Monday Morning Thoughts: What Should We Do about Trackside?

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From the start, Trackside has been a lightning rod for criticism.  The initial project was seen as far too large for the space it occupied.  The approach of the developers seemed to alienate the neighbors.

Even the scaled-down version of the project is generating much in the way of community and neighborhood angst and pushback.

And yet, despite its relatively small size, Trackside is one of those issues that really transcends the instant importance of the actual development.

Last week there was some discussion that certain commenters on the Vanguard are obsessed with Trackside and want to turn every discussion into a discussion about Trackside.

In a way, that is a valid criticism.  After all, for most people, even those who live in Old East Davis, Trackside is really not going to affect their lives one way or another.  There are probably about five or six homes directly impacted by the development – for everyone else it is theoretical at most.

As I have said before, I think the developers’ approach to the neighbors has been a problem from the start.  I think the six-story initial proposal is too high.  And I have questions about whether the housing choice here – luxury condos – is really a huge need for the community.

But, aside from these on-the-ground factors, I think Trackside is actually one of the most important projects facing the community.

Why?

Well it all comes down to the Core Area Specific Plan (CASP).  We are going to have some major land use fights in this town between now and 2021.  We will have, I think, a real challenge to Measure R when it comes up for renewal in 2020 – and if Michael Harrington is serious about putting something on the ballot sooner, then it might be much sooner.

Nevertheless, the Core Area Specific Plan is probably more important than Measure R right now.  I don’t see any way the voters vote down Measure R, and the CASP ends up being the biggest land use fight we’re going to have.

Currently the CASP puts a height limitation of two to three stories, which, if it reads like something out of the last century, it is.  Pre-2000, Pre-Measure J.

I would argue that the CASP needs to set building height limitations at five to six stories in the core.  That would allow for ground floor of retail and restaurants, a second floor of office space and three or four floors of residential.  And, if done right, you can integrate parking internally into the structures.

If you have a downtown core of five or six stories, then a two-story Trackside makes zero sense and, frankly, even now it seems like a massive waste.  Personally, I believe that four stories is about right, but compromise is okay and going down to three would be workable – although less than ideal.

The bottom line is that it seems to make more sense to do the CASP first before Trackside.  The developers can’t wait that long, so anticipating what the CASP will look like seems a logical fallback position – but that means that the neighbors need to stop arguing based on the current CASP and anticipate that the next CASP will allow five or six rather than two or three stories.

I agree that Trackside is a transition zone, but that’s a transition between six-story core buildings and two-story neighborhood buildings, which again puts us at three or four, not two stories, at Trackside.

I don’t know if that means I support Trackside – I’m still not sure about the usage.  But to me the big issue is getting the heights set in the core area.

I agree with those who argue that planning by exception is problematic.  I agree with those who argue that Trackside in its current form violates the CASP and other design guidelines.

However, where I probably disagree is that I think the answer is to fix the plans, not necessarily the project.  There is still room for compromise, but my basic belief is that building two-story buildings anywhere near the core of town is a waste of valuable space.

I get the argument that some have put forth – that we are not against infill, but we want something that fits in the existing neighborhood.  At the same time, we are faced with a dilemma in this community and, frankly, in this state.

The dilemma, as manifested in our community, is a rental housing crisis that has meant a 0.2 percent vacancy rate.  That crisis not only impacts students but also the ability of families to find rental housing and single-family homes.

That crisis has been made worse by the fact that Davis has not been able to find a way to expand its borders for nearly two decades since the passage of Measure J (now Measure R).

As we have argued, most recently last week, there is a tension between peripheral development and densification and when you cut off the first, you put more pressure on the second one to go higher and more dense.

Some have suggested that increased density and heights will cause Davis to lose our soul – I think the bigger danger is that we lose our soul when the folks who have lived here for the past 40 or 50 years can no longer afford to buy housing and move their families here.  When UC Davis faculty have to live in Sacramento and commute, putting down their roots elsewhere.  When promising faculty go elsewhere because of the non-affordability of housing.

Good infill can work with the character of this community, which is why I support densification over additional peripheral development, but frankly something has to give.  The current status quo is not sustainable and we are going to end up with radical change if we do not create the kind of release valve necessary to alleviate the pressure.

With that being said, part of my skepticism with Trackside is that I wonder if it is reaching a vital need for housing and, given our limited opportunities to create new housing under existing circumstances, that seems a very paramount issue that we need to address.

—David M. Greenwald reporting



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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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14 thoughts on “Monday Morning Thoughts: What Should We Do about Trackside?”

  1. Tia Will

    for everyone else it is theoretical at most.”

    I think that overall David has done a good hob of laying out a number of issues surrounding the Trackside development. I want to take exception to the above quote for two reasons.

