Monday Morning Thoughts – Never the Twain Shall Meet?


Innovation-Park-exampleIn yesterday’s column lamenting the loss of Chamber CEO Matt Yancey, I wrote, “I have called on this community to decide who we are, what we want to be and where we are going to go. By laying out a vision – we may be able to find common goals and common ground that was missing.”

One our readers called on me to elaborate on how this process might unfold. They explained that they were interested in teasing out my view of “the fundamental distinction between planning and visioning. Planning without a vision would seem an exercise in frustration, unlikely to achieve optimal results.”

I have given a lot of thought about how best to answer that question and I keep ending up in a place where I question the usefulness of a visioning process.

Let us start here – do you think a visioning process for the United States with congressional Democrats and Republicans sitting down to iron out commonalities is likely to produce any sort of meaningful join vision? It is one thing for a bipartisan group with a common purpose to attempt to guide legislative efforts – but even that more often than not has proven futile.

Why? Two reasons. One is that the degree of polarization between the two camps is sufficiently wide that real common vision may not be possible. Second is that there is no real electoral incentive for both groups to compromise.

I don’t want to lose focus here with the national picture over the local scene. But I do believe both of these factors play themselves out repeatedly at the local level. For a long time in Davis you have had two relatively diametrically opposed factions of people. You have the so-called progressive wing of the city and you have the more development-oriented group of people, which has been kind of a coalition of developers, unions, and the Chamber/business community.

There was a period of time when each side controlled city hall, but there is no real dominant group right now. The progressives were strong enough to push through, in 2000, Measure J – which was heavily renewed in 2010. They were strong enough with coalitions to block Measure X in 2005, but not quite strong enough to block Target at the ballot box in 2006, to gain a council majority since 2002, or to stop some of the non-voting projects like the Cannery.

The group is not only aging, but it is badly splintered. For instance, portions of the progressives actually supported the water project. The progressives were strong enough to put the water project on the ballot, but ultimately the voters approved it. However, teaming with more conservative elements in the city as well as citizens who just did not understand the water rate system, they were strong enough to pass Measure P and, ultimately, while they could not stop the water project, they were able to negotiate better water rates.

I see the comments all the time – when I went to the Innovation Park Task Force, it was clear that there were people in that room who fundamentally distrusted the progressives and other slow to no growth advocates. We see them depicted as opposing all change or “CAVE” (citizens against virtually everything) or some other derisive term.

On the other hand, many distrust the more pro-development group as being self-interested and valuing development and money over preserving the community.

I grew up, as many know, in San Luis Obispo, a similar community to Davis in many respects, but the politics are a little different. When I was there, now nearly 20 years ago – but I’m not sure that much has changed – there were actually three factions. There was a pro-development faction, and it tended to be Republican with a few Democrats from time to time. There was a progressive faction that was largely no growth. And then there was a more centrist group that was slow growth – as I like to put it, they might oppose a Target but support a Costco.

The problem in San Luis Obispo is that the two slower growth factions would often split the vote, especially for the mayor. But having the more centrist faction allowed a kind of brokering that does not really exist here in Davis.

What we have really seen in Davis since 2010 has been a reemergence of a more moderate group – consisting of people like Joe Krovoza, who was not anti-development but would vote against projects like the Cannery when he saw it was not in the best interest of the community without better amenities.

I have considerably digressed from the central point to lay out the political landscape a bit better. Here is the problem with a visioning process – the progressives, splintered and factioned as they are, still have enough muscle to form coalitions to block key projects, especially those that go to the electorate for a vote.

I don’t see how you can have a visioning process without including voices from the community who have either a different vision or who wish to preserve Davis as the small town community surrounded by farm land. In fact, I largely support that vision of Davis.

The problem that I see is that it unsustainable. Seven years ago, the Vanguard was among the first entities which questioned the sustainability of the city’s finances. It was clear, even in pre-collapse 2008, that the combination of rising salaries with huge unfunded liabilities and huge deferred maintenance of infrastructure was a recipe for disaster.

