My View: Davis Could Put Itself on the Cutting Edge with Social Services Tax


While Davis has often rightly been accused of being reactive these days and losing its progressive fervor, under the leadership of Mayor Robb Davis there is one area where the city of Davis sits on the cutting edge – the possibility of using tax money to fund programs and housing for the homeless and for families.

The $50 parcel tax according to city staff could generate about $550,000 annually for homeless services, another $500,000 to $700,000 for affordable housing, and $100,000 to $350,000 for local public service programs.

As of right now, Davis stands alone as the only place where a city is considering using a new tax for social services and homeless issues.  But if it happens, it will be a heavy lift, particularly with the city already looking at a more expensive separate $250 a year parcel tax for parks and roads.

The report notes, “Although not historically a service provided by the city, the City Council has identified a number of social service needs in the community that do not have adequate sources of funding.”

They write: “The Social Services Strategic Plan identifies three primary areas of concern: homelessness, affordable housing and adult day health care.”

Writes staff: “Homelessness is a growing problem, not just in Davis, but across the state, without an adequate local infrastructure in place. City staff and the city’s social services consultant have been working with local service providers, members of the business community and others to create a network of programming to address homelessness.”

We have been talking about the need for affordable housing extensively on the Vanguard.  As we have noted, part of the problem is the loss of Redevelopment Agency (RDA) money.

Back in October, Robb Davis alluded to the fact that our shortage of affordable housing can be tied to two key factors.  First, in the past the city built larger housing developments which enabled them to have relatively large dedicated sites to build large “a” affordable housing.

“Those days now largely are done,” he said.  “We aren’t getting any large developments like that that lead to that kind of ability to create the affordable set aside inside.”

He also noted we need to keep talking about the disappearance of RDA funding and the $2 million a year that used to come from that.  “The reason that’s important is that we do have this large stock of capital ‘a’ affordable housing that is at risk.  It’s at risk because it’s just going to fall apart.  And that’s probably our fault historically for not making sure that the amount of money that was being set aside for rehabilitation was built into the pricing of the development.

“We do need a revenue stream just to make sure we maintain some of the housing that’s aging now,” he said.

Staff notes that “recent state legislation will provide an ongoing funding source for affordable housing,” but they argue that “there is still a need for funding to assist with new affordable housing
projects and to rehabilitate existing affordable housing.”

The $500,000 to $750,000 proposed by staff doesn’t begin to replace the money lost from RDA, but it is a start.

However, some have argued this isn’t a traditional use of city resources.

The city staff did not help, writing, “Although not historically a service provided by the city, the City Council has identified a number of social service needs in the community that do not have adequate sources of funding.”

Elaine Roberts Musser on Tuesday added, “Social services are the purview of the county.”

She said, “I am not in favor of allowing the county to abdicate its responsibilities because the city has decided to subject its citizens to double taxation for such services.  In my opinion, a social services tax incorporated into a more comprehensive transportation parks maintenance parcel tax will ultimately be the poison pill that dooms any such revenue measure.”

But people want the city to be able to address the homeless issue and they want to see projects provide us with affordable housing, and this is a funding mechanism that can address both concerns.

Plus, as Robb Davis responded, this has been a traditional use of money.

“Not a core city service?” he asked.  “Really, we’ve never been funding affordable housing in this community for the last 30 years?  We didn’t build our affordable housing on RDA?

“There was a time when we considered that core to our identity, and then the state took it away,” he said.  “Because the state took RDA away, does that mean that we’re no longer committed to affordable?”

He said, “I’m not buying that.”  He added that “we’ve had an inclusionary housing ordinance for a long time.  We used that money to create hundreds of units of permanently affordable housing here and that money is gone forever.”

He argued that a portion of that $50 parcel tax could go to a fund which is a continued housing trust fund to ensure we don’t lose the stuff we have.  “We need them,” he said.  “This is a core service in the community.  We’ve always supplied affordable housing in this community.

“We’re not talking about something new, we’re talking about going back to what we were doing before,” he stated.

The mayor is correct – we are talking about doing something that we have always done.  However, at the same time, we are on the cutting edge here, and in a good way.  We are talking about leveraging local resources to help with the homeless issue and affordable housing.

The state has agreed to kick in money for affordable housing and that will be a help, but it is not a replacement for RDA.  Perhaps once Governor Brown leaves office, we can talk about re-establishing RDA, but in the interim SB 2 will provide some immediate money and SB 3 may provide longer term money for affordable housing – and that combined with a local parcel tax could get us to a place where we have a stream of revenue that we can actually use for affordable housing.

At the same time, last summer and this fall we heard from people in the community concerned about the homeless problem.  There aren’t a lot of great solutions there, but if we have a stream of revenue, we might be able to start addressing the issue.

