Sunday Commentary: Yeah, Yeah, Wash, Wash, Repeat, but the Problem Remains

By David M. Greenwald

As we move into 2021, what are we going to be talking about in Davis?  Short term, it is going to be COVID and policing.  But long term the issues remain land use issues, housing, the downtown, the General Plan, and revenue generation.

I would argue that housing along with economic development and the city’s fiscal situation is the most important long-term problem we face…  There is no way to avoid the issue and yet, if you look at the bigger picture, somehow no one is really talking about it.

Yes, some of my readers are correct, I focus on the issue of economic development, long-term sustainability, and housing way too much.  Guilty.  I fall on the sword.

But there is a reason for that—(a) it is the issue that drives the core passions of our community. and (b) it is the most important long-term problem that we face.  And too often the local media never dive into the issue.

Oh sure, the Enterprise will publish letters and op-eds.  They will cover news.  They will have little editorials supporting a project or three.  But when it comes to the deep dive, hard-core analysis, there is nothing.

That’s not meant as a criticism.  They are a newspaper.  They have to bring the news—stories that we don’t cover.  But we have the ability and I think the obligation to do the deep dive and get into the core nitty-gritty of these fundamental issues.

Critics see this as repetitive.  Wash.  Rinse.  Repeat.  One of them said.  Guilty, your honor.  But I see vital.  I see core.  I see existential issues facing this community, threatening its vitality, undermining our legacy.

One of our readers argued that every community is facing the same challenges.  To some extent that is true.  But they missed the problem with that argument.  So what?  The state is not going to step in and save Davis anymore that it will step in and save any other community.  Cities have had to declare bankruptcy.  Cities have to fix their own problems.

So if we all go down in flames, does that mean that Davis is less burned because ten other communities are in ashes as well?  No.

Davis will rise and fall based on its own response.  So it matters not if every community is facing the same problem.

Every great nation and great civilization has seen its own demise eventually.  That does not mean we should sit by idly and allow ours to do so.

This week, I received an email from someone who has been focusing on this issue for years.  The email posed the key question that probably should have been addressed during the DISC (Davis Innovation & Sustainability Campus) campaign: “Why does Davis need more jobs when we already have UCD?”

They write: “It seems that nobody has asked this fundamental question.  Not having asked, likewise we have not explored this basic question.”

It actually is not completely true—the question has been posed and addressed on the Vanguard.

From their perspective the problem is that we have an imbalance—too little in the way of commerce that is taxable and too few for-profit employers in Davis for a city of this size.

Does that matter?

It does in the sense that it leads to a lack of per-capita taxable revenue.

The e-mail goes on to say that the university, for all of the jobs it fosters, “pays zero sales/taxes on purchases to the city and contributes nothing in property taxes.”  And I agree that is a problem because, while UCD employs a huge percentage of our citizens, it does little to directly benefit the community.

Don’t get me wrong, the university is a great engine for the economy and this community has failed to tap into its energy to generate private sector economic development—technology transfer, taking the research developed at the university and using it to create private sector products and companies that can produce community-based revenue.

That’s what DISC was trying to tap into.  That’s what Aggie Square is utilizing.

Two years ago when I had a discussion along the lines with various community leaders behind the scenes, I was of the belief that the models developed in 2010 still applied and we should move forward.

The dispersed innovation model makes a lot of sense to me still.  Develop the available sites whether they are downtown or in South Davis off Research Park Drive.  Utilize URP (University Research Park) and Sierra Energy for densification and close in development.  And then find us the space to expand.

But that last part is proving tricky.  Now that DISC has failed, I think we need to re-examine where we go.  Even if you believe that COVID will lead to less office space, we still have an overall lack of developable commercial space in town.  How we are able to solve that problem will probably determine how well our long-term economic development picture works.

There is the 2017 State of the City report which really highlighted a lot of the issues that we face.  As the email points out, that work really laid out the problems and challenges but has not gotten a lot of traction.

It would probably benefit us to revisit it.

In addition, we need to create a new commission along the lines of BEDC (Business and Economic Commission) to explore new options.

And we may want to revisit the dispersed model itself—although, as I said, I believe those findings still hold, but somehow we need a renewed discussion to illustrate why we are headed for a fall.

If we do not solve these challenges, I do not see how this city remains vital in the long term.

Someone this week argued that I have been talking about the demise of Davis for a decade.  Yeah.  I. Have.

This is not a fast plunge into the abyss.

