Guest Commentary: Davis Needs a New Perspective On Growth

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by Tim Keller

In Davis, we seem to be always having the same debate: “Should we approve this one project? – Or should we not grow at all? “

This is a rut that we are stuck in, and we need to break free and see the bigger picture.

Not only is cohesive city planning almost impossible when you manage growth project-by-project, but this framing of the debate misses the bigger picture.. We have let the “no-growth” crowd define the conversation for so long through opposition to each individual project that it has rendered any notion of proactive and coordinated city growth almost unthinkable.

Let me suggest the alternative conversation we should be having: “How big should Davis be?”

There is room for a variety of opinions as we have that discussion, but I think the value of debating growth in that context is that it forces us to look at some fundamentals, and when you do that, you suddenly cant ignore the elephant in the room: Which is that Davis is severely under-developed by every metric, and that a proactive development boom is in fact, urgently needed.

Yes, I know that I probably just caused a certain small minority of readers to spit out their coffee, and angrily reach for their keyboards, but it cannot be denied. Davis is empirically much smaller than it should be, and it’s hurting all of us in a number of ways.

Every town’s economy is dictated by the primary industries that bring jobs and money into that town, that money is then spent in town, and generates secondary and tertiary jobs via a multiplier effect. At the most basic level, we can say that the purpose of any city is to supply housing, retail, entertainment, commercial and civil services, sufficient for it’s primary industry. This is the minimum of what we should expect from a City.

Let’s assume that for Davis, the only industry we have is the University. Of course, this isn’t true. As a research university we also have a secondary economy of R&D and startup technology companies that are created by the research activity on-campus. I have dedicated a big chunk of my professional career to making Davis a hospitable place for these startup companies. But for the sake of simplicity, let’s ignore that secondary industry and say that the purpose of the city of Davis is only to provide a community around the university, its staff, faculty and students.

If that was the case, then how big should the City of Davis be, based on the number of “jobs” brought here by the University?

UCD employs 16,000 faculty and staff, and there are 38,000 students. The jobs multiplier put out by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) states that “Educational services” create 1.9 secondary jobs for each primary one. Students will have a lesser effect on the secondary economy since they probably spend less money per capita in the local economy, so let’s put their multiplier at 1.

If you do this math, you come pretty quickly to a ballpark answer to our question: How big should Davis be? Answer: 124,000 people.

How big is Davis now? 68,000.

Does anyone wonder why housing is so expensive? The natural demand from our primary industry is more than twice our current capacity. No wonder why recent surveys have shown that 75% of people who work in Davis have to commute in from outside, a metric which itself indicates that Davis should be as much as four times its current size.

This thought experiment should be shocking to you. It was to me when I worked through the numbers for myself. It shows pretty clearly that as a city, we are failing to provide for the needs of the University community in a dramatic way.

I also think that looking at “right sizing” our city from this perspective should affect our approach to the issue of affordable housing. This is not a problem we can address by approving a handful more high-density, low-income housing complexes; we have a very basic problem of supply and demand. Growth is needed across the board.

We must stop letting our development discussion get bogged down into project by project debates, and stop letting the very vocal (but also very small) minority in this town drag us down into minutiae.

Davis needs a building boom, and that is a good thing! It gives us an opportunity to plan something amazing, something sustainable, something that is true to our shared values of sustainability. “Development” does not necessarily mean “sprawl” and we know that higher housing density is much greener than simply extending the carpet of single family homes out to the horizon.

Personally, I would love to see Davis achieve this growth largely through densification: Growing more up than out. We also must re-invite the developers of the Mace Boulevard innovation park to re-apply, and that development should also be a highly dense, “business district” without caps on building height, or requirements for open space, and a focus on efficient transit linked to the rest of the city.

People have proposed a light rail system for our city, only to find that it doesn’t pencil out. What makes the nicer transit options like that work economically? Density. But we can’t plan for density like that when we are working project by project against constant nimbyism.

We are Davis. We can do something amazing, sustainable, attractive, and valuable in the long term – especially if we engage this future with a cohesive strategy for growth that incorporates our shared desires for sustainability and our city’s “bike-able” legacy.

Of course, those are my ideas, I’m sure there are other great ones out there too, and I look forward to having those conversations. But the first step is to agree to look at our situation differently. The time for debating if Davis should grow at all is long gone. We can disagree about how big we should grow to, but the fact that Davis MUST grow deliberately and significantly is increasingly hard to ignore. I look forward to debating just how much.

Tim Keller is founder of Inventopia – a non-profit incubator, co-lab and Co-Working space in Davis.


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57 thoughts on “Guest Commentary: Davis Needs a New Perspective On Growth”

  1. Edgar Wai

    Laws I can get behind (these are all anti landlording/rent seeking laws):

    1. Increase city control of UCD housing development decision. (I judge that UCD is currently in debt to the city, so much that the city shall be allowed to command UCD to build housing.)

    2. City to acquire housing and award them (on term bases) based on scholarship or city employment status per term. (This is like dorms for the city. If you want to live there you have to be working in the city and not owning any other property. This is not aimed as low income housing even if it is free.)

    3. Eliminated all non publicly owned apartment complexes. (Require apartment units to be publicly owned.)

    4. Forbid anyone who owns properties elsewhere (in the world) to own property in the city. Forbid owning multiple properties in the city as long as there is still waitlisted people wanting to own their only property in the city.

    5. State wide: compute source and destinations of migrants, adjust funding/grants/jurisdiction/city boundary according to which city provided hospitality to them.

    6. Allow a parcel owner to densify or sub divide their parcel.

    7. State-wide: Allow people to charter a new city of there are enough people pledging to move their as their only residence. Let them define the style, and give them land proportional to the number of backers.

  2. Ron Oertel

    16,000 jobs = 16,000 people (assuming that none of them live in cheaper, nearby places – which are continuing to sprawl at this moment – regardless of what Davis does.)

    16,000 jobs X 1.9 “multiplier” effect = 30,400 people.  (Does this multiplier effect, if it’s even correct, assume that all of those jobs are in the adjacent city?  Davis, in this case?  Also, how many of those jobs are low-wage?)

    38,000 students = 38,000 people.  (Of course, none of them on campus in this model.)

