Sunday Commentary: No Surprise with the Chamber – Important Discussions Loom for DiSC-2022

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By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

Davis, CA – Yeah okay, this year’s least surprising news came out on Friday.  The Davis Chamber is backing the DiSC-2022 project.  No surprise here.  Got largely the response I would have expected from the announcement.

An announcement like this obviously isn’t going to move any ground or change any views.  I often debate—should we cover this kind of stuff?  It’s not like the Vanguard is hurting for material to publish.  In the end, I come down on doing so for a few reasons, one of which is the real news would be if the Chamber were either opposed or took no position on a matter such as this.

When UC Davis came forward with a lukewarm letter in support (sort of) of the original DISC project, that actually, I think, hurt the project.  So punching an expected box, at the very least, takes that issue off the table.

As was pointed out on Friday, there is going to be opposition from some in the Davis Downtown.  You will recall that last year a petition was sent to the DDBA signed by 30 businesses in opposition to DISC.

There may be more organized involvement in the opposition this time.  It is still not clear what the objection is by the downtown.

The letter last time indicates: “We believe the heart and soul of Davis is our downtown core. And we believe we must protect it and nurture it to realize its long term, sustainable potential. We support the Downtown Development Plan as a viable means to rejuvenate and enhance the businesses and livability of the downtown core.”

They seem to fear that the retail space will “siphon business tenants and merchant customers away from our downtown core adversely affecting its viability and vitality.”

The city of Davis of course has been spending a lot time on its Downtown Specific Plan.  To me, as someone who works in the downtown, that is the key to the future of the downtown.  Right now, the problem with the downtown is that it has limited space and it is fundamentally inefficient with its footprint.

To the extent that we can densify the downtown, put more people and businesses into that space, the better off this community will be.

But, downtown does not have the space or capacity for the type of economic development DiSC would accommodate.  And, while the ancillary commercial uses at DiSC might compete with the downtown, a fully vibrant business entity out there is only going to help the downtown.  Especially since there will be a fair number of people who take the train into town and then shuttle it to the tech park—that means a large volume of people may be coming through the downtown, many will likely stop for food, drinks, coffee, and retail.

Clearly, this is something that will need to be addressed to allay the concerns of the downtown—if they can be allayed.  But remember, the city has prioritized the downtown with its plan that precedes the update to the General Plan.

A big issue that will also need to be addressed is traffic.

There has been a lot of talk about the reduced size of the proposal.  As I understand it, while that reduced size has some advantages, I actually think it harms the project because the project at 100 acres really does not have the space we need—most of those advantages occurred incidentally rather than by design.

The reduced footprint will aid the applicants in potentially facing a vote.  There are some conspiracies that the reduced size is merely part of a bait and switch and once they get the approval for the first half, there will be another proposal for the second half.

Of course, those conspiracists forget that such a process means a second vote.  The voters are probably going to be disinclined to support a new park without seeing the old park filled and successful.  That’s one of the advantages of Measure J—you can’t really pull a bait and switch without the voters approving it.

Probably the biggest reason for the narrow defeat of DISC in 2020 was traffic on Mace.

Listening to the developers speak the other day, they seem inclined to believe that they can make that case that, without DiSC-2022, that traffic will be a bigger problem on Mace in ten years than with DiSC-2022.

Their thinking, while on the surface seems counter-intuitive, makes a good deal of sense.  When traffic is back to normal—and a good question will be whether it ever gets back to normal or if the move to remote spaces is sufficient to solve some of the worst problems on I-80—there will be congestion problems on Mace, especially Thursdays and Fridays when we have peak traffic on I-80.

If the project then creates a better road system to handle that traffic, it could be a benefit to the community.

There are two major problems with this thinking.  One is that the easy response from opponents or critics of the project is to point out the daily traffic count expected with the project and use the math to argue against the project.

The second problem—from an electoral standpoint—is we tried that in 2016 with Richards and it didn’t work.

We learn from history.

In 2016, when Nishi came forward the first time, they had a project that was going to put millions into upgrades to Richard Blvd, and help a good percentage of traffic bypass the underpass.  The voters never bought into it.

I happen to think that the voters were wrong on this, that we had a way to fix Richards and failed to take it and actually we will pay the price for that down the line—assuming traffic patterns ever return to normal.  So far they haven’t, btw.

With the pandemic, we haven’t noticed Richards as much lately.  That has given the city time to allow CalTrans to shut down the obsolete freeway offramp, and will give them time to do the new configuration for the freeway interchange.  But at the end of the day, you still have the same problem—funneling traffic through to streets not built to handle the capacity that they will see.

That money that would have come from the project is not ever going to come, and the city will probably struggle with this issue for a long time into the future.

I don’t think the developers are going to convince the people living along Mace that the key to alleviating traffic problems will be more development.

For one thing, too much emotion and anger are tied into to people’s thinking.  For another, it sounds counterintuitive.  And they won’t get ten minutes to explain to people why their project can help the flow of traffic when the opposition can demonstrate the problem in a single computer generated image.

