Council Needs a Citizen-Based General Plan Update


By Mary-Jo Bryan

(Editor’s note: These comments were delivered during public comment at last night’s council meeting.)

The City Council must initiate a citizen-based update of the General Plan’s Housing Element. The Davis community must be fully engaged, and with the City Council develop strategies that will meet the housing needs of all citizens including students. Such strategies must determine and address our fair share of student housing.

Many community members, including me, are concerned that the City leaders do not currently have a clearly articulated strategy for addressing the community’s housing needs. The low apartment vacancy rate and the pressure to meet student needs places unrelenting pressure and urgency on our City Council and staff.

Planning is even more critical when land and economic resources are extremely limited. An updated Housing Element that includes current conditions and constraints is critically important, but is unfortunately missing from the planning process at this time.

“How can we satisfy the demands on the City to provide its fair share of student housing and regional growth?” Will piecemeal planning, rezoning and amendments to the General Plan persist? These are serious questions and ones that should be carefully studied and answered.

We have always been a community of citizen participation. We spend valuable time attending City Council and Commission meetings. We read reports, speak at the meetings, and write commentaries and letters to the editor. However, our outdated General Plan frustrates our resolve and efforts.

I am not a “no growth” advocate. I believe in smart growth, good planning and community participation. I don’t see this happening now, and I am willing to take a stand. I would support a moratorium on future housing projects until the City has a formal policy that satisfies the housing needs for our community.

Can we start a dialogue that leads to a real General Plan revision, one in which the community comes together to tackle the issue of providing for a growing population? We cannot stop growth, but we can collectively use our creative talents to come up with strategies and an intelligent plan that will shape the growth of Davis for the future, and at the same time maintain Davis’ uniqueness and quality of life.

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About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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16 thoughts on “Council Needs a Citizen-Based General Plan Update”

  1. Keith O

    We already had the community come together for the current General Plan.  What is the shelf life of a GP?  Is there a need to advocate for changing the GP every time some faction of our population doesn’t agree with it?

    1. Howard P

      The shelf life of a GP depends on which element of the GP you are talking about.

      The “Housing” element has the shortest ‘shelf life’ as I recall – think it is 5 years… in general, it has been City practice to completely revise/re-do GP’s on roughly a 10 year cycle, with ‘updates’, as needed/desired, to some elements.

      The GP didn’t come from Mt Sinai, etched into stone.

      Will leave it to a professional in planning to cite the State Law re: GP’s.

      1. Howard P

        To clarify… as to the Housing Element… it is required that it is “re-visited”/”re-analysed” ~ every 5 years… if deemed still appropriate, it does not need to be amended…

        1. Darryl Rutherford

          The housing element (HE) update schedule changed when SB 375 passed in order to better align housing and transportation planning. They are now either 4 or 8 year cycles.  Jurisdictions have a “due” date and if they fail to adopt a HE w/in 120 days of that due date, they will be required to go to a 4 year cycle update…otherwise jurisdictions will be required to update the HE every 8 years. Visit HCDs website:

          Davis just barely made the 2013 deadline by adopting it in Feb 2014…we are now on an 8 year cycle. Current plan runs from 2013-2021. Davis Housing Element:

      1. Matt Williams

        David, that is true for any proposal that affects the Land Use Element, and specifically any proposal that impacts the population of Davis, but as Howard has pointed out there are a lot of Elements in the General Plan.  For a list of them, see below.

        1. John D


          Thanks for the outline.

          In context of the many recent Vanguard conversations, addressing the phenomenon of “crowding out of otherwise important social programs” caused by deferred recognition of prior period expenses, it is noteworthy that nowhere obvious in Sections 1 through 7 of this comprehensive process is there any attention directed to consideration of future municipal finances or fiscal sustainability – twin issues which have had profound fiscal impacts upon the ability of our city and almost every city to attain their otherwise intended goals for social and cultural enhancement.

          Admittedly related, but the dynamics behind “crowd out” are of recent vintage and must be considered separate and apart from issues normally associated with Economic Development.

          Given our level of self awareness on these matters, one can only hope that a new element will be added to this planning process when considering all aspects of a truly sustainable General Plan for the future.

          By the time the train arrives at the Section titled Implementation – it is too late.

        2. Mark West

          John D: “nowhere obvious in Sections 1 through 7 of this comprehensive process is there any attention directed to consideration of future municipal finances or fiscal sustainability”

          I agree that it isn’t obvious from looking at the table of contents, but if you read through the sections you will find comments indicating that fiscal sustainability was considered (but perhaps not on those terms).

