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The First Big-Box Store in Davis

UCD-ITS-RP-15-17

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Suggested Citation:
Handy, Susan L., Kristin Lovejoy, Gian-Claudia Sciara, Deborah Salon, Patricia L. Mokhtarian (2015) The First Big-Box Store in Davis. Access Magazine 1 (46), 8 - 13

Davis, California, is well-known in transportation circles for having the highest share of bicycle commuters in the U.S., due in large part to pioneering efforts starting in the 1960s that created an extensive bicycling network. Less well-known is the substantial effort Davis has made to avert the kind of sprawl found in most U.S. cities. Multi-family housing is distributed throughout the city, neighborhood shopping centers are within a short bike ride for most residents, and the city has improved sidewalks, landscaping, and public spaces to promote its traditional downtown. Davis restricts development beyond the current urban boundary while at the same time encouraging infill development within the boundary. As a result, Davis is the sixth densest urbanized area in the U.S. and an exemplar of what small cities can achieve with coordinated policies and careful planning.

Consequently, when the Target Corporation proposed opening a store in Davis in the mid-2000s, a fiery debate erupted. At the time, the city’s General Plan deemed “warehouse style retailers … inappropriate given the nature and scale of the Davis market” and restricted retail businesses outside downtown to sizes appropriate for serving small neighborhoods rather than larger regions. The land use code limited store sizes to 30,000 square feet, far less than the proposed 137,000 for the Target store. Though the City Council approved the project in June 2006, it recognized the decision’s combustibility and held a public referendum on the development agreement.

Impassioned Davis residents voiced concerns regarding Target’s arrival, including its environmental, economic, fiscal, social, and cultural impacts. Some residents feared that Target would harm local businesses and draw shoppers away from neighborhood centers. Others argued that allowing Target to move into Davis would be a public endorsement of big-box retail, a type of built form thought to be incompatible with the city’s larger sustainability goals and town culture. By contrast, supporters of the project argued that Davis residents already shopped at stores like Target in other cities, and that a Davis Target would fill a retail need, keep sales tax revenues within the city, and reduce driving. In November 2006, 51.5 percent of voters cast their ballots in support of the project, and a Target store finally opened in Davis in October 2009.