Analysis: Where Does the Davis Downtown Need Improvement?

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As the discussion about the Davis Downtown has gone on, there seems to be emerging a variety of viewpoints on the future.  One sees the need to redevelop the downtown – proponents see a declining retail base, a downtown more focused on entertainment options, and the need to house more people in the downtown as a means to help generate more commercial activity.

Others see an “ain’t broke, don’t fix it” scenario, where they see a successful and vibrant downtown and believe either things need to stay the same or any change should be incremental.

Missing from this analysis is any detailed critique of the downtown.  Summarized from two reports from 2018 – Downtown Davis Existing Conditions, March 2018; and Economics Analysis, June 2018 – here are some summary points worth exploring on several areas.

The core is an underutilized area in terms of housing.  There are 404 housing units in the Core Area.  That accounts for a population of 737 persons and the density is the core is 3800 persons per acre, half the density of the citywide population of 6,700 persons per acre.

Those living in the core are doing less well than the surrounding areas.  Thirty-three percent of residents in the Core Area earn less than $10,000 annually, with 63.3 percent earning less than $20,000 annually.

On the other hand, the Core Area has the highest concentration of jobs (2,482), as it contains 29 percent of all jobs located within the city.

There is also a continued work-live imbalance.  The Core Area “imports 2,450 employees who live outside the area, 309 live in the Core and work outside of it, and only 14 workers both live and work in the Core (and only 2 of the 14 work at UC Davis, the area’s largest employer).”

The site remains a challenge.  The report notes, “Downtown has very few vacant parcels, and many parcels are narrow in lot width. This could limit development and redevelopment opportunities and options for different building types.”

The report also finds a lack of usable public space, as “the available spaces are not conducive to being used by all age groups.”

Staff notes: “Current zoning standards imply that a certain level of intensification can occur but this is not possible upon applying all the standards: the zoning standards are not coordinated to produce predictable and feasible development.”

Further, “The current regulatory framework is confusing because of the six policy documents, two sets of guidelines, and the existing zoning. In addition, that information has many areas of overlap and inconsistency as well as a lack of clarity in whether a document is advisory or regulatory.”

The fiscal analysis shows a strong housing market, but “limited opportunities for large-scale infill projects in the Downtown area.”  Currently, the downtown along with most of the city is “nearly fully built out.”  They note: “Downtown Davis is the most financially productive area of the City.”

Analysis shows “vast opportunity to partner with the University to leverage economic development for the downtown area and beyond.”

Living and working in the downtown “is currently an untenable option for a majority of residents and workers.”

As we have previously noted, consultants describe the various challenges of redevelopment in terms of economic feasibility.

We look at two more areas of challenge: transportation and parking.

We have already noted in previous articles the challenges related to parking.  The reports summarize these challenges as: “The City-operated parking supply is near capacity under the City’s current parking management approach.”  They further note that curb parking is generally full while parking garages sit empty except during peak hours.  They write that “more efficient parking management is needed.”

On transportation: “High volumes of pedestrian, bicycle, and automobile activity can create a challenging operating environment in conflict areas such as intersections and driveways.”

They note, “Roadways with angled parking or frequent curbside activity (e.g., delivery vehicle loading and unloading) are less conducive to a high quality bicycling environment.”

Factors such as narrow sidewalk widths, encroaching street furniture, and frequent driveway curb cuts “diminish the pedestrian environment, particularly for individuals with disabilities or mobility impairment.”

The report notes: “Established edges, including the railroad tracks and Fifth Street, form barriers to travel into and out of Downtown, requiring targeted strategies to better improve accessibility between Downtown and adjacent neighborhoods.”

Finally, “The Davis Train Depot is limited to a single access point due to its configuration within the triangular railroad junction.”

These are some of the challenges of the downtown as we continue our discussion.

—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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38 thoughts on “Analysis: Where Does the Davis Downtown Need Improvement?”

  1. Jeff M

    The site remains a challenge.  The report notes, “Downtown has very few vacant parcels, and many parcels are narrow in lot width. This could limit development and redevelopment opportunities and options for different building types.”

    The report also finds a lack of usable public space, as “the available spaces are not conducive to being used by all age groups.”

