While the council largely made it clear that they would like some different questions asked in the initial input from the community, I still see this as a missed opportunity to engage the public in the process.
There is nothing in particular wrong with the three questions that the staff came up with:
- What do you like most about Davis today (in 2016)? (open ended question)
- What do you want Davis to be like in 20 years (in 2036)?(open ended question)
- What are the most important planning issues facing Davis today and over the next 20 years? (multiple choices would be identified by staff such as housing opportunities, growth, economic development, transportation options, senior needs, recreational facilities, etc., as well as an opportunity for additional comments)
I like the visioning questions. For me the answer to the first question is the reason I have chosen to live here and raise my family here even though right now I cannot afford to buy a home. It is a small town, it has good schools, and it has great amenities from parks to greenbelts to bike paths. And, while we have our share of frightening crime, it is a relatively safe community.
My answer to No.2 is largely the same but I think this is where the planners and staff missed the boat. The critical question is not what I want Davis to be like when I’m 63, it is how do we manage to keep what I like most about Davis alive in 20 years.
Some of that is captured within the third question, where we are given multiple choices to identify important planning issues, but a lot of that we need to tease out in more focused questions.
Here are five questions I would ask if I were the city council.
First, what are our biggest needs?
For me this is something I have been discussing for a few years now. I think we need to find rental housing for students. I think we need revenue to maintain our current levels of city services and capital to keep our infrastructure where we need it to be. We need to find revenue from economic development. We need to maintain our parks, greenbelts, bike paths and roads.
Second, select four places where you would support new housing opportunities for students not including the UC Davis campus.
Does this question beg the question about whether we need housing? Of course. I think everyone supports the idea of more housing opportunities on campus. But this forces people to think about where they are willing to support housing in the city.
As we saw in 2007-08, there is not just one answer here. If you are an opponent of peripheral development, for instance, you can talk about PG&E site, the District Administrative yards, you can talk about redevelopment along B Street or the Corporate Yards, you can talk about inside the Mace Curve, you can talk about redeveloping areas of downtown.
The point is there are a lot of answers for housing that do not necessarily require a Measure R vote or going outside of the city’s current boundaries. On the other hand, maybe you think we should go outside of the current boundaries.
Bottom line: I think the city needs to know where people are thinking we should build housing.
Third, how do we do economic development?
Again there are multiple answers we still have the dispersed economic development model which calls for utilizing existing sites, adding on Nishi, and adding at least one peripheral site. Maybe that model needs to change. Maybe we need to support the Joe Minicozzi model for downtown densification. Maybe we should focus on hotel development. Maybe it should be peripheral retail. Maybe we should be working more with the university.
Fourth, what do we want the downtown to look like in 20 years?
There are a number of issues at play in this question. Do we continue to make it restaurant and entertainment oriented? Do we add more retail? Do we densify? Do we put mixed use housing on top of offices, on top of retail and restaurants? How high are we willing to go? How do we address parking and transportation?
Fifth, what does infill look like?
Infill is difficult. It involves shoving a new project into a space designed for something else with people living around it who will have their lives impacted. We saw the problems it caused with Paso Fino. We saw the problems it has caused at Trackside. We have seen that some of our planning documents are out of date. Are we willing to push for maximum density? Are we willing to go up to six stories? Do we want higher density in the core? Do we want a stark change or a transition?
Infill is tricky because it affects some people but not most people in a community. How do we resolve those issues?
Those are to me the key questions that I would like to see addressed and I don’t think the three questions address.
What other questions would you like to see answered early in the process?
—David M. Greenwald reporting