By David M. Greenwald
In one of the most competitive races in the city, all four candidates for the District 5 City Council met on Sunday evening in a forum hosted by the Davis League of Women Voters—Josh Chapman, Kelsey Fortune, Connor Gorman and Rochelle Swanson. They had 90 seconds to respond with a possible one minute follow up.
Question 3: What more can the city do to curtail climate change?
Rochelle Swanson: She believes there are a number of things the city can do, both big and small, to curtail climate change. She believes that the city made a good move by implementing the climate change and action plan. She praised the work of Cool Davis. “There has been a great focus on new development, about being very energy efficient,” she said. “We need to put more investment in our existing housing stock—that is where we have a lot of energy loss.” She also suggested the need for more transportation routes with Unitrans and other public transportation, “which makes it easier by improving our infrastructure.” She also suggested joining regional consortiums which look at micro and macro ways to control climate change.
Kelsey Fortune: She said the first thing that we need to think about is a new general plan. “We need to think about climate change with every single decision that we make as a city,” she said, including large development projects or something as small as a specific intersection. “Literally everything—we should be including climate in that conversation,” she said. Fortune suggested a commission dedicated specifically to climate change. She also called for “dense infill.” She said that people want to live here because they work here and if we move them closer to where they work they will drive less, and “that is a huge part of our footprint—people commuting.” She was critical of DISC, saying it will create 5000 additional commuters from the surrounding area.
Josh Chapman: He believes we can and should do everything we can to get to net zero carbon emissions as soon as possible. On a vast scale, he said that a small number of companies are the ones creating the vast amount of emissions that we are talking about. He also noted the governor’s initiative to eliminate gas producing cars by 2035. “Those are commitments that we look at from the state level but we also create it that way at a local level,” he said. “We are the home to one of the top research universities in the world with a number of experts on climate change, and in particular a number associated with ag,” he said. “So as a city we have a chance to not just do our part—I think we need to partner with the university and the county to make this region a leader in fighting climate change.” He said locally there are groups looking at total recycled materials, and he hopes we can work together as a community to create repair cafes around town. “That’s a group that’s getting underway now,” he said.
Connor Gorman: He said he agrees with Kelsey Fortune that dense infill is a major part of combating climate change. “We need people to be able to live near the destinations,” he said, “work, school, and businesses.” “I think we do need more density in Davis,” he said. “In particular we need more density in and near the downtown and the campus.” He added that this density also needs to make sure to address issues of affordability—in hopes that people can drive less and be able to bike to school. Having to commute to Davis, because of lack of affordability, drives up carbon impact.
Question 4: The recently developed downtown plan will affect all residents of Davis – the new city council will be responsible for its implementation. What is your understanding of the status of the downtown plan and what are your top priorities for implementing it?
Kelsey Fortune: She noted that she was less familiar with that, having not been involved in the planning process like some of the other candidates. “I’m extremely disappointed that in the last ten years we have an outdated general plan and I’m glad that the downtown community has decided to take this on themselves and update a plan for that area.” She said, “Thinking about the density of the downtown is something that I’m very passionate about and really thinking about ways where we can really move people into that area to make it more of a destination rather than driving to a specific place and then leaving.” She is also looking at making it more bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly.
Josh Chapman: “I was on the downtown planning advisory committee, it was a plan that the city put together. They decided to do the downtown plan first before they tackle the General Plan,” he said. He is hopeful it’ll be wrapped up by 2021. He said that the big piece of this is it allows projects to be approved all within this plan to be covered by the EIR and CEQA. This will allow the planning process downtown to be streamlined from how it is working right now. “It makes it easier to navigate for people looking to develop here,” he said. “The Hibbert lumber lot is a place that we can focus on and really do some exciting things there.” Chapman also addressed leakage of people leaving town. He said that market analysis showed that 9000 workers were coming into Davis and over 20,000 were leaving city limits to go to work.
Connor Gorman: Gorman said that he really liked the process for the downtown planning. He said, “I really liked the way that it incorporated community input and as Josh said it’s still going and there’s still even more opportunities for community input.” He added, “ I hope that something similar happens with the General Plan update.” And he also hopes for something similar with the housing element. But he noted that one is on a much tighter timeline. “I was a bit disappointed by how quickly the housing element needs to be completed,” he said. In terms of the downtown itself, “I like the idea of the form-based code and the downtown is the place for additional density,” he said.
Rochelle Swanson: She noted that she was part of the council that brought forward the downtown plan. She said that a lot of great people put a lot of effort into that plan. “Ideally it would have been great to have a general plan first,” she said. While COVID-19 slows many things down, “this kind of a format helps to accelerate and make that a reality in the near future.” She noted that typically there would be a 45-day comment period for the EIR, but said, “I would be in favor of making that a little bit longer. She said, “A real advantage of the downtown is certainty” and that is important “for any kind of investment.” She added, “Form-based codes was the right way to go.”
Kelsey Fortune: Form-based codes are fantastic, she said. She said that commuter data in Davis is very misleading, because the university is outside of the city limits. She said that “people commute to the university from Woodland, West Sacramento, and other places because they can’t even find places to live in Davis.
Connor Gorman: He said he favors the form-based code, but emphasized the need to have other things in place—especially around affordability. He also suggested that he was looking into commercial rent control or a commercial vacancy tax “as a way to really incentivize the land owners downtown to lower their rents and make things easier for small businesses and redevelopment.”
Josh Chapman: He said he would push for representation on the downtown committee—he noted, “of 15 committee members who voted, there was one person of color on that committee.” He said, “Everyone else was upper-aged white people. It did not represent our community as a whole.” He said if he’s elected he will make sure that they have all different folks on the general plan committee.
Rochelle Swanson: She talked about the need for infill and affordability as well. One of the reasons for moving it forward was deterioration in the downtown She also agreed with the need for a new committee with more diversity—not just racial and ethnic, but also in terms of location. “Part of that is going to include improved outreach where people feel like they can have a voice,” she said.
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