I remind people that while Rome was not built in a day, neither did it decline in a day.  The wheels are turning, they are just slow enough that they resemble the pot of boiling water, and the temperature is going up but imperceivably so, and that is the real danger—that we will be cooked before we realize we are in hot water.

So yes, I will wash.  Rinse.  Repeat.  Mock it if you must.  But we have to solve this or this community will lose its vitality.

—David M. Greenwald reporting


Support our work – to become a sustaining at $5 – $10- $25 per month hit the link:

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

Related posts

24 Comments

  1. Matt Williams

    But long term the issues remain land use issues, housing, the downtown, the General Plan, and revenue generation.

    I would argue that housing along with economic development and the city’s fiscal situation is the most important long-term problem we face …

    There is a fundamental problem with David’s two sentences above.  In the first sentence he correctly identifies revenue generation as one of the key issues that Davis needs to wrestle with.  However, in the second sentence, David immediately skips away from that problem-oriented focus and shifts his focus from problem-oriented to solution-oriented … and in the process makes the assumption that the solution he proposes … economic development … is an effective solution.

    the problem is that we have an imbalance—too little in the way of commerce that is taxable and too few for-profit employers in Davis for a city of this size.

    Does that matter?

    It does in the sense that it leads to a lack of per-capita taxable revenue.

    Here too David introduces a problem … a low level of per-capita taxable revenue … but then never looks at the causes of that problem.  He makes the assumption that the solution of economic development is going to magically increase the per-capita revenue of Davis.

    Before looking at David’s assumption, let’s look at the per-capita taxable revenue issue a bit.  Why does Davis have such a low level of per-capita revenue?  The answer is actually quite simple.  The customer base of most Davis tax-generating is overwhelmingly made up of Davis’ own residents.  Cities with thriving tax-generating retail economies generate a large proportion of their retail sales from beyond the City Limits.  Davis doesn’t do that.

    A very clear statistical indicator of why Davis’ tax-generating economy is so anemic is shown when you compare the day-time population of Davis to the night-time population of Davis.  In Davis the day-time population is less because of all the people who commute to jobs that are outside the City Limits.  Look at the daytime population of high per-capita tax generating cities compared to their nighttime population.  Their daytime population far exceeds their nighttime population.

    Will the economic development that Davis has been discussing change the fundamental tax-generating problem?  To answer that question it is important to consider that adding services businesses isn’t going to increase the taxable revenues … services aren’t taxable.  Adding wet lab research businesses isn’t going to increase taxable revenues … wet labs don’t produce a product that is sold.  Adding the entrepreneurs that Pam Marrone mentioned in her article can and more than likely will increase taxable revenues, but that increase will not happen quickly.  Those entrepreneurial businesses have to first invent a product and then bring it to market before they can generate sufficient sales volumes to generate taxes. Mori Seiki is a good example of how long it takes to get to the point of taxable revenue generation.

    So even with successful economic development, Davis’ problem with revenue generation will continue.  We need to be honest … and up front … about that inconvenient truth.

    1. Mark West

      You mean we can’t just flip a switch and the problem is solved? Who’d a thunk it?

      Yes, economic development will take time to have an impact, but all Matt is offering are arguments to delay implementation of economic development efforts further because they won’t work fast enough.

      Back in the 60’s when the community first addressed the revenue shortfall in town, they chose a 25 year timeline for the changes to have an impact. They recognized that though the problems were acute, the viable solutions were all long-term.  The same is true today, but apparently some folks never got the memo and continue to argue against proposed long-term changes due to concerns for potential short-term consequences. Needless to say, the solutions identified in 1961 were scuttled by the same short-sighted approach that we are hearing from the opposition today, leaving us with the continuing lack of jobs, commercial activity and revenues that were identified over a half-century ago.

      You cannot make a difference until you START making changes.

      1. Alan Miller

        1961 was 59 years ago.   Measure B failed in November.

        Why discuss?  Why lather rinse repeat (as needed) ?  We’re doomed.  We need to accept that.

        1. Mark West

          “Why discuss?”

          Because Matt, Richard and others have argued recently that we need yet another round of ‘visioning’ (my word) to plan for the City we want, before we consider new projects. I simply point out that we have been creating plans for nearly sixty years that we subsequently ignored. We don’t need another plan since our options are limited and already well understood. What we need is to develop the fortitude to ignore the blather and accept change. I do not see that happening however, so in the end, Alan Miller, I agree with your conclusion. We are doomed…

        2. Alan Miller

          What we need is to develop the fortitude to ignore the blather and accept change.