    First, just because one does not live directly adjacent to a building, does not mean that one will not be affected by such a major change. Traffic patterns will  change. Safety concerns will change with regard to the alley which will affect not only the most immediate neighbors, but the remainder of the neighborhood as well as demonstrated by a very near miss I witnessed, not adjacent to my home, but two blocks away several days ago on 4th street. This project will bring significantly more traffic to the area at different times of the day and night and without traffic calming at the adjacent intersections, is a collision waiting to happen. This has been pointed out to city staff on a number of occasions and to council members and the mayor. Noise levels will also change with much more movement in the area later in the evenings than is now the case.

    The second reason is that this proposal as planned will change the fundamental nature of the neighborhood and will be precedent setting. I know from direct conversations, that this is exactly what some want to achieve. Namely the precedent of a four to six story building so that 3rd and 4th streets can be converted into “welcoming thoroughfares” into the city with rows of such buildings. I can understand how from a developer/investor point of view, this might be very desirable. However, from the point of view of someone who has spent the last six years patiently renovating a small bungalow purchased precisely for the “down home, mixed nature” of our neighborhood with historic houses, student co-ops, two story apartment buildings and many small single story bungalows with a diverse population of students, professionals, white and blue collar workers, turning the neighborhood into someone else’s vision of an “upscale” entry way into the city is anything but a “theoretical” concern.

    Again, I would be fully willing to trade some of the nature of my neighborhood for a project that was either fully within present guidelines or met a compelling city need. I will not be opposing the Lincoln 40 project for this reason, a compelling city need. However, I do not see luxury apartments as a compelling need for anyone, but rather as a nice investment and place to live for the very few folks who will benefit from this project.

  2. Jim Hoch

    “I do not see luxury apartments as a compelling need for anyone”

    Merchants downtown may prefer residents with higher disposable incomes. Healthcare providers in private practice also prefer people who are more likely to have a PPO plan.

  3. David Greenwald

    Rather than “compelling” I would suggest you simply list in rank order our housing needs and see where the supplied housing here falls in that order.

    1. Jim Hoch

      Here is my list.

      1: families with children where at least one member works here, Davis/UCD.

      2: Singles/Couples where at least one member works in Davis

      3: students at UCD/SCC

      4: random people who want to live in Davis but other do not have ties to the community and have the ability to pay

      5: homeless people who are motivated to change their lives.

      427: random people who want to live in Davis but other do not have ties to the community and are looking for a subsidy

      976: seniors, as we already have a disproportionate number of seniors.

      Note that I do not break out the various income groups other than self-supporting and non-selfsupporting. The “eye of the needle” aspect of whether someone who in interested in “luxury” is more deserving than someone who is not is someone moot as no pricing has been released for Trackside as far as I know.

  4. Mark West

    In 2000, when our current General Plan was first enacted, the City was in reasonably good financial health (at least on the surface). There were significant issues, especially on the revenue side of the equation (as described in the GP), but in general, things were OK. The plan did lay out some specific measures that the City needed with regards to commercial and retail development, but they were relatively small steps that would improve the economic future. Now, 17  years later, we are in a completely different situation. We have $100’s of millions in unfunded obligations and a severe housing shortage, and since we almost completely failed to follow through on the expansion of our commercial and retail sectors (as proposed in the GP), we now do not have the revenue base to correct the problems.

    The obvious observation is that our GP, as we envisioned it 17 years ago, has failed to meet the needs of the City today. We need to change our approach, yet what we hear over and over again from some is that we should stay within the zoning and design guidelines in our (outdated) General Plan. Really? Continue down the same path that created the mess we are dealing with now? A more rational approach would be to do something different? Yes, we need a new CASP and a new GP, but we don’t have to wait for those to make significant steps in the right direction.

    The City Council should make decisions on projects like Trackside based on the existing fiscal and economic realities and our expectations for the future, not what we thought might happen nearly two decades ago. Ignoring reality, and the 17 years of experience, is simply foolish.

    1. Howard P

      (at least on the surface). [Emphasis mine]

      Spot on!  Then, the term for “unfunded liabilities” was “deferred maintenance”… the warnings from staff fell on deaf ears @ the CC level…  after year upon year of trying to get the CC’s attention, it almost became an obligatory ‘footnote’… staff was losing motivation for tilting at windmills… why bother…

      1. David Greenwald Post author

        Deferred maintenance refers more to infrastructure costs, unfunded liabilities refer to future promises on pensions and retiree medical that are not currently funded but we owe.

        1. Howard P

          The latter was not ‘on the radar’ then… you are correct, in the 2000 context… and then, PERS, for the City, was ‘super-funded’… City was making little/no payments toward either…

          But, the infrastructure ‘unfunded liability’ is/was huge, as well, so I am also correct.  And that was known to be bad, and getting worse, in 2000. That has compounded…

          The revisions to the GASB accounting methods came later, which revealed the pension/post retirement piece of it.   Which then was exacerbated by salary/benefit increases, inflation on the medical side, and reductions in the assumptions by PERS as to long-term investment returns… a ‘constellation’ of negative factors…

  5. Tia Will

    I don’t dispute the need for doing something different. However, I also see planning by exception without any kinds of needs assessment as equally foolish as not addressing the problem.

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