My View: Why It Could Be the Slow Growth Community That Ends Up Triggering the End of Measure J

Covell site in 2005

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

The community of Davis has not really come to grips with the magnitude of its own housing crisis.  I have over the last few months pointed out that the city over the last 16 years has only built a little over 700 units of single-family homes—and again, while single-family housing is not the only type of housing we need, this is indicative of the shortfall overall in housing.

The state increased the housing targets for Davis from 498 units 2006 to 2013, to 1066 from 2013 to 2021, to 2075 currently which ends in 2029.  More importantly, the state is requiring at the very least that the city rezone the land—and when one community failed to do that quickly enough, they had their housing element decertified.

The math right now is not on the side of the city.  The loss of another potential project this week, Pioneer, is making that math even more difficult.

The current RHNA requirements are for 2075 overall units and 930 affordable.

The city took three iterations before it finally got HCD to certify its current Housing Element.

Again, I think the comment in December from former Mayor Will Arnold is instructive: “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.”

The problem is this: at this point you have two peripheral projects.

Village Farms is currently projected at 1800 homes with about 300 affordable, or 16.7 percent.

Shriners is currently at 1200 homes with about 240 affordable, or 20 percent.

Commendably, both projects have another sizable chunk set for the so-called missing middle housing, but that’s not going to help the city meet its RHNA obligations.

Bottom line is that the city would have more than enough overall units from those two projects, but just 540 of the 930 affordable—IF the state keeps the rate the same.

While I have been operating on the assumption that the next round of housing will look like the current round, there is another possibility that Mayor Josh Chapman and Vice Mayor Bapu Vaitla laid out, that the trend suggests that the next cycle may have 4000 units with 200 or so of them being affordable.

Either way, the city is going to need both projects and right now those two will not be enough to fulfill the city’s affordable housing needs.

There are some options at this point.  One of them would be to try increasing the affordable allotment on those projects, either through more density or a higher percentage of affordable housing.

Just to get the 930 market would require a 31 percent affordable housing component.  In the Measure J process I don’t think that’s realistic to expect unless, of course, we give them a few carrots.  One possibility is a Measure J amendment that would allow projects with a high percentage of affordable housing to be exempt.  Currently that number is 100 percent, but what happens if that number is reduced to, say, 40 percent.  Would the project applicants be willing to take the certainty of approval to offset some of the costs?  That seems reasonable at least to ask.

But again that would require a Measure J amendment and I don’t know how realistic that actually is.

Whenever council has even mentioned the possibility of change, a group of citizens have shown up to demand that Measure J be put on the ballot as written with only technical changes.

Could an amendment that reduces the exemption down to 40 percent pass even a council vote, let alone a vote of the public?

That’s an important question.

The other point I would make here is that Village Farms has already attracted a lot of dissent.  The slow growth community is acting as though this were business as usual and that they can proceed to block projects at their discretion.

What I see happening at this point is that if Village Farms is voted down, and if the community fails to pass a Measure J amendment, there is a good possibility that the State Attorney General along with HCD and even the Governor will file a suit alleging that Measure J is in violation of state housing laws—and the city will be forced to either amend Measure J or the courts will strike it down altogether.

In short, given the math, I think the most likely outcome is that the failure to amend Measure J, and the failure to pass one of the two projects will result in state action.

It doesn’t seem like the public really understands the reality of the current situation.  The state has shown they are not going away, and so business as usual for this community cannot continue.

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. Keith Y Echols

    Ya know, I mentioned this scenario (the state striking down Measure J) at least a couple years ago.  I recall reading that there’s a similar measure somewhere in the North Bay that is under state scrutiny.   But did anyone pay any attention to my comment?  No.  It’s not a hard prognostication; the community keeps striking down a good number of infill projects (despite claiming they want infill) and generally opposes peripheral development too.

    I still say that some brave developer, county and city officials should get together to entitle some Davis adjacent county property and then see if it gets annexed (wouldn’t trigger a measure J vote).  Someone here told me; that’s how Wildhorse came into Davis.  Expand the sphere of influence and work through the county.  Because I’m guessing that it will take some time before the state is willing and able to strike down these housing constraint measures. In fact I wonder if any of the builder’s remedy solutions might offset the need (or immediate need) for the state to overturn local land management measures…..especially one that is supposed to protect ag land.

    1. David Greenwald

      I remember you saying it. I think the chances of it happening are greater now than they were when you said it first. My point here is that actions by opponents of these projects or changes to Measure J are likely to trigger state action.

  2. Jim Frame

    I still say that some brave developer, county and city officials should get together to entitle some Davis adjacent county property and then see if it gets annexed (wouldn’t trigger a measure J vote). 

    Annexation is the easy part — the city  has no say in the matter (with certain limited exceptions that don’t apply to the situation in Davis).  If the owner requests annexation and LAFCo approves it, it’s annexed.  The hard part is getting the county to entitle it, as that throws the tax sharing arrangement into turmoil and that could work out badly for the county.


    1. Dave Hart

      What does it mean to “entitle” a parcel of land by a county government?

