My View: Do We Have a Great and Vibrant Downtown?


The city of Davis is taking on an update of the core area portion of the General Plan.  They initiated a visioning platform for downtown and conducted a community survey during much of the month of November, with 1467 people taking the survey.

What was interesting is they wrote: “We have a great downtown; it is the core of our City. To keep our downtown thriving and vibrant, the City is discussing ways to improve the atmosphere downtown.”

That, of course, raises a question: do we have a great downtown and is it thriving and vibrant?

Here are some survey results along with my commentary.  As someone who has worked in the downtown for more than five years, I agree with a lot of the results.

The vast majority of the people surveyed found the downtown to be attractive.  That is not a huge surprise – the downtown for the most part is well laid out, easy to walk, and aesthetically pleasing.

The second question is more interesting.  A huge majority of people agreed (ranging from somewhat to strongly) that the downtown is safe.  It might have been more interesting had they broken down the question to times of day.  After all, it was just in September 2015 that the murder at KetMoRee caused community discussion about the safety of downtown.

Of course, most of the day downtown has always been extremely safe.  Had they asked that question a year earlier, would the results have been different?  Is this a result of changes made to the downtown or do most people simply not experience Davis after 10 pm?  Hard to know and, without knowing that variable, it is hard to assess the answer.

Where Davis takes a huge hit, however, is on the issue of whether the downtown fulfills shopping and entertainment needs.  The answer there is a big no.  Nearly 800 of the respondents either somewhat or strongly disagree with the statement.

That is the big problem that Davis faces.  There is limited functional retail in the downtown.  And, as someone who eats in the downtown many times each week, I would argue that there is no downtown restaurant that I would drive 20 minutes to get to Davis in order to eat at.  That’s a problem.

This portion of the survey leads to me to this conclusion, Davis downtown is relatively safe, particularly during normal hours of operation, it looks nice, but it is not functional.

This is bolstered by the next section.

The respondents in my view really nailed the top three problems – after that I think it’s a matter of taste, although I really like that the issue of cracks and lifting of the sidewalks were raised.

I know the purists will argue that there is always space in the 4th and G parking lot.  But a lot of people view that as way out of their way – even though it’s a relatively short walk to most places, at least on the east side of downtown.

The reality is that most people don’t like dealing with the parking in downtown and, coupled with the lack of retail and entertainment options, many do not come downtown.

As someone who holds frequent meetings in a G Street office these days, people are often late from having to circle the block looking for parking.  Parking is an issue and one that we need to address sooner rather than later.

Empty storefronts are an increasing problem belying the lack of vibrancy of the downtown.  Retail has been bad for some time and has continued to take a hit.  Restaurants are mediocre.  So, unless you come downtown for drinks or coffee, there is not much going on.

Last week, during the panhandling discussion, the council discussed the issue of public restrooms – or the lack thereof.  Huge problem.  I remember going to Picnic Day a few years ago and I could neither find a drink of water or a public bathroom.  After some complaining, they started bringing portable restrooms out for that event.

As a parent, not having public restrooms creates a problem because kids need quick access.  Often it was hard to find a restroom.  Granted, most places don’t say anything if you are a non-customer rushing your kid to their restroom, but still.

Then there is the bigger problem – people drinking late at night and having to relieve themselves in public due to lack of open restrooms, and the homeless.  The council seems to acknowledge the problem and to have prioritized it.

Those are to me the biggest problems, but people have brought up the cleanliness and cracks in the sidewalk.  A year or two ago my daughter tripped over such a crack and scraped herself up, and that’s a general problem with our infrastructure that we need the resources to fix.  It has only gotten worse.

Last week we spent a lot of time talking about panhandling.  It is interesting that that is listed as the top priority, because for me the far bigger problems are the next three: traffic safety – bikes, pedestrians, and motor vehicles.

The city made every intersection a four-way stop in the core area a few years ago, which was an improvement over when the few non-four-way stops produced unpredictable driving patterns.  But, at busy times, the configuration creates conflict as three modes of transportation create 12 different effective cycles.

