At midday today, Mayor Brett Lee will give his first state of the city address. It has been interesting to watch the shift in these addresses over time. Dan Wolk during his time as mayor offered an optimistic view of a Davis renewal – while Robb Davis warned of fiscal challenges on the horizon.
What will Mayor Lee’s overall view of Davis be? What will he choose to focus on?
In a way this has been a strange start to 2019. In my view it is important to separate immediate brush fires from longer term policies and needs.
We have seen some hot burning issues. Obviously the tragic death of Natalie Corona just ten days into 2019 set a tone that in some ways at least changed the short-term focus of the city – although, for the most part, her death, while horrifying and tragic, really did not have a lot of policy implications. The general sense has been that the tragedy was not foreseeable and pretty much unavoidable.
Other issues have emerged in recent weeks: road congestions, traffic delays and construction delays at Mace and Cowell and F and Covell, the shopping cart issue, Pacifico, and, most recently, paid parking.
While certainly several of those issues tap into longer term challenges, none of them by themselves represent core issues that we will have to struggle with long term. Certainly Pacifico taps into the broader issues of mental illness services as well as affordable housing needs, while paid parking taps into a broader discussion of the Davis downtown.
But in the scheme of things, these represent more of a brush fire than a core issue.
Here are several longer term issues that we think Mayor Lee should address today.
Affordable housing – The city council has created an interim ordinance, and they will also shortly get a chance to weigh in on the affordable housing funding stream, as proposed by the Chiles Road apartments. The key question that the council will have to address is how to fund affordable housing in the long term.
Budget – The city budget is balanced on paper. But as we have reported the city is in a precarious position with a real $8 to $10 million annual shortfall between the revenue received and what we need to pay. That could get worse as unfunded liabilities and pensions continue to loom. It could also get worse if the economy starts to go into a recession.
Climate change – The city recently passed a resolution declaring a Climate Emergency. That is a precursor to the updating of the city’s Climate Action Plan, which has become all the more urgent as the world continues to slide into global warming and its impacts. Part of this will have to focus on sustainable energy and GHG (greenhouse gas) reductions, but the city may also want to start dealing with adaptation plans, including planning for increased impacts from smoke and drought int the future.
Davis downtown – We have seen a glimpse of the issue with paid parking, but we await the recommendations from the Downtown Planning Advisory Committee (DPAC) and their recommendations on the future of the downtown. In a way, you could argue that paid parking is premature in comparison with the plan for how to proceed with the downtown.
Economic development – We have received word that Mace Ranch Innovation Center will be coming back with a proposal shortly. As we know from recent council items, there is an overall lack of commercially-zoned vacant property in the city. The council, if they wish to generate revenue longer term, will either need MRIC or need to figure out what the alternative is.
General plan – There hasn’t been a lot of talk about the general plan update, but the tentative plan is that after the Core Area Specific Plan (CASP) is updated the city will undertake a full general plan update process, which figures to be highly contentious, to say the least.
Homeless – The city had a recent update on their homeless service. Will the mayor push for more funding here? How will his approach differ from that of Robb Davis?
Housing – In addition to dealing with affordable housing, the city has an overall housing crunch, which with Measure R figures to become more pronounced as the ability to fill housing needs with infill development will subside and peripheral housing options become even more limited.
Infrastructure – There has been little talk since the failure of a parcel tax last June on roads, as to how the city plans to close the funding gap on infrastructure. That figures to wait until at least 2020 – but with the renewal of the sales tax, it might take until 2022 to address.
Measure R renewal – This figures to be the hot button issue for 2020. Will the council put the measure on the ballot as is, or will they consider either technical modifications or even more wholesale revisions? That remains a critical question.
Revenue – While this relates to three of the items above, it remains its own category because the city lacks revenue needed for critical infrastructure. They have not been able to capitalize on economic development. The city has added several hotels which are in various stages of development. Cannabis dispensaries figure to help as well. But the city will have to look at things like ballot measures for taxes and economic development to help generate revenue.
Transportation – We have the issue of roads and bike paths, and we have had to deal with traffic congestion – not just at places like Richards Blvd. and Mace Blvd., but also in conjunction with road construction as mentioned above, and the Friday commute that has caused traffic jams in south Davis. Will there be local efforts to address these concerns? How will multi-modal transportation means be addressed?
Other issues: it will be interesting to see what other issues Mayor Lee decides to focus on.
—David M. Greenwald reporting