Guest Commentary: Ladies and Gentlemen of the Council

by Matt Williams

For me, tonight’s Council Meeting is extremely important, and it has long-reaching consequences with respect to our Quality of Life in Davis. As a result I have sent the following e-mail to all five members of the Council. The sentiments I express in the e-mail arise from two key principles: The first is well expressed in the materials referenced in the e-mail:

  • We need housing to take care of the people we add to Davis who work here.
The second is the Principle that the Public voted most important at the 1/24 Housing Element Steering Committee Community Workshop:
  • Preserves prime farmland and minimizes farmland conversion
I don’t expect everyone to agree with those two, but for me they are the two principles that are at the core of my definition of Smart Growth in Davis.

———————-E-mail sent 2/11/2008———————-

Subject: Comments re: Agenda Item 6 — Discussion and Clarification of One Percent Growth Guideline Resolution No. 05-27

TO: Greenwald, Saylor, Asmundson, Heystek, Souza

CC: Roberts

Ladies and Gentlemen of the Council,

Your time is valuable, and there isn’t any way I can do justice to Agenda Item 6 in 2 minutes of Public Comment on Tuesday, so please accept this e-mail as a more thorough study of that Agenda Item.

Summary

Clarifying the Cap vs. Target wording of the One Percent Growth Guideline Resolution (hereinafter referred to as “the Guideline Resolution”) is the easy part of what Council needs to do Tuesday. I believe the Council in 2005 was wise enough to recognize that the 1% Guideline may need a mid-course correction, and mandated that such a correction should take place no later than 2010. I would argue that such a mid-course correction is needed now. Why do I feel that way?

  • Numbers like 325 homes, or 260 homes or 1% growth don’t help address Council’s 3/8/05 discussion of, “We need housing to take care of the people we add to Davis who work here.”
  • The assumptions that are the foundation of the 2/19/2003 Bay Area Economics Internal Housing Needs Analysis (which was the basis for recommendations in the 3/12/2003 Planning Department Staff Report), either have been superceded, or were flawed to begin with.
  • Bay Area Economics’ assumptions were based on a SACOG allocation that was 4 times larger than the current final SACOG fair-share number. If SACOG has assigned growth allocations correctly, wouldn’t it be appropriate to consider converting the 1% Growth Guideline into a 0.25% Growth Guideline?
If we make a mid-course correction now, when we do add new residences to Davis we will be in a much better position to achieve the ideal scenario where the person buying each of those new residences is going to work in Davis. That truly will be a major step toward accomplishing, “We need housing to take care of the people we add to Davis who work here.”

We can never truly control the infinite regional demand for Davis housing. However, we can do our best to ensure that the housing built here is more attractive to the members of the Davis workforce than it is to the person who wants to get in their car each morning and contribute to Davis traffic and the Davis carbon footprint, while they commute to their job in Sacramento.

Logic Behind the Position Taken in the Summary

The 2/12/2008 Planning Department Staff Report (hereinafter referred to as the “Hess/Wolcott Report”) prepared by Katherine Hess and Bob Wolcott for your upcoming discussion and clarification of the Guideline Resolution does a good job of:

1) Outlining the background/history behind the Guideline,

2) Identifying steps that should have (and may have) happened since the Guideline Resolution was passed, and

3) Framing the questions, you will be discussing on 2/12/08.

Looking at those three points.

With respect to point 1,

The “Evolution of the current resolution” section of the Hess/Wolcott Report needs some expansion because the evolution of the issues leading up to the passage of the Guideline Resolution began well before March 12, 2003. Council first agendized this issue on July 31, 2002, and discussion of it began well before that. In a 2/24/03 Staff Report (hereinafter referred to as “the Emlen Report”) prepared for the 7/31/02 Council meeting, the author of the report, Bill Emlen, got to the heart of the matter when he wrote,

“It would be premature at this point to imply that the current housing market is beginning to challenge the assumptions contained in the recently adopted [May 2001]General Plan update. Nonetheless, the markets do appear to be responding to local and regional demand, which remains quite high while new housing production, particularly single-family housing, continues to drop in the city.”

