Commentary: ‘But Davis Is a Great Place, I Don’t Want It to Change’

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

Davis, CA – I hear it a lot, people love the Davis community as it is and do not want it to change.  I get it, it’s still a relatively small community, it has nice amenities, it is walkable and bikeable, and it’s a nice place to raise children.  All of that is good.

At the same time, change is inevitable and it happens whether you allow it to happen or not.  Davis is not the same community it was 25 years ago when I moved here in 1996, and it was not the same in 1996 than 25 years before that in 1971.

Making changes to Davis will change Davis, but not making changes to will also change Davis.

As we noted yesterday, the median cost of housing is now over $800,000.  That marks a large increase from a decade ago and two decades ago.

The growth control policies put in place twenty years ago have consequences for reshaping Davis.  On the other hand, had Davis not implemented those growth control policies, the community might also look very different today as well.

Here is what I see as this community’s biggest challenges—and also biggest questions—going forward.

First—housing.  As noted previously, the city voters approved Measure J in 2000.  Since then, the growth rate has slowed and, combined with other factors, the cost of housing has gone up.  Over the last decade, the city has added units of housing—all of that was infill.

As I have noted elsewhere there is not a lot of open and developable space that exists in the city.  Moreover, construction for redevelopment is prohibitive and might preclude housing in places like the downtown.  On the other hand, voters have been hesitant to reluctant to approve new housing on the periphery.

How the city resolves this will be a huge factor in deciding the future.

Second—fiscal health.  The city of Davis lags behind many comparable communities in per capita retail sales.  Given that the two main sources for city revenue locally are property tax and sales tax, that has long put a strain on the city budget.

The city has added some hotels, increased TOT (Transient Occupancy Tax) tax for existing hotels, and added revenue through the approval of cannabis stores.

But the city voters turned down a parcel tax to fund roads in 2018 and turned down DISC that would provide economic revenue as well.

Right now the community is running in the hole between $8 to $10 million per year—a figure likely to increase in the coming years without an influx of tax or economic development revenue.

One way or another something will have to give here.

Either the voters will have to approve economic development to expand the city’s tax base…

Or the voters will have to approve tax increases to fund roads and other amenities.

Or the city will have to cut back on city services and some of the amenities that the community loves.

I have heard people arguing that DISC will add traffic congestion to Mace, but without the estimated $4 million, that means likely additional parcel taxes, or the quality of life in Davis will decline.

Finally, there is the impact on schools.  As noted a number of times, with the increased cost of housing and the failure to expand single-family housing over the last two decades, Davis is getting older, and the number of new students is trending downward.

The district has forestalled that problem through allowing additional transfers from outside of the city, mostly from people who work at UC Davis who can no longer afford to live here or lack the housing to move to.

But as we have seen, even with transfers the school district has greatly increased the parcel tax over the last 15 years from $100 a year to just under $1000 a year—and those numbers are likely to continue to climb.

Just like with city revenue, the district has the choice—raise taxes or cut programs.  The third option is outside of their control—building more family-oriented housing in the city.

The schools are the lifeblood of the community.  They add value to housing.  And the presence of children adds vitality to the community that would be lacking in a community that is moving toward bifurcation of seniors and college students.

Those are the challenges that are going to change Davis one way or the other.  UC Davis is likely to continue to grow.  It is now nearly 40,000 students.  The university is creating opportunities for economic development that the city can take advantage of to attempt to improve its city revenue but, if it doesn’t, UC Davis is perfectly happy going to Sacramento to continue to enhance its technology transfer footprint.

Davis has some amazing opportunities to utilize its position as the host city for a world class university.

For those who want to avoid Davis becoming an Elk Grove with runaway growth, there are middle grounds between virtually no growth and unrestrained growth.  The city needs to find a comfortable middle course to help address some the issues that it faces while avoiding the trap of unrestrained growth.

That is the challenge for this community and leaders once again as we move into 2022.

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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28 Comments

  1. Keith Olson

    I have heard people arguing that DISC will add traffic congestion to Mace

    Oh, you have heard that.  Where might that be?

