Sunday Commentary: Instead of Looking at SF, Davis Should Look toward Sacramento for Housing Policies

Sean Gallup/Getty Images

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

Davis, CA – Part of my reason for writing yesterday’s column is my frustration over the failure of the Davis community to engage and step up to solve OUR problems.

And yes, I get it—this community is deeply affected by what is happening in Gaza.  I get the heartache on both sides.

But I was reading another op-ed in the Enterprise: “Council comes up short on facts, action” by David Siegel.  That’s precisely the problem—that is a problem that we will not and cannot solve, certainly not at the level of the Davis City Council.

And yet we spent until midnight acting as though we could.  Meanwhile, the issues we can actually address were brought forward after midnight.

The problem that we face is that there is a percentage of people in this community that do not want to solve our housing crisis.  There is another segment of the community that is willing to at least address housing, as long as it doesn’t inconvenience them.  And another segment for whom the perfect is the enemy of the good.

I recall now a conversation I had on here with a member of the former group (do not want to solve) who suggested that Davis do what large cities on the coast are doing.  I assumed at the time they meant, fail.

What is going to be interesting to watch is whether the state allows San Francisco—as the most obvious example—fail.

The irony of course is that San Francisco’s failure is actually adding to the valley’s problem.

The San Francisco Chronicle Editorial Board last Sunday finally called a spade a spade, and wrote “How SF dropped its housing failures on this California city’s lap. “

The Editorial Board writes, “This week, under extreme pressure from state officials, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted 9-2 to finally advance Mayor London Breed’s legislation to streamline the city’s notoriously lengthy housing approval process.”

The Board of Supervisors keeps tempting fate.  The Chronicle noted, “Supervisors punted that deadline, prompting the state to issue a strongly worded warning reminding them that failure to comply could result in decertification of San Francisco’s housing plan.”

It’s worth noting here that the city of Davis does not have a certified Housing Element.  San Francisco does.  But having a certified housing plan isn’t enough.  You have to actually build the housing now.

“I don’t know that picking an unnecessary fight with San Francisco would be helpful to (the state’s) cause,” said Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, who the Chronicle noted, “authored two of the amendments — including a particularly dubious one to make it harder to demolish thousands of homes built before 1923 with no clear historic significance.”

They write, “It’s an overconfident and, frankly, reckless bet.”

Although the supervisors’ initial vote on Breed’s bill was an “encouraging first step,” the state is “still evaluating the latest amendments,” David Zisser, the state housing department’s assistant deputy director for local government relations and accountability, said in a statement.

He also noted that San Francisco still needs to explain how it’s implementing other overdue required actions.

It’s embarrassing that “the state of California has to babysit the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to get them to do the bare minimum,” Louis Mirante, the Bay Area Council’s vice president of public policy, told the editorial board.

So is the suggestion from said commenter for the city of Davis to force the state to come babysit for them?

The Chronicle’s model for proceeding, as they lay out in their editorial, is not San Francisco, but rather Sacramento.

They note, “Contrast San Francisco with Sacramento, where its city council just unanimously — unanimously! advanced housing reforms that go above and beyond what’s required by state law and may be among the most ambitious in the country.”

Everyone in Davis is talking about the missing middle, well guess who has prioritized it?  Sacramento.

“Sacramento’s policy, scheduled for a final procedural vote in early 2024, aims to create what’s known as ‘missing middle’ housing — such as triplexes, fourplexes and other types of multifamily housing — near transit and in neighborhoods currently restricted to single-family homes,” they add.

The Chronicle continued, “Anyone used to San Francisco housing politics — including hours-long arguments over potential shadows cast by a proposed development — might expect that Sacramento’s single-family neighborhoods would rise in protest.

But “even the most suburban district of the city said, ‘Yes, more missing-middle housing because of the environment, because of our housing crisis,’ ” Kevin Dumler, a project manager at the affordable housing developer Jamboree Housing, told the editorial board.

So, rather than look to San Francisco, maybe Davis should look to the other side of the causeway.

Davis faces a lot of housing challenges on its own.

We saw this last week.  As I noted on Monday, the rail-thin margin for Davis on housing this cycle got a little thinner when two churches pulled their properties out of the possible rezones.

Sooner or later Davis is going to have to cross the peripheral gauntlet or risk losing Measure J.

As Mayor Will Arnold warned at the previous meeting, “I would just say to those who have said that we will be able to meet our next RHNA cycle numbers without going outside of the city limits… I suggest they tune in or watch the recording of this meeting as we really try to meet our current requirements simply with infill and the difficulty we’re having in doing so.”

We have seen the state make an example out of San Francisco.  But Davis might better watch La Cañada Flintridge.  Why?  Well San Francisco is one of the largest and most prominent cities in the state.

The city of La Cañada Flintridge is an affluent community with 20,000 residents in Los Angeles County, and has thus far refused to comply with California’s housing laws.

“Since California strengthened its housing laws, cities have attempted, unsuccessfully, to skirt these rules. La Cañada Flintridge is another community making excuses rather than building their fair share of housing,” Governor Newsom said on Tuesday.  “La Cañada Flintridge will learn, as other communities have, that the status quo is no longer acceptable, and ultimately, they will be held accountable.”

If the state goes after La Cañada, it’s only a matter of time before it aims its sights on Davis.  All you have to do is substitute Davis for La Cañada Flintridge in the above paragraph to envision what could happen.

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 Comment

  1. Walter Shwe

    In Los Angeles, a 49-unit apartment complex is taking 17 years to complete, the result of complex laws that exacerbated California’s affordable housing crisis

    For decades, California has struggled with a persistent affordable housing shortage.
    A WSJ report detailed how one LA housing project was unable to get off the ground for over 15 years.
    Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass has made it a priority to obtain project approvals in a timely manner.

    But the state of California has also become widely known for its severe housing crunch, with affordability being the leading issue that has driven many natives and longtime residents to inland communities and lower-cost states.
    According to The Wall Street Journal, California’s complex regulations have played a major role in delaying the construction of a 49-unit apartment complex known as Lorena Plaza in the Boyle Heights neighborhood east of downtown Los Angeles.

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