Monday Morning Thoughts: Davis Needs to Solve This Problem Next – Which One Though?

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

Davis, CA – One of the commenters made an interesting point by asking what “problem” is supposed to be actually solved.  That got me thinking that one of the real difficulties in Davis is that there isn’t one problem to solve—but rather a constellation of related problems.

One personally correctly offered that the goal is for “everyone who works in Davis to be able to find and afford a home in Davis if they want one.”  They recognized that the goal was not actually attainable, “but we’ve got a lot of room for improvement.”

This is an astute observation because too often in Davis (and elsewhere), the perfect becomes the enemy of the good.  We can never provide anything close to homes for everyone who wants to live here, but if we do a percentage better, that’s fewer commuters clogging the freeways attempting to commute.

The flipside of this problem is so many people who live in Davis don’t find work in town.  One of the hopes of an innovation center is to improve—not fix or eliminate—the jobs-housing imbalance.  Right now a huge number of people commute out of town for work each morning, just as another large mass of people come from out of town to work in Davis and UC Davis.

An incremental reduction in those numbers will improve things like traffic impacts, while reducing our VMT and our GHG emissions.

Another problem that needs to be addressed is doing a better job of capturing our technology transfer from UC Davis.  Like the jobs-housing imbalance, there are multiple angles here as well.

One is that currently the city lacks the space even for small startups.  People like Tim Keller, who work to create startup and incubator spaces, have pointed out that the city lacks space for lab and other small startups.  He has already filled most of the move-in ready space that can accommodate such startups.

It is true that smaller startups could move into reconfigured existing spaces, but that would take investment and buy-in from existing space owners.  One of the points that Keller has made is that few are willing to make those commitments.

The other problem is more obvious and captured by the Studio 30 report from a decade ago—there aren’t really any more large spaces.  The city was able to accommodate Mori Seiki a decade ago.  The city was eventually able to find the space to allow Schilling to remain in town, but, as Dan Ramos noted, they are now really out of large spaces.

Larger companies that have employees, jobs, and produce tax revenue for the city do not have the places to move into and they definitely do not have the space to grow into, meaning at some point small companies that grow will have to exit the city, costing jobs and tax revenue as they do.

That’s another problem that DiSC was looking to address—the city’s revenue shortfalls and inability to generate the revenues needed to maintain its infrastructure and service level.  The problem was of course larger than a 100-acre tech park was going to address, but it would have taken a bite out of the shortfall.

Ultimately reasonable people could argue that perhaps DiSC was attempting to solve too many problems at once.  One suggestion was to separate the issue of jobs-housing balance for the need to generate revenue and jobs overall.

The thought was if the project eliminated housing, perhaps it might have been easier to pass.

I don’t know.  In a way, the way Measure J works, DiSC was in a no-win position here.  The project took a middle ground approach to housing—it offered some housing for employees, but not every employee would be housed on site.

That drew criticism from those who argued that DiSC would make the problem of housing shortfall worse.  While I think the EIR actually did a good job of explaining the issue and the conundrum, a middle ground approach was attackable on both sides of the issue—from those who complained that this was supposed to be a commercial project and those who complained that this was creating more housing demand during a time of housing crisis.

But this was a no-win issue for the project.

If it eliminated housing, those who say they opposed it because it was a housing project rather than a commercial one would have had ready fodder—the traffic impacts would have been worse, the VMT would have increased, the carbon footprint expanded.

Personally I would have favored more housing on site to address housing needs overall and further reduce traffic and GHG impacts, but would the community have supported an 800-, 1500-, or 2000-unit housing project along with one million square feet of R&D space?  It seems unlikely.

In the end, they went with a middle ground that was probably defensible on a number of levels, including the likely number of people who would actually live on site and the reality that no matter how many housing units you built, some people would live elsewhere.

In the wake of the defeat of DiSC, there are a large number of problems faced by the city—maybe the best approach is to attempt to address fewer problems with smaller projects, but that also doesn’t lend itself very well to the costs and uncertainty of the Measure J process.

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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8 Comments

  1. John Clark

    One point that is not mentioned is how long these businesses remain in Davis? If you build it, they will come sounds like a great way to attract business but there will always be the nagging question as to when will they end up leaving? Caterpillar is a long time Illinois industry that has picked up and moved to Texas, how long can we expect these businesses to stay in Davis no matter how much space is available?

