Commentary: Davis’ Housing Crisis Grows As System Deadlocks

Covell site in 2005

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

Dan Walter’s recent column on the state housing trouble (Housing Gap Grows During Squabbles) could just as easily been referring to local housing conditions as well.

He points out that “between 2010 and 2020, California’s population grew by 6.1% while its housing supply rose by just 4.7%, increasing the already wide gap.”  Moreover, “since 2020 the state has fallen about 50% short of the 180,000 new units the state says are needed each year.”

Walters notes that when he ran for Governor, Gavin Newsom pledged, if elected, “I will lead the effort to develop the 3.5 million new housing units we need by 2025 because our solutions must be as bold as the problem is big.”

While Walters acknowledges, “Newsom may have been been much more active than other recent governors on promoting housing construction, but what he and the Legislature have done still has not made a measurable dent in California’s housing shortage.”

This is the situation we see ourselves in locally in Davis as well.

Recent data published by the city shows that over the last 16 years, the city of Davis has added just over 700 units of single-family housing.

The state has ramped up its efforts to compel local communities to comply with state imposed mandates.  It took the city of Davis three tries and several years to get its housing element certified by the state.

But in doing so, the city avoided the contentious battles over peripheral housing.  Or shall we say the city punted those concerns down the road—because, as the Vanguard has repeatedly reported, they are still coming.

The local squabbles are coming sooner rather than later.

First, there will be the start of the General Plan Update.  The city is optimistically believing that can be completed within two to three years, but we have no idea what Pandora’s box actually looks like until we start to see the battles over the details.

Second, it remains to be seen whether the council will put an amendment to Measure J on the ballot for November.  If they do, that figures to be a major battle within the city of Davis.

Measure J was first passed in 2000—a relatively narrow victory.  Since then in 2010 and 2020, the measure has been overwhelmingly supported and renewed.

But in the 25 years since Measure J was passed, just two projects have been approved and neither of them have been built.  Will voters be willing to amend the ordinance to allow for more realistic exemptions and ease the way for the city to comply with state housing laws?

At the same time, we are gearing up for two new Measure J projects—it appears one in 2025 and one in 2026.

Originally there were five proposals—one, it appears, will avoid a Measure J vote.  Two have dropped off.  That leaves just Village Farms and Shriners.

As noted this week, at present the two projects would account for 3000 units of overall housing, but only 540 units of affordable housing.

While we do not know exactly what the state RHNA numbers will for the next cycle, it seems likely at least that the two projects are not going to be able to provide enough affordable housing without some major help from the community.

Moreover, slow growth advocates are gearing up to fight some of these proposals.

That is likely to be another battle to watch1if slow growth advocates defeat either or both, slim becomes none and there will be no way that the city can meet its next round of RHNA needs.

So then what?

I still believe that the most likely outcome will be a challenge to Measure J by the AG’s office and/or HCD some time in 2025 if the city fails to adopt an amended Measure J and if the voters vote down one or both of the projects.

Personally, I believe that Measure J as currently written is not workable.  That it needs to be amended to allow the city the ability to build the housing that it needs.

I also believe that local voters are not going to be willing to vote to repeal Measure J and might not even be willing to amend it—although we shall perhaps see.

That leaves the state as the most likely avenue and, based on my read of the current situation, I believe that is coming and would be successful.

So for those community members that support Measure J, at least in concept, that puts them on the clock to figure out a way to amend Measure J or the state will likely come in and take it out completely.

In the meantime, while all these battles loom, the city is not addressing its critical housing needs.  The next 12 months or so will tell the tale.  I don’t think the community really senses yet what is at stake.

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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10 Comments

  1. Ron Glick

    “Personally, I believe that Measure J as currently written is not workable.  That it needs to be amended to allow the city the ability to build the housing that it needs.”

    Gee David, when did you reach this conclusion because you supported renewal despite the City Council not making any amendments in 2020? You asked for amendments in 2020 but when none were adopted you supported it anyway. So did you support something you knew was unworkable or have you had an epiphany in the last three years?

    As for that 80+% vote for renewal as Neil Young once sang “Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong.” I believe you knew it was unworkable when you supported renewal, but why? Afraid of the wrath of your funders or the public or were you a true believer?

     

  2. Don Shor

    Personally, I believe that Measure J as currently written is not workable.  That it needs to be amended to allow the city the ability to build the housing that it needs.

    There are two projects ready to go to the voters. Get one of them on the ballot and see how it goes. The “city” doesn’t build housing. Those who do build housing are ready to proceed. I think the voters are aware that the state is taking actions to encourage more housing production. The voters can decide if that’s relevant to their decision-making processes with respect to the projects that are ready to proceed.

