Commentary: Measure J Turns Land Use into Political Campaigns

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

Davis, CA – Six former Davis Mayors wrote a letter condemning the actions of a sitting councilmember: “We are concerned that Davis City Councilman Dan Carson’s involvement in the Measure H campaign and his efforts to pass Measure H set a terrible precedent for Davis and harms our citizen-based democratic processes.”

The mayors expressed concern that “Carson’s conduct in the Measure H campaign… has blurred the line between his role as an elected representative of the people of Davis and his advocacy for a development project.”

A letter from Ron Glick this week pushes back, expressing his “sadness with the level of discourse that our community has sunk to under the ordinance that requires a vote on annexation of land into the city.”

He writes, “The recent attack on a sitting city council member by six former mayors represents a new low.”

He also points out, “While condemning Dan Carson for breaking protocol to respond to public comment the signers were comfortable enough with the Chair of the No on H campaign using public comment to call Carson ‘A bully and a thug’ among other things, that their letter didn’t bother to mention what was said that provoked Carson’s response.”

I’m not going to say this is a happy turn of events, but I do want to caution people before we get into talk of new lows.  It is unfortunately because any time we are not talking about the core issues, I think the voters are losing out.

But if we are talking about “new” lows—we really aren’t there yet.  The six mayors have a collective institutional memory that extends back 50 years and so it surprises me a little to see a civil action by a sitting councilmember amplified as it has.

They note, “Councilman Carson’s lawsuit did not produce any meaningful changes to the citizen’s ballot arguments.”  But how do you determine that before the fact?

I know in my time as an observer, I have seen much lower moments than this—the Gidaro letter, a meeting shut down and halted by a citizen basically refusing to move, council members and citizens getting into shouting wars, and much more.

Perhaps the remote meetings serve an important purpose of at least slightly turning down the heat.

But the main point I want to make here is one of the main points I have been making for a while—the fact that Measure J requires a citizen vote means that a land use issue becomes politics.

That’s really what the lawsuit was about.  The opponents of Measure H in their published statement in the election guide, in the view of the proponents of the project, went too far in their criticism.  Dan Carson and others believed the opponents took their advocacy too far and misrepresented the project and the facts.

There is a process to address those grievances and it was followed.  In the end, as again I think the judge’s actual ruling is far more nuanced than the No side has argued, the judge left most of the argument intact.  That’s as it should have been—the law says to err on the side of free speech.  I would quibble with the notion that changing one word is insignificant, a single word is sufficient to reverse the meaning of an entire paragraph.

The larger point is that by making land use decisions subject to vote, you turn it into… well… politics.

Opponents have learned how to campaign against land use projects—basically scare the hell out of the voters.  This is going to create traffic, pollute the air, destroy your quality of life.

Proponents have pushed back by making pie in the sky promises.  This is literally going to save the world, Carson argued.

I don’t always agree with Keith Echols, but I appreciate his mindset on this stuff.

He noted in a comment yesterday, “It’s an incremental improvement and that’s important.  You’re never going to get an ideal environmental solution.”

He’s an equal opportunity skeptic, noting, “I laugh when I hear the YES statements,” such as, “Yes on H restores and improves native habitat for endangered species, while permanently preserving farmland in Yolo County.”

He argues, “The real story is an incremental improvement over simply paving over the whole thing and doing nothing for the environment.  But it’s kind of hard to sell that.  So the message is that environmentally speaking…it won’t be great but then no development would be.  Voters need to recognize that they’re sacrificing some of their environment and all the natural benefits that come with it for some much needed tax revenue for the city.”

But, as I would argue, Measure J is a campaign, and you can’t run a campaign with a slogan like “We marginally improve the environment,” or, as Keith Echols put it, “We’re not going to screw up the environment as badly as we could have.”

Instead, we get the Yes side talking about this is the best project ever, it will save the world, save the city’s finances.  The No side argues this will pave over farmland, it won’t produce nearly the revenue we need, if any at all, and it will harm the environment by pumping new GHG into the atmosphere.

The voters get to watch this cat fight play out in real time and then have to weigh in on whether they are better off taking a risk on traffic impacts or finding another way to fund city operations—if they understand the fiscal peril faced by the community at all.

I don’t think the council has done a near good enough job of communicating the fiscal problems that the city faces, and there are of course good political reasons for that oversight.

Ron Glick will undoubtedly use his first comment to point out that this is the problem with Measure J and that I support it.  And I’ll point out that the problem with democracy in general is that, sometimes, you don’t get what you want.

In the end, we should not be fighting democracy but rather fighting to make a more perfect union.  At the local level, the voters have to make a crucial choice, and it’s not a perfect decision—there will be downside risk on both sides of the story.  Ultimately the voters who are in the middle and haven’t already made up their minds will have to go with what they see as the lesser of the risks.

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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  1. Ron Glick

    “But if we are talking about “new” lows – we really aren’t there yet.  The six Mayors have a collective institutional memory that extends back 50 years and so it surprises me a little to see a civil action by a sitting councilmember amplified as it has.”

