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Thursday, February 14, 2008

Commentary: Looking Back At Rhetoric from Measure X

The discussion Tuesday night at Davis City Council about the meaning of the city's one percent growth guideline hearkens back to a discussion from September 2005 that occurred ahead of the vote on Covell Village.

Under the header "cap, guideline or goal?" the Davis Enterprise's Claire St. John cited then City Planning Director Bill Emlen (now City Manager) arguing the 1 percent growth "cap."
"the 1 percent growth cap actually gives the city more stability and predictability in terms of how fast it will grow and where.

A big project like Covell Village would make the planning process even more stable, Emlen said.

"If you're looking at a planned-growth scenario, it gives some certainty about where the city is going for the next 10 years, if it were approved," he said. "I would say it provides more order in terms of growth than if we were dealing with other projects that were coming in on the periphery that may not be part of what we think of as a compact city."
However, then Mayor Pro Tem Sue Greenwald had a different view of the 1 percent growth guideline and how much it actually amount to.
"The council majority has been very unclear about whether it's a target or a requirement or what," Greenwald said. "In fact, what they passed is 1 percent not counting affordable housing, or something they called 'exceptional infill opportunities,' which is a loophole you can drive a truck through.

"If it really is a cap, then let's stop treating it as a target and let's stop using it to justify approving projects," she said."

With affordable housing and certain infill projects, housing units per year can rise to about 325, Greenwald was told by Senior Planner Bob Wolcott.
Mike Harrington, by then a former City Councilmember:
"Harrington also voted against the 250-home parameter, saying it was tailor-made for Covell Village.

"By adopting the 1 percent growth requirement, then they built in this bureaucratic need for this project," Harrington said of the council majority. "The way they wrote it, it's like it specifically required Covell ."
The most telling piece of information actually comes from an Op-Ed published on October 23, 2005 and penned by Councilmembers Stephen Souza and Don Saylor.

In this op-ed they use the 1% growth guideline as an argument to approve Covell Village instilling fear of worse projects such as a Gidaro project forced upon Davis by the county as a fear mechanism.

They begin arguing that the 1% growth guideline is a goal:
"Measure X will decide how Davis will meet its 1 percent housing goals for the next decade, and which plan best meets those goals."
That argument is at least somewhat consistent with the argument that they are using right now. However, watch what they do here:
"Can't we just use Measure J to vote down proposals like Gidaro's?

Not necessarily. We are required by law to meet our regional housing requirements. That's one reason we passed a 1 percent growth policy. If we don't accept our fair share of growth , we can lose major transportation funding, and it invites developers like Gidaro to do an end run around the City Council — and the voters — to force development right on the edge of town."
What they have done here is very cleaver, they have used RHNA guidelines to argue that if we do not grow, we will have growth forced on us by the boogeyman, apparently Steve Gidaro--which is ironic since Stephen Souza likely would not have been elected without Gidaro's intervention into the 2004 election.

In this small argument, the 1% growth guideline becomes exactly what they told us it was not on Tuesday night--growth pressure and a requirement.

Even as they argued on Tuesday that the 1% growth guideline was not producing growth pressure, two years ago they explicitly used it to pressure the community into voting for Covell Village. If we did not pass Covell Village we would lose certain funding AND we would "be forced" to grow with other projects that would presumably be worse.

This was a poor argument on a number of fronts, most specifically because there was nothing to preclude them from offering a more preferred alternative to Covell Village from the outset. There was never a no need to approve and promote a project the voters do not like.

But they were also arguing that the law required us to grow--a marked change from Tuesday night when they suggested the 1 percent guideline was a cap not a mandate for growth.

This is a tricky argument on a number of fronts from their perspective. If we do not grow at that rate, it is not a "violation" of the law. It would simply mean that we would become ineligible for certain funding from the state. The voters then would have to weigh the costs of Covell compared to the costs of non-compliance--should SACOG decide to enforce those requirements.

Second, this argument no longer even applies to Davis since the RHNA numbers have shrunk at present to .25% growth or half what Covell alone would have imposed on us for the next decade. So why have we maintained the 1 percent growth level when we are not required to do so--if the RHNA numbers were the reason to set the growth at that level in the first place?

Missing from Tuesday's conversation is that the argument about mandated growth requirements should no longer be present if RHNA is not imposing it.

The councilmembers then pressed the argument back in 2005 that by passing Covell Village, we allow Davis to remain Davis. But that's the open question now guiding our thinking now. If we add 2300 units every seven years, how long before Davis is no longer Davis?

That is the point that was dodged on Tuesday night.

Don Saylor tried to finesse this point with the following argument:
“We live in Davis for a high quality of life and a sense of community. And when we think about what causes that, how many of us actually think it has to do with how many of us there are.”
But if Davis is 120,000 people is it still Davis? What makes Davis, Davis? What separates Davis from Woodland, Vacaville, and Fairfield? Mr. Saylor did not answer the question on Tuesday. Now did Mr. Saylor attempt to reconcile his beliefs about Covell Village versus those of the voters.

In 2005, Councilmembers Souza and Saylor argued that Covell village was "smart planning. With targeted housing, open space, bike paths, public safety enhancements and the rest."

But the voters saw it differently. They saw it as sprawl. They saw a huge number of units added into a location with existing traffic concerns and limited access.

Finally, Mr. Saylor on Tuesday night highlighted a litany of existing housing needs but he never defined or even described how those housing needs will fit into the city.

It bears repeating, 2300 every seven years equals 1.5 Mace Ranch sized developments. Think about where you are putting the next Mace Ranch. Now think about where you would put three of them over the next 14 years.

Their only defense was that four the last four years we have grown at .55 percent. That is true. But guess what, had we passed Covell Village, that would have doubled to 1% pretty quickly. And when he starts talking about student housing, senior housing, and single family housing, you know the plan for the next seven years is not .55 percent growth. Because .55 percent growth is not accommodating his vision.

Look we all want more affordable housing, we want the students to be able to reside in this community, we want seniors to be able to retire near their families. The question is how accommodate those goals. And one way we do not accomplish them is to remove a huge swath of student occupied units along 3rd and B and replace them with owner-occupied bungalows. One way we do not accomplish any of these is by producing housing units that average between $400,000 and $600,000 along the periphery.

There is a disconnect between the rhetoric of the council majority and the reality of the proposals that have been brought forward.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting