My View: Further Illustration Provided about the Challenges for Davis to Dig Out of Housing Crisis

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

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.”

This response by Samitz illustrates the problem that I noted in the initial article—that Measure J will make it difficult for the council to increase density.

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.

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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20 Comments

  1. Ron Glick

     “As I noted on Thursday, there have been roughly 700 or so single-family homes built in Davis under Measure J.”

    I won’t call that misinformation but I think it is a little misleading. There may have been that many homes built in Davis since Measure J passed in 2000 but none of them were built on land subject to Measure J itself. In fact, in 23 years since Measure J was passed, not one unit of housing has been completed  on land subject to a Measure J vote. While that represents a great victory for the Malthusians and Eugenicists of Davis it represents a massive failure for young families and renters. It has also increased inequity for those lacking inter-generational wealth.

    Measure J is the equivalent in Davis today of the restrictive covenants  of  the pre- Rumsford era. Knowing better but refusing to speak truth to power doesn’t simply give me consternation. I would use a harsher adjective.

    1. Richard McCann

      I agree with Ron G’s characterization of how Measure J has played out. Lots of well meaning talk that really doesn’t deliver on either equity or the environment. You can’t really be called a “progressive” if your real intent is to protect your home value and your conveniences.

  2. Ron Glick

    Does Vaitla know that Measure X, the first ballot measure for the Covell Village site was more dense? As I recall it had more than 2000 homes proposed. It failed.

  3. Eileen Samitz

    David,

    You are not proposing “fixing” Measure J/R/D, but replacing it with an urban limit line which would allow the massive expansion of the city’s boundaries without a public vote (for  projects within this newly expanded urban limit line.) So, therefore there would be no further ability for Davis voters to vote on future projects requiring annexation.

    So, just clarify, you are proposing the elimination of Measure J/R/D, which currently gives Davis citizens right to vote on future development of open space and agriculture land.

    And, therefore what you are proposing David,  is not “fixing” Measure J/R/D, but is depriving Davis voters the right to vote on future developments requiring annexation.

    1. David Greenwald

      Actually what I’m suggesting is that the voters approve an expansion of the boundary for a Measure J vote. It could be in the form of a preapproval or it could in the form of an urban limit line. I’m not suggesting anything that is “massive” and I am doing so in the belief it will meet the housing needs of the community for several decades. At no time, am I removing the right for voters to approve future developments. They will have to approve any expansion with a vote – UNLESS, the state takes out Measure J, which is NOT my preferred option.

  4. Eileen Samitz

    David,

    So, to be clear, your “pre-approval” idea would result with un-defined development proposals being presented to Davis voters for a vote, but only defining that land to be annexed for future development. Well, that makes no sense. The purpose of Measure J/R/D is let people know what the project is before voting for or against it. So, Davis residents would then have no meaningful input on the project.

    So, advocating for this concept is a circumvention of Measure J/R/D and eliminates the main purpose of Measure J/R/D which currently gives the public the right to vote on a defined project and if it should be approved.

     

    And your second option is:

    Creating a new expanded urban limit line which allows any project proposed within this expanded urban limit line to be approved without a Measure J/R/D vote. So, the reality is that that this an elimination of Measure J/R/D.

    Neither of these options are any benefit to citizens of Davis.

     

     

    1. Richard McCann

      Eileen

      You have badly mischaracterized the proposals being offered. What’s being proposed is a voter approved plan that would set up not only a boundary on where development could occur but more importantly a set of conditions that each developer would have to meet to gain approval. You’re ignoring this second aspect which would bring both consistency across projects  and the ability to integrated among the project. Citizens would have much more input on these conditions BEFORE any projects are proposed. We will be able to require commitments rather than just statements of intent that get ignored later. And it won’t allow any project within the limit line. A development not only will have to meet these requirements but also will need Council approval. (Of course, there will always be a few people unhappy, but they should not possess veto power over the rest of us in a democracy.) Those key attributes do not and cannot exist today under the current Measure J/R/D structure. In return, developers will get more certainty and reduced extraneous political costs that will make housing more affordable in Davis. That’s why it needs to be reformed.

      Your argument is like saying any amendment to the state or U.S. Constitutions completely undermine those documents and eliminates democracy. Of course, that’s not true. Hyperbole doesn’t get us anywhere in discussions.

  5. Jim Frame

    As another commenter noted, that only would address affordable housing anyway, not missing middle

    How are you defining “missing middle”?  My understanding is that the Moderate Income tier in the RHNA allocations is included in the definition of Affordable Housing, and that tier includes incomes up to 120% of the area’s median income.  That sound like “missing middle” to me.

  6. Richard McCann

    Affordable housing has deed restrictions that inhibit wealth building. It’s little better than renting, and those households are trying to escape rentals. Applying for government managed programs also appears to be a significant hurdle for these households. We’re often better leaving some solutions to the market.

  7. Jim Frame

    Affordable housing has deed restrictions that inhibit wealth building.

    Only if it’s subsidized and the subsidizing entity requires it.  While it’s probably not feasible to build VLI or LI housing without a subsidy, that’s not the case with properly-designed MI housing.

     

    1. Richard McCann

      If MI housing isn’t subsidized, then we’re talking about building the same type of housing which targets the missing middle. It’s still market based housing. But that housing doesn’t meet the Measure J/R/D requirement that Eileen references.

  8. Jim Frame

    If MI housing isn’t subsidized, then we’re talking about building the same type of housing which targets the missing middle. It’s still market based housing. But that housing doesn’t meet the Measure J/R/D requirement that Eileen references.

    Measure J exempts projects required to meet the RNHA allocations regardless of income level or subsidy.  The exemption is limited to 5 acres per year, except that maximum multifamily density elements can exceed 5 acres if necessary to meet the allocation targets.

  9. Jim Frame

    The limit at 5 acres per year is effectively a prohibition on feasible development . So we’re back to where we started in this discussion.

    RHNA is a 10-year cycle.  So assuming a site can be acquired by the city or an NPO partner, here’s one way to do it:

    Year 1:  The city makes a finding that 5 acres needs to be rezoned in order to meet the moderate-income (e.g. 10 DU/ac.) allocation.  It makes a further finding that an additional 2 acres needs to be rezoned for maximum density (e.g. 30 DU/ac.) in order to meet RHNA allocations.  The city and/or an NPO partner starts lining up federal, state and private grants, in addition to HTF money.

    Years 2-10:  Repeat the Year 1 process.

    Now you have 50 acres rezoned for MI (missing middle) housing, and 20 acres for VLI/LI housing, plus grant money to jump start construction.  The MI housing is market rate and can help subsidize the VLI/LI housing.

     

    1. Richard McCann

      Your scenario is infeasible under Measure J/R/D, nor probably under CEQA review requirements.  If you’re going to rely on a non profit to build that housing, then we’re back to may original point the it will require deed restrictions that eliminate the ability of those homeowners to build wealth, which is an important aspect of home ownership over renting for young families.

      1. Richard McCann

        Further, authorizing 5 acres at a time would require splitting the parcels and selling those in portions to sidestep the requirements of Measure J/R/D. Why would we engage such a complex run around rather than just addressing the problem straight ahead?

        1. Mark West

          “Why would we engage such a complex run around…”

          Why indeed. For Jim’s hypothetical to be achieved, we would need to find a current land owner willing to subdivide their property, just as Richard points out, and sell it off piecemeal. I suspect that the current land owners will be polite enough not to laugh in your face when you ask this, but their answer will still be no.

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