    DISC will add traffic congestion to Mace, there’s no arguing about it.

    Right now the community is running in the hole between $8 to $10 million per year

    How many years have Davisites been hearing this, but yet Davis still floats.  Has Davis been borrowing money all these years to cover these deficits?

    the quality of life in Davis will decline

    How long have Davisites been hearing this too?  But just recently we have a reporter for the Sac Bee saying “Davis remains one of the Sacramento region’s most desirable places to live”.

     

     

     

     

    1. David Greenwald

      “DISC will add traffic congestion to Mace, there’s no arguing about it.”

      Depends on a number of factors including mitigation, I-80 and build out period and sequencing.

      “Has Davis been borrowing money all these years to cover these deficits?”

      Worse, it has been deferring maintenance which is raising overall costs and declining infrastructure.

      1. Keith Olson

        How many years have you been trumpeting “the quality of life in Davis will decline”?

        Yet years and years later Davis remains one of the region’s best places to live.

        At some point people may start to think that 50 ft. wall of fire coming towards Davis is never happening.

        1. David Greenwald

          It’s happening, it’s just a slow process.

          To give you an example that you can relate to, in 2007, we renewed the schools parcel tax at $100. Now it’s nearly $1000 a year. That number is going to keep going up. That’s one symptom.

        2. Keith Olson

          we renewed the schools parcel tax at $100. Now it’s nearly $1000 a year. That number is going to keep going up.

          Well that’s a whole other story.  In my opinion the people of Davis need to wise up and right size the school district to the actual number of children living in Davis and not pay to educate transfers from other cities.

          1. David Greenwald

            But that’s the point – the voters are going to have choices still, but it’s choosing between declining services, more development and higher taxes.

        3. Keith Olson

          David, Happy New Year to you and your family.

          I’m done commenting for now, I don’t want some boorish commenter getting jealous and telling us to get a room.  LOL

          Let’s hope that 2022 is a better year in so many ways.

        4. Ron Oertel

          Keith O:  In my opinion the people of Davis need to wise up and right size the school district to the actual number of children living in Davis and not pay to educate transfers from other cities.

          David G’s response:  But that’s the point – the voters are going to have choices still, but it’s choosing between declining services, more development and higher taxes.

          Note how David’s response does not address Keith’s comment at all.

          David is actually the one who is “fighting change”. He’d gladly throw farmland “under the bus” in a futile attempt to stave-off the inevitable.

        5. Alan Miller

          I’m done commenting for now, I don’t want some boorish commenter getting jealous and telling us to get a room.  LOL

          I’ll take over, KO.  This article reads like an English journalism assignment:  Summarize all articles in the Davis Vanguard in 2022 and write a ‘typical’ article.  Viola!

          Let’s hope that 2022 is a better year in so many ways.

          How about no articles on housing?  Think of it as a spiritual challenge.

        6. Hiram Jackson

          DG: “To give you an example that you can relate to, in 2007, we renewed the schools parcel tax at $100. Now it’s nearly $1000 a year.”

          That change is mostly in response to the fact that the state funding structure for K-12 schools has changed since 2007.  More state money is given to school districts with more lower income families.  Means that those districts can and will pay teachers more.

          1. David Greenwald

            My point is that the voters had a choice – they could pay more in taxes or cut programs. They chose to pay more in taxes.

        7. Ron Oertel

          That change is mostly in response to the fact that the state funding structure for K-12 schools has changed since 2007.  More state money is given to school districts with more lower income families.  Means that those districts can and will pay teachers more.

          Probably should just encourage those (out-of-district) kids to attend schools in their own communities, then. That way, they’ll be able to siphon-off a higher amount of state money, and Davis won’t have to “make up the claimed difference”.

          My point is that the voters had a choice – they could pay more in taxes or cut programs. They chose to pay more in taxes.

          Another option:  Reduce the number of schools, which has no impact on the number of programs at the remaining schools. In fact, it won’t even directly impact the total number of students.

