By David M. Greenwald
Davis, CA – There is a disconnect between those who oppose Measure H and those who support it. That’s to be expected. It’s part of our system of governance.
In my view, and why over the last ten years I have come to support more housing and things like DiSC, it has been my analysis of both the fiscal and housing situation in Davis.
Recently I read a letter to the editor from someone who has lived in Davis for 37 years and says they have “watched leaders plead again and again for sprawl on our periphery, touting the need for often-delusive revenue to cover unchecked city spending.”
They add, “Like many, I put roots down in Davis because it offered what I desired most, excellent, innovative city planning, strong schools, and a strong city spirit. In the past, Davis was known nationally as a charming small college town with abundant bike paths and lanes, surrounded by farm land and open space.”
I agree. But they don’t seem to understand that all of those things are actually in trouble. Our strong schools are stifling under the weight of declining enrollment precisely because we have not added a major peripheral housing project since the 1990s.
The writer asks, “Isn’t there a better way to provide funding for city services than paving over prime agricultural land with an industrial park?”
How? More taxes? Right now we are facing a shortfall of at least $10 million annually. The city is running out of infill space for either housing or commercial. Just how are you planning to do this? I have seen references to magical thinking on the part of supporters of DiSC—but the real magical thinking is that somehow Davis is going to continue to thrive by stifling new development.
Meanwhile the writer notes, “We have an internationally recognized agricultural research university and the city is proposing to despoil the very essence of that educational field: the land. The university hasn’t asked for this project or even endorsed it.”
That’s a little misleading in my view. The university, after what happened with West Village, is not that interested in sticking its nose into Davis land use issues—and who can blame them.
Gary Mary only issued a general letter of support stating, “UC Davis encourages projects that bring economic development to our region and produce opportunities for our shared communities.”
But others like Justin Siegel, both a professor and a Davis-based entrepreneur, have been stronger, stating, “There isn’t enough space in Davis to accommodate all of the innovation-focused businesses that would like to be here. We need DiSC 2022 to retain more of the companies that are being formed through research done at UC Davis.”
Tim Keller of Inventopia goes further, “One of the biggest challenges facing Davis and its quest for economic development is the lack of commercial space suitable for high tech and lab space.”
Traffic is a legitimate concern with respect to DiSC. The problem is traffic is a legitimate concern without DiSC there. Moreover, without DiSC there is probably not going to be the money for any sort of transportation upgrade. Critics have questioned whether or not the plans are firm enough or sufficient to solve the problems. They may be correct.
One thing I know is that without DiSC there definitely won’t be any improvement there because there won’t be the funding and SACOG and other grantees are probably not going to want to invest in infrastructure upgrades without a regional upside.
The upshot is that traffic is likely to get worse even without DiSC and the city is likely to have far less in the way of resources to fix it.
He added, “Davis has been ‘leaking’ extremely valuable companies for decades now. Because we have a lack of commercial space, a lot of companies set up shop in Woodland, west sac, or elsewhere. These are companies founded by Davis residents—and those residents are forced to commute out of Davis to work.”
But funding is not the only serious problem the city faces. It also faces a housing affordability crisis.
Last week the Sacramento Bee ran a story that found, “Fewer than one-quarter of California families can afford to purchase the typical single-family home as the housing affordability crisis continues to hit every corner of the state.”
It gets worse.
“The drop was particularly striking in the Sacramento region. Just 34% of Sacramento and Placer county families could afford a median-priced home during the first quarter of 2022. That mark stood at 41% in Sacramento and 39% in Placer last year.”
Oh and even worse.
“Yolo County was the least-affordable county in the region, with just 28% of families able to afford the median-priced home of $630,000, according to the data. Last year, 38% of families in Yolo could afford to purchase the typical home.”
It doesn’t drill down into the Davis, but you can imagine that if Yolo County is the least affordable county in the region, that Davis is the least affordable city in Yolo County.
Jackson Mills in a guest piece pointed out one problem: “Over the last 20 years, the city of Davis has largely stopped growing. According to the U.S. Census, the city experienced a 10-year population growth of 30.5% from 1990 to 2000. This dropped to 8.8% from 2000 to 2010, and from 2005 to 2010 total growth was less than 2%. This slow pace continued through the next decade, with 1.9% total growth between 2010 and 2020.”
That stagnation has had an impact on housing prices.
“The consequences of not building are rooted in basic economics: While housing supply in Davis has tapered off, demand for available and affordable housing has exploded. This dichotomy has spurred a precipitous rise in housing prices: The median home value in Davis has jumped from $450,000 in 2012 to more than $875,000 in 2022. An average household income of around $200,000 is necessary to afford a home at this value, which only an estimated 11.2% of Yolo County households and 13.3% of California households make, according to the American Community Survey,” he writes.
This is the problem we face. The writer above said he moved here because this was a great community with great schools, but the attempt to save paradise has its costs, and the sky high demand for housing without supply has put our schools on the brink and the quality of life here in Davis along with it.
People respond to this data and argue, hey, I don’t want to live in Elk Grove. I agree. I don’t either. But there has to be some sort of middle ground. The advantage of a project like DiSC is it actually is a middle ground—it’s 100 acres that can help address our fiscal issues for the next 20 to 30 years. That seems pretty reasonable.