    I was talking about new lows in annexation elections  not Davis incivility in general. However  I did think of some of the public sins of the letter signers but decided not to go there.

    The six mayors with their letter are playing what Alex Cockburn, the great English journalist, referred to as playing “Beat the Devil.” The idea of beat the devil is you attack someone and then when they respond you attack them for responding. This is exactly what the mayors did by only attacking Carson without mentioning the prior provocation.

    The other day you had a piece about how Carson had become the issue of the campaign. The mayors letter is exactly that, a no on H campaign piece, thinly disguised as feigned outrage over Carson’s behavior.

  2. Bill Marshall

     the fact that Measure J requires a citizen vote means that a land use issue becomes politics.

    A truer statement would be “that land use decisions turned political, resulting in the creation of Measure J…”

    Measure J only added the gasoline to the fire…

  3. Tom Miller

    Of course “there are of course good political reasons for that oversight”. This member of the Davis body politic, though not one of the 4 of every 1000 employed by the city, finds our ghost town of unleased commercial property ridiculous (33 listed this morning) in comparison with the sought profits of developers and bankers promoting another greenwashed pocket liner of future unleased properties. The nearby cities differential in cost per square foot has always contributed to this problem, and every new approval for land conversion exacerbates the problem by increasing the footprint of overpriced Davis real estate. Oh boy! Another “research park” that will draw industry to our brainy resident faculty! I’ve heard this so many times before, as I drive past the graveyard tilt-ups boarding Interstate 80 on both South and North. Occupied or not, the taxes must be paid, and your suggestion of insufficient revenue indicates the unpopular necessity of raising taxes from some area not restrained by law… or cutting costs at city hall. It is sad the Councils’ model sees only footprint increase of tax base as a means to revenue increase. Vertical infill also increases assessed value.

    1. wesleysagewalker

      DiSC will add more than $50 million in new spending to the Davis economy every year at buildout, create thousands of jobs for Davisites and UC Davis graduates, and create opportunities for R&D focused firms to create partnerships with UC Davis, UCANR, and the burgeoning innovation economy in Davis.

      Doing nothing has consequences. The No side is eager to emphasize their fear of loss, but they fail to recognize that doing nothing will also lead to loss. Stasis is death for a city, a society, an economy. DiSC is the result of years of planning and community conversations to ensure that it fits with the warp and woof of Davis.

      1. Matt Williams

        Wesley, your “stasis is death for a city” statement is pure and simple hyperbole.  There are lots and lots of communities that have maxed out their population growth many decades ago and are still thriving and paying their bills.  Montecito California is a classic example.

        Davis does not have to go into stasis.  It can actually formulate a plan and Vision for what it wants to be.  And then execute on that plan.  Imagine that!  We need community leadership to do that though.

        1. Bill Marshall

          Wesley, your “stasis is death for a city” statement is pure and simple hyperbole. 

          True story, as it its opposite, “stasis is life for a City”… pure and simple hyperbole… two-edged sword…

          As has been pointed out by you, many others, ‘stasis’ means (for the City, County) means:

          Costs above revenues… increasing ‘deferred liabilities’… only “solutions” are reduced services, increased taxes…

          Second law of thermodymanics, that may well apply to social institutions… like pavements, Cities, politics, etc., etc.

          “Stasis” is a “closed system”… pretty much by definition of each.

          Things trend toward maximum entropy (except, possibly, to ‘black holes’, but won’t go further into that analogy [many  entendres, including RCI’s] today)… only way to prevent that, is to open up the system to additional energy…

          Energy can be positive or negative… everyone should consider, and vote on whether they want ‘stasis’, go retrograde, go forward… I just hope that folk consider options, and act/vote accordingly…


        2. Richard_McCann

          There are lots and lots of communities that have maxed out their population growth many decades ago and are still thriving and paying their bills.  

          Yes, extremely wealthy communities can do this, but not ones with average or below income and wealth (Davis is not “wealthy” compared to the enclave towns you are identifying).  Ask all of the cities in the Rust Belt. Many communities in the Central Valley are suffering the blight of stasis (usually not enforced). The only way these other cities in stasis have survived has been by erecting barriers to entry that increase the property values within. In contrast, San Francisco appeared to be in stasis through 1990 and was suffering fiscally. But then it had another burst of growth over the last 30 years that has also filled its coffers. A dynamic community is key to a vital city. The population need not grow quickly, but it needs to have sufficient turnover.

      2. Keith Y Echols

        There are lots and lots of communities that have maxed out their population growth many decades ago and are still thriving and paying their bills.  Montecito California is a classic example.

        Montecito is an unincorporated community and has no city government.  So in a sense it doesn’t have to split it’s property taxes with the city.  On the other hand it has to share it with the rest of the county.  I mean as far as comparisons go; we’re talking about a Montecito population of 8,000 or so compared to a population of 66,000.  I think a better comparison is Palo Alto with a population of 68,000.  In the past 10 years Davis grew by 1.9% (about 1200 people).  Palo Alto grew by 6.5% (about 2,100 people).

