In the latest in a string of articles that examines letters to the editor, we get one today called, “Road diet? No, city diet.”
The writer argues, “The structural tax base of the city of Davis is years in the making. Past plans to limit commercial growth and expanded retail options force Davisites to do most of their purchasing out of the city. While allowing Target to open after a decade of debate has brought some purchasing back to the city, it was relegated to a corner of town farther in travel time for most Davisites than going to Dixon or Woodland. And we wonder why we have a revenue problem.”
The writer continues, “How funny that the ‘If the tax fails …’ article wrapped to a column adjacent to a photo of the new traffic lights on Fifth and F streets where the caption celebrates the reduction in speed from 30 mph to 25 mph on what was once the Lincoln Highway.”
“Have our city leaders lost touch with the reality of family needs? How many of them have to shuttle kids across town between schools, sports and other activities?” he asks.
Ironically, this council is probably more attuned to family needs than any recent council. The council from 2006 to 2010 had three members with no children at all and two with grown children. However, the current council has three members with elementary school age children or younger, and a fourth whose kids only recently graduated from high school.
“I resent being asked for more money from a government that limits shopping opportunities and then spends funds on projects to physically constrict traffic, hoping that it will simply disappear,” he continues. “While earlier articles pointed out that most funding is from grants from other governments (as if they don’t have revenue problems), the city soon will find that even more shopping dollars leave town, further cascading their need for increased rates.”
Several points here. As the writer notes, the bulk of the funding for the 5th Street redesign was through grants and other allocations. That really has no bearing on the city’s budget situation.
Second, the city is going to have to create a long-term revenue strategy. It is clear at this point that does not involve peripheral retail. Obviously not everyone agrees with that approach, but the city does have to get any peripheral project through a Measure R vote.
That leads us to a third point, the city has re-launched the Innovation Park Task Force process. The idea will be to start engaging with the public. It would have been nice to have launched the public engagement back in January or better yet last year in June when it was clear we needed tax revenue to bridge the budget gaps.
We believe that the sales tax measure will probably pass regardless of engagement, but it would be nice for the public to at least understand the strategy.
The interesting thing, and it will seem counter-intuitive, is that while the city manager last year correctly classified the current problem as a revenue problem rather than a spending problem, the constrained revenue over the last decade was probably a blessing in disguise.
Most communities with a higher sales tax base fared far worse than Davis. Keep in mind that during the first decade of this century, the city passed a sales tax measure that went to public employee compensation increases, and experienced double-digit property tax growth. All of those monies went to ramp up compensation, benefits, and retirement for employees.
Had the city also had a higher sales tax base, the city would have ramped up spending even more and, when the economy collapsed in 2008, it would have had to cut that much more.
On the back end of the economic downturn, the city is going to look into seriously developing its innovation and tech transfer from the university to produce additional property tax and point of sales taxes to help create a more sustainable base.
Back to the issue of the 5th Street road diet. It is ironic that Davis is considered such a bike-friendly community. Given all of the pushback and animosity I see toward innovative bicycling projects, it makes me wonder what a bicycle unfriendly community looks like.
So when I hear comments about prioritizing high traffic areas and prioritizing funds that were obtained through specific grant applications for higher need areas, I wonder how much the city has really done to educate its residents on the need for the 5th Street road diet.
Does the public not realize that 5th Street is one of the most dangerous stretches of street in the city?
There are 15,000 vehicles a day that go through that 3,500 feet of the project length. That represents just 0.004 percent of the city’s street in distance. Yet it accounts for between 12 to 15 percent of the city’s accident count most years.
The year the project was approved, 19% of all the ped and bike hits in the entire city happened on this short stretch of 5th Street. How does someone claim to support safe routes for bicycles and pedestrians and yet ignore one-fifth of the traffic in one small spot?
What higher area of prioritization can there be?
This is a community that was recently voted No.1 cycling city in the country, where 22% of the residents commute by bike. While 95% of the roads have bike paths in Davis, 5th Street, just two blocks up from the National Bicycling Hall of Fame, is not one of them.
You want a balanced approach? How can you have a balanced approach on a street that does not accommodate bikes or pedestrians?
—David M. Greenwald reporting