The vote on Trackside was 4-1 with the council siding with the developer’s four-story proposal. The neighbors argued and have continued to argue that this project is precedent-setting. I don’t see it that way, and I think most of the community did not as well. What I do see is that the discussion on Tuesday set up for the next debate and I’ll explain why shortly.
Take 1: This always remained an Old East debate
It was not for a lack of effort on the part of the neighborhood association. They came to Farmer’s Market, they had advertising, they went door to door and flyered adjacent neighborhoods. Their efforts did not bear fruit.
Old North Davis was leafleted to urge turnout for the Trackside hearing – the result was there were three people from ONDNA speaking and all three probably would have spoken regardless.
Beyond the neighborhood, the small number of speakers against the proposal from outside of the neighborhood amounted to less than a handful of people and they too were “usual suspects.”
As Linda Deos put it, no one outside of Old East Davis really cared about Trackside. There were over 50 commenters, they were pretty much by my count split down the middle, and they amounted to three groups primarily: (1) the neighbors, (2) the investors, and (3) young students and recent graduates.
Take 2: Design guidelines was not a winning issue
The strategy undertaken by the neighborhood did not work to bring in the general population. They warned in their flyer that there “are forces in town that wish to greatly densify all our neighborhoods” and they lamented the violation of the design guidelines and zoning.
As expected, this issue did not resonate for the council and it did not resonate for the folks outside of the immediate neighborhood. Part of that relates to the nature of other current proposals which do not appear to have the same dynamics as Trackside. Part of that relates to kind of the unique nature of this location.
Take 3: The neighbors in a lot of ways overplayed their hand
My sense in Tuesday’s column that the neighborhood opposition overplayed their hand I think was borne out in some of the council comments. Councilmember Will Arnold took exception to what he called “the rhetorical gap.” He took exception to the notion that the design guidelines were being wiped out and “Davis was losing its soul.”
I was more sympathetic to the neighbors’ concerns here, given the small impact of 27 units on the overall housing crisis, but the rhetoric was overblown and over the top, especially considering the difference between three and four stories.
It is one thing when this was a six-story proposal – I think most everyone saw that clearly as an overreach, especially when coupled with poor outreach. The developers made a lot of early mistakes and they definitely poisoned the well with that, especially with the neighborhood.
But once they came down to four stories, the neighborhood continued with almost the same level of discouragement. That didn’t play well with the council especially, who saw the developers offering four stories (a reduction from the original six) and the neighbors countering with three stories and 12 fewer units.
By then, the difference in size did not seem to match the rhetoric, which is what Councilmember Arnold called “the rhetorical gap.” Other councilmembers did not articulate it but told me they felt the same way.
Most people in the end didn’t see a huge difference between the impact of three versus four, and, given the concern about housing and the current under-utilized space at Trackside, the council without a really strong case was simply going to approve it.
Take 4: The emerging generational gap in Davis
I saved this point until last, but this is probably the most important point and it is probably the only precedent-setting point that we have.
Councilmember Rochelle Swanson made the comment that “no one is talking about the fact that this is about the haves and have-nots.”
In a way this battle is almost misplaced with Trackside, because it will not have student housing by design and structure. It will be housing that leans away from affordable and toward luxury. And yet, what we saw on Tuesday was a very clear and extremely stark generational gap.
I think, with one exception, everyone who came to speak who was under the age of 40 spoke in favor of the proposed project. Whereas, most of the folks speaking who were over the age of 50 were opposed to the proposed project.
The contrast between the students and recent graduates who were speaking and decrying the lack of affordable housing in Davis, and the older (with one exception) members of the neighborhood who were housing-secure and settled in their lives is the story of Davis for the next few years.
The recent graduate who is working for a start up and wants to live in Davis but can’t afford the rent, and those who want to live in Davis and can’t find a place to live, were reminders that the discussions we have been having here on the Vanguard have real people. People have questioned if there are people who work in Davis and live elsewhere who want to move here – well, we saw some of them on Tuesday night.
Again, Trackside with 27 units, as everyone acknowledges, doesn’t solve the housing crisis or even put a dent in it. But more important than that, what we saw is a glimpse of the coming policy debate.
This is an emerging issue and you ignore it at extreme risk. Davis is rapidly becoming a bifurcated community of people over 65 and under 25. The neighbors talked about the missing middle in planning, but failed to note the missing middle in demographics.
There has been a lot of talk that we need more one-, two-, and three-bedroom apartments in Davis for families. Well, if those apartments rent for $1600 a month to $2300 a month, what family can afford to live there?
The reality is that, while the students and young professionals are lacking places to live in Davis, there is little place for people my age – with young families and who make at or slightly above median income – to live in Davis.
None of this is solved by Trackside, but the people who came forward and matched the neighbors in numbers and intensity are a sign of what is to come.
How this ends up playing out remains to be seen. We will see in the coming months with Lincoln40, with Plaza 2555, and eventually with Nishi whether the generational shift has real traction, but ignore this trend at your own peril is the lesson I take away from Tuesday.
—David M. Greenwald reporting