Last week, after a multi-year process, the city came out with a Draft Downtown Plan. That of course marks not the end of the process by which the city will adopt its Core Area Specific Plan, but rather it moves to the next phase, where the public has 90 days, ending on January 14, to submit comments.
The draft documents are available at: https://www.cityofdavis.org/downtownplan
The city appointed a 19-member Downtown Plan Advisory Committee that began holding public hearings in December 2017. They have had 6 pop-up workshops and 20 focus group meetings over the last more than 20 months.
“In our shared opinion, the most important part of this process is about to begin: public review and input about the draft Downtown Specific Plan. We urge everyone in our city to review the Plan, whether at a high level or in detail, and to consider how well it reflects our community – particularly, how well it establishes a vision and a foundation for how our community will develop in the coming decades,” write Chair Meg Arnold and Vice Chair Michelle Byars in a letter summarizing the report.
The Vanguard reached out to members of the committee separately and got the following responses to the report and process.
Meg Arnold, Chair
The vision for greater densification and increased residential capacity in downtown is one of the things I consider the most important. Downtowns are changing in character, as you know, and it’s important that ours be able to respond and adapt to those changes, which are happening in response to a number of trends at the macro level nationally.
Another thing I would point to as incredibly important is the overall goal for the updated plan to provide far greater certainty — about what will and will not be possible to do throughout downtown, and where — to all the stakeholders, from residents to developers to businesses to neighbors to City staff and leadership. That certainty and clarity is hard to come by in our current situation, and leads to lengthy and costly processes, requiring all parties to invest far more time and effort than is ideal.
I’m also pleased and grateful that the members of DPAC, despite our differing perspectives, have forged a working relationship focused on constructive, respectful, and thoughtful interactions, and have kept our focus on our larger role while also making many “smaller” (meaning more detailed) recommendations. As well, I’ve been encouraged by the public participation, particularly during the participatory design workshop phase of the project last summer. I hope that this public review period will generate similar levels of public engagement and input.
The only thing I’ll cite as a disappointment is that in a couple of our meetings earlier this year, we had a level of rhetoric from a few individuals during public comment that I personally felt was not constructive or appropriate, and which I had to call out and specifically declare unacceptable. Fortunately, that has not recurred.
Michelle Byars, Vice Chair
Thanks for reaching out. The most important part of the plan for me is not a single aspect, but rather that in its entirety, it provides the community’s vision and that it delivers development clarity for neighborhoods, property owners, and the entire community. I encourage everyone to give comments and suggest ways that the plan could better encompass their ideas if their vision is not embodied in the Draft. In my role as Vice Chair on the DPAC, I take my responsibility of representing the community at large very seriously. I deeply value an effective community engagement process and although a substantial amount of outreach has happened, even using some innovative techniques, I think that there are still groups of people that could use more representation.
There is a lot to be proud of in this early version. The charettes and planning meetings were well-attended by a wide demographic, and many of the community’s ideas have been artfully represented visually and in guiding principles/plans. For example, the form-based code is sensitive to neighborhoods and scale. The E street plaza has been long-discussed and it was nice to see that space designated and beautifully rendered.
More broadly, the downtown plan is long overdue. Davis has held a 1% growth cap since 2008, capping development at 260 units (not counting affordable housing, accessory dwelling units, and units in mixed-use buildings). Meanwhile, the student population has grown. In 2019, the campus admitted 19,656 California freshman applicants, 208 more than last year, and 7,931 California transfer applicants, 91 more than last year. Most of the development in Davis has been single family homes. With few options for people to live and work downtown, service workers commute into the city for work; and one-third of the people who live in Davis commute out. For an economically vibrant downtown, Davis needs more density at its core.
The visuals in the plan provide a sophisticated and exciting interpretation of what the downtown could do for Davis.
As a co-leader of the Sustainability task force with Chris Granger, I was pleased to see the recommendations we distilled from multiple community meetings highlighted as implementation actions. More broadly, the layout of implementation items allows city leaders and staff to put dates to implementation goals and check off items, celebrating their completion. These community goals are not wishy-washy; they are specific and actionable.
The design team did a wonderful job with this draft, and I look forward to seeing what the community has to say.
I wish we had more guidance from staff early about where to focus (ie, does staff want the Rice Lane neighborhood included in the plan?) DPAC decided not to focus on this neighborhood at the seam of the university and city because upzoning was so contentious. That said, over half the population of Davis is under the age of 29… and you know what they say about people who are over 30? It’s safe to say that everyone on DPAC is over 30. I am really interested in hearing what the students think about the plan as their patronage keeps the downtown businesses alive. Our UC Davis students are a talented bunch, and it would be great to make a plan that makes them want to stay with us.
– I am quite pleased with the vision laid out in the report. I think Opticos did a great job of gathering the feedback from DPAC and the community to draft a very compelling and comprehensive report.
– I think the plan allows for increased density, especially in a few portions of downtown like along G Street and near the Amtrak station. This is important as I think increased density is crucial in our downtown core and will allow for more housing and support economic development opportunities. There are some areas that I personally think should have higher story limits, but I am glad to see the height increases that exist within the current draft.
– I think one of the very important aspects of the report is the thread throughout much of it regarding sustainability. I worked with Chris, Catherine, Larry and others on the sustainability subcommittee and I was glad to see that there was a large focus on it in this draft report. It is an area that I feel our community can unite around. How we embrace sustainable design can be a differentiator for Davis. It is also in line with our history to be at the forefront of sustainable living practices.
– E Street Plaza as Davis Square is an important part of the plan, which I think many of us liked throughout this process. Having E Street plaza become a central gathering place for the community is one I hope to see come to life. Approaching Davis Square as a demonstration site for sustainable building and living makes a lot of sense as well and is in line with the overall vision set out in this plan.
– The regulating plan for zoning is what many will focus on and given it’s more concrete nature it is very important.
I found the process at times to be a bit opaque and unclear, but I have thought perhaps this may be my inexperience with this kind of public committee process. I also think the Brown Act makes it hard for committees like these to work as fast and efficiently as possible and I feel there must be some sort of technical solution that allows for more regular (not in person) meetings that the public can have access to. I also would have liked to see more digital surveys used throughout the outreach and idea collection process with insights gathered and presented from these.
One area that I felt that we didn’t get clear guidance on was whether we should include the Rice Lane/University Ave area. This area was communicated as too contentious an area to take on by the consultants, but then later we were asked by the city to review one-off exceptions for the area, even though we had been advised earlier and agreed to not include it in the plan. This seems like an area that perhaps should be addressed and it seems appropriate to at least consider it (or part of it) as an area for potential height increase for further density. Another area that I have asked the consultants about which I would like to understand more is why 3rd street closer to Central Park is not recommended to go higher? It may have to do with transitions and specific design considerations, but it’s something I’d like to understand more.
Most importantly, with input from multiple individuals and groups, we’ve been able to agree upon a future vision for our downtown. We now have a zoning ordinance that implements that vision, speeding the approval process and reducing the cost for future developers.
I don’t have any disappointments. I think the process has been excellent. While it isn’t precisely what I would have chosen, we have made decisions that, by necessity, respond to the concerns of the adjacent neighborhoods.
I believe the implementation of Form Based Code will be the most important. It is important for property owners and real estate developers to have this certainty when planning a new project.
The length of the downtown plan update process, while thorough, has been frustrating. It was exciting to receive the draft Specific Plan and draft Form Based Code last Monday, and I’m looking forward to reviewing it together with the public and community leaders over the next three months prior to the City Council voting on it this winter.
(Editor’s Note: the Vanguard reached out to the entire body, we may get some more responses at some point, but ran what we had).