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Friday, January 25, 2008

General Plan Housing Element Steering Committee Workshop A Success

by Matt Williams

Anyone who came to tonight’s Housing Element Update Workshop looking for theater went away disappointed. Those who came looking for an opportunity for learning and participation were rewarded with a great chance to learn about and wrestle with the housing challenges and issues that face Davis in the coming years.

The Committee and the Planning Department Staff did a truly superb job of providing a wealth of information on huge 3 foot wide by 6-foot tall sheets, which covered all four walls of what had to be a 40-foot by 40-foot room. In the words of Rodney Robinson, “I can’t wrap my mind around all of this!” I am sure Rodney was not alone in those feelings.

To their credit, the Committee and Staff did their very best to anticipate that very reaction, and organized the workshop into five “Stations” each of which was designed to expose the participants to a “bite-size” portion of information, and build the participant’s knowledge (and hopefully enthusiasm) as they moved from Station to Station. Each Station was manned by as many as three of the Committee members, who shared information and answered questions.

After signing in and placing a blue dot on the location of your residence on a map of Davis, each participant proceeded to Station One, where Kevin Wolf and Mark Siegler gave each person an orientation to the Workshop as well as the twelve-month process that had led up to it. Kevin and Mark’s words were supported by the first four of the 3-foot by 6-foot wall graphics, which provided appropriate information that further “framed” the questions being addressed.

Station Two built on the knowledge garnered in Station One. Interactive learning/participation with Committee members was supplemented by eight more 3 foot by 6-foot wall graphics. It was fascinating to watch the interactions at Station Two. As Committee member Mark Spencer said, “People didn’t stay in their burrows tonight.” No question was out of bounds, and based on the questions being asked at all the Stations, more than one Committee member echoed Kristin Stoneking’s comment that she “didn’t think that developers had been in evidence tonight.”

Reflecting on what he saw, Council member Don Saylor made the comment that, “You couldn’t have asked for more. The Workshop gave everyone the opportunity to build their knowledge at their own pace, before moving on to the next stations where they were given the opportunity to share their opinions.” Mayor Greenwald spent most of her evening at the workshop sharing her thoughts on housing in general and on some sites specifically … Nishi and Cannery most notably.

Stations Three and Four began the feedback process. The 14 Principles the Committee has used to guide their deliberations and site rankings were on display.
(1) Promotes a compact urban form, which allows for efficient infrastructure and services.
(2) Promotes overall proximity to existing community facilities including parks, greenbelts, schools and shopping (which reduces driving and its negative impacts).
(3) Promotes overall proximity to the downtown and UC Davis (which reduces driving and its negative impacts).
(4) Is capable of providing compact development and higher density housing, especially near community facilities (which reduces driving and its negative impacts).
(5) Preserves prime farmland and minimizes farmland conversion.
(6) Is adjacent to, or contributes to open space and greenway system connections.
(7) Provides adequate vehicular access and safety.
(8) Promotes pedestrian, bicycle and transit mobility.
(9) Is compatible with existing land uses in the vicinity.
(10) Is compatible with noise environment.
(11) Avoids health risks (such as exposure to particulates in close proximity to freeways).
(12) Preserves a small town feel.
(13) Promotes historic preservation.
(14) Advances (or at least does not harm) fiscal stability.
Each participant was given three sticky dots, which s/he could use to vote for their most important three Principles. Principles (1), (4), (5) and (8) appeared to have the most green dots.

With that exercise complete, Station Four was where the rubber hit the road. At this Station the Steering Committee grouped the 37 potential housing sites into three categories (High Ranking, Medium Ranking, and Low Ranking) based on the 14 principles from Station Three. At this Station the Committee provided everyone with a Comment sheet so s/he could share thoughts about any changes to sites in the three categories. The Comments sheet also solicited feedback about the reasons for changing a site ranking. In between answering questions at Station Three, Committee member Donna Lott told me, “The Committee is really looking forward to taking the comment information from the Workshop, and using it to make sure the decisions they had made to date were on target.” Another Committee member Jay Gerber echoed Donna’s comments, “I’m really looking forward to the feedback.”

For those participants who weren’t suffering from their own version of Rodney Robinson’s mind-wrap problem, Station Five was set up to get feedback on the wealth of topics not covered in Stations Three and Four. Some of those topics were:
  • Overall housing directions,
  • Trade-offs and strategies the community might want to pursue in meeting its housing needs
  • Options for Housing Density and Intensity Near Downtown and Neighborhood Nodes
  • Preferences for Housing Development Within the City as Compared to Peripheral Sites, and
  • Thoughts on the one percent growth guideline adopted by the Davis City Council on March 8, 2005 (based on an estimated internal housing need report prepared by Bay Area Economics).
To help participants, the center of the room had a large worktable with detail support documents that could be read if a participant wanted to know more about a particular issue. This table was also a place where people could discuss their thoughts about all they had learned. Discussions overheard at that table, covered topics like:
  • “Not one single additional acre of farmland should be paved over in our life times!”
  • “What does the Committee envision for the Anderson Transit Corridor?
  • “The South Davis properties along I-80 shouldn’t be residential. The kind of High Tech companies we want to attract to Davis want Freeway access, which is one of the few positives those sites have to offer.
  • “Davis is a wonderful community because of our values, our innovation and our welcoming hospitable character. To continue to be innovative, Davis needs a certain amount of growth, with the 498 unit RHNA number probably being too little growth, but the 2,300 unit 1% guideline number probably being too much growth.”
It is too early to tell what the bottom-line take away from the workshop will be. In the next two weeks, Staff will organize and distill all the comments and feedback for the next Committee meeting on Thursday, February 7th. In the meantime, we should all act on the following words that appear on the Comments Sheet.
Submit your comments either at THE WORKSHOP OR, if you would like to take more time, please MAIL, FAX OR EMAIL your comments so that they arrive at City Hall by January 30, 2008 (next Wednesday), so that Staff can include your comments in the workshop report.

Please send your comments to Bob Wolcott, Principal Planner, City of Davis, 23 Russell Boulevard, Davis, CA 95616. Tel (530) 757-5610; Fax (530) 757-5660; Email Bob Wolcott. Thanks!
The comments form can be printed off by going to the city website

In closing I would like to echo the words of Committee member Lucas Frerichs, “I’m very, very encouraged by the turnout, especially in the rain. It exceeded all expectations, and is a great tribute to Davis.”

Please click on the pictures below to enlarge: