In the first five years since becoming a city in 2000, the wide-open ranching territory of Elk Grove grew at a dizzying pace, adding thousands of homes and families, stretching its boundaries and prompting plans for a regional mall.
By 2007, Elk Grove's economy had begun to slide. In the next couple of years, one in five homes went through foreclosure, businesses fled the city, poverty and homelessness spread, and nothing but a concrete-and-steel shell of the planned Promenade mall is left as a reminder of the boom times.
This tumultuous economic climate marked the first few years of Gary Davis' tenure on the Elk Grove City Council.
After serving on the council for six years, Davis won a landslide victory last month to become Elk Grove's first directly elected mayor. He will be sworn in Dec. 12.
Davis, 38, married father of three, is a lobbyist for an educational reform group.
What do you feel are your most important accomplishments while on the City Council?
Transforming the culture within City Hall to be more resident- and business-friendly. As an example, six years ago, Elk Grove was rated as the worst city in the region to do business. The past two years in a row, we have sliced red tape, lowered fees and have a can-do attitude toward bringing new, high-quality jobs to Elk Grove. One result of this transformation is the recent location of our first state agency (California Correctional Health Care Services.) Over 1,500 jobs came along.
What does the new role of mayor mean for Elk Grove?
Elk Grove has the opportunity to play a larger role on the regional stage with a directly elected mayor. Doing so can bring tremendous economic opportunities to Elk Grove . I always point to West Sacramento as an example. They decided to elect their own mayor, and Mayor (Christopher) Cabaldon has been an effective mayor. They built the River Cats stadium and have started to develop their riverfront. I feel like it has enabled them to rise above a difficult past.
Why did you decide to run for mayor?
I have big plans for our city. I feel like we've done a lot in the last few years to turn it around and get back on track. I was mayor in 2008, under the system of rotating among council members, and I understand, with that title, how we can elevate some priorities.
What are a few of your most significant goals as mayor?
First, fixing our jobs-to-housing imbalance. We have 156,000 residents and only 30,000 jobs. This is not healthy, nor is it sustainable. Our future quality of life depends on thousands of new jobs coming to Elk Grove. Second, I want to work closely with our locally owned businesses to ensure they thrive and grow. Third, Elk Grove is ready for large civic amenities. I will be working hard to bring a large sports complex, university, performing arts center and other civic amenities.
What do you foresee happening with the partially built Elk Grove Promenade, the mall that was abandoned by developers?
The current owner of the property, Howard Hughes Corp., is telling us they're trying to get it finished. And I believe them to a certain extent. The challenge is, you need 40 to 50 high-end retailers to open a mall of that size. Nationally, retailers are in a wait-and-see mode. As mayor, I believe I can play a role in pushing (Howard Hughes Corp.) to be more aggressive. They want letters of intent before they build, but I believe if you build, retailers will be more likely to sign letters of intent.
Is there a Plan B?
I'm open to alternatives to a mall on the site. We need it to be an amenity for Elk Grove. I would be interested if we were approached by a private university or corporate campus. But the fact is, for now, it's zoned for a regional mall.
What's your position on the Southeast Policy Area? The 1,200-acre site is the last large-scale development area within the urbanized portion of Elk Grove.
That's a prime opportunity for our community to fix the jobs-to-housing imbalance. I'm looking to build civic and cultural amenities and designate significant square footage for professional offices. It could be decades away from build-out. But the city leader of today should be engaged in long-term planning.
The city has applied to annex about 7,900 acres south of the policy area. Where are you on annexation?
If Elk Grove is going to become the city we want to be, we've got to be looking long-term. I don't think rescinding would be prudent planning. I did, however, lead the charge to scale back the acreage. The original application submitted in 2008 was twice the size. I'm a big believer in regional planning, and a regional blueprint that many agencies have crafted calls for Elk Grove to be bigger. I'm open to discussions to where the ultimate line would be.