Commentary: Council Seems Likely to Punt on the Controversial Redevelopment of Golf Course

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

Davis, CA – Housing decisions are always complicated in Davis but the proposal to develop the northern portion of the Wildhorse Golf Course is entangled with all sorts of legal and “trust” issues that might make it untenable for the council to pursue.

The legal issue is interesting.  For those who say the question is the meaning of the term “forever” are probably missing the point.

The city acknowledges that the clear intent of the easement was to hold the property as open space in perpetuity.

What this turns on is a different question: can it be amended?

As I read and as the city manager reads it right now, it appears it can.

Under Section 13.3, Amendment: “Any amendment to this Easement which would change the use or nature of the Easement shall be subject to review and approval by Grantee (the city) at its respective public meeting and if approved, shall be in writing and shall be recorded against the Easement Area.”

In pretty much every way conceivable this easement is unique.  I asked the city manager if there were any other easements like this one around town and his answer was, “Not that I’m aware of.”

What is different is that this easement is held as parks, not as agricultural or agricultural reserve.  That and the fact that the property is located in the city limits mean that there is no automatic Measure J requirement.

Moreover, the city manager noted that the easements are typically “held by a third party” and “were acquired with open space funds” that “mandate perpetuity.”

The city attorney has been asked to review this situation and will render a legal opinion.  That is of course subject to litigation.

However, from the plain language of the easement it appears that the owner has the “legal right to ask the question of amendment to the City via their application.”

But—and I think this is the point everyone has missed in this whole thing—just because it might legally be amended, doesn’t mean it should be amended.

I directly asked the city manager whether he believed the odd construction of easement was intentional, and he really didn’t know.  It is worth noting that the project itself was quite controversial—it was passed with a 3-2 vote with Julie Partansky and Lois Wolk dissenting (while passed by Jerry Kaneko, Maynard Skinner, and Dave Rosenberg—talk about an all-star council).  The matter would go to a vote of the people, pre-Measure J, and pass in a highly competitive and at times adversarial election.

Given the likely consequences of going forward with this application, I am going to GUESS that the council does not want to open this can of worms.  Those who argue that the language in the easement of “forever” have a point, as do those who argue that this is an issue of trust.

But I do want to raise a couple of important counterpoints here.

In fairness to whomever designed the easement, I think the intent as stated in the language was clear—this was to be held in perpetuity.

However, it is important to consider context—more than 25 years ago.  Pre-Measure J.

There was no notion at that time of the housing crisis, the difficulties in developing land near Davis, nor was there a thought that a golf course would be suffering financially.

This is not an insignificant housing proposal.  It would be 500 to 750 units.  The configuration would be in a lot of ways focused on the type of housing people are demanding—moving away from single-family homes and toward more dense missing middle, and it will have more than 100 affordable housing units.

In the end, those who want to preserve the golf course should bear in mind that they are making a decision between paving over active farmland versus converting part of a golf course.   The council and math have dictated that the next RHNA cycle will REQUIRE peripheral land to be developed.

Again, I think people should ask which they prefer—current agricultural land or a golf course.

Add to that, it’s a golf course that is suffering financially.  The alternative here may be that the golf course will go under and the land will lie fallow.

In the end I suspect that the council is going to avoid this controversy, proceed with the applications for Village Farms and Shriners and allow the voters to decide the path we take.

Where this could reemerge is what happens if the city ends up back in the Builder’s Remedy situation in 2029 or 2030—and the property owner wants to reevaluate the question.

The city is clearly going to have find ways to build sufficient housing and, but for the fact that there is an easement in this location, this would seem to be an easy remedy to maybe getting one-tenth the required affordable housing needed in the next eight years.

All of which is fine, but again illustrates just how difficult building housing remains in Davis—even during the heart of a housing crisis and, yes, that could factor into considerations by the state down the line.

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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36 Comments

  1. Matt Williams

    However, it is important to consider context—more than 25 years ago.  Pre-Measure J.

    There was no notion at that time of the housing crisis, the difficulties in developing land near Davis, nor was there a thought that a golf course would be suffering financially.

    Once again David uses the term “housing crisis” at the 100,000 foot level.  It is important to consider the context of “the housing crisis” itself.  Using the four RHNA categories …

    — There is no crisis in the “Above Moderate Income” category where the housing buyers in that category have an annual salary/income that is 120% or more of Area Median Income

    — The “crisis” doesn’t begin until the “Moderate Income” category … the so-called “Missing Middle” … where the housing buyers in that category have an annual salary/income that is between 80% and 120% of Area Median Income.  Arguably, the “crisis” in this category exists more on the 80% end of that scale, and less on the 120% end.

