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Where have all the Babies Gone?

Davis has been gradually losing its innate college town character. The level of civility in civic discourse continues its decline as demonstrated in the recent Measure H campaign. The 1960 – 70s mid-western ethos that prospered when Davis and UCD set out on their mutually aligned growth paths has deteriorated with urban-like political fighting. The midwestern neighborly values that were once well established have given way to a divisive approach to community engagement. In housing development discussions, the person you disagree with is characterized as evil, dishonest, a liar, etc. Why? In part because Davis’s 40 years of restrictive housing and growth policies has spawned and feeds unintended and unnecessary discord with little visible, offsetting benefits.

Here are some of the impacts:

  1. Less than 40% of our TOP City management live in Davis. Nearly all the major City decision makers and their families live elsewhere. Their family life and personal civic involvement is not here.
  2. The percentage of Davis Police and Fire Department personnel who live in Davis is much lower than the TOP management. In essence, their family and hearts reside elsewhere.
  3. The vast majority of North, North Davis homeowners are individuals employed at UCD or a Davis business. They cannot afford to live here. A sizable number have children commuting daily with their parents to attend Davis schools, a good outcome for us.
  4. In the Cannery, roughly 80% of the buyers had no relationship to Davis or UCD, although some had grown children living here. Most came from the Bay Area and Marin County, exactly where the Cannery developers heavily advertised. It was an intentional strategy not intended to attract local UCD faculty, staff, and other Davis workers. In the 546 homes, an unbelievably low number of school age children actually live there. Something like 26 new students resulted from Cannery’s 546 homes plus apartments. In the 80’s and early 90’s a “Cannery-type neighborhood” would have generated 300 – 400 new students. Where have all the families with or capable of having babies gone?
  5. Approximately 1,000 Elementary through High School students commute daily to our schools. Without these commuting students some neighborhood schools would close. Imagine the rancor and anger that would result should neighborhood school closures be considered. The civic anger, neighborhood vs neighborhood would likely be greater than the recent Measure H arguments. The School District has done a masterful entrepreneurial job in “recruiting” out of Davis parents/children to attend our neighborhood schools. For how long can those creative efforts be sufficient? A university-oriented community NEEDS GREAT schools. Great schools require children from childbearing age parents living here and as a result contributing to a wholesome, family friendly, inclusive community. That was “the 1960’s and 1970’s Davis civic perspective” when UCD embarked on its original and now continuing growth plan.

The list could continue, but you get the point.

The unintended consequences of overly restrictive housing policies are not positive. While we are a smaller city, how did we achieve that? We stopped converting adjacent Davis ag land into housing for Davis/UCD employees by converted our neighboring community’s ag land, i.e., Spring Lake, into houses instead. Davis employees essentially “colonizing” other nearby communities, not unlike European monarchs did. Do the unintended results of the current development battles make sense to you? It certainly doesn’t to me. Of course, I’m a Davis housing provider, “a Developer”, but what am I misstating? The homes in North, North Davis are built on Woodland’s agricultural land, so we “save” Davis ag land while North, North Davis is populated by Davis based employees who can’t afford a home in Davis. By my math that’s a 0-sum gain/loss for ag land. It results in more commuter traffic, more greenhouse gasses, and the other environmental problems that Davisites preach about. In essence Davis’s restrictive approach contributes directly to the evils we seek to avoid. The 2200 currently constructed homes in North, North Davis with 600 more to come, occupy about the same sized parcel as the original Covell Village at the corner of Covell and Pole Line Road. Davis residents are essentially enduring the “Covell Village Traffic”, plus the environmental harm of an extra 6.8 miles of commuting. Sadly, Davis doesn’t get the tax dollars, although we do get the kids, which is a blessing.  We also pay extra school taxes as a result of these North, North Davis homes not being built in Davis.

So, what’s the path forward? First, I’m not advocating eliminating Measures J, R, D and the citizens right to vote. Once given the vote, the voters aren’t giving it back voluntarily! The State might take it away if we continue on what is a self-destructive approach to NEEDED housing. Instead, I propose a real-life example incorporated in the Palomino Place neighborhood which offers the types of housing required to START the process of returning Davis to a university focused community with all the benefits that follow. At 26-acres, it’s not too big for a prototype and still large enough to showcase a number of well-designed home choices for first time, as well as first and second move-up buyers. My hope is to build a consensus of voters who will support a prototype on a smallish infill parcel and in the process change the tone of Measure J, R, D discussions. Palomino Place is financially sound, buildable, inclusive, and focuses on the buyers we want to be part of our community for all the reasons expressed here.

So how does this template address the problems outlines in paragraphs A – E?

It provides homes designed, sized, and priced for Davis-based employees, UC Davis faculty, and staff to start a rational discussion to address the unintended problems outlined earlier. If maintaining a university-focused, family friendly, inclusive community is our goal, then practical plans that provide the right housing requires thoughtful consideration. If our community wants Davis children in our schools, we need to build homes that their parents who work here, can afford. In my 52 years of real estate experience, I’ve seen UCD faculty and staff, and Davis business employees that are willing to stretch their housing budgets to live here, but few can pay the Bay Area prices at the Cannery or other recent smaller projects. While million-dollar Davis homes are now familiar to us, the majority of Davis based employees can’t stretch that far.  The larger homes and higher prices in the Cannery eliminated most UCD faculty, staff, and Davis based employees. This occurred even though modern-day financing allows for more realistic qualifying criterial than the outdated government-imposed rules allow.

Palomino Place offers a variety of home sizes that can be replicated elsewhere, each targeted to the real-world financial capabilities of locally employed families. Here is an overview of the housing:

  • First Time Buyers: 22 Cottages 17% of the total homes. The cottages are 2 bed 2 bath around 960 square feet and about the same size as the smaller Stanley Davis entry level home in East Davis.
  • First time Buyers: 11 Townhomes: 9% of total homes. These townhomes are also 2 bed, 2 bath around 1100 square feet. The combined 33 units are restricted on the initial sale to solely First Time Buyers, which amounts to 26% of the total homes.
  • First or Second Time Buyers: 11 Townhomes 9% of the total. 3 bed, 2 bath approximately 1350 square feet. Essentially between 1/4 to 1/3 of all Palomino Place’s homes allocated to younger residents and families.
  • First move-up: lots with an ADU. Main house provides 1400 to 1600 square feet, 3 and 4 bedrooms, and 2 baths. Our target buyers are those current Davis residents living in a smaller home. These existing homeowners are likely owners of a 3 bed, 2 bath 1200 +/- home. The 640 sq ft ADU offers them more flexible living space or if rented, income to cover the additional costs. The resale of their existing home will provide more opportunities for younger Davis based buyers to live here.
  • Second move-up: lots with an ADU main house 1600 – 1800 square feet. 4 bedroom, 2 ½ baths. Buyers are current Davis homeowners, higher income UCD faculty and staff or other Davis Based Employees.
  • The ADU footprint (approximately 30 x 20) will allow for three interior designs: 1-bedroom granny flat, 2-bedroom teenager’s suite, or an office/studio. 40 of these will be built for sure with more likely at buyers’ option.

Palomino Place is a practical housing template and starting point to begin addressing the unmet housing needs of our community and the benefits that follow. It’s also an open invitation to those who have trepidations, to join with me and others for rational, thoughtful and financially practical oriented housing discussions using softer rhetoric.  These housing battles do not reflect well on our community. We need, as a community, to move from battles to thoughtful and helpful discussions. We can start here.

Respectfully submitted,
Dave Taormino, a Davis Based Housing Provider

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