By David M. Greenwald
Davis, CA – One of the points I have been trying to make over at least the last month is that important voices from our community have been absent the discussions on housing and growth—and I think that is to the detriment of the process.
My commentary from earlier this week on whether Davis is a bedroom community generated some very interesting discussion that deserves to be fleshed out a bit more.
Tim Keller made some astute observations.
Responding to another commenter, he said, “We don’t disagree THAT much I don’t think. And I don’t think that you and David are too far from agreement either… He is only saying that we aren’t a bedroom community in the ‘classic sense,’ and you rightly point out that there are a LOT of people who DO indeed use Davis as a bedroom community. I think both positions are right, at least, as I understand them.”
I think that point is largely correct. With UC Davis effectively attached to Davis, Davis is not the classic bedroom community where there is literally no big industry. UC Davis is the regional big industry and people can literally walk to work from Davis.
But my point was not meant to suggest that there are not many who do use Davis as a bedroom community. My argument for quite some time has been to point out that (a) Davis lacks housing for a lot of employees, especially staff, at UC Davis, and (b) Davis lacks employment opportunities for people who live in town and don’t work at the university.
Matt Williams is more correct to use this as a cautionary tale—that we have in fact created a de facto vision that creates at least a partial bedroom community effect. (I parse that as carefully as I can here).
As he quotes from Don Shor: “In a series of votes over a few decades, the voters of Davis have made their vision clear.”
— They want to constrain the physical size of the city.
— They want to restrict the growth rate of housing in the city (“grow as slowly as legally possible”).
— They want to have direct approval over most, if not all, major development projects.
— If they approve a project, it has to check a lot of boxes and benefit a demographic they feel positive about (seniors yes, students not so much unless they’re totally away from all other housing).
— It is also likely, based on the few projects that have come forward, that densification is going to be very contentious.
As he asks: “Is there any real question in peoples’ minds about what vision Davis residents have for the city, and how big they want it to be? It seems that Davis voters want Davis to retain its character (which means ‘like it was when I moved here’) and be as small as possible. They don’t want to be inconvenienced by the traffic generated by other people moving here.”
The danger of course is that, by limiting the size of Davis, we are in fact changing the community because the population is shifting older—away from child rearing stages, it is becoming more expensive, etc.
That leads me back to Tim Keller.
He makes six points in his comment worth fleshing out further:
1) There are people who can afford to live in Davis, but work elsewhere, and to the extent they bring money into our city economy that is a good thing.
2) There are people who retire here for a variety of reasons, and so long as they spend their money in our local economy, that is also good.
3) There are people who work here who can’t find housing here and to the extent that they take THAT economic activity outside of town, that is a loss for us.
4) The traffic produced by people who work outside of town is a negative for everyone, as is the traffic produced by the people who come to town from outside. We can’t really do anything about the former, but we CAN do something about the latter.
5) There are people who both live and work here in town who do shopping outside of town because we have under-developed our retail sector. This is also a loss for us.
6) There are companies that start here that cannot stay here because of a lack of commercial real estate. If they set up shop elsewhere, we miss out on their sales taxes which is also a loss for us. They will also employ people who do not live in this city and we thus also miss out on the secondary benefits of their economic contribution.
And as Matt Williams would and has argued, the consequence for this vision in part is that the community lacks the resources and the finances to be able to meet basic levels of service and, if that continues, it will induce additional tax burdens that will make this community even less affordable.
Tim Keller concludes: “So… I think that the answer is that we need to plan for balanced growth across the board. I for one would like to see it be VERY deliberate, well planned, and if possible, very high density. We can’t just do one kind of growth without considering the balance of other kinds of growth, nor can we do one of them ‘first’ and absolutely, positively, we cannot let ‘no growth’ even be on the table.”
One thing interesting is the use of balanced growth with “very high density.”
The key questions that we will have to answer, and perhaps less so in 2021 (although we should) while more so in 2028—how do we grow, how much do we grow and where do we put that growth?
Tim Keller argues that we cannot let “no growth” even be on the table. I think it is on the table at least in theory, and we need to have a discussion of what no growth actually would mean and what those consequences are.
The bigger question—what does that look like and how can we forge a community discussion that brings in all sorts of viewpoints to have a fair discussion on these issues?
—David M. Greenwald reporting
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