Sunday Commentary: The Canary in the Coal Mine

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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

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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41 Comments

  1. quielo

    Thank you David for the discussion points. There is a fundamental question in education, “are demographics destiny?” and many of your items will get different responses depending on how someone looks at this question. Education=Income=Outcomes. Davis is different in that we have many highly educated residents with lower incomes as they are still in school or are on the lower rungs of the teaching career. Likely the “achievement gap” will disappear by itself as the lower income/lower education population moves to surrounding towns and takes their under-preforming offspring with them. They will see better hosing in their price range and jobs that pay the  same in other areas. The lower income/higher education population will be more likely to make additional sacrifices to stay as proximity to the University is a powerful draw and they will see their situation as temporary. 

     

    BTW I’m not sure what disconnect you see in the poverty rate Vs Title 1. They are based on the same metric and therefore should be the same.

     

    I’m not sure we are using the term “diversity” in the same way. DJU schools are increasing diverse as the university recruits internationally, While there may be fewer people form one group there are more people form multiple ethnic groups and therefore I believe ethnic diversity is increasing.  The town is clearly changing as well, just since the beginning of the year the horrible Hunan place has changed from fake Chinese to real Chinese, the Cheng Du place is opened and the Taiwan place will open next month. While I am just your ordinary white guy I speak some Chinese and therefore am more sensitive to what is happening in that community. If we lose a couple of taco shops and gain an equal number of regional Chinese places do we have a more or less diverse culinary scene?

     

    While the funding situation in DJU is challenging I believe the schools could do a significantly better job if they focused on higher preforming students. This could be as simple as expanding the AIM program. I believe many kids could benefit from a faster paced training they should have the opportunity to do so. The board is exactly wrong in trying to restrict entry to higher and higher test scores as many of the kids who have the desire to learn may not be in the top 3% of test takers.

  2. Don Shor

    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.

    Population of Davis is about 65,000. There are about 30,000 students. By definition, almost every student is below the poverty level. 65% of them live off campus, in town. Thus about 30% of the population in the city limits is students. That is the only reason Davis calculates to a high level of poverty. The whole premise of this essay and the survey is a statistical fluke: Davis is a small city with a large campus that provides relatively small amount of on-campus housing.

    72.3% of the residents of Isla Vista are below the poverty level.

    1. nameless

      From wikipedia: “Davis is a city in the U.S. state of California and the most populous city in Yolo County. It had a population of 65,622 in 2010, not including the on-campus population of the University of California, Davis, which was 32,153 in 2009….The median income for a household in the city was $42,454, and the median income for a family was $74,051. Males had a median income of $51,189 versus $36,082 for females. The per capita income for the city was $22,937. About 5.4% of families and 24.5% of the population were below the poverty line, including 6.8% of those under age 18 and 2.8% of those age 65 or over.”

      1. Don Shor

        The “on-campus population” of Davis is not 32,153. Wikipedia is wrong. I urge you to edit it.
        Based on the Campus Travel survey of 2013-14, the “on-campus” population was about 5500, and the population in West Village (which they measure separately) was about 1600, for a total of about 7100 living on campus, out of the city limits. About 3100 students live outside the city limits. The remainder live in town.
        That all adds up to about 23.4% of the population housed on campus, which comports with other estimates of the amount of housing UCD is providing.

          1. Don Shor

            No. 32,130 people do not live on campus. That is wrong. See my other reply. When that document says “On-campus” it merely means people who are attending that branch of UCD. See the footnote on the “Off-campus” part: “2 Includes students, faculty and staff at UCDMC, Bodega Bay, Lawerence Livermore Laboratory, and other locations outside the City of Davis”
            It is an attendance data point, not a residence data point.

          1. Don Shor

            Are you really misunderstanding this?
            32,000 people do not live on campus.
            Period.
            If they did, we wouldn’t have an apartment vacancy shortage.
            The reason Davis shows a high percentage of people living below the poverty line is because a very high number of students live in town.
            That is the basis of the poverty rate in Davis.
            You are completely misunderstanding, apparently, what UCD and Wikipedia mean by “on campus.” That is not the number of people living on campus. It is the number of people attending that campus.

      2. Matt Williams

        It is interesting to bring together the Wikipedia poverty percentages and the 2010 Census proportions by age group.