    38,000 students X 1 “multiplier” effect = another 38,000 people.  (This multiplier effect was pulled straight from the netherlands.)
    ——————————————————————————————————-

    Another way to look at it:

    16,000 UCD jobs = 16,000 people.   (Assuming that they all seek housing in Davis.)

    38,000 students (half of whom live on campus).  So, 19,000 in the city.

    35,000 total people. 

    (Given that the city’s population is about 68,000, it seems like there’s a bunch of Davis residents working elsewhere, such as Sacramento.  Those people should apparently move there, according to Tim’s model.  And about half of the city’s housing stock can then be torn down.)

    1. Tim Keller Post author

      No, it’s 1 campus job creates an ADDITIONAL 1.9 jobs.   The formula is not x * 1.9 which is what you did.  It is x+(x*1.9).   My assumption of a 1 multiplier was pretty conservative.  There are NO categories from the institute where one person coming into a community to live and work etc, create more than 1.2 additional jobs.

      But I think you understand that Ron.

  3. Ronald Andersen

    This is a nice article, thanks!

    I grew up in Davis. For the past 10 years, I’ve lived around the world, but I come back each summer to visit family. Over time, my perceptions of Davis have really changed. Davis still has a lot of nice things, but in many ways it feels increasingly dated. For instance, there are beautiful parks and greenbelts, but they’re often empty because of low housing density and the small number of families. There’s a nice bus system, but it’s hard to use because there are no electronic payments. There are great off-street bike paths, but also lots of dangerous, unprotected bike lanes that work only because Davis drivers are reasonably considerate. It’s a big contrast with the town where I currently live (a Davis-like college town in Florida). There, people are starting from a much worse baseline, but are rapidly working to improve things. That town’s population is also about twice that of Davis.

    The solution is increased density. We should allow duplexes and town-houses, we should get rid of parking minimums, and we should add apartments downtown and in every strip mall. If we’re worried about traffic, we should do easy things like boosting the bus system and adding protected bike lanes. We should also push the state for light rail. Ideally, we would have a loop that follows the existing railway tracks and connects Davis, West Sac, Sac, and Woodland. We could have three stops in Davis, one by the Cannery, one downtown, and one by Target / Mace. This would bring students into Davis, make it easier to get around Davis, and make it easy to commute into downtown Sac. The line will be particularly useful as Sac builds out its railyards development into a second downtown.

    A lot of people have said we should hold off on changes until we see the effects of COVID / remote work. The thing is, remote work is likely to make people want more density. People need human interaction. If you’re working at home all day on your computer, you want to be able to go outside and see other people on the sidewalk and in the park. You want a coffee shop nearby where you can hang out for a bit. You want to be able to take the bus, rather than being stuck all alone in your car. These forms of “light interaction” are things that you can only get with density.

    Anyway, I’m headed back to Florida soon. But I really hope Davis makes use of the moment and fixes its bad housing laws. Our goal should be to build a good future, not to feebly cling to the past.

    1. Alan Miller

      Davis still has a lot of nice things, but in many ways it feels increasingly dated.

      Dated nice things.  Got it.

      For instance, there are beautiful parks and greenbelts, but they’re often empty because of low housing density and the small number of families.

      Ah, for old days of more families and higher density.

      There’s a nice bus system, but it’s hard to use because there are no electronic payments.

      It’s “nice”.  The electronic fare system is fairly easy to correct.

      The solution is increased density.

      I see you are a fan of increased density.

      We should allow duplexes and town-houses, we should get rid of parking minimums, and we should add apartments downtown and in every strip mall.

      Sounds like the standard ‘developers wish list’.

      If we’re worried about traffic, we should do easy things like boosting the bus system and adding protected bike lanes.

      Agree on the protected bike lanes, though not sure exactly what you advocating.  As for buses, seriously, how many people does anyone know who gets around town by bus, and if they do, like it?  And the cure is what, fast pod-buses that go directly to where you are going?  That’s called Uber.

      We should also push the state for light rail.

      Cuz of all the small towns with low density and little potential for ridership, the state is going to pour billions into Davis for an unjustifiable solution.

      Ideally, we would have a loop that follows the existing railway tracks and connects Davis, West Sac, Sac, and Woodland.

      That’s beautiful.  No matter the existing ridership, pre-Covid, was low on existing trains that take 13 minutes to get from Sacramento to Davis, while the light rail would wind through West Sac and take closer to 1/2-hour.

      We could have three stops in Davis, one by the Cannery, one downtown, and one by Target / Mace.

      Perfect, if you want to get from Ikeda’s to the Cannery.  Hey it could connect to the trolley to West Village.  Has anyone priced a double track electrified rail bridge over the Yolo Causeway recently?  And if a loop that’s TWO bridges to get back to Sac from Woodland.

      This would bring students into Davis, make it easier to get around Davis, and make it easy to commute into downtown Sac.

      It’s already easy.  Take the Capitol Corridor.  Much faster than the light rail will ever be, by double, or if on a budget take an express Yolo Bus.

      The line will be particularly useful as Sac builds out its railyards development into a second downtown.

      Railyards: another subsidized developer’s heaven.

      A lot of people have said we should hold off on changes until we see the effects of COVID / remote work.

      Yeah, let’s jump forward not knowing – much better idea.

      The thing is, remote work is likely to make people want more density. People need human interaction. If you’re working at home all day on your computer, you want to be able to go outside and see other people on the sidewalk and in the park.

      You more likely will want to build a McMansion in a farm field, so you don’t have to listen to the sub-woofers of one of your a-hole neighbors.

      You want a coffee shop nearby where you can hang out for a bit.

      I’ll grant you that one.

      You want to be able to take the bus,

      Everyone’s dream.  Is that your dream, sir?

      rather than being stuck all alone in your car.

      Yeah, I’d so much rather walk to the bus stop, wait for my bus, get on a bus with bus people so I’m not alone in my car, and then walk to where I need to go – the DREAM.  Or I could bike, drive or take an Uber and go exactly where I meant to go.  Oh dream bus, take me from near my home to somewhat near where I am going, every half-hour during some of the day but never on Sundays!

      These forms of “light interaction” are things that you can only get with density.

