Growing Pains: Thirty Years in the History of Davis


Chapter 4 - Village Homes--Pioneers in a Changing World

No one had seen anything quite like Village Homes, a 70-acre residential community completed in 1975. That's why Rosalynn Carter came to visit in 1979 while her husband Jimmy was president, Francois Mitterrand came calling in 1984 while serving as premier of France and entertainers such as Pete Seeger, Pam Dawber, and Margo Kidder came to pay their respects. Even two decades after its completion, visitors still showed up to check out the internationally renowned project, because it was that far ahead of its time.

"The overall impression of the neighborhood is how the homes and streets recede into the lush landscape and greenbelts: a non-manicured landscape consisting of many edible plants and dominated by common areas," explained city Community Development Director Jeff Loux and Associate Planner Robert Wolcott who wrote in a 1994 report that looked at Village Homes. [1] Along the eastern edge of the project, two rows of almond trees lined Arlington Boulevard, part of an effort to integrate small-scale agriculture into the project. Narrow streets meandered east to west, allowing clustered houses to maintain a north-south orientation designed for natural heating and cooling. An extensive system of paths for pedestrians and bicyclists ran throughout, linking up in each direction with other city pathways adjacent to the project. Bridges took the paths over small stream beds ready to handle rain water, in lieu of a storm drain system. The streams virtually eliminated the need for underground pipes, allowing percolation of storm water into the ground and minimizing impacts on the city's storm drain system.

Closely clustered homes saved room for plenty of common areas, including a large community room, swimming pool, play fields, vegetable gardens, and orchards. Fencing was limited. Village Homes had 208 residences, including several sod and landscape-covered solar houses. Houses typically had small private yards facing the streets, and large open areas in the rear available for such pursuits as gardening and recreation. "It is telling that many of the residents of the neighborhood are professors of landscape design, planning, community development and social science," Loux and Wolcott said. [2]

Acknowledging it might be regarded as heresy in Davis to say so, but they pointed out that some features of Village Homes had their critics. "The overall density of the project is less than three units per acre, a figure low even by Davis standards and one which could not be sustained with today's limited and expensive land supply," the two planners said. [3] Moreover, the project was overwhelmingly residential, and thus does not provide residents with jobs, shopping and other services. The project was designed to offer affordable housing, but its success had caused housing prices to soar even by Davis standards. Some of the solar equipment had fallen into disuse, and some houses suffered from a lack of light, the presence of open carports and a lack of privacy.

"Still, both as ecological and community innovation, Village Homes has no equal in Davis or elsewhere, and visiting professionals and dignitaries continue to tour the project,'' Loux and Wolcott concluded. [4]

Mike and Judy Corbett, the principal developers of Village Homes, dreamed of building an environmentally sound residential subdivision in Davis. Word of their plans spread mouth to mouth. They also set up a booth at UCD's first Whole Earth Festival, bringing signup sheets for anyone interested in joining them. More than 30 families met for about a year, but the group eventually fell apart. "People decided we couldn't get enough money," Mike Corbett recalled.

Frustrated, but not ready to give up, the Corbetts weren't sure whether they would ever build their dream community, figuring at worst they would have to be content with creating a master plan to show what could be done. Three events helped spur them on. The death of a best friend shook up Mike, bolstering his desire to bring his dream to life. The political revolution that swept Bob Black, Joan Poulos, and Richard Holdstock onto the City Council in 1972 delighted the Corbetts. The progressives were now in control, and were likely to be more receptive to an unconventional development such as Village Homes. Third, they found a potential site: 70 acres of farmland in West Davis. They got an option on the land, but needed to pay $10,000 in 60 days to move ahead. They didn't have the money, but found it, raising $130,000 from about a dozen limited partners. Included among the investors were parents and friends.

The next major obstacle was the skepticism of government officials, who had never seen anything quite like Village Homes. "While this office is most sympathetic with your objective concerning energy conservation and environmental concerns, we feel the proposal requires further study," said Richard D. Chamberlain, area director for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development at the time, in a letter to Mike Corbett. [5] The agency would to have to give its stamp of approval to the project for home buyers to be eligible for Federal Housing Administration loans.

