It was a packed house on Sunday afternoon to get the first big chance to see all nine of the council candidates in action. The forum at Davis Community Church was hosted by CivEnergy and moderated by former Davis Mayor Ann Evans.
Each candidate was allowed to give an opening and closing comment and then was asked three two-minute questions. The Vanguard will break up those answers into three separate articles.
The first question was: “Economic development is key to the future of Davis being able to provide community services to its population. Sacramento has declared itself the Farm to Fork capital of America. Within that context, of Farm to Fork capital of America, Woodland has chosen to create food front on its Main Street and invest in infrastructure related to attracting food processors. Winters has become known for its innovative restaurants and redeveloped the downtown to feature them. West Sacramento is attracting brew pubs and is investing in a vision of becoming a global food hub. And UC Davis is a powerhouse of knowledge on food and agriculture. What are your thoughts for ways in which the city of Davis can develop a unique food identity which contributes both culturally and economically to the city?”
She said we need to focus on a few things and one of them is building a community downtown. She wants to have a downtown that attracts herself and others to eat, play, drink coffee, drink wine in the downtown. “That’s lacking now,” she said. When she wants to go out to dinner, “More often than not, I’m driving across the causeway to Sacramento. I’m going to Winters. I’m going to other places because we don’t have what all of us can have downtown here.”
She said we have a lot of great places to eat fast and leave. “What we don’t have are a lot of sit down restaurants,” she said. “I would like to encourage more of that downtown.”
She wants to “foster” a different feeling downtown – “wider sidewalks, more pedestrian friendly.” She mentioned Tim Spencer Ally going through renovation – “I’m envisioning bistros there. I’m envisioning small tables sitting out with trees, having a canopy going over.”
Second she said, “I want to be looking at building our relationship with UC Davis. It is the No.1 (school) in agriculture. Number 1 in plant sciences and veterinary medicine. We have the Robert Mondavi Institute for wine and food science.” She said, “Let’s see more of that cooperative relationship between the city and UC.”
Eric Gudz said, “One of the biggest issues with why we are seeing a significant barrier in this being an impediment to us being able to foster more of our culinary and our creative scene downtown, is very simply because the young professionals in our community and the creative class in our community are simply not able to afford to live in Davis.”
He explained that they’re moving to West Sacramento, Winters, Sacramento, Woodland and even the Bay to start their food establishments in those locations.
“I can’t tell you how many hundreds and even thousands of my friends have moved out of this community, and are not coming back. These are the kinds of folks that we need to be able to retain in Davis and need to able to keep them employed and keep them working in our communities.”
He said when he talks to downtown restaurants, what he’s hearing “is they’re feeling the pinch.” Part of that problem is that the people who work at their restaurants “have to commute out of Davis.” He said, “That’s putting a strain on our customer base. We’re not bringing enough dollars downtown and all of that is affecting our ability to be the next Food to Fork Capital.”
He said that UC Davis has got “the food thing all wrapped up regionally.” He said, “Coordinating with them and expanding on what we already have – the advantages that we already have – it’s been done.” He said, “If it did happen, it can happen.”
He continued, “We’ve got a Farmer’s Market that is literally world famous.” He said people come for all over the country and even out of the country “and they’re coming to the Farmer’s Market.
“So we’ve already got a lot of the infrastructure that we need to do this,” he said. “The thing we can focus on, that again that Davis has in excess… is our international configuration. We’ve got the university. We have people who come to Davis for a variety of reasons and stay for one reason… it’s a really great place to live.”
Mr. Guenther said, “Capitalizing on that – Capitalizing on the creativity, the problem solving and the international aspect of the people who come here can go a long to cooperating – the university to the city, the city businesses to people…”
He added, “We’ve got a lot of restaurant businesses that could take a menu from an individual and try it out.”
Gloria Partida said at work there was an advertisement for the bike-bus and the bike-bus pushed the idea of taking it with friends to do wine tasting. “We thought, where would you go?” she said. “Because I can’t think of too many places that are geared towards wine tasting.
“The problem that we have is that we don’t have a cohesiveness. We have a lot of great places to eat,” she said but not a lot of places to sit down and have the order taken. “There are a lot of older people who feel that the restaurants are geared towards the young people in town.”
She attributed that to the fact that business people know that the college-aged crowd “is a large demographic.” She said, “There is other opportunity that I think we are missing.”
She believes a great deal of the effort should be downtown, “because we want to continue the vibrancy we have there.” She also believes, “There are other places that people live in Davis and there are other centers that we have… There are places that people can get to close to their neighborhoods and I think we miss the opportunity to invest in those spaces where people can go.”
Ms. Partida noted that the bike-bus gives us an opportunity to meld two identities, the identity to food and wine through the Mondavi Center and Farmer’s Market, and the identity for bikes.
