In yesterday’s column, I wrote that the problem is that the action taken on Tuesday regarding certifying the EIR for the Mace Ranch Innovation Center (MRIC) location doesn’t mean we are any more open for business than we were on Monday. We still don’t have a project and we still lack major commercial space to expand our economic development. That’s what we need, and nothing we did on Tuesday moved us forward.
In a comment, Tia Will writes that the commentary misses a larger point. She writes, “While it is certainly the case that the majority of the city council (some more passionately than others) believe that more large scale commercial/industrial space is the best way to go, this does not seem to be the opinion of the majority of the community as reflected in the recent rejection of Nishi, a considerably smaller project.”
And, while councilmembers and developers and some business people agree with this point, Ms. Will writes, “I do not see the same zeal for larger scale development on the part of the voting citizenry. While David has opined on a number of occasions that this is due to a lack of understanding of our financial situation, I would like to propose that it is at least in part, because this is not how the majority of voters want our community to develop.”
I think Tia Will has an important point that falls by the wayside all too often in these discussions – there is a sizable portion of the Davis population that is opposed to any growth, any substantial growth, or any peripheral growth.
Their views may not be heavily reflected on the council but, as we saw with Nishi, all five members of the council ultimately voted to put Nishi on the ballot and supported it, but the community voted against the project.
Of course, it can and has been argued that Nishi was a very narrow vote (certainly compared to either Wild Horse Ranch or Covell Village) and it was likely decided on specific issues like traffic on Richards, perhaps affordable housing, and air quality.
And of course I am probably as guilty as anyone in believing that, if people just had the right set of facts and information and made an informed decision, they would make the “right” decision, whatever that happens to be at the time.
Tia Will’s point is that a majority of voters simply do not want our community to develop in this way.
Of course we don’t know that this is true because, if an MRIC got on the ballot, it would be very different from any other proposal in front of the voters.
One of the premises of Project Toto is that the developers of the economic model want to pull back the curtain to show the city and the citizenry what happens under different scenarios, not just for next year’s budget, but twenty years out.
At the same time, when presenting their model to downtown, I think they were caught off guard when the majority of people in the audience did not think that the roads in Davis were problematic.
Where does that leave us?
The voters/community will have a choice in the coming years as to the future of Davis. And while there are going to be General Plan discussions and Core Area specific plan discussions, the future will be decided much more on a project by project, revenue measure by revenue measure, benign neglect by benign neglect approach.
The fact is that right now we do not have enough money to maintain our infrastructure and continue current levels of service.
So we have choices. We can cut back on services. We can reduce our infrastructure needs. That means we can shut down parks and close down greenbelts. Let roadway pavement deteriorate or maintain it at another level.
We can provide fewer services and lay people off, or we can rely more on outsourced labor.
We can raise revenue through taxes like the sales tax, a parcel tax, some sort of utility tax, or even something more out of the box like a cannabis tax.
We can expand our retail base, add big box or other retail.
We can build more hotels.
Or we can build innovation parks and do economic development.
Some will suggest we should do some of all of this.
Every approach will have tradeoffs. Some of these will mean fundamental changes to our community. Increasing the cost of living in Davis will make the community more gentrified and affluent, and push out people of more modest means.
Building more commercial, whether retail, hotels or innovation parks, will have an impact on the community.
Allowing parks and greenbelts to deteriorate, and roads, bikepaths and sidewalks to exist at a lower standard will likewise produce a lower quality of life.
At the end of the day, I have my preferred solutions that I have laid out here. Others will have different preferences. What I can only hope is that those decisions are made based on accurate facts that allow the public to make an informed choice about the benefits and risks of various approaches and what happens if we do nothing.
I worry about the current trajectory because all too often what we are doing is deferring tough decisions which will punt the problem to future leaders but will also limit our options down the line.
I believe that, while the challenges are great, the solutions do not have to be crippling to our community – but if we do not start making tough choices now, the consequences will increase, not decrease.
I don’t believe that a modest parcel tax, a few hotels, and an innovation park along with a healthy cost containment strategy will irreparably alter or harm our community. For me the biggest threat is inaction and complacency.
But at the end of the day this is the citizens’ community and they will have to decide which way to go. My job as I see it is not to lay out the path for the community, but lay out the options and the consequences for those options.
—David M. Greenwald reporting