My View: If There Were a Naughty List, Davis Would Be on It

Photo by Blake Wheeler on Unsplash

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

Davis, CA – Yesterday Governor Newsom announced ten more prohousing communities—bringing the total number to 47, just under 50.

The state is taking a carrot-and-stick approach to housing, in this case rewarding “communities that cut red tape, reduce construction and development costs, and create housing policies with a growth mindset by providing them with funding incentives and additional resources that help scale up those innovative efforts.”

Added to the list are Berkeley, Fairfield, and the County of Los Angeles.

Back in February, the governor added the communities of Eureka, Healdsburg, Mountain View, Petaluma, San Luis Obispo, and Santa Monica to the list.

Not surprisingly, nowhere to be seen on that list is Davis—and I’m sure many community members would just as soon avoid that list.

There is not a naughty list—yet.  But there is an increasing list of communities that have been sued by the state because they have violated some aspect of the State Housing Law and made housing unnecessarily difficult to approve and build.

How long before the city of Davis appears on such a list seems only a matter of time.

One commenter noted, “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.”

While some voters are keenly aware of the political environment across the state, I’m not sure that most voters are aware of this.

Earlier this year, a large contingent of community members seemed very surprised to learn that some of the downtown projects will not have parking and that under state law there is nothing they can do about this.

Are voters actually aware that the state could possibly—and I would argue would likely—come in and legally challenge Measure J if it continues to be a barrier to the city zoning sufficient housing.

A commenter noted this week, “There are two projects ready to go to the voters.”

Neither project is “ready” to go to the voters.  Both projects have to complete their environmental review, go through the commissions, and go to the council before getting on the ballot.

We are looking at probably a year before the first project goes to the voters—best case scenario.

But there is a bigger problem than this.

First of all, the two projects that are still on track to go to the voters will not have sufficient units to meet the likely seventh cycle requirements for the city of Davis.

There is a real question whether either of the projects could pass a vote.  The city needs both to do so.

There is an even bigger question of where the city would get sufficient low-income units, even if both projects pass to meet the rigorous standards coming down from the state.

For years the Measure J process has been a feeding frenzy.  A project comes forward.  The community and council raise concerns about the project and the council works hard to improve the project and address as many concerns as possible.

Most of the time, that process has not worked.  The public has passed just two Measure J projects in the last 25 years.

Concerns such as traffic impacts have generally been fatal to projects.

Is something going to change that allows the public to approve 3000 housing units with 540 low income units?  Maybe.

But from what I have seen in comments in the public—I would by no means count on it.

Can the leadership on the council and in the community communicate the urgency of the matter?  Or will the public, once again, allow the perfect project to be the enemy of necessary housing?

That’s going to be a very critical question.

I see a few crucial steps in the next year, which might very well determine the future of Davis.

First, we will have the beginning but probably not the end of the General Plan update.

Second, we may have a decision by council as to whether or not to put a Measure J amendment on the ballot for November.  We will likely find that out in the next few months.

One thing that concerns me for step two, there has not been any type of advanced discussion on this.  Nor has there been any kind of public discussion of the threat and pressure coming from the state.

Third, the first project is likely to be on the ballot by some time next spring.

If the voters pass either an amendment to Measure J or the first project, I think probably that will be enough to convince the state not to intervene.

But if I’m handicapping things at this point, I would guess there will not be a Measure J amendment put forward for November—again there has been no discussion or public process and we are in mid-April, just a few months away from a deadline to put anything on the ballot.

And while I have talked with people who have different opinions about whether either project, and which project, would pass, at this point I frankly would not bet on any project passing.

Will the state intervene right away (and, by the way, it could be a private entity that chooses to do so, not the state) or wait until we get closer to the 7th cycle of RHNA?  That’s a critical question.

Personally I think, given the city’s track record over the last nearly 25 years, it seems difficult to imagine that the city would prevail in a legal fight.

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 Greenwald

      There is a growing list of communities that have been sued by the state. I would say that San Francisco is probably at the top of the list with the state really putting the screws to them.

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