By David M. Greenwald
Davis, CA – In Thursday’s Vanguard, I published a commentary that we need denser projects, but I also argued that because of Measure J, getting density will be difficult.
I found the response by Eileen Samitz to be worth illuminating as I think it backs up my main point, but also illustrates additional challenges.
Samitz notes an issue in one of her responses “regarding the density at the Village Farms site. The original project proposal of roughly 1,400 units was ridiculous at that location given the enormous traffic impacts currently, which have worsened far more due to the southbound traffic from Woodland, particularly from Spring Lake.
“But then the suggestion that 1,800 units potentially for the Village Farms site, is insane. So, any suggestion of a higher density at Village Farms at the intersection of Covell Blvd. and Pole Line Road is insanity-squared with a complete disregard for rational planning.”
Obviously while there is no clear answer as to whether that view will prevail, we see laid out without any discussion even the notion that the size of the project “ridiculous” and “insane” and that it will lead to “enormous traffic impacts” and is itself “a complete disregard for rational planning.”
If that view were to prevail—as history suggests it very well might—it will lead to one of two outcomes. Either it will force less dense development on the periphery, which will lead to more encroachment on agricultural land, OR it will lead to less housing, which will exacerbate and prolong the housing crisis.
I also want to address additional points.
First, Samitz argues, “Contrary to the misinformation in this article, Measure J does not need to be ‘fixed.’”
It is not “misinformation” to argue that Measure J needs to be fixed. It is an opinion. Samitz is of course free to disagree with an opinion, but opinions are not misinformation.
I have a basis for the opinion that Measure J needs to be fixed. As I noted on Thursday, there have been roughly 700 or so single-family homes built in Davis under Measure J. I believe that this has contributed to the local aspect of the housing crisis and is a clear sign of policy failure.
Samitz instead argues that Measure J already has an existing exemption: “It already has an exemption for 5 acres per year of land for affordable housing which, therefore, would not need a Measure J vote for development. But Measure J also includes language allowing for additional land to be exempted for affordable housing if needed.”
To date, that exemption has never even been proposed to be used. So to me that is an argument in favor of reform, not against reform.
As another commenter noted, that only would address affordable housing anyway, not missing middle and not market rate housing. I have pointed out in other pieces that, contrary to some arguments, Davis doesn’t even possess a sufficient amount of market rate housing—that many would characterize as unaffordable.
Most months only about 30 homes are selling in Davis in the current market and most are on the market for less than 10 days before they are snatched up.
Samitz then glibly adds, “So sorry, David, nice try with the attempt to make a pitch for undermining Measure J…”
My intent is not to undermine Measure J, but much to the consternation of people like Ron Glick, in fact to ensure that it remains viable into the future.
I would argue that in its current form, Measure J is vulnerable to lawsuit and state intervention. The data on housing over the last 25 years and the fact that Davis housing growth has fallen well short of the modest projections from 1999 demonstrates that the current system is not working sufficiently to bring forward adequate amounts of housing in order to keep prices more affordable to the average community member.
I continue to believe that simply eliminating Measure J is not a good solution as it will not only open the floodgates, but result in another mechanism like Measure J that will cause future housing shortcomings.
Thus the best solution—again in my opinion—is to find a middle ground that allows some housing without opening the doors for unfettered growth. But make no mistake, at this point, at this point, Measure J is facing an existential challenge and could very well fall if we do not take steps to put it on safer ground.
Finally, Samitz argues against density: “On density, while we needed to increase our densities to some extent, as the saying goes, ‘Everything in moderation.’ No one want to live in an over-densified situation, particularly long-term. So, it is a balancing act…”
I agree with her on the notion that it is a balancing act. I certainly am not arguing—as some have—that we shouldn’t build single-family homes.
But at the same time, I think it’s important to acknowledge that literally millions, and you could argue billions, of people live in high-density housing nationally and globally.
And while in many cases that housing is suboptimal, at the same time, there are tradeoffs—the need for affordable housing (small a this time) and the need to provide sufficient housing is vital to resolving the housing crisis.
As it stands now, we have made our community inaccessible to many families and the middle class. It will have a detrimental impact on our schools and our overall quality of life.
In the end, something is going to have give. The center cannot hold. The status quo is not working. While I appreciate that Eileen Samitz has taken a more measured approach than many on the slow growth side, I think her response backs up my point from Thursday—density will be a challenge and the community is going to have to dig deep to find ways out of the housing crisis.