At times I have been almost hit crossing the street lawfully at intersections or at crosswalks.  I have seen car and bike collisions.  I have seen car on car collisions.  And I have seen a lot of near misses.

People complain about bikes jetting through intersections without braking, but cars drive too fast and are too quick to veer around double-parked vehicles.  A big improvement was the double-parking law, and finally that seems to be adhered to.  Pedestrians will dart into traffic as well, causing hazards.

I don’t have a good answer, but to me that is the biggest environmental element.

I like the fact that they listed the solicitation.  As a non-profit, I try to be understanding, but walking along Second Street, there are weeks on end you get hit up by solicitors every time you walk down the street.  It is a nuisance.  I think they end up hurting themselves with their aggressive tactics.

The vast majority of people who responded are Davis residents, but only a small number, maybe 100, were college students.  They had just under 200 who were downtown employees or business people and another nearly 400 were parents of school-aged kids.

The key question is what can be done to improve the downtown – we will talk more about that at a future time.

—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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16 thoughts on “My View: Do We Have a Great and Vibrant Downtown?”

  1. Keith O

    Without a doubt the number one thing that has hurt our downtown is the homeless/panhandling/nuisance behaviors and I agree with you and would lump soliciting in with that because they are a nuisance too.  I would put empty storefronts at number two.

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      I think panhandling and parking are the biggest nuisances, but what is going to kill downtown is the fact that for a majority of people who responded do not believe that downtown fulfills their shopping and entertainment needs.

      If it doesn’t do that – it is not functional.

      We can talk about the fact that it is “attractive” and relatively “safe.”  We can complain about about panhandling and lack of parking.

      But the reality is unless we can fix the businesses downtown, this is a lost cause.

      The downtown has maintained itself based on restaurants, bars, and coffee shops.  But how far can that go – and I would argue that the food downtown is mediocre at best.  There is no downtown restaurant for which I would drive from Sacramento or Vacaville just to eat at.  That is a problem.

      Unless we can solve that our downtown is going to gradually die over time.


  2. Tia Will

    I agree with your overall point that downtown is lacking in shopping and variety in the restaurants that might draw from outside of town. However, I think that your framing may be more a matter of taste and/or awareness than of reality. Had you limited your comment to Sacramento which has a much larger population and thus many more restaurant choices, I would have agreed. But I would certainly drive from Vacaville or Woodland to go to Zen Toro, or Sophia’s or the Mustard Seed. When I mention these to acquaintances, the response I get is frequently, “I have never tried it”. It is an interesting irony to me that some complain about downtown’s lack of vibrancy, but then do not seek out nor support what is available there.

    1. Mark West

      “which has a much larger population and thus many more restaurant choices”

      Inadvertently, Dr. Will answered the basic question. When you restrict the population of the town, you restrict the number of people available to support a vibrant downtown, especially quality eating establishments.  When you make the town more expensive to live in through a fiscal policy that favors raising taxes more than economic development, you reduce the disposable income of those same people, further limiting their ability to support a vibrant downtown. When you have a housing policy that favors wealthy investors over young professionals and families, you further increase the cost of living in town, exacerbating the loss of disposable income and the number of people able to support downtown businesses. Finally, when you enshrine anti-competitive policies in your General Plan, protecting downtown property owners from competition, you take away the incentive for those same property owners to maintain or improve their properties, reducing the viability of the downtown.

      We have the downtown we have because of our choices. Until those choices begin to change, the downtown will continue to decay and not meet the needs of residents.

      1. Keith O

        We have the downtown we have because of our choices. Until those choices begin to change, the downtown will continue to decay and not meet the needs of residents.

        Except for the fact that our downtown is so popular that finding a parking place in order to visit is a problem.

      2. Tia Will

        I do not disagree with Mark West’s fundamental point that limitation of population plays a major role in the types of businesses that a community can support. However, I also do not believe that every community should hold unbridled growth as its highest aspiration. Now, I rather imagine ( although I do not know) that Mr. West would claim that he does not favor “unbridled growth”. I don’t care about the exact descriptor, it is clear to me that Mr. West’s vision for Davis is that we should be growing, as Rochelle Swanson once said, “as fast as we can”. This is a perfectly valid value and point of view. It is simply one that I do not share.