The reality is that a $50 parcel tax is not going to provide us with enough money to solve either of these problems, but it does get our foot in the door.  This is something that we can do to actually improve the lives of others and do it in a way that is not going to break the bank.

We should be applauding the council and Mayor Davis for their foresight on this issue and their leadership.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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42 thoughts on “My View: Davis Could Put Itself on the Cutting Edge with Social Services Tax”

  1. Keith O

    The reality is that $50 parcel tax is not going to provide us with enough money to solve either of these problems, but it does get our foot in the door.  

    Yes it would get a foot in the door to keep coming back over the years and raising the tax just as we’re now seeing with the park tax and school taxes.

  2. Ron

    “We do need a revenue stream just to make sure we maintain some of the housing that’s aging now,” he said.

    Who pays to maintain it now?  (Does it depend upon which organization runs a particular property, and the type of property?)

    Let’s see – the housing is subsidized in the first place, the properties are not subject to taxes, and yet there still isn’t enough rent money to pay for maintenance?

    Perhaps it’s time to look at the entire program, more carefully.  And, to ensure that all new developments pay their fair share toward the program, before asking taxpayers to pay for a general subsidy. As the article notes, it appears that long-term costs were not adequately considered.

    And frankly, perhaps at least some Affordable occupants can afford a rent increase, to help offset their own costs.

    Seems like this article does not break down the different “types” of Affordable housing programs in place, for a range of different needs.

      1. Ron

        Well, I just included some suggestions above.  (Regarding existing housing stock, perhaps a rent increase is in order – for those who can afford it.  As noted, there’s a range of housing for those with different levels of income.) Is their rent fixed, or does it go up over time? (And, if it goes up, how much increase is allowed each year? Or, does it depend upon the “type” of Affordable housing?)

        And, ensure that new housing (going forward) has an adequate revenue stream in the first place.

        What are other cities doing about this?  The loss of RDA money affected them, as well.  There’s often a lack of reporting on the Vanguard regarding how other cities in California are handling such problems.

        And again I ask – is all maintenance simply being deferred?


        1. Ron

          David:  “Maybe you could ask Robb Davis these question… oh wait, you ran him off the site.”

          What a ridiculous thing to say.  Yeah, Robb Davis is a “wallflower” who is so “damaged” by interactions on the Vanguard that he now refuses to participate.

          And right – everyone else on the Vanguard is so much more “civil” and polite.

          Regardless, it’s your article, not Robb’s.

        2. David Greenwald Post author

          Regardless the issue of maintanence was a small portion of my article and the funding would probably be prioritized for new housing, but Robb did raise the point in October and presumably has data to add to the conversation, but is not participating on here anymore.  So if you actually wanted answers to those questions, he was your quickest source.

        3. Ron

           David:  “So if you actually wanted answers to those questions, he was your quickest source.”

          I’d suggest that the types of questions I’m asking might be of interest to voters, in general.

          Hopefully, Robb is not the only source of information.   At times, there are local publications/sources to provide such information, if they so choose. (Seems like you’re not interested in responding to some of my questions.)

          Regardless, thanks for clarifying that maintenance of existing buildings is apparently not the primary purpose of this proposed measure.

        4. David Greenwald

          The article states quoting city staff: “there is still a need for funding to assist with new affordable housing projects and to rehabilitate existing affordable housing.”  i see this as a way to start to recover from the loss of RDA funding.

        5. Ron

          Again, the first thing to examine (and appropriately adjust) is the differing Affordable housing requirements and exemptions that apply to different types of new developments.  (For example, the exemptions provided to “mixed use” and other types of new housing, the “shortchanging” of the Affordable housing program resulting from large multi-bedroom units, etc.)

        6. David Greenwald

          Consultant report is coming in January.  But regardless you’re talking marginal differences and my guess is that the city is going to end up reducing not increasing the requirements.

        7. Ron

          David:  ” . . . my guess is that the city is going to end up reducing not increasing the requirements.”

          If true, that makes no sense.  Already, there’s no shortage of proposals for new developments (which indicates that the existing requirements are not “insurmountable” for developers).  And, some types of housing are already “shortchanging” (or totally bypassing) existing Affordable housing requirements.

          And, if the city reduces the requirements, they’re simultaneously asking voters to “pick up the slack”?

          A “recipe” for the proposed tax to fail.  (Under those circumstances, it really should fail.)

          1. David Greenwald Post author

            ” there’s no shortage of proposals for new developments (which indicates that the existing requirements are not “insurmountable” for developers). ”

            One problem with that logic, other than West Davis which will have a land dedication site, none of the new projects are coming close to 35%.

