The discussion over the last week and a half about teacher salaries comes with a sharp and thus far unspoken reminder – it is a reminder that, while we have put off the inevitable, the city and school district are ultimately dipping into the same pot for additional resources and money and may at some point in the near future go head to head for that money.
I keep hearing from the old guard that the specter of growth in any sort of real quantity would almost certainly destroy our small city. And, while that undoubtedly may be true, the sight has been lost that our city faces threatened destruction from inaction.
Right now we lack the funding to fund basic infrastructure needs. Right now we lack the housing to house our current residents and provide for a reasonable rental housing market. Right now the cost of housing is prohibitive for people wishing to move into the community in which they work. And right now we lack the ability to pay our teachers a competitive raise.
These problems only figure to get worse through time and inaction, they will not solve themselves. To keep doing what we are doing and expect different results is the mark of insanity.
When faced with the real specter of a compensation gap, the commenters turned to tilting at windmills, talking about closing schools or cutting programs. We can certainly talk about the idea of going from seven periods to six periods. But is that really the direction we want to go?
We need to be real and understand that another increase to the parcel tax is coming from the schools just as the city believes it is their turn to take a bite of the apple. The city and school district may well go to war over the scarce parcel tax resources that will still be available – but it is a war that we will all lose if we fight.
We can talk about utopian visions and alternative tax schemes, but the reality is that there is one pot of money and it is a small, scarce and shrinking pot.
This city is facing a monumental crossroads because we can no longer afford to pave our roads, build our homes or pay our teachers.
If we do nothing, the small city that we know and love – with the vast expanse of greenbelts and bike paths, the working streets, the parks and amenities, the schools and the future – will all be gone.
But it doesn’t have to end that way and it doesn’t have to be that way.
We need to think of a new path forward. Not a path that ends with the destruction of our small city through sprawl and development, but one that allows us to have some things – to have some growth, some housing, and some economic development so that the future of this city isn’t stagnation, high taxes and declining services.
It was that vision that first emerged during the height of the great recession. It was a recognition that we needed to find a new source of revenue. That we needed to diversify our economic portfolio. And that we could do so without completely blowing out our borders or building peripheral strip malls that have become the gray wastelands in so many other communities.
This is not a quick fix. It is not approve it today, build it tomorrow, see revenue on Thursday type of fix. We are not going to solve this problem overnight, nor did we get into this problem overnight.
Back in 2014, the city of Davis was hopeful that they could help solve the long-term fiscal challenges of the city through the development of one or two modest sized innovation centers.
The application for MRIC (Mace Ranch Innovation Center) was originally filed September 25, 2014. The city, around the same time, received an application for the Davis Innovation Center. MRIC was originally planned on 212 acres with a mix of industrial, commercial and retail uses totaling 2.7 million square feet.
However, reality quickly gave way and two of the applications that came in have ceased their planning.
But, while Davis Innovation Center is gone and has been morphed into a larger project in Woodland, MRIC has circled back asking the city to certify its EIR.
When we talked to project manager Dan Ramos in July, he told the Vanguard following the Planning Commission meeting that it is their intention to bring forward a project.
“We’re very much interested.” He said, “We wanted to see if we can at least get to this milestone and then sit down with the council and see what’s going to be on the horizon in 2018, what kind of project they would like, and keep working on it.”
When asked if he anticipated significant enough changes to warrant a new EIR, he responded, “Who knows?” He added, “Obviously there will be something that we have to go study.”
He stated, “We are going to take significant efforts once this gets to market to find an anchor tenant.” Finding an anchor tenant now is crucial to allow the project to move forward, he said.
Mr. Ramos said he is looking to get in touch with the university and talk to the new chancellor about his plans and how they might be able to work together.
“We have a lot of work to do,” he said.
The process, of course, has generated a lot of criticism. There are those who have questioned whether the city should move forward with certifying a project that in their eyes does not exist. That is despite the fact there are a number of protections in place to prevent real abuse.
During public comments at the Planning Commission meeting, Eileen Samitz argued, “There is no project defined so far from the project developers. There is an application on hold with a number of alternative projects and two equal weights.”
She also cited “serious flaws in the EIR, particularly the false assumptions that you have to have 60 percent of the units – 850 units – (that) would have to be occupied by at least one employee. It’s ridiculous to assume that that [can] happen when it can’t be reinforced legally.”
Ms. Samitz is referring to the equal weight alternative, that the staff concluded is the environmentally superior alternative, “assuming (that) the addition of a legally enforceable mechanism to ensure that at least 60 percent of the on-site units would be occupied by at least one MRIC employee can be provided.”
The developer needs to decide if they are going to go forward with a project. Dan Ramos clearly has an eye toward 2018, but to do that he would need to really move quickly here to get an anchor tenant and move on a project by early February.
That seems rather ambitious at this point. A November vote would require the project to be ready by this time next year, and that might be more realistic.
But the council vote and then the public vote are two huge hurdles – even after EIR certification and if the project finds the kind of anchor tenant it needs to go forward.
The bottom line is that the city needs to find additional sources for revenue – right now it has the short-term options of cuts and taxes, probably a combination of the two. But, as the school district’s compensation gap shows, the city cannot necessarily count on additional tax revenue and instead must find ways to increase revenue through economic development.
No, it won’t be a short-term fix, but it is a realistic way forward and the city can take the first step in that direction, tonight.
—David M. Greenwald reporting