        1. Mark West

          “it is clear to me that Mr. West’s vision for Davis is that we should be growing, as Rochelle Swanson once said, “as fast as we can”.”

          Tia – If that is ‘clear to you’ then your issues with reading comprehension continue. Rochelle made that quote, not I. We should grow enough to meet the needs of our residents, but if you are looking for a specific rate, our growth rate should mirror that of Yolo County. Artificially limiting our growth below that of the broader region is the core reason behind many of our expanding problems here in town; problems that will ultimately destroy the quality of life that so many here favor. That you are unable to understand that is not a surprise.

      3. David Greenwald Post author

        I disagree with you. Figure on a daily basis there are probably 90 to 100,000 people in this city between residents, students and faculty. That’s more than enough people to create a real downtown to draw business for retail and entertainment. And if we create a good enough product, we can draw from the region as well. I agree we have the downtown we have because of choices, but not necessarily because of growth choices.

        1. Mark West

          Disagree all you want, you are wrong. The things that I listed are all intertwined, but come back to our protectionist policies that favor the wealthy property owners in town over everyone else. Growth is part of that issue, and by restricting growth below that of the surrounding region we ultimately destroy the fiscal viability of the town and consequently our quality of life. We are the architects of our own fiscal destruction.

          1. David Greenwald Post author

            San Luis Obispo, smaller city, without growth, has a much better downtown in terms of retail.

  3. John Hobbs

    Downtown Davis was a destination in the late 60s and early 70s, when I would often eschew Sacramento’s food and entertainment venues in favor of Davis. Can’t say how many decades since I’ve heard anyone say. “Let’s go to Davis!” at 7 pm on a Friday evening.

    1. Eric Gelber

      “Can’t say how many decades since I’ve heard anyone say. “Let’s go to Davis!” at 7 pm on a Friday evening.” Having first moved to the area in the late 70s, I can say that the change was more due to Sacramento becoming less of a Valley town and more cosmopolitan through the growth of dining and entertainment venues than changes in Davis. Davis doesn’t need to grow at the rate of the County. It does need to attract downtown food, shopping, and entertainment options (besides Mondavi) that have wider appeal, however.

  4. Don Shor

     There is limited functional retail in the downtown. 

    I know. It’s such a shame there are so few retailers downtown.  I mean, other than these, where is there to buy anything?


    A Better Place to Bead
    Absolute Cellular
    Advanced Energy Products
    Animal Supply Logistics
    Armadillo Music
    Art 26
    AT&T Wireless
    Avid Reader Active
    B&L Bike Shop
    Bath & Body Works
    Bizarro World & 4 Star Movies
    Boheme Used Clothing and Gifts
    Bubble Belly
    Candy House of Davis
    Casa Verde Designs
    Clickaway Mobile
    Couleurs Vives Art Gallery and Studio
    Crème de la Crème
    Crucial Vibes Unlimited
    Davis Ace Hardware
    Davis Card and Games
    Davis Food Co-op
    Davis Gold & Silver Exchange
    Davis Sport Shop
    Davis Textbooks
    Davis Wheelworks
    Fast & Easy Mart
    Fleet Feet Sports
    Found: Antique Jewelry and Objects of Interest
    Freewheeler Bicycle
    Generations Family Footwear
    Hastings Back Porch
    Haute Again Consignment
    Hibbert Lumber
    Himalaya Gift Shop
    Ho Ho Market
    IRC Tire
    Jeeba Creative Jewelry
    Ken’s Bike Ski Board
    Kim’s Mart
    Kwan’s Framing
    Logos Used Books
    Luro Jewlers
    Miyamo Boutique
    Mobile Connections
    Mother & Baby Source
    Optical Phases
    Putah Creek Winery
    Radiate Art
    Radio Shack
    Rire Boutique
    Rivers to Reef
    Shop Cuffs
    Shu Shu’s Clothing and Accessories
    Sleep Center
    Soccer & Lifestyles
    Sole Desire
    SPCA Thrift Store
    T-Mobile Store
    Tarad Thai Market
    Teach Your Children
    The Artery
    The Avid Reader
    The Davis Beer Shoppe
    The Gap
    The Illusions
    The Paint Chip
    The Vault
    The Wardrobe
    Third Street Jeweler
    Tibet Nepal
    UC Davis Store Downtown
    Valley Wine Company
    Volleys Tennis Shop
    Watermelon Music
    Western Feed & Pet Supply
    Whole Foods


