DJUSD, "Representation is crucial"
City Council Should Heed Planning Commission’s University Mall Recommendation

Local Clergy Comment on Affordable Housing

The owners of the University Mall, the Brixmor Property Group, have applied to the City for permission to demolish the existing shopping center and replace it with a mixed-use project of 264 apartments and 136,000 sq ft ground-floor retail.

We also note that Commissioner Darryl Rutherford has stated that the Commissioners themselves had multiple objections. "I'm a little disappointed in what we're seeing here." He called the proposed affordable housing plan ($600,000 in lieu fees) "an atrocity" and a "slap in the face."

Historically, Davis once had one of the strongest inclusionary housing requirements in the state. That policy intended to create affordable units in every major rental project built in Davis, enabling low-income families to live in Davis, and create the possibility of a robustly diverse community. Many minority households whose members work in Davis are part of the low-income population and these affordable units were often their only entry to living and working in Davis.

However, of the 264 apartments being given permission to be built on the University Mall site in Davis, not one of those 264 units will be set aside as an affordable unit.

Instead of providing any affordable units, the developers have voluntarily offered to deposit $600,000 into the Housing Trust Fund. This bypasses the glaring need of our community and is an insult to our historic vision and commitments.

The current awakening to and rage over racial and economic inequities in our nation require new and bold actions; our past failures to undo the racial and economic injustices that plague our land require us to create communities where all people can thrive. Ensuring that our housing policies contribute to more inclusivity and equality in our city is especially critical now.

As religious leaders in Davis, we believe the City must not approve a plan for 264 apartments that perpetuate the kind of divisions that are now tearing at the fabric of our communities. We must take concrete steps to provide more, not less, affordable housing that can make possible a diverse community in Davis.

The University Mall proposal must be at the very least a stepping stone toward our City's moral commitment to inclusion and affordability. Now is the time to make these bold changes and to walk in partnership with the spirit of these transformative times.

Today is June 19th, Juneteenth—an auspicious day to make this appeal for a new moral vision for housing in Davis.


The Rev. Dr. Brandon Austin, Pastor, Davis United Methodist Church
The Rev. Beth Banks, Senior Minister UU Church of Davis
Rabbi Seth Castleman, Davis
The Dr. Pamela Dolan, Rector of the Episcopal Church of St. Martin
The Rev. Casey Kloehn Dunsworth, The Belfry Lutheran-Episcopal Campus Ministry
Hamza El-Nakhal, Davis Muslim Dein
The Rev. Dr. Eunbee Ham, Pastor, Davis Community Church
Anne Kjemtrup, Davis Muslim Dein
The Rev. Dr. Chris Neufeld-Erdman, Pastor, Davis Community Church
Sara Tillema, Director and Campus Minister of Cal Aggie Christian Association (CA House)
Rabbi Greg Wolfe, Congregation Bet Haverim, Davis


Greg Rowe

The local clergy make good points, but some background info may be helpful. The project applicant, Brixmor, submitted its application in March 2018, when the "vertical mixed-use exemption" in the City's Affordable Housing Ordinance was still in place. At the recommendation of the Planning Commission in late 2018, the City Council deleted the vertical mixed-use "loophole" from the ordinance in early 2019. But, because Brixmor's application was submitted in early 2018, it had no legal obligation to provide affordable housing because its project is mixed use; i.e., commercial on the lower floor(s), with rental apartments above.

The in-lieu contribution of $600,000 was negotiated by the City, and was apparently the most that Brixmor would agree to. Credit goes to Assistant City Manager Ash Feeney for at least getting Brixmor to contribute something. As Ash pointed out at the Planning Commission hearing on this project, that $600,000 can be used by the City for things like the recent purchase of the single family home that will be used temporarily by Davis Community Meals while the new Paul's Place facility is under construction, or in helping to resolve the Pacifico project.

However, the Brixmor project totally ignores the fact that when the Planning Commission recommended approval of the Davis Live student apartment project, it added an amendment stipulating that there should be no more high density student housing apartment projects east of Sycamore Lane. This is one of the reasons why the Planning Commission unanimously recommended against approval of Brixmor's application.

Of course, it is totally up to the discretion of City Council whether or not to ignore the Planning Commission recommendation. If it appears Brixmor would simply close the shopping center if it is not allowed to construct student housing on the site, the Council may feel the City has no choice but to approve the housing in order to continue receiving retail sales tax revenue that would be generated by a remodeled shopping center. It is my understanding that the Brixmor proposal may be on the Council's July 21 agenda.

It seems clear that Brixmor's proposal would replace what has traditionally been a community shopping center with housing for 894 students (in a rent-by-the-bed format) coupled with services that would be geared almost entirely to a college student clientele; i.e., coffee shops, pizza parlors, bars, other fast food.

To some degree, such a proposal is understandable given the rapid increase of on-line shopping in recent years. COVID-19 has accelerated that trend. For example, I read an interview several months ago with the CEO of Tractor Supply Company. He said that since COVID-19 began, the company's online sales have increased to the point where he thought it would be 3 or 4 years from now, and he does not foresee a reversal of that trend.

The above statements are strictly my own thoughts, and not in my capacity as a planning commissioner.

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