By David M. Greenwald
Davis, CA – I learn a lot from reading candidate responses on some of these issues. I want to address a few key points that I think need to be fleshed out.
There is a strong sentiment that DISC was flawed in many ways—certainly the traffic impacts were a problem and there was no real way around them.
But for those who argue that the city should simply punt on economic development, I think that’s a grave mistake for a lot of reasons.
The first issue of course is the fiscal health of the city. Some believe we will have to do it with taxes—but getting at least $10 million in taxes is going to be difficult, as for the most part they too have to be approved by the voters. It will be expensive to the taxpayer. And it will tend to squeeze out the middle income voters even more.
We have already seen that the voters are not willing to support a new parcel tax for roads. There might be alternatives that won’t take a two-thirds threshold, but recognize that the city has known about these problems for a decade and, so far, the only new tax has been an increase in the sales tax.
Second, UC Davis is the driver of economic development in the region and UC Davis is making a huge push to expand its technology transfer and make its mark. Already, UC Davis has bypassed the city of Davis with the development of Aggie Square. It’s pretty telling in my view that UC Davis has planned, financed and filled Aggie Square in the time it has taken the city of Davis to propose and ultimately vote down two projects.
The bottom line: UC Davis is going to be moving forward with more of these technology and research parks, but they aren’t looking at Davis as a solution. Ironically, some of the opponents used the lukewarm support of UC Davis as a reason to oppose DISC, when it’s pretty clear that the opposition from those opponents was a key factor in UCD’s non-committal to a project they doubted would get approved.
Davis is still the location where many startups and even move-ups want to locate, with its highly-educated community, the Davis brand name, and its ready supply of high-end workers—and UC Davis is going to move on without Davis unless Davis puts its neck in the game.
In lot of ways, the DISC location was not the best one for an innovation center. The traffic problems are there. The distance from the university is another factor.
But the problem is, where else? It’s hard to see another location that is going to work. Unless the city wants to go way outside the box, the options are limited.
Third, jobs are a big issue for Davis. We complain about traffic. Some of that is the nature of I-80. But we are making traffic issues a lot worse. We have basically a community where people either work at UC Davis or they work out of town, which means a vehicle commute. For all of the complaints about DISC and GHG emissions, we are forcing many people to drive to or from Davis in order to work. Too many people who work at the university can’t afford to live in town. Too many people who live in town can’t find work in town if they aren’t university employees, and thus we have exacerbated our traffic issues.
Further, we have made it difficult to retain even a reasonable percentage of college grads from UC Davis. It’s a strawman argument to say “do the math,” because we can’t possibly retain even a sizable percentage of students. We know that. But UC Davis and Sacramento region is still very low in terms of large research universities in retaining talent.
Finally, I want to address one more point—infill.
In general, I am not a fan of peripheral housing. In fact, it is a reason I have continued to support Measure J despite its many shortcomings.
Bapu Vaitla noted, “I believe that infill housing should be our highest development priority.”
Kelsey Fortune added, “In general, I am not a fan of peripheral development.”
Adam Morrill said, “I oppose any developments that are not currently part of the General Plan, whether they are good for the community or not. We can no longer condone patchwork amendments to the General Plan as it will only contribute to urban sprawl. Additionally, we should be looking to develop areas that have already been incorporated in the General Plan before even considering anything else on the periphery.”
The General Plan is badly out of date, and largely won’t be updated for at least five years—I’m guessing on the timeline, but that seems a safe guess for how slow things are moving.
So, I’m not sure how you can stay in compliance with HCD and our RHNA requirements with Morrill’s approach—not that I necessarily disagree with him in principle, just in practice at this point.
Second, we have pursued a largely infill strategy since 2000. Only two peripheral projects have been approved over that time—and I would argue that Nishi is largely an infill project in everything but name.
That said, I think it’s dicey as to whether we can meet our housing needs this RHNA cycle with infill. I ran through the dynamics of that a few weeks ago. Even the City Manager is skeptical they can meet their affordable housing needs for the next cycle.
Are we going to really count on being able to redevelop the downtown and put a significant amount of affordable housing there in the next six years? That’s what it would take. And then some, to get in compliance.
I also don’t see how we can fail to build any new housing for five years while we wait for the General Plan update. So we’ll see.