        Ages 0-19 represent 23.34% of the population, and with Wikipedia’s 6.8% poverty rate that means of the 24.5% total poverty rate, 1.59% (23.34% times 6.8%) comes from 0-19

        Ages 65+ represent 8.53% of the population, and with Wikipedia’s 2.8% poverty rate that means of the 24.5% total poverty rate, 0.24% (8.53% times 2.8%) comes from 65+

        Ages 25-64 represent 41.92% of the population, and with Wikipedia’s 5.4% “family” poverty rate that means of the 24.5% total poverty rate, 2.26% (41.92% times 5.4%) comes from 25-64

        Add 1.59% and 0.24% and 2.26% and you get 4.09% of the 24.5% total poverty rate comes from all the age group cohorts other than 20-24, which means the remaining 20.41% comes from 20-24.

        With 20-24 representing 26.2% of the total City of Davis population that means approximately 77.87% of the 20-24 year-olds in Davis live below the poverty line.

        Interesting food for thought.

    2. Matt Williams

      The 2010 Census for the City of Davis shows 23.3% of the Davis population in the 0-19 year-old demographic group, 26.2% in the 20-24 year-old demographic group, 33.0% in the 25-54 year-old demographic group, and 17.5% in the 55+ year-old demographic group.  If you assume some of the UCD students are older than 24, then Don’s “about 30% of the population in the city limits is students” rings true.

  3. nameless

    The problem I see is the disconnect between folks who oppose growth and their view that somehow the city can become sustainable with higher taxes and cost cutting, or they just don’t believe the city is in any fiscal trouble.  Some no growthers insist innovation parks/economic development won’t generate any tax revenue.  Unfortunately the public thus far has bought into their no growth arguments.  It will be interesting to see at what point the public finally realizes that this city is in dire financial straits and cannot remain fiscally healthy if the current situation continues.  I wonder how deep the potholes will have to get before harsh reality sets in?

  4. Ron

    nameless:  “The problem I see is the disconnect between folks who oppose growth and their view that somehow the city can become sustainable with higher taxes and cost cutting . . .”

    The problem I see is the disconnect between those who (purposefully?) confuse residential development with economic development.

    1. nameless

      Who is confusing the two?  I solely spoke of economic development, never mentioning residential development.

      How do you propose the city become economically sustainable?

  5. Tia Will

    nameless

    Who is confusing the two?  I solely spoke of economic development, never mentioning residential development.”

    I think that it is very easy to confuse your meaning when you discuss economic development, but then on the same thread exchange posts with Don specifically regarding population issues. My view is that while there are two distinctly different issues here, they are so closely related that unless one is very precise, it is easy to error in one of two ways. One can either conflate economic with demographic factors, or one can simply overlook that making changes in one will inevitably affect the other. Either simplification leads to miscommunication, misunderstandings and ultimately in my opinion, to bad planning.

     

    1. nameless

      Now you are really confusing the issues.  Let me be clear: Residential housing can be a money loser for the city if the city does not strike a good developer agreement, but generally does not generate sales tax revenue for the city’s general fund; economic development should (and note I said SHOULD) be a tax revenue generator for the city.  This is why I consider these two issues completely different.

      From: https://books.google.com/books?id=LCCvnLt2AbcC&pg=PA131&lpg=PA131&dq=residential+housing+is+a+money+loser+for+cities&source=bl&ots=Z0QOx0JLr-&sig=GrT1vEd3Ci5747ug5QZfnLgPqLY&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwj9sLSf49fNAhVC62MKHRGnAv8Q6AEIPDAF#v=onepage&q=residential%20housing%20is%20a%20money%20loser%20for%20cities&f=false

      In both urban and suburban areas, residential development is almost always a municipal money loser. More public money is spent on education and other services needed to support residential neighborhoods than comes back from them in revenue–the state of affairs that has been well documented in many studies of the cost of community services… As a result, many communities see new revenues by attracting commercial development into their jurisdictions…

      1. DavidSmith

        nameless, thanks for the information. It cleared my question earlier in another thread whether residential development may be economically beneficial as well.

        It would now seem to me that there is potentially a deadlock here: If building more houses is a money losing business, then the voters would vote not to do it, and as a consequence the housing price would go up, and the voters benefit as their properties rise in value, which will further incentivize them to vote no to residential development.

        As you may know better on this issue, how do cities usually handle residential development?

  6. Misanthrop

    The myth that housing doesn’t provide a net gain to  the city needs to be debunked. At around 350 dollars a square foot Davis housing generates lots of tax revenue for the city more than most new housing in other community plus the other taxes paid by these potential new residents, CFD’s, parcel taxes and sales taxes in addition to development fees makes new housing a winner for the city.

    1. nameless

      From wikipedia: “[In reference to Prop 13]

      Resultant Planning Changes, Loss or Degradation of Services, New Fees

      Local governments have become more dependent on sales taxes for funds, which some maintain has resulted in poor land use planning, and has made cities encourage more retail stores and “big box” outlets. The jobs and ongoing sales tax those stores provide may discourage growth of other sectors and job types that may provide better opportunities for residents. Additionally, cities have decreased services and increased fees to compensate for the shortfall, with particularly high impact fees levied on developers building new houses or industrial outlets. These costs are typically shifted to the building’s buyer, who may be unaware of the thousands in fees included with the building’s cost.

