On Thursday evening, the Vanguard hosted a discussion on Innovation Parks, and over the next several days, we will have some coverage of what the panelists said. We also took in nearly 30 questions from the audience, which we will be both addressing and throwing out for discussion on the Vanguard.
At the outset here, one of the key considerations will be housing. Davis has experienced periods of rapid growth and massive slowdown in housing. Right now, since 2000’s inception of Measure J and its renewal in 2010 as Measure R, Davis has seen no new peripheral developments. Last fall, the council did vote to approve the roughly 600-unit Cannery Park. However, voters overwhelmingly voted down Covell Village and Wild Horse Ranch.
Over the summer, the Vanguard made the case that the slowdown in housing is not simply due to Measure J. We cited evidence that Covell Village was to be the last major new peripheral subdivision – even prior to Measure J. The housing market collapse added to that.
Nevertheless, the polling done by the Ramos folks suggests that Measure R is both a familiar concept (with nearly two-thirds of respondents familiar with it) and popular, with 75 percent favorable to only 15 percent unfavorable.
The questions that we need to be looking at are whether there should be housing in Davis to support the new employees who come to work at the Innovation Park, why the current proposals do not contain a live-work housing component, and what the impact of the lack of housing will be on traffic.
As several of the panelists noted, Davis is interesting because a large number of people who work in Davis commute into town. And a large number of people who live in Davis work outside of town.
This was captured in the Studio 30 report that was released two years ago.
They wrote, “There has been an increase in the number of Davis residents who leave the city for work in the last five years, according to the US Census Bureau. Not only do more people leave the city for work—an increase from 58 percent in 2002 to 62 percent in 2009— but they are also driving farther. The greatest change is those who drive more than 50 miles, increasing from approximately 13 percent in 2002 to 16 percent in 2009.”
They argue that this has some negative impacts. First, it “could result in a reduction of community investment both fiscally and emotionally, and volunteer hours could decline as residents spend less time in the city.”
“It also impacts air quality and greenhouse gas emission levels. Increasing job opportunities in town could reduce commutes and improve the environment,” the report notes.
They add, “Local jobs help maintain the high level of civic involvement for which Davis is known and greatly values. Local businesses who share the values of the community invest in the quality of a community.”
It is obvious that the developers have avoided the housing component because they believe it would, at the very least, complicate if not outright kill a potential business park project.
But will the influx of jobs necessitate new housing? That was certainly a point that Tia Will expressed concern about on Thursday. Others suggested that more people who live in Davis will be able to work in Davis, and therefore it will improve the jobs-housing balance, which they argue is currently out of whack.
Last summer, when we talked to then-Davis Chamber CEO Kemble Pope, he noted, “There is a job-housing imbalance. We need more jobs in this community to create more revenue for the city coffers to continue to pay for the high quality community that we’ve created for ourselves.”
For Kemble Pope, the Innovation Park Task Force laid out a roadmap that is “palatable to the community.” He added, “I don’t believe anything in that report… assumes or precludes or points to the fact that we’re going to increase the number of households.” He stated that he doesn’t see the relationship between square feet for business being related to increasing the number of houses we build.
Both Kemble Pope and the Chief Innovation Officer disputed at that time that there was a connection between bringing jobs to Davis and necessarily creating housing growth pressure. They noted the number of people who live in Davis but commute to either Sacramento or even the Bay Area, who may be able to find employment closer to home should the opportunities arise.
“There are a fair amount of people who commute out of Davis to go to higher hanging jobs because they don’t exist locally,” Rob White stated. “We have a very intelligent and high quality workforce and they don’t have the ability to find many of the opportunities locally.”
“We don’t have enough of the jobs we need locally in order to supply the demand, so we have a lot of people out-commuting,” he said.
The other side of that are the people who are in-commuting, and those are people who are coming because of the university. Most of the service-oriented jobs are filled by students who become essentially local residents, at least during the school year and their tenure at the university.
Rob White said we need to look at data to determine what it is that we need to do to meet our workforce demands and “we need to figure out what are the matches to the resources we have locally.”
The question, of course, that the voters will have to assess is whether we are dancing around the head of the pin to avoid the obvious implication of developing innovation parks or whether there are other ways to meet the housing needs.
If we look at a more regional approach, it may be that if we have the transportation to support it, Davis may be an ideal place for high-tech job growth but a less ideal place for workforce housing. Needless to say, these are discussions that need to take place early and often.
—David M. Greenwald reporting