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Davis, California

Sunday, September 26, 2021

Davis voters to decide fate of Wildhorse Ranch

There’s only one item on the ballot in Davis this fall, and that’s Measure P.

For the Nov. 3 special election, residents will vote on whether or not to rezone East Davis’ Wildhorse Ranch from an agricultural area into a housing development.

In July, the city council approved the Parlin Development Company’s project, but Measure P requires the citizens to vote on whether agricultural land can be converted for urban use.

On the 25.8 acres of land, the company said it will build 40 apartments for low-income families, 78 townhouses ranging from $350,000 to $450,000, and 73 single-family homes, from 1,800 to 2,200 square-feet in the $450,000 to $550,000 price range.

The measure has had its share of debate.

Those opposed to P say the units are not affordable.

The No On P campaign’s website states that most of the 40 rentals are not that affordable. City staff members say 23 of the 40 units designated for low-income families will be rented at a “near market” rate. For example, the staff estimated $1,200 for a two-bedroom apartment.

Those who support Measure P believe that the units will meet the city’s affordability requirements. They also say house prices are within median home prices in Davis.

Councilmember Sue Greenwald is opposed to the measure.

“I have concerns that the Yes on P campaign is making false claims about the affordability of the for-sale units,” Greenwald said. “City staff says that the cheapest for-sale units will be 78 attached townhouses that will sell for an average of $451,000 when the first units go on the market. City staff used data provided by the developers. These figures are at odds with the figures that the Measure P campaign is claiming.”

Yes on P campaign literature says 78 townhomes “will range in price from $350,000 to $450,000.”

The Sierra Club endorses Measure P, even though Sierra Club conservation coordinator Terry Davis said the organization is largely known for opposing development projects.

“In addition to rejecting projects, we also have the courage to support good projects,” Davis said. “The local Sierra Club found this to be an innovative green location. The project met our guidelines for smart growth and it’s within the city limits.”

Pam Nieberg, co-chair of the local Sierra Club agreed.

“I had never seen anything like this before,” Nieberg said. “I’ve never supported a big development project before, but I chose to support this one because it’s a model for sustainable growth.”

Greenwald thinks that the local chapter of the Sierra Club was influenced by friendships and personal loyalties.

“A few key members of the small board have longstanding personal political and social ties with the highly paid campaign manager and consultant for the project,” Greenwald said. “Personal loyalties and friendships influence endorsements in small towns. This is only natural, and I am not making a value judgment, but I think that it should be part of the discussion.”

Tansey Thomas, a longtime Davis community activist and former member of the affordable housing taskforce, supports this measure.

“It’s a terrific idea,” Thomas said. “It would be a landmark in that it’s new and cutting edge.”

An op-ed piece published by Philip King, Nora Oldwin and Mark Siegler in the Davis Enterprise stated that they felt this project would set a precedent for development that is less university-oriented and more commuter-oriented.

The city’s 15-member Housing Element Steering Committee concluded that developing at the Wildhorse Ranch location “would promote car travel and would not be conducive to bicycle mobility [since it is] far from downtown and UC Davis,” the piece stated.

“Building on the periphery of town is sprawl, not smart growth, and the developer’s much-touted 90 percent greenhouse gas reduction neglects the far largest source of GHG in California – transportation.”

Greenwald also thinks the project will lead to more sprawl.

“Since we already have over 2,000 units approved between the city and West Village, I think we will be contributing unnecessarily to urban sprawl,” Greenwald said. “The city already has 541 units approved but unbuilt, and the University has 474 units approved for faculty and staff, 1,012 units approved for students, and 65 mixed units approved. I’m also concerned that if Measure P passes, we will have lowered the bar concerning how much developers contribute to offset the costs of new development.”

Yes on P’s Campaign Manager Bill Ritter believes the project will have the opposite effect on commuting.

“There is a limited amount of housing in Davis,” Ritter said. “Parlin wants to build affordable housing, so that people don’t have to commute to and from Davis.”

Ritter said there is still room for more housing in Davis.

“Of the alleged 500 units approved in the city, 300 lots have been on the books for decades, have never been built and have no prospects to be built in the near future,” Ritter said. “Also, the people who live [in West Village] won’t be able to vote because they wouldn’t be living within the city limits.”

If the measure passes, the developers say it would be completed by 2012, with two years of detailed planning, engineering roads and housing architectural after the election.

A community forum hosted by the League of Women Voters to debate the issue began airing on Oct. 19 on DCTV and will continue airing through Nov. 2, as well as on davismedia.org. The two sides could not agree on an additional forum, so panels from each side were taped separately. The show can be found on the Davis Media Access website.

“It’s been a quiet election all in all,” said Davis Media’s executive director Autumn Labbe-Renault. “People don’t seem to know a lot about the issue. We want to present information through these programs, so people can make informed decisions.”

For more information on from both sides of the debate visit: noonmeasurep.com and yesonpdavis.com.

ANGELA SWARTZ can be reached city@theaggie.org.

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