By David M. Greenwald
Davis, CA – I’m tired of people saying things like Davis has plenty of single-family homes. No, we don’t.
Look, I don’t dispute the facts here, Judy Ennis last week was right when she said, “Right now we’re a majority single family homes, 56%, mostly built up in 1980, i.e. potentially not very climate resilient.”
What we don’t have, she continued, is what is known as the “missing middle housing.”
She said, “That’s for families starting out. That’s for seniors that want to downsize. That’s for young couples, that’s for groups of people who don’t have children (who) want to live together.”
She’s not wrong on this point and we do need more missing middle housing and more affordable housing. But, at the same time, we just need more housing.
Earlier this year, the city released the data that showed that the city has only built 700 units of single-family housing since 2008. Worse yet, in a typical month only about 30 to 55 housing units (much of NOT single-family housing) go on the market and they only last about a week on the market.
We don’t have enough housing.
The finger immediately gets pointed toward Measure J. I agree with that finger. The data is indisputable. Early this year, we noted a report from 1990 that showed that Davis would “stop” growing after 2010.
But in fact, because Measure J blocked additional housing, Davis essentially stopped in 2000 rather than 2010 and instead of going from 61,000 in 1997 to 75,000 by 2010, a 23 percent change, we have grown only to just under 67,000, 9000 or 13 percent less than the original projections.
That is substantial. And it cannot be ignored. And the fact that the city is looking at putting a potential ballot measure to at least loosen Measure J’s hold on housing is essential and important.
But there is another story to be told. And we can tell it in three projects. But it’s hard to build housing in Davis—even with projects that are not Measure J projects.
None of these are what we might call “game changers.” By that I mean, none of them are going to actually solve the city’s housing crisis. None of them are going to help the city get its RHNA certified this cycle or next cycle.
But I think we would be remiss to ignore this problem. Because it points to a larger problem—even if we were to get rid of Measure J tomorrow, could we get enough housing?
The largest housing project of single-family homes approved since 2000 was Cannery. It’s mostly built out—at least its housing is. But it took a 3-2 vote and the insistence on two crossings which quite nearly killed the project.
You want to argue that it’s not a great project—I agree. I was opposed to it at the time. But that’s how thin the margin is to get housing approved even without a Measure J vote.
Then there’s Chiles Ranch. It was approved back in 2009 on 3-2 vote over the vehement objections of the neighbors. It has come back so many times.
At some point, the city and the council have to ask why that’s the case. We need housing. Why can’t you build it?
The developer offered a number of excuses and reasons back in 2022, but at the end of the day, we have to get housing in Davis, and this is an entitled project that requires no action by the council or the voters.
The good news is that this project is entitled for housing and could at least conceivably proceed.
That’s better than the other two projects…
Second, we have the University Commons. Most of the regular readers by now are familiar with this one.
Rather than rehash most of the story, here’s what hurts about this: it’s across the street from the university and it is on a block full of student housing.
And then there is this factor: as the city looks for opportunities for infill, one of the top efforts will be looking at and incorporating mixed use.
The subcommittee a few weeks ago noted, “The City has several neighborhood shopping centers that provide prime opportunities for incorporation of mixed use, especially for residential development above retail.”
At the same time, the experience of University Commons serves as a cautionary tale.
Nevertheless, 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.”
See what the city is potentially doing there? The city had no leverage on University Commons because the project was zoned for commercial and they were under no obligation to change that. This would require shopping centers—which are increasingly underutilized—to build housing. That would give the council much more in the way of a stick.
But University Commons, given its size and proximity to the university, still stings.
Finally, the most recent failure has been Trackside. As we reported yesterday, the site that was the source of neighborhood angst and lawsuits has finally sold but now it won’t be housing.
I wasn’t a big fan of the luxury rental housing concept, but there was a possibility that the project might convert to affordable housing—that would be helpful.
As a retail spot, it’s another lost opportunity.
Again, the size of Trackside mitigates the actual losses here.
BUT, once again, we are left with a process that simply doesn’t work. We can point our fingers in a lot of different directions in all three of these—neighborhood opposition, also the city and city council, not to mention the applicants themselves share some blame here.
The bottom line, however, is that the city’s margin for error is razor thin and it appears if there are any problems, housing just can’t happen—even when we desperately need it.
This bears a lot of scrutiny moving forward because it suggests, even absent Measure J, housing is not easy to build in Davis.
I think a lot of people believe that if we just get rid of Measure J, we solve our housing problem. This analysis suggests potentially otherwise.