Monday Morning Thoughts: The Biggest Challenges for the Next Council

City Hall

As I stated this past weekend, I believe the current council from 2016 to 2018 has been among the best and most productive in my time covering issues.  They have knocked out a lot of really big issues over the last two years.

Just off the top of my head you have: CCE (Community Choice Energy), cannabis dispensaries, the approval of two along with one revamped hotel – coupled with the TOT tax increase, approval of two student housing apartments plus Nishi, as well as the revamping of police oversight.

However, like most councils, we will often remember the projects that did not get approved and the problems we did not solve.  That is only natural because, while we celebrate our accomplishments, the future work is the work that did not get done today.

Even some of our successes from the last term are a bit fleeting.  For instance, while we have done a good job at providing student housing, we are reminded that the work there is just beginning.  Nishi was approved by council and ratified by the voters, and yet there is that pesky legal challenge.  I find it ironic that one of the litigants has hailed Measure R as the bastion of democracy and yet has sued in an effort to thwart the will of the people.

We should also be mindful that, while the university has pledged 9050 new beds on campus, they have not committed to build beyond the initial 5200 beds by 2020 or 2021.  Given the university’s track record on housing, one of the biggest tasks over the next ten years is to make sure that the university follows through on their promises.

There is much work to be done, so here are five additional challenges for the next council, delivered in no particular order:

1. Economic Development – While there have been big wins, this one is elusive.  In a way, we can argue that Nishi’s loss in 2016 with the innovation center has been replaced by Sierra Energy’s Area 52 and the University Research Park, which probably make up for the loss of 300,000 square feet of R&D space at Nishi.

But what we have not made up is for the loss of the Davis Innovation Center which pulled out and moved up Highway 113 to Woodland.  We also have MRIC (Mace Ranch Innovation Center), which remains on hold with no new proposal there.

Perhaps most devastating is that UC Davis is no longer looking to Davis to provide innovation space.  They have moved to Sacramento and are partnering with Darrell Steinberg and the city of Sacramento on Aggie Square.

That is a huge loss to the city, particularly since it becomes clear on a whole host of issues that what this community lacks is revenue and sales tax revenue.

Not only is the land use environment problematic, but where is the leadership coming from here?  Someone on council, someone in the city needs to step up and fill the vacuum.  But who?  And what will the next effort look like?

2.  Roads – The council had to be happy on both Measure H and J, but Measure I got just 57 percent of the vote.  That is $3 million in roads taxes that will have to come from somewhere else. As I pointed out yesterday, the question is from where are we getting that and how much will the failure of Measure I cost us?  As we point out today, how can Davis remain great if we won’t even invest in basic infrastructure?

3.  Affordable housing – We have for the most part solved the student housing problem (the challenges laid out above not withstanding).  While I will continue to argue that tackling student housing made the most sense, and was the lowest hanging fruit, that does not preclude a need for other housing.

The next step is we need housing for families in Davis and that will require us to figure out a way to finance and then build affordable housing.  As I have pointed out and the numbers from the survey last week make more clear – market rate, multi-family housing is far too expensive to be a solution for families.

On the other hand, we have seen that subsidized rental housing in Davis brings in families with children – the demographic we desperately need to maintain our schools and help move us forward in time.

4.  Davis Downtown – The core area specific plan is critical and needs our full attention.  That is going to be a huge issue for the next two years.  There are those who believe we have a great downtown – and in some ways we do.

But the downtown these days leans toward restaurants, bars and entertainment and away from retail.

We have huge blocks of single-story and underutilized buildings.

Can we get the vision and investment to launch our downtown into the future?  The city is in the process of revising its planning and they are looking for your thoughts:

5. Renewal of Measure R – This could end up being the biggest and most controversial issue for the next two years. Measure R expires in 2020.  Ten years ago, during the heart of a housing collapse, there really was limited discussion.

However, more and more people are questioning Measure R, its purpose and effectiveness.  It is possible, however, that we will see two projects pass this year, which could naturally shift the conversation.

There are those who, like me, believe that Measure R led to a worse Nishi project than what was proposed in 2016.  There are those who argue that the passage of Nishi this year means Measure R worked as designed.

There are those who believe that this discussion is a precursor to a desire to limit or eliminate Measure R.

But regardless of where you come down, I do believe we should look at Measure R and discuss ways to improve upon it.

In concept, the approval of housing projects by the voters is fine.  In practice, we saw that it can lead to weird scare tactics.  It is expensive and might be adding to the cost of housing.  And it is very time consuming.

Can we get the same bottom line with much less hassle?  I don’t know, but we should at least talk about it.  The idea that we have the perfect system with no need to discuss changes runs counter to our notions of responsible governance.

My final note: whatever I come up with now is only the tip of the iceberg.  If history is a guide, there will be ten other big issues by the time we hit 2020, none of which were anticipated at this time.

—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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    1. Howard P

      Not sure of the point you are trying to make… one interpretation could be, no new tax revenues, because our own finances are at risk… another could be to invest now in infrastructure (or people) to stave off a recession…

      Heck, you say you have lived in areas subject to ‘tidal’ forces… ebb tides and flow tides… one must plan on/for both, and hope for the mean…

      Anyone (or any entity) who does not build a “reserve” is asking for troubles… Suze Orman has nailed that concept…


  1. John Hobbs

    “Anyone (or any entity) who does not build a “reserve” is asking for troubles”

    Or lives on the margins of our economy, like most formerly working class.

  2. Alan Miller

    > As I have pointed out and the numbers from the survey last week make more clear – market rate, multi-family housing is far too expensive to be a solution for families.

    Therefore, subsidize housing (make everyone else pay for it)

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