      Yeah, I forgot what joy riding the bus in San Francisco and New York is.

      Anyway, I’m headed back to Florida soon.

      Bye

      But I really hope Davis makes use of the moment and fixes its bad housing laws.

      Everybody say “yeah”.

      Our goal should be to build a good future, not to feebly cling to the past.

      What if we held on tightly to the past instead?  “Feebly clinging” has such a negative tone!

    2. Ron Glick

      “The solution is increased density.”

      That is one solution. Spreading out and annexing land along the periphery of the city is another.

      1. Bill Marshall

        Spreading out and annexing land along the periphery of the city is another.

        True story… I believe the two focus areas should be the land under ‘the Mace Curve’, and much (if not all of) of the area known as “Covell Village”… many of the soils in the latter, are ‘alkaline’… the area under the Mace Curve, has good soils… both are not “great” for Ag… one for soils, the other due to size… a third is ‘Wildhorse Ranch’…

        Utilities would be relatively simple… transportation access (transit/motor vehicle/bicycle/pedestrian, very good… look at a map/aerial… filling in the blanks, connecting the dots (pick your analogy)… a lot of land for whatever purpose… housing, tech, commercial, whatever… Davis would still be ‘compact’, yet not be super-expensive to develop… those 3 sites are “the missing links”… they should be priorities… under any timeline… 5-10-15-20 years…

         

         

  4. Alan Miller

    UCD employs 16,000 faculty and staff, and there are 38,000 students. The jobs multiplier put out by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) states that “Educational services” create 1.9 secondary jobs for each primary one. Students will have a lesser effect on the secondary economy since they probably spend less money per capita in the local economy, so let’s put their multiplier at 1.  If you do this math, you come pretty quickly to a ballpark answer to our question: How big should Davis be? Answer: 124,000 people.  How big is Davis now? 68,000.

    Yeah that totally made sense.  Why hasn’t anyone else ever connected the dots of using the size of the university and a multiplier to ‘pretty quickly’ determine the optimal size of Davis as double what it is now?  Um, because that logic is as brilliant as stealing $1040 from a safe overnight to give a loan to one’s mistress . . .

    No wonder why recent surveys have shown that 75% of people who work in Davis have to commute in from outside, a metric which itself indicates that Davis should be as much as four times its current size.

    . . . . . and putting it back the next morning even though it would show up in the audit.  So initially you calculated that Davis should currently be twice as big as it is, but by your new calculation Davis should currently be four times as big as it is – thus 272,000 people.  You should offer your services as the Vanguard statistician.

    This thought experiment should be shocking to you.

    Shocking in that we had such a Housing Einstein in town that could have determined the size of Davis for us, and we ignored this brilliant number cruncher for so many years until today’s premiere.

    It was to me when I worked through the numbers for myself.

    Genius does tend to self-shock itself.

    It shows pretty clearly that as a city, we are failing to provide for the needs of the University community in a dramatic way.

    Because providing for the needs of the ‘University community’ is the mission and sacrifice of all Davis citizens.

    We must stop letting our development discussion get bogged down into project by project debates, and stop letting the very vocal (but also very small) minority in this town drag us down into minutiae.

    Please propose your solution to stop letting people with opinions speak, oppose or sue.  That is legal, that is.

    Davis needs a building boom, and that is a good thing!

    Call it a good thing, and like the Pied Piper, the people of Davis will follow you off the edge of the Earth, which is about half way to Woodland.

    It gives us an opportunity to plan something amazing, something sustainable, something that is true to our shared values of sustainability.

    Many may share the ‘value’ of ‘sustainability’ (a non-defined buzzword that can mean whatever one wants it to mean), but they may value very different so-called sustainability values, that is other than growing the City instantly to 272,000.

    “Development” does not necessarily mean “sprawl” and we know that higher housing density is much greener than simply extending the carpet of single family homes out to the horizon.

    And yet we approved Bretton Woods.

    Personally, I would love to see Davis achieve this growth largely through densification: Growing more up than out.

    Would be interesting to do some “math” to “come pretty quickly to a ballpark answer to our question” on how tall these ‘higher housing density’ buildings would have to be, and cover how much of the city they would have to cover, to reach 272,000 people.  But I’m sure our Housing Einstein will have an answer by morning, on the flip side of a knapkin.

    We also must re-invite the developers of the Mace Boulevard innovation park to re-apply,

    We must!

    and that development should also be a highly dense,

    It should!

    “business district” without caps on building height,

    No caps on height!

    or requirements for open space,

    I think the word you were looking for was “nor” . . .  so . . .

    No required (thus no) open space!

    and a focus on efficient transit linked to the rest of the city.

    Yeah, transit (buses), for everyone else to ride.  (Because no one actually likes riding a bus around Davis unless they normally ride a bike and it’s raining.)

    People have proposed a light rail system for our city,

    Stupid people.  And, really, have they?  Please show me that map.

    only to find that it doesn’t pencil out.

    That’s an understatement.

    What makes the nicer transit options like that work economically? Density.

    True dat.  Though it still wouldn’t ‘pencil out’ in Davis unless you had density of Singaporian heft.

    But we can’t plan for density like that when we are working project by project against constant nimbyism.

    Used a pejorative – neener, neener!  I don’t think anyone has every proposed planning for density for 272,000 people in Davis, and no one (but you) ever will.

    We are Davis.

    Last I checked.

    We can do something amazing, sustainable, attractive, and valuable . . .

    Break out the cheerleading squad . . . break out Barry Broome!

    in the long term –

    Long term?  I thought you said Davis needed to be two times to four times larger than we are today!?!!!

    especially if we engage this future with a cohesive strategy for growth that incorporates our shared desires for sustainability

    Say ‘shared sustainability’, and the hypnotized masses will follow  😐

    and our city’s “bike-able” legacy.

    Biking between the cold, dark winter shadows of 37-story skyscrapers has never been my view of a ‘sustainable Davis’.

    Dearest Readers . . . . .  How about YOU?

    1. Matt Williams

      Stupid people.  And, really, have they?  Please show me that map.

