by Jim Gray
1. I am glad that the City Council and professional planners are considering updating the Davis General Plan. I thank the Council for seeking community input. Whenever the topics involve planning, land use and guiding or limiting growth as well as change it will generate lot of comments. Updating the General Plan is very important! The citizens of Davis and our leaders need to agree upon a goal of adopting a new plan that sets forth a vision for our community going forward. It should build upon our legacy and our DNA of good planning and community involvement and debate. I want to acknowledge the staff report and complement them on starting the process on the right foot and seeking input and guidance.
2. I encourage the Council and the City of Davis to not be exclusively inward looking in the development of a plan. This process should help to envision and define our place in the world, in the region and within our boundaries for the next 10-15 years. Our planning should be collaborative with other entities. Let’s not try to forecast change and community needs for too long of a time period. It will be hard to forecast where we want to be and where we want to go in the next decade. Most innovative organizations realize that the world and our institutions are changing very quickly. Let’s plan for the future and not fight yesterday’s wars. (Since our last General Plan Update of 2001 there has been rapid and accelerating paces of change. Google went public, the Apple IPhone launched, there have been breakthroughs in disease management, the terrorist attack of 9/11 and the resulting homeland security response, college debt has grown to be larger than credit card debt, the broader economy has bubbled and burst and is growing again slowly, just to mention a few things)
3. Let’s establish a General Plan process that sets forth goals and processes to collaborate with UCD. UCD has an LRDP underway. Let’s think about how we can piggy-back, collaborate, and leverage their efforts and ideas. I realize that each is a separate entity with different leaders and missions. But we are one Campus, one City, and one community, and we should find those things we can plan together and all benefit.
4. While we are at it, we could and should do the same with the School District, the County and Regional Transportation Agencies, and even consider the regional economic development planning organizations and professionals as well.
5. Let’s review and decide where are the best places to become more dense and more vibrant. If we become a more compact, more mixed use, with additional infill buildings, we will be a more walkable community and we will reduce our carbon footprint resulting in greater investment and choices within our community. The new General Plan should target regions, neighborhoods, areas or blocks — instead of application by application or exception by exception. Let’s have a valuable and frank discussion on where and how we can achieve a better more compact City. Clearly the core central business district is one opportunity. What should be the logical boundaries where we preserve the majority of the bungalow character and architecture and the other areas where we might consider 4-7 stories? Shouldn’t we consider encouraging additional enhancement and investment along 5th Street – both between L and Cantrill as well as on 5th near the Civic Center and School Administration Office? Let’s take a look at densifying our neighborhood Shopping Centers. We could nudge property and business owners to increase the density in the existing commercial centers. The existing Business Parks could become multi-story and mixed use. The old planning processes of strictly separating commercial from residential are changing and being replaced around the world with multi-story mixed use.
6. As a goal we should consider actions that accelerate our community’s diversity. How do we address income disparity? How do we create more jobs and a greater mix of housing both single family and multifamily? A good plan should envision and stimulate more places to do business, to start day care centers, establish churches and new civic amenities. Our current General Plan and related planning documents require conditional use permits for pre-schools and day care, for most senior housing, for private recreation facilities and for most mixed use buildings. This should change.
7. Let’s consider and learn more about the trends why more young people are moving to the cities and to large, pedestrian and job friendly urban areas. Why do those who are seeking jobs in emerging companies move to cities and what are some of the macro trends that are leading to the decline of the suburbs? Do we want to retain and attract more of our university graduates to live, start companies and find jobs in Davis? Do we want our own children and grandchildren to have an opportunity to live and work here? I certainly hope so.
8. Let’s have a big picture discussion and review of Transportation. We are fortunate to have the Amtrak station that links us with great frequency to the Bay Area and Sacramento and to passenger connections throughout our country. How can we leverage this great asset? We have what appears to look like “prison fences” on one side of the station and the back doors and trash bins from our commercial centers on much of another. Let’s plan and enhance Transit Oriented Design and focus on 5-minute walking, 5-minute biking, and 5-minute driving radiuses from the Depot. Let’s plan and encourage it to become a dynamic, vital, inviting and accessible location. Let’s greet visitors with pride at the Depot and have them tell their friends how cool and inviting it is. How can we link the Depot better with the bike and pedestrian paths. buses? What would the benefits and impacts be if there were additional modes of transportation from the Amtrak terminal to other parts of our community? Let’s jointly plan with the University to develop reliable and frequent connections by and between the Depot with neighborhoods in the City and the University.