          Another suggestion: Don’t rely upon the district’s own “accounting” regarding what will save money. They have a direct, vested interest in the outcome. One would have to be a complete dope to rely upon that. That’s like the first rule of auditing.

          An independent analysis is needed.

           

        8. Hiram Jackson

          R.O.:  ‘Probably should just encourage those (out-of-district) kids to attend schools in their own communities, then. That way, they’ll be able to siphon-off a higher amount of state money, and Davis won’t have to “make up the claimed difference”.’

           

          The district doesn’t tell parents where to send their kids to school.  That’s a parent prerogative, and state regulations allow that option.  The district is required to accommodate those students.

        9. Ron Oertel

          California Education Code sections 46600–46610 permits parents/guardians to request an interdistrict transfer/reciprocal agreement. The fundamental basis for this provision is the signing of an agreement between districts. Interdistrict transfer/reciprocal agreement must be approved by both the student’s original district of residence and the district to which the student seeks to transfer to. Both districts must approve the agreement before it becomes valid. The agreement may extend for a maximum of five consecutive years and may include terms or conditions. It is within the authority of either the home district or the receiving district to revoke an interdistrict transfer/reciprocal agreement at any time for any reason the local board or district superintendent deems appropriate.

          https://www.cde.ca.gov/re/di/fq/districttransfers.asp#Interdistrict

           

          1. Don Shor

            Existing interdistrict transfer agreements cannot be abrogated if the enrollment is continuous, with very limited exceptions.

            Once a pupil in transitional kindergarten, kindergarten, or any of grades 1 to 12, inclusive, is enrolled in a school pursuant to this chapter, the pupil shall not have to reapply for an interdistrict transfer, and the governing board of the school district of enrollment shall allow the pupil to continue to attend the school in which the pupil is enrolled….

            As of a few years ago, nearly 3/4 of the interdistrict students had a legal basis for staying here and could not be removed. The new ID students that year (2015) were mostly children of parents who moved out of the district and wanted continuity in the education of their children. Interdistrict transfers for students in grades 11 and 12 cannot be rescinded for pretty much any reason at all.
            So any decision to stop accepting interdistrict transfer students would clearly take several years to have significant budgetary impact, as existing ID students age out of DJUSD. That impact would be spread very unevenly. In effect, the only policy change that could be implemented would be to stop accepting new interdistrict transfer applications.
            Since a significant number of the ID applicants are due to employment at UCD, it is likely that reducing the ability to transfer students to DJUSD from Dixon, Woodland, and West Sacramento would significantly increase demand for housing in Davis.

        10. Hiram Jackson

          Right.  And then the very next section in the link you provided says this:

          California Education Code Section 48204(b) permits a school district to deem a pupil to have complied with the residency requirements for school attendance in the district if at least one parent/guardian of the pupil is physically employed within the boundaries of that district. Once admitted to residency, the pupil’s transfer may be revoked only if the parent ceases to be employed within the boundaries of the district. As a resident, the student does not have to re-apply for the transfer to be valid.

          https://www.cde.ca.gov/re/di/fq/districttransfers.asp#Interdistrict

          Most students living outside the district attend on this basis; UC Davis is the biggest employer in the county.

        11. Ron Oertel

          Does “permits” mean the same thing as “required”, to you?

          California Education Code Section 48204(b)permits a school district to deem a pupil to have complied with the residency requirements for school attendance in the district if at least one parent/guardian of the pupil is physically employed within the boundaries of that district.

          Also, here’s a breakdown of the 1,085 “out-of-boundary” students.  There is more than one “type”.

          https://www.djusd.net/about/overview

          I find this to be interesting, as well:

          Recent demographic trends show that the Davis resident birth rate and enrollment continues to decline. Because State funding is directly tied to our enrollment, DJUSD works to keep classes as full as possible by filling empty seats with Out-of-Boundary students. If we wish to keep the type of programming (i.e., courses, school configuration, support services, etc.) that DJUSD has historically offered, maintaining current enrollment numbers is required.

