Monday Morning Thoughts: On Struggling Suburbs and Declining Bicycle Legacy

Shut down bicycling under-crossing as a symbol for Davis’ future?

This morning’s column puts together two different thoughts into one column.  The Bee’s analysis of suburbs and housing. and Bob Dunning’s seeming tunnel vision of the decline of Davis’ bicycling place  .

We will start with the Bee’s “Tipping Point” column from July 25.  “Some Sacramento suburbs are in trouble. Others are thriving. See where your community stands.”

Writes Tony Bizjak and Phillip Reese: “Fifty years ago, if you moved to Arden or Carmichael, you probably had it made.  A house in those new suburbs – with a backyard for barbecues and attached garage for that new car – was the American dream in the booming post-World War II era.”

But these reporters argue “that dream has faded.”  Instead, a Bee analysis of 25 Sacramento-area communities “finds many of the region’s original suburbs, born in optimism, now struggle with an aging and sometimes shabby housing stock, faded commercial strips and graying populations in need of assistance.”

The Bee notes: “It’s happened as elected leaders, developers and successive generations of buyers focused money and energy on waves of new subdivisions offering bigger homes, newer technology, and lower maintenance, as well as modern shopping malls that give governments a jolt of fresh tax revenue. Many of the communities receiving the most attention are far from the region’s urban core, leading to clogged freeways and sprawl.

“It’s the greener pastures syndrome, and it’s prompted David Sander, Rancho Cordova vice mayor and board president of the Sacramento Area Council of Governments, and others to say Sacramento’s older suburbs need help,” the Bee writes.

“It is a massive issue,” he said. “Older neighborhoods suffer as new neighborhoods are built. Wealth moves on. Old corridors die.

“What are those greener pastures?” they ask as they present “communities in flux” with “some of them facing a tipping point.”

They call Davis an “island college town,” “secluded by geography – and by choice.”  Where: “Growth is often not a welcome word, making the university city a place where young minds come to be trained, then leave because they can’t find housing or affordable places to start businesses.”

They note, “Home prices have risen more sharply here than nearly any major community in the last two decades.”

They note that voters “control whether new development should be allowed on adjacent farmland.

“Slow or no growth is normally a recipe for stagnation. But thanks to an innovative and growing university, Davis has maintained an attractive identity, a healthy downtown, and a smart resident profile. In a region where slightly more than 30 percent of residents have a four-year degree, the Davis number is an astronomical 74 percent,” they write.

“When Davis does add housing, it usually isn’t run of the mill,” they write, seemingly fond of the Cannery, which they call “a dense urban-style community that boasts a farm, a barn, a community center and fruit stand.”

However, they note, “some homes there are listed for more than $1 million.”

I think Mr. Bizjak and Mr. Reese fail to recognize Davis being on the tipping point.  The city continues to get more expensive.  While the voters have seemingly recognized that housing and cost are important, they approved the last two housing projects and list affordability as the top issue – the next growth for the city remains a bit of mystery.

Moreover, the city is on the edge of being able to sustain itself fiscally. Davis has not plunged over the edge compared to other communities – owing some of that to the same university that some seem to resent more than appreciate.

That leads us to the Bob Dunning point that perhaps a leading indicator of where the city is headed is in its bicycle rating.

Mr. Dunning (in his latest column) writes “our bicycle-crazy community has been dissed once again.”

He notes in the California City News article on Top Biking Cities, Davis is no longer in the top 10.  (If I recall correctly it was, just last year).

Granted, it is just one publication’s ranking.  But it does provide us a few critical points.

“Davis was nowhere to be found,” he writes.  “Call me crazy, but I don’t think it was a coincidence that this list came out on the heels of the Mace Boulevard fiasco, where bicycles were front and center in the controversy.”

My first reaction to his column is why would he focus on Mace, which was designed to improve bicycle safety, and not the halted project at F Street for the bicycle under-crossing of Covell that the city had to halt.

