Council Candidates Talk About the Downtown At the DDBA Forum – PART TWO


This is part two of the DDBA candidates forum.  As a reminder, this evening at 7 pm will be the League of Women Voter’s Forum at the Community Chambers at 23 Russell Blvd in Davis.

This represents the remainder of the DDBA questions and two audience questions.


“A large portion of the downtown is zoned central commercial, which allows for 300 percent lot coverage, yet this zoning also requires a conditional use permit for any structure exceeding two stories.  Do you agree that this zoning conflict hinders the redevelopment of the downtown.  And would you support the increase of the two story limitation to four stories?”

Rochelle Swanson said that while she was hesitant to say across the board that that’s fine, was generally supportive of making changes in condition use permit requirements.  “We really need to look at things project specific, I think before we go changing that to let it get up to three or four stories, that we need to get to a design review process.  I think the current process we have now is quite discretionary within the planning department.  I think it would make it much easier for applicants to be able to come up with if they knew what the design review process was.”  She wants to see continuity and beauty in our town.  “In theory, I would support that being a change.”

Daniel Watts said that he did not have a problem with lifting height restrictions unless there is a problem that Jon Li talked about referring to the lack of a hook and ladder fire truck.  “I don’t have a problem with buildings going up to two, or four, or eight,  or twelve or twenty-seven.  I don’t really care how tall the buildings are in Davis.”  He continued, “We’re always talking about density and how the downtown needs  to be dense so that it can be a walkable city, so that people can live near stores and shops, so that people don’t have to own a car in Davis.”  He said having a dense downtown where the first floor is retail and above that are residential is a good way to promote that kind of community.

“The downtown is in the redevelopment district, redevelopment in the downtown have been modest, while redevelopment  in other parts of the district such as south Davis has been significant.  Which three policies do you intend to see instituted by the council in 2010 that will dramatically spur the redevelopment of the downtown.”

Sydney Vergis thinks we need to figure out what current resources are and believes that is unclear right now particularly with the state’s actions, coming in and taking redevelopment money.  She said, “I think there are a few opportunities to really have good projects downtown that would really make Davis proud, whether it’s following through on the Third Street project that we’ve been talking about for a long time, whether it’s implementing bike rental kiosks at the Amtrak Station, whether it’s finding a permanent home for the US Bike Hall of Fame, we have definite opportunities to really help downtown become a hub, but I think we need to figure out what are our resources are and what our communities priorities are for how to get there.”

Joe Krovoza said that he would, “favor looking at the amount of money that’s generated into the redevelopment agency from downtown and making sure that that percentage if not quite a bit more stays in our downtown.”  He continued, “certainly if we are to counterbalance what happens with Target and Second Street, that needs to be the case.”  Secondly, he said he wants to think about how we are going to create a permanent home for the Bike Museum Downtown.  He views this as a way to both bring people from the region into the area and instill our fame as a biking community.  “Along with Farmer’s Market, it can be one of the two great reasons people come to downtown.”  He sees that as taking redevelopment funds to make that happen.  Finally he wants to bring people downtown.  He said, “ really want to engage people in thinking about development on its east side.  Too many people and student housing, faculty housing are being added on the west side and that detracts from downtown.”

“The current policies  to evaluate downtown proposals, project by project, through a subjective process, do you think this is the most effective way to spur redevelopment of the downtown – why or why not?

Daniel Watts responded that while he does not know, but he doesn’t believe a subject process is efficient.  He continued that a process which occurred based on the level of complaints did not seem a very efficient process.

Sydney Vergis responded that she believes “The Council really needs to recognize that the small business owners, especially in our downtown operate on really small margins.”  She continued, “Certainly it’s okay to say yes, no, or negotiate for a better process but historically we’ve not been very timely about that.  There is a process to follow, yeah it costs, the council adds costs in the political jockeying of these different processes.  So yes, I think we need to.”

“The city council has passed a road diet for Fifth Street to facilitate east-west automobile and bicycle traffic.  What is your back up plan should road diet fail and what is your plan for dealing with the project dramatic increase to north-south automobile and bicycle congestion?”

Joe Krovoza said that he believes that the road diet will be dramatically successful.  “These types of plans have been done in many other places and they’ve been very successful,” he said.  “The fact is that two studies have shown the travel time from A to L under the road diet will go down by 45 seconds.  People are going to move a bit slower, but the big difference is that the lights at F and G are going to go from three phase to two phase, and that makes a huge difference.  If you miss one of those lights now you’re not going to wait for two phases.”  He continued, “I understand that intuitively it feels to people that when you go from two lanes to one lane, you’re going to have more problems.  But the north-south problem, the wait times at F and G are going to go down by 30% because of the lights are going to go from three phase to two phase.”  According to him, 30% of all bike-car accidents in the city happen within that 1200 foot stretch.  The contingency plan might be fiddling with light timing.  He further added,  that “at C, D, E, it is going to be harder to get across.  I think people are going to learn that if you make a right hand turn, and go over one block, and then take a left hand turn onto a street you’re going to be better off.”

