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

Sunday, December 28, 2008

As Regional and State Growth Rates Fall, What Will Be the Impact on Davis?

The Sacramento Bee reported back on December 18, 2008 that the regional and state growth rates have fallen to its lowest levels in more than a decade.

In six counties surrounding Sacramento which include Yolo, Sutter, Yuba, Placer, El Dorado and Sacramento Counties, the growth rate from July 1, 2007 to July 1, 2008 was only 1.39%. Separately, Yolo County grew at 1.46 percent adding around 3,000 people. Placer was the fastest growing county in California at 2.6 percent. Sacramento grew at a rate below the statewide level at 1.11 percent.

Statewide the growth rate was actually lower at 1.16%.

More people moved out of California than moved into California during this time period.

What does all of this mean for Yolo County and Davis?

Davis has spent considerable time and energy focusing on the issue of growth. One of the arguments in recent years has been that Davis must take on its fair share of new growth. That was a more poignant argument in the early part of this decade was population growth was exploding and the housing market booming.

Regional governance groups like SACOG (Sacramento Area Council of Governments) and RHNA (Regional Housing Needs Assessment) have developed models for growth based on allocations of fair share. In other words, the basic model determines how much of the region's growth a given area should accommodate.

The problem is that this has become a moving target for local growth politics. Back during the Measure X debate, the argument used by proponents was the Davis would be penalized if it did not take on its supposed fair share of growth.

However, by 2007, RHNA had come out with new numbers suggesting that Davis needed to take on a much smaller share of growth--considerably less than the current projected growth rate of 1%. When it did however, the debate was shifted in Davis.

First, the 1% growth requirement became a growth cap. Now 1% is the target and the limit rather than the threshold that we need to meet.

Second, the debate in Davis is about internal housing needs rather than regional fair share growth allocations. Frankly this is what the debate always should have been about from the beginning.

In this sense, falling state and regional rates may relieve some pressure for Davis to grow. However, perceptions about the internal needs of Davis, which have thus far been more theoretic and less concrete, have continued to drive the debate.

Frankly, for everyone but the most ardent no-growther, the question is really about where, how, and how quickly we grow. I am not in the no-growth camp. I would also prefer not to put a number on our growth rate.

From my perspective one problem with housing in Davis is that UC Davis has taken on less than its share of student housing. UC Davis has the lowest percentage of on-campus housing in the UC system. There are several advantages for UC Davis to provide more housing. First, they can subsidize it, which lowers the costs to the students. Second, they have a large amount of available land. A good, dense, and environmentally friendly project on the UC campus would go a long way toward helping the city better assess its own needs.

A recent survey of apartments in Davis found that the vacancy rate in the city of Davis increased slightly this fall to .8 percent. However, the rental rates continued to rise by an average of 4.36 percent. Interestingly, though the vacancy rate was higher this year, the rate of increase was also higher than the previous year where a .7 percent vacancy yielded a 4.18 percent increase in rent. This despite the depressed housing market and economy.

In the comparable cities, Woodland saw a 4.1 percent vacancy rate but a 4.8 percent rent increase. On the other hand, West Sacramento nearly has 20% of its apartments vacant and the resultant rate only saw a .6 percent increase.

Clearly Davis needs more student housing. The argument again for UC Davis to provide on-campus housing is first that they have the land and can subsidize the property, but second that UC Davis' growth in recent years is a large culprit in the lack of student housing in Davis. By providing more housing, more single family units within the city could be freed up for people who work in Davis but have not been able to live here.

This is the strongest pressure driving the need for Davis to grow. Earlier this month, the Vanguard suggested one option, similar to what Cal Poly did, which is create a large and dense housing complex on campus. A facility of that sort, highly innovative and land conscious, could take a huge pressure off the city to have to expand its borders.

For all of the talk about internal housing needs, very few of the proposed projects in the Housing Element Steering Committee's top sites have a sizable student housing component. Almost all of them focus instead on single family residences with a few affordable and multifamily dwellings thrown in the mix.

In other words, with perhaps the exception of Nishi, which has other problems, there are no plans put forth to deal with the largest internal housing need we have.

The West Village will break ground this year and provide an additional 2000 units or so for student housing. That is a good start, but with UC Davis continuing to grow and not enough student housing at present, West Village is clearly not enough.

Many residents are not opposed to growth with good, environmentally friendly projects that continue to preserve the character of Davis. The problem is from many of our perspectives, the new subdivisions that we have seen in town could have been plopped down anywhere in the country. That's not the kind of large scale growth we would like to see.

Give me a housing project I can get behind and I will. I would like to focus on environmentally sustainable, smaller houses so that middle income people can afford them, a student housing component, a senior housing component, and a work force housing component.

The city of Davis has already approved housing for Verona, for Simmons, and for Grande. That's over 200 units right there. In addition, West Village will provide a large number of units over three phases. In addition, Lewis is proposing 600 units, on a property that would be better served with a business park. The Wild Horse Ranch will be proposing somewhere just under 200 units in the coming months for a project that would require a Measure J vote.

In this housing market, that is more than enough housing to last us the foreseeable future. I would like to see one additional project, and that would be a high density, UC Davis campus project that provides 3000 to 5000 beds on the UC Campus in an environmentally sustainable way. If we do that, I think we our needs for a while in terms of housing.

The external pressures have lessened and the housing market is in bad shape. That will give us time to work on making what we do have as carbon neutral as possible--a very worthwhile endeavor in the coming years.

---David M. Greenwald reporting