By David M. Greenwald
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.