Chamberlain questioned having apartments in the midst of single-family housing, providing parking bays instead of on-street parking and the orientation of lots. He said the common areas seemed ill-conceived, provisions for runoff of storm water inadequate, and the idea of having a homeowner association growing agricultural products questionable. "It could well be that the same objective can be obtained by enlarging individual lots and substantially eliminating much of the common area," he said, noting such a change would provide individual homeowners with space for garden plots. [6]

"Our objections in connection with the foregoing matters involve the fact that, in our judgment, they deviate from accepted development practices to the extent that future marketability of residential properties may be impaired," Chamberlain concluded. "We believe that a compromise can be reached which would adequately meet your development objectives and still represent a development that would be acceptable to the public from a market standpoint." [7]

City planning officials initially had serious reservations of their own, but slowly came to believe that the Corbetts should get a chance to try out their ideas. Gloria Shepard McGregor, the city's planning director, responded to Chamberlain in an Aug. 5, 1975 letter, acknowledging the proposed project was unconventional. "We believe that many of the features deserve testing, and should not be rejected out of hand," she said. "Within the limits of what you must view as insurable risk, we urge that you take the same approach. From innovation eventually comes a better product, for consumers and for the society as a whole." [8] McGregor also argued that Village Homes would find a receptive audience in Davis, a university town with many residents open to innovative ideas, and noted that Davis actively encouraged some of the planning concepts questioned by Chamberlain, such as the mixture of apartments and single-family houses and lot and window orientations designed to encourage energy efficiency.

City staff also proposed many changes to the project. In a April 1975 report to the City Council, for example, it proposed wider streets with on-street parking on one side and questioned the wisdom of having open drainage swales, rather than a standard storm drain system. City staff gave in on some points, including a proposal to have small yards next to streets and large common areas. "Staff feels discussion of front yards as typically lost space is appropriate, and worthy of a trial," the report said. [9] Council members approved preliminary development plans and agreed to annex Village Homes in April 1975. By August, even HUD had changed its tune considerably after meeting with Mike Corbett. "We believe the meeting was particularly beneficial and our entire staff was impressed with the thought and study you have devoted to innovative aspects of this development," Chamberlain said in a letter to Corbett, announcing that HUD was withdrawing its objections to several innovative features. [10]

"Many citizens throughout the city look with pride to Village Homes and question why no similar model has been built in the past 20 years,'' Loux and Wolcott noted. [11] The two planners gave several possible reasons: Land prices had increased dramatically by 1994, making it harder to set aside so much land for open space and agricultural uses. Home styles and tastes had changed. And, city standards could still be a substantial barrier for a developer wanting to build a similar project.

Jon Hammond, another visionary local homebuilder, wanted to build a revolutionary project like Village Homes. Owner of a company called Living Systems, he announced plans in 1980 for building Senda Nueva, a residential development that promised to champion many of the planning principles pioneered in Village Homes while introducing several innovations of its own. It was to be built on 73 acres located north of Covell Boulevard just east of Highway 113.

"Over the last few years, Davis has led the nation in the field of innovative planning and solar design," Hammond explained in a 1980 letter to Fred Howell, the city's planning director at the time. "We at Living Systems feel that it is important to continue this work. I believe that we have just begun to explore the possibilities of living a better life, more in harmony with the landscape and each other, yet using fewer nonrenewable resources." [12]

Sycamore Lane was to run through the middle of the project, with apartments and a small shopping center to the west and a mixture of single-family houses, apartments, condominiums and cooperative housing to the east. Cooperative apartments generally would be in low-rise buildings, but 40 would be in two five-story buildings.

"Virtually every feature of this neighborhood will be designed for energy and resource conservation," Hammond explained in a June 1980 project description. "Solar, natural and human energy will be substituted for fossil fuels where ever possible." [13]

Hammond proposed setting aside about 25 percent of the land as urban forest and agricultural preserves. They could provide firewood, serve as wind breaks, help buffer noise from Highway 113 and provide space for such uses as gardens and orchards. The proposal was consistent with preliminary recommendations from the city's Ad Hoc Alternative Land Use Committee, which at the time was debating the wisdom of ringing the city with urban forests and agricultural lands to define the ultimate boundaries of the city's growth. An extensive greenbelt network was to run through Senda Nueva. A central greenbelt would include a large play field, community center, swimming pool, orchard, and community garden plots.