Be that as it may, the story lists: “The PlacesForBikes rating score is based on five factors: Ridership, Safety, Network, Reach and Acceleration.”

I have a few thoughts on this myself.  But Bob Dunning illustrates a key problem with his understanding of these metrics when he notes, “The Safety score considers fatalities and injuries of people on bikes as well as those walking and driving.”

He responds, “I’m not sure how a walking injury relates to bicycle safety, but it’s their survey, not mine.”

If Mr. Dunning had consulted someone, he probably would have learned the importance of multimodal transportation and safety, and if the city has a lot of walking fatalities, the safety for bicycling is probably compromised as well.

But I think we should probably focus on two points.  First, ridership, which people have been warning for some time has been dropping in the city.  Second is the notion of acceleration.

As Mr. Dunning notes: “The Acceleration score assesses how quickly a community is improving its biking infrastructure and how successful its encouragement programs are at getting people to ride.”

His response: “We probably got dinged for Mace Boulevard again, especially if a 20-ton tomato truck was rumbling down the street, hot on the heels of a shiny red Schwinn.”

I think we get dinged because we are living off our accomplishments from the 1970s and have fallen behind a good number of other communities.  I think we get dinged because we have a multi-million dollar backlog on maintenance and repair for our bike paths.

Bob Dunning wants to focus on ratings and Mace, but he never looks at things like the budget and other problems that have been building up for years.

Again, I don’t know that this is the best measure for bicycling.  I still see plenty of measures that still have Davis ranked highly, but there is a tipping point coming here and, if we do not invest in our infrastructure, the day will come when we are no longer the community that many others aspire to emulate on bicycling – perhaps that day has already come.

—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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46 Comments

  1. Alan Miller

    ” . . . Slow or no growth is normally a recipe for stagnation.

    #cough, cough#

    But thanks to an innovative and growing university

    #cough, cough#

    , Davis has maintained an attractive identity,

    snoring, frogs, pepper spray, People’s Republic . . . and I remind a growing U with relatively less housing than additional students and faculty . . .

    a healthy downtown,

    If you don’t like retail . . .

    and a smart resident profile.”

    Smart in an ‘intellectual’, I.Q. sort of way maybe . . . on the common sense — not so much.  And does this imply that nearby cities have, therefore, a relatively dumb resident profile?

  2. Alan Miller

    they write, seemingly fond of the Cannery,

    Well there’s no accounting for taste . . .

    . . . that boasts a farm, a barn, a community center and fruit stand

    fake . . . fake . . . fake . . . fake . . .

     

  3. Alan Miller

    list affordability as the top issue –

    While limiting stock.  Perhaps on smart — not so much.

    the next growth for the city remains a bit of mystery.

    Which I’m sure the Vanguard will solve, with the help of Sherlock Holmes and Watson.

  4. Alan Miller

    As for this day’s installment of “The Vanguard Doesn’t Like Bob Dunning”:

    . . . why would he focus on Mace, which was designed to improve bicycle safety,

    Well, it’s an entertainment column, that was what we call a ‘joke’, and mentioning isn’t focusing . . .

    and not the halted project at F Street for the bicycle under-crossing of Covell that the city had to halt.

    That the City should have halted before it was built.  Absolute garbage design that doesn’t well serve alternate transportation needs.  My biggest peeve.

    But Bob Dunning illustrates a key problem with his understanding of these metrics when he notes . . .

    Patronizing, much?

    if the city has a lot of walking fatalities, the safety for bicycling is probably compromised as well.

    source?    (note:  that was meant to be ironic)

    I think we get dinged because we are living off our accomplishments from the 1970s and have fallen behind a good number of other communities.  I think we get dinged because we have a multi-million dollar backlog on maintenance and repair for our bike paths.

    Fully AGREE!

    the day will come when we are no longer the community that many others aspire to emulate on bicycling – perhaps that day has already come.

    Long, long ago.

    1. Darell Dickey

      Wow, Alan! Had your coffee this morning, I’d guess!

