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How High Should the Downtown Go - And Why?

Why the Davis Downtown Economy is Falling Apart

Bw-bicyclestatueBy Jon Li

Do you wonder about the empty stores in Downtown Davis? Don't you wish there was somebody on the City of Davis Staff who is responsible for improving our local economy?

Last week, the City of Davis held its "Downtown Davis Plan Team Participatory Design Workshop" for four days. It was lectures by highly paid outside consultants mouthing what the Davis Staff has decided is going to be in the Downtown element of the new Davis General Plan.  State law says ours is out of date now and must be updated. Davis Staff set up a process with as little public input as possible. They only want to legally check off the box "public input."

The Davis Staff has no one who cares about the Davis Economy. Davis Staff has talked nonstop about housing and growth control for so long that they don't know where to begin with the local economy, so they just don't want to talk about economic development at all. Some growth control fanatic might complain. The growth control ethos is the only thing Davis Staff care about.

The Participatory Design Workshop included seven blocks of 90 minutes to have the highly paid outside consultants DICTATE what is going to be in the next Davis general plan. Davis Staff made clear to me in October and again in November that only 5 Davis citizens will have any say about the new Davis general plan: the members of the Davis city council. By law the city council members are the only ones that Davis Staff have to pay attention to, and this time, NOBODY else is going to get in the way. Oddly enough, some members of the city council appointed Downtown Davis Plan Advisory Committee actually would like to have some influence in how the new Downtown Plan evolves. Good luck.

Last Wednesday, the first brown bag lunch topic was the Economics of Downtown, and the consultant went on and on until the time was used up, but highly paid outside consultants and their Wizard of Oz architect leader allowed the 40 people in the audience a few minutes for questions. It never occurred to the Davis Staff or the highly paid outside consultants that the audience might have a different take on what the economic numbers of the Davis Downtown might mean.

They let the public talk for TEN MINUTES about the Davis economy.

The second speaker on Historical Preservation opened by saying "I have ALL THE ANSWERS." Several of the people in the audience left discussing the economic problems of Davis, but there was no venue for them to express their concerns. While the highly paid outside consultants know a lot about image and architecture, all they know about economics is they want to be paid a lot for LOOKING GOOD. If the Davis Downtown Plan LOOKS flashy, that is all that matters.

Seven Sessions of 90 minutes in a week to talk about the Davis Downtown, and they only allowed the public 10 minutes to talk about the economy.

Davis has some big institutional problems that are growing, that the city council candidates are ignoring almost as much as the current council. The Davis Staff is running the city council, which is backwards. The Davis Staff has obligated the city council to rubber stamp the Downtown Plan that they will be presented. This is not the way a democracy with elected representatives works well: it usually backfires.

The economic report was static, not dynamic, but it was consistently dismal. The main source of sales tax downtown is automotive, and second is bars. There are very few jobs downtown, and only about a thousand people living downtown, so there is no economy there. Expecting it to become a tourist destination didn't work. They tried. They can't build enough parking structures.

The solution is to turn the Downtown into 10,000 residences by building six stories, and higher, and having jobs and housing downtown. If you want a car, pay more than double the rent. Make Downtown Davis a place where people in their 20s who have graduated can create a good economic opportunity for themselves and others.

Davis' problems with the economy and with UCD are growing worse. They are outside the realm of the general plan. Davis needs to redefine itself as a post-automobile city. The best way to do that is to go through the discussion to become a Charter City, like a quarter of California's cities.

Comments

Pam

I feel the charrette consultants went straight to tall, dense downtown buildings as a first solution. That would probably gentrify downtown to the point where all the small independent businesses would be forced out because rents would go too high. I for one, do not want to see just chain stores downtown. Independent businesses provide the character and uniqueness for our downtown and I wish the discussion was how do we preserve them and encourage them.

Roberta L. Millstein

That's very disturbing to hear, Pam. In San Francisco, building tall has resulting in empty storefronts:

https://www.sfchronicle.com/opinion/editorials/article/Empty-storefronts-cast-pall-over-city-street-life-12744566.php

If San Francisco can't attract businesses under these conditions, what makes us think that Davis can?

As you say, it seems like our focus is on the wrong thing. I want to support our local and independent businesses.

Todd Edelman

Overall I think that the consultants did a pretty good job, and though it was suggested that we "think big", the transport plan is a bit too car-friendly for my tastes and the methodology for cycling infrastructure somewhat old school.

There need to be more possibilities for people who work in the daytime to participate, and how the Commissions can influence it is not really worked out. There needs to be more training about form based code for the relevant commissions. If these things aren't changed for the next two charrettes - one real and one virtual - I'll be rather frustrated.

But back to content: I think that there is a fair amount of concern present about general affordability but I don't know how it's going to be... by design, for both residential and commercial. Density can be a good tool for this, but the "market" can make its implements too slippery.

There's good people on the main committee and Meg Arnold's a good facilitator.

I have a good rapport with the co-head of Opticos, Daniel Parolek - he seems to have a good sense of the advantages of "carfree" ---my only real criticism is that he mentioned that he likes that hideous mobile shower program in SF.

Opticos does some fine stuff https://opticosdesign.com/work/ but we need to start thinking about more appropriately-sized firetrucks https://www.wired.com/story/sanfrancisco-smaller-firetrucks/

Jon Li

My concerns:
1. Davis has lost its vision. We should do the citywide plan first, not the downtown.
2. The economy is relatively one of the worst in the state.
3. The city council has lost control to the staff.
4. The downtown plan has as little public awareness and participation as possible.
5. Without much economics, the talk about the architecture is fantasyland.
6. Everybody has wants, but what about meeting the city's economic needs to improve given all the wonderful UCD grads who would like to stay here.
6. People use rhetoric about protecting what few local businesses there are to stop all discussion about economic development.
7. There are so many problems with City Government that we should go through the community building process of becoming a Charter City, like a quarter of the cities in California, and clean up the relations with the city council, the city staff and UCD, and build a sustainable community based economy.

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