Automobiles would be kept on the perimeter of the project as much as possible. Hammond, for example, proposed providing walk-in housing for residents truly interested in being more independent from vehicles. Residents would have to park their cars in outlying areas, then walk to their houses. Or, they could abandon automobile use altogether. "All houses in the neighborhood can be reached by the internal pathway systems without crossing a roadway," the project description explained. [14] Like Village Homes, Senda Nueva was to have narrow streets to help keep speeds down, reduce runoff of storm water and allow trees to create tunnels of shade during summer months.

Within a few months, some of the project's innovative features were under attack. Residents of the neighborhoods located east of the project questioned whether it should be built at all. If it was to be built, they wanted to see some major changes. They proposed scrapping the two five-story buildings, saying they would tower over their neighborhood. They wanted to move part of the urban forest to the eastern edge of Senda Nueva, where it could serve as a buffer between the project and existing neighborhoods. They suggested redesigning the network of narrow cul-de-sacs to improve police and fire department access. City planning staff announced similar reservations in a February 1981 report, opposing the five-story buildings and proposing a major redesign of the street network.

As Senda Nueva slowly worked its way through the city review process, some of its more controversial features fell by the wayside. In February 1981, an updated project description announced the five-story buildings had been eliminated in favor of housing with one and two stories, largely in response to discussions with neighbors. Hammond also agreed to revise his plans so only single-family houses would border existing neighborhoods to the east of Senda Nueva. A November 1981 staff report reported developers had revised the project substantially in response to city staff and neighbor concerns. A loop street was added, street widths were increased and the proposed urban forest was redesigned to meander through the project. Hammond later withdrew from the project, unable to consummate a deal with developer Elmer McNece, and new developers interested in a more conventional project such as Karen Fox, Lou Fox and John Ott came on board.

John Whitcombe, one of the city's leading residential developers, isn't surprised no one has built a project as revolutionary as Village Homes. "The main reason is there aren't more Village Homes is there's only one Mike Corbett,'' he said, adding that Hammond might have succeeded if the circumstances in Senda Nueva had been more favorable. Whitcombe and his partners developed an active solar energy package known as the Trident Energy System and, and like other Davis developers, must abide by the strict energy-efficiency requirements in the city's energy ordinance, requirements that nowadays are duplicated in state energy codes. Davis was a pioneer in the field, adopting a strict energy conservation ordinance in the 1970s "The city of Davis, California, has come to represent what a community can do on its own, across a broad range of areas, to save energy and change the way its people live," explained "Energy-Efficient Community Planning: A Guide to Saving Energy and Producing Power at the Local Level." [16]

Village Homes stands alone, its record for innovation unchallenged by newer projects, but they can rightly claim some achievements of their own. Among them is Aspen, a 110-acre development built south of Covell Boulevard in West Davis that was to have 241 single-family houses, 346 apartments, eight acres of professional and medical offices, child care facilities, neighborhood greenbelts, and Patwin Elementary School. It also featured a drainage pond that served as a retention basin for floodwater, a wildlife habitat, recreational resource and pleasing panorama for residents to behold.

"The most interesting ecological features of Aspen are its wildlife pond, open drainages and greenbelt and bikeway system," Loux and Wolcott explained, noting that the pond started out as a uninspired, single-purpose retention basin. [17] Working together, developers, city officials and environmental groups transformed it into a wetland habitat that served as a waystation for birds traveling the Pacific Flyway. The pond contained islands, grasslands and riparian vegetation. Viewing platforms and explanatory signs were provided. A bikeway flanked the pond. On the east side of Aspen, a series of open drainage channels meandered along the greenbelts. Loux and Wolcott also saluted Aspen for providing an admirable mixture of housing, including at least seven distinct types: low-density single-family detached houses, single-family attached houses, compact cottage houses with access from an alley, a 26-unit cohousing project, apartments for households with low or very low incomes, garden apartments, and a senior housing complex.