      And what is it about the tax-sharing arrangement between cities and counties that makes it some kind of zero sum game?

      Asking for a friend…

      1. Jim Frame

        What does it mean to “entitle” a parcel of land by a county government?

        Essentially, to change its zoning from ag to urban.

        And what is it about the tax-sharing arrangement between cities and counties that makes it some kind of zero sum game?

        There’s only one pie, so how it gets divvied up is a big deal.


        1. Dave Hart

          I was under the probably incorrect impression that when a parcel goes from county to city it pays somewhat the same county taxes with the addition of city taxes.  You are saying this not so.  Since I don’t know anyone with a house in the county outside of a city jurisdiction I’ve got no idea what their tax bill looks like.

        2. Matt Williams

          Dave, to give you a specific example here are the 15 individual taxes that a $1 million assessed value home in Cannery pays.
          (1) Annual Property Taxes @ 1% of Assessed Value = $10,000
          (2) Los Rios Education District Bonds Parcel Tax = $192
          (3) DJUSD 2000 General Obligation Bonds Parcel Tax = $80
          (4) DJUSD 2018 General Obligation Bonds Parcel Tax = $600
          (5) DJUSD Measure H Parcel Tax = $747.20
          (6) DJUSD Measure G Parcel Tax = $220.33
          (7) DJUSD CFD #1 = $298.35
          (8) DJUSD CFD #2 using a 2,500 square foot house = $2,226.50
          (9) City of Davis Measure O Open Space Protection Tax = $24
          (10) City of Davis Special Library Tax = $118.42
          (11) City of Davis Street and Bike Path Parcel Tax = $98
          (12) City of Davis Parks Maintenance Parcel Tax = $49
          (13) City of Davis Municipal Services Tax using a 0.1 acre lot size = $38.66
          (14) City of Davis Public Safety Tax using a 0.1 acre lot size = $85.53
          (15) The Cannery Mello-Roos CFD Special Services Tax using a 2,500 square foot house = $2,657.32
          The total of those 15 Property and Parcel Taxes is $17, 435.31

          Items (2) through (8) apply under both the City and County scenarios, and neither the City nor the County get anything from those seven Tax Bill items.  Items (9) through (15) apply in the City, but not in the County, and all the revenue from those seven Tax Bill items goes to the City.  The “sharing” that Jim refers to applies to item (1).  If a parcel is located in the unincorporated County then the County gets 100% of the City/County share of the revenue from that item.   If a parcel is located in the City then the City and County divvy up the City/County share of the revenue from that item. As you move around the City the actual “divvying up” shares vary considerably.  Those respective shares are the legacy of past City/County negotiations.  Any new annexation is subject to a new negotiation.


        3. Dave Hart

          Thanks, Matt.  I think this post should be bookmarked under “where your property taxes go” somewhere here on the VG site.  I had a gut understanding of the school district taxes and a clear understanding of the city parcel taxes.  I had no idea how complicated, or maybe I should say varied, the basic 1% of assessed value tax was split.  I supposed the county Assessor’s office could maintain a GIS layer with that information so we could see who is being tweaked harder than who.  Might make me feel bad, but data is data.

        4. Matt Williams

          Dave to add complication to complexity, the 1% Property Tax is split up 15 additional ways as follows … with the 15 numbers adding up to 1.0

          0.11330      County General Fund
          0.01356      County ACO Fund
          0.02027      County Library
          0.02160      County Road District #2
          0.00325      Davis Cemetery District,
          0.07090      Springlake Fire District,
          0.00000      East Davis Fire District
          0.00953      ‘Sacto-Yolo Mosquito & Vector Control
          0.00000      Solano County Flood Control
          0.00033      Yolo County Resources Conservation District
          0.00695      Yolo County Flood Control District
          0.03425      County Schools
          0.41281      Davis Joint Unified School District,
          0.05122      Los Rios Community College
          0.24203      ERAF (Schools)

          1.00000      Total

          Adding the respective City and County categories together shows that the County and the City get a combined 0.23963.  In the unincorporated County that whole 0.23963 goes to the County.

          Then to make matters more complex, the County and the City can mutually agreee to split the County General Fund designated 0.1133.

        5. Richard McCann

          An important point: the County is not longer planning on adding anymore developments within the County jurisdiction. Any new developments will be annexed into the neighboring city. The only property tax revenue that the County might lose would be for agriculturally zoned land, which has a much lower value, and the City would be entitled to the entirety of the incremental difference. (I don’t think the current split agreement conforms with this reality however.)

  3. Jim Frame

     I supposed the county Assessor’s office could maintain a GIS layer with that information so we could see who is being tweaked harder than who.

    This already exists, sort of.  It involves a couple of steps, but is pretty straightforward once you get used to it.

    The GIS link can be found here (you have to accept the usage agreement):

    Click on the desired parcel on the map to bring up the info box.  Copy the Parcel APN from the info box, then you go to the Find Property page:

    … and search by Fee Parcel (paste the Parcel APN into the Fee Parcel field and click Search).  That brings up the Tax Details page.  Click on the View Tax Bill to get a PDF of the tax bill with the actual dollar amounts.


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