Commentary: Reconceptualizing innovation as a response to internal employment needs

By David M. Greenwald
Chief Editor

Davis, CA – If I had to list what I think are the biggest issues facing Davis, they would be in some order: lack of affordable housing, declining K-12 enrollment due to lack of housing opportunities for the family, unsustainable incomes for the cities, and lack of job opportunities outside of college. Where these actually fall in order maybe depends on when you ask me.

Yesterday a commentator raised a point for the umpteenth time about the imbalance in housing and jobs in the community.

He wrote: ‘The part I found even more ‘weird’ was how housing activists were advocating for a housing shortage following the 2,500 jobs DiSC supposedly provided, without actually addressing where these people would live.

“I have concluded that many of these people are not at all concerned about the housing shortage.”

As another comment pointed out, “as opposed to a more reasonable conclusion that there could be multiple goals that are sometimes potentially at odds with each other.”

That’s a pretty reasonable starting point for me. What if you are – like me – concerned about housing, employment and budget at the same time?

Does that mean that if you support one, you really don’t support the other if they disagree? This kind of thinking is problematic. There are times when you need to be able to address a top priority and then resolve collateral issues later. This is a problem with the Measure J process – it prevents such sequential thinking.

In the real world, there’s nothing stopping you from approving a jobs project and then later building housing to meet the demand.

The EIR actually addressed the point anyway. Basically he found that there would be a number of people who would live on site, a number of people who would live offsite but in the community, and a number of people who would live out of town and would commute. The EIR found that the city was already being asked to provide enough housing to meet internal demand?

Is this a good answer? Probably not for many people. I would have preferred that we had more accommodations on site. Others argued that the people living there posed their own problems and that housing and employment should have been treated separately.

Tim Keller, who just published the Innovation Future series, probably brought up a more interesting point.

He pointed out: ‘The city called for a business park, but as far as I know they didn’t provide any details of who they intended to build this park for – is it for manufacturing companies that will come here from elsewhere and will have to bring in labor that is not already here? That’s what the DiSC EIR ended up assuming.

He argued that better planning here could have better addressed this point.

He wrote: “If you actually look at businesses that start here in the first place, OR businesses that tend to come here from outside, they usually do so to hire workers who are ALREADY HERE. There are very few exceptions to this.

He then argues, “So the question of ‘where are the people doing those extra jobs going to live’ is a very different discussion when you build that level of detail into the project assumptions.”

In short, “If we pursue a ‘local’ strategy of trying to retain businesses that have started here, then there is no immediate influx of housing needed to balance the commercial space. What you’re really doing is providing space in town for companies that might otherwise set up their businesses in the west bag and commute their DE Davis employees to there.

It’s an interesting point that I think is remarkably prescient.

First you have companies like Schilling or Agraquest or Marrone. The latter two left Davis in whole or in part due to lack of expansion opportunities. If DiSC had existed, they could have stayed. That means they wouldn’t bring new people here, they would keep people who are already here.

Second, you have businesses looking to relocate to Davis. But why are they looking to move to a place like Davis? They want to tap into the university’s research and the high percentage of highly qualified graduates at UC Davis.

So most of the time they won’t be bringing people into the community, but rather tapping into the existing residents.

So Keller writes, “In the long term, creating local workspace for Davis residents will likely mean that fewer people will end up leaving Davis to go elsewhere since their business is no longer in Davis anyway, and it might be cheaper to live closer to work…but that’s something we can anticipate and build around.

The idea that you can have housing or a job as a priority is not realistic. The idea that every project should meet every need is also unrealistic. But as I think Tim Keller correctly points out, we think about this stuff on the wrong side. We assume that the jobs created will attract people from out of town rather than attracting people who already live in our community and once we conceptualize the issue correctly, the housing problem becomes better defined.

About Jessica J. Bass

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