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Proposal Triples Size of Homeless Shelter

Pauls-place-renderingCurrent Zoning Does Not Allow for 4 Story Project

By Colin Walsh 

Paul’s Place homeless shelter was announced on the front page of the Davis Enterprise yesterday noting how the very rapid growth of the Davis homeless population has overtaxed the old H street facility. This 4-story proposal will include 28 units, 4 emergency beds, “program space to connect people with public benefits, housing and employment opportunities and health and human services, as well as the basic services needed on a daily basis by those living outdoors: food, clothing, showers, restrooms and laundry facilities.” (link)

With the increasing local homeless population there is little doubt that solutions need to be found. Paul’s place would replace the existing well-worn Davis Community Meals 12 bed shelter at 1111H St.

One hurdle the new shelter will need to overcome to be built is the size of the proposed new building. At 4 stories tall it would be the tallest commercial or residential building between 5th St. and Covell. It will be the building in a half mile radius and the current zoning does not allow for 4 a story building.

Existing Shelter

The proposed location is currently zoned as RESDNTL GARDEN APT (MED) according to the City Website. This falls under City of Davis “Article 40.08 RESIDENTIAL GARDEN APARTMENT (R-3) DISTRICT.” The relevant zoning ordinance states “No principal building shall exceed three stories or thirty-eight feet in height.” (40.08.050 Height regulations)

Additionally, the Garden Apartment zoning states the purpose of the zone is to stabilize and protect the residential character of the district, and to promote, insofar as compatible with the intensity of land use, a suitable environment for family life." City zoning clearly allows for,  “Supportive housing” and “Transitional housing,” but some of the additional services offered in the proposal for the project may be outside of the intended use for this zone.

There is a similarity between the zoning issue with Paul’s Place and the Trackside project.  Both projects were proposed at 4 stories, in a zone that only allows 3. For Trackside a judge has already ordered the City of Davis to rescind approval and the fate of the project is uncertain (link).

The Paul’s Place Committee Co-chair is the immediate past Mayor, who as Mayor, voted to approve the Trackside project.

It is almost certain the City staff and the Paul’s Place Committee understand the proposed project does not comply with existing zoning but they are likely willing to gamble they can overcome the zoning hurdles. Indeed, the way this zoning non-compliant project is being brought forward will surely put the neighbors in a difficult situation if they want to oppose the project.

The immediate neighbors to the project are apartment complexes, will the owners see a 4 story homeless shelter as damaging to their property values?

There are single family homes within 2 blocks, will these owners perceive this project as a threat to their quality of life?

Will neighbors dare to speak out against tripling the size for Davis’s homeless shelter at a time when homelessness is such a problem?

Will the neighbors dare to take on the still politically powerful and connected immediate past Mayor to do so?

Will the neighbors follow the Trackside neighbors’ path and advocate for a zoning compliant project?

Will any of the neighbors file a lawsuit against the City if the project moves forward?  


Robert Canning

I have some thoughts that might provide more context for the Paul's Place proposal and the questions posed by Colin Walsh. I have no formal connection to the project although I am in favor of it in concept. The effort, IMO, is a step in the right direction of reducing homelessness in Davis. It is grounded in the Getting to Zero and Housing First principles that have been helpful in other cities. See, e.g. Although research on the benefits of the Housing First model has produced mixed results (see e.g. vs. - both randomized trials) the approach has great appeal and ought to be tested in more communities.

1) Re. whether the neighbors see an enlarged homeless shelter (and it should be pointed out it is more than a "shelter" - see the Enterprise article link above) - does anyone know if the neighbors have objected to the current facility? There is a childcare center within a block yet the current facility has operated without problem in that locale for years.

2) The similarity to Trackside is minimal. The lot size at Paul's Place is 11,164 sq ft while Trackside's lot is almost 48,000 sq feet. The Trackside footprint is twice the size of the Chen Building while the Paul's Place proposal is for a building less than 1/2 the footprint of the Chen Building.

3) The Trackside proposal failed because the City tried to shoehorn a large building into a site designated as transitional.

4) Trackside was also subject to more restrictive zoning than Paul's Place. Trackside sits in a conservation district and was also subject to the traditional neighborhood guidelines. Paul's Place is not subject to those same restrictions.