    1. Don Shor

      and as for food and drinks, a complete wasteland.


      3rd & U Café
      Ali Baba
      Bambu Desserts and Drinks
      Barista Brew Café
      Baskin Robbins
      Bistro 33
      Black Bear Diner
      Blake Pizza
      Blondie’s NY Pizza Co.
      Burgers & Brew
      Café 110
      Café Bernardo
      Chipotle Mexican Grill
      City Hall Tavern
      Cloud Forest Café
      Cream of Davis
      Davis Creamery
      Davis Noodle City
      Davis Sushi Buffet
      De Vere’s Irish Pub
      Delta of Venus
      Dot Island Grill
      El Toro Mexican Kitchen
      Farmer’s Kitchen
      Froggy’s Bar and Grill
      Fuji Sushi Boat
      Hometown Chinese Restaurant
      Hot Italian
      Hunan Restaurant
      IcekrImski Café
      Ital Wadadaly Caribbean Food
      Jack in the Box
      Jusco Japanese Restaurant
      Kathmandu Kitchen
      Ketmoree Thai Restaurant & Bar
      Lazi Cow
      Let Them Eat Cake
      London Fish & Chips/The Dumpling House
      Manna Korean BBQ
      Mikuni Japanese Restaurant
      Mishka’s Café
      Open Rice Kitchen
      Our House
      Panera Bread
      Peet’s Coffee & Tea
      Pho King IV
      Pinata Taqueria
      Preethi Indian Cuisine
      Putah Creek Winery
      Raja’s Tandoor
      Red 88 Noodle Bar
      Root of Happiness
      Sam’s Restaurant
      Sophia’s Thai Kitchen
      Steve’s Pizza
      Sun & Soil Juice Co.
      Sunrise Restaurant
      Sweet & Shavery
      Taco Bell
      Tako Cantina
      Taqueria El Burrito
      Taste of Thai
      Tasty Kitchen
      Tea List
      Temple Coffee
      Thai Canteen
      Thai Nakorn
      Thai Recipes
      The G Street Wunderbar
      The Good Scoop
      The Habit Burger Grill
      The Hotdogger
      The Mustard Seed
      The Posh Bagel
      Three Mile Brewing Company
      Tommy J’s
      Tres Hermanas Cocina Mexicana
      Uncle Vito’s
      University of Beer
      Village Bakery
      Village Pizza & Grill
      Vini Wine Bar
      Winds of Change
      Wing Stop
      Woodstock’s Pizza
      Yakitori Yuchan
      Yeti Restaurant
      Yolo Berry Yogurt
      Zen Toro
      Zia’s Delicatessen
      Zuma Poke & Lush Ice
  5. darelldd

    I am disturbed at how poorly the questions were worded, and how many presuppositions were included. If I register my vote as parking being the top downtown physical element that needs improvement (and I did), what is being concluded from my vote?

    Has my vote been counted as “we need more parking for cars downtown?” That’s my guess. and it is not at all the improvement that I wish to see.

    1. darelldd

      Ah, I just saw this in your preamble, David.

      “We can complain about panhandling and lack of parking”

      Which makes my point above. The question did not ask about the amount of parking, nor the parking of cars. It merely asked if parking was an important issue that we need to deal with. Sadly, a YES answer to that question seems to imply to everybody that more car parking is desired. How do we fix anything if we answer the questions that are not asked, and we don’t ask the questions that need answering? I have no idea what conclusions we can draw from such poor questions.


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