        Davis does not have to go into stasis.  It can actually formulate a plan and Vision for what it wants to be.  And then execute on that plan. 

        Absolutely.  But that’s a separate issue from the one at hand (DISC).  Often times you have to figure out what to do with the hand you’re dealt at the time….before the plans are made.  Or sometimes opportunities come up that don’t go with the plan and you have to make the best of it.  “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” -Mike Tyson

        1. Ron Oertel

          Cities within 30 miles or so of the coast (where the vast majority of the state’s population lives) are not expanding their boundaries. And most of them seem to be thriving – especially when compared to cities that do pursue sprawl.

          If the claim is that cities are dependent upon continued sprawl to survive, there’s much bigger problems than just DiSC.



        2. Keith Y Echols

          Cities within 30 miles or so of the coast (where the vast majority of the state’s population lives) are not expanding their boundaries. And most of them seem to be thriving – especially when compared to cities that do pursue sprawl.
          If the claim is that cities are dependent upon continued sprawl to survive, there’s much bigger problems than just DiSC.

          I find it amusing that you believe you can provide new information to me about Bay Area and Valley growth and development…..I worked for a bay area developer.  I developed (a little) in the bay area.  I developed in the central valley. And I lived in Palo Alto.

          I’ve explained in detail to you in the past the differences between the Bay Area and the Valley in term of development.

          Your reply has nothing to do with my comment about Palo Alto, Davis and Montecito.

        3. Matt Williams

          Keith, I believe both Montecito and Palo Alto are good examples of the point I was making. The details of their respective makeup are just that … details.  What they both have in common is that they have a very clear Vision of what their community is and where they want their community to go in the years ahead.

          Palo Alto adopted their General Plan in November 2017 and it is designed to last until the end of 2030 … 13 years.  That means the plan is never out of date, and the stakeholders (residents and businesses and property owners) have a clear idea of what to expect going forward.

          VISION: Each of us has a vision of what Palo Alto should be like in the future. Although our visions are different, they share common qualities. We aspire to create a safe, beautiful City for ourselves, our children and future generations. We envision a City with diverse housing opportunities and a sustainable transportation network, where the natural environment is protected, where excellent services are provided and where citizens have a say in government. We aspire to create a City that is economically healthy and a good place to do business.

          The Palo Alto Comprehensive Plan strives to build a coherent vision of the City’s future from the input of a diverse population. It integrates the aspirations of the City’s residents, businesses, neighborhoods and officials into a bold strategy for managing change.

          The Comprehensive Plan is the primary tool for guiding the future development of the City. On a daily basis the City is faced with tough choices about growth, housing, transportation, neighborhood improvement and service delivery. A Comprehensive Plan provides a guide for making these choices by describing long-term goals for the City’s future as well as policies to guide day-to-day decisions.

          As an unincorporated community (like Esparto is in Yolo County) Montecito has a different governance structure, but the stakeholders (residents and businesses and property owners) have a similarly clear idea of what to expect going forward.

          1. Don Shor


            The visions in the General Plan are broad philosophical statements describing desired end states. They are intended to convey purpose and mission and are not necessarily attainable now or in the foreseeable future. The vision statements set the tone for the goals, policies, and actions in Section IV through VII of the General Plan, but they are not prescriptive or legal mandates.

            1. Quality of Life • Value, support and nurture Davis’ individuals, families and youth; their quality of life; and the ethic of lifelong learning and contribution. • Foster a safe, sustainable, healthy, diverse and stimulating environment for all in the community. • Promote wellness, strive to be a community where basic human needs are met, and provide opportunities for all community members to reach their maximum potential. • Become a community where the impacts of traffic, noise, pollution, crime and litter are minimized.

            2. Small Town Character • Maintain Davis as a cohesive, compact, university-oriented city surrounded by and containing farmland, greenbelts, natural habitats and natural resources. • Reflect Davis’ small town character in urban design that contributes to and enhances livability and social interaction. • Maintain a strong, vital, pedestrian-oriented and dynamic downtown area. • Encourage carefully-planned, sensitively-designed infill and new development to a scale in keeping with the existing city character.

            3. Diversity • Celebrate and encourage a diverse cultural community. • Identify and promote changes of those social structures which limit equal access or participation on the basis of race, ethnicity, culture, age, education, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability, or socio-economic background.

            4. Arts and Culture • Promote and support the arts, emphasizing the potential for the arts to build strong community character. • Identify and preserve Davis’ archeological, historical and cultural resources. Foster understanding and appreciation of the city’s heritage.

            5. Natural Resource Protection and Restoration • Promote a clean, safe, healthy, livable and ecologically sound environment for today and the future. • Pursue sustainability. • Minimize impacts on Davis’ land, water, air and biological resources and seek to enhance and restore Davis’ environment, through such projects as wetlands and multi-functional drainage ponds.

