By Daniel Urazandi
I wasn't at all surprised when the sitting council voted unanimously to remove the zoning restrictions on the Target mall. But I was astonished by the content of the staff report they based that decision on. It makes claims that are demonstrably false to anyone who has taken even a walk around downtown, and then these are the very statements that have been parroted by the chamber in a support letter and by council in their decision. From the report:
“In 2006, the city was concerned that the shopping center could have a negative impact on the economic viability of the downtown.
Studies were prepared that showed there was little likelihood of urban decay, which has held true.
After 10 years of operation in the city, staff believes it can be empirically deduced that the tenants in the shopping center are not relocating from the downtown area nor are they causing closure and mass vacancy in the downtown area”
“In fact downtown is thriving regardless of the existence of other businesses in Davis”
“there is no evidence that the shopping center has an impact on the downtown area.”
In other words, they are doubling down on the lie they told in 2006 even in the face of plain evidence from the intervening years.
Over a decade ago many of us downtown business owners urged council not to make exceptions to our city planning and zoning necessary to allow a huge peripheral Target store. When council didn't listen and big box came I said it was the beginning of the end for small retail in Davis. The worst thing about predicting doom is being proven right. Many of the businesses I was allied with then are long gone now. Shops are closing right and left and their spaces remain empty for years. Homeless sleep in the vacant doorways. Virtually no new retail comes downtown except marijuana dealers.
Trying to survive in this landscape, I am appalled by the city's total denial of the truth. Downtown is hemorrhaging. We are losing shops, losing character, losing diversity, losing local control, losing the path to a middle class lifestyle that owning a small business provides. Mom and pop, small chain and large corporate retailers have folded or fled. After the moves and closures of Ace Housewares, Watermelon Music, and Whole Foods, just to mention the latest and largest, there is roughly as much retail space at the 2nd street freeway malls as downtown and we have as much vacant retail space downtown as we do occupied. Retail may be dying a death of a thousand cuts, but the unkindest cuts are those made by our supposed representatives who are tasked with helping us and have promised to support our downtown.
I expect big box and Jeff Bezos to try to put me out of business. I resent it when my city's staff and councilmembers become their accomplices.
I get that the owners of 2nd Street may be having some of the same problems as downtown in filling their vacant spaces. But they could do what everyone else in the world does with hard to lease property—LOWER THE RENT—instead of asking the city for exemptions. But the city is happy to hand these out and to betray promises to downtown. And now the few people who are willing to risk opening or locating a retail business in Davis can decide between the highly taxed and regulated pay to park downtown or the easy auto access, free parking, no zoning Target mall.
A healthy downtown has a mix of food, shopping and entertainment. The plan to make downtown solely a food court while forcing retail to the malls and driving entertainment seekers out of town is among the city's worst ideas, a title for which there is much competition. Eliminating the shopowner and killing retail downtown is anti-community, anti-local, anti-middle class and anti-environmental.
Since no one on council will admit to being these things even while they vote that way, each move against downtown has been precipitated by a series of lies. When voting for Target the city said it would protect downtown, and they swore that Target would stand alone, not be the anchor for a shopping area. When installing and expanding paid parking the city said they were doing it to help downtown, not for the money. Now they claim that the peripheral big box shopping expansion will not affect downtown business and has not caused any businesses to move or close. With downtown businesses flickering out like candles in the rain the city will sit here disavowing responsibility and denying the truth while they snuff us out. There is a chicken or the egg aspect to the process—does city staff lie to council to advance their own agenda or does council tell staff how to lie to them so they can pretend not to know the outcomes of what they intend to do?
Either way, the city is lying while downtown is dying.
Colin Walsh dissected the report here:
and the full report is here: