An amazing thing happened during 2010 to 2014 – growth and land use issues, which were of paramount importance in prior council elections, almost entirely disappeared over a three-election period covering five calendar years.
The reasons were varied, ranging from the collapse of the real estate market, the lack of demand for new housing and new projects, and the overwhelming defeat of Measure P in 2009 coupled with the overwhelming renewals of Measure J (in the form of Measure R) in 2010.
However, the times are starting to change. We have seen a renewal of interest in land use issues starting with Cannery, Mace 391, and continuing with a series of controversial infill projects ranging from Mission Residence to Paso Fino and, most recently, Trackside. Then there is, of course, the debate over Nishi and the Innovation Parks that has heated up this year, as those projects move toward Measure R votes.
The local paper argues that a “new building boom reaches across Davis,” “where the market for development in Davis is heating up right now… going all the way from residential building additions and remodel permits to large-scale commercial and mixed-use projects like the Mace Ranch Innovation Center and the Nishi Gateway proposal.”
From the paper’s perspective, the renewed activity represents a boom and, for the most part, seems to be a good thing.
The biggest drawback of the huge amount of resale applications is this: “As exciting a time as it is to be on the city’s planning staff during a building boom, the city must grapple with staffing issues. In a private business, hiring and layoffs are done on a more demand-based model, but with government accounting and budgetary processes, it can take several months to ramp up an operation to deal with sustained growth.”
The article quotes city manager Dirk Brazil who said it is not wise to start hiring permanent planning staff right now for fear that paying the new salaries and benefits that would be no longer needed “if the boom turns to bust in a few months, or a year or two.”
Whether this is really a boom is a question not really explored. The projects that the paper cites are the hotel conference center at the current site of the University Park Inn. There is Nishi which would require a Measure R vote. There is the Mace Ranch Innovation Center which would require a Measure R vote.
There is the already-approved Cannery. They mention Trackside as well.
Not mentioned are the Sterling Apartments, the Villages at West Creek, which were just discussed by council, and the Panattoni Center business park in South Davis. Nor was Paso Fino mentioned.
But is this a boom? What is interesting is that most of the projects are relatively small scale infill projects that will replace existing structures. There are few like Cannery, the Villages and Panatonni that are built on open land within the city.
However, the more puzzling part of the coverage is that the only problem elucidated seems to be the lack of planning staff.
The paper quotes Jim Gray at length – ironically, since they do not mention his projects.
The paper writes, “So from a Davis-centric point of view, things seem to be on the up and up. Not entirely, warns Davis resident Jim Gray, a developer and broker with DTZ, a global real estate investment firm. First, the Bay Area and Silicon Valley markets have been white-hot for a few years now, leaving Davis in the dust by comparison.”
The article continues, “Second, as he sees it, the early 2000s saw the growth wars in Davis produce things like Measure J (renewed as Measure R), which requires development on the periphery of town to be annexed only through a vote of the people. Although Gray never mentioned Measure R by name, he said the side-effects of those growth wars are being felt now.”
“’We didn’t foresee the consequences of not having income-producing commercial properties,’ he said, ‘adding that there are only a few places in the city where a mid-size company looking for 10,000 square feet of space could locate.’”
“Slow-growth proponents managed largely to fend off sprawl, or sprawling, suburban-style residential developments. And some have said not being able to have large commercial developments without a vote of the people reduces the demand for housing that comes with having a jump in local employment. But there’s ‘a squeeze coming’ because of that, Gray said.
“As UCD expands and adds more students, more and more of the brainpower coming out of the university goes elsewhere — out of Davis, out of the Sacramento region, perhaps even out of state or the country, Gray said. A large-scale commercial development could help stabilize that, but it would take the community coming to the realization that despite whatever traffic and other impacts that can’t be fully mitigated, commercial investment in Davis is a good thing for the graying city populace.”
“’It’s not should it be done,’ he said. ‘It’s needed.’”
Interesting, but hardly the only viewpoint in Davis. Where is the counter-viewpoint? In fact, where is the majority viewpoint?
In fact, there are two other viewpoints completely not covered in this article. And again, how do you interview Jim Gray without mentioning he has two projects pending, one of which was discussed last week in open council?
The first viewpoint is the classic Measure R viewpoint. The need to protect open space and agricultural land and preserve the character of the community.
There is also a middle view here, that I have increasingly advocated – on the main, the need to protect open space and limit peripheral growth, while recognizing the need for economic development and to alleviate pressure to grow that could result in a blow out of the city as we experienced a few decades ago.
But none of those viewpoints are represented in this article. It is remarkable that the paper can get away with such one-sided reporting.
—David M. Greenwald reporting