9. With regards to transportation, should we be looking at additional interchanges and off ramps along I-80? Should additional major arterials run parallel to Covell, Russel, F Street, Mace or Sycamore? We should target certain pinch-points to relieve congestion, reduce auto emissions, and make bicycle and pedestrian travel safer.
10. Our plan should set forth goals to enhance our auto and bicycle transportation connectivity with Sacramento. Let’s work with the County and the regional transportation planners to better link bicycles and bicycle support amenities/features across the Causeway and to Sacramento. Should our plan consider becoming a member of the Municipal Joint Power Agency trying to bring a street car across the Sacramento River to Yolo County into West Sacramento? And then to Davis?
11. Let’s focus on enhancing our web and internet connectivity. Homeowners, businesses, institutions are all seeking better, faster, more secure, reliable connectivity linkages. Can we help stimulate and leap frog the current land lines and become a demonstration community for connectivity, new networks, web based and e commerce start-ups and companies? Just as we became a global leader in solar in the 70’s, we could try to become a global leader in networking, IT, coding and e-Commerce in the next decade. These industries can join our strengths in education, government, agriculture, water engineering, ag biotechnology, and in solar energy.
12. We have to make our planning smarter, more encouraging, and more streamlined.
13. Let’s have a plan that seeks and defines opportunities. That creates a climate for innovation for competition. We don’t need to pick winners and losers, we need to create the climate for healthy competition so the plans that are economically viable and viable by other community measures are able to move forward.
14. Let’s think about milestones, timelines, implementation, and flexibility. Let’s create an atmosphere where we attract investment and innovation. This Planning Effort should be done quickly and not drag on and on.
15. Let’s leverage existing technology to make quicker and better decisions.
16. Let’s offer facts and have an honest discussion with the citizens of Davis with regards to our growth. In the 2001 General Plan update, we adopted a 1% growth rate. The 1% was half of the earlier “2% solution” adopted by the 1987 General Plan and City Councils. 1% would have led to an average of 260 residential units per year. The number of single family residential building permits issued between 2001 and 2014 was 749. That is an average of 54 single family permits per year. In truth, we grew at only one fifth of our slow growth goal. We did not meet our own internally generated needs and we clearly haven’t met our regional fair share. The rate of growth during the period 2005-2015 has slowed to 0.44%. During that period the broader economy has experienced both a boom and a bust but regardless we have dramatically slowed.
17. Our General Plan has to acknowledge the reality of our changing demographics, particularly our graying/aging cohort, and the impacts it will have on our schools as well as needed community infrastructure. In 1980, the same year that my wife Robin and I bought our first house in Davis as 28-year olds, 30% of the Davis homeowners were under the age of 35. By 2013, according to the Census, that number had fallen to only 4% of the homes are now owned by residents under 35. Also during that same era, we have seen the growth of the majority of our senior, skilled nursing, and independent living communities. I suspect if this trend continues we might need a parcel tax to support nursing homes instead of public schools.
18. We haven’t done our fair share to provide opportunities for multi-family housing and to deliver housing choices for current and future students as well as for the growing number of citizens who elect to rent instead of own. We have a lack of land zoned for apartments within the City. Let’s clearly identify the current inventory of readily available properly zoned sites for multi-family. Let’s have the plan make sure that we create a competitive supply of land zoned for multi-family or mixed-use multi-family for the next decade. I know there are voices within the community who say that the University hasn’t provided their share of that needed student housing. That may be true and I believe they have made great strides on it in their most recent LRDP. But my recollection is that the goal is for UCD to build or provide 25-33% of that new housing on campus. Mathematically and good planning means that the remainder of 66% to 75% of that new housing should be made available off campus or within the City. I suspect that we are lagging far behind the University in making sure that there will be housing to support the growth of our college town. For environmental and safety reasons we need to plan and prepare for 10,000 +- additional new students in the coming General Plan. We are not prepared to meet the needs of future students and this is going to precipitate a crisis and add to the dramatic cost of obtaining a college degree.
19. With regards to the lack of available supply of sites and parcels for Business and Commercial development, that supply and the mix of opportunities to grow ones’ business or to provide locations for innovation are greatly limited. In many regards it is approaching the level of concern that we face in multi-family. Davis Office vacancy is in the single digits. There are very few spaces for companies to grow their businesses. Rents are beginning to accelerate in the downtown because there has been little if any new investment or construction of commercial. In the 2001 General Plan update, the Chapter on Economic and Business Development sets forth a good macro review. It should be updated to reflect today’s setting to also include a list of state and regional changes underway. (In 2001, Mather and McClelland were undergoing the impacts of base closing). As an aside, it should be noted that in 2001, two companies that were singled out for their private sector employment are both gone, Hunts and Calgene. The findings of the Economic Development Task Force Report of 1992 are restated, in the 2001 General Plan update and the following Economic Development Goals were established as follows below
- Maintain and enhance the Core Area as a vibrant, healthy downtown that serves as the city’s social, cultural and entertainment center and primary, but not exclusive, retail and business district.