    — Where the “crisis” is VERY real  is in the Low Income category … 50-80% of Area Median Income … and the Very Low Income category … 0-50% of Area Median Income

    Given that “context” the developer should be putting forward a proposal that actually addresses the crisis, and provides affordable housing for the categories that are in “crisis.”

     

    1. David Greenwald

      “There is no crisis in the “Above Moderate Income” category ”

      That’s not exactly true. First of all, the city is required to provide a certain amount of market rate housing in each eight year cycle.

      Second, as I have pointed out, the number of available homes that are market rate is relatively small – between 30 and 60 each month. The average turnover time of those homes on the market is less than 10 days. And as I have pointed out from the city’s data, only 700 units of single family homes have been built in the last 16 years – so on average less than 50 a year.

      1. Matt Williams

        Regarding your second point David, Why is that bad?”

        Further, virtually 100% of the buyers in that category already have a residence … more often than not an owned residence … how is housing for them a crisis?

        1. David Greenwald

          LA Times last week: In a first, most California houses sell for over $900,000

          Why does it matter? I’m baffled you could even ask such a question.

          Look at Georgina’s slide again:

          Pay particular attention to the relationship between the salaries and the cost of housing. The MEDIAN cost of housing has exploded, that impacts all homebuyers not just people at the median and not just people at the top.

          The biggest upward force is basic supply and demand.

          1. Don Shor

            To purchase a 900K home, you need a household income of about $195,000.
            My assumption is that one goal of housing development here is to provide housing for people who work in Davis and live elsewhere. I’d guess that a fair percentage of those inbound commuters have combined household incomes in that range.
            If there are 2 to 3 times as many homes for sale in Woodland than Davis (that’s been a consistent ratio for years), then you’re increasing the likelihood that a homebuyer will end up in Woodland and commute in to Davis. If you don’t build the types of homes people actually want (s-f homes with yards), you increase that likelihood as well.
            Affordable housing is going to be rental housing. Affordable for-sale housing is generally a contrivance created via taxpayer funding or subsidized by other home buyers. We have had a long-standing need for affordable rental housing for non-students. There are now a lot of rental units in the pipeline. The remaining shortage now is homes for purchase. There is insufficient inventory in every category of homes for purchase.
            The arguments being made consistently on here about what kinds of homes developers ‘should’ build and what kinds of people ‘should’ be prioritized all have one likely outcome: reduced likelihood of housing actually getting built.
            You can’t force a developer to build only a certain type of home. All you can do is cause them take their resources and efforts elsewhere.

          1. David Greenwald

            I didn’t assign a good or bad label to them. I simply used them as a measure of the current market.

        2. Matt Williams

          Don has summed up our situation incredibly well.

          His $195,000 household income is 240% of the current $81,231 Median Income for Davis.  So building new $1 million homes is simply catering to a level that RHNA didn’t have the gonads to include in its categories … Above Above Above Above Moderate (with each Above representing the same 40% increment as the RHNA Above equals).

          What are the demographics going to be of a $195,000 household income family?  Will they be in their 20’s?  In their 30’s?  In their 40’s?  In their 50’s?  Older?  Will they have children, and if so will those children be beyond High School age?

          If they have no children, will Don’s “s-f homes with yards” description of their desire still apply?  Isn’t that a young families with children description?

          And most importantly, do $195,000 household incomes match Don’s descriptive words “We have had a long-standing need for affordable rental housing for non-students”?

          1. Don Shor

            do $195,000 household incomes match Don’s descriptive words “We have had a long-standing need for affordable rental housing for non-students”?

            Don said:

            We have had a long-standing need for affordable rental housing for non-students. There are now a lot of rental units in the pipeline. The remaining shortage now is homes for purchase.

          2. Don Shor

            What are the demographics going to be of a $195,000 household income family? Will they be in their 20’s? In their 30’s? In their 40’s? In their 50’s? Older? Will they have children, and if so will those children be beyond High School age?

            That doesn’t matter.

        3. Matt Williams

          Don Shor said … “I’d guess that a fair percentage of those inbound commuters have combined household incomes in that range.”

