It is easy to read the 24/7 Wall St. listing of Davis as the 45th worst place to live in America with defensive disbelief. After all, as someone who chose to live in Davis despite the high cost of housing, something had to attract me and many others to the community.
Indeed, the high cost of housing seen as a negative also should be seen as a positive. People want to live in Davis. The demand for housing is high. If the demand for housing were not high, housing costs in Davis would resemble those of surrounding communities. While some of that is due to scarcity, the bottom line is that demand must outstrip supply to drive up housing.
Not listed in the categories is the quality of schools. How good are the schools? Good enough that someone like me, who does not own a home, is willing to rent in Davis in order for my kids to attend Davis schools. Good enough for people from outside of the community to want to send their kids to Davis schools.
So, do I believe for a second that Davis is one of the worst places in America to live? No.
However, there is another way to look at this list. The list is in fact a warning of what Davis could become. It is a warning. Davis is not sustainable. This is a theme we have been pushing all week, and nowhere do I see this more clearly defined than in the metrics that were used in this listing.
People are dismissive of the high poverty rate in Davis. Here, 28.5 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, which is nearly double the national average. Is this simply, as some believe, the children of graduate students? I’m more skeptical than that.
The poverty rate mirrors very closely a couple of other populations. First, the 25 percent or so Title I population of Davis school children. Second, the 29 percent or so of children who do not attend preschool – presumably because it is inaccessible and unaffordable.
My children attend Montgomery, for instance, and many of the children are not the children of graduate students, they are the children of farm workers, janitors, and domestics. They live in affordable housing areas or the remnants of the East Eighth area that used to supply Valley Oak with its diverse population.
For years, we have been talking about the other Davis, and these stats are the embodiment of that.
Second, we have touted Davis schools for what they are. But Davis schools have for years faced a large and at time growing achievement gap. These numbers suggest that the achievement gap will continue to grow.
While Davis schools are above average, part of the concern with regard to the parcel tax is that Davis is disadvantaged in terms of school funding. The Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) is below average for the state. Our take from the state is well below average. And, even with a $620 a year parcel tax, our funding is average.
With the prosperity and education level of this community, we should have great schools. But when we look at Davis compared to other affluent and well-educated communities, we do not have great schools. We have good schools.
One reason we pushed for a higher parcel tax – one reason board members pushed for us to do more, if not now, then soon – is that the board sees that we have rested on our laurels.
Third, schools are not the only area where we have rested on our laurels. At one time, Davis was a great and progressive community. But, while we once led the way on things like bike paths, now we see that our infrastructure is crumbling.
This week we have questioned whether our current path is sustainable. We lack the revenue to pay for critical infrastructure – roads, bike paths, parks, greenbelts, other infrastructure. The unmet needs now exceed $655 million, and some think they exceed $700 million. The greatness of this community has often rested with our parks and open space, and that is now threatened by lack of revenue.
Some have suggested that the solution to this is for more and higher taxes. And while that is certainly a short-term way to address revenue shortfall, it also leads to a less affordable community for those of modest means.
Finally, the cost of housing is cited in the survey. “For many residents, owning property in the city may be too expensive. The median home value in Davis of $527,000 is more than $100,000 greater than the value of a typical California home and close to 10 times the city’s median household income. This means housing in the area is about three times less affordable than it is across the nation.”
This year we have continued to press on the low vacancy rate. UC Davis continues to grow and neither the city nor the university have been quick to build the housing in order to house the new students, faculty and staff.
That has led to a shortage of rental housing for students, and a continued encroachment of students into single-family homes. It has also led to an increasing number of faculty and staff and students having to commute to Davis – putting pressure on strained roadways and undermining our commitment to a sustainable environmental community.
The bottom line then is that, while I do not believe that Davis is currently one of the worst places to live, I believe our current path is unsustainable. And unless we make a change, we will lose our way.
—David M. Greenwald reporting