By David M. Greenwald
Davis, CA – A large number of business owners and community members showed up on Tuesday to offer their views on the future of G St, and while there were divergent viewpoints on whether to re-open to vehicle traffic, everyone agreed that the current set up was unappealing.
Ultimately the three member council determined they would continue to keep G St closed to vehicle traffic, and committed to finding money and resources to turn the street into an attractive feature for the community.
A large number of people showed up both on remote and in person – there was a strong push in the student and biking community to keep the road closed off to vehicle traffic.
Austin Nolan, who called in, explained, “I am extremely excited about the opportunity to keep this area bike and pedestrian priority versus cars. I think opening up the cars doesn’t make any sense. It’s less inviting towards, kids and families.”
Another noted, “I think the closure of G St has been one of the better things that I’ve seen come out of the pandemic for Downtown Davis. I think it’s a wonderful step towards making Downtown Davis more walkable and bikeable.”
On the other hand, business like the Artery, an art co-op have been struggling with the change.
One woman complained that she walks with the assistance of a cane and noted there is no handicapped spot near the closure of G St – although the city seems likely to address that concern.
Heidi Bekebrede noted that the Artery has been there for 47 years on G St.
“I just like like we’re not being listened to and I feel kind of almost bullied at this point at this meeting with all these people that came out of seemingly nowhere to give their comments,” she said.
She lamented that Josh Chapman was compelled by law to recuse himself. She said, “He’s the one person on this group who actually owns a business in Downtown.”
She added, “Having been somebody who goes to the artery a lot and opens up the store, we have vomit, we have bottles, we have pizza boxes, we have everything you could think of right there. And as a person who takes children around at, at my art scouts, go around, we have picked up so many cigarette butts on, on G Street.”
Meanwhile Jeff Ambrose, who along with his wife, own Woodstock’s Pizza which he helped to open back in 1986, over 37 years ago.
“We currently provide jobs to approximately a hundred people in Davis. Thanks to local support. Woodstock’s is one of the top grossing pizzas pizzerias in the nation. As many of you know, we have recently moved Woodstock to the corner of third and G Street after investing several million dollars in buying and building out the property. There we are bullish on Davis Streets have been a big cost for the city with free parking, continual street, and sidewalk maintenance,” he explained.
He along with other businesses indicated a willingness “to invest in a more permanent outdoor spaces that would truly beautify this stretch of downtown. We simply need a commitment from the city that we will have a timeframe that allows for a return on investment in these improvements for those who say we are hurting other businesses.”
Mayor Will Arnold addressed one concern about the lack of District Three representation, acknowledging, that there is a view “that this body should not make any decisions that are relevant to District 3 under we have a District 3 representative.”
That issue is compounded by the fact that Josh Chapman was forced to recuse himself because he owns Armadillo Music on F St, a stone’s throw away from the G St block.
“There is some wisdom to that,” Arnold acknowledged, but pointed out that if they punted, it would keep the status quo in place for the next six months which would mean, not only “the status quo of closure, but no permanent beautification or any improvements would remain for another six months.”
He said, “I think there’s, if there’s one point that everyone has expressed agreement on, it’s that the current existing temporary nature of things is not acceptable.”
Bapu Vaitla while sympathizing with both sides, said, “I do appreciate that certain businesses face uncertainty going into the future.”
That said, he came out firmly in favor of option 2 to keep G St closed to vehicle traffic.
“I think that there’s this larger issue of the street, the role that streets play in building community,” he said. “We know that cities all over our country are primarily designed for cars, not human beings.”
Even in bike friendly Davis, “it’s on one end of the spectrum, a possibility of balancing safe, easy transit with human-centered community spaces. A more pedestrian friendly downtown is, in my view, a potential catalyst for economic development as well as a contributor to, to our climate goals.”
There are legitimate concerns about aesthetics.
Vaitla noted, “I think that the staff has presented some viable options. I also think there’s some interesting ideas that have come up in public comment about how to mitigate potential negative effects to retail businesses in the short term, especially as the city helps to transition to this new environment. I mean, at the end of the day, the city has a responsibility to make this space successful for everyone who’s there now.”
Among the potential changes will be to make the southern portion of G one-way, allowing the city to restripe the parking spaces, put in handicapped spots, and directing traffic through the parking lot onto H Street.
For a time, it seemed like this might be a split vote again.
Gloria Partida noted, “I was on board for keeping this completely closed because I saw a lot of potential that could happen here, that could have programming and we could have permanent structures.”
But she said, “I’ve been very disappointed in that, and that we don’t have permanent structures, and it does look the way that it looks. And there hasn’t been, sort of any programming or activation that has happened in this area.”
But Will Arnold firmly placed himself on the side of keeping G St free of vehicle traffic, noting with irony his background with his family having sold cars in Sacramento and his disability and having small children leading him toward being a vehicle driver.
“If I’m gonna be downtown, I’m probably parked somewhere downtown,” Mayor Arnold said. But he said, “We have ceded a lot of our shared public space to one purpose that absolutely negates all other purposes. Once you have cars driving down a street, whether it’s one way, whether it’s two ways, that’s what that street is for. And to tread across it is to take your, to risk your life.”
He noted a huge amount of shared public space is devoted to cars and said, “I am a firm believer that we are now in the position to take back some of our public spaces from these thousand pound machines and reopen them to people.”
He noted at one point it was very controversial the decision to close over Fourth Street in order to create a continuous Central Park, but they did it, it did not harm traffic and improved the community.
Council in the end voted 3-0 to move forward toward a more permanent and hopefully a more aesthetic arrangement.