          Perhaps what we need is the fortitude to ignore Measure JeRkeD, and force change on Davis, Measure JeRkeD be dam*ed.

      2. Matt Williams

        all Matt is offering are arguments to delay implementation of economic development efforts further because they won’t work fast enough.

        .
        Mark, I believe you misread what I was saying.  Your statement would be true if our city’s (and our City’s) efforts were single threaded.  However, we are able to walk and chew gum at the same time … or in this case conduct thoughtful, diligent analyses of our City’s fiscal woes at the same time as we analyze the potential of multiple individual strategies for generating the needed additional revenue within the context of a holistic strategic plan.  The thorough, diligent analysis of our fiscal woes is essential input into our efforts to address those woes.

        You are absolutely right that we can’t flip a switch and the required revenue will be generated. Our streets and bikepaths and greenbelts will continue to deteriorate … and at a faster and faster (and more costly) rate.

        With that said, our current situation … because of the lack of leadership from both the private sector and the public sector … is very similar to a Viking Long Boat with no rudder/tiller.  If the oars on the left side and the oars on the right side are both disciplined and well coordinated, it is possible to keep the long boat going straight ahead.  Unfortunately, since Rob White released the RFEI, the three private sector developers with peripheral proposals backed away, and the fourth private sector developer converted their original economic development proposal into a revised proposal with no jobs, all housing, and all students. In addition Schilling Robotics got tired of waiting for the developers to get their act together and announced it is moving to West Sacramento.

        Bottom-line, the oars on the private sector (right) side have been anything but disciplined or well coordinated.  In addition the rest of the private sector has come forward with only one redevelopment proposal … University Commons.

        The public sector (left) side hasn’t done any better.  The City’s handling of the RFEI responses has been arguably labeled bait and switch, and all that UCD could muster as support for the economic development, technology transfer concept was “We don’t oppose it.”

        So I agree with your final sentence, you really cannot make a differencer until you START making changes.

         

        1. Bill Marshall

          all Matt is offering are arguments to delay implementation of economic development efforts further because they won’t work fast enough.
          So I agree with your final sentence, you really cannot make a difference until you START making changes.

          No disagreement if the following is true:

          We need to START making changes, NOW… several fronts… revenue options, cost-containment measures, development (related to both revenue generation and cost-containment) measures… it need, and probbly shouldn’t be a ‘one-pronged’ approach…

          Something about the ‘perfect being the enemy of the good’… the reality is it should be a multi-prong approach… covering both short-term and long-term… and we should be quickly discussing and quickly imlementing all ‘prongs’ now… IMNSHO.

          Lest we ‘dig the hole deeper’, by inaction… statis…

           

        2. Bill Marshall

          Mark…

          Perhaps Matt does not reside in Davis (incorporated limits), but he certainly ‘lives’ in both DJUSD boundaries and the City… same streets, some same City utilities… you overstepped…

          Matt is not someone who frequently opines on the VG, who neither resides in Davis, nor within DJUSD boundaries, on subjects affecting one or both 

          There are some who do not reside in Davis, nor DJUSD [but may own some property in Davis, and within DJUSD], and posit how both “should do things”… and/or, snipe and/or ‘troll’…

          Matt has ‘lived’ in Davis, but not always ‘residing’ within City limits, served on City Commissions, and I proffer that you might owe Matt W a personal apology… I believe he’d appreciate off-line, more than on the VG…

           

           

           

        3. Alan Miller

          Matt:  You personify the City’s main problem,

          A human figure commenting in this blog “personifies” the City’s *main problem?   Are there three identical numerals tattooed upon his head?

          and you don’t even live here…

          ???  Sure seems to be here a lot  . . . where is the entrance to the gates of his kingdom?  In the back of the closet at the Masonic Lodge?

          *need to rebuild frog hotels?

        4. Mark West

          “where is the entrance to the gates of his kingdom?”

          For as long as I have known him Matt has lived in El Macero. If he has recently moved into the City, I am more than willing to be corrected.

          No, Bill, I have not overstepped. Matt does not pay City taxes so he does not pay his share for the streets and his share of the utilities are subject to the County.

        5. Alan Miller

          Matt does not pay City taxes so he does not pay his share for the streets and his share of the utilities are subject to the County.

          This is why I have always advocated that Davis weld a steel gate across the front (west) entrance to El Macero on the east side of Mace Blvd.  El Macero residents would have to negotiate with the farms lands to the east for a road easement to reach the south frontage road along I-80 near the Westlane Drive-In, via their currently-non-existant east entrance.

