Proposed West Davis Housing Development Faces Discrimination Lawsuit

DAVIS -- Land in West Davis next to the Sutter Davis Hospital is earmarked for a housing development of smaller homes, including 150 units for low-income seniors.

It needs voter approval because the proposed site is farmland, although it is across the street from other senior housing units.

But civil rights attorney Mark Merin has taken sides against the proposal, labeled Measure L. He represents a Filipino/Hispanic American who wants a chance to live in Davis.

The lawsuit against building there has nothing to do with building on agricultural land, transportation or the planning process. Instead, it’s about discrimination and, specifically, discrimination against outsiders who want to live in the City of Davis.

The legal argument says that giving preference to people in Davis perpetuates past racial hiring and housing practices that have made the Davis population predominantly white.

"I am a little bit disheartened that they’re suggesting we're trying to infringe on people’s civil rights or that we’re racists," said developer Jason Taromino.

Taromino says the Davis-based provision came after dozens of public meetings and a desire for badly needed housing that benefits the community.

In addition, there is no residency requirement to buy in the city. It’s geared toward anyone who has a connection with Davis, such as a relative, going to grade school there and more.

"We have almost 12,000 people who come to Davis every day for work," Taromino said. "They’re included in this group because housing for them is an internal city need."

UC Davis graduates are included.

"Within a hundred miles we have 250,000 UC Davis graduates. So this is an inclusive program," Taromino said.

David Thompson of Neighborhood Partners has built affordable senior housing in Davis for 30 years. He says the lawsuit jeopardizes desperately needed senior housing in the city, which also helps minorities.

"The hardest group of minorities to find housing in Davis are those who are low and very low income, and that is who we will be taking care of," Thompson said.

The bulk of the City Council is backing Measure L, although activists say the city will be in for an expensive legal battle if Measure L passes. But backers say they won’t let a legal threat deter them from passing Measure L.

Opponents of the West Davis Active Adult Community are expected to ask the City Council to withdraw its support for the project at Tuesday night’s City Council meeting. But there is no agenda item on the subject on the calendar.