Sunday Commentary: It Comes Down to How to Manage Change in Davis

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Two of my biggest concerns about the current trajectory of Davis are, first, that we have constrained the housing market so much in Davis that we are at risk of having a completely bifurcated Davis – a population of students living in student housing and a population of older and more wealthy people who end up being the only ones able to afford purchasing housing in Davis.

The other problem is one of economic development and the jobs-housing imbalance.  UC Davis has a lot of jobs – but the type of jobs are constrained to public sector faculty, or administrative positions on the high end.  Davis lacks private sector, growth industry jobs and jobs that can actually utilize its core competency – technology transfer, high-tech, spin-off jobs from the university that highly educated and trained people from the university can jump into.

The combination of a large number of university jobs, high cost of housing, and lack of private sector high-tech growth industry jobs has created a jobs-housing imbalance where a large and growing percentage of people who work in Davis cannot afford to live in Davis.  And a large percentage of people who live in Davis cannot find jobs to sustain them in town – unless they happen to university faculty.

This has tended to create two separate problems.  One is that the city is lagging in per capita retail sales, which has led to problems with long term fiscal sustainability for the city.  The other is the large commuter population has exacerbated traffic concerns in and around town.

In my view the problem of lack of affordable housing (both subsidized and unsubsidized), the lack of revenue for the city, and the lack of private sector jobs and accompanying workforce housing has led to an existential crisis for the city, and also for the schools.

For those of us concerned, both with the lack of housing and jobs and also with preserving the essential character of the community, this is a problem that requires a very finely threaded needle, and I see the threat to the community coming from both directions – those who want to further constrain housing as the mechanism to preserve character, and those who would tear down all barriers to growth which would destroy our character from the other end.

I want to address a few key points that were made in a discussion yesterday.

First, I will paraphrase this one – if economic development is so good, why do communities like San Francisco continue to suffer from budget shortfalls?  This is actually a very important point.  I have always talked about three planks to fiscal sustainability – tax measures (for short-term revenue), economic development (for long-term revenue generation) and cost containment.

The fact is, without containing costs, we can grow the revenue through the first two mechanisms and have that growth wiped out by run-away expenditures.

Second, UC Davis is the primary driver of the demand for housing.  This is absolutely true.  In fact, it is so true, I’m not sure of the point of making the comment.

The comment I have heard throughout my 15 years of involvement has been that, but for UC Davis, Davis would be Dixon.  I would add, it could be a West Sacramento or Woodland as well.

The point here being that UC Davis is the essential character of this community.  But keep in mind that what we are looking at here with respect to things like economic development is not to replace UC Davis, but rather to augment it – technology transfer takes university research and spins it off into private sector capital ventures.

Third, if we have more economic activity, it will increase demand for housing (both rental and for-sale).  I agree with this point as well.  My hope is that, over time, economic development will better align the community with its jobs.  Right now too many in the community – those not of the retirement age – are commuting for work.   In the short term, we will need more workforce housing, which is why I think we need to put housing at ARC.  And also why I think we need housing in the downtown.

Fourth, Davis has more than enough jobs available on-campus or in Sacramento.  That I fundamentally disagree with.  We are fundamentally losing assets because, outside of the UC Davis jobs, we lack high-end jobs in Davis.  That means that people have to commute to work in Sacramento or the Bay Area.  It means that we are missing opportunities for spinoffs from high-tech university research to stay in our community and generate revenue.  And it means that we are losing thousands of highly trained STEM graduates each year from UC Davis.

The inflow of jobs to the university are actually part of the problem.  I have seen data where the majority of UC Davis professors still live in the city of Davis.  The jobs that people are flowing to tend to be the lower-end jobs.  So I think the net inflow of jobs is actually misleading.  People are coming in for jobs that do not pay enough to live in the city.  And people are flowing outside of the city for the high paying jobs that enable them to live in the city.

So I would argue that, once you break down the type of jobs producing the in-commute population, you see the problem, not the solution.