The community's inclination to do things differently naturally did not begin with the Corbetts and Village Homes. Long before they arrived, Davis developed an appetite for innovation that made it receptive to new ideas in housing. UCD helped set the tone by closing the core of its campus to automobiles and importing double-decker buses to transport students around town. In the mid-1960s, North Davis developers added to the momentum by starting work on Covell Park, a residential subdivision built around a large greenbelt system featuring paths for the community's thousands of bicyclists. "It was kind of a new idea for California developers," recalled Whitcombe, one of Covell Park's developers. About the same time, city residents and officials began a crusade that over the years earned Davis the unofficial title of Bicycle Capital of the United States.

No one could say for sure whether Davis deserved the title, of course, or whether it rightfully belonged to some other community such as Missoula, Mont., with a long-standing devotion to bicycle travel or some Johnny-come-lately such as Palo Alto that had been making a big name for itself in recent years. No one, however, who ever stood at a main entrance to UCD shortly before 8:00 a.m. and witnessed traffic almost as heavy as Los Angeles has to offer, but made up entirely of bicycles could argue that Davis did not enjoy an unusual love affair with bicycles. Most of the crowd typically was made up of students, but in their midst were middle-aged cyclists in office attire. For years, former UCD Chancellor James Meyer could be seen bicycling to work.

The city's love affair with bicycles was taken for granted in later years, but in the 1960s it was a bumpy relationship because at the time Davis had many bicyclists, but paid little attention to their needs."When the campus expanded greatly and the population in the area grew rapidly in the early 1960s, the streets became much busier. About the time the first stop light was installed, people riding bicycles began to feel crowded. At the local bicycle shop, it was common to see bikes appearing with damaged front wheels when riders were forced into the curb by passing cars, " Robert Sommer and Dale F. Lott recalled in a research paper written around 1971, noting automobiles were bound to win competition for space on roadways and chances to cross intersections. "It became clear to a number of concerned Davis citizens that, if bicycles were to remain a viable part of the city transportation system, they would have to be given a place of their own in city traffic planning." [18]

What was needed was a way to separate bicycles from automobiles, either through the use of bicycle lanes on existing roads or bicycle paths separate from roadways. "At first, this suggestion was rejected by the City Council," Sommer and Lott recalled. "It was considered to be visionary, impractical and potentially dangerous and its proponents were regarded as cranks. Letters to the editor proclaimed that the day of the horse was past and the day of the bicycle was passing. It was time to build more and larger parking lots and shopping centers." [19]

As Senda Nueva slowly worked its way through the city review process, some of its more controversial features fell by the wayside. In February 1981, an updated project description announced the five-story buildings had been eliminated in favor of housing with one and two stories, largely in response to discussions with neighbors. Hammond also agreed to revise his plans so only single-family houses would border existing neighborhoods to the east of Senda Nueva. A November 1981 staff report reported developers had revised the project substantially in response to city staff and neighbor concerns. A loop street was added, street widths were increased and the proposed urban forest was redesigned to meander through the project. Hammond later withdrew from the project, unable to consummate a deal with developer Elmer McNece, and new developers interested in a more conventional project such as Karen Fox, Lou Fox and John Ott came on board.

Nonetheless, the community's bicycle backers were not ready to accept defeat. A citizen group circulated a petition asking council members to establish bicycle lanes along principal streets as an integral part of the community's transportation system. The need for bike lanes became the central issue in a City Council election held in 1966 and pro-bike candidates won. "Soon after that, the first bike paths were established along the sides of existing wide streets," Sommer and Lott said. [20] Dave Pelz, the city's public works director since 1972, recalled that the city's action was so unusual that the state Legislature had to pass legislation allowing Davis to proceed with its plans, noting that nothing in the California Vehicle Code at the time allowed communities to establish special lanes for bicycles.

Surveys conducted in those days documented what everyone traveling city streets already knew: Davis residents, young and old alike, frequently traveled by bicycle. In the winter of 1970, the university surveyed the transportation habits of its 12,323 registered students, finding that about 78 percent kept bicycles at their local residences. Studies conducted in 1971 found that about 60 percent of UCD's students and 25 percent of faculty and staff commuted to the university primarily by bicycle. Between 40 and 60 percent of the community's school-aged children rode bicycles to school during fair weather. A study released by DeLeuw, Cather & Co. in 1972 concluded that bicycles accounted for about 30 percent of the travel in Davis. [21]