        8. Ron

          One problem with that logic, other than West Davis which will have a land dedication site, none of the new projects are coming close to 35%.

          So, none of the new projects are coming close to 35%.  And, that’s a reason to reduce the requirements?

          There is no reason that new projects can’t include/incorporate a dedicated space on-site, equivalent to 35%.  In fact, that’s probably preferable to creating a separate site/building.

          And/or, make a sufficient “in lieu of” contribution, to complete Affordable projects elsewhere in the city.  I believe that there are still undeveloped parcels in the city reserved for such purposes.

          If there’s actually a “lack of space” for Affordable housing projects, then a new parcel tax won’t solve that “problem”, either.

          1. David Greenwald Post author

            “There is no reason that new projects can’t include/incorporate a dedicated space on-site, equivalent to 35%. ”

            Really, you’re an expert on this? Don’t you want to see the consultant report?

        9. Ron

          Also – if “space” was truly an issue, it seems to me that there was recently a large, several-building, relatively-new facility right next to the post office, which was set-up to provide services for those in need.  Wonder what happened to that.

        10. Ron

          Me: There is no reason that new projects can’t include/incorporate a dedicated space on-site, equivalent to 35%.”

          David:  “Really, you’re an expert on this?”

          Are you?  And (other than making a pointed personal comment), why exactly would that not be feasible?

          1. David Greenwald Post author

            I’m not, that’s why I’m waiting on the consultant report before deciding what is and is not feasible.

  3. Ken A

    I have never heard of a “city” using “tough love” and actually do the “real tough/thankless” job of really working hard to get the homeless to turn their lives around.  What happens in reality is when a city starts to provide more “services” for the homeless is that they give jobs to the politically connected and just make it easier for more homeless people to come to town set up a tent on the bike trail next to I80 and dump trash (that blows onto the freeway).  SF keeps spending more and more and does not realize that bigger spending is a bigger magnet that attracts more and more homeless  to the city (Woodside is just 30 miles south of SF and spends $0 on homeless and has 0 homeless)

    P.S. Any idea why all the “eco” people in town seem to give the homeless a pass on dumping trash, urinating and defecating all over town?


    1. David Greenwald

      As Robb pointed out this week the argument that funding homeless will lead to a magnet for the homeless will be severely tested as Sacramento fully implements their program this next year.

      1. David Greenwald

        In case you are wondering, Sacramento is spending $44 million to get thousands of homeless off the street.  A drop in the bucket compared to the few hundred thousand we are looking at.

        1. John D


          Is that $44MM from the hard earned paychecks of Sacramento residents, or is it from the State, the Feds or some other entity besides the taxpayers of Sacramento.  In other words, Sacramento City? Sacramento County? Sacramento State Capitol? may be spending it, but who is paying for it.

        2. John D


          So, if I am reading the article you cited correctly, funding for Sacramento County’s “portion” of the program will be coming from “state funds transferred to counties for mental health care, derived from a 1% tax on millionaires under legislation co-authored by Steinberg when he was in the Assembly”.

  4. Jeff M

    Things are so bad in the city of Honolulu that they have come up with a plan.

    They have this thing called Permanent Supportive Housing.  They seem to rank each homeless person based on need and use that to prioritize the effort to find them housing and to provide ongoing support services.  I do believe that they are not very supportive of people that simply chose it as a lifestyle.  What I understand is that they pretty much have an opinion that everyone needs a permanent place to sleep at night.  They have done some clean-up and expansion of their shelters to accommodate more, but their anti-camping enforcement has apparently had some positive impact in forcing more to the shelters… or just getting them to move out of the state.  I believe they have enlisted state and city workers and community volunteers to get to know each homeless person to find out if they have family and to softly apply pressure for their homeless residents to move away to where the family resides.  This might sound cruel to some (and I understand that Hawaii liberals complain about it), but the explanation is that these people are going to generally be better off around their family where the family can provide some help.  It is an interesting approach and apparently it is having some positive impact.  Apparently there are a number of homeless that have separated from their family for various reasons and just lack the ability to reconnect, but with a bit of help some of them do just that.  I makes sense given the stubborn psychology of family conflict and family dynamics.   In some cases family reconciliation is an opportunity but needing facilitation.

    I am not in favor of this parcel tax because the action plan for what the money will be used for isn’t well enough defined and is not compelling enough of a solution to the Davis homeless problem.

    Davis isn’t unique in that all cities in California have a problem with homelessness.  The State is going to have participate on this… maybe scrap the bullet train to nowhere and use the money to address homelessness.

    However, I think the final solution is going to require a YIMBY pill from the state… basically new regulations that prevent communities from restricting housing development when there is a clear need.  Davis is the poster-child for this and if we are honest about our problem with homelessness, we would look in our NIMBY mirror.