    These are material constraints and a big reason why any top-down, city-controlled plan will never materialize… especially with all the existing downtown residents believing they are entitled to zero impacts to their perceived village lifestyle.

  2. Ken A

    I think David might want to check his source on a “citywide population of 6,700 persons per acre”.

    If we really had “6,700 persons per acre” that would mean that the entire city is only about 10 acres (or a land area about the size of Howard’s home and 59 other lots in Mace Ranch).

    P.S. Manhattan has WAY less than 6,700 persons per acre…

    1. Howard P

      The source probably meant “per square mile”… at 640 Acres/sq mi, the numbers appear more credible, if correct units used… for residential, subtracting out non-res land uses… not sure, as I don’t have the full data/methodology before me…

      1. Mark West

        According to the City website, Davis City limits covers 9.91 square miles, which by calculation equals roughly 6342 acres. With a population listed at 68,111 (2016), that results in a population density of 6870 per square mile or 10.7 per acre.

    2. Highbeam

      My radar is not always turned on to be suspicious of David’s figures..even if I know the sources…now loading the Existing Conditions report on city site but it seems to be missing Chapter 1 Community Profile and Demographics…

      Sorry, everyone

      cathy

  3. Jeff M

    Davis is roughly 10 square miles, so it is easy to calculate the number of people per square mile if you know the population… just divide by 10.

    But I have a question about the population.  While the 10 square miles does not include the campus, I also think that the people living on campus are not counted in the population.

    I think that out of the 30k student population, 25% live on campus.  That would add another 7.5k to our population of about 66k… for a grand total of 73.5k people.

    The other point to consider about Davis and population density is that we have far less retail space in that 10 square miles than do other comparable communities.  So the population density of our downtown is significant.

    However, the health of retail is not so much the people milling about… it is the target customer milling about.  For example, Watermelon Music did not do much sales business from downtown walk-ins from what I understand.  Neither did their neighbor Jewelry store.   In fact, when the population gets concentrated with people other than the target customer, there will generally be fewer target customers.  Just think about selling cowboy hats in downtown Oakland… it would likely not be improved with more Oaklanders milling about.

    Davis is getting hyper-dense with students and older people.  And that is impacting the downtown in ways that make it less attractive to young professionals and young families… the demographics that spend the most.

    1. Ross Peabody

      As often as I’ve disagreed with Jeff, I’ll take this opportunity to +1 this post.  With the exception that I’m confident that there is a market for cowboy hats in Oakland, this is a nice, clear breakdown of a major issue with the downtown

    2. Don Shor

      But I have a question about the population. While the 10 square miles does not include the campus, I also think that the people living on campus are not counted in the population.

      I think that out of the 30k student population, 25% live on campus. That would add another 7.5k to our population of about 66k… for a grand total of 73.5k people.

      I think that is the number we came up with a few years ago when we had a discussion about this. If you then add in the acreage of the campus that includes that housing, it’s about 1000 acres more or less (includes West Village).

    3. Mark West

      If I remember correctly, the number presented by the downtown consultants was roughly 85,000 in the Davis sphere of influence, which roughly corresponded to the school district boundary. I think that is the more honest number when discussing the functional population of the ‘City.’

       

       

    4. Ron

      I suspect that some want to include students living on campus (who are not living in the city) in the calculation for the purpose of arguing that Davis needs to add more non-students, to “make up” for the population of students living on campus.  In other words, just another excuse to add more development.

      It’s an ass-backward, dishonest argument, from some of the same folks who have actually been arguing for more student housing in the city, displacing opportunities for others as well as commercial development.

        1. Howard P

          You do the research… you prove me wrong… tired of your games… neither you nor wikipedia (others use Fox or Faux News)  are worthy of my effort… but, rest assured, a portion of UCD is within City limits.. not even counting the UCD-owned/leased properties with City limits… I’m talking the campus itself, and call you out as someone who says things out of ignorance/’agenda’… as is your apparent wont…

        2. Ron

          Howard:  “You do the research… you prove me wrong… tired of your games… neither you nor wikipedia (others use Fox or Faux News)  are worthy of my effort… but, rest assured, a portion of UCD is within City limits.. not even counting the UCD-owned/leased properties with City limits… I’m talking the campus itself, and call you out as someone who says things out of ignorance/’agenda’… as is your apparent wont…”

          You’re the one who is stating this.  I provided evidence that it isn’t true.