The DeLeuw study, a project sponsored by the city and university, showed how quickly Davis became a hub of the bicycle world after it began installing bicycle lanes and paths in the 1960s. It saluted the city for introducing the concept of on-street bike lanes to the United States, reporting the city's 27,000 residents had more than 20,000 bicycles . "But more significant than the sheer numbers of cycles or the high proportion of ownership is the way the cycles are used. In Davis, the bike is far more than a recreational toy or exercise vehicle. It is a vital element of the transportation system," the study said. [22] It cited several factors to explain the city's unique love affair with bicycles: a mild climate, level terrain, wide streets and the presence of many college students. Ironically, the campus was big enough to encourage bike travel, but the city was compact enough not to discourage it. "But probably the most significant element in maintaining the cycle as a viable form of transportation has been the attitude of Davis residents and city officials, and the provisions they have made to ensure cycles are not crowded off city streets by growing automobile traffic," the study concluded. [23]

By 1976, Davis had a bicycle facilities tour with a fact sheet noting that the city had adopted an old-fashioned, big-wheel bicycle as its official emblem, had created 14.5 miles of bike lanes and 7.2 miles of bike paths. A status report completed by Pelz the following year noted that both alternatives have advantages and drawbacks. Separate bicycle paths were good for recreational riding and getting riders away from the noise and confusion of city streets, but cost more, generally required more maintenance and created safety problems where they crossed streets. Bicycle lanes, on the other hand, were desired by most bikers and were usually less expensive, but created conflicts between bikes and automobiles during turns and could give bicyclists a false sense of security.

In May 1993, the Ad Hoc Bicycle Task Force issued an updated city bikeway plan, detailing future projects that were in the works such as a Interstate 80 bicycle overcrossing that would link the Putah Creek Parkway in South Davis with pathways in UCD's Arboretum and an Interstate 80 overcrossing that would connect South Davis and Mace Ranch.

While the Corbetts were dreaming of building Village Homes, a small group of Davis residents was busy laying the groundwork for the community to become a national leader in recycling. Their efforts were modest at first, but they soon were dreaming bigger dreams. Before long, they had the soft-drink industry so mad over a proposed city ordinance that companies were threatening to stop making deliveries to Davis.

Calling themselves the Recycling Committee of Davis, the group began in April 1970 with a modest experiment in newspaper recycling, asking residents to bring their papers to drop-off boxes located at schools around town. Every few weeks, committee members gathered up the accumulated papers and hauled them to a buyer in Sacramento. The effort was one of the first, if not the first recycling program in California.

The program grew quickly. In February 1971, the committee started accepting cans and bottles along with newspapers. Residents were asked to drop them off at a local shopping center parking lot, instead of the schools. The new recycling center was open from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on the first and third Saturdays of each month. Afterward, committee members cleaned up the parking lot and use rented trucks to take the recycled products to buyers.

The committee's efforts gathered momentum in the fall of 1971, when it sponsored a proposed ordinance that would have made Davis the first community in the state to require deposits on some types of beverage containers. In a 1989 history of the community's recycling program, Davis Waste Removal Co. recalled the beverage industry viewed the ordinance as repressive, and offered to support the community's recycling program if the City Council agreed not to adopt the ordinance. At the same time, industry officials threatened to stop making deliveries to Davis if it proceeded with plans for the ordinance. The city accepted the deal, and the industry agreed to haul recycled bottles to glass plants in Oakland and Tracy. In 1972, the recycling center moved to Aggie Villa, university-owned land located south of First Street west of Richards Boulevard. Workers were paid with proceeds from sales of recycled materials. The committee incorporated as a non-profit organization, the Resource Awareness Committee of Davis.

In 1974, the city and Davis Waste Removal got more involved. The City Council passed an ordinance requiring residents to separate newspapers from their garbage. Davis Waste Removal's contract was amended to cover collecting recycled newspapers. Two years later, with the blessing of the committee, the company took over full responsibility for the recycling program. It started work on a new shop, offices and recycling center at 1818 Fifth St.; and the beverage industry ended its assistance. The curbside recycling program started accepting bottles and aluminum cans later that year and corrugated cardboard containers in 1979. In 1986, Davis learned how far it had come: it was honored by the National Recycling Coalition for having the best curbside program in the United States.

