Monday Morning Thoughts: Traffic or Housing and Economic Development?

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.

Largely so.

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


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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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30 Comments

  1. Todd Edelman

    Imagine

    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?

    was more or less the text in the first example of an improved or modified (post-)Measure R vote.

    David, do you really think that things are at this level of reduction in people’s minds? Without getting into the very many other certain and likely negatives of thousands of new journeys by car to, from and through the City and if any revenues from ARC will more than mitigate its effects – are the people of Davis really going to vote on ARC – if it comes to a vote – based only on the perceived state of their butt in a car?

     

    1. David Greenwald

      I might not have thought so prior to the Mace debate, but after sitting several times in that room, I absolutely believe that a sizable portion will make that exact calcuation.

    2. Alan Miller

      – are the people of Davis really going to vote on ARC – if it comes to a vote – based only on the perceived state of their butt in a car?

      You best line ever, TE.

  2. Tia Will

    Davis traffic while worse than it was, is not nearly as bad as other places.”

    You make a good case for vision and planning. But if you buttress those points with terrible arguments, you undermine your own statement. Saying we are not yet as bad as ( fill in community of choice) is hardly a motivating statement. Especially following the accurate statement that our traffic is “worse than it was”.

  3. Rik Keller

    This article states “Our commercial analysis suggests that very limited available space.” Not really. There was was an initial inventory done by the City in January. The Vanguard then decided to conduct its own amateur-level  analysis of that in multiple articles. 

    But for actual analysis, Davisites are waiting for the City to conduct the next step after the initial inventory which was characterized as “…the starting point for preparing analysis of what vacant commercially designated lands offer in potential commercial square footage available for economic development. Staff would like to return to Council with an in-depth discussion of this vacant commercial land inventory in the context of the City and the region, the potential uses and theoretic commercial square footage capacity of the undeveloped land, and recommendations for next steps on using this and other key information to build an economic development strategy that aligns with the goals of the Council.”

    The EIR for the MRIC project already conducted a brief version of the “theoretic” commercial square footage capacity of existing vacant commercial land within the city, and, even with very low suburban-level density assumptions, determined a capacity of 2 million sf, which is equivalent to 8-9,000 jobs, dwarfing the MRIC/ARC proposal.

    Expanding the inventory to underutilized and redevelopable land that could be utilized with the next 10-20 years increases this inventory further. Assuming higher density to meet infill goals would to0. For example, back-of-the envelope calcs for the U-Mall space show the ability to increase retail on the site while providing for 2,000 office jobs, if an alternative direction were pursued that didn’t involve doing UCD’s job for it and providing student housing—housing, which by the way,  has no affordability restrictions proposed.

    If the City is serious about environmental goals and infill development there are many opportunities far superior to a retrograde highway-oriented and car-dependent development on the periphery that will mostly provide jobs for more people commuting into Davis .

    But the Vanguard has a vested interest in claiming the sky is falling and that approving ARC is our only choice.

     

     

     

    1. Bill Marshall

      I suggest you submit the essence  (or all of this) to the City as a response to the scoping of the EIR.  I believe you have until 5 P today.  If, notdo so soon afterwards,but the City will have less obligation to respond.

      Some seem to want to derail the EIR process,while claiming “it’s about the process”. Or, perhaps “venting” or practicing rhetorical skills.

      Fact is, at this point, the City needs an EIR to either approve, deny, or approve with modifications, the proposal.  Any land use professional knows this.

      If you choose not to send your comments/opinions at this time, I suggest you can bookmark them, and cut and paste them into the record as the DEIR is being considered, and any Measure R vote that may ensue.  Or, both.

    2. Richard McCann

      Assuming that there actually is this amount of land available to develop, what’s your plan to acquire, consolidate and redevelop this “available” space? Just saying that’s someone else’s problem is insufficient. You aren’t putting any skin in the game unless you have a concrete alternative plan.

      1. Ron Oertel

        Undeveloped commercial land indicates a lack of demand for such space.

        Lack of viability for a peripheral commercial development (without housing) demonstrates a lack of commercial demand.  The motivation is the profit from housing.