          You apparently have no evidence whatsoever, to back up your claim.  However, I am open to it, and am willing to accept the possibility that you do know something about this. (But, until you provide evidence, its simply your claim.)

          You also seem to think that “proving” this (one way or another) is related to an “agenda”. This is simply not true. (In fact, if UCD is within city limits, that might provide a stronger opportunity for the city to pursue legal action against them, in regard to their LRDP.)

          As a side note, I’ve pasted your entire comment above, since you sometimes include insults (that you delete before the post is finalized). I might do this in the future, as well.

        3. Richard McCann

          Ron

          Whoa! Even more wild statements from the protection of anonymity!

          Are you saying that we should just entirely ignore UCD when making plans and policy for Davis? That we really should build that wall along Russell and A to keep out those threatening students? Heck, they might be members of MS-13….

        4. Ron

          Richard:  No – it seems to me that you’re the only one stating this.

          One would have to read the complete thread to understand the context of the communications, above and below.

          However, I do think that the city needs to protect its own interests, and those of students.  That’s why I support the city’s mediation efforts (which are essentially backed up by the possibility of litigation, if those efforts fail).

          Hopefully, the city won’t “fold” (and call it a “win” – with the support of the Vanguard). (Unfortunately, I suspect that this is what will actually occur.)

      1. Don Shor

        The urban sphere of influence is an actual thing used in urban planning. It’s even a factor in LAFCO decisions.

        The urban sphere of influence can be defined as the geographical region which surrounds a city and maintains inflow-outflow relationship with the city.

        UCD, El Macero, Willowbank, and rural properties in DJUSD but outside the city limits, are all within the city’s sphere of influence. They affect planning, housing growth, and economic development issues.

        1. Ron

          Thanks, Don.  This is interesting, although somewhat difficult to see.

          Can you clarify/identify the portions of the city’s “sphere of influence” that is actually UCD’s property (and outside of city limits), from this map?

          And, if some of UCD’s property is within the city’s sphere (per the map), is there a link regarding the justification for that?  (Your link goes directly to the map, and I was unable to find any related text/explanation.)

          Again, the definition of sphere of influence would not include property that the city will never include within its boundaries or service area.  This would include all of UCD’s land. Therefore, the map apparently does not seem to correspond with LAFCO’s definition or conditions to qualify as a “sphere of influence”.

        2. Ron

          Not sure if the following link helps, but it seems to “overlay” on the map that Don provided pretty well.

          It’s definitely interesting that the sphere seems to include land that belongs to UCD.  I’d like to see an explanation for that, since it will never be included in the city’s boundaries, nor will it be part of its service area.  (In any case, perhaps this is part of what gives the city the legal “standing” to sue UCD, regarding its LRDP.)

          https://www.bing.com/images/search?view=detailV2&ccid=P2x178KS&id=EE0E3F5BBF8274BE4A25907FB99A51903E49D781&thid=OIP.P2x178KSLFUcp9EvqEjE5AHaE_&mediaurl=http%3a%2f%2fhousing.ucdavis.edu%2f_images%2fmaps%2f_main%2fmap_sha.png&exph=936&expw=1389&q=uc+davis+property+line+map&simid=608011296907921081&selectedIndex=0&ajaxhist=0

           

        3. Howard P

          Ron… City and UCD share water sources, mutual aid agreements for emergency services, etc…. what is there about “sphere of influence” that you don’t understand?

          It is “sphere of influence”, not “sphere of legislative CONTROLl”

        4. Ron

          Howard:  “Ron… City and UCD share water sources, mutual aid agreements for emergency services, etc…. what is there about “sphere of influence” that you don’t understand?”

          UCD owns (and is responsible for) the water/sewer system within its own land.  No user on UCD land receives a “monthly bill” for city services. UCD pays for its own emergency services (police/fire), and is responsible for its own infrastructure. (I suspect, but am not sure if UCD has its own/separate contract for garbage pickup.)