    1. Richard_McCann

      What Davis offers is a pipeline of graduates from UCD as a nearby workforce along with ready access to ideas and research from UCD faculty. This is what has kept Xerox next to Stanford for 60 years. Peoria only offered being in the middle of cornfields, i.e., centrally located to its market. The expanse of American agriculture really means that Catepillar could locate anywhere it wants to (plus it has factories all over–that Boeing moved its HQ from Seattle to Chicago, and is moving again, illustrates this point as well.)

  2. Matt Williams

    The problem with this article is that it does not even mention the biggest (the foundational) problem that Davis has … no Vision for what kind of community and it wants to be and what kind of economy it wants to have.

    As a result, each of the problems that the article describes stands on its own … inefficiently and ineffectively and with no resilience.  Let’s look at some of the problems the article describes.

    The flipside of this problem is so many people who live in Davis don’t find work in town.  One of the hopes of an innovation center is to improve—not fix or eliminate—the jobs-housing imbalance.  Right now a huge number of people commute out of town for work each morning, just as another large mass of people come from out of town to work in Davis and UC Davis.

    To better understand this problem, it helps to look at the kind of out of town jobs that Davis residents travel for.  The US Census On the Map reports show that in the year 2019 20,528 Davis residents traveled to jobs outside the City Limits.  4,291 stayed in the City Limits for their job

    24% of those jobs (6,055) are in “Educational Services,” which is not a surprise since UCD is located outside the City Limits.  The Census data and UCD’s own reports show approximately 5,000 of those jobs are on the UCD campus, with the remaining 1,000 scattered around non-DJUSD school districts and Sac State.  The article’s premise of “added jobs in Davis” isn’t going to affect the commutes of those Educational Services jobs.

    The second largest jobs group with 3,538 (14% of the total) is “Health Care and Social Assistance.”  2,951 of those 3,538 are within the City Limits, with the expansion of Sutter Davis and other health acre providers producing that increase.  Here too, the article’s premise of “added jobs in Davis” isn’t going to affect the commutes of the 600 Health Care and Social Assistance jobs that are located at the UCD Med Center and in the State governmental offices.

    Next comes Public Administration with 2,425 jobs (10% of the total).  600 of those jobs are in the City Limits, but the bulk of them are across the Yolo Causeway in various State offices … and once again the article’s premise of “added jobs in Davis” isn’t going to affect the commutes to those State governmental offices.

    The fourth largest jobs grouping is “Accommodation and Food Services” with 2,106 jobs.  The number of those hotel and restaurant jobs within the City Limits is 2,747 (up 500 in the 15 years since 2004).  The issue in this segment isn’t commuting out, but rather commuting in … and whether workers in this employment segment make enough to be able to afford a residence in Davis.  Regardless, the article’s premise of “added jobs in Davis” isn’t going to affect the commutes to these Accommodation and Food Services jobs.

    Those four employment segments account for 57% of all the jobs held by Davis residents, and the article’s premise of “added jobs in Davis” isn’t going to affect the commutes to any meaningful proportion of those 57% of the jobs.

    “Retail Trade” is the fifth employment segment with 8% of the total, and the story in this segment is similar to the Accommodation and Food Services segment.  First, the total number of Retail Trade jobs in the City Limits actually exceeding the number of Davis residents employed in that segment.  Second, the average income of a Retail Trade worker is rarely going to be enough to cover the housing costs in Davis.

    So, we have arrived at the sixth employment group “Professional, Scientific, and Technical Services” with 1,604 Davis residents holding jobs in that segment, and 1,620 jobs within the City Limits in that segment.  This is the segment where the article’s premise of “added jobs in Davis” is most likely to produce meaningful impact on the commuting profile of the city.  The question is how meaningful with the impact be?

     

     

     

  3. Matt Williams

    Another problem that needs to be addressed is doing a better job of capturing our technology transfer from UC Davis.  Like the jobs-housing imbalance, there are multiple angles here as well.

    Stating this problem the way it is stated is that it presumes an answer … an answer that emanates from a small minority of the people in Davis.  That statement would be much less unilaterally autocratic if it were said as follows:

    Another problem that Davis should consider addressing is doing a better job of capturing our technology transfer from UC Davis.  Like the jobs-housing imbalance, there are multiple angles here as well.