        6. Matt Williams

          Mark, since I am a renter I directly pay no property taxes regardless of where my residence is located.

          Despite Bill Marshall’s admonishments to the contrary, no apology is necessary. I know your heart is in the right place.

  2. Ron Glick

    “You go back, Jack, do it again
    Wheel turnin’ ’round and ’round
    You go back, Jack, do it again”

    Steely Dan

    Don’t blame me I voted no on D.

  3. Tia Will

     it is the most important long-term problem that we face. “

    I do not agree with your basic premise. One of the lessons I would hope we would learn from our experience with the pandemic is that a healthy economy is dependent upon a healthy population. Americans have unfortunately bought into a misconception that health is an individual, not a societal matter. That construct has allowed us to divide into political camps using a false dichotomy to tear at the fabric of our country. So many see the issue as pitting health concerns against our economy when what we would be more constructively doing is to unite to protect both our health and our economy.

    Those who do not believe this is possible should merely look through the number of strategies that different countries have used to preserve both their health and their local economies.

    1. Ron Glick

      Tia you are correct that the structural deficit of Davis is not the most important thing. Removing the superlative would make it an important thing.

      Still you raise an important point by asking about what is a healthy community?

      I think we are going to be asking that question for a long time if we are not unlucky and survive the present pandemic. My guess is that for many “going to the office” as we have known it for generations will be different in the future. This structural change can best be described as asking what it means to commute to work? While in the 20th century, commuting was linked to vehicles, in the XXI Century it is as likely that it will mean being linked by the internet. This will create opportunities for people to live healthier lifestyles both individually and environmentally with less time spent in cars, busses, trains and planes.

      Here, in this household, that hour saved driving back and forth to work can be easily repurposed to exercising, thereby decreasing our carbon footprint while simultaneously increasing individual health condition.

      This also is creating a return to demand for a suburban lifestyle where the reduced necessity to be near the office will result in people wanting less densification. Just as epidemics in the past often led to people moving out of urban settings the current pandemic is driving similar behavior and migration patterns with people getting out of the Bay Area. Many are going to want to come here but we are living in the past and instead of figuring out how to build the infrastructure of the future and welcoming them we are putting our head in the sand and our fingers in the dyke (to use mixed metaphors) guaranteeing continuing the development battles of the past 30 years instead of envisioning a future that is healthier and more welcoming for all.

      1. Alan Miller

        This will create opportunities for people to live healthier lifestyles both individually and and environmentally with less time spent in cars, busses, trains and planes #snip# thereby decreasing our carbon footprint.

        Not necessarily so.  Car sales are skyrocketing as people see them as individual safe spaces, and some freeways are actually more crowded now than pre-pandemic due to people driving instead of using public transit.  With their new cars and patterns, a recovery could lead to even worse traffic.  In addition, as you say there is disbursement of population, which could lead to a revival of the country Mcmansion phenomenon, as people seek large houses in country settings where they can live and have a large work space.  These are often placed on country roads that don’t have maintenance budgets for the increased traffic, and involved long hauls into town that can’t be replaced with public transit.  There may be some of what you envision, but the effects of the pandemic will also have a negative environmental affect, and where the balance lands is anyone’s guess at this point.

    1. Matt Williams

      Don, by law municipal jurisdictions like Davis can not include expenses that exceed revenues in its Budget.  What you do not see in the Budget numbers you have shared above are the dollars for failure to complete necessary maintenance of the City’s capital infrastructure (roads, bikeways, greenbelts and buildings/facilities).  That “deferred” maintenance shortfall (funding gap) was reported by Bob Leland to the Finance and Budget Commission in January 2020 to be $258 million between now and the end of FY 2038 … over $13 million a year each year.

      The COVID Update provided to the Finance and Budget Commission two months ago, Property Tax revenues have held firm.  Sales Tax losses due to decreased restaurant and retail business has been offset by increases in sales taxes on cannabis sales.  reductions in Transient Occupancy Taxes from hotels have been offset by increases in Cannabis taxes (over and above sales taxes).  Bottom-line we are doing surprisingly well.  Our incredibly anemic retail sales tax revenues as a starting point helped in that they really couldn’t go much lower than they already were.

Leave a Reply

X Close

Newsletter Sign-Up

X Close

Monthly Subscriber Sign-Up

Enter the maximum amount you want to pay each month
$ USD
Sign up for