President Paul Hart and Vice President Paul Geisler of Davis Waste Removal estimated in the mid-1990s that 80 percent of the community's households recycled something at least once a month. "It's part of the culture here," Geisler said, noting that participation has risen by almost 10 percent over the last decade. "Davis is light years ahead of most other cities," added Yvonne Hunter, a long-time resident who worked as a lobbyist for the League of California Cities. On a typical month, the company handled about 350 tons of recycled newspapers and magazines, 120 tons of cardboard boxes, 110 tons of glass, seven tons of aluminum cans and 1,200 gallons of used motor oil. It also accepted some types of plastic containers. In June 1994, it moved into a new $4 million, seven-acre facility located on Second Street east of Pole Line Road.

Fearing that someday it might become little more than a waystation in a unbroken corridor of urban sprawl, Davis worked hard over three decades to maintain the agricultural lands and open space near its borders. To critics, the notion appeared to be a drive to build an open-space moat around Davis, an uppity effort to isolate the community from its neighbors. To supporters, the open-space campaign had several objectives, some that were to serve both Davis and its neighbors. One goal was to expand the city's ample network of parks and greenbelts. Others include establishing an urban limit line to demarcate how far development would ultimately be allowed to proceed, helping preserve agricultural lands by protecting city residents and nearby farmers from one another, and protecting local nature habitats.

One of the most popular concepts was having an open-space buffer surround the city. Corbett helped pioneer the idea, arguing that Davis should establish its ultimate boundaries and then allow later development to take place in satellite communities. In January 1989, the City Council established the five-member Ad Hoc Urban Development-Agricultural Buffer Task Force to consider what the city could do to protect city residents and surrounding farms from one another. "Agriculture in the region is gradually being eroded as the urban boundaries expand into the countryside and valuable prime agricultural lands are converted from food production to sites of residential and commercial development," noted the task force in a final report issued during June, 1989. [24] Its main goal was determining how residents could co-exist with surviving farms located along the edge of town. Residents needed to be protected from potentially dangerous pesticides and nuisances such as noise from farm equipment, dust and insects. Farmers, on the other hand, needed protection from nuisance lawsuits, vandalism, and tighter restrictions on pesticide use.

The final report was a grand vision of what the community could accomplish by building a transition area along its boundaries. Residents and local farmers would be protected from one another. Residents would gain valuable open space. Nature habitats would be protected. And, the transition zone be used to encourage urban development in areas less suited for farming and to discourage endless urban sprawl. "A transition zone may consist of a variety of semi-rural uses compatible with intensive commercial agricultural practices and urban residential and recreational use," the final report explained. [25] Some areas would be kept in their natural states, but the transition zone could include trails, bikeways, athletic fields, forests, picnic areas, equestrian trails and community gardens. Other possibilities included organic farms, Christmas tree plantations, nurseries, vineyards and orchards. The transition zone would be part of the city's open space network and could be coordinated with development of the community's other open-space facilities.

One of the task force's toughest tasks was determining how wide the zone should be. "The width of the transition zone may vary considerably. To protect residents from the hazards and nuisances of conventional agriculture such as spraying, tractor noise, smoke and dust, the average width should be approximately 1,500 feet,'' the final report said., concluding that 2,000 feet would be even better. [26] Drawing up a conceptual blueprint for the transition zone would not amount to much unless the city could find a way to fund the project. The city's major projects financing plan pegged the estimated price tag for the transition zone at slightly less than $10 million, based on an assumed value of $5,365 per acre of land to be purchased. The task force concluded that estimate was far too low, saying that similar parcels had sold for anywhere from $6,400 to $25,000 per acre, depending on annexation potential and other factors. The task force noted costs could be reduced substantially if the city explored alternatives to outright ownership, such as purchasing conservation easements so the land could not be developed or perhaps purchasing land, then reselling or leasing parts for low-impact agricultural uses. The final report recommended looking at several funding sources: an open-space mitigation fee on new developments, an open-space bond issue, and state and federal funds.

