When people were polled last spring, the issue that most concerned them was cost of housing. When people are polled about the need for economic development, there is an interesting split. The people who have lived in Davis the longest are more reluctant to support economic development than the relative newcomers.
But overall people are supportive of economic development just as they are supportive of housing. But that’s in the abstract. We know from 2016, not that long ago, when push came to shove on the Nishi project, the prospect of traffic impacts along with concerns about lack of affordable housing was just enough to push the project into the no vote.
That despite concerns for student housing needs as well as the project’s 300,000 square feet of R&D space.
The size of the crowds showing up to demand that Mace Blvd be “fixed” or restored to the way it was has to be seen as a warning shot to the applicants that the public in South Davis is frustrated with traffic.
Last week my column suggested that regardless of side issues of process, the voters are likely to weigh in not shortcomings with the process, but rather, their perception of the impact of traffic.
There are lot of unknowns here. We have yet to see the traffic analysis. According to the consultants last Monday that is a month to two months away.
We have also not seen the impact of the approved fixes to Mace nor have we seen what the applicant proposes in terms of mitigation for traffic fixes.
One point that bears repeating – for those demanding process and longer comment period for scoping, we already know that the biggest changed circumstance is traffic. We know that traffic is worse. As I quoted last week, Bob Dylan once wrote, “I don’t need to be a weatherman to know which way the wind is blowing.”
What I meant was that we don’t really need to a traffic study to know that the traffic is bad and will be a problem for the passage of the project.
Despite polling that shows the public is concerned about affordable housing and the need for city revenue and economic development, if the city and applicant do not fix the perceptions about the roads, this project will not pass.
As one person put it to me: “What you’re really saying is that the City, through its decades-long failure to plan and invest in critical transportation infrastructure – along with its singular focus on student housing needs, has now doomed any prospects for future commercial or residential expansion.”
“Is that really where we’re at?” he asked.
So does that mean ARC is DOA? Some people think so, warning that traffic is going to “kill the project.” They see a perfect storm of traffic issues with a highly-motivated opposition as being fatal.
But what happens if we concede defeat here.
I would argue that the stakes here are much higher than the fate of one project.
Our commercial analysis suggests that very limited available space. Our fiscal analysis shows the need for more revenue. And a look at the map suggests there are not many alternate locations for a 200-acre research park.
The timing here is not great. Fixes to Mace on the south end, figure to take at least a year to implement and start freeing up traffic. Moreover, they don’t touch the north side where Mace will reside.
I-80 won’t be “fixed” for at least a decade.
Can Davis really afford to wait until 2030 before it attempts to mass a major new housing or economic development project?
The public is going to be conflicted here – more congestion and wait time versus failing infrastructure and declining city services.
But someone needs to take the lead and make that point. Everyone seems to be sitting back and waiting for the next shoe to drop.
So what’s the answer?
We need leadership in this community. Someone who can step up and articulate a vision to Davis that the voters can embrace. Someone who can argue that traffic relative and that Davis traffic while worse than it was, is not nearly as bad as other places.
That there can be a benefit derived by the increase of traffic locally and regionally.
This is the point that I have been making for a long time. We live in a great community. We have a small community. It is relatively safe. It has parks, greenbelts, open space, it is walkable and bikable.
But we have an $8 million ongoing shortfall in money. We have been forced to rely more and more on tax measures to pay for our needs. We have not been able to pass a revenue measure for streets. Our city services are being stretched thin. Our infrastructure has been deferred in its maintenance.
Housing is heavily reliant on infill. We are losing our middle both in terms of housing types as well as our 30 to 50-year-old group. That will put increasing strains on our ability to raise revenue and maintain our great schools.
At the end of the day, the voters will have to make a choice. Do they want a community where they can drive down key streets at certain hours a bit father, or are they perhaps willing to sit in traffic a bit longer on a few occasions of the week when they happen to end up near Mace in exchange for the ability to finance our roads, infrastructure, more money for our schools, and a better overall quality of life?
That is the tradeoff. But someone needs to be able to step up to make that case to the voters or we could be looking at ten years without any improvements. That’s what we’re facing. We know what happened to Nishi in 2016.
—David M. Greenwald