Last month when the council was postponing putting the soda tax measure on the ballot, Councilmember Rochelle Swanson made a comment that intrigued, stating, “I was very inspired by the Raise the Wage conversations earlier.” She cited the conversation that will emerge and go forward and argued, “Frankly, that is more the Davis way, we don’t have someone at public comment two weeks ago and suddenly we have it on the ballot.”
She continued, “Twenty-three years for Nishi, 36 years for the water project. We did half of what we wanted for parks tax because we wanted it to be a success.”
The comment reminded me of a comment in an op-ed last year by James Zanetto and Judy Corbett, which argued we should “[b]oost our economy, but do it the Davis way.”
Back in 2014, I would argue that we could do economic development that was relatively small, dense and environmentally sustainable, while adhering to the growth control measures like Measure R.
Unfortunately, the Davis Way appears to be delays, endless debating, and overall policy paralysis. It has been nearly two years since the city issued RFEIs (Requests for Expressions of Interest) for innovation centers. It received three responses.
To date, one of those proposals never got off the ground. A second, after facing opposition from non-Davis residents in the Binning Tract, suspended its application and has now apparently moved up the road to Road 25A and Highway 113 (more on that tomorrow). And the third is slowly moving towards a November 2016 Measure R vote – it has had a number of hiccups along the way and it is very much in doubt as to whether the voters will approve the measure.
So in two years, the city of Davis has only made marginal progress toward approving one of the three proposals for innovation parks.
Meanwhile, in Woodland yesterday, the Woodland City Council “approved a $10.5 million, 81-room, five-story Hilton2 Suites hotel located at what is now the Budget Inn and immediately adjacent to Freeman Park on the north side of Main Street west of Sixth Street, immediately north of the new Courthouse,” according to the Woodland Daily Democrat.
According to the Woodland paper, “The project has been proposed by Jivan Patel and Ramilaben Patel. It would be an extended-stay facility and is part of a series of hotels either completed or under construction in Yolo County by Royal Guest Hotels, including one in Winters, called Hotel Winters; and an Embassy Suites in Davis. The Patel’s also have five locations in Sacramento.”
Meanwhile in Davis, the long planned Hotel Conference Center by the same company remains on hold, bogged down in litigation put forth by former City Councilmember Michael Harrington. The six-floor, 132-room project that was expected to break ground this spring remains on hold, the hundreds of thousands in TOT (Transient Occupancy Tax) shelved by concerns about the adequacy of traffic analysis.
As Rochelle Swanson put it last summer, “We tend to do this. We have everything lined up, but wait, but wait, but wait.”
Call it the Davis Way.
If you look at polls of residents of Davis, they consistently rate the quality of life in Davis as high, and they tend to believe that the finances of the city are good and things are going well. To me, there is a disconnect between the views expressed by the typical citizen and the realities I see in following the politics and governance of the city on a day to day basis.
The reality is we are in a good deal of trouble. As we pointed out this past weekend, the city is facing somewhere in the neighborhood of $655 million in unfunded liabilities.
We have focused heavily on roads for the last six or seven years, mainly because it took that long to get the council to put real resources into it, but at this point we are spending $4 million and need to be spending at least $8 million a year on roads.
We have a parks tax that pays for about a quarter of our parks needs. We have several hundred million in unfunded city infrastructure needs above and beyond parks and roads.
Costs continue to expand. I think the stunning statistic is that, despite the city council’s efforts to rein in spending in 2009 and 2013, and despite the fact that personnel was reduced through attrition by about 100 employees in the last seven years, we are actually spending much more per employee now than we did in 2008.
Our budget is balanced primarily because we passed a sales tax measure in 2014 and, when that goes away, so too will our balanced budget.
As a community we take pride in our parks, greenbelts, bike paths, pools and other amenities. We like our fire department (although some of us are concerned about compensation costs) and our police. The budgetary threat we face is huge and long-term. We can supplement things with taxes, but in the longer term if we do not find ways to diversify and increase our revenue from business, Davis will be more unaffordable and those vital services will be threatened.
This was one reason a lot of people, many of whom are ordinarily against peripheral growth, were willing to support the idea of innovation parks and economic development.
Davis had opportunities in the spring of 2014, with momentum and even excitement on its side. But already these opportunities are drying up. Already, MRIC (Mace Ranch Innovation Center) seems like the last, best, and final hope to have a revenue generating economic development project and, even that, and even if approved, is years away from reality. And, that is, if the project passes – as opposition seems to be mounting.
In the meantime, Davis will continue to struggle to find ways to pave its roads, keep its parks operational, its swimming pools running, and its bike paths paved.
The Davis Way no longer seems like a strength, instead it seems like a path to paralysis as others in the region capitalize on our inability to get out of our way.
—David M. Greenwald reporting