      I agree with your fully AGREE, and your long, long ago.

      And have you considered switching to decaf?

       

  5. Ron Oertel

    This article is completely disjointed.

    It presents areas such as Roseville as something that Davis should emulate, in order to have bike paths as good as car-centric Roseville?

    Retail is struggling.

    The reason that areas such as Arden-Arcade are struggling is because development is allowed to spread further and further outward. Nothing new about that.

    As a side note, higher housing prices create higher property taxes for local government, when reassessed. What kind of shape would Davis be in, without them?

    1. Ron Oertel

      I do have a suggestion, though – raise the sales tax rate to match Sacramento’s.  And/or, put a parcel tax measure on the ballot to help maintain dedicated bike paths, only.

      And, forget trying to raise teacher salaries, for now. (This competing effort has the potential to harm the city.)

        1. Ron Oertel

          I recall that David was suggesting “considering” raising the sales tax, but was not sure if he’d support that.

          As a side note, I always find it strange that the advocates for development are often silent regarding fiscal issues, unless it involves a development proposal. (I noticed that, in yesterday’s article.)

      1. Craig Ross

        What makes you think the city has any authority over that?  Moreover, once the city grows with 10,000 more people in the next 8 years, will they have declining enrollment still?

        1. Ron Oertel

          Where did I suggest that the city has “authority” over that?

          What source are you referring to, regarding “10,000 more people” in the next 8 years?  (Other than those filling the megadorms?)

        2. Ron Oertel

          Perhaps just as important will be the details (e.g., does previously-approved housing “count”, what about the spaces that are still available from last time, etc.).

          If previously-approved (but unbuilt) housing doesn’t “count”, you can “thank” the council for approving so much of it, prematurely.  Especially since this concern was specifically mentioned, in regard to the megadorms. Although it’s rather late now, perhaps they should put the brakes on additional approvals, until they actually know the answer.

          (I recall the issue being discussed in a council meeting, but that further research was needed.)

          Regarding the impact on schools from future developments – one might simply look at the Cannery, regarding the relative lack of students originating from that family-oriented development.

           

  6. Richard McCann

    I don’t like Bob Dunning’s opinions usually, as I’ve state here previously. However, this time his column really seemed to be tongue in cheek. He wasn’t really interested in understanding the ranking method–he wanted to poke fun at it. The only serious element was to raise the Mace situation.

  7. Ron Glick

    “Home prices have risen more sharply here than nearly any major community in the last two decades.”
    Coincident with Measures J/R.

     

    “I think Mr. Bizjak and Mr. Reese fail to recognize Davis being on the tipping point.  The city continues to get more expensive.  While the voters have seemingly recognized that housing and cost are important, they approved the last two housing projects and list affordability as the top issue – the next growth for the city remains a bit of mystery.”

    Better late than never. Sadly we are so far behind its going to take a lot of catching up.

     

    1. Alan Miller

      Better late than never.

      I’m not sure approving a poorer version of a decent project is ‘better’, late or never.  Nor is approving a project because one can sell the advertisement that it is good for a group that evokes puppy tears in the eyes of voters, blinding them to the fact it’s a low-density suburb they just approved.  I’ll take never, far far over the legacy of Measure JR.

  8. Ron Oertel

    Does anyone else find it ironic that the problems regarding the bicycle infrastructure for the Cannery is specifically mentioned in this article, while simultaneously suggesting that lack of development is contributing to the decline of bicycling?

    1. Bill Marshall

      Not ironic.  Situational/context specific.  The HW/Cannery site had some interestingly unique “opportunities” (aka, ‘problems’).

      Same ‘context’ does not necessarily apply to other approved/potential new development.  No irony at all.