Finally, a broader point is this: change is happening.  We want to preserve the great qualities of Davis but you can’t really live in frozen time.  Davis has changed a lot in just the nearly 25 years I have lived here and it will continue to change.

For the last 20 years we have attempted to forestall that change by slowing down growth.  The problem is, by doing that artificially we are changing Davis – it’s more expensive, fewer child-age families live here, and as people who have lived here for 30, 40, 50 years age we will see even further change – and the replacement population is likely to be older, less of child-rearing age, and different.

I have been arguing for a long time that there is a middle path forward that allows some housing growth, some economic development, but neither closes down the city for growth nor opens its boundaries.

Will that work?  I don’t know.  The path we’re on, though, is not sustainable.  And I fear that those who are attempting to save Davis, by constraining further growth in order to hold it in some sort of temporal stasis, will inevitably kill Davis as we know it by cutting off the vital engines that previously made this community what it was.

—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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27 thoughts on “Sunday Commentary: It Comes Down to How to Manage Change in Davis”

  1. Matt Williams

    Davis lacks private sector, growth industry jobs and jobs that can actually utilize its core competency – technology transfer, high-tech, spin-off jobs from the university that highly educated and trained people from the university can jump into.

    Several weeks ago Wesley Sagewalker asked me to join him for lunch to talk about ARC.  During our great lunch at Shanghai Town in Westlake Plaza, he asked me, “What was the most important thing that ARC could do to demonstrate to the community that it really was going to produce jobs?”  He asked that because I had just told him that with the loss of their lead tenant, Schilling Robotics, I didn’t see any actual jobs, only smoke and mirrors … at this point.

    My answer to him was simple and straightforward.  UCD, the magnetic source of that core competency of technology transfer, and the high-tech, spin-off companies that result from that core competency, needs to bed a consistent visible part of the ARC message.  The UCD Administration needs to demonstrably show the community and the region that I is committed to seeing that technology transfer happen at ARC.  Right now UCD is invisible with respect to ARC.

    Ironically, this is the same scenario that played out with respect to the Nishi Gateway project in 2016.  UCD stayed on the sidelines and left the Nishi team to fight the battle all by their lonesome.  What that pacifism produced was fear uncertainty and doubt in the community.

    ARC needs to demonstrate that they actually are going to produce jobs, and they need UCD’s commitment to channel to ARC the technology transfer, high-tech,jobs that spin-off the core competency of their campus jobs.  Without that visible, consistent commitment from UCD, ARC is really only smoke and mirrors.

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      Matt: I’m glad you led with this point because hopefully it ges us away from the discussion from yesterday and towards where I think this discussion needs to go. Your point is a good one, but I think your conclusion is too strong, you write: “ARC is really only smoke and mirrors.” That’s not quite fair. After all, a place like Mori Seiki comes here because of the proximity to the school. We see companies like ADM, Mars, Nugget and many others come here recently. Another company is coming in in the next few weeks. That’s without a lot of commercial space and without a robust recruitment program – in part because of the lack of space. That’s really what ARC is predicated on – space means companies that are not looking here – per Danielle Casey – because we don’t have space, will give us a second look. Can UCD help with that? Absolutely. But their help at this stage doesn’t necessarily make that work better.

      1. Matt Williams

        After all, a place like Mori Seiki comes here because of the proximity to the school.

        Actually David Mori Seiki did not come here because of proximity to UCD.  Mori Seiki came to Davis when it acquired Digital Technology Laboratory (DTL) Corporation, and DTL came to Davis (from West Sacramento) because the principals of DTL lived in Davis and they wanted to eliminate the daily commute across the Yolo Causeway for themselves and many of their workers who also lived in Davis.

        That’s really what ARC is predicated on – space means companies that are not looking here – per Danielle Casey – because we don’t have space, will give us a second look. Can UCD help with that? Absolutely. But their help at this stage doesn’t necessarily make that work better.

        What you have described is not technology transfer, high-tech, spin-off jobs from the university.  It has merit, but it is a very different animal.