      .
      September 20, 2018 presentation to the Downtown Plan Advisory Committee (DPAC).  The presentation materials and route map can be viewed at this LINK

      https://www.davisvanguard.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/Screen-Shot-2021-06-05-at-1.17.56-PM.png 
      https://www.davisvanguard.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/Screen-Shot-2021-06-05-at-1.16.57-PM.png 

      1. Alan Miller

        Thanks, Matt.   I must admit I’m “shocked” that I never heard of this idea.  Must have missed that DPAC meeting – I would have torn this idea to shreads. This also is NOT a Davis light rail system, this is a trolley that is 85% on campus and does little for Davis residents at all (unless you live downtown and are going to visit a student friend in West Village, and don’t have a bike — because you could probably get there faster on a bike).

        This is a half-baked idea at best, and I can’t imagine the University ever considering this.  Is this even supposed to be a rail trolley, or just a trolley bus?   And what is that yellow “ViadUCD” leg going over the freeway?  Was that just put on there so someone could make a clever pun with an acroynm?”.  Short legs and splits like that are not built – they are doomed to failure.  This whole thing involves two heavy bridges over freeways.  And what’s the point of that yellow leg – to get to the ‘Research Park’.  There’s very little there there, and no one would ever call that dense.  And why not just walk through the pedestrian tunnel and save all that money on some new bridge in virtually the same place?

        This idea will never see the light of day.  What even was the purpose of proposing it?  Well, I suppose if our population increases to over 272,000 and there’s a 62-story building build at “Research Park” it’s possible this will be built.

    2. Tim Keller Post author

      Hey Alan,

      While you certainly did an excellent job living up to my expectations for snarky comments and snide dismissive insults, I couldn’t help but notice you failed to provide any alternative vision for how big Davis should be.

      Can you put forward a better vision for what we should do as a city?  Can you answer my question in a more rational way?  Are you willing to take a position and hear the critiques thereof?

      Simply saying NO while offering no valid alternatives only makes you a Troll.  So if you have some better ideas, let’s hear them!

      Otherwise, if you don’t want to live in a town that needs to accommodate the growth of a world class University that it hosts,  Then I invite you to move to Dixon or Winters.  They are both really quite nice.   I’ll help take up a collection for the U-Haul.

  5. Ron Oertel

    From the article two days ago:

    Tim Keller:  The woodland park you mention, and most commercial real estate in general, is a VERY different animal by comparison.   Commercial real estate like that is a mis-match for companies in their earliest stages.  They dont have revenue yet, they have zero credit, and they have no place signing a multi-year lease. 

    From today’s article:

    Tim Keller:  We also must re-invite the developers of the Mace Boulevard innovation park to re-apply . . .

    It seems that both of these animals (as you describe it) are the “same species”.  And, one of these animals high-tailed it to Woodland from Davis, adding 1,600 housing units in the process.  (And unlike a couple of local bears, it didn’t get hit on the freeway during that move.)

    By the way, would you care to calculate the “multiplier effect” (in terms of additional housing demand) that either of these would create?  In the case of Woodland, it appears that they think 1,600 housing units is about right.  (Or, perhaps that’s what it takes to make it “pencil out”.)

     

    1. Tim Keller Post author

      Happy to explain:  For the high-tech companies that I work with, they come here to use our local talent.  That is, they come here to hire people who already live here.

      The reason why I want the DISC project to come back is because they committed to building ( on spec!) 50,000 square feet of lab space which could be sold in small amounts to the startup companies.

      By contrast, I have seen the representative for the woodland part declare exactly the opposite:  ” we are not building anything on spec, so long as you have good credit we will build what you need ”

      VERY different animals, and the difference is NOT trivial.   When you are a researcher (already in davis mind you ) who gets a SBIR loan, you have a month or so to get set up and start working.   Building, or even outfitting a lab like that in that amount of time, for a grant that is ~1 year in duration… is just a non-starter for most commercial landlords.

       

      1. Bill Marshall

        You have a perspective that most “jaspers” lack, Tim K… you’ve ‘been there, done that’, compared to many “arm-chair quarterbacks”…

        Thank you for sharing the “real-world” perspective…

      2. Ron Oertel

        The reason why I want the DISC project to come back is because they committed to building ( on spec!) 50,000 square feet of lab space which could be sold in small amounts to the startup companies.

        By contrast, I have seen the representative for the woodland part declare exactly the opposite:  ”we are not building anything on spec, so long as you have good credit we will build what you need”.

        VERY different animals, and the difference is NOT trivial.   When you are a researcher (already in davis mind you ) who gets a SBIR loan, you have a month or so to get set up and start working.   Building, or even outfitting a lab like that in that amount of time, for a grant that is ~1 year in duration… is just a non-starter for most commercial landlords.

        The woodland park you mention, and most commercial real estate in general, is a VERY different animal by comparison.  Commercial real estate like that is a mismatch for companies in their earliest stages.  They don’t have revenue yet, they have zero credit, and they have no place signing a multi-year lease.  The way woodland park is positioned, it is only for established, profitable companies who are looking to expand.

        I’m sensing a pattern, regarding a renewed DISC effort (in regard to a couple of Vanguard articles, at this point).  Is that true?  Given that there’s no current proposal, have they privately promised you 50,000 square as part of another effort, with hopes that you’ll actively start campaigning for it again?   And, how much space do you actually need? And, how would the amount you hope for compare to another DISC proposal (in its entirety)? How much space do you currently occupy?

        For that matter, how “soon” would they actually be able to deliver that space to you, if they’re successful with a rematch campaign?  Note that the Woodland development still hasn’t broken ground, years after failing in Davis (and adding 1,600 housing units in the process).

        Since you’re acknowledging that the companies you provide space for are generally high-risk, unprofitable, generally share space (and don’t require that much space to begin with) why is the DISC developer (apparently) willing to lease space to you at what I would assume to be a loss for already-equipped (and expensive) lab space?

        How is it that a brand-new facility would be “cheaper” for you and your clients, when they can’t even fill a heavily-subsidized, non-profit lab such as the one cited in the following article (from which one of the quotes above is sourced)?

        https://www.davisvanguard.org/2021/06/yocha-dehe-lab-opens-in-woodland-already-half-full/

        Are you actually suggesting that you “can’t find” an existing space that’s suitable for the amount that you need? If so, let’s take a tour, and (even I) can probably find a bunch of potential sites for you – in Davis alone, before we move on to the vast, unoccupied, cheap commercial areas in nearby cities that would probably bend-over backwards to accommodate you and your small company.  And then, perhaps you can explain why “this site is too cold”, “this site is too hot”, etc.