In the end, I think the developers are right that they can actually help address congestion problems on Mace—one way is simply create a path for local drivers to avoid the back up from I-80.

But in the end, I think this is a losing issue for them.  Their only hope is that the reduced size convinces enough marginal voters to take a chance that they can sneak it through.  But, as history shows, that’s a tough sell.

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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.

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29 thoughts on “Sunday Commentary: No Surprise with the Chamber – Important Discussions Loom for DiSC-2022”

  1. Alan Miller

    It is still not clear what the objection is by the downtown.

    It is clear.  You are stating it’s not clear as a tool to attempt to undermine a view you disagree with.  That is clear.

    They seem to fear that the retail space will . . .

    And there is that word again, “fear”.  When you wish to put down another’s argument, you shame them by accusing them of “fear”.  Maybe you should fear using the the word fear because it makes your look fearful of those you fear.

    We learn from history.

    Actually, history shows we do not learn from history; that I have learned.

    There are some conspiracies that the reduced size is merely part of a bait and switch and once they get the approval for the first half, there will be another proposal for the second half.

    And to the the word “fear”, add the word “conspiracy“.  Another tool to used to shame and degrade an argument one disagrees with in an attempt to make it seem invalid.  In fact, there is nothing outrageous about suggesting that this is an attempt to build out the project by hoping the voters will bite on a smaller footprint project – and it could work.  Since the project had a 40-year build-out anyway, why not just go for the first 20-year-ish projects first, and not have to worry about the rest of the build-out for another 20 years-ish?  There is nothing “conspiratorial” about it — it’s just a strategy that makes sense as to a way to get voter approval, and therefore anything built at all.   But use that word, shame and denegrate your opponents.

    there will be a fair number of people who take the train into town and then shuttle it to the tech park – that means a large volume of people may be coming through the downtown, many will likely stop for food, drinks, coffee, and retail.

    Not so much.  First of all, we don’t know if people will actually use this shuttle — we hope they will.  But until there is a business park, and is a shuttle, and its convenience is established, we really won’t know.  Sometimes the best hopes and intentions don’t actually lead to a convenient transfer that real people will use.  Also, most people don’t get off of shuttles and wander around buying stuff.  They get on the train and get the F home.  There have been some attempts to counter this by using an airport-style design for transit by making people walk a distance past retail space to transfer between modes.  This has proven a fail and just kills ridership.

    When traffic is back to normal – and a good question will be whether it ever gets back to normal or if the move to remote spaces is sufficient to solve some of the worst problems on I-80.

    While we haven’t seen this in some areas of Davis, traffic is actually back to normal or worse in many areas including along I-80.  There are sections by time/day-of-week that exceed 100% of pre-pandemic levels.  Why?  People are still avoiding public transit (public indoor space requiring masks), but are traveling again.  Even though pubic transit is a minor player relative to the automobile, it can take the edge off when a parallel highway reaches capacity.   Therefore, more people in cars, and traffic hits that capacity point sooner.

    I happen to think that the voters were wrong on this – that we had a way to fix Richards and failed to take it and actually we will pay the price for that down the line – assuming traffic patterns ever return to normal.

    On that we agree.  Fools!  Fools, all of you.

    But at the end of the day, you still have the same problem – funneling traffic through to streets not build to handle the capacity that they will.

    Or:  It is what it is.   I believe the minor traffic inconveniences are like climate change – inevitable, and there’s nothing we can do about it, and we can just adapt.  In the end, Davis’ traffic problems are so freaking minor compared to most anywhere in the Bay Area.  Just live with it, people.  Or ride a bicycle, for Christ’s sake.

  2. Don Shor

     there will be a fair number of people who take the train into town and then shuttle it to the tech park

    Who are these imaginary people and why would they be doing that? This is a clearly auto-focused development. The only shuttle to/from DISC/2 that will get used would be the one provided by the hotel on the site.

    Benefits of this project to the downtown are illusory at best. Adverse impacts on the downtown would likely depend on what types of retail are permitted. With Target, a detailed development agreement codifying which types of stores would be allowed at Second Street Crossing was negotiated in order to placate downtown retail business owners.

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      Why do you think that? I know a large number of people who ride Capitol Corridor into town (or at least used pre-COVID) and a large number who would take it out of town.

      That point aside, why does every project that happens in Davis have to benefit the downtown? We have put forth a pretty massive plan to upgrade the downtown over the last few years.

      1. Don Shor

        David:  

        a fully vibrant business entity out there is only going to help the downtown.

        Don:

        Benefits of this project to the downtown are illusory at best.

        David:

        why does every project that happens in Davis have to benefit the downtown? 

         

        1. David Greenwald Post author

          Two separate thoughts. First, I believe that a fully vibrant business entity out there will be a huge boost to the downtown but at the same time, I wonder why every project that happens in Davis must be viewed through the downtown lens.