            6. Distinct Neighborhood Identity • Preserve and create an array of distinct neighborhoods so that all residents can identify a neighborhood that is “home” for them. • Promote in each neighborhood a diversity of housing options that will enable people with wide range of needs, economic levels, cultural identities and ages to live in Davis. • Enhance neighborhoods by supporting schools, retail centers, parks and community facilities that can be the foci and gathering places for each neighborhood.

            7. Broad Range of Services and Businesses • Develop a broad range of services and businesses to meet the daily needs of Davis citizens for employment, shopping, education and recreation. • Promote economic vitality by developing a diversity of business enterprises. • Promote equal opportunities in employment.

            8. Neighborhood-Oriented Transportation System • Encourage a clean, quiet, safe and attractive transportation system that harmonizes with the city’s neighborhoods and enhances quality of life. • Promote alternative transportation modes such as bicycling, walking, public transit and telecommuting.

            9. Parks and Open Space Program • Implement an open space program that creates, preserves and enhances open space and wildlife habitat. • Provide a park system and recreational programs and facilities that meet the diverse needs of Davis citizens, enhance the environment and foster a sense of community.

            10. Agriculture • Protect the viability of agriculture and prime agricultural land in and around Davis. • Encourage agriculture practices that are not injurious to the city’s environment or residents.

            11. Synergistic Partnership with UC Davis ƒ Recognize and strengthen the positive synergistic partnership between the City and UC Davis.

            12. Regional Context • Recognize Davis’ role within the broader region. • Make decisions on City policy with an understanding of regional impacts. • Maximize available resources through joint planning with other agencies and jurisdictions.

            13. Regional Leadership • Make Davis a regional leader in slow and well-managed growth, agricultural and environmental preservation, and cultural diversity.

            14. Accountable, Citizen-Based Planning • Involve citizens on a continuous basis in all aspects of planning.

            15. Embracing Technology • Make the advantages of new technologies available to Davis residents. • Embrace information technology as a tool for solving problems.

        4. Matt Williams

          Thank you Don for posting those 36 Visions that the Davis General Plan provides.  All 36 are given equal weight by the document, which states:

          The visions in the General Plan are broad philosophical statements describing desired end states. They are intended to convey purpose and mission and are not necessarily attainable now or in the foreseeable future.

          There is no coherence.  No holistic direction.  No “bold strategy for managing change” … the words from the Palo Alto Plan document.

          I believe one important question to ask ourselves with respect to those Visions is, How successfully have we been in aligning our community with the purpose and mission of each of the 36 individual Vision statements?

          Another, equally important question to ask is “What does “not necessarily attainable now or in the foreseeable future” mean?

    2. Bill Marshall

      though not one of the 4 of every 1000 employed by the city,

      I challenge!   Are you counting not only ‘regular’ employees, but PT, seasonal etc.?

      Was ‘city’ meant those employed within the City, or those employed BY the City of  Davis, a Municipal Corporation?

      I believe, based on experience, and checking the websites, there are < 500 regularly employed by the City of Davis…

      Think twice, post once… just advice, if you wish credibility…

        1. Tom Miller

          Now posted, twice, from city website and census bureau, 297 staff employed “by” a city of 66,850. I rounded a little, but shared a number that is very average nationally. Whether or not this should be higher or lower goes to the heart of the “political reasons for that oversight“. Our protective services are good, and I would say sufficient. But David Greenwald has suggested our budget is at risk, and as a casually involved voter being asked to assist in revenue generation for staff perpetuity and possible increase, I do not want to invest in more ghost developments until there is an actual need. The commercial vacancy rate is far too high already.

          1. Don Shor

            The commercial vacancy rate is far too high already.

            What is the commercial vacancy rate in Davis?

        2. Matt Williams

          What is the commercial vacancy rate in Davis?

          As a partial, and unverified, answer to Don’s question, the following statistics were shared with me yesterday in a meeting where I was trying to better understand the current commercial/industrial landscape in Davis.  I’m going to continue to attempt to better understand the makeup of those particular statistics … and what they mean for Davis going forward.

          Class A Office/Industrial space
          square feet

          Class B Office/Industrial space
          square feet

          Class C Office/Industrial space
          square feet

          Total Office/Industrial space
          square feet

          Vacancy Rate

          Vacant Office/Industrial space (calculated number)
          square feet

        3. Ron Oertel

          Given that commercial demand is more regional in nature (e.g., compared to demand for student housing), it seems appropriate to examine all of the statistics you cited for the region (including the asking rent prices, for various commercial categories).

          And then, compare that to the rent that something like DiSC would charge, as well.  (Has that even been presented, anywhere?)  By the way, has it even been settled yet, whether they would sell the sites, or rent them?

          Not to mention undeveloped land, including land in Davis (as well as the 350-acre business park in Woodland, which has yet to attract a single commercial tenant, or put a shovel into the ground – even with the 1,600 housing units added during its 7-mile “trek” after failing in Davis.).

          (Is the same true regarding the Dixon business park, as well?)

