The Davis City Council held a public workshop before its Tuesday meeting to review the Planning Commission’s updates to the Housing Element Steering Committee’s recommendations about the future of housing growth in Davis.
One of the most controversial issues in Davis politics, the subject of new building, drew a nearly packed house into the chambers two hours before the regularly scheduled meeting. Principal city planner Bob Wolcott began the workshop by giving an overview of the steering committee’s report along with changes recommended by the Planning Commission and city staff.
In April, the steering committee presented the council with its report outlining 36 potential new housing projects. The report divides development applications into a “green light, yellow light, red light” classification system. Within the green light category, the committee then ranked 20 projects based on several criteria, including how well they promote a compact urban form, if they promote walking and biking, as well as how close they are to existing facilities.
In agreement with city staff, the Planning Commission recommended doing away with the site rankings in favor of treating them as a group from which development applications may be processed first.
“Development applications should be allowed for these highest ranked sites,” Wolcott wrote in the staff report. “Although the property owners of several of these sites are likely not ready to submit applications in the near term, development status will be monitored to ensure that the 1 percent growth cap resolution is not exceeded.”
The Planning Committee also recommended moving two sites off the green light list and bumping two yellow light sites up to green.
Following the overview of the committee recommendations, each council member had a couple of minutes to speak and pose questions, during which the fundamental debate among the council about how and when to grow presented itself.
Sue Greenwald expressed her disapproval of the additional growth and questioned the logic behind building these new sites during a time of declining housing prices.
Greenwald cited data from the Sacramento Bee showing that between the first quarter of 2006 and the first quarter of 2008, Davis has seen a 26 percent decrease in home prices. She also pointed out that Bay Area home prices fell 27 percent in the last year.
“That’s pretty dramatic,” she said. “These are areas just like Davis that are considered higher end and immune to decrease.”
She also touched on one of the more controversial sub-issues in the growth debate about building new senior housing on the outskirts of town. The proposal to build Covell Village, a 386-acre senior living center, which was defeated by Davis voters in 2005, has been divided into three phases, the application for the first of which is currently pending approval.
“In terms of senior housing, I think we need to separate out housing that is desirable for seniors from senior-only housing complexes,” she said, referring to her idea for downtown senior housing as opposed to a secluded complex on the periphery of Davis.
Mayor Pro Tem Don Saylor was considerably more open to growth, but was uncomfortable with the idea that special attention would be given to senior housing needs when other groups are short on housing as well.
“I’m less excited about doing a study for one particular project if we don’t have it for student housing needs [as well],” he said. “I’d like to have more discussion with staff about why that housing needs warrants a special study.”
Councilmember Stephen Souza also expressed interest in conducting a study of the housing needs for all groups in town.
“I need to see an analysis of what the need in this community is so I can see empirical data instead of anecdotal data,” he said. “I think that the need should drive the type of housing rather than the location driving the type of housing.”
Mayor Ruth Asmundson discussed the necessity of growth for the health of the community.
“There has to be growth in Davis to keep us healthy,” she said. “I always have an analogy, you know, it’s like a baby. The baby is so cute, so adorable, that you wish that the baby wouldn’t grow. But if the baby doesn’t grow, then this baby will become retarded. And so it’s the same thing with the city.”
Asmundson drew criticism from the crowd of citizens waiting to speak for limiting public comment to 15 minutes and scheduling the meeting at 5 p.m. when most people are just getting off work.
“To have a controversial issue like the general plan update, which was affecting the entire community, to schedule it at 5 o’clock, when people like myself have to take off from work to get here.… This is not what our city is about,” said Eileen Samitz, a Davis resident. “Davis is supposed to be a model of democracy.”
Asmundson responded to the criticism by assuring residents that there would be ample time for public comment before the issue is decided in the fall and that the limiting of public comment was intended only to keep the meeting on schedule.
ALYSOUN BONDE can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.