For the first time in over a decade, we are headed for a recession. We have seen nationally just how bad it figures to be, watching the stock market lose one-third of its value in a few weeks—wiping out all of the gains made during this presidency. Jobless claims have soared. Stimulus bills have at least temporarily stalled in Congress.
In times of hardship there is a tendency to want to stop business as usual. We have done a remarkable job of doing just that, by bringing people home and ending many non-essential businesses.
The city is in the midst of its Downtown Plan—hoping to be able to re-invigorate downtown business and open it up for more mixed usage that would densify and bring more people into the downtown area. We are also looking at the Aggie Research Campus as a way to bring high-tech commercial business into Davis and infuse the community with jobs and new revenue.
And, statewide, we have a housing crisis and homeless crisis, both of which figure to get worse as the economy plummets and people cannot afford to make rental payments—even if they are temporarily cushioned by eviction protection laws.
The city figures to lose revenue in the short term, which could mean more painful cuts. And the school district could also be heavily impacted if the state has to cut funding for K-12 education.
The hardest question for our local leaders is what should they do in the wake of this.
The Vanguard received a copy of a letter from a community member asking the city to halt the planning process for the Aggie Research Campus. On some levels that makes a lot of sense—people are not focused on business as usual, and people are unable to come out to key meetings or to effectively campaign.
On the other hand, maybe it doesn’t make sense. The same folks asking for a delay are the same folks who were opposed to the project from the start. They are same folks opposed to most every project that comes forward.
The city has a need for additional housing that will not change with coronavirus and, if anything, will get worse. The city still needs high-tech jobs for the young people who graduate from UC Davis. It still needs revenue.
These problems won’t go away just because we are shutting things down. If anything they will get worse.
There is another key point to make here. We are really still in phase 1. At some point we will have made all of the changes we need to make. And then it will be a twofold strategy—one to marshal the resources to help the sick, and, two, a waiting game.
Right now we see local government is busy making and implementing changes. There is flurry of activity. We are worried. We are planning. The city is preoccupied with emergency preparation.
But at some point we will have everything in place. What I would call equilibrium will occur and we will be in a position to wait and hold.
And then what?
One of the key points I would make is that, while it is better to hold meetings in person, given our technology and resources, we don’t need to.
The great thing about now is that we have the technology to have virtual public meetings. They are experimenting with Zoom and other technology for the council meeting on Tuesday.
We have instant messaging, social media, the ability to stream anywhere and anytime—the ability for real-time feedback in ways we have never really explored in the public realm.
In short, we could embark on a very different type of planning process where we will have a way to participate in the project every bit as much as before—perhaps even more so, since we have less to do.
The one thing I would caution is that the Downtown Plan and Aggie Research Campus are really not projects for today. You could argue they are not even projects for tomorrow. Rather they are projects for five to ten years from now.
By that, I mean we could pass and implement them today and not see the benefit for another decade or possibly even another generation. In a way that’s our charge. We plant trees and sow fields where we will never see the fruits of our labor or our sacrifice. We do it so that the next generation will have the opportunity to see and enjoy and benefit from our foresight.
We have both a challenge and an opportunity.
The communities that are successful are the communities that are not going to stop and wait. We have a chance to plan, to make things better and be ready to really roll come the end of this crisis.
Housing is a more immediate crisis and a more immediate remedy. Part of the reason we are where we are is that, during the Great Recession, the world stopped. A lot of that was by necessity—the financial markets themselves collapsed.
On the other hand, this crisis is due not to instability in the markets but rather an exogenous shock. We can and should continue to plan for a day when these restrictions have lifted.
The state understands this. When Governor Newsom shut down the economy on Thursday to slow the spread of the coronavirus, construction executives and leaders pushed to get construction exempted from stay-at-home orders.
Reports the Bee, “Industry officials said the mobilization was undertaken to prevent a repeat of the Great Recession, when housing construction went dead for several years, worsening a housing crisis that endures today.”
The Bee reports that Erika Bjork of the Sacramento Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, which worked with the construction industry, said “workers typically do not work close to each other on construction sites. They should be able to practice social distancing.
“We need to keep this engine humming, so when we come out of this we have housing,” she said. “We don’t want to see what happened in the recession.”
This is the right approach and we need to do it in the city of Davis as well. The only reason not to is that some people do not want projects. I get it. That’s why we still have Measure R.
—David M. Greenwald reporting