Four words in those two sentences jump out from the others … “local and regional demand” Those four words beg the question, “What is regional demand for Davis housing?” The Emlen Report does a good job of answering that question when it says:

“While staff in no way would suggest that we can ever grow to meet what seems to be an insatiable demand, it would be prudent to consider if some long term adjustments should be considered to avoid a bubble of pent up demand that could ultimately burst in poorly planned growth.”

The only way the demand for Davis housing can be insatiable is if one takes into consideration both internal and external demand for that housing. Given Davis’ population, and the historical job growth in Davis and at UCD, any insatiability of housing demand is almost entirely attributable to people from outside Davis who want to move to Davis and then commute to their jobs in cities other than Davis. To address this reality of insatiable demand, Emlen goes on to say,

“Proactive planning will be a key element of this effort. Finding ways to change, while maintaining the city’s vision and values will be critical.”

“Compliance with State fair-share requirements is also a critical factor in balancing the immediate demands for housing with the community’s longer term objectives. The Council should be aware that if the City takes an overly aggressive approach to infill and develops most of all of the infill sites prior to 2007, there may be few sites remaining to accommodate the fair-share requirements [of the future].”

The bottom-line of Emlen’s words is that regional demand for housing in Davis was (and continues to be) insatiable. Thankfully in the months following the Emlen Report Council took the steps outlined in the Hess/Wolcott Report, culminating with the passage of the Guideline Resolution.

Moving on to point 2,

The Puntillo/Souza Council subcommittee (hereinafter referred to as “the Subcommittee”) recommendations sections of the Hess/Wolcott Report note that:

“Council previously selected a growth amount … after accepting half of the needs based on natural growth and UCD research park growth.”

“The Subcommittee also recommended that growth be managed by the following tools to ensure that peripheral and infill development decisions are consistent with growth guidelines: … create a new development status monitoring and reporting system; use reports in decisions on projects on their timing; provide annual report and adopt annual resolution to direct prospective developers and staff where the city will consider growth and development …”

“Davis is in a unique position of having a great deal of control of the approval of new developments through general plan amendments and/or zonings. The city can make informed decisions on new projects and control their timing.”

The City Council discussion section of the Hess/Wolcott Report notes:

“We need housing to take care of the people we add and work here.”

“Go to year 2010 and then decide if it is working or if changes are needed.”

“The City Council also added that the growth guideline would be tied to the 2010 General Plan and would not extend to year 2015 as recommended by the Subcommittee.”

Regarding point 3, which is the meat of the matter,

The clarifications suggested in the Hess/Wolcott Report are a good start, but so much has happened since 3/8/05, that Council’s decision to give the Guideline Resolution limited life and “decide if the Guideline is working or if changes are needed” was very wise.

What are some of those key “happenings”?

1) The final RHNA allocation from SACOG for the 2006-2013 period came in at 498 residential units rather than the 1,932 units projected in the Subcommittee report.

2) The first Measure J vote was completed.

3) UC Davis announced its plans for West Village

4) The Subprime Mortgage crisis has significantly reduced housing demand

5) I am not aware of the existence of any of the annual development status monitoring reports or annual resolutions discussed in the Hess/Wolcott report, which are included in subsection (2) of the Growth management system concepts section of the Guideline Resolution.

6) I am unable to find the “amendments to the growth management and housing sections of the General Plan and the Phased Housing Allocation Ordinance” called for in Section 2.a. of the Guideline Resolution.

Those last two apparent “non-happenings” make me wonder whether Davis really is in the “a unique position of having a great deal of control of the approval of new developments.” However, those concerns are overwhelmed by the fact that the first four “happenings” make it clear that the initial assumptions that went into the 2/19/2003 Bay Area Economics Internal Housing Needs Analysis have either been superceded, or were flawed to begin with.
Conclusion

As I said at the beginning of this e-mail, clarifying the Cap vs. Target wording is the easy part of what Council needs to do Tuesday, however, it would be wrong to stop there.

