Sunday Commentary: Even a Scaled Down DiSC 2022 a Strong Fiscal Positive for City

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

Davis, CA – At some point it would be valuable for the city council to lay some cards down on the table – the city of Davis suffers from a rather sizable fiscal challenge that is ongoing and probably only going to get worse.  Polling shows that the voters are not aware of this and the council by and large is reluctant to heavily publicize this.

The fiscal challenges faced by the city have been exacerbated by recent voter actions.

In 2018, the voters of Davis voted down a modest parcel tax that would have funded $3 million per year for roads.  In 2020, the voters of Davis voted down DISC which was projected to bring in about $5.32 million annually for city revenue.

In a community where we are running about $10 million behind every year in terms of what we need to be spending, these kinds of decisions are fiscally imprudent – in the long run, they will be actually more costly to the voters and taxpayers than they appear in the short-term.

DiSC is now back – and while the reduced size was not a strategic choice by the developers, it does make the project more likely to pass.  It also greatly reduces the benefit of the project to the community – although the project is still projected to bring in about $3.88 million in annual money for the city.

There will be side debates, probably as soon as Monday when the Finance and Budget Commission meets as to whether that $3.88 million is real money.  At issue will be as one reader described it, a very “wonky” discussion over whether the city should in creating its fiscal analysis count a full 100 percent of all costs as variable or only 75 percent.

I have long argued that the 75% makes more sense, since there are fixed costs that for most projects will not result in more personnel for instance – we are not likely to increase for instance police and fire in response to the average project, though supporters of the 100 percent will point to impending costs of the ladder truck as a counter-example.

For most voters, this is an academic discussion that will not impact their analysis of the project.

As one commenter noted: “In my opinion it’s all going to come down to how voters feel about the added traffic to the Mace Mess and are they willing to accept it?”

I think that’s probably true.

The reduced size of DiSC will reduce traffic impacts, the CEQA addendum along with Traffic Analysis from Fehr and Peers found.

“Overall traffic, for example, is cut by 55 percent,” Project manager Dan Ramos said.

According to a new traffic analysis by Fehr & Peers, the DiSC 2022 project would generate 11,284 net new daily vehicle trips, with 1,052 trips occurring during the AM peak hour and 1,155 trips occurring during the PM peak hour.

This again marks a considerable reduction from the nearly 24,000 projected trips generated by the original DISC project with about 2200 during the AM peak hour and nearly 2500 during the PM peak hour.

That leaves us with two key questions – will that be enough to convince enough voters who opposed the project in 2020 to reconsider it – and can private developers along Mace and Covell in conjunction with state and federal transportation funding do enough to fix Mace or convince voters to fix Mace?

As I have pointed out from the Richards Blvd example with the 2016 Nishi project – perhaps not.  The Nishi developers pledged $10 million to help circumvent the Richards Underpass and still the voters voted that project down and only approved it when they bypassed Richards altogether.

While I think the traffic assessment is true – I also think it’s part of the problem and helps to explain why the city is in the fiscal straits that it is in.

One of the problems I see is that voters tend to overvalue factors such as traffic and sightlines and under value the need for jobs and city venue.

Traffic continues to get markedly worse over time even with limited city expansion over the last 20 years.  Part of that is that traffic is independent of the city – where I-80’s congestion leads to freeway backup that backs onto city streets.

But another part of that is that Davis heavily contributes to freeway congestion with its own large number of people who travel out of the city during the day and return at night and another portion of commuters who travel to the city to work at the university only to return home each night.

The city of Davis as we have argued at many points in time is in fact at a crossroads.  DiSC offers the city a chance for high paying jobs and private investment to help leverage significant public investment that has come in the form of UC Davis.

The city has been a vital and affluent college town, but now we are seeing many talented young people unable to stay in the region due to lack of jobs and the increasing unaffordability not only of Davis but the Sacramento region as a whole.

While UC Davis has worked hard to improve its standing as a major research university, the benefactor of that has primarily been Sacramento through Aggie Square rather than Davis.

However, it seems that things like jobs and housing do not resonate with voters who are at or nearing retirement age and don’t need new jobs.  Housing does not resonate for those who have long owned their own homes, protected by Prop 13 from tax increases but who can still leverage the explosive property value gains.

But the inability of the city to be able to pay its bills, fund its roads, maintain its downtown, maintain its parks may end up being costly to current residents.

The city will increasingly have to ask for new taxes not only for schools but for parks and roads.  And the cost will be a decline in the quality of life and ultimately perhaps a decline in people’s precious property values.

DiSC is not a solution to this.  It is only a piece in the puzzle, just as a revenue tax would have been a few years ago.  DiSC will not solve our fiscal woes and in fact will likely not even generate revenue for close to a decade, but it part of the piece that can help the future of Davis be able to maintain our current quality of life.

