In a comment yesterday, someone asked a great question—identify the three most important topics for future planning needs and priorities facing the Davis Community. It is really hard to get to only three but I will discuss my top three and then add a fourth for the purpose of discussion.
My top three planning issues are: Affordable and affordable housing, economic development, and the Davis Downtown. The need for a General Plan update probably underlies all three, so I will leave it out of my top three and then I will discuss the Measure J renewal.
You could really interchange the priority of #1 and 2 on this list—it is probably more like 1a and 1b. But I will lead with affordable housing, both subsidized and “small a,” because I do not believe this community can sustain itself with current housing policies.
Basically, people like me—in their 40s, with kids, and making a reasonable combined household income—cannot afford to live in Davis. If I cared at all about material things like owning a home, I would not live here. However, I value the education of my children and living in an engaged and progressive community above material gain.
But we have priced the families largely out of Davis. We have shrunk the middle. We have students. We have people who have lived in this community for a long and are retired or retiring. We talk about wanting to preserve the character of our community—but we are doing the opposite. We are changing that character slowly over time and in 10 years or perhaps 20 years, we might preserve the agricultural lands on the outskirts of town but the internal dynamics of this community will look very different than it did in the mid-90s when I moved here.
If you want to give families a chance to live in Davis, you need to look toward subsidized housing and affordability by design. Otherwise, most families are going to move to communities where they can buy a house rather than rent an apartment or a house.
As I will explain at the end, this is not a YIMBY argument. We should look at things like infill first, we should limit growth on the periphery, we should not build large single-family homes on agricultural land. But we can’t continue the housing policies of the last two decades and preserve Davis.
This is not about DISC. The Davis Innovation & Sustainability Campus is a means to an end, it is not the end. The other part of sustaining Davis is that it needs to be fiscally sustainable. Even before the pandemic hit, this community was in trouble. We didn’t have a mechanism to maintain our infrastructure, maintain our quality of life—roads, sidewalks, greenbelts, parks and city infrastructure.
There are those who want to continue to cut city services—I support robust cost containment but I am not at this point willing to consider deeper cuts. We continue to cut, we lose city services, and the quality of life becomes diminished.
I have and will continue to support a parcel tax for roads as a short-term solution to that problem. The last measure in 2018 fell short with just 57 percent of the vote. As I noted when it went down to defeat, it would be at least four years before it comes back—now I fear longer.
I agree with our more conservative poster that we can’t continue to increase taxes in Davis and keep it viable and affordable.
That has left me with seeking to maintain our city taxes, contain increased city costs and pursue economic development as a means to increase revenue.
I don’t know where we are going to go with COVID. If anything it is going to make it more challenging in the future. But we have waited 10 years since DSIDE (Designing a Sustainable and Innovative Davis Economy) to even get a peripheral park on the ballot. At this point I don’t see an alternative location in the city.
And pushing economic development to Woodland or West Sacramento is probably fine from a regional standpoint and helps to create jobs for college students graduating from UC Davis—but it does nothing to help us with our true needs.
So I support the dispersed economic model that came out of Studio 30 a decade ago. Continue to utilize existing space, develop near-term sites—Nishi is gone, but University Research Park is still around—and then convince the voters to support a peripheral site.
The way Davis is structured, the downtown/core area is the most important part of town and, for a long time, I believed it was in trouble. The last decade-plus has seen a slow shift away from retail and toward entertainment in the core.
Was that long-term viable? Hard to know.
COVID is likely going to finish off what macro-economic shifts started. I don’t think we will really get a sense for how bad it is until COVID is over and we see how many places are gone and not coming back.
The Core Area Specific Plan was important in 2019—the future of this community may now rest on it. I have been a vocal advocate for some time of the idea of bringing mixed-use redevelopment to Davis. In fact, I feel strongly enough about to it want to see the state reinstate redevelopment in order to finance some of it.
We have a need for workforce housing—housing that young professionals entering the work place can move into and can help revitalize the downtown core. Now more than ever.
Finally, Measure J Renewal
One of the people responding to the initial question had as a top priority to Preserve Measure J. The reality is that Measure J is going to get renewed for another 10 years by at least 70 percent of the vote.
There just isn’t much in the way of opposition. There was no formal ballot statement submitted and few people opposed it during the public hearings last spring. This is really a non-issue in terms of renewal.
So why do I bring this up? Because we need to create a way to have Measure J and remain a vital and vibrant community—and that is far bigger challenge than people who support Measure J want to acknowledge.
I support Measure J—I want to have discussion about it for the reasons I will get into soon, but I support it and I will explain why in a moment.
The bottom line is: I am not a YIMBY. I am not a NIMBY. I am part of that middle population that believes housing is a problem but I don’t want to go back to the 1980s and 1990s.
I supported Measure J and opposed Covell Village for one simple reason—we need balance and in 2000 and even 2005, we were out of balance.
But we are out of balance now, as well, in the other direction.
Earlier this week I argued that you cannot reasonably oppose Measure J and then vote against a housing project, because you are essentially saying that the public should not be the final arbiter of housing developments and then vote to be the final arbiter of a specific housing project.
On the other hand, I would argue you cannot be a supporter of Measure J and then come out and oppose all housing—either because you don’t want any more housing, or the housing that is being proposed does not meet your unrealistically high demands.
That is because one thing is clear—if you dam up housing for too long, that dam will burst. There was one chance to defeat Measure J this year—if Nishi and West Davis Active Adult Community (WDAAC) had failed, Measure J would be under fire like you couldn’t believe.
This is all about balance—in the 1970s, the balance on taxes got thrown off and the dam burst with Prop. 13. We’re still paying for that now, but that was largely a failure of the legislature to deal with the fact that people were getting taxed out of their homes.
Right now the pendulum has swung too far the other way on housing. As I started this housing discussion, we are losing the middle of our community and that will make this community much harder to sustain.
You want Measure J long term? We need to figure out a way to maintain our balance within that framework.
Final note: I propose we resolve to either call this Measure J or rename it in colloquial terms as the Right to Vote on Land Use issues or something to that effect, since the letter designation keeps changing.
—David M. Greenwald reporting