      1. Misanthrop

        This might be true in general but Davis has high real estate prices that generate high property taxes. We also have plenty of additional taxes that are paid with our property tax bill. The big problem for the Davis budget is from people who have stayed in place for many years. My neighbor is the original owner of the house next door he is a wonderful neighbor and I don’t begrudge him paying less. Still he likely pays a fraction of what I do in property taxes. New residents buying new houses will pay much more into the city than existing home owners. They may not bail the city out but they lessen the shortfall immediately. In the out years they also lessen the shortfall for the cities unfunded liabilities. The problem isn’t the contribution of new homes to the coffers its the unfunded liabilities already baked in to the system.

        1. hpierce

          And, the new unfunded liabilities… every square foot of pavement, every lineal foot of utilities will need to maintained, repaired, and/or replaced at some point.  It has always been that way, throughout the world.

          Perhaps everyone developing property should have had (or will have) an “endowment fee” attached, to make the City sustainable…

    2. DavidSmith

      To debunk it, you need to provide some real numbers. How much of revenue of the city of Davis comes from property tax? Is it enough to be sustainable?

  7. Alan Miller

    I guess I was extra bleary-eyed this morning.

    I could have sworn the title of this article was “The Cannery in the Coal Mine”.

    Perhaps tomorrow . . .

  8. DavidSmith

    DavidG

    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.

    I’d be more careful about this statement. I think a portion of the housing demand comes from UCD employees. This portion of the demand is very stiff because it is much less easy for someone working at the university to a nearby city with a comparable job. Compared to other cities in the region, Davis is unique because it has UCD.

    1. Ron

      DavidSmith:  “I think a portion of the housing demand comes from UCD employees.”

      Per the article in the Enterprise that I’ve referenced a few times (link below), the model homes for staff/faculty at West Village (for up to 475 people) could get underway in 2017, according to sources on campus.

      In any case, this part of the development seems pretty imminent. (According to the article, the recession delayed construction of these homes.)

      http://www.davisenterprise.com/local-news/new-home-construction-is-on-the-upswing-in-davis/

      1. Matt Williams

        Catching up with Ron’s and David’s conversation prompted me to go out to the West Village website (see http://www.carmelapartments.com/uc-davis-west-village-davis-ca) and the Double Up message there makes UCD’s commitment to that aspect of added student housing very real, and also illuminates the monthly cost to the students who will be sharing those rooms.

        NOW LEASING FOR FALL 2016! Double Ups as low as $625! Lease a 4×4 or 3×3 Double Up now and receive $300* off your first month’s rent! Spots are LIMITED! Lease now and receive $100* off your first month’s rent! *specials subject to change **not available on Viridian 1×1

         

    2. DavidSmith

      In other words, if UCD is not at Davis, I doubt that we’ll see a substantial difference between Davis, Woodland, Dixon, etc. So when talking about the city of Davis, it is important to consider UCD as an integral part of it.

  9. DavidSmith

    is that the board sees that we have rested on our laurels

    This is just my personal feeling. I think this statement captures an underlying sentiment of a number of hotly debated issues at hand, such as the defeat of several development projects and the push back of a great Chancellor who is very aggressive on growing UCD.

        1. Tia Will

          “Is prison a money making business ?”

          The answer is, it depends. For the state, not so much so. For Corrections Corporation of America and the GEO group, absolutely.

        2. DavidSmith

          I think we are talking about the city of Davis? And quielo was talking about “diversity the economic base” presumably for the city of Davis?

        3. quielo

          It is but I was being facetious. Prisons are very similar to universities without the need to provide services to the “students”.

          People who work in Prisons likely make more money on average than those who work in universities.

  10. nameless

    Don Shor 
    July 3, 2016 at 10:42 am

    Are you really misunderstanding this?
    32,000 people do not live on campus.
    Period.
    If they did, we wouldn’t have an apartment vacancy shortage.
    The reason Davis shows a high percentage of people living below the poverty line is because a very high number of students live in town.
    That is the basis of the poverty rate in Davis.
    You are completely misunderstanding, apparently, what UCD and Wikipedia mean by “on campus.” That is not the number of people living on campus. It is the number of people attending that campus.

    So I assume you do not believe that 24.5% of the Davis population lives in poverty?  How much of Davis do you believe lives in poverty without students included?  And on what basis?  Funny, I read the wikipedia quote differently than you.