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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18 Comments

        1. Keith Olson

          Which is not going to get fixed without funding.

          “11,284 net new daily vehicle trips, with 1,052 trips occurring during the AM peak hour and 1,155 trips occurring during the PM peak hour” isn’t going to help.

    1. Bill Marshall

      I still fully affirm… affirm… affirm… affirm… (as to Alan M’s post)

      Last best chance for securing right-of-way, designing, getting basic improvements in place not just for this project, but the likely future growth under the Mace curve, north of the proposed project, even if those be 10-15-20-25 years off…

      Called ‘responsible urban planning‘… Davis used to do that, particularly for bike/ped facilities (non-motor vehicle) but it has been awhile… ‘planning for’ future peripheral growth doesn’t it means to be committed to or approved… but doors could well be closed if something is not done with the proposed project.

    2. Todd Edelman

      This is essential for the route to and from West Sacramento even without conversion of farmland east of East Davis into automobile-focused housing, which is essentially all housing more than 10 min away by bike from Downtown or UCD for people have access to their own cars.

      It’s too far away. I-80 is an amazing express route when it’s not congested. People in the new hybrid workplace will schedule off-congestion hours. I live near Cowell and Mace and it makes no sense to cycle from here to anywhere further than the middle of South Davis. There is simply no competition for cars. Everything around here has almost no bikes parked at it.

      DISC II is too far away from Downtown, UC Davis to make travel there convenient by anything but private car. There is no way a free shuttle can compete, either. DISC II is relatively disconnected to South Davis by anything but private car – the Pelz bridge is too far west to be relevant to the Nugget and environs. It’s some distance to Pelz from DISC II even for a trip to friends in South Davis.  The east of East Davis is not far but most destinations are not there.

      In the beginning, the Universe created a new General Plan which made it impossible to propose any new housing more than ten minutes away by bike from E St. Plaza, or five minutes from ice cream, by foot.

  1. Don Shor

    the project is still projected to bring in about $3.88 million in annual money for the city.

    What would the projected annual revenues be without the residential component?

    1. David Greenwald

      I don’t see it broken out.

      The total revenue is $5.3 million with total expenditures at $1.42 million for the $3.88 million in net fiscal impact. Obviously removing the residential would remove some of the costs, but also some of the revenue.

      1. Don Shor

        Obviously removing the residential would remove some of the costs, but also some of the revenue.

        My guess is that replacing the residential with more commercial would increase the revenue.

        1. Bill Marshall

          My guess is that replacing the residential with more commercial would increase the revenue.

          And increasing traffic impacts… to every ‘solution’, there is a ‘problem’…

          1. Don Shor

            And increasing traffic impacts…

            There’s now plenty of housing proposed nearby which would presumably mitigate some of the traffic impacts.

  2. Ron Oertel

    There’s now plenty of housing proposed nearby which would presumably mitigate some of the traffic impacts.

    You know a development proposal is in trouble when you start seeing comments like this.  🙂

    Actually, they’re all in trouble. And, they should all be viewed as “one” (all together), in that sense. Including Shriner’s, the horse ranch, the “other half” of DiSC, etc.

    As well as the site that’s inside of Mace Curve.

    1. Don Shor

      You know a development proposal is in trouble when you start seeing comments like this. 🙂

      Actually, they’re all in trouble.

      I don’t know that it’s in trouble, nor do I think any of the housing projects necessarily are in trouble either. I haven’t seen any polling on any of this. If I were wagering informally, I’d bet DISC/2 has about even odds, that both housing proposals that need public votes will pass, and there’s nothing to consider for north of the DISC site since there is no proposal.

      1. Ron Oertel

        Just to clarify, my comment wasn’t actually intended to pick on you.

        But the proposal really is the “camel’s nose, under the tent”. As such, all of them should be considered together.

        Even David’s article, regarding the “wonky analysis” of the fiscal impact has a desperate quality to it.  And even that is (only) in reference to the nose of the camel.

        Of course, that same “nose” reference also refers to the (other) impacts, as well.

        I believe this thing is even less-likely to pass than MRIC, ARC, DISC, or whatever iteration this proposal now has.  I’d suggest that the developer table it, but hey – it’s their money to spend on a campaign. Maybe they can continue roping Gloria into a probable defeat for her own re-election, as well. But someone has to step-up to oppose her, first.

        I’d suggest another Studio 54-type analysis, first.

  3. Bill Marshall

    “11,284 net new daily vehicle trips, with 1,052 trips occurring during the AM peak hour and 1,155 trips occurring during the PM peak hour” isn’t going to help

    You do realize that is not for the segment of Mace within what you describe as “Mace Mess”, right?  Or are you using those #’s as a ‘stalking horse’?

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