constraint if the City lacks sufficient infill sites. However, a constraint to housing development exists even when the City may be able to demonstrate sufficient sites to address the RHNA. Further, the City currently lacks sufficient infill sites to meet its current housing need. This is proven by its 23.6 acre rezone obligation. Therefore, the City continues to have a duty to remove or further mitigate the impacts of this identified constraint.”

Finally the city failed to develop adequate scheduled programs.

The letter demands that the city respond in writing within 30 days and describe the steps that the city will take to comply with these demands.

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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40 Comments

    1. Ron Oertel

      I say “go for it”.

      If Measure J is actually that vulnerable (and even if it’s not), the threats will never end.

      But if they ever actually succeed, that’s just the beginning of a renewed all-out war.

  1. Keith Olsen

     The Vanguard recently received a copy of a letter from Legal Services of Northern California, dated July 13, 2023, which gives the city 30 days to respond and 60 days to adopt a Housing Element that complies with state law or face additional potential legal action.

    Curious, how did you get this letter?  Was it sent to you or did you request it from the city?

        1. Ron Oertel

          I’d respond by noting that the city is already working on it, since there’s a state agency which requires it.

          or face additional potential legal action.

          And for that part, I’d be tempted to say, “go for it”.

          As usual, the amount and source of funding for this organization is not readily-available.  However, it does appear to be a different-type of organization, compared to business-supported YIMBY groups.

           

           

  2. Ron Oertel

    Last year, they write, “we suggested that the City amend the regulatory agreement to remove the requirement that affordable units be rented only to students if the City intends to rely on the Nishi units to meet their low income RHNA. We are not aware of any amendment.”

    And yet, when there was a lawsuit regarding this earlier, the Vanguard complained about it.

    They argue, “The City should also conduct a more robust analysis of the constraints on the Nishi development, including the expected timing and steps for annexation and granting of access by the railroad.”

    Sounds like they need to sue the railroad.

    But didn’t the city recently receive a promise for funding infrastructure for Nishi (and downtown residential development), in exchange for supporting freeway expansion?

    https://www.davisenterprise.com/news/city_government/council-votes-to-back-i-80-partnership/article_1f4b1ed4-4767-5959-866c-b59a844faffa.html

    Maybe they should sue the state for not providing that funding fast-enough, or for tying it to support for freeway expansion.

    Also, should UCD also be named in any lawsuit due to unfulfilled housing plans going back decades?  Which then impacts housing availability for non-students in the city?

    In addition, “Housing Element Version 2 still includes the Brixmor/University Commons Project, but the residential component of that project has since been removed. The City must identify other sites to meet the shortfall.”

    As long as they’re threatening ridiculous lawsuits, why not name Brixmor as well?  They’re the ones who pulled the plug on the residential component.

     

     

     

     

     

    1. David Greenwald

      “As long as they’re threatening ridiculous lawsuits, why not name Brixmor as well? They’re the ones who pulled the plug on the residential component.”

      Actually they’re not threatening ridiculous lawsuits, you’re listing ridiculous ones.

      1. Ron Oertel

        Again, you’re the one who “complained” about the earlier lawsuit against Nishi, in regard to it being student-only.  The same issue being brought up in this article.

        I guess you’ve had a change of heart, depending upon “who” is launching lawsuits.

          1. David Greenwald

            I believe the issue here is whether such housing would count for the city’s allotment of affordable housing which is a different issue than it’s legality.

        1. Ron Oertel

          If it’s reserved for students-only, it apparently won’t qualify as affordable housing.

          As you noted, the legality is in question in the first place.

          For that matter, “group housing” (megadorm-style) apparently doesn’t qualify – even if it’s open to non-students.

          1. David Greenwald

            If it’s reserved for students-only, it apparently won’t qualify as affordable housing for the purposes of RHNA

        2. Ron Oertel

          for the purposes of RHNA

          Isn’t that what this article and legal threat all-about?

          Their client apparently isn’t even a student.

