The Vanguard has a new home, please update your bookmarks to

Monday, January 28, 2008

With Workshop in the Past, Fight Over 1% Growth Guideline Looms

There have been twists and turns along the way, but the General Plan Housing Element Update process has focused much of Davis squarely on the issue of growth. While the process is far from over, one thing became clear as I made my way around the workshop prior to heading over for what turned out to be the far more contentious school board meeting on Valley Oak.

In terms of where Davis will grow, the 15 person panel split 9-6 along the Council Majority-Progressive lines is not all that far apart. It seems unlikely that any of the contentious peripheral properties will make the final cut. The debate will be over which of the infill projects make the most sense.

Moreover, the real debate that will be carried out not by this body, but by the city council, will be over how fast we ought to grow.

As one of the Steering Committee Members, Eileen Samitz wrote last week in a guest-spot on the Vanguard:
"The SACOG number currently assigned to Davis between 2006 and 2013 is only 498 units. However, the Council majority of Asmundson, Souza and Saylor want Davis to grow by at least 2,300 units, which is almost five times faster than what is being asked of us. The language of Measure L is included in our General Plan to grow as slow as legally possible. Yet this new Council majority growth policy is clearly in the best interest of the developers, not Davis citizens."
This revised SACOG number combined with a severe collapse of the housing market on a regional basis, has forced this council majority to attempt to re-package their argument. Back in the Covell Village days, they argued that the 1% growth guideline was the minimum required by law. Law meaning SACOG and RHNA guidelines--even though being out of compliance with such laws would be tantamount to a slap with a wet noodle.

However, now that RHNA has significantly lowered its targeted growth, the council majority is attempting to redefine what the 1% growth guideline means. Most recently, Councilmember Stephen Souza argued that it was merely a parameter or a target--a ceiling rather than a floor. This shift conveniently comes at a time when Mr. Souza and his colleague Don Saylor are running for reelection. It also demonstrates the changing environment for growth.

Nevertheless it seems likely that the progressives on council, Mayor Sue Greenwald and Councilmember Lamar Heystek will fight to reduce that 1% number further.

A one-percent growth rate sounds small, but it is really an equivalent of 300 units a year or a development the size of Wildhorse every three years. Think about that. Now think about the limited infrastructure, water, and services that the city has at present.

The battle lines have been drawn over the 1% growth guideline and what it means for Davis.

From the start, I was opposed to the idea of a steering committee. There was a very basic reason that is going to eventually play out. While the committee has proven to be a bit more than the rubber-stamp group some feared, it has also dragged out the process substantially. As several members have suggested to me, this process of ranking sites could have been performed by a few people in four hours. The council majority wanted political cover on this issue, but the real issue is not the where but the how much.

One good thing did come out of last week--a political miscalculation by the Covell Partners. The email from the Project Coordinator for North Davis Land Company, Lydia Delis-Schlosser was a huge political mistake on a number of levels. A number of members of the steering committee--on both sides--were not happy that the email was sent out and felt it inappropriate for it to contain instructions on how to fill out a form.

Let me be clear again because these things seem to get lost in debate, I have no problem with anyone emailing a group of likely supporters to come to housing element meeting. I also have no problem with anyone advocating support or opposition for a specific project. If Ms. Delis-Schlosser had sent out an email urging her people to support Covell Village, Part Deux, we would not be having this conversation. She claims this was sent to a small amount of people--that appears likely to be an accurate statement, but no one had anyway of knowing that at the time. Given past events, few probably would have taken their word for it.

But that's neither her nor there. The bottom line is that this was a monumental blunder on a number of different levels. It angered some of the steering committee who felt it undermined the process. It angered those who had opposed Covell Village and felt this was an end-run.

But most of all it actually made Covell Village Part Deux, DOA. In the ensuing days, I have spoken to a large number of people who read the article in the blog and for them this was the first they even knew that Covell Village was coming back for reconsideration in a new and better packaged form. And they were outraged about this.

The confluence of Valley Oak and Housing last week instead of dividing people's attention, focused people's attention. So people at the Valley Oak meeting were asking about housing and people at the housing meeting were asking about Valley Oak. The result was a huge amount of attention on the blog in general and people in large numbers found out about the new Covell plan.

Furthermore any community interest in Covell Village would be viewed with suspicion. It would seem artificially rather than legitimately generated.

Finally, the denials by Ms. Lydia Delis-Schlosser simply did not ring true.

She wrote:
"I must emphasize that I sent this email only to people who have come to our conference room and spent hours talking to us and sharing their thoughts and concerns regarding senior housing and the lack of choices in our town. Neither we nor they have any intention to manipulate the public process. We ARE, however, interested in stimulating discussion among people who have been dissatisfied with the present inadequacy in senior-oriented housing in Davis, and in involving them as advisers to help us in conceiving a solution. This email went to those who expressed interest and want to support a new type of senior housing opportunity for Davis."
The problem with this view is the how-to sheet. It was not set up to place senior housing as a high priority, it was set up to place Covell Village as a high priority.

We can see that in the instructions. First, she requested that they selected the "expand city boundaries option." This obviously goes beyond simply senior housing. Second, she request that they select the do not approve infill projects that have a greater density than their surrounding neighborhoods. At first glance that seems innocuous until you realize that pretty much precludes creating a senior housing facility on infill development. Unless this were aimed at advocacy for a very specific project, these choices would not aim a more generalized concern of senior housing.

The bottom line here is that this email has effectively helped to kill any realistic prospect for a re-visitation of Covell Village in probably the next two general plan cycles.

Tough fights still remain particularly with regards to the 1% growth guideline and also eventually a re-examination of Measure J. But for the moment some of the worst alternative appear to be fairly low on the priority scale. However, there remains many tough fights this year. The next meeting of the Housing Element in a week and a half should be very instructive in deciding the next steps that will be taken.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting