By David M. Greenwald
Davis, CA – If I had to list what I think are the biggest problems facing Davis they would be in some order: lack of affordable housing, declining enrollment of K-12 due to lack of housing opportunities for family, unsustainable revenue for the cities, and lack of job opportunities outside of university employment. Where those actually fall in rank order perhaps depends on when you ask me.
Yesterday a commenter raised a point for the umpteenth time about the imbalance in housing and jobs in the community.
He wrote, “The part that I found even more “odd” is how the housing activists were advocating for a housing shortage as a result of the 2,500 jobs that DiSC would have supposedly provided, without actually addressing where these folks would live.
“I’ve concluded that a lot of these folks aren’t actually concerned about housing shortages, at all.”
As another comment pointed out, “As opposed to a more reasonable conclusion that there might be multiple goals which are at times potentially at odds with each other.”
That’s a fairly reasonable starting place for me. What happens if you – like me – are concerned both about housing and jobs and the budget?
Does that mean if you support one, you really don’t support the other if they are at odds? This kind of thinking is problematic. There are times you need to be able to address a top priority and then solve the collateral problems later. That’s one problem with the Measure J process – it prevents such sequential thinking.
In the real world, there is nothing that prevents you from approving a jobs project and then later building housing to meet the demand.
The EIR actually addressed the point anyway. Basically it found that there would be a certain number of people who would live on site, a certain number of people who would live off-site but in the community, and a certain number of people who would live out of town and commute. The EIR found that the city was being asked already to provide sufficient housing to meet in the internal demand?
Is that a good enough answer? Probably not for a lot of people. I would have preferred we had more housing onsite. Others have argued that people living onsite posed its own problems and that housing and jobs should have been addressed separately.
Tim Keller, who just published the Innovation Future series, made probably a more interesting point.
He pointed out, “The city called for a business park, but as far as I know provided no detail for who they intended to build that park for – is it for manufacturing companies who will come here from elsewhere and have to bring in a workforce which already isnt here? That was what the DiSC EIR ended up assuming.”
He argued that better planning here could have addressed this point better.
He wrote, “ If you actually look at the companies that start here in the first place, OR the companies that tend to come here from outside, they are generally doing so in order hire workers who are ALREADY HERE. There are very few exceptions to this.”
He then argues, “SO the question of “where are the people working these additional jobs going to live” is a very different discussion when you integrate that level of detail into the project assumptions.”
In short, “If we are pursuing a “homegrown” strategy of trying to retain companies that have started here, then there is no immediate influx of housing needed to balance out the commercial space. What you are actually doing is providing in-town space for companies that might otherwise set up their companies in west sac and have their workers commute FROM Davis to there.”
This is an interesting point which I think is remarkably prescient.
First you have the companies like Schilling or Agraquest or Marrone. The latter two left Davis in whole or in part because of the lack of expansion opportunities. Had DiSC existed, they would have been able to stay. That means that they wouldn’t be bringing new people here, they would be keeping people who are already here.
Second, you have companies that are looking to relocate in Davis. But why are they looking to move to a place like Davis? They want to tap into the research of the university and the high percentage of highly skilled graduates of UC Davis.
Thus they will not be bringing people into the community for the most part – but rather will tap into existing residents.
Keller therefore writes, “Long-term, creating local workspace for davis residents will indeed probably mean that fewer people end up leaving davis for elsewhere since their company is no longer in davis anyway, and it might be cheaper to live closer to work… but that is something we can anticipate and develop around.”
The idea that you can either have housing or jobs as your priority is not realistic. The idea that every project needs to address every need is also not realistic. But as I think Tim Keller correctly points out, we are thinking about this stuff from the wrong end. We are assuming that the jobs created will attract people from out of town rather than attracting people already living in our community and once we properly conceptualize the issue, the housing problem becomes better defined.