At about the same time, UCD's Center for Design Research put forward a second ambitious open-space plan, proposing creation of the Davis Greenway. "A greenway is a coordinated system of open space that linkes existing natural and cultural facilities using city streets, railroad rights-of-way, utility easements and natural features such as stream corridors and drainage channels. Greenways can also provide coordinators for wildlife habitat, as well as acting as a buffer zone between developments," explained the center in a report titled "The Davis Greenway: A Conceptual Plan for Open Space and Wildlife Habitat for the City of Davis, California." [27] The report was written as a senior thesis in landscape architecture by a student, Stan Jones. The greenway plan was developed by Jones along with two professors, Mark Francis and Kerry Dawson.

Central to its appeal was a scheme to use the city's existing system of bicycle lanes, bike paths, parks and other open space as a starting point for developing a comprehensive open-space network that could link together many of the community's resources, both natural and man-made. "Instead of seeing Central Park separate from the Davis Art Center, or seeing Oak Grove Park separate from the University Arboretum, they could be seen as a part of the whole system, integral in the fabric which makes up Davis," the report said. [28] The greenway concept was a descendant of linear parks such as Bronx River Parkway in New York City, the Rock Creek Park in Washington, D.C., and the Emerald Necklace in Boston created during the country's first stage of urban development during the 19th century. The greenway idea was gaining acceptance across the United States during the late 1980s as a method for establishing large, innovative, accessible, and popular open-space systems.

In the report, Jones, Francis and Dawson proposed using the city's downtown area as a hub for the Davis Greenway with open-space corridors anywhere from 50 feet to 1,000 feet wide, some serving as spokes radiating from the hub, others ringing the hub. The greenway were to consist of four key elements:

  • Greenstreets, a system of tree-covered routes based largely on streets with existing bike lanes or adjacent bike paths.
  • A green ring, a network of open space that would run along the periphery of the city, often using existing features, such as the university's Arboretum, drainage swales and ponds in West Davis. The green ring was to promote activities such as picnicking, biking, jogging, nature study, and horseback riding, while leaving land for agriculture and nature habitats.
  • A series of trails established along such routes as undeveloped road sides and drainage swales that could link the community to outlying natural habitats.
  • Natural habitat areas such as Willow Slough and the south fork of Putah Creek.

"The citizens of Davis value open space and recreation, as well as wildlife habitat and the environment. However, unless some decisions are made fairly soon by both the city and the university concerning the preservation of open space and habitat in the future, the opportunity will expire, not to be offered again," the greenway report concluded. [29]

Both the transition zone and greenway concepts were added to the General Plan when its open-space element was revised in June 1990. Like the General Plan as a whole, the open-space element laid out policies for an area far beyond the seven square miles of land located within the city's borders, looking at a planning area that covered 84 square miles.

Since then, financial constraints have forced the city to scale back its plans dramatically, but it continues to make slow progress. It purchased more than 180 acres of open space along the south fork of Putah Creek, using state bond funds. In 1994, city officials unveiled the Putah Creek Parkway, one of two periphery greenbelt demonstration projects. It followed the north fork of Putah Creek west of Drummond Avenue and south of Montgomery Avenue. "Prior to creek diversions in the 1800s and the 1940s, this natural channel was the centerpiece of an extensive riparian ecosystem," explained an environmental guide published by the city for visitors. "The design is intended to preserve and enhance native vegetation and provide a passive recreation open-space corridor at the urban edge." In February 1995, the council took a precedent-setting step when it accepted an agricultural conservation easement proposed by Evergreen, a residential development that was to be built on more than 100 acres located at the southwest intersection of Highway 113 and Covell Boulevard. To meet their obligation to help offset the loss of agricultural land, developers purchased conservation easements for 120 acres located next to the Willow Slough Bypass north of County Road 29 and west of County Road 102. The purchase ensures the land will be kept for farming, rather than developed and is an initial step in guaranteeing that a buffer of agricultural land and other open spaces is preserved between Davis and Woodland.

Also under way was another wetlands project, an effort by officials to restore more than 300 acres that once was part of an immense tule marsh system between Davis and Sacramento. Located adjacent to the city's water pollution control plant, the new wetlands was being created using two sources of water: treated wastewater from the plant and stormwater runoff diverted from existing drainage channels. The effort was part of a drive by local, state and federal government agencies to restore thousands of wetland acres located in and around the Yolo Bypass because of its presence on the Pacific Flyway, one of the largest corridors for migratory waterfowl in North America.

Continue to Chapter 5...