          This is where Don and I differ in our “guesses”  My guess is that the percentage of the inbound commuters do not have combined household incomes of $195,000 or more.  In addition, my guess is that the percentage gets considerably smaller when having all the combined household income coming from Davis-located jobs is included as a criteria.

        4. Matt Williams

          Don said … “We have had a long-standing need for affordable rental housing for non-students. There are now a lot of rental units in the pipeline. The remaining shortage now is homes for purchase.”

          Let’s look at the projects in the pipeline

          — 212 University Avenue — 20 units  — possibly for non-students, but they will have to outbid the students and be ahead of them in the queue when rentals become available

          — Bretton Woods University Retirement Community — no non-student rental units — seniors only, not workforce housing

          — 413 E Street — 15 units — possibly for non-students, but they will have to outbid the students and be ahead of them in the queue when rentals become available

          — Lifestyle Hotel Davis — 90 rooms — hotel, not housing

          — North Covell Creek —  unlikely to make it through the pipeline

          — On the Curve Mace Blvd Preapplication — from the City website “This is NOT  a formal application and will not be presented to the Planning Commission, City Council or voters for action”

          — Palomino Place — 163 units — of which only 33 are apartments — possibly for non-students, but they will have to outbid the students and be ahead of them in the queue when rentals become available

          — Shriners — 1,200 units — still very early in the pipeline — regarding non-student rentals here is what the project description says “The Residential High Density (HDR) land use designation primarily accommodates attached residential units. 486 dwelling units (41% of the total) are designated for HDR product types. These units will fall within the General Plan density range of 14.00-25.00 dwelling units per acre (averaging approximately 22.0 units per acre), where housing types such as apartments, both affordable and market rate, townhomes, condominiums, or stacked flats are possible. Affordable HDR units will be rental units, while market rate HDR units may be for sale or rental units.”

          — The Prominade (formerly Nishi Student Housing) — not non-student

          — Village Farms Davis — 1,800 units — 300 units of “Affordable Multi-Family Units and 200 units of “Market Rate Apartments” — the biggest amount of non-student apartments, although here too the non-students will have to outbid the students and be ahead of them in the queue when rentals become available.

          Bottom-line, to my eyes, most of the apartments in the pipeline are going to be challenging for non-students.

        5. Don Shor

          Let’s look at the projects in the pipeline

          You forgot these.

          Also, the 2200 beds that will be at Nishi aka Promenade will be a major increase in supply. Although they are obviously intended as student rentals, that # of units will make a big difference in local inventory.

      2. Richard McCann

        The Census data source that Matt has referred to combined with the UCD Travel Survey show that 18,000 workers are commuting in with 6,000 of those working at UCD. Only 8,000 workers live and work inside Davis/UCD. While many commuters don’t have a combined income of $195K, a large chunk earns at at least $150K. Given that the $900K housing price embeds a 55% premium on surrounding communities and is propped up by the constrained housing supply, we should expect that a supply expansion will lower the market price sufficiently to make houses affordable to a wider group of those commuters. (And the current affordability index is impacted by the high interest rates and a lack of adjustment of house prices to that situation. This reminds me of 2006 when the affordability index was at a similar level–we know what happened next.)

        1. Matt Williams

          Richard, once again you jump to a conclusion in this comment.  Your statement “Given that the $900K housing price embeds a 55% premium on surrounding communities and is propped up by the constrained housing supply” is inconsistent with the years-long housing price records for Davis, the surrounding community and the State of California.  The 55% premium over the surrounding communities has remained constant for at least four decades.

          It existed during the residential housing boom of the 1970’s through 2000 where Davis population grew 56% in the 1970’s, 26% in the 1980’s, and 30% in the 1990’s … where Davis’ population grew from 23,000 to 60,000.  The percentage price increases trend graph of Davis, Woodland, Dixon, and the State of California all follow essentially the same trend line.  If you bought a residence in Woodland  at any point along that trend period, your percentage increase in your investment would essentially be the same as your percentage increase in your investment in buying a home in Davis.  There are extended periods during that full 1970 to 2024 period where the Woodland home value grew even faster than the Davis home value.

          Further #1, as Keith Echols has pointed out many times here in the Vanguard.  The price per square foot that new housing commands serves as a catalyst for real estate brokers to use those new home “comparable sales” to raise the price per square foot for existing home resales … thereby making all the housing in Davis less affordable.

