Davis must grow up, not out
February 28, 2023
By Judy Corbett, Robert Thayer, Stephen Wheeler and James Zanetto
The Feb. 5 Davis Enterprise article stating that the City Council will examine ways of pre-approving housing developments on sites at the periphery of Davis in order to meet the city’s long-term “regional housing needs” allocation runs counter to the entire momentum of urban development economics and city finance.
It is well known that by building dense, vital downtowns, with multi-story housing and walkable amenities, cities may not only reduce greenhouse gas emissions but actually build more positive property tax flows. Building at the periphery does the exact opposite by reducing income per acre from property taxes while increasing infrastructure maintenance including roads, water, sewers, flood control, street trees, police, fire and garbage collection.
Jeff Speck, author of “Walkable City Rules,” (Island Press, 2018) states that “communities that fund infrastructure with an eye to long-term return will invest in compact, mixed-use development — especially in historic districts — and not in sprawl.”
Beginning with the 1974 “Costs of Sprawl,” considerable research studies have shown that dense urban areas return far more revenue per acre than peripheral, auto-oriented development; the former actually subsidize the latter. (See the case studies website of Urban3: https://www.urbanthree.com/case-study/ )
Since the new Davis Downtown Plan addresses this, at least in the short term we need to avoid peripheral development that does not pay for its own ultimate financial impact on a wide range of city services. Portland, Ore., and the smaller California cities of Pasadena, Petaluma, Hercules and Lodi are examples of communities where the advantages of building strong downtowns can be observed today.
According to the U.S. EPA, Lodi’s $4.5 million retrofit of five downtown blocks helped attract 60 new businesses and increased sales taxes by 30%. The two-pronged realities of the climate crisis and city budget shortfalls caused by low-density peripheral development demonstrate that Davis must now confront the fallacy of continued, sprawled development. Instead, we must concentrate on building up the downtown core (and upzoning existing neighborhood shopping centers) with mixed use development and dense urban-centric housing. This is what we mean by “growing up,” both literally and figuratively.
The city does not need to wait for developers to come forward with projects on private land. The 2019 inventory of city-owned property recommends moving their outdated corporation yard facilities off the three East Fifth Street parcels to the city’s old landfill site just north of town and making those Fifth Street parcels available for mixed-use housing. The mixed uses could include the tax income generating research and development functions (close to the downtown and university) that initially led to city consideration of the unpopular DiSC project.
The city has already designated East Fifth Street and surrounding areas as an economic ”Opportunity Zone” (see city website) encouraging investment by offering developers capital-gains tax benefits. The PG&E parcel will be a tremendous asset to this redevelopment strategy when it eventually becomes available. In the meantime, the city could generate an RFP presenting the possibilities from the new Downtown Plan, the Opportunity Zone and other central sites with housing and mixed-use potential. (Previous RFPs for affordable housing sites received numerous detailed responses.)
The city council has appointed two subcommittees, one for inclusionary (affordable) housing and one to study peripheral sites for potential development. Clearly, there is a significant need for increased affordable housing, but any consideration of peripheral housing sites should be part of a much needed updating of the city’s General Plan in the context of a community-wide discussion.
Coordinated city planning studies with the university and other regional agencies could be fruitful. We urge the city council to pause the peripheral sites subcommittee’s efforts until a full General Plan update is underway.
We are not opposed to the city growing as may be required to meet our “housing needs”, but perimeter growth should only occur after infill densification opportunities are achieved. It is always easier for Council members to cave into the developer pressure to build yet another peripheral development, just because it takes less effort and seems like a short-term housing band aid.
But the long-term, fiscally and environmentally sound alternative is to develop a dense, mixed use, walkable, urban core and compact mixed use, walkable neighborhoods. We need a council with a long-term vision for our community. Davis must grow up, not out.
— Judy Corbett is the retired executive director of the Local Government Commission. Robert Thayer is a UC Davis emeritus professor and land planner. Stephen Wheeler is a professor in the UCD department of human ecology. James Zanetto is an architect and planner.
Way to go! Thank you for reminding the community of the social, economic and ecological benefits of vertical development.
Posted by: Agnes Perroud | February 28, 2023 at 07:44 AM
From the referenced Enterprise article:
Bapu: “It’s time to talk about an affordable exemption for Measure J/R/D,” he said.
(That measure already has an exemption for Affordable housing.)
When voters put someone like Bapu in office, predictable, unnecessary upheaval and division is the direct result - assuming they get any traction.
You'd think they'd know better, after the incident with Carson.
