Last week the Davis City Council was united in the idea of moving forward with a general plan update. But, while I agree with the rationale for why it is needed, I have concerns that the process set forward in it will not be fruitful absent a much more robust visioning process.
While I appreciate the approach that the council took last week and the responsiveness they have to the community concerns, I think that we need to start this process by taking a step back. I do not think an extra month for initial input from the community through a web-based device, followed by public workshops at the planning commission and city council this fall, is what we need.
I was skeptical about this approach from the start. In fact, part of me has been skeptical about spending several years on a general plan as it is. My thinking was – we have critical needs now, why are we going to stop and plan some more? After all, the community went through a rather extensive housing discussion as recently as 2008 with the Housing Element Steering Committee.
On Economic Development, we had DSIDE, the Innovation Park Task Force, Studio 30 – all of them laid out our community needs rather simply in terms of the need for housing and the need for economic development.
On the sustainability front, we have developed a Climate Action Plan. On the open space front, we have had recent workshops and community discussions on funding and prioritization of open space preservation issues.
At the same time, the Nishi election shows that this community is not united on the issues of growth. And, while I believe that there is a large middle camp that could go either way, the election showed that at least the public face of the community is deeply divided.
The Vanguard believes that one of its values to the community is to provide an open and robust discussion platform. This past weekend, I had the idea to see where the readership would take us and laid out five questions, which later expanded to several more questions.
The clear flashpoint issue became apparent immediately and really unsurprisingly – housing. Interestingly enough, while I think there is some growing debate and discussion over Measure R itself, that is not the hot dividing line.
There are a lot of people who voted for Nishi, were disappointed with the result, who nevertheless continue to strongly support Measure R. Offline there have been some conversations of modifications. The No on Measure A side has at least discussed the possibility of strengthening the measure, while others less publicly have discussed ways to keep the fundamentals of Measure R in place, but perhaps reduce the risk and uncertainty to investors which may lead to better and more innovative design proposals.
However, that is not the key dividing line. The key dividing line, at least right now, in the city is over how to meet our housing needs for students. People on all sides of the issue are concerned that UC Davis is adding thousands of students, perhaps as many as 6800 over the next decade, and there is not current adequate housing for those new students.
The Vanguard over the course of the last week has attempted to push the discussion to see if there is some sort of consensus. Interestingly enough, the Vanguard took what it believed to be a middle ground approach.
In setting forth the basis of discussion, I proposed a belief that we need new housing on campus, UC Davis has not done enough to provide that housing, their past commitments and present lack of accountability suggest that even if they promise 90 percent of the new housing to accommodate new students, they may not follow through and therefore we need to plan accordingly.
As I stated earlier, even if they do follow through with their promises, we still probably need up to 4000 new beds in the city to accommodate current demands.
But the prospect for consensus on this issue seems difficult to achieve. There are those who passionately and with their cadre of statistics argue that UC Davis is responsible for growth pressures on Davis, they have not fulfilled their on-campus housing obligations and therefore we need to pressure them and hold them to fulfill commitments.
On the other side are those who believe that the city of Davis benefits from UC Davis, that our own growth policies are just as responsible for the shortage of housing and that we have no ability to compel UC Davis to provide our housing.
Honestly, I think all three viewpoints have merit. I have chosen what I believe a middle ground, but this is a community where the center may not hold.
Given the interest in housing, I haven’t pushed on other issues that I think are equally pressing. The need for economic development, the need for revenue, the need to make our city fiscally sustainable.
In the end, I think if we push through a general plan process, we might produce a fine document – but without a true visioning process, I don’t think we can emerge with some sort of unified vision for the future.
Therefore, I think our best approach is to take the next period of time to do a community visioning process that can guide us through a general plan in a much more unified way. We need to bring in all the stakeholders, but we also have to figure out a way to bring in people whose voices are usually silent.
We hear from the usual suspects on a consistent vision, but we don’t hear from the people who live in our community, but work in Sacramento. Those with small children that schlep to school and sports, but who are not actively engaged in the planning process.
That is the vast majority of people in our community and yet their voices are not heard, and they may not have an understanding of the challenges we face as a community – and yet they cast their votes for council and for land use issues, water, taxes, etc.
I am not saying we don’t need a new general plan, what I am saying is that first we need a vision and then a way to implement that vision.
—David M. Greenwald reporting