          Further #2, the magnitude of the demand for housing in Davis is not local, even though the supply of housing is local.  That “beyond local” demand does not come from new jobs being added to the community where the new residents can live and work in Davis.  It comes from the external factors of (A) current Bay Area homeowners wanting to flee the Bay Area and continue to work at their Bay Area job remotely, and (B) some of the over 250,000 living UCD alumni who want to return to “the scene of their growth into adulthood” now that they are empty nesters.  If they aren’t already retired, they too more often than not keep their existing job and work remotely.

          Further #3, for most households attaining an annual household income of between $150,000 and $195,000 means a two income household.  Unless both of those incomes are from Davis jobs, then the greenhouse gas footprint of the household does not go down to zero if they move to Davis, because while the Davis worker sees their GHG footprint reduce, the non-Davis worker is now having to commute to their no longer local job.

          1. Don Shor

            That “beyond local” demand does not come from new jobs being added to the community where the new residents can live and work in Davis. It comes from the external factors of (A) current Bay Area homeowners wanting to flee the Bay Area and continue to work at their Bay Area job remotely, and (B) some of the over 250,000 living UCD alumni who want to return to “the scene of their growth into adulthood” now that they are empty nesters.

            Just curious how we know where the new homebuyers in Davis are coming from. What’s your source for this info?

        2. Matt Williams

          Don, first person face to face interviews.  One interview went as follows … “We moved here from Burlingame.  Our children had graduated from high school so we were empty nesters, and my wife said to me, I don’t know about you but I am moving back to Davis.  Our college days there together were so much fun.”  He went on to say he didn’t even need a mortgage to buy his house in Willowbank.  The sale price of their Burlingame home gave them all the cash they needed to complete the sale.”

        3. Mark West

          “Don, first person face to face interviews”

          Otherwise known as anecdote, which is also otherwise known as ‘not statistically significant’ or B.S.

           

          1. David Greenwald

            That’s not completely true. It depends on the sample size of interviews and how the study is constructed. For example, part of the massive homeless study out of UCSF was conducted through about 1800 interviews.

          2. Don Shor

            It depends on the sample size of interviews and how the study is constructed.

            Sample size n=1, survey conducted in one of the priciest neighborhoods in town. Well, actually, Willowbank isn’t in the city limits.
            Worth noting that the subject(s) retired to Davis and purchased a single-family home with very likely a very large yard, which muddles the other messaging that older homebuyers aren’t going to be looking for s-f homes.
            I asked the question because I thought Matt might have access to industry data or something. Turns out he was just making stuff up.

        4. Matt Williams

          Well, actually, Willowbank isn’t in the city limits.

          Don, check your facts.  More than half of Willowbank is in the City.  Just ask Bob Traverso.

          Further, the n is considerably greater than 1.

          I’m surprised that you have descended into ad hominem.

  2. Tim Keller

    I think this is fascinating.   The election to approve wildhorse happened while I was an undergraduate here, and I got a job for a few months as a student canvassing for that campaign.

    There were two main thrusts of that campaign:

    1) this development was part of the general plan, and we should stick to the plan

    2) the project came with a huge amount of “open space” that was protected.

    The campaign was a little coy about not directly saying that the bulk of the “open space” was a golf course, but I still remember the mailer they sent out with a pie chart on the front bragging about how large a percentage of the development was going to be open space…

    —–

    Now, that said, Golf courses are not something I’m fond of, for a variety of reasons and this particular one has struggled financially, but it WAS sold to the voters on the basis of preserving that open space, so going back and clawing the space back for housing just doesnt sit right with me, even if Golf courses are wasteful uses of space and resources.

    ——-

    Finally, looking at this site plan, the one thing that pops out at me is the stupid street layout, and how this is just more evidence of how measure J forces really, truly stupid urban plans.

    Consider for a second that the shriners property is likely to be developed… sometime in the next 100 years.   How does this neighborhood connect to that one?

    Whoever drew this map is making an assumption that this is the last housing ever to be built on the planet, and they have spent zero time thinking of how this neighborhood might integrate with future ones.   So

    This is no way to “plan” a city.   I say we table this concept and raise it in the general plan process…

    1. mllongo

      Tim, if you have any of that old campaign material could you put a link to it here?  I know it was a long time ago so maybe all gone.  If it comes to a public hearing it could be useful to show it to give context to why voters approved the Wildhorse neighborhood.   That open space does provide a lot of riparian habitat with a lot of thriving wildlife on the golf course property.  The perimeter trail is well used and often used by bird watchers – the golf course is providing much of the bird habitat.