The RHNA requirements that have been foisted upon California cities are going to largely fail, regardless. I have yet to see anyone claim that they are realistic.
Posted by: Ron O | February 28, 2023 at 09:31 AM
On a related note, I am very curious as to what the two candidates for District 3 think about Measure J/R/D -- with a recognition that it already contains an exemption for affordable housing, as you note, Ron.
I wonder if the people who voted for Bapu Vaitla were aware of his views on Measure J/R/D.
And then cycling back to the article -- if we don't have councilmembers who recognize that infill should be done before peripheral housing, as the article shows so clearly, then this is all the more reason not to gut or eliminate Measure J/R/D.
Posted by: Roberta L. Millstein | February 28, 2023 at 10:01 AM
Roberta, also how do council candidates plan on paying for any proposed solutions to the homeless problem and other issues. They often put out all these feel good solutions without how they will be paid for. Will they seek more parcel taxes or other types of revenue which will cost Davisites?
Posted by: Keith | February 28, 2023 at 10:11 AM
Yes, perhaps we need a separate “questions for candidates” post.
Posted by: Roberta L. Millstein | February 28, 2023 at 10:16 AM
We could call it, "Questions for Candidates that They Won't Answer"
Posted by: Alan C. Miller | February 28, 2023 at 03:33 PM
Ha! I like it. 😄
Posted by: Roberta L. Millstein | February 28, 2023 at 03:35 PM
"We could call it, "Questions for Candidates that They Won't Answer"
But it's so entertaining to see them squirm.
Posted by: Keith | March 01, 2023 at 04:29 AM
From the Vanguard this morning:
"In 2018, in the New York Times, Emily Badger wrote a piece called, “How ‘Not in My Backyard’ Became ‘Not in My Neighborhood’.”
"She argued: “The expectation that homeowners should be able to reach beyond their property lines has become deeply embedded.”
I don't think the term NIMBY was ever meant to be just one's own property lines, it was always more for how proposals and development might effect one's own neighborhood.
Posted by: Keith | March 01, 2023 at 06:19 AM
"I don't think the term NIMBY was ever meant to be just one's own property lines, it was always more for how proposals and development might effect one's own neighborhood."
Clearly. It's just a cutesy article theme. And N.I.M.N. doesn't make a cutesy pejorative acronym.
I condemn the sick, sick, selfish mentally-ill people who shame people for being concerned for the state of their neighborhoods. F*ck all of you.
Posted by: Alan C. Miller | March 01, 2023 at 08:49 AM
It gets even better, because most of the so-called YIMBYs are actually arguing for building in other people's neighborhoods. So they are really YIYBYs (Yes In Your Back Yard).
I would not say that they are mentally ill -- being mentally ill does not make someone selfish or mean -- but they do operate via attack and shame. It's extremely rare that you see an argument for housing that does not contain attacks on those who dare to speak up to disagree with a proposal. It's almost like their arguments can't stand on their own, so they have to try to discredit those who disagree with them.
Posted by: Roberta L. Millstein | March 01, 2023 at 09:05 AM
Truth be told, continuously building "upward" is not sustainable, either.
This isn't an "either/or" choice.
You CAN select "none of the above", though you'll be fighting some pretty powerful interests. And will need to continue doing so, as long as there's potential money at stake.
California's population is declining, regardless.
Having said that, there are at least a few ugly, one-story buildings in or near downtown Davis that are ripe for redevelopment.
Posted by: Ron O | March 01, 2023 at 09:07 AM
RM: " . . . most of the so-called YIMBYs are actually arguing for building in other people's neighborhoods. So they are really YIYBYs (Yes In Your Back Yard)."
I have used that term myself. Though MW would argue they transitioning to YIYNs.
RM: "I would not say that they are mentally ill -- being mentally ill does not make someone selfish or mean -- "
No, of course not. I was saying something outrageous, incorrect and offensive to bait people into attacking me. For fun!!!
RM: " . . . but they do operate via attack and shame."
Yes, THEY do.
RM: "It's extremely rare that you see an argument for housing that does not contain attacks on those who dare to speak up to disagree with a proposal."
"F*cking NIMBYs. They are so selfish" -- how was that? Y'all YIYNs can use that one.
RM: "It's almost like their arguments can't stand on their own, so they have to try to discredit those who disagree with them."
RO: "Truth be told, continuously building "upward" is not sustainable, either."
Ever been to New York?
RO: " . . . there are at least a few ugly, one-story buildings in or near downtown Davis that are ripe for redevelopment."
Yes there are. Many. And they are Prop. 13 protected cash cows. Thank you, 1970's Californians!