          Seems to me that property owners are also going to have to do something about the 20% vacancy rate for office space in the region that you cited, which is expected to continue.

          Even the Roseville Galleria is “for sale”, apparently driven by a massive loan payment due.  And that’s the “best mall” in the entire region.  (Not to mention the “dead mall” in Woodland.  Or more accurately, nearly-dead for many years, now.)

          In any case, if there’s such “demand” for commercial, why did the MRIC/ARC/DISC developers fail to proceed with an actual business park (when invited to do so repeatedly) for years, now? I can think of two separate times in which they failed to do so, as I recall.

          And, why did the “other half” of DiSC “drop out”? (Except for the “promised” grade-separated crossing, which is apparently on that other half.)

          Why do they need to include 460 housing units to make it “pencil out”, more than a decade after this idea was first explored?

          And again, why does the city continue converting commercial/industrial property for housing? (I can provide a list again, if that helps.)

          You do realize that the economy is now in a free-fall, right? The stock market, the housing market, etc.

        4. Matt Williams

          I agree Don.  I sent the following response to the very reputable source of those numbers just a few minutes ago:

          The third slide listed a total of 170,000 square feet of commercial/industrial space in Davis with a vacancy rate of 2.7%, which calculates out to an inventory of approximately 4,600 square feet.  When I went back to a graphic I aggregated back in October 2020 in a personal attempt to gather knowledge of the available commercial/industrial assets in Davis, it became quickly apparent that there was/is a disconnect between the numbers in the third slide and the numbers displayed on the commercial/industrial vacancy images in my graphic.

          When I posted that image of commercial vacancy signs back during the Measure B election process, I was quickly told that most of those vacancies “did not count” because they (for various reasons) were “not suitable for innovation economy tenants.”

          With 20/20 hindsight, that assessment does not surprise me at all.

          The listings in the attached graphic clearly indicate that the vacancy information on the third slide represents only a slice of the Davis commercial/industrial marketplace. The 14th sign in the graphic indicates 22,632 square feet of vacant space … the south Davis Ace Hardware building being offered by Jennifer Anderson.  I realize that that vacant building may not meet the definition of either Class A or Class B or Class C used in the slide, or even if it does, may be excluded for other reasons.  However, if Davis is going to actually put together a robust Economic Development Plan, understanding what we have without exclusions would seem to be the wisest approach.

          As I have said before here in the Vanguard, I believe it is very important for our City (as a government entity) and our city (as a community) to assemble a list of all the underutilized commercial properties that are either
          (A) vacant and unbuilt on,
          (B) built on and without a full complement of tenants, or
          (C) built on and with suboptimal tenants. 

          I believe that aggregate list would provide us with
          (1) a first step toward arresting the growth of urban blight in Davis,
          (2) providing a possible exit ramp for “trapped” landlords who don’t have the wherewithall (financial or emotional or energy) to upgrade their underperforming asset, and
          (3) providing an integral upgrade pathway that can/will feed larger projects like DiSC with a stream of potential tenants.

          1. Don Shor

            The former Davis Ace building site is retail, so it wouldn’t logically be included in these calculations.
            All we need is a number that shows the commercial vacancy rate in Davis compared to the region, assuming that the numbers are derived the same way. If in fact the standard method of calculating commercial vacancy yields a Vacancy Rate of 2.7%, that is very, very low.
            All other supposed factors, including anecdotes about signs around town (in 2020?), what the rent rates would be in new constructed sites, where we are with respect to business cycles — all of that is irrelevant to this particular discussion.

            It’s simple: is the Davis commercial vacancy rate significantly lower than the overall market and the surrounding communities?
            Let us know when you have an answer. Or you might invite your reputable source provide the data for an article on the topic.

        5. Ron Oertel

          The former Davis Ace building site is retail, so it wouldn’t logically be included in these calculations.

          Arguments like this defy common sense and are not going to fly, politically. People generally look at sites like that as “commercial”, without caring much how they’re currently sub-zoned or used within the broader category.

          And given that retail is dying, it would truly be unfortunate for owners if their sites could never be changed for other uses (especially commercial uses).

          Is it written into the constitution that retail zoning cannot be changed to other types of commercial uses?

          I do know that the former Families First site was zoned for industrial uses.  And yet, it “somehow” accommodated the Families First facility, and (subsequently) a student housing development (Sterling).

          How was the site of Davis Health Care zoned, before it was approved for another housing development?

          Just wondering how the site of Hibbert’s is currently zoned.

          1. Don Shor

            I’m not making political arguments. I just want an apples to apples comparison: what is the present commercial vacancy rate in Davis compared to the region? That number would not include properties which might be rezoned and repurposed here or elsewhere. It’s just a comparison of the present state of the commercial portion of the real estate market.

            Just wondering how the site of Hibbert’s is currently zoned.

