Sunday Commentary: Can an Infill Approach Help Us Reach 4000 Units?

Corporation Yard may be an ideal spot for redevelopment

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

Davis, CA – What jumped out to me in the staff report was the line that the city might be expected to have an allocation of more than 4000 units “based purely on the historic trend of the RHNA number roughly doubling for the last few housing element cycles.”

That’s way more than I have been projecting.  Or maybe not projecting so much as using a baseline.

I have operated under the assumption that the city will be asked to duplicate roughly the 2075 units of the current cycle.  That appeared to be a difficult enough task, especially trying to find more than 900 units of low- and very low-income housing.

I’m not going to say 4000 is impossible, but if it comes with about 2000 or so low-income units, it would mean that the city would have to re-zone most of the five peripheral projects and somehow double the amount of affordable housing.

That’s a very tall order.

How realistic is doubling the amount of housing that we have struggled to reach for the sixth Housing Element Cycle of RHNA?

The subcommittee relies on historical trends—the housing allotments have gone from 498 units from 2006 to 2013, to 1066 from 2013 to 2021 to 2075 currently, which ends in 2029.

One only has to look at what Woodland and West Sacramento have been asked to do in this cycle to realize that 4000 is probably not out of the question.

The subcommittee tasked with infill—Bapu Vaitla and Vice Mayor Josh Chapman—writes, “To accomplish this estimated number of units, the City will require a combination of maximizing infill opportunities, plus looking to peripheral sites.”

While I would not be supportive of attempting to address all of that housing through infill, maximizing infill opportunities is important.

But I do have some warnings.

First, as we know, densification sounds good.  It allows us to be more efficient.  It allows us to put more people near transit and existing services.  And it of course only requires council action (or in some cases even by-right administrative action).

At the same time, we know that dense infill brings as much if not more community opposition as peripheral.  It disrupts existing neighborhoods.  It creates traffic impacts on existing roads that may not support increased traffic.  And it affects people’s existing visual views.

Also, this isn’t video housing.  We can’t just draw figures on a map and make it pencil out.  We learned all of these lessons the hard way with University Commons.

It’s in an ideal location across the street from the university.  In my view, the site was underutilized as a single-level commercial center in a prime location.

And yet, the proposal drew strong criticism—and with the advent of district elections, several councilmembers balked at supporting the project.  Brett Lee attempted a compromise, but that compromise turned out to be the poison pill that did not allow the project to be built.

The reality here is that it sounds good to say, the council could “prioritize development and incorporation of a zoning overlay onto neighborhood shopping centers to allow mixed use by right, but would require mixed use (integration of some minimum amount of residential) when a major renovation is done.”

In the real world, that may not be feasible.

I would also question who would end up moving to these locations and how much in the way of affordable housing you can build there.  It may be that you create a very disruptive approach and not get much return.

This was part of my problem with the Trackside proposal—you created a huge amount of community turmoil for a project that did not fit a vital housing need and also did not move the needle in the total number of housing units added.

Reducing or eliminating parking minimums—the state has already done this for us.  As the staff report notes, most of the city is already covered in this: “Davis has a bus system that meets the objectives of this law and therefore, most of the city falls under the provisions of this law.”  Therefore, “the state has eliminated parking requirements for the vast majority of the City.”

Eliminating parking minimums does not mean eliminating parking.  But it does mean that some areas will not add parking.  That creates some angst but, at the end of the day, the city has little control over it and many of these projects are going to be by-right, which means citizens will not have much say either.

Densifying existing single-family neighborhoods—we have seen at the state level that SB 9 and SB 10 are not having a huge impact on housing.  I don’t see much different in Davis.

The one place I do believe that this approach can help is redeveloping city-owned property—especially the City Corporation Yard (particularly if combined with DJUSD property) and perhaps the Civic Center Fields.

The advantage there is that the city controls the property and could therefore control who develops the property, and how.  And you could create a dense, affordable housing project there.  That could move the needle and fill a vital need.

There will be pushback from nearby residents along 5th Street, many of whom have already objected to the Respite Center.  And of course the discussion over the Civic Center Fields would be rather epic, but that’s definitely a location that would be conducive to low-income housing.

That would definitely help to produce a sizable amount of affordable housing—whereas most of the other proposals simply will not move the needle very far.

And then there is little choice but to go peripheral for the rest.

I still don’t believe we will see a 4000-unit overall allocation from the state for 2030, but it probably doesn’t hurt to at least look at it and then adjust downward as needed.

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. Ron Glick

    Building on Civic Center Field is one of those bad ideas that never goes away and occasionally is brought forward as a solution to a problem of the communities own making. I wonder if you go back in time and asked people if they thought the consequences of Measure J would be the loss of parkland to housing in the center of town was a good idea what they would say.

    After stopping peripheral development Davis is now considering giving up commercial opportunities through rezoning and parkland in its struggle to build housing. As we build-in instead of out aren’t we going to need more community spaces for all the people we are pushing close together through densification?

    This is one more example of changing the community for the worse by trying to preserve the community from peripheral development.

    1. David Greenwald

      For the most part I agree with you. My purpose today was to show where the city might have some traction – most of the ideas in the staff report I don’t think move the ball significantly forward.

  2. Jim Frame

    Building on Civic Center Field is one of those bad ideas that never goes away

    Personally, I like having a large expanse of open space right across the street, but Civic Center has been underutilized for as long as I can remember, and I’ve lived in this house for 27 years.  It *is* one of the few fields available for baseball/softball practice, but actual games are rare, and tournaments even more so.  The most frequent use these days is Sunday morning batting practice by a senior men’s softball team, and the occasional dog walker.

    Siting low-income senior housing right next to the Senior Center makes sense to me.  There’d be no need for much in the way of parking, as downtown is eminently walkable, as is the Co-op.  And retaining some of it for City Hall expansion seems like a no-brainer.

    While I won’t be leading the charge for development of Civic Center — my parochial interest is in keeping it just like it is — I think it’s ripe for repurposing if the right proposal comes along.


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