- Attract visitors to Davis.
- Retain existing businesses and encourage new ones as a means to increase higher paying jobs, create greater job diversification, and create a more balanced economy for all economic segments of the community, while also maintaining the City’s fiscal and environmental integrity.
- Encourage new businesses to locate in Davis, targeting business which improve the city’s fiscal base, are consistent with the City’s values and identity, and match the employment skills of the population, such as those in the emerging technology and knowledge-based industries
- Work with other organizations to identify needs and develop work force and training opportunities in areas identified as needed by the Davis business community
- Continue to support the marketing efforts and expansion needs of the existing automobile dealers in the “Davis Auto Center”.
20. Let’s evaluate our current goals in our General Plan as they relate to Economic Development and include aspects on sustainability, diversification, resilience, and reduced carbon foot print. Let’s incorporate some of the findings of the Innovation Task Force Reports and the lessons learned from the Request for the Expressions of Interest (RFEI) attempt at public private partnership, and the failure of any of those private sector respondents to gain traction/support and stimulate investment and new infrastructure for businesses. How can our plan help better foster public /private partnerships?
These are my thoughts. A couple more observations from listening to the City Council’s discussion of July 19th. I heard the City Council discuss and direct the staff on some good ideas to improve General Plan effort. I felt that the tone and the thoughts by the Council were very good ones and these leaders will likely do a great job if they don’t get bogged down in too laborious of a process. Big picture plan not minutae please!
I would like to respond to a couple of matters that came up though. First do we need to become a Charter City? I don’t know the answer to that and the impacts that it might have on our General Plan. I just hope we don’t get totally distracted from the critical need to bring our General Plan into the 21th Century. Can we bifurcate the two matters or is it essential to become a charter city to develop a better General Plan?
I also heard a majority on the Council indicate that they hope that the new plan will consider and incorporate a type of planning known as “Form Based Codes”. As it was described it seems that it might have much to offer. But there are also other valuable planning sub specialties that are offered by the US Green Building Council and their LEED planning. There are great planning processes offered through the Urban Land Institute (ULI). Also, Transit Oriented Development or Transit Oriented Design (TOD) will also have great approaches and lessons as well to help us with our General Plan.
In closing, I would encourage us all to roll up our sleeves. Let’s work to develop a great plan. Let’s not be afraid of ruffling a few feathers and dispelling a few myths. Davis has a rich history of thoughtful planning! Our forefathers/mothers brought the railroad here. We planned flood protection and laid out a downtown and community grid. We planned and started the University Farm now UCD. The campus leaders and planners brought us the Arboretum, a great diversified campus including great structures and great jobs that it has evolved and grown to be a leading academic and research center. Our community and campus plans shared a common goal of increasing bicycle transport and enhancing bicycle safety. In recent years UCD’s LRDP has brought us the Mondavi Center, the Food and Wine Institute, an enhanced entry from I-80 and soon the new Shrem Art Museum. Village Homes was planned and built and was cutting edge. The neighborhoods of Northstar, Aspen, Stonegate, Mace Ranch, Wildhorse, Oakshade, and College Park with greenbelts, wildlife habitats and recreation, and their housing choices got planned and built and are the fabric of our community. A Zero Net Energy Community has been built and delivered in West Village. And great and thoughtful planning has brought us much, much more. We have much to be proud of in our planning and in our community.
We can and should embrace exceptional planning. Let’s not be afraid of change. UCD is updating the LRDP and the City of Davis should update our General Plan. Together we can create a better community and campus while minimizing our impacts on the environment.
I would welcome any follow up comments or questions and look forward to participating and hopefully contributing to an exceptional plan for our future.
Jim Gray is a 41-year resident of Davis and a UCD Alum. I am a real estate broker and developer and a Senior Vice President at Cushman & Wakefield and I am also a LEED –AP, Accredited Professional by the US Green Building Council. I have been active in the community including serving on the 1987 General Plan Committee the 2001 General Plan update also he was on the Affordable Housing Task Force and the Budget and Finance Committee. I served a 4-year term on the Yolo County Planning Commission including service as chairman.