  • We do not need numbers like 325, or 260 or 1%. We need housing to take care of the people we add to Davis who work here.
  • Bay Area Economics assumption that Davis’ needs are based on natural growth and UCD research park growth, doesn’t take into consideration that construction in UCD research park ended years ago, and therefore no longer adds an annual increment of new jobs to Davis. Why doesn’t the incremental housing growth stop when the jobs growth stopped.
  • West Village now provides all the housing needed by UCD research park employees … and then some. Shouldn’t that be figured into the housing equation?
  • Bay Area Economics’ assumptions were also based on a SACOG allocation that was 4 times larger than the current final SACOG fair-share number. As I said before, if SACOG is right, wouldn’t it be appropriate to consider converting the 1% Growth Guideline into a 0.25% Growth Guideline?
It bears repeating, that the Council in 2005 recognized that the 1% Guideline may need a mid-course correction, and mandated that that correction take place no later than 2010. The events outlined above clearly demonstrate that such a mid-course correction is needed now.

Because of the larger economic issues facing our country and our state, this is an ideal time to step back and assess where we are, and where we are going. If we do that now when the housing markets are in a pause, then when we do add new residences to Davis we will be in a much better position to achieve the ideal scenario where the housing built in Davis is more attractive to the members of the Davis workforce than it is to the person who wants to get in their car each morning and contribute to Davis traffic and the Davis carbon footprint, while they commute to their job in Sacramento.

Thank you again for your time and your consideration.

Matt Williams, Jr.
(530) 297-6237

Author

  • David Greenwald

    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.

Categories:

City Council

124 comments

  1. This non-Davis resident may not live in the City, but he does live in the Davis City Planning Area, the Davis Sphere of Influence, and the area governed by the City-County Pass-Through Agreement.

  2. This non-Davis resident may not live in the City, but he does live in the Davis City Planning Area, the Davis Sphere of Influence, and the area governed by the City-County Pass-Through Agreement.

  3. This non-Davis resident may not live in the City, but he does live in the Davis City Planning Area, the Davis Sphere of Influence, and the area governed by the City-County Pass-Through Agreement.

  4. This non-Davis resident may not live in the City, but he does live in the Davis City Planning Area, the Davis Sphere of Influence, and the area governed by the City-County Pass-Through Agreement.

  5. Ok, attacking the messenger and not the message isn’t cool.

    But it does beg the question: If you live outside of town in a rural environment, do you live in rural sprawl that converted ag land? Is your carbon footprint larger than a city resident since you have to drive to get to most services?

  6. Ok, attacking the messenger and not the message isn’t cool.

    But it does beg the question: If you live outside of town in a rural environment, do you live in rural sprawl that converted ag land? Is your carbon footprint larger than a city resident since you have to drive to get to most services?

  7. Ok, attacking the messenger and not the message isn’t cool.

    But it does beg the question: If you live outside of town in a rural environment, do you live in rural sprawl that converted ag land? Is your carbon footprint larger than a city resident since you have to drive to get to most services?

  8. Ok, attacking the messenger and not the message isn’t cool.

    But it does beg the question: If you live outside of town in a rural environment, do you live in rural sprawl that converted ag land? Is your carbon footprint larger than a city resident since you have to drive to get to most services?

  9. Great questions.

    El Macero definitely qualifies as urban sprawl IMHO. It was built on prime agricultural land (all Class I soils) over a 25 year period from the late ’60s thru the turn of the Century. Lots of my neighbors walk to the Nugget Market at Mace and Cowell tio shop, which is a 1.5 mile distance or less from all the houses in El Macero.

    Was its development less than ideal planning? Probably.

    Would it do any good to tear all the houses down and try and convert the land back to agriculture? No.

    Is there a lesson to be learned from a retrospective look at the decisions that created it in its current form? Definitely.