          For instance, in Section IV, Chapter 1, Land Use and Growth Management you will find (starting on page 53)

          In February 1996, the City of Davis retained Economics Research Associates to provide three economic analyses to inform land use decisions for the General Plan update:

          industrial market
          retail acreage demand and downtown strategies; and
          grocery store demand versus supply by subarea

          Industrial market. The study concluded that there is existing unmet demand for new industrial space in Davis and that Davis could accommodate 200 to 250 gross acres of industrial growth through 2010. [emphasis added]


          The sector for which Davis offers advantages –high tech startups, R&D and manufacturing — demand either more affordable space, larger lots than Davis [has] in its inventory, or lots located away from residential uses. Without resolving this dilemma, Davis is not in a position to absorb the amount of industrial development assumed in the Major Projects Financing Plan, creating public facility financing cash flow problems for the City. [emphasis added]

          Under the retail section of the report, we learn that:

          Excluding the grocery and automotive sectors, Davis area retail sales [1995] amounted to only 54 percent of community demand. Compared to northern California communities of similar size, Davis is one of the lowest sales tax generators on a per resident basis.


          The downtown satisfies less than one-tenth of the community’s need for apparel, accessories, general merchandise and department store space.

          From Chapter 5, Economic and Business Development we find these specifics:

          Excluding the grocery stores and automotive sectors, the total Davis area retail demand in 1995 was $245 million but total sales was only $133 million, resulting in a retail leakage of $112 million.

          If you keep reading you will learn that:

          “In 1991, the Davis City Council appointed the Economic Development Task Force to examine the need for business and economic development in Davis.

          The Task Force determined that the City must increase its sales tax revenue through expansion of local business. This was considered especially crucial because of the effects of State budget cuts on local governments and the shifting of property taxes from cities to school districts.

          Two of their recommendations:

          Increase the number of businesses operating in Davis in order to generate more sales tax, hotel tax, business license fees, and business real and personal property tax;
          Develop incentives for business retention and expansion.

          Sound familiar?

          Remember now, these reports were from 1991 and 1995, demonstrating that we knew we had looming fiscal problems 20-25 years ago. Our issue is not that we are unable to properly recognizing the problems and identifying solutions, we have actually been quite good at that aspect. Our issue is that we never implement the necessary changes. All we do is wait a few years and repeat the community engagement piece and identify, yet again, the exact same problems and solutions.

          In fact, if you look back through the VG dialog the past couple of years you will see that many prominent posters here still believe that we don’t need business expansion, more retail, and more jobs. Positions that are completely contrary to what professionals (and our community engagement) have been telling the City for more than two decades, and contrary to what was written into our last “Citizen-Based General Plan.”


  2. John D

    We have many within the community who, having devoted countless hours to the process, are experts with respect to certain elements within the plan.   But as for the last time the community approached what might be described as a Comprehensive General Plan might be as far back as 1986-1992.   Reason for that comment is the number of studies, which preceded commencement of the process, that had been commissioned from independent, outside, subject matter experts in advance of that General Plan update process.   It was broad-based in approach, and not so much dominated by single element components as we have seen the General Plan Update process evolve in more recent years.

    Problem is, Comprehensive Plan Updates are both expensive, time consuming and not project focused – all characteristics for which we seem to have little appetite.

    And, as with this current article, we find an advocate – once again – who is focusing on a very legitimate, key element – but nonetheless a single element of the process, in this case the Housing Element.

    As for a Citizen-Based approach, how does one even go about managing that process.  Who would be the convener, who would be selecting the subject matter, who would be creating the agenda, who would be doing the facilitating, who would be charged with consolidation of the findings?

    Would it be independent, outside subject matter experts?   Would be a citizen’s committee?

    As matters stand today, over 40% (and growing) of our adult population is comprised of student residents.   Another 20% and growing is comprised of residents 55 and over.    Are you willing to cede the outcome to this dual cohort?

    In a related matter, what does this demographic profile portend for funding and enrollment in our local school district?

    These, and many others, are all issues which legitimately must be considered in any Comprehensive Plan Update.  When will the conversation pivot to reflect the complexities involved?


    1. Howard P

      The “citizen-based” approach has limitations… there are technical pieces of several of the elements, that citizens have no expertise, clue of… “citizen-involved” is very appropriate, but I shudder to think that self-selecting/appointed citizens, without professional staff input/influence would come up with a GP document.  Very scary.

      1. Mark West

        We need a General Plan that provides the greatest flexibility to the CC for dealing with our fiscal problems. We won’t get there with a citizen-based plan focused on maintaining the status quo. The plan should be written by professionals, with input through citizen outreach.

  3. Tia Will

    I completely agree with Mark West’s comment. And, the citizen input should be robust ( by  which I mean not token)  and include representatives from all age groups.

    1. Keith O

      I agree, citizen input should include more than just the usual vocal busy bodies who feel they have to show up and voice their opinions on every issue in Davis.  You know, the same usual suspects we see at every council meeting and who always flood council member’s emails.

  4. Richard McCann

    As I wrote earlier, and based on evidence of interest that I’m aware of, I think this community (uniquely) has the capability to develop most of the general plan update organically, relying on our own citizen-analysts. I think it could lead to a GP that is more reliant on adaptive management rather than immutable standards. That could greatly increase the lifespan of each GP update.

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