Monday Morning Thoughts: The Hard Part Begins on Housing

Covell site in 2005

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

Davis, CA – Davis got relatively good news at the end of the week last week as they received word that indeed their third version of the Housing Element was approved and certified by HCD.

For all of the criticism that the city gets, the drawn-out process more represented how much more seriously the state is taking Housing Element than any effort by the city to shirk its housing obligations.

While the city—defined as city staff and the city council—clearly are serious about meeting the housing needs of this community, the fact that the process dragged on as long as did is an illustration of just how difficult these next steps will be.

Where I will start to criticize the city is that, instead of launching its efforts to get a new General Plan and perhaps start the process of engaging the community on a Measure J revision, they have ignited a side fight on commissions.

As I said last week, it is not that I believe they are completely wrong with their concerns on the commission system—I have noted them over the years myself.  Instead, they miscalculated both in their approach and in the level of resistance this would trigger.

The needs of a new General Plan update would be better met by emulating the largely successful process of the Davis Downtown Plan and also the Housing Element Update in 2007-08—creating a broad-based community group that could be representative of the broader community, while at the same time creating dialogue and consensus.

I completely agree with those who see this as a misstep rather than something nefarious.

However, in effect, it matters not.  It is a misstep that will cost us valuable time, create skepticism, and threatens to derail the process before it even starts.

The biggest problem that the city faces going forward is that the solution for housing in the current Housing Element was infill.  That will likely not be available for a 2030 Housing Element.

The city, in passing the housing element version three in December, also recognized that the days for meeting its housing needs through infill are likely coming to an end.

In December, then-Mayor Will Arnold warned, “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.”

Councilmember Bapu Vaitla has said similar things, as has City Manager Mike Webb.

That becomes the first trigger to what could ultimately bring down Measure J altogether.

But that outcome is still not inevitable.

The city this month is preparing to embark on a General Plan Update.

That process could help to define what a fix to the housing crisis could look like.

Part of that approach is likely to be an amendment to Measure J that could go on the ballot as soon as November or no later than November 2026.

The city said this past fall that it intends: “Amend language already in Measure J/R/D that exempts from its public vote requirements projects that provide affordable housing or facilities needed for city services, or other changes to city ordinances that would help create affordable housing. Any change to Measure J/R/D would require a public vote.”

Can the city meet its housing needs in 2030 without adjusting Measure J?  I am highly skeptical.

Part of that will depend on what the state requires of Davis.  I have operated under the assumption that 2030’s requirements would look a lot like the current—2100 total units, over 900 affordable units.  But the City Council subcommittee suggested it could be twice that at more than 4000 total units and nearly 2000 affordable units.

If we assume limited infill units, then we are looking at somewhere between two and five of the currently proposed Measure J projects in order to meet state requirements.

Given the history that shows only two projects being approved, that seems a long shot.

This has been part of the argument the Vanguard has been raising for some time.

The first step will be the beginning of a General Plan Update that could start this month and take two to three years—probably at best.

The second domino will be either a 2024 or 2026 vote on a Measure J Amendment—I’m going out on a limb and guessing that the council will hold off until 2026—which could make some sense anyway given that we are likely to have had at least one, and maybe two additional Measure J votes by then.

The third domino will be what happens with both Village Farms in 2025 and Shriners in 2026.

Village Farms going down in 2025 could almost certainly trigger some sort of legal challenge to Measure J.

Failure of a Measure J amendment and Village Farms could spell the end of Measure J as any number of different entities would likely challenge it on basis of its constraint on meeting the City’s housing needs.

That’s what is at stake, possibility within the next year, if not two years.

The numbers are clear, the city has pretty much run out of infill as a short-term fix for housing and now they are going to have to confront the polarizing issue of peripheral housing.

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. David Thompson

    Having additional land set aside for affordable housing in any new annnexation would be a smart way for the city to address future RHNA numbers.


    Otherwise we (the City and the Citizens votes) are approving projects that contain built in breaches of the next RHNA.


    Not representative of either Neighborhood Partners LLC or Twin Pines Cooperative Foundation

  2. Tim Keller

    Im interested to hear people’s opinions as to how much having an approved housing element changes the urgency of revising measure J.

    My thought is that it doesnt, not really…   But certainly the chain of events that we envisioned as being possible is now different than from what we first assumed a couple of years ago… back then we had a rejected housing element and nobody was talking about a general plan process….

    Now we have a skin o’ the teeth housing element approved and the city is talking about a general plan update… maybe a few years out…  Will that process be finished by the time state authorities come around again?  Or are we now worried about challenges from private parties?  Dont we already have a couple of those filed?

  3. Jim Frame

    Im interested to hear people’s opinions as to how much having an approved housing element changes the urgency of revising measure J.

    It removes a distraction, but the essence of the next round of RHNA obligations remain.  In my opinion, none of the projects currently proposed get anywhere close to addressing those obligations, and thus aren’t worthy of approval.  The system remains broken.

  4. Matt Williams

    Is housing the real issue, or is the real issue adding jobs that produce an income that can afford the kind of housing that developers want to build?

    We are hearing about a General Plan Update, but nothing about creating an Economic Development Plan.

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