      In general (but not always), new development can lead to new improvements in transportation facilities and opportunities…

      1. Ron Oertel

        I don’t necessarily disagree, that the Cannery had some unique challenges.  As do most sites.  In fact, I didn’t oppose it (partly because I wasn’t following these issues at the time, and partly because it was essentially presented as an “alternative” to Covell Village).  Truth be told, I kind of like The Cannery, and the small “farm”.  But, one wonders if Sue Greenwald’s idea for the site (a business park of some type, as I recall) would have been better. And, since the owners were apparently opposed to that, perhaps that provides an indicator of actual commercial demand, vs. the demand and profit from housing.

        The SacBee article is interesting, though.  Davis doesn’t even have the highest median home values in the region.  Davis’ household income level is also significantly lower than places such as El Dorado Hills, probably due to the large number of students in Davis.  Anyone attempting to add “jobs” to Davis (beyond what’s offered at the adjacent UCD) might want to keep in mind the possible increase in home prices that could result.  Certainly won’t “lower” them, at least.

        More likely, adding jobs would simply increase the clamor for housing on other sites. As if some on here aren’t “clamoring” for that, even now.

        Regarding transportation (traffic, and infrastructure), I’ve rarely seen that “improve” as a result of developments.

      2. Ron Oertel

        And, when the “infrastucture” does improve (sometimes funded by a government subsidy, such as those administered by SACOG), it often just serves the development itself, and almost ALWAYS worsens traffic (and resulting impacts on infrastructure) beyond the development, itself.

        Sometimes, even the limited “improvements” (to serve a particular development) turn out to be expensive, little-used, taxpayer-funded boondoggles. (Even when they’re not “delayed”.)

        The referenced SacBee article discusses some of this. (As if it weren’t painfully obvious, already.)

        1. Ron Oertel

          To clarify, the SacBee article discusses traffic generated by developments throughout the region, not local boondoggles (such as the bicycle infrastructure for the Cannery).

          Seems like there’s other examples of local boondoggles, as well – including some funded through SACOG.

      3. Bill Marshall

        To be clear Ron, I did not say “transportation (traffic, and infrastructure)”… I posted “transportation facilities and opportunities”… please refrain from putting fingers or words in my mouth… unsanitary and ‘wrong’… when I used the word ‘transportation’ the clear meaning (to thinking folk) would include bike, ped, wheelchair, public transit, MV, truck, etc.  Said as someone licensed to and having practiced traffic/transportation engineering for over 30 years…

        idea for the site (a business park of some type, as I recall) would have been better. And, since the owners were apparently opposed to that, perhaps that provides an indicator of actual commercial demand, vs. the demand and profit from housing.

        A guy who helped lure DMG/Mori Seki to Davis saw the demand, but due to timeframes, you are correct, the property owners nixed it… due to its proximity to the RR, and at least 2 ‘spurs’, I thought that would have been a great choice for industrial (which it had been) or other manufacturing or commercial… but that train has ‘left the station’… so to speak, and the spurs are gone…

        Again, specific context/circumstances, poorly applied in general, as to demand.

        Won’t opine as to the correctness of your other points, as they are not within my ‘ken’.

        1. Ron Oertel

          Regarding “transportation facilities and opportunities”, I stand the fact that these tend to be focused on serving developments themselves (and are often publicly subsidized), and worsen transportation overall, beyond the development.  It’s a point so obvious that I wonder why you’d even respond.  Or, are you of the opinion that traffic is getting “better”, throughout the region (and beyond)?

          Do you generally view “increased traffic” as a separate issue from “transportation”? For that matter, what about additional wear-and-tear on infrastructure, as a result of increased traffic?

          Again, I’m referring to the bigger picture, not what some bicycle infrastructure might accomplish for a given development. (That is, if it’s well-designed, doesn’t require further modifications to address the new problems it causes, or is halted before completion.)

          Mori Seiki found another site in Davis, and some claim that they’re not the only potential commercial interest.  If there was other commercial interest (compared to residential interest), then one wonders why the owners of the Cannery wouldn’t even consider it.  (Actually, I don’t “wonder” at all.)