    “From wikipedia: “Davis is a city in the U.S. state of California and the most populous city in Yolo County. It had a population of 65,622 in 2010, NOT INCLUDING the on-campus population of the University of California, Davis, which was 32,153 in 2009….The median income for a household in the city was $42,454, and the median income for a family was $74,051. Males had a median income of $51,189 versus $36,082 for females. The per capita income for the city was $22,937. About 5.4% of families and 24.5% of the population were below the poverty line, including 6.8% of those under age 18 and 2.8% of those age 65 or over.”

    From the wording, I assumed they were not including the students since they referred to the population NOT INCLUDING THE ON-CAMPUS POPULATION.

    1. Matt Williams

      nameless, as I noted in an earlier comment, it is interesting to bring together the Wikipedia poverty percentages and the 2010 Census proportions by age group.

      Ages 0-19 represent 23.34% of the population, and with Wikipedia’s 6.8% poverty rate that means of the 24.5% total poverty rate, 1.59% (23.34% times 6.8%) comes from 0-19

      Ages 65+ represent 8.53% of the population, and with Wikipedia’s 2.8% poverty rate that means of the 24.5% total poverty rate, 0.24% (8.53% times 2.8%) comes from 65+

      Ages 25-64 represent 41.92% of the population, and with Wikipedia’s 5.4% “family” poverty rate that means of the 24.5% total poverty rate, 2.26% (41.92% times 5.4%) comes from 25-64

      Add 1.59% and 0.24% and 2.26% and you get 4.09% of the 24.5% total poverty rate comes from all the age group cohorts other than 20-24, which means the remaining 20.41% comes from 20-24.

      With 20-24 representing 26.2% of the total City of Davis population that means approximately 77.87% of the 20-24 year-olds in Davis live below the poverty line.

      NOTE: the 26.2% of the population in the 20-24 year-old demographic group is equal to 17,200 people, which is up from 13,698 in the 2000 Census.

    2. Don Shor

      And, again, your assumption would be wrong.
      The population of Davis is about 65,000. That includes a very large percentage of the “on-campus” population of 32,153, since only about 23 – 24% of those 32,153 people live on campus. About 10% of them live out of town, and about 65% of them live in town.
      Students living in town skew the statistics to the point that they are meaningless for Davis, just as they are meaningless for Isla Vista.

      1. Don Shor

        If you want to compare Davis to other cities for any degree of relevance, start with this number:

        About 5.4% of families and 24.5% of the population were below the poverty line,

        In Woodland, that number for families is 9.2%.
        11.9% of the total population of Woodland is below the poverty line. Do you really think that Davis has more than double the proportion of people living in poverty than Woodland?

  11. nameless

    DavidSmith: “nameless, thanks for the information. It cleared my question earlier in another thread whether residential development may be economically beneficial as well.

    It would now seem to me that there is potentially a deadlock here: If building more houses is a money losing business, then the voters would vote not to do it, and as a consequence the housing price would go up, and the voters benefit as their properties rise in value, which will further incentivize them to vote no to residential development.

    As you may know better on this issue, how do cities usually handle residential development?

    I believe your assessment is exactly right – there is an incentive for no growth by those who already own a home to keep their home values high by discouraging further residential development.  Cities address this problem in a number of ways: infill in Davis to get around Measure J/R; cities strike better developer agreements to force developers to pay for impacts so municipalities don’t lose money; and CA law that requires cities to take on their fair share of regional housing.  I can’t think of any others off the top of my head, but I’m sure there are others…

  12. drben54

    I was a part of the Davis community for almost 15 years, though for the last 6, high rents forced me out to Sacramento.

    Even when I moved East in 2013, (3 years ago) infrastructure was already starting to crumble.

    The people living below the poverty line are often student, graduate students and in some cases University support staff.  They were there then and are still there now.  People were as worried about this 10 years ago as Dave is now.  But no one listened to us.

    What Davis needs is a combination of economic growth and community planning.  Davis needs and should have, by virtue of it’s freeway proximity sustainable business.  The Cannery, Nishi and Wild horse are still empty.  At least plant some crops!

    I love this community, which is why I still read about it when living 3000 miles away and comment on Dave’s articles.  But on the East Coast I see around me many moribund communities which could have done it right but didn’t.  In one case the only thing keeping the lights on is a community college campus.  In other cases, the towns are dead.  Factories and churches boarded up and some people hanging on in the mill houses — barely.   These towns were vibrant working communities when I was young.

    Davis is a special place.  One of two very special places I have lived.  But it won’t last if some businesses providing more than 250 or 300 jobs are not allowed back in.

    Please be smart, and keep this special place special.

    Ben Timmons,  Connecticut.

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