        We’ve been through this exercise, before.

      2. Bill Marshall

        Think of a re-make of “The Treasure of Sierra” Davis… “Alternate plan?  We need no stinking alternate plan!”

        And, it’s not “skin”… more like “spaghetti and spit-balls (with marinara)”… and, of course, ‘concrete’ is inherently evil…

        You’re being far too rational, Richard… (and I appreciate that!)

      3. Rik Keller

        McCann stated: “Assuming that there actually is this amount of land available to develop, what’s your plan to acquire, consolidate and redevelop this “available” space?”

        Your supposed “problem” you are throwing up as a roadblock is only an issue if you have a specific pre-ordained outcome in mind–like Ramos controlling all of the properties and being able to develop them. That his the silly level of analysis contained in the MRIC EIR: supposed “alternatives” were deemed unworkable because Ramos doesn’t own them and they wouldn’t allow Ramos to profit off of them.

        Why is their the assumption that all of this  land need to be”consolidated” in the first place? There are a variety of parcels available in different sizes and locations that will meet specific needs. While some consolidation could occur at a small scale for adjacent parcels, that would be a market decision by the particular companies that would take care of it the way they always do: through optioning/purchasing/leasing on the open market.

      4. Rik Keller

        McCann: did you miss the actual concrete plan listed by City Staff that is scheduled to be completed in 2020? That is the process that I am supporting. Why aren’t you supporting it? Don’t you think the City’s economic development strategy should be based on a robust and realistic analysis of opportunities and constraints?

        Here it is again, in case you forgot:
        “return to Council with an in-depth discussion of this vacant commercial land inventory in the context of the City and the region, the potential uses and theoretic commercial square footage capacity of the undeveloped land, and recommendations for next steps on using this and other key information to build an economic development strategy that aligns with the goals of the Council.”

        1. Todd Edelman

          Recently I had the opportunity to engage a leader of a local congregation about the issue of constructing affordable housing on land owned by their congregation and others currently un-developed – i.e. lawns etc. – or with large parking lots. This congregation supports this – sorry, can’t go into details – but they were not aware of any multi-congregation discussion on the same issue, though they said that they would bring it up with the other congregations. (I made it clear from my perspective that owners of commercial parking lots had potentially much more to offer).

          What this tells me is that we have a lot fewer answers about alternative development sites than we should before agreeing to any kind of non-infill. Does the City know specifically what kind of incentives would be appreciated by the referenced property owners in order to encourage them to build mixed-use projects with mixed-affordability housing? What if we had a “Measure P” which would mandate full administrative and other support for infill on parking lots of a certain size or an adjustment to Measure R that would a robust complement to that in new EIR’s? With and beyond the City level, what would Valley Clean Energy think about a streamlining project for adding studio or other small apartments to existing single-family houses – not necessarily as a second story – as long as solar panels were required… and that new tenants etc. were carfree?

        2. Rik Keller

          Todd E. said “What this tells me is that we have a lot fewer answers about alternative development sites than we should before agreeing to any kind of non-infill.”

          Agree 100%. If the City is serious about infill, it is critical to have an adequate information base about the opportunities and constraints. And this should be done prior to consideration of opening up vast swaths of peripheral land.

  4. Rik Keller

    Greenwald states: “ 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.”

    One point you are missing: we don’t even know the actual details of the project changes from MRIC to ARC to be able to comment on what the scope of study of the changes would be.

    We do know that the developer’s attorney hastily and sloppily put together a last minute comparison that turned out to be full of lies & inaccuracies, but the City and the Vanguard uncritically published this misinformation anyway.

  5. Rik Keller

    The article states “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?”

    Bad news for your strawman argument: I-80 “fixes” when/if implemented still involve MUCH higher congestion than today.

  6. Rik Keller

    The article states “nor have we seen what the applicant proposes in terms of mitigation for traffic fixes.”

    No we haven’t. Because there aren’t any. The applicant went away for a couple of years and came back with a project that does not propose any new transportation fixes, while, at the same time. the traffic situation around the site deteriorated tremendously.

