Over the years, those who have supported growth in Davis have always argued that Davis was going to change one way or another. Their argument was that trying to keep a community the same as it is would inevitably lead to entropy and ultimate decay.
As someone who has decided at times against my best financial interests to remain in this community, I have always been skeptical of that argument. For me the draw of the vibrancy of the community, the small town atmosphere, the educated and engaged public, and the quality of schools has caused me to remain in Davis, even if it means I must remain a renter.
While I still do not want to see Davis grow to the point where it becomes like other rapid growth communities in the Central Valley, it is becoming very evident that Davis as it stands now in 2017 is not sustainable and our choices going forward are both limited and constrained – and we must weigh the downside of a number of different pathways.
The fact of the matter is that Davis cannot remain the community it is without developing new sources of revenue, both for its city services as well as its schools.
A few years ago the city believed that the path forward for new revenue was economic development. They had put forth what seemed a reasonable approach, a dispersed innovation strategy which sought to first utilize existing space, expanded with the development of Nishi – but they also recognized that existing space was limited and even Nishi was only going to provide at most half a million square feet of space. For larger companies likely to produce real revenue, the city needed to develop some peripheral land.
The good thing about the plan was that it was fairly limited in scope. We were looking at around 200 acres on the periphery to develop over a 50-year time horizon. Even for Davis, that seemed workable.
But the plan soon hit snags – getting caught up in land use debates over housing and growth – and the financing became problematic and the ideas are on hold.
The council warned on multiple points in time that, without economic development and innovation parks, they would be forced to seek revenue measures for the ballot. They actually managed to
delay the inevitable for four years, but the reality is that we need somewhere between $8 million and $16 million annually to pay for our existing needs.
It is not only the city’s fault, as federal and state funding for roads in the last decade has been limited, statewide crunches have reduced state funding for social services, nationally shifting priorities will limit funding going forward for social services – and may well impact access to health care as well.
The bottom line is that the city has needs and it requires funding to meet those needs.
There are those who believe we should be cutting first. Well, the city has cut first, second, and third. Can we do more for cost-containment than we have? Absolutely. Should we continue to find ways to save money? Absolutely.
But the money we are talking about is not going to be realized through cuts. We will have to at some point cut services in order to do things like pay for our roads and parks, as well as deal with the growing unfunded liabilities we face through retirement systems.
Yes, the future of our community can be one where we cut back on our recreation and our parks. We can further reduce the size of our city staff, but at some point we will start to feel that, and this will no longer be the community that we have grown accustomed to.
That is the choice before us – yes we can do more cuts in the short term, and we will likely have to raise taxes, but at some point to maintain the community that we have we have to find a way to grow.
That means economic development, it means commercial development and at some point that is going to have to mean housing – because right now we are headed for a time when the only people who live here are retired and wealthy people on the one hand and students on the other hand.
Students have been facing a housing crunch due to the continued enrollment growth of UC Davis as they try to grapple with statewide shortfalls in funding, as well as the lack of new housing in the last 15 years within the city.
But families are facing their own crunch. As we have pointed out recently, families will have an increasingly difficult time affording housing in the city. There is a limited new supply of single family housing. Affordable housing has been limited due to the combination of limited growth since 2000 in Davis and the loss of RDA (Redevelopment Agency funding). There have also been limited new apartments built and, even when they are, the cost is outside of a typical family’s price range.
The combination of factors has led Mayor Robb Davis to find some creative ways to finance things like homeless services and affordable housing, and the city will look to generate a rather modest $1.4 million for such purposes, potentially next November, with a $50 parcel tax.
A variety of factors are also putting pressure on our schools, which many consider a key resource for the community. This is a community that prides itself on its quality schools and it reaps the reward with increased property values.
But that is being threatened by a confluence of factors. The local school district is disadvantaged through state funding by its formulas which prioritize districts with more at-risk students. The district has successfully passed a number of parcel taxes to maintain existing programs, but they have done so at the expense of teacher compensation.
My niece was recently at our school’s PTA meeting and she watched the teachers’ presentation on the issue of teacher compensation and it was appalling. The compensation that teachers are receiving is stunningly low and not sustainable.
Once again the short-term solution will be to ask the voters to pay more in local taxes.
I have mixed views on this approach. On the one hand, I believe we need to find ways to pave our roads, maintain our parks, deal with the problem of homelessness, provide more in the way of affordable housing and pay our teachers reasonable salaries.
The reality is that we are not likely to be able to do so with cuts alone – although I strongly support a very robust cost containment plan at the city level and looking more closely at district spending priorities. I think these are all well-needed services.
On the other hand, if we are really looking at $600 or more in combined additional parcel taxes, at some point the voters may throw up their hands in the air.
As a short-term strategy, I plan to support the taxes. But in the longer term, I strongly urge both bodies to prioritize cost containment, if not outright cost cuts.
And I think we as a community have to look toward more development of commercial properties, of revenue-generating business, and toward reinvigorating the economic development structure.
While I remain reluctant to support peripheral development, some is going to be required in order to provide the space we need for additional economic development and limited housing.
For those who love this community as it is, I urge you to consider that the current community is not sustainable. We are already straining and cracking our foundation by preventing reasonable growth.
We need to be slow and methodical with any new growth that we have, but if we do not allow this community to change in a planned and controlled manner, I do not believe this community will survive as it is now.
The choice before us is therefore not growth or no growth, change or no change, but is rather what kind of change we want – because change will happen one way or another and the only question is, really, what kind of change we want and whether we want to have a measure of control over that change.
—David M. Greenwald reporting