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