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 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…