With the council elections and now the national elections over, it is time for the Davis City Council to act on priorities that may have changed somewhat in the last few weeks. Here are five things the council should do:
Plan to Put a Revenue Measure on the Ballot
The city council has now missed two election cycles for putting a revenue measure on the ballot. In December the council will consider two hotels that could generate between a half million and a million in TOT (Transient Occupancy Tax) taxes. A third hotel, the Embassy Suites, remains in limbo, but these are unfortunately pennies compared to the overall needs of the city.
Rather than trying to hit everyone at once, there seem to be a few big priorities. The first would be the roads which, while the council has done a great job to fund at nearly $4 million annually, they likely need twice and perhaps more than that.
The national election probably rules out any significant roads funding from the federal government and, so far, the state government has proven unable to generate consensus for state road funding. The city could put a parcel tax or other revenue measure on the ballot, but if they want it to be a general tax, it would have to be June 2018 – should they wait that long?
The other tax needed is an expansion of the parks tax. While the roads have generally been seen as the more dire immediate need, parks are creeping up, especially because the current parks tax only funds one-quarter of our current needs.
The council should make this call and decide what and when and how much to ask the voters for.
Continue Economic Development
The city has seen good news in the last month and a half. After losing out on two innovation parks and Nishi, Sierra Energy is expanding their facilities at Area 52 and Mark Friedman and Fulcrum Property purchased Interland and will convert it to the University Research Park. That’s an investment of between $100 and $200 million in South Davis. That is very good news.
But, as we have pointed out, that is only a small portion of what a Dispersed Innovation Plan would look like. What we are missing is the large area for companies that are currently in Davis to grow into, or for larger companies to move into. A Mace Ranch Innovation park might have generated $7 million in ongoing money for the city on an annual basis. And that is on the low end.
The fact that both Sierra and Fulcrum are willing to invest millions in Davis ought to dispel any notion that Davis is a poor risk for innovation.
But the big question is whether the community can come together and support a larger venture that might make Davis economically viable and resilient into the future.
The council should reconfirm its commitment to the Dispersed Innovation Plan and create a body whose task it is to find investors and come up with a plan that can be taken to the voters for approval.
Create a Community Vision for Housing and the Future
Land use has re-emerged as the critical issue in Davis. Part of what is driving this is university growth. As we have pointed out time and time again – the plan that UC Davis has developed will not accommodate all new growth. Moreover, as we have seen, UC Davis in the past has not followed through on housing commitments and those commitments have been small.
In the meantime, land use policies in Davis have pushed talk of new housing into existing neighborhoods. We currently have conflict between existing neighbors and developers in places like Trackside and Sterling, less so at Lincoln40.
In the meantime, the city council is looking at a General Plan Update.
But before we can get to a General Plan Update, somehow there needs to be a process to develop a vision for what Davis should look like in the future. This will be difficult because the community is divided. There are those who oppose most new growth and those who will support some projects.
Can this gap be bridged? The council has utilized conflict resolution tools in the past – can they do so on the most pressing and polarizing issue before us?
Reaffirm Commitment to Civil Rights and a Safe Space for All
The presidential election has changed the way we view our community and our world. Davis is a Sanctuary City. For Davis that means the city “supports a fair and just reform to the immigration process, where local funds and resources are not used to enforce federal immigration laws, and where the Davis Police Department has actively committed not to seek out and persecute individuals within the city limits because of their documented status.”
The Trump administration has at least stated that they may cut off federal funds for Sanctuary Cities and, if that is the case, the city council will have big choices to make, as they rely on federal funds for things like grants and CDBG (Community Development Block Grant) funding.
At the same time, individual councilmembers have talked about making sure that Davis creates safe spaces for its residents. What that looks like will be a key decision going forward.
Places like San Francisco have talked about creating a $5 million fund to defend immigrants from deportation.
Their public defender’s office proposed last week “the creation of a unit to defend undocumented immigrants in court beginning in January. The proposal is part of a greater push by city officials to keep San Francisco a sanctuary city, where law enforcement agencies are limited in their cooperation with immigration authorities.”
While the city of Davis has a different structure, it could work with the UC Davis Immigration Law Clinic and other local groups to protect its residents, as well.
We would like to see the city reaffirm its commitment to civil rights, being a Sanctuary City, and beyond.
Reconsider a Soda Tax
A year ago the council decided to shelve the possibility of a soda tax. However, that world has changed as well. This past election, four cities had soda taxes on the ballot and all four passed them in landslide victories.
San Francisco, Oakland, and Albany (California) each passed measures that would levy a penny-per-ounce tax on distributors of sugary drinks. In Boulder, Colorado, the voters approved a 2-cent-per-ounce excise tax on distributors.
In San Francisco and Oakland, the soda tax measures passed with 62 percent support. In Albany, it passed with 71 percent, and in Boulder, with 55 percent. San Francisco and Oakland had previously attempted to pass taxes but failed when the soda industry dumped tens of millions into stopping the tax.
Is it now time for Davis to reconsider the soda tax?
Mayor Pro Tem Robb Davis has called this “the public health crisis of our time,” and in January warned that we have children “whose lives are starting to be taken away by fatty liver disease and the problem of over-consumption of sugary beverages.”
“These are lives lost, these are lives changed, these are families altered in ways that we can’t take back,” he continued.
“The challenge of sugar beverages is quite simple, they’re a delivery mechanism,” he explained. “They deliver fructose to the liver in probably the most efficient means of doing so. Quickly. And rather than being cleared by the liver, that sugar stays there and is turned into fat and that fat and the inhibition of fat burning that goes along with it, means that all the precursors of diabetes, heart disease and coronary artery disease – the genesis is occurring in that location.”
Davis this past winter did not say no to a soda tax, they said not yet. Now that Davis has had a chance to think about it, it is time to get this issue back on the agenda.
—David M. Greenwald reporting