Commentary: Palomino Looks Like It Is Going Forward without a Required J Vote

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

Davis, CA – Big news breaks on Valentine’s Day in Davis, apparently.

It’s a 25-acre project with 163 units, so it’s not going to be a game changer for Davis.  But still the agreement is a big deal.

Ever since last spring when David Taormino declared his project qualifies under the Builder’s Remedy, we have wondered exactly what that will mean—will it mean they don’t have to go to a Measure J vote?

It would be a game-changer but for the fact that it is a one-of-a-kind situation.

Palomino or Wildhorse Ranch has always been a bit of an oddity.  It’s in the city but zoned for agriculture which meant while it would not have to be annexed it was a Measure J property.  And in fact, in 2009, a proposed project was routed 75-25 by the voters.

So could a Measure J property qualify under the Builder’s Remedy and if so, could it bypass a vote?

“After carefully reviewing state law and conferring with the City Attorney, it became clear that this project qualified as a Builder’s Remedy project,” said Davis Mayor Josh Chapman. “This settlement will save on litigation costs for the City, provide more affordable housing units for the community and resume the long awaited process for the Palomino Place project.”

But here’s the clue:

“The City’s acknowledgement that Builder’s Remedy applies to the project.”

“The City’s agreement to process the Palomino Place project for City Council consideration in late 2024 without legislative entitlements (General Plan amendment and zone change).”

“Taormino’s agreement to increase the number of low-income affordable units up to 45 units, which would result in 25% of the units in the project being affordable to low- or very low-income households.”

The agreement without legislative entitlements or a zoning change to me suggests that this will not be a Measure J project.

The developer did agree to evaluate impacts under CEQA, to explore sustainability features and the council does have “the ability to include reasonable conditions of approval to address community concerns.”

So what the developer is getting a chance to process the project this year and as a Builder’s Remedy without voter approval—it would appear.  From their perspective, moving to the ahead of the queue and avoiding a necessary vote is a big deal.

The city is getting 25% affordable units (again, not a game changer), and the ability to address community concerns and explore sustainability features.

The city is getting a public process and Taormino is avoiding a Measure J vote and moving to the head of the queue.

There’s also this: “Taormino’s agreement to proceed with this process at his sole risk.”

The question I think most will be asking is whether someone could sue and attempt to compel a Measure J vote.  It appears that would be difficult as the law would not be on a challenger’s side.

Under the city code, Measure J requires “voter approval” of “changes to land use designations on the land use map from agricultural or urban reserve to urban land use designations or from agricultural to urban reserve land use designations.”

Under the Builder’s Remedy, a city that does not have a legally compliant Housing Element is required to approve a development project application that makes at least 20% of its housing units available for lower income households, unless the city can make one of the specific findings provided in state law for disapproval.

According to the city, the proposed project site is currently zoned as “horse ranch” and is designated “Agriculture” under the City’s General Plan.

According to the city, “Palomino Place proposes a residential subdivision which typically would not be allowed without a rezone, general plan amendment and Measure D vote.”

Taormino took the position that “the City of Davis must process the project without a zone change or General Plan Amendment given that inconsistency with zoning or the General Plan is not a legally permissible basis for denial of a project under Builder’s Remedy.”

In short, under the Builder’s Remedy, there is no change to the land use map nor is there a change to zoning.

The other point that is important to recognize is this is a small project, just 163 units, and it’s unique in Davis.

This is the only parcel in the city where there would normally be a Measure J vote, but it’s already annexed in the city.

Builder’s Remedy is not available to any of the other peripheral projects and, moreover, with a certified Housing Element, there won’t be any more Builder’s Remedy projects that could come forward.

Someone would have to challenge the state law for Builder’s Remedy in order to challenge the city’s agreement with Taormino—and that’s not only unlikely, it also has very limited utility.

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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8 Comments

  1. Ron Glick

    This deal should be the template for peripheral development going forward. Whether through a Measure J vote or an amendment to Measure J the 25% de facto Affordable standard under the Builders Remedy should guide this community going forward.

  2. Jim Frame

    In short, under the Builder’s Remedy, there is no change to the land use map nor is there a change to zoning.

    That’s just silly.  I understand that the Builder’s Remedy precludes the city from denying the project because it doesn’t comply with current zoning, but surely they’re going to change the zoning to residential.  Leaving it zoned agriculture would open the door to all kinds of mischief on the part of the residents, the developer and even the city.

    And no, this shouldn’t be the template for peripheral growth.

  3. William Vernetti

    After 22 years it’s time to say goodbye to Davis.

    The appeal has always been how undeveloped this city is. Now it’s been auctioned off to rich developers. I know you all couldn’t care less, but we’re leaving ASAP. This city has been ruined, and in the coming years will be unliveable due to high crime and traffic woes. Of course the developers don’t live here, so they don’t care. It was all sold under fraudulent housing “crisis” claims.

    R.I.P.

     

    Enjoy your new city. It used to be something special.

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