Systemic Injustice – The Davis Disconnect

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by Mark West

“Social justice is the concept of fair and just relation between the individual and society. This is measured by the explicit and tacit terms for the distribution of wealth, opportunities for personal activity and social privileges…In the current global grassroots movements for social justice, the emphasis has been on the breaking of barriers for social mobility, the creation of safety nets and economic justice.” – condensed from Wikipedia

Our recent history as a community has witnessed a number of events that have focused attention on the issues of social justice and inclusiveness. This is evidenced by the Central Park vigils in response to systemic socio-economic injustice at both the national and local level. We have been dedicating a tremendous amount of our community’s resources, and City Council attention, to these social justice concerns of late.

Given this context, it is with considerable concern that I view the manner in which the City of Davis has launched the long overdue process for updating our General Plan and our Core Area Specific Plan. Combined, these plans represent the goals and aspirations for how our community will evolve in the decades to come. It is critical that these new plans address the systemic socio-economic disparities in our community that have been perpetuated for far too long. As stated in the introduction to our current General Plan:

“A general plan articulates a community’s vision of its long-term physical form and development. The general plan is comprehensive in scope and represents the city’s expression of quality of life and community values; it should include social and economic concerns, as well.” “The general plan serves as a basis for decision-making. The plan directs decision makers, who must balance competing community objectives, which sometimes present trade-offs.”

The Core Area Specific Plan is an extension of the General Plan and is focused primarily on the downtown core, offering up the specifics for how we implement the General Plan.

“The purpose of the Core Area Specific Plan is to provide a comprehensive set of policies, guidelines and implementation strategies for promoting, guiding and regulating growth in the Core Area. Adopting and implementing the Core Area Specific Plan will allow the area to continue to function as the City’s social, cultural, retail center, and professional and administrative office district… The Core Area Specific Plan establishes the strategies which are required for the systematic execution of the City’s General Plan for the area covered by the Core Area Specific Plan”

The Downtown Core is intended to be the economic engine of our City, as well as the social and cultural center for all residents. The City’s General Plan and the Core Area Specific Plan are the overarching documents in which the community’s plans for housing diversity, job creation, economic opportunity and social mobility are embedded. This new Core Area Specific Plan is extremely important, not just to the property owners, businesses and residents of the Core and surrounding neighborhoods, but to all residents, as it will define how Davis will evolve into the future.

The planned composition of the Core Area Advisory Committee (“CAAC”) does not sufficiently reflect the values of Davis in terms of diversity. As the CAAC will be advising the City Council on the critical update of the General Plan and Core Area Specific Plan, it is imperative that the full diversity of socio-economic status, race/ethnicity and other social/demographic characteristics be represented and have equal voice.

When I look at the selection criteria, I don’t see a plan designed for inclusiveness, for representation of all Davis residents, but rather a plan focused on the property owning ‘elite’ of the community. I can readily envision that when this list was made up, that the City had specific individuals in mind to fill each of the categorical slots, pulling from the list of politically-connected stakeholders who are typically active in our community planning efforts. These voices are important to be sure, but if the General and Core Area Plans are to serve the “common good” of all residents, then we must strive for the greatest diversity of viewpoints and opinions possible.

As it stands, the approach before us focuses on maintaining the status quo and the interests of property owners rather than a downtown evolution that serves the common good of all. Where are the representatives for Davis renters, who constitute 55% of Davis residents? How about those representing labor, or the economically disadvantaged? Perhaps more importantly, why have we bestowed three votes to the downtown neighborhood organizations that have a well-documented history of moving from a mindset of scarcity/protection rather than abundance/opportunity?

It is critical that the composition of the CAAC represent the full diversity of the Davis community. The plan presented by the City Council and City Staff, thus far, has failed to achieve this values-based community objective. I would urge the City Council to reconsider this approach and replace it with one that is more inclusive and representative of Davis values. Failing that, the deadline for applying for the CAAC should be extended, and a concerted effort put forward by the City to engage and recruit potential members from the currently underrepresented portions of our community. The future of Davis depends upon it.
About the author:
Mark West was raised in Davis and is a graduate of North Davis Elementary where Eleanor Olsen instilled a love of learning, a fascination with logic puzzles, and the ability to type on a keyboard with blank keys. His education continues…

 



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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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30 thoughts on “Systemic Injustice – The Davis Disconnect”

  1. Don Shor

    I’m a little baffled by the criticism of the makeup of the committee, since they’re still taking applications.

