Sunday Commentary: Navigating the Growth Issue

While issues come and go in the Davis eco space, the issue of growth in Davis remains the most contentious issue facing the community.  Lately some have taken to calling me pro-development, and, while I have never been a zero-growther, the idea that I’m somehow in favor of large-scale development is laughable.

Instead of offering a denial on such an ill-defined and nebulous concept as pro-development, I figured it would be better to go down the line and lay out my views.

At the start, I remain fully supportive of Measure R.  In general, I have and remain opposed to peripheral housing on prime ag land.  The two largest projects for peripheral housing I have opposed during my active time in Davis.

In 2005, I opposed the large peripheral Measure X, the Covell Village project.  I believed at the time and still believe now that the project was too large for that intersection, that there was inadequate traffic mitigation measures, and I believe that the voters saved the city from a huge crisis that would have come when the housing market collapsed.

I also opposed the Cannery Project.  I believe we would have been better off trying to make that space an Innovation Center.  As it stands now it is a relatively low density, single-family home space, with many of the homes outside of the affordability range for workforce households, which does not satisfy the biggest community need.  Moreover, the CFD (Community Facilities District) was an unmitigated giveaway to the developer.

At the same time, my work on the city budget, which started in 2007 and 2008, eventually led me to believe that the city would need to find revenue generation, and the Studio 30 report eventually convinced me that we were going to need to go outside the current city limits to find that.

Therefore, in concept I am supportive of a peripheral innovation park project.  Some have said I’m in favor of MRIC (Mace Ranch Innovation Center), even with housing.  That’s not quite accurate.  I am in favor of MRIC in concept, but that will depend on the specifics of the proposal – which we do not have.  I will say here that the Davis Innovation Park site was always my preferred project, but that ship has sailed.

Do I support MRIC with housing?  That’s a tough a question.  On the one hand, I view with some favorability the idea that we need to put housing close to where people work and, yes, I believe you can structure housing to make it attractive to workers on the site but not to a more general population.  I do find it odd that environmentalists in Davis seemingly have no problem forcing people to drive from Natomas or Elk Grove to work in Davis.

On the other hand, there is such an opposition to any housing that I legitimately question whether the voters would approve a project with housing.

The financing issue is real for the developers, and therefore one idea I have had is using the World Food Center – a concrete and university investment project – as a anchor tenant to solve for financing issues.

Student housing remains a problem.  Simple math suggests that we need more student housing in Davis.  As I have said before and I’ll say again, even in a 100/50 scenario, which I support, the city needs more housing in town for students.  The 0.2 percent vacancy rate is problematic and I think harmful both to students and family renters.

I have called for a study to determine how much housing we need, but it is clear that we need some.  Does that mean I support Sterling in particular?  Not necessarily.  While I reject a lot of the arguments made by those opposed to Sterling – I simply do not find them valid – I remain concerned about finding a way forward where neighbors can coexist with infill projects.

I don’t believe it is in the city’s best interest to add apartments on peripheral land for a variety of reasons, but infill inherently puts neighbors in conflict with new housing.

Finally, I will address my position on Nishi.  I did not take a position for or against.  People will say, well from your articles you were definitely in favor of it.  That is an assumption that some people have made.

The way I deal with controversial issues that I have not taken a definite up or down position on is to weigh in on component parts.  In the end, I did not find a lot of the opposition arguments, per se, as compelling.  I still believe that we could have gone a long way toward resolving the traffic issues on Richards, with the bypass to allow people to directly enter campus through Nishi combined with a redirection of other traffic toward the west entrances of campus.

On the other hand, as I recently wrote, I think the issue of highway emissions is of a more serious concern than many proponents understood at the time.

And I never believed that the Nishi project was ideal.  In my view, the city needed either a site dedicated to economic development or a site dedicated to student housing.  With emissions concerns increasing, I tend to support a USC Village type project on Nishi – something that the developers of Nishi have never supported.

Therefore, while in a lot of ways, if we need new development, putting it at Nishi makes sense from a closeness to campus approach – and I feel like we sold ourselves short on what was ultimately proposed.

Bottom line for me – I believe we need more commercial space because, while the state has helped a little on roads, the economic issues call for Davis to generate more revenue.  I  also believe we need more student housing in the form of a few infill apartment complexes.

What I don’t support is getting rid of Measure R, nor do I support peripheral housing or peripheral strip malls.

Does that make me pro-development?  I don’t think so.  But it does make me realistic about our current needs and shortfalls, and proactive in trying to address them.

—David M. Greenwald reporting



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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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One thought on “Sunday Commentary: Navigating the Growth Issue”

  1. Todd Edelman

    Thanks!

    What’s your position on the I-80? Can it be harm-reduced? Some research says it’s not safe within 500 yards of a major highway. Blocking its noise, filtering its emissions? Commercial buildings that can typically create over-pressuring which are the only ones allowed near it? Re-routing it half-way between Putah Creek and the southern border of the city in a deep trench? Death, Taxes and the I-80?

     

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