I have a similar view of the current situation. I don’t think Davis is going to be able to provide the level of service we have come to expect, based simply on ever-increasing parcel taxes, sales tax and utility user taxes. This is a problem that I think the school district is going to face pretty soon, as well.

We need to develop our own tax revenue base and I think we can build a hotel conference center without destroying the great things of this community. The same with an innovation park. I don’t believe a 200-acre park, developed over 25 to 40 years, is going to fundamentally alter this community.

I’m not supporting massive peripheral retail, which I do think would alter this community. I’m not supporting large peripheral housing projects. But I think passing Nishi, the Hotel Conference Center, and Mace, assuming we can deal with traffic and transportation issues effectively, will help the city’s finances without destroying the community.

However, this is a process that is solved by visioning. I think there are too many different visions out there for Davis and the twain may never meet to go forward with a joint vision.

In the end, I think that is what elections are for. The candidates will have to put forth their visions and the community will decide through their choices of leaders, as well as their Measure R choices on Mace and Nishi, which way they want to go.

I know that’s probably not what people want to hear, but I think that is the direction that we will go. I just don’t see us getting all of the stakeholders into the room and agreeing on a common vision any more than I expect that of the Democrats and Republicans nationally.

—David M. Greenwald reporting


About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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15 thoughts on “Monday Morning Thoughts – Never the Twain Shall Meet?”

  1. Gunrocik

    Completely agree with David on this one.  The “no on everything” crowd are not willing to cede any ground when it comes to development.

    I believe David represents the middle ground — allow some infill housing on Nishi if “reasonably” mitigated.  If you don’t allow this housing UCD students will continue to over run the areas surrounding campus and obliterate what few homeowners are left in these neighborhoods.

    And if you don’t allow the Innovation Park if it can be proved that it ensures money to the city coffers, our city budget will continue to deteriorate and our amenities will slowly disappear.

    You aren’t going to get the aging gang of activists to give an inch on either project–so you just have to push forward.  If you let them get you into a visioning process, a general plan update or some other protracted process — they will filibuster to kill both projects.

    The water vote proved we can beat the CAVE people with the right coalition, need to do it again to preserve the long term health of the City–something our aging activist group clearly doesn’t care about.

  2. Frankly

    wish to preserve Davis as the small town community surrounded by farm land. In fact, I largely support that vision of Davis.

    It is like you are trying to be recognized as a swimmer with one hand gripping the side of the pool.

    Words matter right?  It does come down to words that define the vision of Davis… and when you say “small town community surrounded by farm land” those words would seem to support the actions of the extreme no-growth group.

    I’m not supporting massive peripheral retail, which I do think would alter this community.

    Here is the problem with this line of thinking.  The downtown is already shedding retail.  I know of one big downtown property owner who has given notice to tenants that he is liquidating… he is tired of dealing with Davis.  His properties will likely be purchased by Bay Area money, and the rents will be jacked up and more restaurants and bars will replace existing merchants.

    I could be more tolerant of the ignorance of people if they didn’t position themselves as being so knowledgeable about how by opposing development they are going to control economic migration.  They are not… they are just trading one set of challenges for another.   Davis no-growers are, frankly, in over their heads.

    Davis downtown is losing retail.  It is too hard to drive downtown.  It is too hard to find parking.  The rents are too high.  The buildings are too shabby.  Redevelopment options were killed by the governor raiding the RDA cookie jar to give more to the teachers union.  And the no-growth group is also opposed to significant changes to the downtown.

    The vision for Davis retail is completely broken.  Either we have to redevelop and grow the downtown retail footprint and scale… and figure out a way to deal with the traffic and parking problems, or we need to develop more peripheral retail.

    The downtown is already changing.  It will eventually just be a place for students to eat cheap food and get drunk.  What are we going to do about that?