        Here’s a link to your website, which notes that you provide “Affordable R&D Startup Space“, and that you’re searching for others in your quest to expand.

        https://www.inventopia.org

        https://form.123formbuilder.com/2962526?wwwNgRedir

        How long have you been actively searching for partners in this quest?  And would those partners be assisting you in advocating for DISC?  Where were they during the last campaign?

        Yes, we have some no-growth extremists, (and I have to admit that I take guilty pleasure in seeing their feathers ruffled by my post.)

        In contrast to you, I take unabashed pleasure and satisfaction at seeing developers of ill-advised, harmful proposals outspending their opponents 20-1 in campaigns, and still lose.

        1. Alan Miller

          Excellent post RO.  Very “drilly”.

          [re:]  no-growth extremists . . . I have to admit that I take guilty pleasure in seeing their feathers ruffled by my post.

           

          I take unabashed pleasure and satisfaction at seeing developers . . .  lose.

          Davis politics in a nutshell . . . and . . . scene!

        2. Tim Keller Post author

          So many questions, I will try to respond efficiently…

          The DISC campaign told me that if the proposal didnt pass last year, the partners behind that project were “done” and were not going to come back.   I’m hoping that is NOT the case, and that if we invite them to re-apply, they will consider doing so.    It worked for Nishi, although it was extremely disappointing when that came back as “just housing”

          So no, they have made no promises to me, but as I was engaging them on behalf of the startup community in the last cycle, they DID agree to make the project inclusive to startups, so I know that they at least understand the nature of the problem and the demand in this town.

          As for your questions about why i cant use what you think is an abundance of space in town, the short answer is that actual lab space is expensive to build, so much so that the only way I have been able to economicaly grow inventopia has been by taking over existing lab spaces, and even then, I have had to find groups of startups who have similar timing and can join forces to occupy a shared space together.   If you think it is simple, and potential space is abundant, it’s only because you don’t actually understand the nature of the problem.

          That said the startup incubator space part of the issue is in fact only part of it.  Every company starts out as a money-losing, very fragile entity, and with time and work, they can develop their product and grow, and attract investment, and then customers.. and economic stability comes gradually with that time.

          I have been successful in providing a home for these early stage entities, but there is still a severe shortage of adequate commercial space in this town.   I have one tenant who is working on an environmental technology for the dairy industry who needs a medium sized commercial space with 480v power… there is exactly NONE of that in this town.

          So I am continually looking for new properties AND new tenants to fill those properties.   In my next phase I’m going to be focusing on creating flexible space for companies who are a little more mature, but who still need well equipped space quickly and for whom the conventional real estate model does not work.   We are developing an ecosystemm for the startups that the university creates, and it takes time.   Most research universities of UC davis’ scale have innovation centers that are on the order of 200,000 square feet.  Im not stoping until Davis has that as well.

        3. Ron Oertel

          So many questions, I will try to respond efficiently…

          Those are the type of questions that should arise, whenever anyone advocates for a massive farmland-sacrificing, traffic-generating, sprawling development adjacent to a freeway, with several thousand parking spaces.  Which would generate more demand for housing (even beyond what was proposed), if the commercial component was actually viable.

          Perhaps you shouldn’t be talking about “housing shortages” and “greenhouse gasses”, while simultaneously advocating for something like DISC.

          You and David seem to think the definition of “space” includes fully-equipped (subsidized) labs.  Of course you would advocate for DISC, if you believe that they will provide that for you – when no one else logically would.  (Well, other than the half-empty, heavily subsidized site in Woodland that was recently discussed on here, and which existed well-before it moved to Woodland.)

          https://www.davisvanguard.org/2021/06/yocha-dehe-lab-opens-in-woodland-already-half-full/

          (I’m a half-empty kind of guy, so that’s how I’d describe it.)

          How about answering just this:  How much lab space does your company currently occupy?

          I’m not stopping until Davis has that as well.

          I’m not, either.  So, we may have a long, continuing war ahead of us.

          The DISC campaign told me that if the proposal didn’t pass last year, the partners behind that project were “done” and were not going to come back.

          Let’s hope so.  I like it just the way it is.

          1. David Greenwald

            “You and David seem to think the definition of “space” includes fully-equipped (subsidized) labs. ”

            I believe we are talking about available lab space – that a start up could move into now. You’re the one adding “subsidized” – as Tim pointed out, all start ups need some sort of funding to get underway. That’s why they have things like venture capital.

        4. Ron Oertel

          I believe we are talking about available lab space – that a start up could move into now.

          Yeah – that’s pretty different than the definition of “available space”.

          To demonstrate the importance of the difference (which you are just now clarifying), I suspect that in all of Houston, Phoenix, Dallas, and Las Vegas (cities with lots of “space”), there’s very little unused/existing lab space sitting around, waiting for mad scientists with no money to show up.

  6. Matt Williams

    Tim Keller is essentially asking the question that should be at the very beginning of any General Plan … the Vision StatementWhat does the City of Davis want to be in 20 years?

    The current General Plan passed in 2001 and updated in 2007 does not have a Vision Statement.  It gives anyone reading it no guidance on what the City of Davis wants to be.  It does have “Section III Visions” which contains 35 different statements (in 15 separate categories) that are really not visions, but rather community values.  In the words of the introductory sentence in the Plan,  “They are intended to convey purpose and mission and are not necessarily attainable now or in the foreseeable future. The vision statements set the tone for the goals, policies, and actions.” Bottom-line, the City of Davis has no Vision … and has not had a Vision for over 20 years. In effect we have been a rudderless ship that has simply gone where the currents and the winds on the seas have taken us.

    What does the City of Davis want to be in 20 years?