  3. mllongo

    Wildhorse golf course is zoned as a golf course with conditional use as open space and agriculture/farming.  The idea clearly being if Wildhorse fails as a golf course it will revert to open space or farm land.    The intention of the three original zoning options is to preserve the conservation easement nature of the environmentally sensitive land surrounding the creek which is used for farmland irrigation in Davis and YOLO county.   The golf course is home to a lot of riparian habitat because of the wetland creek bed which is as much as 100 yards wide in places, and 4 lakes (one of them is 500 yards long).   This land clearly was always a wildlife corridor (before the golf course) and it still is because of the creek and it continues to serve as home to water fowl, river otters, beavers, song birds, birds of prey, coyotes, etc.  The proposed housing development would seriously decrease the size of the lakes and surround them with houses and significantly narrow the wildlife corridor.  Near Pole Line Road the wildlife corridor would be narrowed down to only about 100 yards (or less) with existing apartments on one side and new high density housing from this proposed development on the other side of the creek.

  4. Jim Frame

    You can’t force a developer to build only a certain type of home. All you can do is cause them take their resources and efforts elsewhere.

    There’s nothing wrong with that scenario — Davis residents have consistently expressed a desire to grow as slowly as legally possible, and the RHNA allocations represent that lower limit.  Since demand for market-rate housing in Davis is driven mostly by external forces (e.g. Bay Area refugees),  I believe we should plan to hit the RHNA targets, and no more.

     

    1. Richard McCann

      Growing slowly to prevent outsiders from moving in is a reflection of exercising privilege at the expense of both those outsiders and neighboring communities. And we work against our own economic vitality. It also creates more environmental havoc both by creating longer commutes and consuming agricultural land more rapidly elsewhere since Davis requires higher than average density for new developments.  Davisites think of themselves as progressives in general; they should be acting on their words.

      1. Matt Williams

        Richard, I believe you have jumped to a conclusion in your first sentence.  As Keith Echols has eloquently argued many times here in the Vanguard, the desire isn’t (shouldn’t be) to grow slowly, but rather to grow at the same pace that jobs within the City grow.  Adding new jobs, especially high income jobs that have a synergy with and/or relationship to the academic excellence of UCD, should be the City’s and community’s highest priority.  Adding housing for the people who fill those new jobs makes a great deal of sense … resulting in people who both live and work here.  That would truly help our community’s economic vitality.

        Bringing new residents in who commute across the Causeway or down to the Bay Area does very little to add to the community’s economic vitality, because most of those residents’ money gets spent outside the community, close to where they work rather than close to where they rest their heads at night.

        Your conclusion is also faulty with respect to affordable housing that the current workforce of Davis can afford.  There has been plenty of sentiment expressed that a 100% affordable project would easily pass a Measure J vote.  If the North Covell Creek project proposal were 100% affordable residences, I doubt the outcry would have been as loud as it has been.

  5. Jim Frame

    Growing slowly to prevent outsiders from moving in is a reflection of exercising privilege at the expense of both those outsiders and neighboring communities.

    Growing slowly reflects the desires of the local population.  The RHNA allocations specifically address the local housing need; they’re often referred to as the “fair share” of regional growth for a given community.  Meeting those allocations is all we need to do; accommodating the desire of people who want to cash in on their pricey Bay Area homes isn’t our responsibility.

     

      1. Jim Frame

        So did ‘redlining’ and many other discriminatory policies.

        All of which had the intent to discriminate against protected classes.  Slow-growth policies in communities that meet their RHNA obligations have neither the intent nor the effect of illegal discrimination.

         

        1. Mark West

          Parse it however you want. Slow growth policies are intended to keep people out and thus keep the City as it is, just like all the other discriminatory policies, legal or otherwise.

  6. Mark West

    I was walking through my neighborhood tonight and came across a home for sale. 1040sf, 2Br, 1.5 Ba, built in 1936, listed at $850K. This is the Davis version of ‘affordable by design,’ brought to you by our refusal to build sufficient housing.

  7. Jim Frame

    Slow growth policies are intended to keep people out

    Parse it however you want, but slow growth policies are intended to control growth, not to build a moat around the city.

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