  3. Keith Y Echols

    The problem with the “solutions” to the housing “problem” in California is that it expects that people are just going to be okay with lots of new homes and people in their communities without giving them a reason to embrace more people and their impact on their communities.  The attitude by new housing proponents is one of righteous indignation to those that oppose development in their backyards (until that development is in their specific neighborhood.)  So we all wait while cities try to find the perfect transit oriented, high density (10 stories), mixed use, carbon neutral, infill project that has zero impact on the community….the unicorn project that doesn’t exist.

    To my knowledge I believe the majority of the political and legal pressure by the state has been put on cities.  IMO state pressure for new housing should be put on the counites.  Apply RHNA mandates to the counties.  Get the counties to push cities into planning for more homes.  If the cities resist; have the counties plan for developments outside of  and nearly adjacent to the cities.  Plan for integrated business park, retail and residential (like 10,000 units) to be build right out side of a city.  The city can either work out a deal with the county and annex the new development and take responsibility for it or let it exist as county community (that could become it’s own city in the future).  Bottom line; if you want new housing to be planned and build; implement a plan that doesn’t fight the people at every step of the way.  

    1. Jim Frame

       If the cities resist; have the counties plan for developments outside of  and nearly adjacent to the cities.

      A couple of problems with this:

      1.  One of LAFCo’s objectives is to discourage urban sprawl.  It’s charged with ensuring efficient provision of municipal services, which means avoiding urban development outside of cities.

      2.  There’s no mechanism for cities to resist beyond registering a protest.  LAFCo controls annexation, not the annexing city.  The owner(s) of the land to be annexed make the annexation request of LAFCo, and as long as the annexation meets LAFCo objectives, it gets approved and the land gets annexed.  Unless the population of the new development is more than 50% of the population of the existing city, the city doesn’t even get to vote on the matter.

       

      1. Keith Y Echols

        I think you may be stuck under the notion of how things are right now and not quite clear about how annexation realistically works.

        1.  One of LAFCo’s objectives is to discourage urban sprawl.  It’s charged with ensuring efficient provision of municipal services, which means avoiding urban development outside of cities.

        No. LafCo’s objective is to manage growth as much as possible.  It wants cities to manage that growth but is not against growth itself when necessary.  And I’m saying the state which is forcing cities to manage the need for more housing; should be forcing the counties to manage that growth and not cities.  That in turn would change how LaFco would approach it’s plans for residential growth in the county.  Who makes up the Yolo County LaFco commission?  I think like almost half of the commission is made up of former and current Davis elected officials.

        2.  There’s no mechanism for cities to resist beyond registering a protest.  LAFCo controls annexation, not the annexing city.  The owner(s) of the land to be annexed make the annexation request of LAFCo, and as long as the annexation meets LAFCo objectives, it gets approved and the land gets annexed.  Unless the population of the new development is more than 50% of the population of the existing city, the city doesn’t even get to vote on the matter.

        As someone who’s either personally or been part of various projects (1000’s of lots) that were annexed in the central valley, I’ve never known a project that didn’t need city approval of some sort for annexation.

        State law requires a property to be zoned by a city prior to annexation. As the property is not technically within the city at that time, this action is termed “pre-zoning.” The city’s pre-zoning process is conducted by the city staff and reviewed by the city’s planning commission and the city council. The city’s General Plan designates the type of land use allowed for every parcel within its boundaries. Additionally, specific “zoning districts” are identified within those land-use designations, further defining the specific uses and development standards. LAFCO is prohibited by state law from making land-use decisions or conditioning its approval of a proposal based on the zoning. Zoning decisions and land-use designations are the responsibility of the city to which territory would be annexed.

         

         

         

      2. Richard McCann

        Yolo County significantly limits any new developments for ag land preservation (and other counties have similar limits): https://codelibrary.amlegal.com/codes/yolocounty/latest/yolo/0-0-0-28634

        1. Keith Y Echols

          Yes….very well aware….thank you.  The whole discussion is IF the state put political, legal and economic pressure on the counties to solve the housing shortages and not the cities.  If so, the assumption is that their priorities would change.  My contention is that it is at the county level that the state should be focusing on enforcing it’s mandates and not at the city level.

    2. Matt Williams

      I agree with Keith that the appropriate level to be managing and addressing housing requirements and RHNA is at the collective County level.  Yolo County working in collaboration with its four cities would be much more efficient and effective in delivering 15,742 total RHNA units than the current method which creates five separate “silos.”

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