    One way to approach that question is to describe what the City of Davis is now.
    — One resident told me last week that “Davis is a university town that can no longer afford (financially) to be a university town”
    A past chair of the Finance and Budget Commission has described Davis as “A town that has promised itself a very high level of community services and amenities, but hasn’t stepped forward with sufficient funds to pay for its promises.”
    The US Census data, which shows (A) that 83% of the City Davis residents commute to their jobs outside the City Limits, and (B) that the daytime population of the City of Davis is 20,000 people smaller than the nighttime population, appears to be saying that the City of Davis is a bedroom community with university and retirement community influences where the vast majority of people with jobs commute to those jobs outside the City Limits.

    What do you think the City of Davis currently is?  How do you describe it to  others?

  7. 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.

    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.

    “…but the fact that Davis MUST grow deliberately and significantly is increasingly hard to ignore.”

    I’d say at least 40% of the resident population, or at least the voters, clearly disagree with you. It is likeliest at this point that such growth, significant or otherwise, will be imposed on the city by market forces or by the state.

    1. Ron Oertel

      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).

      Seems rather ironic, coming from a guy who is part of the development team for student housing at Nishi.  And it remains to be seen whether or not that site was sacrificed without counting toward RHNA requirements.  Too bad that the city wasn’t warned about that possibility, in advance.  (Oh, wait – they were, as was the case with all of the other megadorms that the city has approved.)

       

      1. David Greenwald

        ‘ that site was sacrificed ’

        Kind of a telling comment right here we are building much needed student housing and you referred to the site is being sacrificed as though it were a sacrificial lamb to some sort of religious ceremony.

        1. Ron Oertel

          SACOG may not consider it a “city need”.  Perhaps your argument is with them, rather than the folks who have advocated for more housing on campus.

          [edited]
          In any case, even students don’t seem to like “group housing”, as demonstrated by the sold-out studios and 1-bedrooms at Sterling (despite the price). While “group housing” is still available there.

          1. David Greenwald

            My argument is with you and your characterization of student housing as a sacrifice.

        2. Ron Oertel

          It’s pretty obvious that these sites could have been used to meet other needs (which would address RHNA requirements), as well.  Without precluding students.

          Of course, student housing is also (ultimately) a fiscal sacrifice, but so is a lot of other housing.

          But with student housing, you get a “two-fer” loss (possible RHNA and fiscal sacrifice).

          Why are you asking questions that I’ve already responded to?

          Of course, UCD precludes all others (who aren’t students) in their student housing.

          This is my fifth and last comment for today, in this article.

          [edited]

          1. David Greenwald

            That of course presumes that the goal is to address RHNA requirements rather than find ways to fill housing needs. My primary consideration is to find ways to fill our housing needs.

    2. Matt Williams

      Don, each of those actions is not a de-jure Vision statement, but taken together they do add up to a de-facto vision.  So, you and I are in agreement as to what the history tells us.

      The part of the history that your list does not include is what the consequences are that have arisen as a result of that history.  That is where the past-Chair of the FBC’s statement is illuminating … “Davis is a town that has promised itself a very high level of community services and amenities, but hasn’t stepped forward with sufficient funds to pay for its promises.”

      Said another way, the City’s periodic financial statements clearly show that for the next 20 years the City’s revenues fall short of the City’s costs of operation by more than $13 million per year.  That is a quarter of a million dollars of unfunded liabilities!  Those are the consequences are that have arisen as a result of the historical decisions you have listed.  Somehow, we need to figure out a way to pay for that de-facto vision.

    3. Tim Keller Post author

      Don, I think you commentary is spot on, and your critique of my opinion is well taken.   All I hoped to do with this post was to get our heads up onto a higher plane and start looking at the right metrics.

      Your charachterization of what the davis voting public has conveyed is obviously accurate, but I think, or at least I hope, that it is only accurate in the aggregate.

      Yes, we have some no-growth extremists, (and I have to admit that I take guilty pleasure in seeing their feathers ruffled by my post.)  But I think that a lot of people who vote against growth measures have opinions all across the board, ranging from ” I don’t want this particular thing it near me” to “screw the wealthy developers” to ” I don’t know enough about it so my default response is ‘no’  ”

      I do not think that the majority of Davisites want or mean to hurt our own town financially, socially or environmentally.  Nor do I think that the majority of Davis voters would agree with the statement that “People who work here don’t deserve an opportunity to live here”   But with the smaller decisions that we have repeatedly made on a project by project basis, that is exactly what we have created.

      I think we all want to live in a beautiful and affluent town that we can be proud to call home.  I think that charting a plan for proactive growth that is well thought out, and based on meeting market needs is a great opportunity to do that.

       

    4. Richard_McCann

      Don

      You’re not describing a “vision” which requires deliberate consideration–you’re describing a process of unconscious reaction which has led to cognitive dissonance. A vision considers the goals within the known constraints. The citizens of Davis have not had the options posed to them to be able to consider what their vision might be. Matt is dead on about the need to develop that vision. Just muddling along as we have has led to stagnation and gridlock of where we stand today. You’re right that we might have a different future imposed on us, but it won’t be contrary to a consensus “vision” because that vision doesn’t actually exist.

  8. Matt Williams

    Let me suggest the alternative conversation we should be having: “How big should Davis be?”

    There is room for a variety of opinions as we have that discussion, but I think the value of debating growth in that context is that it forces us to look at some fundamentals, and when you do that, you suddenly can’t ignore the elephant in the room: Which is that Davis is severely under-developed by every metric, and that a proactive development boom is in fact, urgently needed.

    … but it cannot be denied. Davis is empirically much smaller than it should be.

    .
    Without getting into whether Tim’s statements above are correct or incorrect, I have bolded three important points that Tim makes.  Twice he uses the forward-looking verb should, and in the third he passes judgment on the present state of Davis.  In looking at what Davis is today, Tim does not provide is any kind of benchmark standard.  Severely underdeveloped compared to what?  He mentions “every metric” but then gives us a metric list of one item … population.

    It shows pretty clearly that as a city, we are failing to provide for the needs of the University community in a dramatic way.

    But for the sake of simplicity, let’s[…] say that the purpose of the city of Davis is only to provide a community around the university, its staff, faculty and students.

    Missing from these assessment statements is (1) the simple reality that UCD isn’t in the city; it is in the county, and (2) UCD provides a very substantial community for its staff, faculty and students.