  2. Bill Marshall

    After all, a place like Mori Seiki comes here because of the proximity to the school.

    A half truth.  DMG came from W Sac to be close to UCD… they came from rented space in W Sac.

    DMG  has had an important support link to Mori Seki.

    Mori Seki had looked @ a number of locations… near Chicago, and Davis were the “final two” (out of several) contenders… between availability of a site next to DMG (first site developed in the Mace Ranch Light Industrial Park), and economic incentives offered by the City, Mori Seki came to Davis… proximity to UCD was far from being the main factor.

    DMG and Mori Seki are designed much like a single “campus”.

  3. Ron Oertel

    Davis already has more than enough jobs (at UCD and in Sacramento), as demonstrated by the net inbound flow of commuters.  The availability of good jobs is also reflected in existing housing prices.

    Regardless, adding more residents (who will then occupy those jobs) does not result in a net increase of jobs for the existing population.  It simply grows the size of the city.  In fact, the inclusion of housing results in a development that does not even address the so-called “imbalance” of commercial development vs. existing residential development – the very justification for innovation centers in the first place!

    ARC would almost certainly create additional pressure to develop even more peripheral land for residential development – further weakening the supposed justification for innovation centers.  It is a zero-sum game.

    It might also be noted that when a company such as Shilling leaves (for a community that actually needs redevelopment – and has the space to do so within city limits), those jobs are still available to anyone within the region, as they would be in Davis.

    The same thing is true regarding the “innovation center” that they’re going to build 7 miles from UCD, accessed via a freeway (113) that’s not yet at a constant traffic standstill.

    This thing is going to lose, based upon the 4,340 parking spaces (alone).

     

    1. Matt Williams

      Ron, you missed the thrust of David’s argument.  He clearly states it in the very beginning of the article.

      UC Davis has a lot of jobs – but the type of jobs are constrained to public sector faculty, or administrative positions on the high end.  Davis lacks private sector, growth industry jobs and jobs that can actually utilize its core competency – technology transfer, high-tech, spin-off jobs from the university that highly educated and trained people from the university can jump into.

    2. Ron Oertel

      Matt:  Again, Davis has enough high-quality jobs, as evidenced by the factors in the comment I already made.

      Even Aggie Square is requiring massive public funding (and free land from UCD) to get off the ground.

      Take away the housing, and ARC would fold faster than MRIC did.

      UCD already has an opportunity to “team up” with the development planned in Woodland, 7 miles away (up a relatively-unimpacted Highway 113).  I wouldn’t be at all surprised if that development is already having more difficulty than anticipated in garnering UCD support, or attracting companies.   Despite its extremely easy approval and probable much lower-cost, than ARC.  (The comments regarding the development in Woodland are speculation, as I haven’t seen any news regarding it, lately.  But, it seems to be taking a long time to proceed.)

      1. Matt Williams

        Ron, the term wasn’t high-quality jobs.  The term was technology transfer, high-tech jobs.

        As I said to Don in one of the final posts in yesterdays thread, the problem that discussions here in the Vanguard have isn’t with the content, it is the ideological crusade.  Which is why I have pointed out over and over and over again to you, “Again you are looking at the situation through the lens of your bias” 
        No better evidence for that exists than your 6:59pm post yesterday that says “I’m not necessarily seeing a point of disagreement, here” and then you follow that statement up with seven additional posts.

        1. Ron Oertel

          As I said to Don in one of the final posts in yesterdays thread, the problem that discussions here in the Vanguard have isn’t with the content, it is the ideological crusade. 

          This is [edited due to filter], and is actually a personal attack – as pointed out in the other article.  Please cease from this type of comment in the future.  Otherwise, it’s going to encourage some choice words regarding how I view your comments.

          The “ideological crusade” is coming from those who keep pushing for an innovation center.

          Ron, the term wasn’t high-quality jobs.  The term was technology transfer, high-tech jobs.