          But it seems that rent control should address the “risk of displacement” due to rising rental costs – and without building even one more unit of housing.

        3. Ron Oertel

          I don’t know why you ask questions like this, in which an insult is implied – but without actually making any point or asking any real question.

          But let me ask you, again:  Do you think that housing within the city should be reserved for students only?

          1. David Greenwald

            I asked questions like that because you took the conversation from one point to another without apparently realizing it or tracking it. It’s frankly maddening because I feel like I’m chasing my own tail attempting to explain something very simple.

            Your question is a good example, it is irrelevant to this conversation. The issue here is not whether it is legal to reserve housing for students but rather how student housing and whether it counts for the RHNA allocation. BTW, you have now asked a different question three times without apparently realizing that your question is changing, now you are dropping affordable housing altogether. This kind of inattention to detail is frustrating my efforts to have even a simple conversation.

        4. Ron Oertel

          Your question is a good example, it is irrelevant to this conversation. The issue here is not whether it is legal to reserve housing for students but rather how student housing and whether it counts for the RHNA allocation.

          Right – and one of your comments stated that you “disagreed” with this challenge.  The same challenge that was initiated against Nishi a long time ago.

          BTW, you have now asked a different question three times without apparently realizing that your question is changing, now you are dropping affordable housing altogether.

          No, I’m not.  Again, the potential inability to count toward affordable housing is based upon it being “student-only”.

          So I’ll ask you a fourth time:  Do you think housing in the city should be student-only?  And if not, why did you criticize the earlier lawsuit regarding that SAME ISSUE?

           

           

          1. David Greenwald

            Sorry Ron, but this is not worth my time. You can read the comments carefully and discern my position. I’m done now.

        5. Ron Oertel

          Sorry Ron, but this is not worth my time. You can read the comments carefully and discern my position. I’m done now.

          Your earlier comment, from above:

          You think that because I ran this article on their letter that I agree with every piece of it?

          Since this was in direct response to my question (regarding whether or not you think housing in the city should be reserved for students only), I’ll take this as a “yes”.  I’d say that’s a pretty careful reading.

          And it’s also a primary complaint of Legal Services of Northern California – per your own article:

          Last year, they write, “we suggested that the City amend the regulatory agreement to remove the requirement that affordable units be rented only to students if the City intends to rely on the Nishi units to meet their low income RHNA. We are not aware of any amendment.”

  3. Ron Oertel

    Among their clients, the Sacramento Housing Alliance and a single mother who lives in Davis.

    This reminds me of another client, who wouldn’t qualify at WDAAC due to the Davis-connected buyer’s program.

    The woman “is a single mother to two minor children, a para-educator, and a low-income Davis resident. She wants to continue living and working in Davis, but she is at a high risk of displacement because she cannot find an affordable place to rent.”

    Sounds like Davis needs to enact rent control, to prevent such displacement.

    1. Ron Glick

      I’m not trying to be rude but if you read the story and then read your comments you seem to have little that is relevant to say. David tried to tell you when he said:

      “Actually they’re not threatening ridiculous lawsuits, you’re listing ridiculous ones.”

      But you seem to always want to persist despite the fact that you show little understanding of what is actually going on.

      As someone who has long opposed Davis’ slow or no growth policies I think it will be ironic if it turns out that Legal Services of Northern California A.K.A. “LISNIC,” an organization that offers legal representation to  the have nots of society,  becomes the organization that takes down Measure J. If, at the end of Measure J, its taken down not by developers but by advocates for housing for  renters, the poor and the disabled it would be a fitting end to a policy that favored the rich at the expense of the poor.

      1. Ron Oertel

        I’m not trying to be rude but if you read the story and then read your comments you seem to have little that is relevant to say. David tried to tell you when he said:
        “Actually they’re not threatening ridiculous lawsuits, you’re listing ridiculous ones.”
        But you seem to always want to persist despite the fact that you show little understanding of what is actually going on.

        What makes you think I don’t understand?