    What is missing in the Davis community (as opposed to the legally and geographically restricted Davis city) is any meaningful form of collaboration between the three major stakeholder jurisdictions, UCD, Yolo County and the City of Davis.  Until our community begins planning regionally, with all three parties at the table working toward a win-win-win solution, all we will have is judgmental statements and smoke and mirrors as metrics.

    /rant

     

    1. Tim Keller Post author

      Matt: Fair points across the board.     I do not pretend to know “the” answer to the question I raised, which is why I was careful to state that there is room for many opinions, of which mine is only one.

      If you (or anyone else reading this) have another way of answering the “how big should we be” question based on some other kind of logic, I am genuinely interested in hearing it.  At least then we would be having a conversation based on to facts and data, and conducting reasoned debate.    It would be a big improvement to the status quo.  I hope you would agree.

      1. Edgar Wai

        “How big should we be”

        Democracy is not about making people decide on the one thing but to create a setting where people can choose what they want. Therefore the long term answer is: Charter a city with a clear mission to support university housing needs.

        You might ask: “Is it reasonable to assume that when Davis was founded as a city, it already has a mission to support university housing needs?”

        My answer would be Yes because apparently UCD was founded in 1905, but the City of Davis was founded in 1917. So if we have to decide whether UCD or “no-growthers” are trying to highjack Davis, the answer should be the nogrowthers are the highjackers.

        It is not unreasonable to assume that Davis has an implied mission to support UCD housing needs from the beginning. Therefore, on this regard, no-growthers have the ethical low ground. Supporters of no-growth should focus on evicting Davis residents who do not work or study in Davis. Since it might be legally not-viable to do such eviction, the alternative is for the City to procure properties and turn them into relevance-prioritized housing.

        1. Tim Keller Post author

          Edgar,   I think that your point regarding how the university pre-dates the city is a salient one, and it brings out a similar argument which is that “Nobody who is living here in town moved here without KNOWIG that there was a research university here.”   Indeed, they probably moved here either directly or indirectly because of the University.

          It is similar to people who buy a home near an airport, and then complain about the noise of the planes.

          EVERYONE who lives here does so because of the university, either directly, or indirectly because they like the vibrant community we have here, which is itself a function of us being a university town.

          I have heard Davis residents ( both in comment threads like these as well as in other conversations ) say that they think that the University is a net negative for the city.   Or they say things like “Davis would be great if it weren’t for all the students”   ( That is a verbatim quote )

          Your observation that the University pre-dates the city underscores just how blisteringly ignorant these positions are, and they cause me to implore anyone who holds Anti-University opinions in this University town to PLEASE move elsewhere.

          I spent a few years living in Winters and commuting to my job in Davis because we couldn’t find a place here… it was really nice, quiet, and very charming.    People who want a cozy, bike-able, and quiet town  would LOVE it there.

          If you don’t want to move, then fine – but at the very least don’t get in the way of this city fulfilling its duty to accommodate the needs of our primary industry.  Its what this town exists for.

        2. Keith Olsen

           People who want a cozy, bike-able, and quiet town  would LOVE it there.

          And people who want a “a cozy, bike-able, and quiet town” might want to try to keep Davis that way and tell others that want more buildout, more homes, businesses and industry to move elsewhere.  I think you can see where that can work both ways.

        3. Ron Oertel

          I spent a few years living in Winters and commuting to my job in Davis because we couldn’t find a place here… it was really nice, quiet, and very charming.    People who want a cozy, bike-able, and quiet town would LOVE it there.

          I love Winters – much “cooler” there. 

          Plus – the mountains and lake!  Stebbins Cold Canyon is one of the best hiking loops around.

          Actually, I know a UCD professor who sold her Davis house and apparently moved to the Winters area, because she wanted a more rural lifestyle.

          Hope they don’t ruin it with a bunch of sprawl. (It’s kind of heading in that direction.)

  9. Jim Thorne

    Hi all,

    Another question is what is the carrying capacity of Davis? At the moment I suggest that is limited by water availability. New growth proposals assume water is available. Climate change projections suggest that will be otherwise for the central valley, and that Davis’ climate conditions by 2080 will become more similar to those currently found in Oildale, CA. That is, 66% drier and 1.5 degrees C warmer than Davis is now, under current rates of emissions. So, a question I don’t see being addressed in these discussions is who would be responsible if the new housing (or all housing) is severely impacted by drought. I think the city assumes responsibility to provide that service, for a cost. But there is likely a liability associated with the construction that the city (and therefore residents) assumes as well, when permits are given.

    Here’s the link for the website associated with the paper Nature Communications titled, ““Contemporary climatic analogs for 540 North American urban areas in the late 21st century,” by Matt Fitzpatrick of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science. Use Sacramento to explore what Davis is likely facing. Then use this summer (an example of that future) to consider how wise further growth might be, what types of structures should we build, and how you would ensure the necessary ecosystem services to guarantee the success of new growth.

    https://fitzlab.shinyapps.io/cityapp/

    I think we should be looking at carbon sequestration and ground water recharge designs for the land at the Mace Blvd site, rather than growing our infrastructure liabilities.

     

    1. Don Shor

      While the Sacramento area may be similar to Oildale in temperature by then, I am unaware of peer-reviewed research that indicates that Sacramento and Davis will be 66.6% drier in the future. Or even that they will be drier at all.
      Here is a good overview. The expectation, in sum, is more volatility. Planning for water storage is obviously a good plan. In the case of groundwater storage, that doesn’t have to preclude development on the ground above it. I doubt if there’s going to be any additional surface storage in the Yolo or Solano County area.
      Davis has a very good balance of surface water and ground water, with wells able to pump from two different aquifer areas. We have rights to surface water, we have several deep wells, and we have a couple of dozen shallower wells.

      “By the end of the twenty-first century, only far southern California experiences a robust increase in the frequency of consecutively dry seasons (Supplementary Fig. 2), while the rest of California does not experience statistically significant changes. Further analysis shows that this divergence between single and consecutive dry-season frequency shifts arises from the increased pace of future wet-year increases relative to dryyear increases, which is especially pronounced across Northern California (Supplementary Fig. 5c). These findings suggest that future multi-year droughts in California may exhibit an increased propensity to be interrupted by very wet interludes.”

