On Thursday night the Davis Chamber PAC held a candidates forum for the Davis City Council at Sudwerk Restaurant & Brewery. The forum focused heavily on issues of business and development. It was moderated by Vanessa Errecarte, of Erreco Strategies, a marketing and consulting company.
The candidates got sixty seconds for their answers and the time was strictly enforced.
1. Many cities, Davis included, have experienced a backlog of infrastructure maintenance. The governor has proposed an investment of $57 billion in state infrastructure over the next five years with a focus on deferred maintenance. If elected, how will you ensure that the backlog of infrastructure maintenance projects – specifically transportation and road maintenance – will be mitigated? What communication systems will you put in place to ensure that residents stay apprised of construction and improvements that may affect their day to day travel?
Will Arnold: “That sounds like a lot of money, hey the state’s going to give fifty-some odd – billion for infrastructure – let’s get us some of that. We’re talking about the eighth largest economy in the world, the biggest state and the third biggest country in the world. $57 billion – that’s not going to do it for the whole state. If I know anything about state politics, which I think I do, a lot of that’s going to travel south and end up in Los Angeles. My opinion is that we ought to move forward with the mentality that we’re not going to see a penny of that. If we want to truly address our infrastructure needs in town, we need to diversify our revenue portfolio and focus on economic development in town and make these serious choices for revenue that happens internally – I don’t think we can expect that the state’s going to save us.”
Matt Williams: I agree with Will, the concept of assuring that we’re going to twist the arm of the state – we aren’t going to twist the arm of the state. We can do everything we can to lobby them, we can work with our local representatives at the state level – but we can’t… The real meat of this question is the second part. Why do we have a lawsuit now with the Nishi project? The reality is that we have broken down our communications. We have opened the door. We have handed a loaded weapon to people who want to cause disruption in our community. We need to communicate to you the voters. You’re not only business people, but you’re individual voters. We need to inspire confidence. We on the budget and finance commission – sent a recommendation to council that they not add any additional taxes until two things – say explicitly what it’s for and more importantly…. (time was up).
Brett Lee: A couple of quick things. The Finance and Budget Commission – it was a slightly underpowered commission. Lucas and I interviewed a variety of people and we purposefully recommended people to that commission who we thought could make it more of a dynamic and forceful entity to help provide information to the council. Information is helpful. We do want transparency, we do want the facts out in the open. When Lucas and I took office, we were spending $0 in road repairs, currently we spend about $4 million in road repairs. Really the recommendation is that we should be closer to spending $8 million a year. We hear that there’s a $4 million shortfall and that’s fairly dramatic but when you think that we recently approved a hotel and are likely to approve another hotel – that’s going to generate another $2 million in yearly revenue.
Lucas Frerichs: The question goes to some of the infrastructure upgrades that are needed. The city council in the last two years has put $8 million in road repair into infrastructure and bike path repair. You’ve seen some of these upgrades – 8th Street, East Covell, Lake Blvd, Miller Dr., B St – those are all streets that have been repaved in the past several years. There’s a lot more work to do. On tap for 2016, we have Mace Blvd, L St as well, Russell Bike path, Richards interchange is a top priority certainly – we can expect about 80% of the Richards Interchange to be funded by the feds and state government – about 20% funded locally, that’s a huge priority for city of course. Communication issues: the repaving last summer was sadly quite unfortunate that the timeline slipped and coincided with the pipeline construction which caused major traffic impacts around town. That was the second part of the question. We need to frankly include clauses in the contracts that if the timeline slips we need have penalties in those contracts, so we make sure we’re on time with our projects.
2. Last November the Board of Regents at the University of California approved a budget to enroll an additional 10,000 California undergraduates for the next three years including 5000 freshman and transfer students for the 2016-17 year. UC Davis is to be the most significantly impacted by this increased enrollment. What role do you believe the city should play in supporting this growth and, if elected, how do you ensure that Davis has the resources to provide adequate housing to the new students, current students and the residents impacted by it?
Matt Williams: The reality is that if the governor can’t hold the university accountable because of the California constitution, we can’t. But what we need to do is to create a collaborative win-win environment working with them. We need to transform the arms-length relationship that exists right now into a more constructive one. Regardless, what ends up happening is that the students who want to live off campus, can just go and bid for rentals so we end up in a situation where we have a supply and demand situation that is out of control. We have much much more demand than supply. That’s one of the reasons I support Yes on A is that’s 1500 beds that’s going to contribute to the supply and be able to keep housing more affordable in Davis.
Brett Lee: Here’s an important thing, the university is its own sovereign entity just like Woodland is its own sovereign entity, but we share a border. A lot of us work there. There’s a lot of interconnectedness. The council has been criticized in some respect because we’re fairly collegial. The reality is that we are collegial but we often disagree on things but we’re able to work together. I think that’s where we have a real strength when the new chancellor arrives. when the new chancellor arrives we’ll be able to work with that person, and show that we’re a unified body on some very important things that the university needs to help the community out with. We will be able show that the community can help the university. In the past in the not too distant (past), the council were at each other’s throats – why would the university even bother negotiating with the council when it was such a divided and it wasn’t a constructive exercise. I know for a fact that many entities didn’t want to deal with the council just because of the open hostility between its members.