Jon Li said that he was militantly neutral on the bike diet for at least three years.  He said, “I remain neutral-positive about the road diet.”  He continued, “I’m an empirical social scientist, I want to see what happens to Fourth Street.  I want to see what happens to Eighth Street.”  But he said, “I’m also what you might call a radical bicyclist, I don’t have a car.  I ride Fifth Street the same as you do,   I ride it as though I was in a car and I go almost as fast as the cars do.  So I go in the middle of the road.”

“Is there sufficient readily available parking in the downtown?  If not, what is your downtown parking plan?”

Rochelle Swanson answered, “I don’t think there’s sufficient USED parking.  I think before we consider adding parking, we need to try to utilize what we have.”  She continued, “One option,” she said, “assuming our redevelopment money remains intact, we can do something closer to Amtrak to do it there.”  She also suggested that we could utilize the permitting process to encourage people to utilize a lot of the available downtown spots.  She suggested putting long term parkers in the garage freeing up the street spaces for those who are coming into the downtown to shop and leave, can also have that opportunity.  Wants to find different phases of timing in front of various places.

Daniel Watts argued, “Parking seems facially bad because people have this mental block against parking more than 100 yards from where they want to park.”  He continued, “People will drive right up and wait for twelve people to get out of their spots or they’ll stalk people as they’re walking to get to their car in order to grab that spot which is right up front rather than walking fifty yards.”  Suggested that there are other places to park.  He said that they do need twenty minute parking for purchasing large products that are heavy to carry.

“UCD students and staff represent the economic lifeblood of the downtown, yet anecdotal evidence strongly indicates that a significant percentage of the student population is unaware of the goods and services that the downtown has to offer, what’s your remedy?”

Rochelle Swanson believes that students need to be educated as to what can be purchased in the downtown.  But she also said, “We need to have something that specifically targets that age group.”  Part of the problem as she described is a higher price point and therefore we should look to communities that offer a discount for students.  She also suggested the possibility of a special student day where there’s a discount a certain day of the week.  Finally, she suggested finding ways to inform students about what the downtown offers.

Joe Krovoza suggested we need a large music band event downtown early in the fall attract as many new students as possible.  “You kind of have their hearts and maybe their minds in the fall and maybe that’s the time to really try to capture them.”  He sees music as a way to go about it, street festivals might be a way to go.  Also diversifying the goods will also help.  High end restaurants are not the way to go.  Pizza places are.

“The university, funded by our taxes, has pursued new business by funding a hotel, by funding several restaurants on campus, and developing a commercial district in the West Village, does this affect the economic vitality of downtown?  What commercial enterprises should or shouldn’t the university on their campus?”

Jon Li said it makes a certain amount of sense to have food places on campus, but he’s less sure about the hotel and conference center.  He pointed out this was controversial because it “seemed like the decision was made without the city being involved at all.”  So he said, “The first point to make is that the communication should be better between the university and the city.”  He would like to see more collaboration, but on smaller scale stuff, he thinks that most of the private sector, small scale commercial, should remain in the private sector.

Sydney Vergis suggested that there is only so much we can do about land that is not our own.  “One issue is that our transit occupancy taxes are already down.  Certainly our projected revenues for the city are not what we expected across the board, whether it be property tax or sales tax.  The transit occupancy tax being down already is really negative for us.”  So the hotel on campus not only harms our business but harms the city finances.  “We need to get really aggressive about our economic development tactics.  We need to actively market Davis as a destination.”

An audience member asked the remaining members the 5th Street question.

Rochelle Swanson said that while she has some apprehensions about the project and the impacts, since we are moving forward “we need to make sure that we’re moving at a pace that ensures that this is a good plan that goes in.  That it’s not just something that becomes a temporary.  It concerns me to hear people say, well if it doesn’t work, we’ll just pull it out.  We’re talking about almost $900,000.”  She went on to say that this would have to come out of general fund money to pay it back to SACOG.  “If we’re moving forward, then let’s make it the best that it can be.”

Daniel Watts said, “Apparently the first phase is easy to reverse compared to subsequent phases.  If it doesn’t work, if all of these projections don’t pan out, we should reverse it because we shouldn’t keep something in place that’s making traffic worse.  That’s making it harder to get downtown, harder to navigate around Davis.  I’m all for reversing it if it’s not working.”  He also added that he’d like to synchronize lights in Davis and fix the red light camera.

Sydney Vergis said that at this point the project is almost there with a 5-0 vote by the council to move forward both with the grant application and to do the environmental document which will include an analysis of all of the traffic impacts.  “We’re talking about this year long trial period and we need to look hard and fast as to what this indicator is going to be to gauge success.  I’d like to make sure that the downtown congestion doesn’t increase in addition to looking at the traffic counts for cars, for bikes, and to make sure that Eighth Street is not highly impacted.”  If it does not work, she said, she wants to see the city look at more walkable corridors through Third or Fourth Street.

Jennifer Anderson asked their position on the city deficit and their solution.