5) The comment about whether neighbors will "dare" to speak out against both an enlarged homeless shelter and the "still politically powerful" ex-mayor seems like a reach. Paul's Place has been extensively vetted with community members for several years before the recent announcement. And the ex-mayor has been involved in and an advocate for programs to reduce homelessness since long before he ran for city council. The fact that he voted for Trackside and is also supporting Paul's Place seems like coincidence rather than some evidence that he favors big buildings.

6) It is unclear if Mr. Walsh has spoken to any of the proponents or any opponents before posing the questions in the article. This simple exercise may have answered some of his questions.

Although these are all fine questions to ask (except maybe the one about the ex-mayor, which I think is a bit of a cheap shot) it is unclear to me whether Colin supports the proposal or not. He seems to imply that this is just another big development project in a neighborhood. The comparison with Trackside fails for some of the reasons I gave.

Roberta L. Millstein

Robert, I have to rush off, so I'm going to be a bit briefer than I'd like to be in response to all the issues you've raised.

Re: 2 - Colin just noted a similarity. He didn't say it was identical or even comparable in all respects. So I am not sure what your complaint is. You seem to be taking him to be saying more than he is.

Re 3 and 4: I don't have the legal expertise to say whether the zoning complies or not, but it's hard for me to believe that this issue won't come up. I took Colin only to be saying that it is an issue that is likely to be raised. I thought exactly the same thing when I read the Enterprise article -- that we'd be hearing about zoning and the height of the building.

Re 5: Can you point to some of that vetting? This is the first I'd heard of the project. Of course, maybe there were neighborhood meetings, not publicized more generally? As for whether it would be a reach to say that people will be called out if they do challenge the project -- really, that seems like a stretch to you? You've called out Colin just for pointing out questions that will likely arise. Anything with housing is contentious. Anything with homeless is contentious. Anything with housing first is contentious. Anything with lots of stories is contentious. I find it hard to believe that this won't be hot all around.

As for your final note, why does Colin have to take a position on the project? Maybe he's waiting to see how the discussion unfolds. I know that I am, having just heard about the project from the Enterprise article. Again, he's pointing to some issues that may arise. It seems like you keep wanting to make more of this than there is, and then criticize him for it.

Colin Walsh

Mr. Canning,
One way this project is very different than the Trackside project is vetting.

12 different consultant reports on Trackside are available on the City of Davis website. Trackside also had hearing's with 6 different City of Davis Commissions's, went to the City Council, and has been subject to Judicial scrutiny as a result of the litigation. Thus far there has not been a single City of Davis Commission meeting, and there are no reports on the City website.

Compare the 2 for yourself:

There is almost no information about Paul's place on the City website at all, compared with extensive information about Trackside.

Of course Paul's Place is at the beginning of the process and Trackside has already been approved, and then may now be unapproved so it is not surprising Trackside has been more thoroughly vetted, but I see no support for the claim that, "Paul's Place has been extensively vetted"

I think the real question is will Paul's Place receive as thorough consideration as Trackside has.


Drawing up a four story plan in an area zoned for three stories without having done outreach to those living in the affected area actually sounds a lot like Trackside. The only outreach I have seen for this project relates to fundraising.

Similar to Pacifico with the bike path and creek that police cannot patrol and that seems to be the source of some of the issues with that "housing first" facility, there are the train tracks and H street under crossing here. A point not raised by Colin is that this site is situated on a "safe routes to school" road and is the primary way any child to the south and west of the tracks would get back and forth to Holmes via bike. Are "housing first" and "safe routes to school" compatible uses?

There are actually two preschools in that area, on opposite corners of F Street and the Little League Park nearby that is accessed via H Street.

Robert Canning


The general tenor of the article seemed to be questioning the location and raised the spector of another Pacifico (as one of the later commenters mentioned). The title focuses only on the number of homeless folks rather than the services or even the type of housing (as in the Enterprise article's title: "'vertical tiny homes'".

Maybe I'm reading too much into this, but the comparison to Trackside doesn't appear apt and that in combination with the swipe at Robb Davis seems to imply some underlying opinion that he doesn't come out and state. Especially when he wonders whether the neighbors would "dare" to speak out against it. That seems a bit provocative.