          We could go over all of the other sites that have been converted to residential, or semi-residential usage again, but I really don’t see the point in presenting those examples to those who resist it.

        2. Ron Oertel

          If I recall correctly, Don Shor stated that the Cannery owners outright refused to consider anything but housing, for the site.  Even if it meant leaving it undeveloped.

          Perhaps he’ll confirm this.

          Assuming that’s correct, this provides a pretty clear example of what developers prefer to build. (But, we could go over the other commercial/industrial sites that have been converted to housing, or semi-residential uses once again – if it’s still not “clear enough”.)

          1. Don Shor

            If I recall correctly, Don Shor stated that the Cannery owners outright refused to consider anything but housing, for the site. Even if it meant leaving it undeveloped.

            Perhaps he’ll confirm this.

            Assuming that’s correct, this provides a pretty clear example of what developers prefer to build.

            That’s correct. They made that crystal clear, even though Sue and Ruth (I recall) pushed for analysis of the site for mixed use. But as Bill has noted, the owners (Con-Agra) were not really developers. They are a large agribusiness firm. So it doesn’t necessarily reflect a preference overall for residential on the part of most developers.
            Perhaps some development experts would like to weigh in here, but I think it reflects that you can turn over residential development more quickly than commercial. Also, we were told repeatedly that the site would not be suitable for business development, for various reasons, though we were mostly told that by anonymous posters on the Vanguard. The location, evidently, would have caused a longer buildout time frame. Given the issues The Cannery has had even developing their retail component, perhaps that analysis is proving true.

        3. Ron Oertel

          Sorry – I meant to say the other commercial/industrial sites, AND the two other former “innovation center” sites (in addition to the Cannery) that have been approved for housing, instead.

          Now, maybe we can also discuss whether or not increasing traffic has any relationship to the amount of development approved throughout the region. 😉

          In Folsom, even the water supply is somewhat questionable for the new development approved there. (I believe this is mentioned in the SacBee article.)

          And yet, we build, and build, and build . . .

        4. Bill Marshall

          Ron, you still do not acknowledge your misquote of me, to further your “view”…

          You have also misrepresented my observation re: DMG/Mori Seki which came before the Cannery Park considerations.   Wrong again.

          Yes fewer people, less development, got it.

          Am thinking you’re like a rug… older expression… whatever…

        5. Ron Oertel

          Ron, you still do not acknowledge your misquote of me, to further your “view”…

          I did not quote you.

          You have also misrepresented my observation re: DMG/Mori Seki which came before the Cannery Park considerations.   Wrong again.

          I did not “misrepresent” your observation.

          Suggest you read my comments again, as I think you’re misunderstanding them.

        6. Ron Oertel

          Biil: Actually, I did directly quote you, after you objected to the point I made.  I then responded to that.  You have not responded to my comments, but are instead fixated on stating that I “misquoted” you, which is not correct.

          At about this point in the conversation (if not sooner), I’m sure that others have long since bailed-out on any interest in this particular exchange – regarding “quotes” at least.

           

      4. Bill Marshall

        The other thing about Cannery… the earlier owners had decided to close the Beatrice/Hunt-Wesson plant… several reasons… it was an ‘abandoned’ site for years… a potential/real liability… they put it up for sale more to get it “off their books”, than to make ‘real money’ from the land’s value… for ANY purpose… suspect Con-Agra got it pretty cheap (not fully sure of the relationship between them and “Beatrice/Hunt Wesson”…  might have been same/related entities, just don’t know)… but Con-Agra was not a developer, per se… but they had ties to UPRR, contacts in development, knew how to dispose of ‘out-dated’ property (related to their core business and their corporate offices were real near, in/around Chicago)… they started the re-zone, then sold to others (“New Homes”?)…

        Just background/history… context…

         

  9. Ron Oertel

    Don: That’s correct. They made that crystal clear, even though Sue and Ruth (I recall) pushed for analysis of the site for mixed use. But as Bill has noted, the owners (Con-Agra) were not really developers. They are a large agribusiness firm.