          So, you’re acknowledging that high-quality jobs isn’t the issue, and that you want to (also) encourage “technology-transfer, high-tech jobs”.  However that’s defined, and however that relates to UCD.  Now, the reason (from Davis’ perspective) to add even more jobs than it needs still hasn’t been justified.

          UCD is primarily an agriculture college.  It is not a private business, although it is allowing Aggie Square to proceed on its own land.  (Of course, that development is also requiring massive infusions of public cash.)  Regardless, the site in Woodland would offer an opportunity to pursue whatever you’re referring to, as well.

           

        2. Matt Williams

          Ron, it is not a personal attack.  It is a simple subjective rhetorical observation about the consistent theme of and structure of your posts.  Your threshold for feeling personally attacked has always been and consistently been a very low bar.  Did you take your college professor’s comments on the papers you submitted that personally?

          My comments are not about YOU, but rather about what you are saying and the method you are using to say it.

        3. Ron Oertel

          Your conclusion regarding an “ideological crusade” is intended to minimize and deflect away from the actual content of discussion.  It is an attempt to “diminish the source”, rather than discuss the issue.

          In that way, it is very much a personal attack.

          As a side note, I just realized that when one is “in the minority” on here, the 7-comment limit creates a disadvantage regarding balanced presentation of the arguments, vs. the “gang of supporters” – each of whom can bring an additional 7 comments.

          Even more so, when one challenger (who consistently brings forth well-researched data) has been effectively banned, on here.

           

        4. Matt Williams

          Your conclusion regarding an “ideological crusade” is intended to minimize and deflect away from the actual content of discussion.  It is an attempt to “diminish the source”, rather than discuss the issue.

          In that way, it is very much a personal attack.

          Let’s deconstruct your comment above.  “… minimize and deflect away from the actual content of the discussion.” If you look at that phrase dispassionately, there is absolutely nothing personal in its content.  It is the exact opposite of ad hominem.

          adjective
          adjective: ad hominem

          (of an argument or reaction) directed against a person rather than the position they are maintaining.

          You by your own words are acknowledging that my conclusion is directed at the position rather than the person.  The only reason that “personal” comes into the discussion is that you personally identify with the position/ideology . . . and you identify with it over and over and over and over again.

          I have nothing against you personally.  You and I have agreed on ideas/issues often in the past.  This happens to be one that you and I disagree on.  The current back and forth on this is reminiscent of the period of time back in 2017 when you and Grok constantly wanted me to take black/white stances on issues, and I kept telling the two of you that I believe robust dialogue of all the sides of an issue is good for the decision process.  It took a very long time for you and Grok to come to the realization that that is what I truly believe.  I suspect we are in a bit of Groundhog Day in the current discussions.

          As a side note, I just realized that when one is “in the minority” on here, the 7-comment limit creates a disadvantage regarding balanced presentation of the arguments, vs. the “gang of supporters” – each of whom can bring an additional 7 comments.

          Even more so, when one challenger (who consistently brings forth well-researched data) has been effectively banned, on here.

          I agree wholeheartedly about any comment count limitation.  It is an absurd construct an many levels, including, but not limited to, the one you have pointed out.

          [Moderator: You have now posted 7+ times on this thread, so this is your final post.
          Thank you for your participation.]

        5. Ron Oertel

          The only reason that “personal” comes into the discussion is that you personally identify with the position/ideology . . . and you identify with it over and over and over and over again.

          Again, you’re the one making the allegation regarding “ideology”.  You did so repeatedly, in the other article as well. (Before proceeding to put forth highly questionable “causes” regarding the reason for Phoenix’s rent increase.)

          I disavow the label, and find it devoid of meaning. I believe that this detracts, rather than adds to the substance of the conversation.

          (I believe that this is “seven comments”, for me.  I’m looking forward to the break.)

          But one thing I would add is that I really do think that ARC faces an uphill battle – regardless of what is stated on this blog.