    For Davis, our homelessness problem is exacerbated by the fact that we simply do not build enough housing.   And the alternative of densification has proven to lack feasibility… both because the existing neighbors have proven to fight against anything and everything that would truly help densify their neighborhoods, and second because redevelopment is more costly and less feasible, and third because the concentration of humanity into a more dense urban design is, for Davis, an irrational Utopian pursuit that misses most of the reasons this would be an attractive and working design.

    Related to the third point, population-dense communities that are attractive and vibrant are self-contained neighborhoods that have am effective mix of property uses and demographics.  It requires an inventory of commercial uses to complement the inventory of residential uses… and a demographic that includes enough young professionals and young families that would spend money and work at these commercial use properties.

    Davis demographics are broken in this regard.   There are primarily students and retirees… demographics that don’t like to spend money.  Basically, the densification of Davis’s core lacks financial feasibility.  You can see this played out with more and more vacant retail locations downtown.

    The correct vision for Davis’s community development and design future is more peripheral development with top-end SMART transportation connectivity and self-contained neighborhoods where more people can live-work.   These neighborhoods should include a mix of single-family and multi-family housing… and creative housing solutions to help

    This is primarily why I will vote no on any new tax to address the homeless problem.  Because Davis voters keep electing to prevent any significant increase in the housing supply (where it needs to be done on the periphery), we will never make any material dent in the problem until we do.  I see this tax as a NIMBY tax and not a homelessness tax.

    1. Ken A

      Jeff M, ALL cities in CA do not have a “problem” with homelessness, MOST cities don’t have any problem at all (the homeless “problem” tends to be in urban areas where people give out cash and politicians provide programs to make it easier for someone to abuse drugs and alcohol and/or wander around with serious mental problems.

      Anyone that has worked with the homeless and/or non homeless addicts know that they lie more than even politicians.  Any real “homeless” person (not the guy who claims he was “homeless” while sleeping on his Aunt Bridie’s couch in South Boston before starting Med School at Tufts) that tells you he is sleeping in a tent next to the railroad tracks due to low vacancy in town or a $100 rent increase is lying.

  5. Mike Hart

    We have an occupying army surrounding our city- I see them every day, I see their trash every single day.  This proposed program would exacerbate the problem by bringing still more bums to Davis. I would however support a program to create a camp outside of the city for the homeless and to supervise them to clean up graffiti, remove trash, feces, needles and other reminders of their time here.  I would want 100% of the funds raised from any such tax to be administered by the Davis PD to enact such a program.

      1. Mike Hart

        First choice would be to use some of the lands to the east of Mace that the city owns.  DQU could be leased possibly and already has infrastructure.  Key for any solution is to couple a safe place to stay with a very active program of employment at nominal pay. There is a tremendous amount of clean-up around our city that could be done and these are the logical people to do the work.

  6. Howard P

    My main concern is how much of the revenue will be consumed by the administrative costs of collection/disbursing the revenue, and what the expense of (assumably additional) staff managing and carrying out the new program(s) would be… particularly on “start-up”… if you have a new manager/supervisor, and two ‘workers, plus administrative costs, few bucks would actually effectively “do the work”…

    Perhaps, if passed, the funds be treated like block grant money… a pass-through of funds to currently functioning programs to help them increase their efforts.

    It would be valuable to see where the expenditures would actually go… so far, looks like a ‘philosophic’ exercise, with little ‘meat’ (or, tofu, even)…

    1. David Greenwald

      I would say that so far it looks like step one.  Step two would be to identify specific expenditures and goals.  I too would like to see that laid out in a tax measure.

      1. Howard P

        I think that a more detailed goals, expenditures, including staffing costs, will be crucial to the passage of such a measure… I think we are in agreement, but are using different wording to get to the point… how effective are new initiatives, funded by the proposed revenue, to actually make progress…

  7. Howard P

    Upon reflection, why should Davis seek “to put itself on the cutting edge”?

    Dealing with our issues is one thing… it is actually ‘needful’…

    But I fear there are too many egotists (egoists?) who just want to be different… no matter why, or how effective actions are…

    The world spins on an axis… the northern portion as far pointed away from the sun lately… the axis does not run thru the small city of Davis… hate to be a ‘spoiler’, but that is the reality…

      1. Howard P

        If it’s needful, YES… for our community… and the community includes those who are homeless, and/or dealing with affordable housing, and/or MH issues…

        But, based on the title you gave the piece, it sure looks like that is not the motivation…

        Hope that clarifies my comment…

        I think we are basically on same side, but it also seems like you have to challenge anyone who doesn’t agree 100% with your views… fine… am growing more and more not to care…

        Actually, realize I care not at all…

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