Rochelle Swanson said, “her position is that we need to re-think how we’re doing the budget.  We need to start by not waiting until next spring to start tackling our budget workshops.”  She continued suggesting that we need to back out our growth assumptions on revenue growth and property taxes.  She also suggested we move toward multiyear budgeting.  “I think we need to go through the budget line by line, department by department, and do priorities.  I’m uncomfortable that we balance the budget on vacancies and simply by moving people around.  We need to look at what services do we want in our community, how we deliver those services, what departments do we need to deliver those core services, and who are the people that are going to be sitting in those seats and driving those cars and making sure we’re getting them.”  She said that’s half the equation, the other half is looking into compensation costs, examine what it is that we’re providing.  We need to be responsible for our unfunded liabilities and how we’re taking care of them today so that we’re not surprised down the road.”

Joe Krovoza agreed with “just about everything that Rochelle said.”  “We’ve not given ourselves the kind of flexibility that we need to live in extremely different times.  The signs have been clear for a number of years that what’s happening at the state level is only going to make it tougher on municipalities to balance their budget.”  Likes the idea of multiyear budgeting.  He said, “It’s unfortunate that we have three year public employee contracts right now that are going to lock us in.”  This will drastically reduce our ability to have budget flexibility over the next few years.  Looking toward redundancies in government as a way to save money.  Talked specifically about the consolidation of the two fire departments in the city and UC Davis and questioned why they had not been consolidated at this point in time.

Danielle Watts said, “I also agree with Joe that Rochelle makes good points.”   He talked about contract employees, the fact that a lot of our money is tied up in long term pensions, a lot of that is because we have hired a full time employees.  He said there is nothing wrong with hiring contract employees for a temporary employees.  Suggested a way to reduce our long term liability and also replacing staff with interns.  “Finally three of the five city councilmembers sitting on the council right now are owned and paid for by the fire fighters union.  That’s why we have such a huge deficit.  The next time the fire fighters contract comes up we need to negotiate harder with them and I’ll be able to do that because I’m not taking their money.”

Sydney Vergis said the council right now gets presented a budget on a quarterly basis and it is represented with a very broad brush overview of what we are presented with.  She suggested that since we have a new council coming in this June, it is going to “have to hit the ground running to overcome many of the challenges staring us in the face.  I would rather see us adopt a more intensive budget hearing process like the county does so that the council can go through line by line and understand what each department does… so that we can create a budget that is based not just on council priorities but community priorities as well.”  She said that often programs that look good at the time of passage stay on the budget with no way of quality control to see that they continue to meet our needs.

Jon Li said, “I think that the General Plan and the budget are not something that we can plan for the future with.”  He suggested that we need to come up with new adminsitrative technology and therefore he recommends the viable system model.  He suggests that the viable system model will help the system operate in real time and present instead of the past as the budget does.  It will provide daily reports and allow for continually planning rather than enabling the plan to become obsolete.  It also enables the city to budget continuously rather than locking into one plan.  “We have no idea what the Davis economy looks like right now, it’s changing rapidly.  The decision that was made on Tuesday about the redevelopment agency will have enormous impacts on the downtown.  We don’t know what those impacts are.”

–David M. Greenwald reporting

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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  1. E Roberts Musser

    Sidney Vergis: “What is your back up plan should road diet fail…”

    Nothing like a self-fulfilling prophecy. How about we support the road diet to make sure it succeeds?

  2. preston

    [quote]Nothing like a self-fulfilling prophecy. How about we support the road diet to make sure it succeeds? [/quote]

    Many ideas have been supported by multitudes of people and still failed, because they just weren’t good ideas.

  3. E Roberts Musser

    preston: “To talk of failure before it is even tried is essentially setting up a self-fulfilling prophecy – it is more likely to fail if people believe/hope/posit the idea it will from the start. If people get behind a project, and are determined to make it work, despite setbacks along the way, the chances are very good the project will not fail. To speak of failure before the inception of the project is very unfortunate – and frankly appears to come right out of the mouth of the 5th St redesign detractors.

  4. Don Shor

    Elaine: “Sidney Vergis: “What is your back up plan should road diet fail…”

    Just for the record, Sydney didn’t say that. It was the DDBA question to the candidates.

    “If people get behind a project, and are determined to make it work, despite setbacks along the way, the chances are very good the project will not fail.”

    The impact of the redesign will be measurable in terms of, among other things:
    –traffic flow rate along Fifth Street, wait times at lights, and changes in accident frequency;
    –traffic flow rates along the perpendicular streets, wait times at the intersections, and changes in accident frequency;
    –traffic impacts on Eighth Street and changes in accident frequency.

    Those are not affected by whether people support or oppose the project. They can be measured objectively. If there are significant impacts on nearby streets, or if the traffic flow on Fifth is significantly reduced, changes will be needed. To discuss that in advance is not creating a self-fulfilling prophecy, any more than Joe Krovoza’s statement (or at least paraphrased by David) that it will be “dramatically successful” will make it so. As Steve Tracy said, time will tell. I think it’s important to be realistic about this

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