          This is essentially what the Vanguard claims.  The last sentence in particular might be described as a purposefully-misleading, self-interested claim.t.

        12. Ron Oertel

          In effect, the only policy change that could be implemented would be to stop accepting new interdistrict transfer applications.

          If true, better get on it, then.

          Since a significant number of the ID applicants are due to employment at UCD, it is likely that reducing the ability to transfer students to DJUSD from Dixon, Woodland, and West Sacramento would significantly increase demand for housing in Davis.

          Not likely that any existing parents would suddenly “move” to Davis, as a result.  Especially if their enrollment status is already-protected, as you claim.

          Ultimately, it might cause surrounding districts to improve their own schools.  Thereby reducing demand for housing in Davis.

          Obviously, it’s not good for home districts to encourage their “best and brightest” (or at least, most-motivated parents) to send their kids to Davis schools.

          The only ones this benefits are those associated with DJUSD.

          This might be my fifth comment, so I’ll leave it to you, Hiram, and David to continue making the case regarding the reasons that Davis should strive to maintain an oversized school district. Hell, you can take the wording right from the school district’s website, quoted in the comment above.

          I find this disgusting.

        13. Hiram Jackson

          What allows district employees to enroll their kids in the district is that provision.  Without it, the district would struggle more to staff its positions.  That is probably a hidden compensation factor for many district employees.

        14. Hiram Jackson

          Also, in spite of local housing prices, about 20% of school district students are low income, many living in affordable housing options, UCD married student housing, and in Davis apartments, living within the level of the UCD student economy.

          From my previous comment: “What allows district employees to enroll their kids in the district is that provision.”

          I refer to Davis district employees living outside the district.

        15. Richard_McCann

          The quality of life can decline in Davis and Davis can still be one of the best places to live, especially if the quality of life is declining elsewhere too. Given the number of polls showing that voters think the state is headed in the wrong direction and the inability of the opposition party to come up with a coherent effective alternative other than “you’re on your own”, area residents appear to feel that their quality of life is declining.

          Downsizing a school district is very complex and has a number of associated impacts. Facilities still need to be paid for, with a shrunken income pool, and if they are sold, the funds can only be used to finance other facilities–those proceeds cannot be used toward operating costs. A smaller district will have fewer teachers which means fewer course offerings. The variety of course options is one of the factors that makes Davis attractive to families. If they want just a low housing price, they can live in Dixon, but that district nearly eliminated 12th grade a decade ago during the Great Recession, telling us where education fit in that community’s priorities.

          I have to agree that I’m not sure as to what the $8-$10M deficit is composed of. When I was on the Utilities Commission and I dug into the reserve margins, the only utility that was underfinanced for replacement was stormwater which has no depreciation reserve whatsoever. Matt Williams and I disagree about how future large scale replacements should be financed, with Matt advocating for a sinking fund. However, that mechanism leads to current ratepayers and taxpayers paying twice–first for the initial investment by repaying bonds and then again to fund the future investment. Using debt financing in the future is the appropriate method, and I don’t know if that’s being used in the deficit calculation.

        16. Keith Olson

          Given the number of polls showing that voters think the state is headed in the wrong direction and the inability of the opposition party to come up with a coherent effective alternative other than “you’re on your own”, area residents appear to feel that their quality of life is declining.

          Yeah, that’s it, the Democrats have run the state from the governor on down to their supermajorities in the other branches but it’s the GOP’s fault for not coming up with an alternative plan?  LMAO

           

           

        17. Ron Oertel

          Downsizing a school district is very complex and has a number of associated impacts.

          It’s actually quite simple.  It’s just that there’s parties with vested interests who will fight it aggressively, including those within a given district.  This is an issue that reaches far-beyond Davis.

          It’s essentially the same reason that Congress used an independent committee to come up with a list of unneeded military bases, rather than rely upon “local leaders”.

          Closures of prisons meet the same type of self-interested resistance (see Susanville).