      2. Don Shor

        Why do you think that? I know a large number of people who ride Capitol Corridor into town

        Sure, if their place of work is a walkable distance from the train station. Train to shuttle to go back to the edge of town seems like a pretty unlikely combination.
        I had an employee who moved to Sac to save money on housing, carefully choosing a spot close to the train so she could commute in. She actually did that a few times and quickly realized that if she missed the train she was going to be substantially late for work, that it wasn’t convenient if she wanted to socialize after work or do any grocery shopping. She promptly started driving her truck to work every day because it was much more more convenient.
        All of my employees who live in Sac, Woodland, and Dixon have driven their cars to work. None has ever used public transit because it is far less efficient.

  3. Alan Miller

    All of my employees who live in Sac, Woodland, and Dixon have driven their cars to work.

    You shouldn’t hire people who don’t live in Davis 😉

    None has ever used public transit because it is far less efficient.

    My career and my passion is expansion of public transit, especially rail.  And DS is absolutely right.  For most people, public transit is a huge time suck, because it is so incredibly poor, our land use doesn’t support it, and most daily paths (commutes) simply take too long.

      1. Ron Oertel

        Probably have to know about that (e.g., regarding each person) before arriving at any blanket conclusions.

        Regardless, a business like yours would not be able to survive if you had to pay employees an actual “living wage”.  Even in Woodland, West Sacramento, etc. Anywhere, really.

        Jobs at businesses like yours are not intended to be a career, or shouldn’t be at least.

        Or, as Mr. T might say, “I pity the fool . . .”, if anyone actually had that intention.

        1. Ron Oertel

          How would you define that, in terms of the cost of living (including rent)?  Even in surrounding communities?

          Unless you’re referring to a permanent roommate living arrangement, for example.

          I hope that no one is trying to make a permanent career out of working at a retail nursery – anywhere. Same with most other retail establishments.

          It has nothing to do with your business in particular. But if you’re paying your employees enough to be considered an actual, permanent career, you would be an extreme outlier. And you’d have to charge $10/tomato plant (or so), unless you’re running a charity.

          1. Don Shor

            I hope that no one is trying to make a permanent career out of working at a retail nursery – anywhere.

            I have made a permanent career out of working at a retail nursery – here.

        2. Ron Oertel

          Actually, my questions above could also be reflective of a couple of related issues:

          1)  I understand that retail anywhere – but especially small retail (such as that found in Davis) operates on small margins (and as such, can be particularly vulnerable to changes in conditions).

          2)  Adding more retail (e.g., on a peripheral site) can easily destroy existing, small-margin businesses, and virtually ensures more low-wage employees – who would then need housing.  Unless they already live in Davis or within commuting distance.

          Retail nurseries are one example of a business that have been impacted by “big box” stores which include plant sales. Even “medium box” stores (such as Davis ACE) compete with small nurseries.

          I’ve often wondered why Davis doesn’t have a larger, stand-alone nursery, given that it’s the type of town that one would expect to find interest in gardens. But with yards shrinking (due to density, and lack of yard space in new developments), perhaps it’s not the best time or location in which to launch a nursery. Not to mention lack of water due to drought and over-tapping into existing sources.

  4. Ron Oertel

    Don:  I have made a permanent career out of working at a retail nursery – here.

    You are not a “worker”.  You’re an owner.

    Big difference.

    But again, I’d ask what you consider a living wage to be (even if your workers live in surrounding communities).

    What amount of rent could someone afford on that, given that you periodically point out that housing costs should not be more than (1/3?) of gross income?

    And again, whether or not you think that working for a small retailer is an adequate, permanent career. And, whether or not it’s actually worked that way for any of your employees (unless they have some other type of assistance or income).

    1. Bill Marshall

      You are not a “worker”.  You’re an owner.

      Which were/are you? How big was/is the company?

      whether or not it’s actually worked that way for any of your employees (unless they have some other type of assistance or income).

      How did that work out for you?  Particularly if you’re retired… did you have other assistance/income?

      You ask those questions, you should be prepared to answer those questions.

      But wait ~ 3 hrs… you’re already @ 6 off-topic comments today… my first, and last.

        1. Bill Marshall

          Nah.. just practice, as I’m looking at becoming an auditor… might fit two, as judge and jury… seems to be a ‘thingy’ for auditor types… [and, you forgot prosecutor… or, if you prefer, persecutor]…

        1. David Greenwald Post author

          Regardless, I don’t think this is appropriate. You seem to think that if someone brings up a point in passing, that opens the door for you to interrogate them. It doesn’t. You need to stop doing that.

        2. Keith Olson

          But somehow it’s okay to point out where someone lives and why they shouldn’t comment on articles about Davis policies because they live out of town?

          1. David Greenwald Post author

            I’ll accept that as a concession that Ron is out of line. Move on to another conversation.

        3. Ron Oertel

          Regarding the comment from Don, there was an underlying implication that some of his workers were being “priced out” of Davis.

          When making that claim, the next logical question would be to ask how much someone would need to make to live in Davis (or the surrounding area, for that matter).  Small retail establishments such as Don’s are not able to pay their employees a high wage

          This also relates to the article itself, in that if DISC is going to increase the number of low-wage retail workers, one might ask where they’re planning to live (if they’re not already living within commuting distance of DISC).

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