    Thanks for acknowledging that the Cannery owners flat-out refused to consider anything but housing for the site – even if that meant that it remained undeveloped.

    Regardless of what Con-Agra was, they sold the property to a residential developer.  Again, it’s just one more piece of evidence (a large one, in this case), that developers prefer to build housing (or semi-residential).

    We can go over the other evidence again, if anyone wants to (e.g., the two other “innovation center” sites that were approved entirely for housing), the MRIC/ARC proposal which will likely include more residential units than the entire Mace Ranch housing development, other commercial/industrial sites that have been converted to housing or semi-residential uses, etc.

    Alternatively, we can (all) just acknowledge reality-based evidence, and stop arguing about this.

    1. David Greenwald

      “Regardless of what Con-Agra was, they sold the property to a residential developer. ”

      Actually it was not regardless of what they were, it was because of what they were. And I don’t think that sentence is accurate anyway. What happened is they contracted with Lewis Planned Communities on a housing development. Lewis failed to get approval for the project – plus 2008 happened. Lewis exited and Con-Agra started working with New Housing on the project. Post-recession, they got the housing project approved. I supported a business park there, but I will say as I learned more about economic development, most people told the site was too small for what we wanted and too far from the freeway to garner interest in high tech. I also opposed the housing there.

      “the MRIC/ARC proposal which will likely include more residential units than the entire Mace Ranch housing development”

      You would be comparing single family homes to multi-family home units. That is apples to oranges. Even then you’re incorrect. Mace Ranch was approved at 1515 units. This is proposed at a maximum of 850.

      1. Ron Oertel

        Actually it was not regardless of what they were, it was because of what they were.

        So, they contracted-out to a housing developer, but were denied.  Then, they started “working” with another housing developer.

        Failing to see how this information changes the fact that they were unwilling to consider commercial development for the site. It simply confirms that developers generally prefer to build housing, over residential development.

        You would be comparing single family homes to multi-family home units. That is apples to oranges. 

        I see your point.  One type of housing development is intended for people, while the other is intended for giraffes, I guess.

        Mace Ranch was approved at 1515 units. This is proposed at a maximum of 850.

        Thanks – I wasn’t entirely sure, as I was basing that statement on what someone else told me.  I have not been able to find any documented source which describes the number of units at Mace Ranch.  Would you please provide the source that you’re referring to?

        I supported a business park there, but I will say as I learned more about economic development, most people told the site was too small for what we wanted and too far from the freeway to garner interest in high tech.

        Of course – putting these developments next to freeway access points enable their workers to commute to the site, from other communities. And, for their residents to commute elsewhere. It’s no accident that developers seek to exploit existing access points.

        On another note, can you please explain why your article essentially attempted to “tie-in” the problems with the Cannery’s bicycle infrastructure, with a “lack of” development leading to a decline in bicycling?  Seems to me that the example proves an opposite conclusion, if anything.

         

        1. David Greenwald

          Let me get this straight, you make a comment like this: “the other is intended for giraffes, I guess” and then you want me to expend more time and energy to provide you with information you were unable to acquire for yourself.

          One piece of further information: ” but were denied.” They weren’t denied at any point. My comment “failed to get approval” glosses over a much more complicated situation, but they were never denied.

        2. Ron Oertel

          I didn’t put forth the 1,515-unit number, for Mace Ranch.

          “Failed to get approval” – o.k., that makes a lot of difference regarding the overall point.

          As a side note, how are the problems with the Cannery’s bicycle infrastructure (and reduced ridership) connected to a “lack of” development? Are you sure you want to use that example? 😉

        3. Ron Oertel

          I just realized that I left out the little “winking emoji”, after the statement regarding making a “lot of difference regarding the overall point”.

          Given that sarcasm is not always obvious, I guess I’d better add it now:  😉

          Well, maybe the emoji itself doesn’t make a “lot of difference”.

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