Council to Have Downtown Plan Check In


The city has begun a robust community outreach effort in looking into developing a new Core Area Specific Plan.  There is another plan of outreach and public workshops planned for the early part of 2019.

The city has hired the firm Opticos Design to present the fundamental concepts.  According to staff, the Downtown Plan originated from the adopted council goal of: “Identify opportunities for ‘form based’ visioning and planning in the Core Area and other key area(s), in conjunction with the General Plan update. Opportunities include the consolidation and clarification of development policies and codes in the Core Area.”

Opticos, based out of Berkeley, is the “prime consultant” responsible for project management and leading the consultant team in all tasks.

Council has appointed the DPAC (Downtown Plan Advisory Committee), made up of broad and diverse groups of community members.  The committee is comprised of 10 at-large members appointed by the council, five members appointed by key organizations like Davis Downtown and the Chamber as well as three neighborhood associations, and five liaison members appointed by various commissions.

“The Downtown Plan will set the vision and general direction for the downtown. The plan will not be a perfect ‘idealized’ plan that answers every question and tells us exactly what will be built when, by whom, and with what dollars,” staff writes.

They add, “The ‘implementation’ of the plan will largely depend upon private property investments and what investments the plan enables them to pursue. Those developments will generate opportunities to incrementally update public infrastructure via direct construction activity associated with the private developments, or via assessed fees that fund city infrastructure improvements.”

Opticos has looked at key trends affecting the Davis Downtown.  These include: “national trends such as an aging population and the changing needs of the elderly; the rise of the Millennial generation and their influence on business location preferences; lifestyle preferences; restructuring of the retail industry; emergence of food and entertainment as key functions in commercial areas; and increasing real estate costs.”

In addition, the Davis Downtown is influenced by UC Davis, its growth and demands.

Consultants have looked at preliminary market analysis which suggests that “the City should seek to maintain and support the existing inventory of retail space with limited additions to supply; office demand scenarios range from 300,000 to 600,000 square feet of new downtown office space; residential demand scenarios conservatively range from 86 to 209 new residential units.”

The city could go with more housing if they wish to more aggressively pursue housing demands.

However, there are challenges.  As the Vanguard has previously reported, “Financial feasibility analysis indicates that many downtown development prototypes that could accommodate demands will face feasibility challenges. This is primarily due to high land costs and construction costs, compounded by scarce land.”

“Sites with existing buildings can face additional redevelopment costs and challenges,” staff writes, suggesting “the City should consider how to provide clearer direction for desired development to help reduce entitlement risk, time and costs.”

Land use planning and urban design figure to loom large in the community discussions.  They are looking at a vision that is “forward-thinking, bold and exceptional; can accommodate small, incremental changes that can make a substantial impact; and celebrates sustainability.”

They have developed a working set of six guiding principles:

  1. Create an active and inclusive public realm that promotes civic engagement for everyone.
  2. Create a memorable identity for downtown.
  3. Reinforce sense of place with appropriate character, balanced historical preservation, and thoughtful transitions to adjacent neighborhoods.
  4. Enable and encourage compact and sustainable development.
  5. Provide safe and dependable multi-modal connectivity into and within downtown.
  6. Craft a development program that is financially feasible, economically resilient, and equitable.

Some of the other concepts have been the network of unique sub-areas: Heart of Downtown, G Street District, North-West Downtown, South-West Downtown, North G Street District, and University Avenue District.

They have presented the idea of a new town square, with the preferred alternative a transformation of the E Street Plaza into a new town square – Davis Square.

Another key concept has been mobility and street design.  They are looking at the overall street network design approach, looking to “[r]eallocate excess right-of-way and introduce modal prioritization to improve the functionality of the street system as a whole, including.”  Within that they would look at a priority bicycle network and pedestrian enhancement corridors.

They are also looking for more versatile flex space and curbside management to match changing demands and adjacent use needs like on-street paid parking, bicycle parking, passenger loading zone, freight delivery zone, outdoor seating/dining, and green infrastructure.

Finally, with regard to parking and transportation management, there are a number of thoughts.

First they are recommending parking and traffic reduction strategies which include strategies for: managing curb parking; managing city-owned lots and garages; regulating private developments; and improving transportation choices.

They suggest reserving sites for a future public parking structure if and when needed – they do not believe that such construction is needed in the short term.

They recommend the continued implementation of the 2014 Downtown Parking Management Plan which includes implementing paid parking and the charge for curbside parking.

Finally they see the need for residential parking benefit districts, which would include charging non-residents the right prices for curb parking and returning revenue to the neighborhood to pay for public services.

There were a number of key questions and comments arising from the August 22 Planning Commission meeting.

Here are a few to consider:

  • In terms of redevelopment of downtown, how is this going to move forward financially and feasibly?
  • What are the owners saying? How are they going to become interested?
  • How can we finance the visions in the plan? How can we incentivize?
  • There is a challenge for small property owners and, how to combine these?
  • We need higher densities and higher buildings. If we resist going out, we need to go up.
  • Is there an overlay of what this plan looks like on existing structures?
  • Will there be a phasing approach in the Specific Plan? Should be based on the likelihood of owners changing their property, as the plaza concept would drive excitement.
  • Will there be a financing plan in the Specific Plan? With funding sources?

