Discussion Has Focused on Details Rather Than Core Philosophical Issues: The Davis Enterprise‘s editorial this morning argues that there has been enough talk and debate and that it is time to build on Cannery and “turn an old eyesore into a new neighborhood.”
“The Hunt-Wesson tomato plant shut down in October 1999. That’s right, Davis has been dealing with this crumbling, derelict eyesore on the northern end of town for more than 14 years,” the Enterprise writes, and they note all of the changes that have occurred since 1999.
“But the landowner, ConAgra, kept pushing its Cannery project, knowing that Davis needs more housing and that it held the largest remaining parcel inside city limits,” the paper writes. They add, “To be sure, the city has driven a hard bargain. Our leaders insisted on unprecedented sustainability, diverse housing and accessibility.”
The editorial goes down the list of the debates and the compromises that have emerged. They write: “Senior groups wanted somewhere to age in place. Bicycle enthusiasts sought integration with the existing two-wheeled infrastructure. And, to its credit, ConAgra and its contractor, The New Home Company, stepped up. The project will include detached homes, lofts, bungalows and flats. Under an agreement with the group Choices for Healthy Aging, single-story detached homes will be an option in three of the project’s neighborhoods.”
They note about the “most contentious issue,” which they call “transportation” as opposed to “connectivity,” “the builders are pledging $11 million in improvements along Covell Boulevard. The Covell-J Street intersection, the main entry point to the area, will get a facelift, and two grade-separated crossings will allow bicycle access across Covell.”
But something sticks out here in this discussion – is connectivity really the most contentious issue?
“The truth is that Davis needs this project,” the paper continues. “Its 547 units would go a long way toward satisfying Davis’ fair-share housing requirements (we need to build 1,000 units by 2021). Our growth-challenged school district could definitely use the extra kids who will be growing up there, and those folks who work in Davis but find it too expensive to live here will have more options.”
That is where it strikes the observant reader – is the Enterprise’s contention really the truth? We have had discussions in the last few months on peripheral issues and details, but not the core issue – do we need 547 units of housing?
“The truth” here is merely the opinion of the Davis Enterprise. Some may agree, some may disagree. No one holds the providence over the truth here. It is not black and white, but merely the shades of gray that we will argue over.
Are those units really going to give people, for whom Davis has become too expensive, a chance to buy a home? How many students is the development going to add and will that really help or just be a temporary bump in student population?
And the most interesting question was never even addressed by the Enterprise – assuming the project gets three votes, which after all of the compromises looks almost assured, will citizens or competing developers be looking to put this on the ballot?
For most of this week people have been asking that question and I have been wondering exactly what an election would attempt to entail that has not been captured by the council discussion.
There is a sizable city population that does not believe we need any more homes. They do not believe that we have a housing requirement; they believe that such requirements are, at most, paper tigers and we might be able to utilize housing from West Village, from the expansion of ADUs and perhaps some future infill projects to meet housing needs (2021, after all, is a long time from now).
Maybe those people who hold those views are wrong, but writing their viewpoints off has proven disastrous for developers in recent years.
I hear a lot of talk about representative democracy, but little talk about how much the council actually represents the viewpoints of the public. After all, in 2005, there was a 4-1 vote to put Covell Village to a Measure J vote. That project lost 60-40. In other words, 80% of the councilmembers supported something that only 40 percent of the population supported.
In 2009, 3 councilmembers voted to put Wildhorse Ranch on the ballot and it lost 75-25. That means that 75 percent of the councilmembers supported something that only 25 percent of the population supported.
As we noted yesterday, one of the most intriguing questions is what role the Covell Village developers plan to play in all of this.
So, for all of the talk that there has been enough talk and debate, it seems that at least in the last several months, most of the discussion has not been on the core issues, but the side issues.
If we want the core issues in Davis discussed, the matter will have to go on the ballot.
The council shows absolutely no inclination to do so. So if we want this debate, someone else is going to have to put it on the ballot.
The Davis Enterprise concludes their editorial with, “On Tuesday, the City Council is expected to vote on the zoning change that will allow the project to go forward, as well as the final development agreement that provides all the benefits listed above. For the good of the community, the council must end the 14 long years of debate and start Davis toward a greener, brighter future.”
The problem is that not everyone agrees on what the greener, brighter future should look like and, despite declarations to the contrary, that debate has not even really begun.
So yes, Tuesday will be an important vote, but the more important question will not be answered on Tuesday night, but rather in the days and weeks following the vote. Opponents will not have much time and, with Thanksgiving coming up, their efforts will be difficult – if they even attempt to make them.
—David M. Greenwald reporting