    Per the Davis Enterprise:

    Davis residents are invited to apply for seats on the Core Area Advisory Committee, which will inform the Davis City Council as the city embarks on the plan update.

    The committee will feature 19 seats for people who can inform a spectrum of topics affecting downtown. Categories include affordable housing advocates, local business owners and developers, environmental advocates, disabled community advocates, parks and open space activists, social services representatives, a youth representative, and many more.

    Residents who live in the Core Area or in the surrounding historic neighborhoods also will have a seat at the table. Three seats will be set aside for representatives from Old North Davis, Old East Davis and the Rice Lane neighborhood.  Six seats are earmarked for representatives of Davis Downtown; the Davis Chamber of Commerce; Davis Planning Commission; Davis Bicycling, Transportation and Street Safety Commission; Davis Finance and Budget Commission; and the UC Davis administration.

    The committee expects to meet 12 to 15 times over approximately two years starting in December or January.  Meetings are planned for Thursdays at 7 p.m.

    Applications are due by Sept. 18 ….

  2. Tia Will

    why have we bestowed three votes to the downtown neighborhood organizations that have a well-documented history of moving from a mindset of scarcity/protection rather than abundance/opportunity?”

    I believe that Mark West’s argument can be boiled down to this statement. He has previously argued this artificial paradigm of scarcity/protection vs abundance/ opportunity although I am sure that he is aware that it is not applicable to any project currently under consideration. It is his version of the “good guys” vs the “bad guys” and we can be sure that we will be hearing more of it regardless of validity.

    1. Michael Bisch

      Or we can boil Mark’s argument down to this one:

      “In the current global grassroots movements for social justice, the emphasis has been on the breaking of barriers for social mobility, the creation of safety nets and economic justice.” 

       

      Or this related one:

       

      “It is critical that these new plans address the systemic socio-economic disparities in our community that have been perpetuated for far too long.”

       

      Or even this one:

       

      “…it is imperative that the full diversity of socio-economic status, race/ethnicity and other social/demographic characteristics be represented and have equal voice.”

       

      Which statements to focus on depends on your perspective, Tia.

  3. Don Shor

    Unless I’m misunderstanding the Enterprise article, it seems that 9 of the seats are designated for particular groups, and 10 are not. One could readily argue about any of those 9 — why the Chamber, why UCD, why the bike commission to have voting positions on this committee? But Mark specifically only objects to the presence of the neighborhood associations.

     the deadline for applying for the CAAC should be extended,

    I agree. And I assume that Mark West has applied to be on the committee.

  4. Cindy Pickett

    It sounds like the City Council does have the goal of making this committee diverse and inclusive, but I wish there was a mechanism for nominating individuals for the committee. In every organization that I have been a part of, the application process tends to result in a self-selected group of people (and usually the same people year after year) applying for the positions. When the goal is to achieve diversity and inclusion, it is almost a truism that relying on individuals to apply themselves doesn’t work.

    1. Keith O

       the application process tends to result in a self-selected group of people (and usually the same people year after year) applying for the positions. When the goal is to achieve diversity and inclusion, it is almost a truism that relying on individuals to apply themselves doesn’t work.

      I agree, there’s a core of people who always seem to serve on these committees and show up at every council meeting.

      I have a question, is every neighborhood in Davis going to have a voting position on this committee or just a selected few?  If not, why not?

        1. Keith O

          So why wouldn’t all of the Davis neighborhoods be allowed a seat and a vote on the committee.  Doesn’t this affect the whole city? It’s our downtown too.