Lucas Frerichs: The growth of the UC system and the growth of UC Davis is certainly one of the most important issues facing our community – there’s no question. I think it’s incumbent on the city to assume some of the responsibility for some of the new housing. We have several proposals before us – the Lincoln40 proposal on Olive Drive, the Nishi proposal, those will certainly if approved assist in that regard. But it’s also incumbent upon UC Davis to also take on some of that responsibility if they’re going to have this growth, they need to work on building housing. We have local builders here, we have local developers who have partnered with the university previously in building housing on campus. That kind of partnership can be replicated again – I’m confident in that. Collaboration with the university of course is essential and frankly, as Brett mentioned again, the collaboration that happens now amongst the current council, I think it lends itself to future collaboration with the university as they work on their new long range development plan and as the city works on its new updated general plan. Also there has been this increase in mini-dorms and (time runs out).
Will Arnold: We have this very low, effectively zero vacancy rate in town –it’s 0.2 percent – meaning we have roughly 8000 apartment units in town so any given time, fewer than 20 are available. That is a full host of problems for our city – not just for our renters, but definitely for the renters. It makes things more expensive, people don’t have to upkeep apartments like they would if there was real competition. But also that has affected our community at large. We have mini-dorms popping up in our neighborhoods, that effects potentially your home’s value. It’s also a place where maybe the family would be able to live but they can’t now because of the student housing. And then there’s environmental impacts which is folks who can’t find a place to live, coming to study at UCD – traveling from outside of town. They’re driving, they’re not biking to class like we would want them to be.
3. Several recommendations were made in the City Housing Element Update, adopted in 2014 and lasting through 2021. Recently, many housing projects have been proposed, such as Sterling and Trackside. If elected, how will you use the Housing Element Update as a guide to make decisions around these new developments and issues?
Brett Lee: So the Housing Element Update is incomplete because the General Plan is incomplete and there are many aspects of zoning and other aspects of the General Plan that are in need of updating. It’s a helpful document – it will help guide in a general sort of sense. Just to give you a sense of what it talks about – it talks about a quality of life, small town character, diversity, arts and culture, there’s a variety of things. But when it comes to those specific projects – I’ll just say it – I think Trackside is too big and doesn’t fit well with the existing neighborhood. That doesn’t mean I’m no on Trackside – but it should be relatively appropriate in size and scale. I feel the same way about the (Sterling) proposal, it’s too big as proposed – should be more aligned with the size and scale of what is currently zoned there. I think zoning is very important for people. When you buy your home – and most of you probably live in homes – there’s an expectation that the zoning in your neighborhood would be respected.
Lucas Frerichs: I served on the city’s Housing Element Task Force in 2007-08, the most recent update we just did a couple of years ago. I went through this two-year process before and we went through and provide a listing for 30 housing sites, we went through almost that entire list. Some of those sites have been built, some have not. There’s a potential to go back to that list again, but some of the sites that have been built in the past ten plus years, have been the Verona Site, the Willowbank Park, they completed. The Del Rio live-work lofts are being built right now – amazing project on Del Rio Place. Cannery is underway, Grande Village is coming, Chiles Ranch is becoming. Infill has to be done right. Truly, I have hands on experience doing it right. I live in an infill project. Shepherds Close on B St., Parkside Place some of those downtown infill projects are excellent. The design is key and make sure these things fit with the neighborhood. Then of course we need to be working in conjunction with the neighbors. Also an updated General Plan is needed…
Will Arnold: Along with Councilmember Frerichs, there have been others, but he and I have been very vocal about calling for a new general plan. We have a lot of updates that have been made to this general plan. The General Plan we’re operating under was adopted in 2001. It said it was supposed to go till 2010. It said it was supposed to be the city – countdown to 60,000. That’s not the reality we’re living in. The process for that General Plan started in 1993. So it predates Al Gore’s invention of the internet. It predates the concept really of global warming. It predates the massive growth of the university. There’s a lot of realities that we’re working with. It predates Lucas in town. (He said laughing: we were all just kids). That’s a real key here because what we have now – the general plan is a good and thoughtful document – there’s a lot of gaps and there’s a lot of contradictory overlapping. This would be a key priority of mine to focus on a new general plan.
Matt Williams: The Housing Element is policy, but the real problems we have with regard to development here in Davis have to do with process. We need to change the planning process so that it promotes proactive thinking rather than reactive thinking. Considering General Plan variance needs to be inclusive – needs to include people within in the community. One of the challenges that we have is that the current process is not reliable or repeatable because the General Plan says that the maximum population of the city is 64,000. We passed 64,000 people a long time ago. Every single application that changes land use needs to be handled as a General Plan exception. If we simply change that 64,000 to a number that’s greater than the 65,622 that we have from the census now we could be handling some of these things ministerially and not being bitten by the process.
(note the Vanguard will add to this during the day and run this as a series of articles).