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You Can’t Compare Davis with San Francisco

Bridge-bike
By Jon Li

Roberta Millstein recently wrote in the Davisite that if six to ten story buildings were allowed in the Davis Downtown area, then there would be all kinds of urban problems, citing an article in the San Francisco Chronicle.

Wait a minute.  You can’t compare suburban Davis with world famous celebrity magnet City By The Bay with over ten times the population of 750,000.  There are villages, nooks, streets that have more economy, more society, more culture than all of Davis put together.   I get that some people came to Davis to escape that rat race, but many people who work in Davis commute from SF.

I grew up in Oakland and Hayward.  My family “read the spots off the Chomical every day,” my mom would say.  I grew up on Herb Caen and Art Hoppe, and my favorite was Charles McCabe, the Fearless Spectator.

I have lived and worked in North Beach.  I lived in Fort Mason before we sailed to Japan.  My dad retired from the Army at the Presidio, and we had lunch there many times.  I have friends in the Mission, the Sunset, the Tenderloin, Hunter’s Point, Buena Vista, and Haight Ashbury.

The difference between Davis and San Francisco is that SF has a driving economy.  The business people have a big investment in The City’s ongoing operations.

For the Davis Downtown to Grow Up would require the populace to actually come out of the “no growth” dream world of the current General Plan.  It would mean the populace realize that the City of Davis has great untapped potential, on its current land footprint, if it is willing to evolve.  That would require the City of Davis to encourage economic development.  The City Manager recently announced that the Senior Staff is now responsible for “Communications” about economic development, which is a more accurate description of the way it has been for the past three years.  The city staff can tell you what the rules are, and the fees that you are going to have to pay to try, but there is a high investment threshold for any chance of success.

Shortly after the current General Plan was approved, world-renowned Palmer Chiropractic started the process to open a school in Davis for 50 students.  When the Planning Commission got wind of the application to begin the process, they voted 7-0 to tell Palmer not to bother because it would be rejected because it would be growth inducing.  In the world of economic development, Davis is last on most businesses’ lists.  The City of Davis does not have an advocate for economic development.

 The Davis City Council spends hours debating the policy for the homeless, but the emphasis of the Downtown plan is on appearance, with very little discussion (10 minutes) on the Davis economy.

City Staff only understands residential development; there has been so little commercial, business, office and retail development that the residential developers oh, just kind of tack it on at the end and cross their fingers.  Commercial real estate is the highest and best use of land in California everywhere except Davis, where all the empty land would be developed as soon as the zoning is changed to residential.

Basically, the city staff’s vision of the future is a continuation of the same, except to grow up.  This was the recommendation in the March report on the “Existing Conditions”:

“What we learned about development patterns is those traditional mixed-use urban neighborhoods are not only centers of identity and culture, but also they pay massive dividends in wealth for the rest of the community. Creating a framework for developing or redeveloping well-designed, taller infill buildings will help the community towards its goals of equity, affordability and environmental stewardship. Additionally, this type of development will create more long term value and a financially stable community.”

As much as people are comfortable with the status quo and don’t like change, the Davis downtown has few residents, few jobs, and is mostly a destination rather than a place to live.  As the economic priority for the city, it is not much of not much.

For Davis to thrive economically, for many of the UCD students and emerging professionals, the best answer would be jobs and housing in the downtown.  First floor retail and shops, second floor offices, and then residences, as well as shops and places to eat.  Make the Davis Downtown a place to call home.

Comments

Nancy Price

Jon, when you say: for Davis to thrive economically, for many of the UCD students and emerging professionals, the best answer would be jobs and housing in the downtown. First floor retail and shops, second floor offices, and then residences, as well as shops and places to eat. Make the Davis Downtown a place to call home.

Over decades, beginning with the first Downtown Core Area Task Force started in 1987 or '88, I think, when a recommendation has been made for the downtown, one has always been to put the real-estate, title, and insurance businesses and other relatively low foot-traffic business up on the second floor to free up the first floor for retail, restaurants, etc. That has never happened and , in fact, real-estate has expanded on the first floor and in buildings.

Jon Li

The Downtown Plan is only looking at the images of the buildings, and maybe parking. The city staff at this point are telling the city council what to do.

I wish Davis would do a real General Plan update and talk about a new image of our shared community in a post-automobile economy. Holding the government accountable with daily reporting would allow for real time management. An economy that feeds the downtown is different than a downtown economy. The city could expand our economic options out to the neighborhood shopping centers, and build them up. What could a Davis economy look like?

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