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
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