        I believe the threatened action in the article is not only ludicrous; the actual threat is not spelled-out.

        If anything, your comment (e.g., implying that this organization would attempt to take down Measure J) is ludicrous.

        As someone who has long opposed Davis’ slow or no growth policies I think it will be ironic if it turns out that Legal Services of Northern California A.K.A. “LISNIC,” an organization that offers legal representation to  the have nots of society,  becomes the organization that takes down Measure J. If, at the end of Measure J, its taken down not by developers but by advocates for housing for  renters, the poor and the disabled it would be a fitting end to a policy that favored the rich at the expense of the poor.

        And that would indeed be ludicrous – your entire premise.

        But as I said in response to your first comment, I’m getting tired of hearing about all these threats to Measure J.  All talk, no action.

        Go for it, and see what happens.  If it’s that vulnerable (and even if it’s not), some will continue trying to threaten it.

         

        1. David Greenwald

          “What makes you think I don’t understand?”

          Probably things you’ve said including raising irrelevant points and not knowing who Legal Services of Northern California is.

        2. Ron Oertel

          Probably things you’ve said including raising irrelevant points

          Name one.

          and not knowing who Legal Services of Northern California is.

          I’ve heard of them, but how is that relevant regarding the article?  Are your articles based upon some assumed knowledge?

          How many people do you suppose there are in Davis who don’t know what “Legal Services of Northern California” does?

          Also, someone tipped me off that you (at one time) “didn’t know who a nonprofit affordable housing advocate was, and didn’t know about that type of organization being designated for federal funding.”

          I’ll try to find out more, regarding that.

        3. Keith Olsen

          How many people do you suppose there are in Davis who don’t know what “Legal Services of Northern California” does?

          I never heard of them either, so fire away.

          But you seem to always want to persist despite the fact that you show little understanding of what is actually going on.

          What, Ron doesn’t cry about Measure J/R/D as some other commenters persist to do incessantly on this blog?

           

          1. David Greenwald

            “I have heard of them either…”

            So? That doesn’t surprise me.

            Nor does it surprise me that you didn’t understand the context of the point.

            Ron made the comment: “As usual, the amount and source of funding for this organization is not readily-available. However, it does appear to be a different-type of organization, compared to business-supported YIMBY groups.”

            The group is actually a legal advocacy group for low income renters. They aren’t aligned with the real estate industry as Ron implies, but are actually enemies of them and thus aren’t funded by them. But Ron didn’t know that and didn’t bother to look it up. Not sure why you needed to pipe up, but it’s nice to know you aren’t a slum lord.

        4. Ron Oertel

          The group is actually a legal advocacy group for low income renters. They aren’t aligned with the real estate industry as Ron implies, but are actually enemies of them and thus aren’t funded by them.

          I did not imply that, as noted in my comment you quoted:

          However, it does appear to be a different-type of organization, compared to business-supported YIMBY groups.”

          Are you having trouble with reading comprehension?

           

           

          1. David Greenwald

            I wonder how much time it would save if you paid as much attention to looking things up before posting as opposed to you’re pedantic insistence of correcting every little detail on here?

        5. Keith Olsen

          “I have heard of them either…”
          So? That doesn’t surprise me.

          Like I said, “fire away”.

          Not sure why you needed to pipe up

          That’s who I am, what I do.

          but it’s nice to know you aren’t a slum lord.

          Awe, that’s the nicest thing you ever said to me.

           

           

        6. Ron Oertel

          every little detail on here?

          “Every little detail.”

          Really?  When you make allegations using quotes which directly conflict with what you claim?

          Here’s an idea (that I learned back in grade school):  When you write an article (especially one intended for a wide audience), don’t make assumptions regarding what your readers have (or have not) researched in advance.

          But more importantly, don’t use quotations which directly conflict with what you then claim about your readers.

  4. Ron Oertel

    But yeah, in regard to those who try to make “everything about Measure J”, I’d have this message for supporters of Measure J:

    There will be no “appeasing” those who continue to look for ways to attack it.  And if they’re actually determined to challenge it, they will do so – regardless of housing elements, Measure J votes, etc.