          [Moderator: You have now posted 7+ times on this thread, so this is your final post.
          Thank you for your participation.
          ]

    3. Bill Marshall

      Clue… Parking spaces do not ‘create’ traffic, no GHG emissions… commuting does… your argument “does not compute”… longer commutes generate more traffic impacts than ‘in town ones’… and more GHG emissions… you say it will be defeated by the # of parking spaces, then advocate for more traffic impacts on the corridors, and more GHG emissions… does not compute.

    4. Richard McCann

      The real issue is one of reducing commutes so that we reduce environmental impacts. Round trips of 15 to 25 miles or more emit a lot of greenhouse gases. Jobs in Davis that are filled by Davis residents reduce those GHGs.

    1. Ron Oertel

      It’s not a matter of “like”, or “dislike”.  It’s just a fact, as demonstrated by the net inbound flow of commuters (to UCD), the local unemployment rate, the cost of housing (which is a reflection of the availability of high-quality jobs), etc.

      What I have yet to see is any coherent, logical statement from those who are “normally” concerned about the availability and cost of housing, but support a development that will create even more challenges.  It’s usually about this point where I realize that some of them don’t actually care about that, and apparently have other reasons behind their support.  (For example, maybe some of them simply want the one-time money that it would generate for schools.)

      Perhaps we can also go on to analyze the arguments from the people who claim to be concerned about local contributions to global warming, but “somehow” support a 4,340-parking space development.

      Bottom line is that (unlike residential development), commercial space in Davis cannot command a “premium”. That’s why companies jump at opportunities to build in places like West Sacramento. Take away the housing, and you’d see what the “actual” demand is.

      1. Matt Williams

        Ron, you are cherry picking one 40,000 foot statistic and forming an ideological diatribe around that single point rather than coming down out of the clouds and dealing with closer to the ground Davis realities.

        At the January 13th FBC meeting, the City fiscal consultant Bob Leland presented numbers that showed that the City’s 20-year unfunded liability for Capital Infrastructure grew from $156 million to $258 million in 30 months.  That doesn’t include the City’s liabilities for pension and retiree medical.  How does your  40,000 foot view of net inbound flow of commuters (to UCD), the local unemployment rate, the cost of housing (which is a reflection of the availability of high-quality jobs) close that unfunded liability gap of more than $10 million per year for 20 years?

        1. Ron Oertel

          Matt:  Given the competition that Davis faces, you’re the one who is “cherry-picking” the ability of an undefined innovation center (with housing – which adds costs) to “save the day”, for Davis.

          Perhaps we should examine the reason for the unfunded liabilities (thoughout California), before desperately grasping at “solutions” which have “somehow” repeatedly failed to materialize.

        2. Matt Williams

          Ron, nowhere, I repeat, nowhere will you find me saying anything about the ability of an undefined innovation center (with housing – which adds costs) to “save the day”, for Davis.

          That is 100% an inference on your part.  I suspect you have made that imaginary inference because of the personal lens you view ARC through.

      2. Bill Marshall

        It’s usually about this point where I realize that some of them don’t actually care about that, and apparently have other reasons behind their support.  (For example, maybe some of them simply want the one-time money that it would generate for schools.)

        Written by the same poster who admonished others from assuming/’realizing’ where he was ‘coming from’, ascribing motivations to him… fascinating… takes a special intelligence to hold those two views at the same time… guess I’m just not that smart.

        1. Ron Oertel

          Just pointing out the inherent conflict (within their own stated views) put forth by some others.  That is, the people who claim to be concerned about housing availability and cost are the same ones advocating for a development that would increase those challenges.

          You’re not going to find that type of internal conflict within my statements.

          Bill:  ” . . . guess I’m not that smart.”

          No argument, there, given that you can’t (or perhaps simply “won’t”) see the difference.

      3. Richard McCann

        ” but “somehow” support a 4,340-parking space development.”

        Because the alternative is likely a 10,000+ parking development in another town that Davis residents have to commute to, thus creating a double whammy of GHG impacts. The key is to think systematically and holistically, not with simplistic statistics that are not analyzed in their full context.

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