By David M. Greenwald
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.
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.