—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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6 thoughts on “Council to Have Downtown Plan Check In”

  1. Jeff M

    Just about every small-to-medium-sized city in the US that is considered vibrant and an attractive place to live has a few key things in common that are indicative of the reasons they are vibrant and attractive places to live.

    One is that they are generally near water.   We can strike that off the list for Davis except for Putah Creek and sometimes the Causeway.

    Another is wealthy residents that have history and a stake in the community… that own much of the real estate but feel ownership of the community and are driven to improve the community… maybe to leave a legacy for themselves and their offspring, but more likely because they embrace their community as being their home.

    You can see this last point taking place in Winters California… their are 2-3 families that own much of the commercial real estate in the city, and they are all working to make it a better place.

    Of course there are people complaining about it.  Some have left over traffic increases, etc.  Others show up at the City Council and Planning Commission meetings to oppose development (surprise, surprise… some of them are transplants from Davis).

    Davis is missing much of the wealthy community stakeholder and is over-represented in people that oppose every change.

    Hence, Davis will continue to decline in vibrancy and attractiveness.   I see a point in the future where every other community in Yolo County will become a more attractive place to live than will be Davis.   And the property values in those communities will begin to equal and exceed those in Davis.

    And then those that are still left here can look back at Measure J/R as the giant mistake that killed Davis.

  2. David Greenwald

    I think the biggest area of concern is the cost analysis for redevelopment.  The council really is going to need to figure out a way to address that if they are wanting to revamp the downtown.

    1. Mark West

      “I think the biggest area of concern is the cost analysis for redevelopment.”

      Which is why the cost analysis (and revenue analysis ) should have been the first step of the process so as to inform all of the discussions that came after. Why have we spent the past year talking about form and function of the downtown without having any idea of how the proposed changes will impact the balance of the City’s costs and revenues. We have a serious budget deficit that is not getting smaller anytime soon, so it is extremely important that we don’t make that situation worse by proposing or making planning and zoning changes while acting from a place of fiscal ignorance.

  3. John D


    Thanks for covering this issue.  From the tone of your article, it strikes me that you were not able to attend the meeting – otherwise I have might have expected a better sense of the palpable frustration evident in the comments of Commissioners. 

    Fortunately, there is an excellent video record of the Commissioners comments.  Beginning about 60 minutes in at:

    Most notable seems to be shared frustration with a process which appears detached from any serious attempt to address the economic and financial planning assumptions (excluding the comprehensive analysis devoted to the economics of housing development) underlying the current visioning documents.   Their comments are clearly and articulately expressed and delivered with obvious personal concern and high expectations for the success of the process.

    Commissioners gave voice to shared concerns that the process – thus far – has been largely detached from any serious regard for how the imagined public improvements would be/could be financed (by the City) or how the economics of the proposition would be viewed by the larger investment community and why.  Basically, what is the strategy and where are the elements to bring the improvements to reality?

    In fairness to the planning consultants, they are most often engaged after a community has adopted its clear and compelling needs assessment and accompanying rationale for reinvestment (often accompanied by identified, tangible program funding mechanisms like transportation grants or community reinvestment grants) – grounded and supported by a comprehensive, strategic plan for economic renewal and community redevelopment.  These are the fundamental building blocks around which economically sustainability and planning is most often rooted.  More often than not – such initiatives begin with an explicit recognition of the need for economic revitalization within the community.

    In the case of Davis, perhaps the activities and exploration of the DPAC is best viewed as a process of discovery – in which the challenges and weaknesses of the existing conditions are gradually brought to light, while the corresponding opportunities (by way of comparisons made explicit in examples from the visioning documents) become increasingly evident as the process unfolds.

    Realistically, the consultants should not be considered blameless in this process – having presented example after example from high-performing cities with entirely different demographics and economies – completely different sets of building blocks, industry resources and leadership, and capacities to reinvest and reinvent – and then overlaying them on our Downtown as if there is no relationship between destination features and proximity, local population profile, tourism counts and actual employment demographics and the corresponding redevelopment potential of a given community.

    As the Council deliberates it’s next charge for the DPAC, it would do well to consider the opportunity presented for an unvarnished assessment of the community’s legitimate development hurdles, key employer opportunities and impacts, and major reinvestment needs as it re-positions to ensure a vibrant and sustainable economic and cultural trajectory over the coming decades.  At the same time, it is important to recognize that other cities in our region and our sphere will not be sitting idly by as Davis mulls its future.

    Hats off to the Planning Commissioners for some long overdue and much needed straight talk!

  4. Alan Miller

    Canal from Putah Creek diagonally across downtown from the A Street Bridge to Hibbert’s with Gondolas.  Water draw.  Economic savior.  Gondola to UC Davis tank.  Cow with stomach hole.

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