By David M. Greenwald
There is perhaps some chance that Measure B—DISC, the Davis Innovation & Sustainability Campus—can make a comeback, but at this point those chances are fleeting, as it trails by 940 votes with perhaps between 7000 and 10,000 ballots yet to count. More likely it is headed to a narrow but not razor-thin defeat.
At the same time, Measure D won overwhelmingly by over 15,000 votes. Twenty years ago, Measure J won relatively narrowly, but in the two decades that have passed since 2000, two things have become clear—one is that Measure J has become ingrained in the culture of the community and, two, there hasn’t been an active challenge each time.
So where does that leave the city? For those who simply opposed putting a large project on the periphery of town, I can respect that view and agree to disagree. There are many different visions for the future of Davis and that is certainly a fair one.
I am more frustrated with those who argued not this and not now. I could be wrong here but I don’t think we get another bite at the apple. I get that this was during a pandemic and that the future is much less certain than it was perhaps 12 months ago, but, at the same time, there is going to be a need for lab space and other forms of physical space—and, increasingly, those companies will not be moving into Davis because we simply lack the space.
Revenue remains a challenge for the city—and that has just become more acute. We love our parks, greenbelts, our walkable downtown, the small-town college town atmosphere, but we have just made it much harder to sustain long term.
The threat to Davis is not from runaway development now as it seemed to be back in 2000, but rather stifling growth policies that will make it difficult for the next generation of families to live here altogether.
Increasingly, this is a bifurcated community—one comprised of students on the one hand and an aging baby boomer population. The percentage of people in my age bracket, 30 to 50, is dwindling—and, with them, the future of families, children, our schools, etc.
At the same time that we passed Measure J’s second extension to 2030, we are about to grapple with very real planning issues—the culmination of the Downtown Plan, the Housing Element, and a General Plan update that, by the time, it is approved could occur nearly one-quarter century after the last update.
At current growth projections, Davis is slated to build housing that could accommodate nearly 20,000 addition residents by 2050. That would push the population to nearly 95,000.
Clearly that growth cannot occur merely due to infill. The housing opportunities, however, even on the edge of town, continue to dwindle. We perhaps have two realistic avenues for peripheral housing—the northwest quadrant and the land that was known as Covell Village. With so much land on the periphery tied up in Measure O funds and agricultural easements, ironically Measure J may become increasingly unimportant.
Some have looked at the downtown as a means for additional residential growth, as we move toward densification and mixed-use projects in the downtown. But, as we have already seen, the costs of such redevelopment lead us to question their economic viability. Without redevelopment money, it appears that even before it’s approved by council, the downtown plan may take decades to actually implement.
I will be particularly interested to see what direction the Housing Element takes us. Unlike what I have been talking about, that is a short-term plan that must account for a path to develop around 2000 or so new housing units over the next eight years—where are those located and whether we be able to build them.
Those are big questions—where are we going to get affordable housing? Where are we going to get workforce housing? Where are we going to get family housing? And perhaps as important—where are those people going to get jobs?
I get that we want to preserve our community, but our community is changing right under our feet. The character of this community will change because we cannot afford the amenities or city services, it will change because we have priced out the middle class-middle age from our midst, it will change because it is increasingly becoming a bedroom community where most people have to commute to get to work—unless they are fortunate enough to be employed by the university.
The most important question is: Where do we go from here?
—David M. Greenwald reporting
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