Luis Rios said, “The Davis downtown area has a lot of potential.” He said he took his son last year for his birthday and they went to Woodstock’s, then ice cream, and then he took the kids to see the movie, “Captain Underpants.”
“That was one of my first encounters with downtown more closely,” he said. “There’s empty store fronts, there’s so much potential in downtown Davis, I could definitely see that it’s resurfaced as the heart of Davis.”
He sees the Varsity Theater and the old City Hall building that he believes can be used as anchors to build and develop.
Mr. Rios said he met with Gary May “to work on partnerships and building relationships. It starts from there. That’s how you get things done.”
He also suggested that “we can definitely market a product mutually in partnership to begin with.”
Mark West explained, “Davis already has a pretty vibrant downtown, if you walk around out there, there’s a lot of things going on. The challenge that we have is that there’s not a lot of good restaurants that we can sit down and have a fine meal at. The primary reason for that is because the community doesn’t have enough people who appreciate fine restaurants to go out and support those places.”
He said one or two come in, they survive a few years, and then they close down.
“We need to be, as a community, more supportive of our downtown food environment,” he said. “We also need to bring more people living downtown so they can walk downstairs and their next door to the restaurant rather than having to drive in from the outskirts and try to find a place to park and all the other challenges.”
He suggested taking a look at what our neighbors are successfully doing. They are bringing in new restaurants and redeveloping. He said, “We need to do the same thing.” He said, “Our redevelopment needs to be mixed use construction with apartments over the top of commercial in our downtown, so that we have people living in the downtown and part of our community.”
“Business development is what I do professionally, and I help businesses identify growth opportunities, position themselves and establish plans to move into that space and operate successfully. I would tackle this question by first of all, like any good marketer understanding what the nature of demand is,” he said. “What do people want to eat? And then I would look at where is the competition positioning – that helps to identify what are the gaps in the market.”
He said, “The next thing we need to think about is what is our strategic or competitive advantage.”
For him UC Davis is a big example. “We’re also a very sustainable agriculture-focused community. That brings to mind, a focus on organic food or focus on things like wine.”
Mr. Beeman stated, “The role for the city is similar to a country and developing their strategic industries. That’s where the city could look to remove the barriers for the businesses to establish themselves and to also promote on a common basis the uniquely Davis food offerings.”
He added, “I would say though, Davis has got some phenomenal food right now.” He said they go to fine dining in Davis all the time. “When I’m overseas I miss Davis. It’s one of a few places where I can eat close to a vegan diet and I can’t do that in Sydney, or Paris or other places.”
Mary Jo Bryan
Mary Jo Bryan said her thoughts come from a discussion with a professor emeritus at UC Davis Extension. She said he tells the history of the agricultural communities “that have made California agriculture what it is today. He wants to bring these stories to the UC Davis community. I want to share my thoughts on how to use his ideas to bring the stories of UC Davis agricultural heritage into the city of Davis.”
She suggested using historical panels to capture the many contributions of agricultural communities that have been major players in the development of our agricultural system.
“I thought this project could extend into the downtown,” she said. It could be placed throughout the city and placed not only by students and faculty but also the citizens of Davis and out of town visitors – revealing the agricultural history of the city.
“The city and university could collaborate to become a destination point by foretelling these stories,” she said.
“In order to contribute to the economic growth of our city, the Chamber of Commerce, could enlist local restaurants to develop menu items that reflect the cultural and ethnic communities and develop a unique food identity to go along with the stories of California and Davis agriculture.”
She said, “This is a concept and not a reality.”
Mr. Carson said, “We have a lot of innovation and food to be proud of in our city.” He said that “our Farmer’s Market and our Food Co-op have blazed a trail that many other communities are still following.
“The start of work on a new plan for downtown Davis I believe provides a great opportunity for us to both improve our economy and provide better and more interesting food choices for people in Davis and visitors,” he continued.
“Both the Farmer’s Market and Food Co-op are both within the boundaries of the downtown planning area,” he said, noting that both draw a large number of out of town visitors to Davis. He suggested that the city take some steps to have those people linger a bit and hang around in the downtown.
“How exactly can we do this?” he asked. “We have some real experts from the farmer’s market, the visitor’s bureau, UC Davis and the co-op.”
He presented two ideas.
The first was “integrating a café or restaurant into the Third and B building perhaps in partnership with the Bicycle Hall of Fame,” he said. “Now that the state’s said we get to keep the building, I think it’s time to explore the option of creating a farm to fork restaurant there.”
He said he was intrigued by the Upper Crust Bakery move into the Radio Shack storefront.
“It strikes me that this could be the start of a ‘foody’ community where we could encourage other businesses to spin off their operations to other locations in the city or downtown,” he said.
He presented one last idea, noting that we will go to a General Plan update following the Downtown Plan. He noted other communities have developed health community elements to the general plan that could talk about things like physical activity.
But it could also encourage “more community gardens and healthful eating.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting