by Doby Fleeman
Over the past decade, the city has largely ignored the need for additional revenues necessary to support expanded infrastructure and public service programs from the past several decades.
A combination of factors is responsible for revenues not having kept pace. For years, continuing growth in population and new construction was adding incremental new revenues – revenues based on growth – through increased fees, rising sales and property taxes. And then, in the early 2000’s, that era of sustained growth came to a screeching halt. What did not stop increasing, however, were the underlying costs to maintain the enhanced infrastructure – think greenbelts, parks, bikeways, schools, roadways and the like – all products of previous growth and expansion. Likewise, growth in staffing, which accompanied the earlier housing boom, together with subsequent compensation increases in the early 2000’s, combined to further exacerbate effects of the decline in revenue growth.
With this as background, we turn to the subject of today’s commentary – the need for sustainable new revenues to maintain and enhance essential municipal services. Everybody has their own idea of what could best foster additional revenues for the city – ranging from more retail, Downtown redevelopment, higher sales and parcel taxes, an arts and entertainment district, to construction of innovation centers – and the list goes on. Others offer examples from their favorite communities, ideas that would be a great fit and make a perfect addition to the community. Put it all in a hopper and it can become a bit overwhelming.
Whether it’s the example of parking in Old Town Pasadena, breadth of retail shopping options in Palo Alto, innovative new ventures coming out of Boulder, vibrant Downtown shopping in San Luis Obispo, or Ann Arbor, Charlottesville, Chico, Ithaca, Raleigh – examples are everywhere. The common thread is a group of charming communities, many anchored by a major research university.
In the context of this conversation, and its focus on the economic drivers available to our unique community, it is important to assess both the economic success of these various models and to select specific examples where we have a realistic chance of duplicating the strategies that have worked in these comparison communities. This process is what I refer to as “taking stock” of what we have, who we are, and how we might wish to evolve as a community.
For my own reference, I have designed a kind of matrix to serve as a backdrop as I try to begin comparing. I feel that knowing who we are and having a realistic understanding of our current standing in the regional economic pecking order are critical to making informed decisions about our better and best options going forward.
Keeping in mind that I am neither a planner or an economist, just somebody who likes to “keep it real” – I offer this simple, subjective matrix as a possible tool to aid in better understanding our core strengths and opportunities as we discuss possible development options for increasing our volume of economic activity within the community. It is important to understand that each of components of this matrix is intended to address the intrinsic and man-made attributes with the potential to influence economic activity within the community.
The more economic activity conducted within a community, the greater the economic multiplier effect, and the more revenue available (net of corresponding service costs) to finance essential and optional community services. Visitor footsteps play a tremendously powerful role in determining the level and degree of economic activity conducted within the host community. Whether it’s visiting to shop, to drink and dine, to see a major sporting event, to indulge a passion for sport or adventure, to learn, or to work – each of these activities brings with it a unique spending profile by both the businesses and their customers.
The bigger the ticket and the more frequent the transactions = the larger the take. Viewed on a per capita basis, these are all factors which contribute to the numerator. And, then there is the denominator – but that’s a topic for another article.
As we go about the process of taking stock and seeking context, I would encourage you to ask: “As new choices and opportunities are presented, how does each compare in terms its potential contribution to the city’s economy, quality of life and Davis’ strategic economic value proposition within the region?”
Doby Fleeman is a co-owner of Davis Ace Hardware. This editorial originally appeared in the Davis Enterprise and was submitted to the Vanguard by its author.