            I believe this is the zoning for the Hibbert site at 500 G Street:

        6. Ron Oertel

          For that matter, all of these factors are relevant.  Assuming that one believes the town needs “more commercial” (relative to residential) in the first place:

          A) vacant and unbuilt on,
          (B) built on and without a full complement of tenants, or
          (C) built on and with suboptimal tenants.

          As a side note, I’ve come across small towns which seem to have 100% occupancy of commercial buildings, and yet (somehow) they’re not conducting surveys to “prove” any further need.  Even when surrounded by acres and acres of open space.

          Can’t imagine why vacancy rates are used for any type of planning purpose (for locations outside of town), in the first place.  That’s (once again) how sprawl is justified.

          If there’s ever an “unused lab” sitting anywhere vacant (anywhere in the country), let us know. The fact is that labs are created from other space, and are not just sitting around vacant.

          And if you believe that there’s a “shortage” of commercial space relative to residential, why would you support additional housing, thereby making that ratio worse?  (At what point will the “balance” be “just right”, according to you?)



        7. Matt Williams

          Don, are you saying that the Davis Ace south building does not qualify as a commercial location?  Its zoning is commercial … specifically Commercial Central.

          You appear to be questioning the integrity of the reputable source I personally believe is very reputable.  I have sent you a confidential personal e-mail in an attempt to help you set aside your suspicions.

          There is an interesting parallel between this interchange about the meaning of “commercial” and a recent interchange about the meaning of “woman.”

        8. Ron Oertel

          By the way, do you suppose that they conduct surveys of vacancies to determine how much San Francisco (and just about every city within 30 miles of the coast) needs to “expand outward”?

          Or, do you suppose those figures are only used in areas in which development interests are attempting to justify sprawl?

          Pretty sure that I’d select the latter, as the only reason we’re seeing it discussed here.

          I’m not making political arguments.

          I believe you are attempting to do so.

          I just want an apples to apples comparison: what is the present commercial vacancy rate in Davis compared to the region? That number would not include properties which might be rezoned and repurposed here or elsewhere. It’s just a comparison of the present state of the commercial portion of the real estate market.

          Why wouldn’t it logically include those properties? (In other cities, as well?)

          Isn’t the purpose to determine the locations of future commercial possibilities (assuming that one believes it’s needed in the first place)?

          Or, are you only looking at pre-existing buildings which fit a very narrow (current) zoning and usage criteria?

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  5. Richard_McCann

    And I’ll point out that the problem with democracy in general is that sometimes, you don’t get what you want.

    This sounds like the argument that the libertarians use to justify “free markets.” Both statements ignore the fact that the supposed functionality is based on PERFECT operation of either the market or democracy. There’s substantial evidence and study demonstrating that neither operates perfectly and the limits are easily identifiable. In the case of democracy there is a limit on the amount of time and information that voters can devote to adequately understanding an issue and how that issue fits into a broader context. That’s why we have a republic to delegate decision making to individuals who can devote the needed time and can be educated to gain sufficient information. We also create severe principal-agent incentive distortions by creating a republic framework and then circumventing that with direct democracy.

    So I’m tired of hearing about we need to leave everything “to the market” and “to democracy” in the false belief that they will deliver the best outcome in the end. The facts are that neither will without putting guardrails on the universe of decisions that are left to individuals in each setting.

  6. Bill Marshall

    I just hope that folk consider options, and act/vote accordingly…

    There will be ‘logical consequences’ to ALL of the chosen options…

    That’s pretty much a guarantee…

    Please vote, if eligible… a right and, I’d argue, a responsibility

  7. Keith Y Echols

    The discussion about Measure J is academic.  Is it a bad idea?  Yes.  Direct democracy invites people who don’t have specialized knowledge or the time to dedicate to an issue to dive deep into the weeds; in this case; land use, city finances…etc..   You’re not going to get the unwashed masses to give back that power.  The toothpaste is out of the tube and it’s a mess.

     And I’ll point out that the problem with democracy in general is that, sometimes, you don’t get what you want.

    I’d say that with DIRECT democracy the problem is that often times you don’t get what you NEED.

    If I ran both campaigns it go something like:

    YES on H

    Traffic: Yeah traffic is going to suck for a while.  We hope a combination of our plans and the state’s plans for 80 will help…I mean who doesn’t trust city and state government to fix these messes?….but yeah, traffic is going to suck.  Come on East Davis, take one for the team!

    Environment: Nothing we do is going to make this project better for the environment than the existing acres of farmland it is now.  But we’re trying to do some things that make it’s impact not too bad (*list things here*).  Could we do more?  Sure.  But then we’d make a lot less and we’d have no reason for doing the project in the first place.

    Affordable Housing:  With project = 15 or so affordable homes.  No project = ZERO new affordable homes from this property.  If you’re nice we’ll give some local homeless people some tents.

    Good for the City:  Well, our best guess is that the city will EVENTUALLY make about $3.4M a year in tax revenue (give or take $100K).  The city has been short on cash lately.  This should help.  Or No project = ZERO new tax revenue from this property.  But, hey let’s be honest we’re guessing here.