    1. Bill Marshall

      They (project proponents) are only required to mitigate their contributions to problems. They are not required to fix the previous “sins of others”… and is it appropriate to propose detailed ‘fixes’ absent the new analysis of existing situation, and situation plus project?   I think not.

      Consider what future/no project will look like…

      1. Ron Oertel

        Consider what future/no project will look like…

        Already way-ahead of you.  It will look like it does now. Pretty nice, really.

        Anyone who thinks that ARC wouldn’t create even more demand for housing (possibly including another peripheral development) is fooling themselves.

        If some are claiming a “shortage” of commercial space in the city, perhaps the real question is how that situation was allowed to occur, and what will prevent it from occurring again in the future (e.g., when another peripheral housing development is built using ARC as a “justification”, thereby further diluting any promised “fiscal profit” from the development). Also, one might want to ask themselves why the city is continuing to allow conversion of commercial space within the city.

        The initial “justification” for MRIC was to provide a better-balance between existing housing, vs. commercial space.  Seems like that argument has “left the building”, as they say. Maybe that’s for the best, as we can now see the actual motive – which was really there all along.

        1. Ron Oertel

          You really don’t understand at all… suggest you read the DEIR when it is ready.  Future/No project is very different from Existing/No project.  It will not look like it does now.  You have made a silly statement.

          Are they planning to change the crop rotation?  😉

          Sunflowers or tomatoes are fine with me.

        2. Richard McCann

          Ron O

          You have no idea what the Future/No Project will look like. Davis doesn’t look like it did 10 years ago as the traffic on I-80 has gotten worse, housing has become tighter and more expensive, and our downtown retail has hollowed out. Also our fiscal situation has gotten worse as our tax base has stagnated. And in the future as electric vehicles become more prevalent, the car dealerships will suffer, further reducing our sales tax revenues. (EVs need much less servicing which is the real money maker for dealers.) In addition, we’ll be reducing our GHG emissions and suffering the consequences of climate change that is already baked in. Won’t look like today at all, because today doesn’t look like the recent past.

        3. Ron Oertel

          You have no idea what the Future/No Project will look like.

          Again, it’s going to be tomatoes, or sunflowers.  Maybe a nice almond orchard.

          No argument from me, regarding that choice.

          And in the future as electric vehicles become more prevalent, the car dealerships will suffer, further reducing our sales tax revenues. (EVs need much less servicing which is the real money maker for dealers.) 

          Perfect – put a commercial innovation center there.  No Measure R vote required.

           

      2. Ron Oertel

        They (project proponents) are only required to mitigate their contributions to problems.

        Yeah, all 4,340 of them – to start with.

        I see no way that Davis will approve this thing. And, that’s not just “wishful thinking”, on my part.

        Opposition to this is widespread, and not just limited to the “slow-growthers”.

        Perhaps the developers should reconsider whether or not they really want to pursue this, given the opposition that they will face.

        1. Ron Oertel

          By the way, it’s apparently “smetzker”, not “smetzger”, at the city of Davis.  (Kind of funny that I made the same mistake, myself.) But, I’d encourage anyone interested to (first) confirm the correct email address when submitting scoping comments today.

        2. Bill Marshall

          Thank you Ron, for you correct and useful contribution @ 1:51… had it right on my e-mail to the City Friday, as I got confirmation, and I had copied others…

  7. Alan Miller

    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.

    It shows people don’t like the consequences of sh*t projects.

    people are supportive of economic development just as they are supportive of housing.  But that’s in the abstract.

    You can say that again.

  8. Alan Miller

    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.

    When you put it in those terms . . . I’ll take Door #3, Carol.

  9. Alan Miller

    I-80 won’t be “fixed” for at least a decade.

    Just.  Stop.  Saying.  That.

    I-80 will never be fixed.  It will just get worse and worse.  Sans a plague.

  10. Bill Marshall

     it is critical to have an adequate information base about the opportunities and constraints.

    For infill sites there was a pretty good one from the early 2000’s… have no clue whether it has been updated since 2010…some econ dev/planning staff would know… those that are left, that is… turnover of key staff has been significant…

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