        2. Ron

          Keith:  I hope you do apply.  (The voice among us who might, “god forbid”, drive to a hardware store or even a restaurant downtown with family/friends, once in a while.)  🙂

          At least have sufficient peripheral parking. (The “park in one place, and then walk to various destinations downtown” model.)

        3. Keith O

          I swear we had this discussion a few weeks ago.

          Not with me, maybe with another commenter.

          It doesn’t look like the council/city has opened seats on the committee for every neighborhood.  Why shouldn’t we also have a voice?

          Go for it. The application period has been extended to September 25.

          Don Shor, how can anyone from my neighborhood be assured of a seat on the committee if a seat is being held for each respective neighborhood like they’re doing for Rice, Old North, Old East?

          1. David Greenwald

            That was the point I raised that the adjacent neighborhoods are not the only ones with an interest and here we have a council that has kind of railed against Nimbyism while at the same time in a way, feeding into it.

  5. Ron

    David:  “That was the point I raised that the adjacent neighborhoods are not the only ones with an interest and here we have a council that has kind of railed against Nimbyism while at the same time in a way, feeding into it.”

    Those who are closest to proposed changes (and/or, fall within the boundaries of proposed changes) are generally those most impacted by it. (Kind of obvious, really.)

    1. David Greenwald

      Only if you look at impact in an extremely narrow (geographic, direct physical impact) sense. If you think about the downtown, who is most impacted by future design (in no particular order) – (1) Business Owners, (2) Patrons, (3) Civic Minded People, (4) Neighbors, (5) The entire community, (6) parents of small kids (try finding public bathrooms!) – a lot of people drive to and through the downtown, not just people who happen to live next to it. And in point of fact, people like Tia (sorry to single you out), walk to the downtown because they live so close, so in a way, they are less impacted by things like traffic and parking than people like me who have to drive every day to the downtown because I work there. So yes, there probably are some things that impact the neighbors more than everyone about the CASP, but if you look at the totality of the circumstances, I could make a very strong case that overall that is simply untrue.

  6. Tia Will

    David

    that has kind of railed against Nimbyism while at the same time in a way, feeding into it.”

    That is quite an assumption you are making there. Take my case. I am opposed to Trackside, but not because of location but rather because I do not believe it fills a legitimate city need while being far outside zoning and design guideline. I am however, tentatively a proponent of Lincoln 40 even though it is much closer to my own home. So what does that make me. A NIMBY ( Trackside) ? A YIMBY ( Lincoln 40) ? Or perhaps just someone who looks critically at each project and judges each on its perceived advantages and disadvantages?

    1. David Greenwald

      You’re drawing way too narrow a focus on my comment. If you believe that something like the core area impacts everyone, why would you create a system that gives extra weight to those for whom the core is in fact “in their backyard”?

  7. Tia Will

    For those in outlying neighborhoods who feel they should have an equal voice, I would ask the following. Should those who say that they never go downtown at all for whatever reason have an equal voice to those who live there or go there daily ?  Should I have an equal voice regarding a development such as Paso Fino ? Or should the immediately involved neighbors voices carry more weight ?  I would argue that those immediately impacted should have special consideration.

    1. Keith O

      Our downtown is quite a bit different than a six house infill project at Paso Fino.  But if I remember right you weighed in on Paso Fino just as I have given my opinion on Trackside.

      Our downtown belongs to us all, almost every resident I’m sure visits it often.  It’s the center to our city, how can you say that some resident’s voices should count less than others when it comes to the most important asset our city has?

      1. Keith O

        Heck, I didn’t live next to Nishi but I still got to vote on it just as you got to vote on Covell Village and Wildhorse Ranch which are not close to you either.

  8. Ron

    Keith/Tia:  It occurred to me that you might be referring to two different situations:

    Proposed changes within a particular neighborhood (e.g., those near Trackside), vs. proposed changes adjacent to that neighborhood (e.g., the entire downtown/business district).

  9. Alan Miller

    Nothing is ever “repeated” on the Vanguard.

    You know that’s quite an accusation, Ron, and I’m actually quite offended by it, because, as we all know: Nothing is ever “repeated” on the Vanguard.

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