As for the vetting maybe I was too broad. I know the developers have done a good bit of work to rais the funding (as noted in the Enterprise). They've been at it for over a year or more. I don't know of specific neighborhood meetings or with stakeholders so I will leave it that I know the developers have been working on building up the funding piece.

Re. Colin's position on the project, you're right that he doesn't have to have a position, but the way the article is framed leads me to think he does but isn't quite saying it.

Robert D Canning

Responding to Colin's comment about the 12 different reports on Trackside vs. zero for Paul's Place.

As I said in response to Roberta's comment, my use of the term "vetting" was too broad. And I expect that there will be at least 12 reports once the H St. project gets in the planning pipeline. It took probably two years plus for those 12 reports to appear and that's probably the same for Paul's Place.

You say: "I think the real question is will Paul's Place receive as thorough consideration as Trackside has."

Do you think there is a reason it would not?

Colin Walsh

Mr. Canning,
It strikes me that you have now spent more words trying to attribute an opinion to me, that I have not stated, and do not hold, than were used in the original article. I would encourage you to instead of trying to attack a person, stick to talking about ideas.


There are obvious parallels to make to Pacifico and there should be. If we can't take on the lessons learned from Pacifico and apply them to this project to improve the outcome then the city and its approval process are broken and the community will suffer. If the facility here impacts the H street under crossing, the preschools and the little league fields then more than just the immediate neighbors will be affected. While I can see parallels with Pacifico, I can see differences too. Yolo Housing won't run this facility. The same entity behind this project runs Roosevelt and its track record at doing it seems better than Yolo Housing. Early days for this project but now is the time to raise obvious questions. They are expanding the use from a small number of transitory beds to a number of permanent housing units under the "housing first" philosophy. How will the facility be managed? Is the money they are raising just to build the project, or does it include funds for the ongoing operating costs? Will they have a strong Co-op board structure for the residents to give them a stake in the property and in the community? Should the project have some type of full time security presence whose responsibility would include the H street under crossing, especially during school transit times and little league usage of the fields? Mixing drug users under "housing first" with school age children and just hoping for the best, or waiting to see if it causes problems, seems like a big red flag. Another point is the zoning. It is three stories for a reason. It avoids concentrating too many people in one location in a residential setting. Why does the facility have to be four stories? Wouldn't the appropriate burden for this area of town be the number of people housed in a three story structure? Those behind this project should be getting out on their front foot now and addressing points like these with the affected communities. The failure to do so suggests they haven't worked through all the impacts the expansion and change in use will bring here. I also note that in Woodland neighbors just pushed back on a 22 unit micro housing proposal there and the Yolo board that has responsibility for that project pulled back on it for now. What is different between that site and this one? Why should the neighbors here be asked to bear these burdens when the county commissioners recognized with their public comments that it might not be the "correct place for it" there? Can someone explain what the differences are between the two projects?

Robert Canning

Re. vetting, I reached out to a project co-chair and he tells me that there have been two neighborhood meetings. According to him, two people showed up. Trackside held no neighborhood meetings before they announced the (original) six-story project via an article in the Enterprise.

Robert Canning

There is a good bit of information on Paul's Place on their website:

Robert D Canning

Several commenters have drawn a parallel between the Paul's Place proposal and the Pacifico Housing in South Davis.

The problems with Pacifico (intrusion into the neighborhood, drug use, etc.) do not seem to have been a problem at the current Davis Community Meals location that has been in operation next to a bike path, near pre-schools, and neighbors for years.

Commenter David stated: "Mixing drug users under "housing first" with school age children and just hoping for the best, or waiting to see if it causes problems, seems like a big red flag." As I note, there has been a homeless shelter at this site for a long time and there does not seem to have been many problems. And simply lumping all homeless folks under the label of "drug users" does not seem helpful. The homeless population is very heterogeneous. Here is a link to an Enterprise article from 2018 I believe that gives a decent rundown of some of the characteristics of Yolo's and Davis' homeless population: . I would also suggest you take a look at the annual reports from Davis Community Meals, which reports on their services and the results of some of their programs.