          Facilities still need to be paid for, with a shrunken income pool, and if they are sold, the funds can only be used to finance other facilities–those proceeds cannot be used toward operating costs.

          So in that case, there would be fewer facilities to be paid for.  Do other schools need rehabilitation of their facilities?

          A smaller district will have fewer teachers which means fewer course offerings.

          Fewer teachers means lower operating costs.  It does not necessarily mean fewer course offerings (e.g., range of courses).

          The variety of course options is one of the factors that makes Davis attractive to families. If they want just a low housing price, they can live in Dixon, but that district nearly eliminated 12th grade a decade ago during the Great Recession, telling us where education fit in that community’s priorities.

          Some Dixon students already attend Davis schools, don’t they?

          Poaching students from other communities (like Dixon) causes those districts to both lose out on funding, and picks-off the “best and brightest” (or at least most-motivated parents) who no longer attend their home districts.

        18. Ron Oertel

          area residents appear to feel that their quality of life is declining.

          Is that right?  Is there a scientific poll which shows that?  Along with exactly what and how that’s being measured?

          Traffic?  Tolerance of homeless and crime as a result of perceived “progressive” policies?  Forced density requirements, emanating from the state (backed by business interests)?  Complete failure to contain sprawl – even in a state that’s no longer growing and has nevertheless instituted density requirements?  An increasing divide between those at the top (e.g., in the technology industry) pushing out others?  Calculated, political divisiveness (by both parties) to appeal to their bases?

          I guess it depends upon the questions being asked.

           

  2. Alan Pryor

    Right now the community is running in the hole between $8 to $10 million per year

    But that hole is entirely due to the fact that our City Council has let employee compensation spiral out-of control. Transparent California just released the employee compensation levels for Davis for 2020. Here are the shocking but perhaps not surprising results.

    1) There was an 8.4% increase in total compensation paid to employees by the City in 2020 …now up to $56,746,951 in 2020 from $52,342,086 in 2019. The City increased the total compensation paid to employees by $4,404,865 2019 in 2020 compared to 2019 – This is more than the maximum amount the City could possibly hope to get in annual revenue from DISC 2022 on full build-out ($3.88 M/year).

    2) There was an 10.7% increase in average total compensation (pay + benefits) per employee in 2020…now up to $163,244 per employee in 2020 from $147,402 in 2019. And this was during the heart of the pandemic when the City was telling us the employees were going to have to take 7 unpaid days a year in unpaid furlough to save money. This was also during a year when the Bay Area CPI went up only 1.5%

    3) If the City had only held employee compensation to the Bay Area CPI since 2011, they would have an additional $54,484,151 in the bank as of the end of 2020 (that’s $54 MILLION). That would sure as hell paid for a lot of street paving.

    It seems our City Council has a lot of sailors on it and they have started drinking and spending again!

    And yes, I will write an article about this mess early next year.

  3. Alan Miller

    Finally, there is the impact on schools . . . Davis is getting older, and the number of new students is trending downward . . . the district has the choice—raise taxes or cut programs . . . [or] building more family-oriented housing in the city.

    Perhaps it’s time for Davis to think out of the box.  How about child mills . . . similar to puppy mills?  We could produce our own children — by the thousands! — in order to get more state funding for schools.  Budget problem solved.

  4. Ron Glick

    “… people love the Davis community as it is and do not want it to change. ”

    That is what some people say once they live here. Of course some of those who came before them said the same thing about those newcomers. Its funny the people who have been here the longest tend to be less opposed to new comers than many who got here later.

    My favorites are the people who bought in Mace Ranch when it was new and then oppose everyone who wants to come after them.

    1. Bill Marshall

       Its funny the people who have been here the longest tend to be less opposed to new comers than many who got here later.

      You nailed that with a 12-lb hammer…

      Time and time again, the folk who have most fervently spoken out against growth were folk who started their comments, with “I’m a long-time resident–been here for 7 years… “.

      We’ve been residents in town for over 42 years… reasonable growth is reasonable…

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