It is with a sense of relief that we can now move on from Trackside. The Trackside issue was divisive and disappointing in a lot of ways, but as a 27-unit project, it is not going to solve the city’s housing crisis. With Trackside now off the table after nearly two and a half years, we can now turn our attention to other issues.
While we will have discussions coming up soon on Lincoln40, Plaza 2555, West Davis Active Adult Center, and Nishi, I believe that the most important issue may be the update of the Core Area Specific Plan.
The staff report notes: “The Core Area Specific Plan (CASP) establishes general policies for development in the Core Area and includes the allowable density.” Staff noted that, while Trackside was “consistent with the overall vision of the CASP,” it required an amendment to address “the project’s increased density for its land use classification.”
And in point of fact, as the staff noted, “no other changes to the CASP are required.”
As much as other issues crept into the debate, “The primary neighborhood issues with the Trackside Center project have been concerns about historical impacts, the size, scale and density of the
At multiple points in time, I made the argument that it was a mistake to approve Trackside in isolation from the Core Area Specific Plan discussion. Part of the problem that I see is the same problem I see on the western boundary of the core area – a patchwork approach to development that will leave large new buildings next to low-profile older ones.
The point I have been making for some time now is that, if we wish to limit peripheral growth in Davis – and the voters and most leaders seem to support such a limitation, then we need to find ways to improve our density. Creative and attractive ways. Innovative ways. But we must get more dense. And I see the Core Area as the way to do that.
Everyone (gross generalization here) loves the Davis downtown. But the reality is that it is, in my opinion, both antiquated and dying a slow death. Let me lay out the problems here.
First, retail is dying. You can point to a lot of things but the reality is that with very few exceptions people do not come to the downtown to do retail shopping. Okay, it’s nice to have Davis Ace down there, especially for a business owner who frequently needs such items in short order. It is nice to have quality athletic shoe stores like Fleet Feet. As a parent, Mother & Baby Source has saved our lives and our babies’ behinds more than a few times. There are a few others, but retail is dying across the country and it has been dying in Davis Downtown for a long time.
Second, the downtown is bars and restaurants. As someone in their 40s now, I don’t go to bars late at night like I did when I moved here in 1996 as a 23-year-old. The reality is that the downtown is less about retail and more about food and entertainment these days, and one of my chief complaints is that Davis really doesn’t have any great restaurants. There are restaurants in places like San Francisco, Berkeley, even Mendocino where I would drive hours just to eat there. There is nowhere in Davis that I would drive just to go eat there.
Three, parking is antiquated. Yeah, okay, we approved paid parking for the few hours a day when we are at capacity. I don’t know if that’s going to help, but the whole system is old and antiquated and needs to be updated.
Fourth, underutilization of space. I’m sorry we have a finite space downtown and in this city, and we are wasting most of it with single-story buildings on whole blocks.
We could do so much more in the downtown if we transformed it from the quaint downtown of yore into a vital new urban center.
Everyone is going to have a different vision for the downtown, but here’s mine.
We need to do a minimum of four stories everywhere, and go up as high as six stories, especially in those center blocks in the downtown, centering around E, F, and G Streets.
Here is what I see:
First floor, you make that ground level retails and commercial. That’s where your bars, restaurants, and retail stores are located.
Second floor, maybe even second and third, would have office space. There is a limited amount of office space in Davis and that’s where small businesses and groups can rent space to be in the downtown.
Then your top three to four stories should be apartments and condos. Imagine how vibrant the downtown would become around the clock if people lived down there – young professionals, people outside of college, UC Davis employees, and some students.
Where do people park? A couple of years ago I was shown this great development in Sacramento. They took an existing apartment building, put live-work townhouses on one side, commercial along the main street, and an internal parking lot – and the size was about the size of a city block in Davis.
Imagine a few of those type of developments in the middle of downtown, and then going up to three to four stories in the rest of the area so that we are utilizing our space.
It is a way for us to address housing issues, to put more people in the core of town where they don’t have to drive anywhere, focus on live-work arrangements to alleviate the in and out commute, and get more people into commercial areas where they will consume the retail and entertainment options offered in the downtown.
Davis has done a lot of things right with its downtown, but right now that downtown is in trouble and if we do not figure out ways to modernize, the downtown will become less and less the center of our community. To figure that out, in the Core Area Specific Plan, we have some pretty innovative and smart people – many of whom are experts in regional development, innovation, and new urbanism.
Now we have to tap that expertise and turn it into a vision for the downtown that keeps it vital for the next 50 years.
—David M. Greenwald reporting