By David M. Greenwald
Davis, CA – Last week I offered a more nuanced view of the potential of the rubric. But make no mistake—there are real concerns expressed by the commissions that should not be ignored or taken lightly.
As the staff report noted, the Planning Commission which finally met last week offered some general thoughts, “including a comment that a more general guidelines document might be productive to consider, but ultimately voted unanimously to recommend that the rubric as presented not be utilized.”
The Planning Commission’s overarching sentiment “was that the rubric was too complicated for practical use and they expressed concern that it would deter development.”
A member of the NRC expressed these concerns: “LEED ND [Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design for Neighborhood Development] is a good place to start, however, it was written in 2018 for a national audience. As such, it reflects neither Davis nor State of California values and requirements.”
In addition, they added “there are many critiques of LEED within the environmental and sustainability field—that it can create ‘green sprawl’, concerns about gentrification, and concerns that there is a disconnect in LEED measures for creating good walkable neighborhoods, etc. These concerns should be addressed before using this as the basis for a Davis standard to evaluate proposed development projects.”
The Utilities Commission expressed concern “that the City will go through a lot of considerations; however, did not include the vulnerabilities of the project from the point of view of people that would like to not see projects done. These vulnerabilities need to be addressed adequately in plans. There is at least one project that likely would not have faced as much rejection if they had provided more plans on a specific area.”
As I expressed on Monday, the critical question is whether the rubric becomes a tool to streamline the approval and building process or a tool to make the bar impossibly high.
The fact that the PLANNING COMMISSION deemed the rubric to be too complex, ought to give the council a good deal of pause before moving forward.
As I noted last week, while this tool seems clunky and fairly involved, if it becomes a quick check-off list that, if met, could pave the way for a quick and streamlined approval process, I would be for it.
A key question is can it be simplified and can it be objective enough to be helpful. For example, when Village Farms scored theirs, it was a fairly high grade. When Shriners scored theirs, it was somewhat lower. But Shriners felt like they were being fairly conservative in their assessment while Village might have been more aggressive.
What would be useful would be a fairly simple, clear cut scoring system that could inform a process. Score below a certain level and come back with a revised proposal. Score at a certain level and the council would be authorized to approve the project. Score above a given threshold and have it certified by, say, the Planning Commission and Council, and it could be exempt from a Measure J vote.
Short of that, the rubric is clunky, it’s complex, and it becomes a barrier to housing.
In essence, as I argued last week, without an actual commitment by the council to use the rubric as a potential tweak to Measure J, I worry that this is just creating another barrier to entry. One that adds costs and time without getting us what we really need—good housing.
And not just good housing, but good housing that could get approved.
I went back and forth last weekend with folks on this next point, but I consider it so crucial to solving the housing crisis. Measure J has effectively shut the door on housing for Davis.
As I reported two weeks ago, in 1999 SACOG was projecting that community growth would stop by 2010. But that was BEFORE Measure J and, after Measure J, growth stopped 13 percent lower than it was projected to be by SACOG.
Davis has added just 700 single-family homes to be built in the last two decades. Unless we find a way to use the rubric to modify that process, it seems likely that the rubric actually becomes a tool to make housing more and not less difficult.
This is not about scapegoating Measure J, as one person argued. It is not even about undermining it or even weakening it.
Measure J does not work in a community that needs to be able to grow at a more consistent level. Two projects in 25 years nearly. Neither one with single-family housing. (And neither one actually built).
You can argue that there are exemptions for affordable housing—but those exemptions are SO limited that they have never even been proposed let alone utilized.
In my opinion, Measure J is broken.
Some have argued that the only solution is to end it. I disagree. I think what we saw prior to 2000 demonstrates that allowing too much growth in this community inherently produces a backlash.
I would argue for a middle course.
But I will point out once again, time is ticking on a community-based solution. This week Palomino Place filed suit against the city to attempt to compel them to process that application. We have seen HCD, California YIMBY, and potentially others file lawsuits against other communities that have failed to adhere to state law on housing.
Davis might not be able to meet its current RHNA requirements and it almost certainly won’t be able to meet its future ones under the current system.
So, while I think the Planning Commission is absolutely correct about the complexity of the rubric, I still think if it can become a means to streamline housing it might be useful. If it becomes another costly and time-delaying hoop to jump through, it is not helpful.