Guest Commentary: A Plea for Comprehensive City Planning

by David Sandino

Davis had a reputation of being a national leader in land use planning. With its current approach, it appears those days are in the rearview mirror. DISC, the proposed development near the Mace overpass and outside the Mace curve, would rezone agricultural land to permit housing and research development in an area with existing traffic problems. Two other developments have been proposed near the Mace Curve and a potential development exists for the land inside the curve. All of these developments affect agricultural lands and are in direct competition for use of the congested roadways.

Rather than consider one project at a time based on whatever development is proposed first, a traditional land-use planning approach would be to examine all the projects concurrently, and and after considering all the alternatives, determine what works best based on the city’s current planning needs. Development would then be allowed as planned and if approved.

Similarly, if there is a desire to expand lands with research zoning, Davis should have considered both existing and other potential areas within the city that permit research development before deciding on DISC. The existing research park in South Davis has significant vacant land and some vacant industrial buildings that are located closer to UC Davis than DISC with reasonable transportation access to highways and the downtown. Under traditional planning paradigms, that land should be used first before Davis elects to develop a new research park on the edge of town on agricultural land. The Nishi project has been approved by the voters for student housing. However, that land met the criteria for research development, close to campus and with transportation access, and might have been approved as such if Davis took a comprehensive approach to city planning.

And while Davis makes these land use decisions, there are external factors at work complicating the results. As predictable as rising temperatures, UC Davis student population and workforce continue to increase, many in the workforce cannot afford to live in Davis adding to traffic congestion and housing woes, and the campus footprint expands west of Highway 113 farther from the downtown. Highway 80 traffic within Davis city limits is frequently stalled, caused sometimes by UC Davis commuters and sometimes just because. This incentivizes drivers to exit Highway 80 onto Davis and nearby county roads, all to the consternation of Davis residents and the frustration of city planning.

The traditional planning method to address these issues is through a comprehensive city-wide planning using the general plan in conjunction with regional transportation efforts. The Davis General Plan was last reviewed as a whole and the city’s planning needs fully considered more than twenty years ago. The city and the university have changed dramatically since then, both growing larger but unable to keep up with housing and transportation demands. To regain Davis’ reputation as a planning leader, it needs to return to its well-proven traditional planning methods rather than the current ad hoc approach it has been on.

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7 Comments

  1. Ron Glick

    “To regain Davis’ reputation as a planning leader, it needs to return to its well-proven traditional planning methods rather than the current ad hoc approach it has been on.”

    And get rid of Measure J elections for annexation of land into the city.

  2. Richard_McCann

    Davis needs much more than just a General Plan update. It needs an economic and cultural vision statement, an economic development plan and development of a comprehensive set of incentives to get landowners to build and use the projects that meet our perceived needs. The general plan only changes the zoning–without providing the motives to change current uses, just that step won’t be sufficient. Gloria Partida’s excellent article today is an example of how we start this discussion:

    https://www.davisvanguard.org/2022/06/guest-commentary-why-i-support-measure-h/#comment-466176

  3. Edgar Wai

    “Rather than consider one project at a time based on whatever development is proposed first, a traditional land-use planning approach would be to examine all the projects concurrently, and after considering all the alternatives, determine what works best based on the city’s current planning needs. Development would then be allowed as planned and if approved.”

    In Choice Democracy, the decision power for available land is equally distributed and carried on by each stakeholder (aka voter). Each voter has a share corresponding to the amount of land they can decide. That amount is not tied to any specific location. For example, if DISC corresponds to 20% of land subjected to voter decision, then it only requires 20% of voter endorsement to pass. However, those 20% voters locks up their decision power on DISC and may not decide on another project affecting the remaining 80%.

    When a voter moves away and become not an eligible voter, their corresponding endorsement on a project is removed. If a project loses enough endorsement, it can be subjected to redevelopment. Without memorizing what each voter had endorsed, an implementation could simply ask the eligible voters to assign their endorsement (could be in fractions) every term. It is up to each voter to remember what they did previously if they want to keep the same endorsement.

    Big Houses vs Small Houses vs No Houses.
    One way to implement choice democracy accounts for the land each voter uses for their own dwelling. Voters with big dwellings lock up their decision power on the land of those properties. The result is voters occupying smaller private spaces have more decision power left to decide on public spaces.

    Non-sharing of revenue
    In Choice Democracy, an endorsed project is essentially privately owned by its endorsers. If the project generates revenue (or debts), the power to decide on that revenue goes to its endorsers. The endorsers cannot trade or combine their decision powers. As long as a project occupies 20% of the land, it requires 20% of total voter endorsement to sustain.

  4. Keith Y Echols

    Similarly, if there is a desire to expand lands with research zoning, Davis should have considered both existing and other potential areas within the city that permit research development before deciding on DISC.

    I tried to explain this to someone else who had similar comments.  Yes a comprehensive General Plan update is much needed.  Yes an updated economic development plan is much needed.  But simplistically believing that infill can meet Davis’ growing economic needs is naïve.  Yes infill should be a focus going forward; BUT NOT AT THE COST OF IMMEDIATE PERIPHERAL DEVELOPMENT THAT PROVIDES AN ECONOMIC BENEFIT.  Simply saying that some infill areas need to be used for economic expansion doesn’t magically make it happen.  You have to have businesses that are interested in those available spaces or Developers interested in building in those open spaces.  Just because the city wants infill does not mean it’s fait accompli.  Sometimes you have to take what’s available…..and in this case it’s a peripheral business park that provides tax revenue.  Now once the city’s finances are straighten out (through cost cutting and/or more revenue producing projects) then it can be picky about how it moves forward with economic development and planning going forward.

    1. Matt Williams

      Keith, I agree with you that “provides an economic benefit” needs to be considered; however, I personally am doubtful that the City of Davis can/will realize that benefit. One of the less optimistic scenarios … one with an annual deficit … will probably be the one that actually happens.

      It is all crystal ball stuff at this point in time.

      1. Keith Y Echols

        It’s all crystal ball stuff.  It always is.  Measure J makes it even harder to prognosticate (because you can’t get tangible businesses to commit to a development ahead of time).

        All you can do as a farmer of economic growth is look around and see the fields growing and plant some seeds in your field and hope that it will grow.  We have some somewhat tangible hope for growth based on companies spinning out of UCD.  But even that isn’t a sure thing by any means.

        1. Matt Williams

          We are in 100% agreement, which is why the strength of your statement “BUT NOT AT THE COST OF IMMEDIATE PERIPHERAL DEVELOPMENT THAT PROVIDES AN ECONOMIC BENEFIT” could use some tempering.

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