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Friday, February 08, 2008

Guest Commentary: Home on the Range

by Matt Williams

DPD began yesterday’s column by stating, “It is not altogether clear what the results of the workshop were and how much they will affect the final decisions made by the panel.” Thanks to some superb work by Planning Department Staff in producing several Summary documents, the Housing Element Steering Committee was able to quickly decide that Community Workshop #2 essentially ratified the decisions the Committee had made in the 12 months leading up to the Workshop.

One of the Summaries the Committee reviewed, listed the nine ranking changes on six different sites that were suggested by 15 or more people at Station 4 of the Workshop. Although it was clear by the Covell Village comments numbers that any attempt to “hijack” the workshop had failed (and failed badly), the only meaningful takeaway from the ranking change suggestions was that the Public had a hard time understanding how the Committee could be looking at “unrealistic” sites like PG&E. “Come on guys and ladies, get real. I know you think this exercise is hypothetical, but believe me there are people (even in Davis) that believe everything they read – including rankings of future housing development sites.”

Any person who is interested in Housing in Davis should consider the Additional Summaries of Comments at Workshop #2 a must read. It was handed out in paper-copy draft form to the Committee last night. Hopefully, Staff will get the finalized electronic version of this Summary on the HESC website soon, so everyone has access to it. For those who could not be at the meeting, in the draft paper copy, Staff grouped the 285 Comments they received at Station 5 of the Workshop into the following categories. Each category included the text of all the comments in that category.
  • Housing Density and Intensity near Downtown and Neighborhood Nodes
Supportive of Higher Densities (11 comments)
Concerns about Density (6 comments)
Infill and Sprawl (4 comments)
Affordable Housing (1 comment)
Location (5 comments)
Other (3 comments)
  • Housing Development Within the City as Compared to Peripheral Sites
Infill (16 comments)
Conditions for Development on the Periphery (14 comments)
Neighborhood Design (2 comments)
Agriculture Related (5 comments)
Other (4 comments)
  • Variety of Housing Types
Affordable Housing (10 comments)
Moderate Housing (2 comments)
Compact Housing (11 comments)
Student Housing (2 comments)
Senior Housing (24 comments)
Mix of Housing Types (3 comments)
Other (4 comments)
  • General Comments (159 comments in total)
Growth (46 of the 159)
*** Opposed to 1% Guideline and/or No Growth (38 of the 46)
*** Neither Pro nor Con the 1% Guideline (3 of the 46)
*** Conditional Pro Growth (5 of the 46)
Supportive of Son of Covell Village (5 of the 159)
Opposed to Son of Covell Village (9 of the 159)
Comments About Other Sites (8 of the 159)
Site Development Feasibility (1 of the 159)
Lewis Cannery Site Timing (3 of the 159)
Agriculture (1 of the 159)
Infill (4 of the 159)
Housing Needs and Groups (7 of the 159)
Affordable Housing (2 of the 159)
Housing Mix, Types, Densities, Sizes and Prices (1 of the 159)
Downtown and Neighborhood Centers (1 of the 159)
Mixed Use (3 of the 159)
Business, Industry and Jobs (5 of the 159)
Sustainability (6 of the 159)
Taxes, Revenues and Fiscal Impacts (9 of the 159)
Community Design (4 of the 159)
Infrastructure (1 of the 159)
Transportation and Parking (5 of the 159)
Neighborhood Impacts (6 of the 159)
Preserve Community Character (8 of the 159)
Miscellaneous Comments (8 of the 159)
Other Comments Too Risque to Print (2 of the 159)
In yesterday’s column DPD raised a very interesting point, “In some ways I feel that this process is almost ad hoc. And that decisions are being made on each of these steps independently. There are different maps and different processes. And the result will be what exactly? Does the public or even our leaders on council know?” What I heard and read last night was that the Davis community took this Workshop seriously, and has given the Committee, the Planning Department Staff, and most especially the Council well-thought-out feedback on possible approaches to Housing in the coming days, months and years. Hopefully, that message will be carried to all the individual processes that deal with Housing. The reality is that unless we the people make that happen, it won’t happen. I guarantee that the comments on the 1% Growth Guideline will be used at Tuesday’s Council meeting when they discuss the 1% Guideline.

Now that I have covered the factual content of last night’s Committee meeting, let me turn to the theatrical parts of the evening’s activities. City Finance Director, Paul Navazio got out his top hat, cane and Capezios for his dance around the question of how (and whether) Housing Development “pencils out” in Davis. Paul shared some very interesting material, and the words of his bottom-line answer to the question were “It depends.” I didn’t hear it that way. I heard, “Most of the time the answer is No, but in some special circumstances the answer may be Yes.” The problem for me is that those special circumstances revolve around building more “Million Dollar Houses” (Paul’s words), and that is the one housing type that this City does not need more of.

For me, Paul’s presentation and comments make Tuesday’s City Council discussion about the 1% Guideline all the more important. Mark Siegler advocated “a pause” in the coming months (and possibly years), so that we can really understand what kind of housing will make the most sense in Davis. Workforce housing and affordable housing do not “pencil out” in a financial analysis, but they do contribute to the vibrancy and sustainability of our City. Single-family, detached homes over $500,000 do “pencil out,” but they will make Davis even more of a bedroom community. Is that what we want? I for one hope not.