By David M. Greenwald
Davis, CA – A few years ago I urged our leaders to think of this community not in a schools-city silo, but rather to step back and look at this community holistically. At the time, we saw our schools struggling to adequately compensate its teachers, an ongoing shortcoming of revenue, the city struggling to provide housing for those teachers—not to mention families with kids, the city struggling also to provide employment for residents who don’t work at the university or to provide housing for many people who do work at the university but have to commute to town.
The school district’s answer was a band-aid. Measure G. But it was only that—a band-aid. It was not going to fix the problems of the school district, much of which got worse during the pandemic—with the district losing a large number of good young talented teachers.
Some of this came boiling to a head this week at the school board meeting with teachers complaining that they are undervalued by the district.
“This year we should be enjoying what is, indisputably, the best education budget that California has ever seen,” David Plaut, a math teacher at Holmes Junior High School, said during the meeting.
However, teachers complained that the district is seeing an 18 percent increase in revenue over the next two years, but only passing through about eight percent in teacher compensation increases—this is on top of the district still lagging behind other districts despite Measure G.
“Teachers are frustrated and angry. Just two years ago, DTA partnered with the board to pass Measure G,” Plaut added. “The Davis community voted to tax itself in order to bring teachers’ salaries in line with surrounding districts. The DJUSD proposal moves us backwards.
“This situation is bound to anger Davis parents, taxpayers and voters. DTA believes that Davis students deserve the best, if you believe that too, then show us by investing in Davis teachers,” Plaut continued. “I conclude with this question for the board: If you won’t raise teachers’ salaries when the budget is bad, and you won’t raise teachers’ salaries when the budget is good, then when will you raise teachers’ salaries?”
He was not alone.
“Happier teachers mean happier and more successful students. When teachers are appreciated, we’re so much more willing to go the extra mile and help our community become a better place,” Davis High School teacher Sydney Lundy said. “But when the district doesn’t want to prioritize teaching and learning, then it’s hard not to want to ask for a letter of recommendation. I could go somewhere next year and make $25,000 more. It’s unfortunate because our students deserve excellent instruction and an actual, credentialed teacher every single day.”
The problem of course is that Davis teachers are getting paid less—especially on the low end where your young, talented and energetic teachers are breaking into the profession—to live in a community where housing costs more.
This is of course one piece of a much larger and very troubling puzzle.
I have been worried about the long-term health of our schools which have been a vital part of our community since long before I moved here. I watched in horror last summer as several of the best young teachers announced at the end of last school year they were leaving this district.
I have long been worried about the effect of housing shortfalls and rising costs on the ability of people who work in this community to live here, the ability for young families with school age children to move here, the lack of job opportunities outside of the university and the push by the university to continue to expand—but with much of that vital investment going off the main campus and toward places like Sacramento where they don’t have to deal with gridlock from divisive and bitter land use politics and lawsuits.
I think people paying attention to these issues understand the difficulty and complexity solving them. But I don’t see the problem getting any better any time. In fact, it probably gets a lot worse.
Voters have cut off the ability of the city to build a research park that had the potential to add thousands of good, well-paying tech jobs to our community—bolstering revenue for our schools while at the same time providing workforce level housing.
People worried about traffic impacts from the project have lost sight that people are getting into their cars now to work outside of the community—and also getting in their cars now to work in the community, whether it be at the city proper or the university.
How are we going to build the housing we need to supply homes for teachers, but also people who work at the university and commute?
There is no great answer.
At a recent forum, Gloria Partida noted, “I always advocate for the missing middle because that is an area where we don’t have enough housing. I think that for a long time we built, you know, lots of McMansions and housing was really big and unaffordable. It became unaffordable. And so I think the move back to building smaller units, to building stack flats and condominiums and denser housing is the way to go for us because we have our downtown plan that advocates for that type of housing.”
Dan Carson added: “I think we need to move forward on both market rate and affordable housing because, from an economic perspective, adding units, adding supply makes a huge difference. I’ve fought the good fight, won some, lost some for housing projects at the ballot at the council.”
Bapu Vaitla opined: “I think the focus initially should be infill housing, downtown dense, affordable climate friendly, transit linked infill. And we have some policy levers to make that happen, including increasing density bonuses, reducing, eliminating parking minimums, fast tracking permitting for developments with a high affordable percentage up zoning to allow these kind of modest increases in density and height.”
Or, as Bapu Vaitla put in another forum, “we need to focus on dense, climate friendly, affordable transit linked infill in our downtown.”
Dan Carson also pushed in the downtown, “We are nearing completion of a new plan for our downtown that will add 1000 market rate and other types of units for about 2200 people over time.”
It sounds good, but Davis has largely relied on infill for the last two decades to meet our housing needs. I am skeptical that we can fill them over the next decade through infill alone. Even city manager Mike Webb told me in June that he did not think we could infill our way out of our affordable housing needs in the next RHNA cycle.
We have not seen the latest analysis, but back in 2018, we knew that housing for which some seem to be counting on in the downtown is marginally feasible. The market has only gotten worse and the only housing that might pan out could be owner-occupied, dense, but larger units. And affordable housing could be enough to push the projects into the red.
We got a glimpse of this problem with University Commons. A company was willing and able to finance a large redevelopment project, but the community battle pushed the project into the infeasible realm, which means we are losing out on a large number of rental units across the street from the university.
Infill, density, transit linked projects are all the rage and for good reason—but without community resources, a lot of these projects, especially in places where there is not much vacant land, may well not pan out. And then what?
Everyone wants to preserve this community—but too few people understand that in trying to preserve the character of our town, they are inalterably changing it.