When were those meetings and how did they notify the neighbors about them? There is an obvious procedure to follow. Any request for a zoning change or zoning modification would require the City to send a mailer describing the project in detail to all residents within a certain radius of the facility. Did they follow that procedure? I don't think the residents should be expected to show up to a fundraiser/promotional event like the ones that have been hosted to date and be asked to raise their concerns in that setting.

The issue is not with the current uses. It is whether the expansion of those uses will cause new or different impacts. I think we would all agree going from 12 transitory beds to 18 permanent housing units with a "housing first" philosophy is going to change the use and impacts even if some people differed on whether those impacts are manageable ones or not.

From a search on the city site I did find the minutes from when this proposal went before the Social Services commission before. Look for the January 22, 2018 minutes on the city website. When one commissioner asked whether it would be a "clean and sober facility" Bill Pride responded that while that had yet to be determined "the current program does require sobriety, primarily due to the shared living setup." So changing to "housing first" will represent a change from the current use of the facility. Another commissioner asked if there would be entrance criteria. It seems like the commissioners were asking good questions but the presenters had no detail to offer. Do they have more detail they can offer now?

Rik Keller

Robert Canning: you stated “Re. vetting, I reached out to a project co-chair and he tells me that there have been two neighborhood meetings. According to him, two people showed up.”

Given that minimal outreach and the lack of information available about the project in general, your repeated questioning of Colin’s motives in asking pertinent questions seems misplaced. It is, however, consistent with repeated personal attacks and insinuations made by other Davis Vanguard Board members against Colin.

Robert Canning

David, since the project has not been submitted to the City, they probably did not have to do what the city says about outreach. I think (but I would have to confirm) they solicited neighborhood comment outside of the city planning framework.

In terms of the Social Services commission questions, that seems to be something you could explore on the website or via contacting Davis Community Meals or Martha Teeter, who is one of the proponents. My hunch is that they have solidified these programs by now.


Robert, to Rik's point, if you have a neighborhood meeting and only two people show-up do you conclude that the neighbors don't care, or do you conclude that it wasn't well noticed to the neighbors, your project lacked sufficient detail for them to bother or that it wasn't the appropriate setting for that meeting? How many times do we see in this city where an issue finally comes to fruition and so many people are screaming that it is the first they ever heard of it? Not everyone reads the DE and these blogs you know. Look, it's my opinion so take it for what it is worth but if they want to do the neighbor outreach correctly rather than just give lip service to it then they can get the mailing address of all homes within a radius of the project from the city. They can send each home a mailer about a neighbors only meeting to hear concerns or just go door to door handing out a flyer and answering questions the way a candidate for council would or people do to stump for the local land use measures. I would like to think this is another point we could all agree on.

Todd Edelman

H St. near the tunnel is an excellent location for low-income people, with great access without a car to the park, the pool, library, East Davis, and Downtown. There's a plan to re-pave and otherwise improve H St and City Staff is at least somewhat supportive of my proposal for a safe crossing at H and 8th as part of a north gateway to Downtown.

All this makes people happy... including seeing kids ride by. Cities unfortunately have people with big challenges. Four-stories is nothing. They balance for higher density is easy access to LIFE!


This article and some of the commenters raise important questions about the city’s project approval process. The writer’s opinion on this project is not the issue, and whether the neighbors oppose a project is not the standard for project approval. It is also fair to point out that people may be reluctant to speak to a politically contentious proposal. We have seen this reticence on countless other issues, including Trackside.

When did the community decide whether it wants a homeless shelter/service facility? When did the community decide on the type, scale and appropriate location for such a facility? Where have all of these decisions been incorporated into the General Plan? How are these decisions reflected in the zoning code, the design standards, the specific plans?

These are all fair questions, which should be answered by the community at large. After all, the city is supposed to follow community desires, not those of the project proponents, city staff, immediate neighbors, or the city council.

Todd Edelman

Questioning is my religion BUT the headline here... is it neutral?

Consider instead, e.g. "Proposal Nearly Triples Capacity of Existing Homeless Shelter in Same Footprint - A Foolish Consistency in Zoning is the Hobgoblin of Little Hearts".

Robert D Canning

I agree with Bob, Todd, and David. These issues all need to be aired. And I think Bob’s comment about the community at large is on target.

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