    NO on H

    Traffic:  Ya think a poorly planned bicycle lane screwed up Mace?  Wait till you see what 1,200 more cars will do.

    Environment.  I like open farm fields and it’s the best for the environment.

    Affordable Housing: There really should be more affordable homes on this project.

    Compete with Downtown:  We fear that Chic Filet will open up at DISC and compete with Raising Cain and that a rival comic book shop will challenge Bizarro World out on Mace and 80.

    Market Commitment:  We feel that prospective new tenants should already show commit to commercial space that is essentially a drawing on napkin in a town with no history of approving such a project.



  8. Ron Glick

    Montecito has Oprah, Harry and Meghan. Davis has three guys named Alan. Montecito has the Pacific Ocean. Davis has Putah Creek. Montecito has avocado orchards. Davis has tomato fields. Davis has Measure J. Montecito has the Board of Supervisors.

    My childhood friend’s father was a famous movie actor who lived in Montecito when he passed away. They are trying to sell his Montecito estate without subdividing it. The asking price for the 13 acres, $63 million.

    There have been some absurd or extreme examples when comparing Davis to other communities. Elk Grove and coastal communities come to mind but Montecito has to be the most absurd comparison to date.

    1. Matt Williams

      You completely missed the point Ron.  Montecito wasn’t/isn’t being compared to Davis.  Montecito and Palo Alto were/are provided as examples of communities (of very diverse size and makeup) that have decided what they want to be and then consistently made their decisions in concert with that Vision.  Davis doesn’t know what it wants to be and it’s government makes ad hoc decisions that more often than not are neither  sustainable, resilient, or internally consistent. Montecito and Palo Alto pay their bills and maintain their assets.  Davis does neither.  You are making a comparison based on an assumed commonality.  Any comparison is to illustrate the substantial differences.

  9. Ron Glick

    Zillow has six Montecito homes for sale with an average price of around $7 million dollars. Probably easy to keep your city solvent with those prices.

    1. Matt Williams

      Hard to keep it affordable though.

      With that said, this whole discussion was started by wesleysagewalker’s statement that “stasis is death for a city”

      The government and economy of Montecito has been on very solid footing since emerging from the Great Depression in the late 30’s and early 40’s.  Keith was correct that Montecito has no City government, but its defacto government is much more the Montecito Water District rather than the County of Santa Barbara.  Looking at the whole picture, Montecito is both very much alive and in a state of equilibrium … and the definition of “stasis” in the Oxford Dictionary is a period or state of inactivity or equilibrium.

      As a community in the 1940’s it made a very clear decision about what they wanted Montecito to be in the future, and they have very successfully enjoyed being in stasis for decades and decades and decades.

      Keith’s choice of Palo Alto as a city in equilibrium is a very good one.  After a whirlwind population rise from 16,000 in 1940 to 56,000 in 1970, the last 50 years the population of Palo Alto has grown 0.4% per year.  During that same 50 year period Davis has grown more than five times more at a rate of 2.2% per year.

      Palo Alto has been in stasis for at least 50 years because, like Montecito, as a community it has made a very clear decision about what they wanted Palo Alto to be in the future.

      1. Richard_McCann

        Montecito isn’t self governing, and its growth is controlled by water limits imposed by the County, not locally. (I’ve been working for a neighboring water district.) That comparison isn’t really appropriate or a reflection of “vision.” That stasis is externally imposed, not internally, and as pointed out, sustained by outrageously escalating real estate prices. It’s also subsidized by underpaid domestic and landscaping workers. Not exactly a desirable stasis.

        Looking to Palo Alto is a better choice, but it’s not relying on stasis going forward. Palo Alto is facing significant pressure to provide more housing to relieve affordability issues. PA also is hemmed in on every side by other cities so it can’t expand its footprint.

        That said, I agree with Matt’s statement that we need a clear community vision rather than just passively accepted what separate individuals put in front of us. We need to greatly reform the process by which we accept and approve development proposals, including giving more certainty so that we can see much more concrete proposals.

  10. Tom Miller

    Well, apparently people do care about sprawl versus commercial vacancy. Don’s simple question of vacancy rate was answered with sources I am not familiar with. As Will Rogers said, “All I know is what I read in the papers.” As a shopper, I check which shows offerings which dwarf the numbers presented by Matt. I can’t imagine why someone would spend money to list these properties if they weren’t available. Such classified advertisements are how lessees make decisions when they are looking for square footage, and although the numbers are becoming closer with time, Woodland, West Sacramento, and Dixon have always offered more bang for the buck, often with better access to transit and distribution. The level of effort to follow up on this issue is commendable. I appreciate all the insightful comments I have read here.

    1. Ron Oertel

      Interesting link you posted.  Seems to be quite a few commercial spots available for lease. More than I would have expected.

      But, I’m sure that we’ll hear that “this one is too hot, this one is too cold, and this one is . . . (never mind – none of them are “just right”).

      At least, not when there’s “peripheral land to be had” in which they can also build 460 housing units (and with the other “half” of the site waiting in the wings).

