2019 will likely be remembered as a year of tragedy. The year started with the tragic murder of young police officer Natalie Corona on January 10 and in many ways was bookended by the murder-police shooting of a mother and her son.
But in between the council largely attempted to put out a lot of brush fires, while either intentionally or inadvertently deferring the big issues for another time.
The biggest issues of the year: Pacifico, Mace, downtown parking, homeless respite center were of this nature. The long-term challenges – General Plan, Measure R, housing, economic development, revenue, the downtown and fiscal sustainability have largely been deferred to another time.
It is perhaps fitting that at the moment many of us were at a community meeting at the library at Montgomery on Pacifico, Natalie Corona was being shot in downtown Davis.
The neighbors complained that the population of Pacifico was creating a nuisance. The council ultimately decided to close the facility and put out an RFP for other potential uses of the site. In so doing, they created a need to find locations to continue to provide the services to the residents of Pacifico while ignoring requests for a navigation center and a place to provide walk-in mental health services.
In the downtown, the council followed recommendations by the Downtown Parking Taskforce to create paid parking downtown, and then backed off under pressure from the business community. The watered down paid parking proposal is still sparking controversy even while the issue of parking has not been adequately addressed.
At Mace, residents of South Davis and especially El Macero pushed back redesigns to the road coincided with a heavy-buildup of traffic congestion, especially on Thursday and Friday afternoons.
After a series of heated meetings in South Davis, the council approved a modified plan which does not go quite as far as some residents who demanded Mace be restored to the way it was – now Mace will be restored to four vehicle travel lanes even as traffic analysis shows a good deal of the congestion is due not the road redesign, but rather changes to traffic on I-80.
Meanwhile we watched not one but two public meetings involving the respite center for homeless people. There was pushback on the original location last month, the council, claiming that Fifth Street at the corporation yards was preferable, moved the proposed location from Second Street in November. That triggered pushback at Davis Manor, but ultimately the council stuck with the location.
The problem of course is that while the respite center provides some day shelter and needed services, the city still hasn’t addressed either the need for permanent nighttime shelters or permanent supportive housing for a growing homeless population.
That is kind of the microcosm for the year. The council was busy putting out brushfires – several of them at least partially self-inflicted. And they have yet to address the long-term issues facing this community.
We saw the downtown parking issue – unresolved by the compromise – and yet we have yet to take on the final downtown plan report which will require much community discussion still as the council will look at an ambitious plan – which doesn’t go far enough for some and will go way too far for others.
The number issue facing the community according to both private and public polling is the affordability of housing. And yet, the council this year did not take on one-major housing project. It has not started a discussion on the required renewal of Measure R. And it has deferred discussions on the downtown which will have a mixed use proposal and the General Plan update to future dates.
The city has taken on the issues of Pacifico and respite centers without addressing broader needs for the homeless.
The city also has put a sales tax renewal on the ballot which maintains the status quo on taxes – and yet it has done very little on either the broader picture for economic development (i.e. revenue generation) or fiscal sustainability.
The city is still facing an $8 million (at minimum) shortfall. If anything the city continues to tread water. The latest MOUs have all included two percent pay increases.
The city faces a deficit for road and other infrastructure. In 2018, the voters failed to get to two-thirds on a parcel tax that would fund road repairs among other infrastructure needs. The voters passed a status quo parks tax in 2018 and will likely approve a status quo sales tax in 2020. But there are no plans to expand revenue.
Meanwhile a city inventory of available commercial land – from January – showed a limited amount of commercially zoned and available land that would be available for actual development in the next 10 to 20 years. While the city’s inventory found about 129 acres, a close scrutiny of that property found that between pre-designated uses for health care facilities, the superfund, and general unavailability, only about 50 acres remain.
The council will probably get a chance to act on the ARC proposal for roughly 200 acres of innovation space next year. But that discussion is likely to get bogged down in concerns about traffic impacts and there is no plan B if voters fail to approve the innovation center.
In short, some massive questions are brewing for 2020. A big question will be which concern is bigger for the voters – the lack of affordability housing, the lack of economic development, or concerns about increased traffic congestion.
The Vanguard is concerned that the council did not address any of those looming issues in 2019. Moreover, when the council did act, they avoided the core issues. Downtown parking once again was largely deferred. Broader homeless issues were not raised. The council had an opportunity to seek a more expansive tax measure for 2020, but opted for basically a straight renewal – albeit one without a sunset date.
The council failed to have discussions on the need for housing, economic development, Measure R, and fiscal reform.
In short, the council put out some brushfires, affixed some band-aids and left the heavier lifting to future councils.
—David M. Greenwald reporting