In May, there will be a special election to fill the vacancy in the 3rd District left by the departure of Lucas Frerichs to the County Board of Supervisors.
Filing to compete for that seat are two candidates: Donna Neville and Francesca Wright. Each week between now and the election, the Vanguard will pose the candidates weekly questions in which they have between 250 and 350 to respond.
Question 5: Recently the school district and council expressed concern over declining enrollment. Do you consider this a matter of concern for the council and if so, what strategies would you undertake to remedy the problem from the city’s perspective?
Declining enrollment in DJUSD schools should concern our entire community. When enrollment declines schools receive less state funding while some costs, such as bond debt, remain fixed. To adapt, schools are forced to eliminate programs, lay off teachers, and sometimes close altogether. This has devastating impacts on families and communities.
DJUSD is not alone in feeling the pain of declining enrollment. School districts throughout California have been experiencing declines for years due to declining birth rates and outward migration due to the high cost of living. It would be naïve to suggest that the City/school district can completely reverse these trends, but the City can and must act now to make housing more available and more affordable for low to moderate income families who want to live in Davis and send their children to school here. My view aligns with California’s Fair Housing Goals which promote diversified housing and ensure that low to moderate-income families can live in communities with good schools. As DJUSD Trustee Jackson aptly stated at the recent council meeting, “We have economic segregation in Davis by pricing out lower and middle income people.”
I would promote the following strategies:
- Urge DJUSD to identify surplus school district property and develop financing strategies for building housing on those sites that low to moderate income families can afford.
- Identify a stable revenue source for the Housing Trust Fund and establish clear policies for how the money can be used.
- Proactively implement the Downtown Plan, which does away with previous barriers that discouraged developers from building denser, more affordable housing.
- Amend the city zoning code for areas of the City outside the Downtown Plan area to make changes that would incentivize building/reconfiguring moderately-priced housing. Here the city can partner with small-scale developers, such as community development corporations, that have the capacity and resources to do this work.
- Prioritize building the low, median, and moderate income housing identified in the Housing Element.
Solving this problem isn’t going to be easy, but the tools exist, and with a strong City-DJUSD partnership we can make real progress.
Declining student enrollment is not news. It has been a trending indicator of our changing demographics for years. Excluding the UC Davis student population, our town is graying and families struggle to find affordable housing. The news today is that the district has reached the limit of recruiting students from outside of Davis. Without the students, they will be forced to close schools, lay off staff, and reduce the array of enrichment programs that feed the souls of our youth.
Yes, this concerns me greatly.
We need leadership. We have a housing crisis. We must address the supply and demand imbalance for workforce housing. We can do this by getting our municipal house in order and through collaboration.
The city’s planning and building departments are severely understaffed. Their mission builds our tax base, our housing stock, is a core responsibility of our city. I see much room for improvement.
- We need to staff up and work smart in our “Community Development and Sustainability Department” which many of us know as our planning and building department.
- Let’s consider fees for expedited permit processing, which can cover the cost of additional staff.
- Let’s work smarter. Other jurisdictions are using automated permit processes for solar and other select applications.
- Let’s assess the number of vacant houses in Davis being held as investments for future profit, not current occupancy. We can consider a residential vacant property tax to incentivize full usage of our housing stock and new revenue for our housing fund.
- Let’s support our new Department of Social Services and Housing to pursue state and federal grants for first time homebuyers and to manage our affordable housing stock,
Let’s work with the school district to define and address the problem.
- They can be an effective partner in encouraging UC Davis to accelerate their development of on-campus student, staff and faculty housing.
- Let’s work with the school district as it considers building staff housing on district owned land.
- The city and school district have substantial facilities that are increasingly costly to maintain. Let’s be in communication to ensure our public resources are well utilized and within our long-term budgets. Before we build any more public buildings, let’s make sure that we are not thinking in silos, but rather as partners.