    But I suspect that one of the primary ways they might do so is to challenge development agreements and baseline features AFTER a “successful” Measure J vote.

    In which case, Davis might have 400 acres of “builder’s remedy” on the newly-annexed land.  (Which, I have to admit – I’d find amusing.)

  5. Ron Glick

    “I say ‘go for it'”.
    “If Measure J is actually that vulnerable (and even if it’s not), the threats will never end.”
    “But if they ever actually succeed, that’s just the beginning of a renewed all-out war.”
    I’m not a lawyer and I have no inside information but I know that the letter from Lisnic looks like a letter you would send before filing a lawsuit so I’m speculating that is the direction this is headed. My guess is that a lawsuit would ask that Measure D be struck down as a remedy.

    All out war? Really? You mean more vicious than that last Measure J election? LOL.

    1. Ron Oertel

      All out war? Really? You mean more vicious than that last Measure J election? LOL.

      Are you referring to the one in which only 17% of voters wanted to disenfranchise the other 83%?

      That was barely even a campaign.
      I’m not a lawyer and I have no inside information but I know that the letter from Lisnic looks like a letter you would send before filing a lawsuit so I’m speculating that is the direction this is headed. My guess is that a lawsuit would ask that Measure D be struck down as a remedy.
      Seems to me that there’s a whole host of issues that they’re primarily focused on (e.g., Nishi, Brixmor, etc.)

      Not to mention any evidence that Measure J is causing this one renter to (“theoretically/potentially”) lose her apartment.  Especially with all of the other rentals approved (or in the process of approving).  And without even addressing what rent she would be able to pay, or whether  or not any of these rentals would meet her ability to pay.

      But again, rent control would effectively keep her in her apartment – and without building a stick more housing.

      It is interesting, however, that so many cities still don’t have an approved RHNA plan.  And that these plans are “so fragile” that one developer dropping out (e.g., Brixmor) can apparently derail the plans.  (Well, that plus the issue with Nishi being reserved for students.)

      Seems ironic that this organization has a “problem” with Nishi, in that it’s the same problem that was previously pursued by a “slow-growther”.  Also ironic that it’s actually approved under Measure J.

      So yeah, more power to them, regarding that.

      But Measure J will always be under threat, given the amount of money involved.  And even if they can’t dislodge it, development interests will try to use it to “scare” people (e.g., “vote for this proposal, or else we’ll take-away Measure J”).

      So if folks actually believe that, what good is Measure J in the first place?  Might as well settle the issue, once and for all.  And if it’s tied up in courts, maybe a new proposal will arise as a backup.

      Again, Measure J already has an exemption for Affordable housing.

      Personally, I think anyone challenging Measure J has their work cut-out for them.

      1. Ron Oertel

        I’m not a lawyer and I have no inside information but I know that the letter from Lisnic looks like a letter you would send before filing a lawsuit so I’m speculating that is the direction this is headed. My guess is that a lawsuit would ask that Measure D be struck down as a remedy.

        The above paragraph was a quote from Ron G, not me.  The “improved” Vanguard website has no editing period to correct such things.

        But yeah, put up – or shut up regarding Measure J.

        And by all means, continue to avoid talking about rent control.

         

         

  6. Ron Oertel

    Of interest here—parking standards including reductions in parking and growth management measures such as Measure J/R/D which they note is not adequately analyzed.

    No problem – I’ll “analyze” this for them:

    If sprawl is not pursued, it’s that much more-likely that infill will “pencil out”.

    Conversely – if sprawl is pursued, infill will not be.

    But if you’re talking about Affordable housing, ask the state how they plan to fund that.  But get in line when you do so, as cities across California are asking the same question of the state.  Especially since the population has stopped growing (and has actually been shrinking in some areas, such as San Francisco).

    It’s too bad that no one seems to be holding the state accountable in regard to their “targets”.

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