By David M. Greenwald
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.
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.