          In general, the city does not “provide” services to UCD.  Nor will UCD “ultimately” be within the city’s boundaries.

          In short, UCD is not in the city of Davis, and never will be. It is a separate entity, in the unincorporated part of Yolo and Solano counties.

        5. Ron

          Howard: The cities of Davis and Woodland share that same water system, as well.  That doesn’t mean that they have overlapping spheres of influence.

          I understand that all three entities (Davis, UC Davis, and Woodland) (also) still have their own wells, which are used to supplement the water from the new, shared system.

          Cities also share emergency response personnel at times, as well.  And again, it doesn’t mean that one city has a “sphere of influence” over another city.

          Anything else you’d like to argue?

          As a side note (unrelated to this comment), I see that Don has included an unexplained link, which doesn’t seem to work. (And for some reason, did so as the “moderator”.)

           

        6. Ron

          Thought I’d look at the map Don provided, one more time.

          It looks like the land that was previously proposed for MRIC is “outside” of the city’s “sphere of influence”.  Excellent!

          Still would like to know why the map shows UCD within the city’s sphere (since it doesn’t meet the qualifications to be included), and what the possible ramifications of that are. (I suspect that there’s more than one possible ramification.)

          As a side note, I wonder why those on campus can’t vote on city ballot proposals, if some are actually within the city (as Howard claimed).

          1. Don Shor

            those on campus can’t vote on city ballot proposals, if some are actually within the city (as Howard claimed).

            The residents of Cuarto can vote in the city.

      2. Jeff M

        I suspect that some want to include students living on campus (who are not living in the city) in the calculation for the purpose of arguing that Davis needs to add more non-students, to “make up” for the population of students living on campus.  In other words, just another excuse to add more development.

        Huh?

        The topic is the downtown.  Try to keep up Ron.

        I think the right way to frame this is that the downtown is not only in need of revitalization, but it is in trouble and the potential fixes are just inconvenient to people like you that are against almost any type of significant development.  You can take a non sequitur detour and split hairs about who we are counting as the population, but it does not change the facts related to the topic.   Status quo means continued decline.  So do you support continued decline?  What do you support? I only hear what you are against and your criticism for any change.

        1. Ron

          Jeff:  The conversation did get off-track, but I’m not the one who initially brought up “sphere of influence” or “making up for” the fact that there’s a lot of students living on campus.  It appeared that some of the development activists on here were attempting to use this as (yet) another reason for more development. (As I previously noted, some development activists have a great deal of “creativity”, regarding their arguments.)

          As a side note, I see that Don noted that residents of Cuarto can vote in the city.  I’ll assume this means it’s probably in the city (which means that Howard was probably correct, regarding a portion of the campus being in the city).  Interesting.

          I don’t see downtown as being “in trouble”, to be “fixed” by turning it into a quasi-residential neighborhood.  However, if I recall correctly, there was essentially an entire block that was purchased by outside investors, which subsequently resulted in empty storefronts (I assume, due to resulting increases in rents).

          The city has existed in (essentially) its current form, for a long time.  (With the exception of a major new development in the form of the Cannery, and some other scattered developments.)  The logical extension of those arguing for more growth is that the city had already pursued an “irresponsible” form of development to begin with, which now must be “corrected” by even more development.

          In the meantime, there’s hardly a peep out of these same folks, as commercial and industrial space is lost to residential development (primarily in the form of student housing). Go figure.

          I am excited, however, about the new commercial development that will house Nugget’s headquarters.

           

           

        2. Ron

          As a side note, I’m still wondering about the situation at Cuarto (and whether or not those residents are both on the campus and in the city), but perhaps not relevant to this conversation.

          In any case, I forgot to mention that I also view the Residence Inn and Hyatt proposals in a positive manner, and I believe that a (smaller) Trackside proposal would suit that neighborhood well.

  4. Richard McCann

    “Summarized from two reports from 2018 – Downtown Davis Existing Conditions, March 2018; and Economics Analysis, June 2018 – here are some summary points worth exploring on several areas”

    Why aren’t there links to these two key resources in this article?

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