  3. Anon

    The progressives were strong enough to push through, in 2000, Measure J – which was heavily renewed in 2010.”

    I am not a progressive, and I pushed for Measure J!

    I think there are too many different visions out there for Davis and the twain may never meet to go forward with a joint vision.”

    It depends on what you mean by “visioning”.  To some extent, I think we have had “visioning” through the advisory committees/commissions, through ballot measures, through the city’s General Plan, through the city’s tax measures, etc.  There was “visioning” going on through all the processes that brought forward the innovation parks.  “Visioning” can take many forms IMO.

    If you are talking about a formalized “visioning” process, labeled as “visioning”, that included everyone in town, on every issue – no, we have not had that nor should we.

  4. Doby Fleeman

    What does it mean to be the host community to be The University of California Davis campus?  What does that look like in thirty years?  How will this community emerge the better for it?  Will I-80 be widened next decade or the following?  What will our aging population mean for the community?  These issues are just basic issues that will be facing this community.   Ignoring them does not mean they will simply go away.

    1. Anon

      A formal “visioning” process is no guarantee these issues will be addressed.  However, it does seem like an update of the General Plan is certainly long overdue.  In fact, I would argue that our process for approving development is broken.  Our City Council is regularly having to use zoning variances to handle proposed development that does not meet the current outmoded General Plan.  A perfect example of this was the 4 story Mission project on B St.  Another one coming up is the proposed project where Families First used to be – a controversial huge 270 unit 5 story apartment building on a site zoned industrial, which is nearly twice the density allowed in the General Plan.

      1. Doby Fleeman

        I guess I have a less pessimistic, more optimistic, view of this community’s ability to come together in constructive discussion of the issues we face.

        If no one else in the Vanguard community sees the value in trying, there’s not much else to say.

        1. Don Shor

          I think it could be very useful to have some workshops or community discussions about the future of Davis, and especially the future of the Davis/UC relationship. And I think it is important that the General Plan be updated. It obviously makes sense if those things happen fairly close together, as the general discussions could help frame the update. I still think the housing element update could provide a useful working model for how an appointed committee of Davis citizens could manage the process. Somewhere in those discussions, a facilitated workshop would likely be worth the cost of the professionals that run such things. I know you’ve discussed this last option before, and I can see the value in it.

        2. Anon

          To Doby: It is not that I am pessimistic about the future of Davis.  I am just not convinced a formal visioning process will be productive.  I attended the innovation park listening sessions conducted by Mayor Pro-Tem Davis and Councilmember Swanson – and it just became a venue for opponents of innovation parks to vent.  Those opposed to growth of any kind, which I believe to be in the minority, have figured how to work the system so only they are heard and/or they purposely disrupt what are intended to be constructive meetings.  I’ve watched this happen over and over again in commission meetings, community meetings, and at City Council meetings.

        3. Mark West

          “I guess I have a less pessimistic, more optimistic, view of this community’s ability to come together in constructive discussion of the issues we face.”

          With regards to the parking issue downtown as one example, the community came together to have a very constructive discussion of the issue (through the auspices of the Downtown Parking Task Force, with the result being a list of concrete proposals to address the issue.  Unfortunately, we failed to fully implement those proposals due to a few stakeholders believing their self interest was more important than that of the community as a whole. That will be the fate of any other community wide visioning effort until we commit to implementing the plans that come forward from our efforts.

          We need to implement the visioning that we have already accomplished, whether that be for downtown parking, or for economic development, or any other issue.  We then should analyze the results arising from the implementations and respond with further ‘visioning’ to either build upon the successes or to remediate the failures. It is a continuing process of plan, act, assess and then create a new plan (rinse, repeat) but it only works if we are willing to act. Without action, all we are doing is spinning our wheels, which may well be the goal of those calling for more visioning now.

  5. Alan Miller

    I think it is very important to have a visioning process so that everyone FEELS like they have participated in the process.  Once they are so lulled, we quash them with our true intent.

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