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Saturday, January 03, 2009

Enterprise Pushes For Senior Housing On the Covell Site

Last night, the Davis Enterprise ran a full-1200 word front page special on the push by the Covell Partners to re-package their failed 2005 project as Senior Housing. The push which began with a new proposal before the HESC (Housing Element Steering Committee), continued with a letter writing campaign that eventually nullified the HESC workshop, and continued this fall with a number of handpicked Seniors coming before the city council asking for a senior housing facility at the site formerly known as Covell Village.

The Enterprise article features Janice Bridge, the former School Board Member, who has been on the fore of pushing for a senior housing project. Of course those with a fairly good memory will recall that Janice Bridge was one of the leaders of the Covell Village project as well, serving as Secretary of the group Neighbors for Covell--a very different project that did not offer the senior housing and scale-down options that just three years later Ms. Bridge is now pushing for.

The argument made by Janice Bridge is that their 4000-square foot house is too big for them and they need a smaller house.
'If you could move us old fogeys out of our house and into an age-appropriate space, then instead of creating a new development that is family-oriented that needs new parks and new schools, the kids could go to the parks and the schools that are being underutilized in our area,' said Janice Bridge.

Bridge and her husband, Adam, live in a 4,000-square-foot home on B Street. The house served them and their three children well, but now that the kids are grown up and out, the house is too big.

'I am sitting in a house that is 4,000 square feet,' Bridge said. 'For me, my home is not appropriate for the lifestyle I want to lead. This house should have lots of active kids running up and down the stairs like it did 20 years ago. I look around and all I see are more houses like this one.'
The Enterprise goes on to write that the Covell Village developers have been meeting with almost 600 people who are "curious about or interested in a plan to build a senior-oriented community north of Covell Boulevard between J Street and Pole Line Road."

Interesting that it is not until about halfway through the article that the real agenda appears(although as soon as I saw the article's headline last night, it was obvious where this was going).

The Enterprise continues:
The community would include 'micro-neighborhoods,' a care-continuum, services for seniors and recreation options for a healthier, more active lifestyle than many senior communities offer, according to Project Coordinator Lydia Delis-Schlosser.

The concept has not yet been submitted to the city, but the developers - who also proposed Covell Village on the site, a 1,864 housing unit project that voters rejected in 2005 - hope to submit something to the city soon.

'If we're comfortable with how we're progressing with meeting the needs of the community, then we would like to submit a pre-application in about a year,' Delis-Schlosser said.
According to this article, the plan includes about 800 units and will be built out over 10 years. Sounds reasonable, until you realize it is only on the southern-third of the property, something that does not appear to be mentioned in the article.

The Enterprise continues:
'The biggest benefit to non-seniors is these big houses are opened up,' said developer Bill Streng, one of the owners of the property. 'My block used to have 20 kids, and now it only has four.'

The biggest benefit to seniors, Streng said, is a neighborhood that would have all their needs in one place. Seniors, like everyone else, have different needs and desires, and Streng said he and his partners want to address them all in one place.

'This is something John (Whitcombe) and I want to do, aside from financial reasons, you want to have something to leave,' said Streng, who is 82. 'The more we study and the more we see, the more we want to do it.'
The problem with this article is that it once again appears to slant the article. The article does quote Elaine Roberts Musser (senior citizens advocate and Chair of the Senior Citizen's Commission) a few times.

They bury her skepticism of the project until the very end of the article:
Good transportation is key for seniors, said Roberts Musser, so a senior development would have to include plenty of options - other than personal vehicles - for getting around.

But Roberts Musser would also like the City Council to consider how to pay for all this. The question is, will Davis be able to support a large, senior neighborhood?

'Honestly, and this is personal, but my feeling is I would like to have us worry more about commercial development right now, whatever generates tax revenue,' she said. 'We're so strapped right now. I'm not willing to build more residential when we really haven't built up our tax revenue.'
The problem with this article is that it portrays quite heavily the perspective of Janice Bridge and the Covell Partners. However, there is a whole other side of the story that is either buried in the case of Elaine Roberts Musser or completely untold.

Back in November the Vanguard ran a story on this and suggested that many seniors are not interested in this kind of housing. Much of this push appears to be developer driven. Indeed, Janice Bridge is not a developer, but does anyone else find it interesting that one of the strongest advocates for Covell Village I is now the leading spokesperson again, this time as a citizen pushing for Senior Housing as a means to downsize?

The developers of Covell Village have suggested we need a seniors-only facility. As the Vanguard suggested in November, many seniors do not want to live in a seniors-only community. They enjoy a more mixed community where families with children and even students also live.

That thought was backed up with a slew of email received from senior readers of the Vanguard, many of whom whole heartedly agree.

The question is what type of housing would work best for seniors. Some have suggested instead of facility like an Eleanor Roosevelt Circle, a series of smaller condominiums and townhouses may be the best fit. An added advantage there might be that we could build a small amount over time which would serve the senior population.

The big issue here is that we are again facing the prospect of developer driven development. It is clear that the Covell Village partners are driving the discussion here and in so doing, we are not getting perhaps a clear picture of what seniors in this community actually want.

Thus my first suggestion would be to find out what seniors actually want. How many people are looking to downsize from their current homes? How many people would like to live in a Senior-only community? How many people would be willing to trade for a smaller existing home with another resident?

This type of inquiry should occur not at the behest of a developer, but rather with leadership from groups like the Senior Citizen's Commission. Let us determine what the internal housing demand really is for seniors, what seniors really want, the numbers that we are really talking about, and the time frame that we are really looking at.

Unfortunately, once again, the Enterprise really only brings us one side of the story. They bring us the Janice Bridge story, which many have to view with skepticism given her past support for a very different Covell Village project. What would she have done had Covell Village I passed, pushed for a Senior Housing facility in the Northwest Quadrant?

The Enterprise could have interviewed others from the Senior Citizens Commission to give us a very perspective, perhaps someone like Tansey Thomas,a commissioner, would offer her a very different take. But unfortunately, we do not get that perspective.

For those who want to try to argue that this is a fair and balanced article, consider this, there was a total of 1269 words in the article only the last 79 words of the article expressed any kind of skepticism or alternative viewpoint to the dominant position. The only even remotely skeptical comments are buried at the end. That's fair and balanced? That's objective?

The Vanguard gives you the other side of the story here, talk to seniors, you find a variety of different perspectives on this issue, unfortunately we do not get to hear them in the Enterprise, maybe we will in the comment section of the Vanguard.

---David M. Greenwald reporting