    As Richard McCann said, “I honestly have not seen a true conversation about this. The important factor is not to just leave the choice of which businesses show up to a private developer or property owner. Their choices need to be directed and constrained in various ways.”

    1. Don Shor

      Their choices need to be directed and constrained in various ways.”

      I asked Richard, and hope he will answer, but I’m specifically interested in the use of the word ‘constrained’.
      When we opened in August 1981, two very interesting, cutting-edge companies had just opened and located right down the street from us on 5th Street: CalGene, and Plant Genetics. Both of them, but especially CalGene, recruited plant geneticists from all over the world for their crop breeding and genetic engineering research and development. These folks were brilliant, interesting, great additions to the Davis community. Some stayed for several years and then moved on; others settled in and still live in the area. Plant Genetics merged with CalGene, which then continued for 10 – 15 years before being gradually bought out by Monsanto.
      This is the kind of business that is a natural fit for locating near UCD. I wonder if these companies would be acceptable nowadays, or if some would seek to constrain them from locating here.

      1. Richard_McCann

        “Constrained” means attracting companies that are consistent with the UCD research mission and Yolo County economic profile, rather than some willy-nilly array of firms. For example, a furniture manufacturer probably isn’t consistent with either the UCD research mission or retaining economic benefits within Yolo County. I don’t know enough about the specifics of CalGene, but it probably is consistent with this mission. (CalGene is still listed as being in Woodland.) But a stronger local recruitment effort by the City could attract sustainable food companies similar to Impossible Foods and Beyond. Being much more proactive on that front is important to making this strategy succeed. The City has been quite passive for a decade or longer.

  4. Keith Y Echols

    The problem with this article is that it does not even mention the biggest (the foundational) problem that Davis has … no Vision for what kind of community and it wants to be and what kind of economy it wants to have.

    I have to disagree.  You have to identify and define the problem(s) before you create a vision to achieve solutions to those problems.   I think Trackside is an example.  Everyone: “Yes! We want infill!”   Neighbors: “No! We don’t want it like that!”.  Voters: “We want better roads!”  Voters: “No we don’t want growth and taxes to pay for better roads!”.  Honestly, the only way things get done in most cities are; the leaders say: “Here’s the vision”.  They implement it.  Then say: “Okay voters, if you don’t like the vision (after the fact), then vote us out”.  The problem is that the city is sort of stuck in neutral; largely because of Measure J.  The leaders are left with infill scraps to make things work.  The voters won’t let them initiate any kind of peripheral growth to pay for things.  So the result is that leaders can’t do what they want to do but then voters don’t really hold the leaders accountable because the leaders can’t do anything anyway.

    So, we have arrived at the sixth employment group “Professional, Scientific, and Technical Services” with 1,604 Davis residents holding jobs in that segment, and 1,620 jobs within the City Limits in that segment.  This is the segment where the article’s premise of “added jobs in Davis” is most likely to produce meaningful impact on the commuting profile of the city.  The question is how meaningful with the impact be?

    Those jobs are economic drivers.  In just about any area of economic activity you will have more service jobs than economic driver jobs.  If you go to Palo Alto; you’ll see there are more service and support jobs than economic driver jobs (jobs that produce things or services to others).  You’re always going to get more accountants, lawyers, bankers, healthcare workers, dry cleaners, restaurant workers, coffee baristas, bartenders…etc.. built up around people with jobs that make things or do things that are sold to other people.  My point is that when you add a bunch of economic driver jobs; you end up with a lot of service and support jobs (support and service of the workers of the economic driver jobs) that pop up around them.  It’s the economic driver jobs that are the foundation for which a city needs to plan around.

    DAVID.  I ACCIDENTALLY BLOCKED OUT A COUPLE COMMENTERS.  HOW DO CHANGE IT BACK?  (I emailed this question to the vanguard a few days ago).

    1. Richard_McCann

      Keith E

      I agree that we have to identify the problems to be solved first, but I see that as part of the visioning process. We need to conduct a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis and come to a general consensus on those aspects. All of that goes into a visioning process–it can’t be “pie in the sky” (which too often is what politicians want). Then we use that realistic vision to decide if, what and where we should add to accomplish that vision.

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