      This is also the reason that older downtowns struggle, in many cities. They just keep expanding outward, instead.

    2. David Greenwald

      Tom – The listing you posted looks extensive until you look at it closely.  There are 33 listings of those, 23 are either office or retail – including for places like the UMall and Target.

      Not all commercial listings are the same.  You can’t put a lab into office space.

      There is only one ready lab available, and it’s hard to know without contacting Jim Gray whether it’s actually still on the market.  There is some medical space at the Davis Medical Center, and some space on Cousteau Place but not sure the nature of that.  Someone like Tim Keller could tell us more if he posts on this. I know he’s been looking desperately for suitable space for his company and the startups he tries to provide space for.

      The only lab space available on Drew is relatively small as well only 6400 feet, so anything sizable would not be able to move there either.

      These listings actually back up the argument that there is not sufficient lab and tech and flex space available in Davis.

      1. Ron Oertel

        You can’t put a lab into office space.

        This is akin to stating that you can’t put a lab onto farmland, either. At least, not without some “changes”.

        In the case of farmland, it requires a lot more “change”, compared to a location which already has infrastructure.

        There’s no such thing as “unused” lab space (to any degree) – in any city.  It’s created if there’s demand for it, from other space.

        And if there’s a significant amount of unused office or retail space, “something” is going to have to be done with it.

        If there was actually significant demand for “lab” space in the region, it would have been created a long, long time ago. No one is “waiting around” for more farmland adjacent to Davis to be sacrificed for that specific purpose.

      2. Ron Oertel

        By the way, how did you (apparently) put that information into a table?  Did you create it, yourself?

        I ask because that’s not how it appears on the linked website. Is there an option to list it that way?

      3. Tom Miller

        I’m old enough to recall when Novo Nordisk/Entotech was a building on the empty lot (white elephant) bounded by Drew Avenue, Research Park Drive, and Cowell Blvd. Calgene’s original site is still in lab use, as is AgraQuests’,  but the ghost mall of the University Research Park is a stark reminder of undeveloped space already zoned for lab space, currently 2/3 the planned area allotted for lab use in DISC 2.0, including the required area for parking.

    1. Ron Oertel

      Seems to me that your question is not as straightforward as it might appear, given that commercial includes many “categories”.

      And according to David, those categories are set in stone.  Unlike farmland outside of city limits, which can be “changed”.

      At least, that’s what I’m gathering from his comments.

      In addition, such a comparison would not include undeveloped land, or under-used land.

      And if you’re attempting to build a case that there’s a “shortage” (assuming you think there’s a need to expand), wouldn’t you want to examine all of the available possibilities?

    2. Matt Williams

      Don, here is the text from the City of Davis Municipal Code “Central Commercial” chapter 40.14.030

      Permitted uses in the C-C district shall be as follows:

      (a) Retail stores, shops and offices supplying commodities or performing services such as department stores, specialty shops, banks, and other financial institutions, personal and business service establishments, antique shops, artists’ supply stores and similar uses, but not including gasoline service stations.

      (b) Restaurants, including outdoor eating areas and establishments, establishments serving alcoholic beverages, and similar enterprises, but not including formula fast food restaurants.

      (c) Professional and administrative offices. First floor office uses discouraged in the downtown core as defined by the core area specific plan. Offices are not discouraged in C-C zones outside the downtown core.

      (d) Medical clinics.

      (e) Hotels and motels.

      (f) Business and technical schools, and schools and studios for photography, art, music, and dance.

      (g) Any other retail business or service establishment which the planning commission finds to be consistent with the purposes of this article and which will not impair the present or potential use of adjacent properties.

      (h) Group care homes with six or fewer clients, subject to the provisions of Section 40.26.135.

      (i) Family and group day care homes as defined in Section 40.01.010.

      (j) Infill developments containing any of the above uses.

      (k) Auto service stations with frontage on Fifth Street.

      (l) Theaters and movie houses.

      In your opinion, are any of those NOT commercial uses?

      Note: to accommodate mixed use the C-C district also allows

      (m)   Supportive housing.

      (n)    Transitional housing.

      (o)    Residential structures and apartments with densities up to those permitted in the R-H-D district. (Ord. 946 § 3; Ord. 1198 § 4; Ord. 1787 § 20; Ord. 1893 § 3; Ord. 2000 § 2, 1999; Ord. 2413 § 2, 2013)


  11. Ron Oertel

    By the way, I recall that the earlier version of DiSC had more office space.  (Presumably, based upon pre-pandemic numbers.)

    Seems to me that they just adjust the “mix” to whatever they think they can use to convince voters that there’s a “need”.  (Of course, they also think that they’ve found a way to justify housing in a business park.  And according to one of the representatives, lots of families will want to live in a business park, in expensive, small housing.)

    Of course, they won’t have any way to safely cross the street toward the existing city of Davis, for years to come.  So, I’m not sure I would have used that argument, as a proponent.

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