Lawsuit filed against city of Davis

CAITLYN SAMPLEY / AGGIE

Claims of racially discriminatory planned housing

lawsuit has been filed against both the city of Davis and the prospective West Davis Active Adult Living Community (WDAALC), a housing project targeted primarily for senior residents, on the basis of racial discrimination. Because the housing for this community is mostly restricted to those with connections to the city of Davis — a town that is predominantly white — the WDAALC is being discriminatory, according to the lawsuit.

The WDAALC is tentatively set to be built starting in the summer of 2019. In order to purchase a home there, the developer requires that the buyer have some prior connection to Davis; however, this does not necessarily mean they have to currently live in Davis. Measure “L,” resolution 18-094, sets aside land for the WDAALC. The development must be voted on by residents during the November elections.

There will be around 380 units built for the community, which will vary from single-story homes to apartments. The project will set aside 150 of these units for low-income seniors, 75 of them not being age-restricted. The houses are estimated to cost anywhere from $300,000 to $700,000. The area is a prime location for senior citizens, with Sutter Davis, Dignity Health and the UC Davis medical and CommuniCare offices nearby.

The suit was filed by Attorney Mike Merin, who will be representing litigant Samuel Ignacio, a man of Filipino and Hispanic heritage. The lawsuit states that he “brings this action on behalf of himself and all other similarly situated racial and ethnic minorities who desire to purchase residences in the proposed West Davis Active Adult Community.” The lawsuit claims that the plan’s mission, titled “Taking Care of our Own,” violates the Federal Fair Housing Act, the California Fair Employment and Housing act and the California ENRA act.

One of the concerns about the WDAALC is that it will be taking away space for other housing opportunities. But according to Dave Taormino, a developer for the WDAALC, senior housing is something the city of Davis needs. While it may not be fully meeting other needs — such as low income or student housing — the seniors’ old homes will become available in the housing market once they move to the WDAALC.

“An age-restricted project was the proposal submitted by the applicant,” said Katherine Hess, the city of Davis community development administrator. “The site had not been previously identified for housing development prior to 2013. The Senior Citizen Commission determined that the project would assist in meeting internal housing needs, particularly needs for senior housing.”

According to Ethan Walsh, the assistant city attorney, the vague restrictions regarding who can buy property at the WDAALC should become more concrete if measure L passes.

“The city’s position at this point in our agreement [is] that as a part of this project, we require that if the developer does move forward with this program, that they provide us more specific information on it, that [the] project would not violate fair housing laws,” Walsh said.  “At this point, the program hasn’t really formed yet, so it’s premature to take a position on whether or not it would discriminate.”

Taormino stated that Ignacio has not expressed any interest in applying to the community.

An individual who lives in Sacramento filed a lawsuit claiming that we’re discriminating against him because he doesn’t live in Davis or has any association to anybody in Davis,” Taormino said. “Never worked here, never lived here. He didn’t go to school here. He didn’t go to UCD. So he’s totally outside of the Davis community in every respect.”

According to Taormino, if Ignacio had applied, he would have been considered for approval. At least 10 percent of the land will be available for purchase by people who don’t have ties to Davis. And the restriction for the other 90 percent of land only applies to the first sale of the homes.

“If he applied he’d be approved, so how can we be discriminating against anybody,” Taormino said. “We’ve set aside 10 percent and so far nobody from the outside of Davis has applied. And that’s primarily because we’re not advertising — we’re just processing the project through the normal process inside of Davis.”

Taormino explained that over 2,000 Davis residents have expressed interest in buying property; however, only 380 units will be available at first. One of the goals of the living community is to free up bigger, family sized-houses that are currently being occupied by senior residents. These houses are scattered throughout areas of the city, and Taormino hopes the seniors will move out of their old homes to free up space for families and other people who need housing.

“Generally, [the family sized houses] are occupied by one or two persons that are designed and built for families with children,” Taormino said.

While the lawsuit has been filed, it has not been served yet. Walsh does not know when the city expects the lawsuit to be served. The California Aggie reached out to Merin, the prosecutor for this case, but did not receive a response. If measure L does not pass, the lawsuit might not be served.

“If the voters don’t approve it, then the project won’t go forwards anyways,” Walsh said.

Written by: Hannan Waliullah – city@theaggie.org