      Increasing precipitation volatility in twenty-first century California
      Daniel L. Swain, Baird Langenbrunner, J. David Neelin, and Alex Hall

      Full text available here:
      https://ucanr.edu/sites/MarinFoodPolicyCouncil/files/311178.pdf

      1. Alan Miller

        Sounds like just the sort of study made for advocates of bad ideas like flooding Sites Valley with water pumped uphill from the river.

      2. Ron Glick

        There are many many places that will run out of water before the City of Davis if water ever becomes limited in this area. Remember 90% of California water is used in agriculture. If water ever became scarce we could shift water from agriculture to domestic uses.

        This water issue/argument could be, if it actually ever came to pass, easily mitigated for.

    2. Richard_McCann

      We should not and cannot plan for climate change as though Davis is in a bubble. Development is going to occur all over and Davis should be in a position to do so as part of that comprehensive approach. Suggesting small changes that may cause consequences elsewhere won’t be helpful. For example, it would be much more beneficial to increase population and density in Davis in a manner that reduces development in Auburn or Placerville.

  10. Richard_McCann

    This is an interesting take on this question. But first one correction–the calculation should be for the combined Davis/UCD community which I think is about 90,000, so your calculation is only about a one-third increase, not a near doubling. This approach leads to the question of how much of this workforce should be residing in Davis. For purposes of reducing climate change impacts, the answer is as much as is feasible. Commuting from even Woodland or Dixon has adverse consequences. One complicating factor is the preponderance of dual income households in this community. That complicates the commuting equation. But these are all questions to be answered in a deeper dive.

    Focusing on one proposal that I think is a distraction is the proposal for light rail–a bad idea. Talking with a retired transportation planner last week, he said that a city should only add rail transit when its bus system had hit capacity. His work showed that adding rail prematurely actually led to a decrease in transit ridership. (We didn’t get to discuss why.) Light rail is “sexy” and it seems to work well in Europe where the cities are much denser (and were initially designed for pedestrians), but we need to put it on the back burner here. We might be able to use dedicated busways (like those in LA) which provides for some flexibility, but the real solution is in dispatchable jitneys that more easily overcome the convenience barrier that limits transit use in this town. (Also a lot cheaper than a light rail system even after accounting for labor costs.)

    1. Ron Oertel

      This approach leads to the question of how much of this workforce should be residing in Davis.

      What workforce?  Davis is not an employment center. Never has been.

      Sacramento and UCD are.  How many Davis residents commute to Sacramento (or elsewhere)?

      Commuting from even Woodland or Dixon has adverse consequences.

      To “where”?  UCD?

      And can you be more specific (e.g. perhaps by comparing a theoretical peripheral development on the outskirts of Davis, far from UCD – and requiring a commute “through” town)?  And more importantly, what is being done to prevent Woodland, Dixon, or West Sacramento from continuing to sprawl outward (to name a few locales), regardless of what Davis does? They already have plans to do so.

      What evidence do you have that approving another “sprawling” development on the outskirts of Davis will prevent a “sprawling” development elsewhere?  Given that the entire region has become a destination for those escaping both density and high housing costs in places such as the Bay Area?

      1. David Greenwald

        “What workforce? Davis is not an employment center. Never has been.”

        30,000 people work at UC Davis. A large chunk of those still live in Davis.

        1. Ron Oertel

          Apparently, you didn’t read my comment.

          Do you believe that UCD and Davis are the same thing? Some people seem to confuse the two.

          And actually, Tim stated that a different number of people (16,000) work at UCD. So, I’m not sure which figure is correct.

          1. David Greenwald

            I read your comment. The 30,000 people who work at UC Davis have to live somewhere. Traditionally that has been the Davis community.

        2. Ron Oertel

          Are we really doing this?  You’re just going to ignore the numbers that Tim put forth (which are about half of yours)?

          Maybe you’re both wrong, though this may be out-of-date:

          2,500 faculty and more than 21,000 staff,

          https://www.linkedin.com/school/uc-davis/

          In any case, do any of these numbers include those who work at other sites (such as UCD Medical Center, the Bodega and Tahoe research labs, etc.)?

          How many (physically) work at the main campus?

          And, how many are actually housed (live) on campus?

          Truth be told, Spring Lake is becoming a primary residential area, for those working at UCD. And will continue to do so – regardless of what Davis does. Based upon price and convenience alone. (No, I’m not an “advocate” of that – but it’s a reality.) Turns out that most people (especially families) want a place to park their cars, etc.

        3. Tim Keller Post author

          The 30k number (I think), also includes the Med Center.   I took my number from the Transit survey which I think did a better job of counting people at THIS campus.

  11. Alan Miller

    Supporters of no-growth should focus on evicting Davis residents who do not work or study in Davis.

    Now you’re a comedian.

    the alternative is for the City to procure properties and turn them into relevance-prioritized housing.

    Now you’re a communist.

    1. Edgar Wai

      I wasn’t expecting that you could see my comments. The comment was about if a person accepts that Davis has a mission to support the university, but at the same time does not want Davis to grow wider, then the city would have to evict people who are not working for the university or the city itself as much as possible.

      The comment was about simply building more housing in Davis would not prevent people from outside the city occupying those housing.

      So if this society is in fact communist, the city only needs to get some trucks and go to houses with people not relevant to Davis, load them onto the trucks and drop them off somewhere outside Davis. Problem solved, houses are vacant and Davis relevant people can move in without building more houses. No growth is achieved, UCD is served.

      In a non-communist society that option is not viable. The way that it can be done in a non-communalistic society, is that anyone may voluntarily accept the mission to support the university. You can buy a property and only let it be occupied by university or city-relevant people. You become a guild master and help Davis properties occupied by Davis-relevant people. You can’t evict non-Davis-relevant people, but you can buy their property if they ever happen to put their property on the market. Next, since you would die, you create an organization (a foundation) to keep those properties available prioritized to Davis-relevant people for generations to come.

      All of these operations assume that the City of Davis wants to be hands off about committing to the “mission” to support UCD and no-growth. But if the voters agree, this “foundation” could have just been a City operation. This is essentially no different from how UCD would treat its own on-campus housing. If the City has a mission to support UCD, then the City itself can have its own “for-city housing”.  No-growth is served, UCD is served.

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