Posted by: Alan C. Miller | March 01, 2023 at 10:32 AM
"the City Council will examine ways of pre-approving housing developments on sites at the periphery of Davis"
What does "at the periphery" mean? Is that inside or outside the City limits? It depends on where the meaning of the word "at" at.
“communities that fund infrastructure with an eye to long-term return will invest in compact, mixed-use development — especially in historic districts — and not in sprawl.”
And there it is folks, the quiet part out loud. THEY are coming for our historic districts. That is why Old East Davis will be receiving 11 Leopard tanks from Germany to position along the east side of the N-S rail line from 2nd Street to the Food COOP. We are also looking to acquire surface-to-developer missiles, the launchers to be hidden inside buildings at faith organizations to prevent them being taken out by the City staff's Air Force.
Posted by: Alan C Miller | March 01, 2023 at 11:17 AM
Alan M: "Yes there are. Many. And they are Prop. 13 protected cash cows. Thank you, 1970's Californians!"
Hadn't thought of that, in regard to commercial buildings.
Still, I believe the owners of those buildings would only experience additional tax on the "improvements" - if it's anything like the residential portion of Proposition 13. In other words, only on the "increased value" resulting from demolition and reconstruction.
Still might not be worth it, though.
I believe the interests which seek to undermine Proposition 13 will try again, regarding commercial properties. It barely failed last time, while the residential portion of it was weakened in regard to inherited residential properties. The latter resulting in a significant tax INCREASE over time, which seems to have gone unnoticed.
You can thank the California Association of Realtors (CAR) regarding the latter (tax increase). (That organization is also supporting "Californians for Home Ownership", which has been suing cities to enforce RHNA requirements.)
I suspect that you can also thank CAR for the (continuing) enormous cost to buy or sell a home (which is probably not "unrelated" to their activities described above). You'd think that the Internet would have changed this by now, but nope.
But in regard to Proposition 13, perhaps the "real" problem is that government simply refuses to ensure that costs are "matched" in regard to revenue (2% annual increases, plus periodic reassessments when properties are sold).
For sure, spending would be even more out of control if Proposition 13 was totally-repealed. And people would be priced out of their own homes.
But yeah, I'd support a change regarding commercial properties. (There's also "shenanigans" which occur regarding that, in regard to ownership.)
Posted by: Ron O | March 01, 2023 at 12:00 PM
All of the above, RO, true. Tho I was only referring to commercial.
On residential, a certain % would be priced out of their own homes. And over the years, the increased tax on everyone not protected priced people out of homes they could have owned.
Now, I imagine with the new residential law, many will 'pretend' to live in their inherited homes, or live in them when they otherwise would not have, and never move out.
This is what happens when the voters can vote themselves a tax break at the expense of others. Or when they can vote to boost their property values.
Posted by: Alan C. Miller | March 01, 2023 at 02:13 PM
FROM: [Navis Nanguard, 2-day], "How ‘Not in My Backyard’ Became ‘Not in My Neighborhood’"
Walter Shwe March 1, 2023 at 9:56 am
Not in my backyard has expanded to Not in my neighborhood to now Not in my city. No one is given any guarantees that their neighbors, neighborhoods and cities won’t change over time. It’s the height of selfishness when NIMBYs block new housing and new city development in general. Falsely claiming that student housing noise is an environmental issue is the height of absurdity.
Personally, I think Davis' solution to our housing problem is to annex both El Macero and the Binning Tract, condemn both under Imminent, Eminent Domain's Blight Clause (for looking so pristine and stinking of rich people), bulldoze all the rich houses and golf courses (which suck too much water as well), throw the rich out on the streets (of Woodland), and build 10-story mega mega MAGA dorms from wall to wall to wall to wall of those useless, city-less, wealthy wastelands. We don't need no stinkin' moocher rich people hovering just outside our City limits, not paying taxes, and still able to use our downtown and parks. Replace them with mega mega MAGA student and working class, block communist skyscrapers and solve our RHNA problems for the next 40 years!
Posted by: Alan C. Miller | March 01, 2023 at 03:42 PM
. . . and make Woodland pay for it!
Posted by: Alan C. Miller | March 01, 2023 at 03:49 PM
"We don't need no stinkin' moocher rich people hovering just outside our City limits, not paying taxes, and still able to use our downtown and parks."
Don't forget about using Davis' schools (without paying parcel taxes), as well.
Of course, that's really DJUSD's self-interested idea, to avoid "right-sizing" their own system.
Part of that "new math" we used to hear about.
Posted by: Ron O | March 01, 2023 at 05:50 PM