Tuesday, June 28, 2005

A tale of two cities: Dixon and Davis

DIXON - The cities of Dixon and Davis are only eight miles apart - but a county line, governmental and economic grouping and people's impressions keep them apart.

Students, workers and even city councils are overcoming artificial boundaries to explore their neighboring city, and finding that preconceived notions can be deceiving.

Davis is known for its university, twice-weekly farmers markets and toddlers to oldsters getting around on bicycles.

Dixon is known for hosting the state's oldest fair, its agriculture and Lambtown.

But to exit off the freeway into either town is to see that some of the stereotypes are either old or simply wrong.

Dixon was considered as a site for The University Farm, as University of California, Davis, was called at its start in 1906, but Davis got the honor. More than 30,000 students enroll during the school year, but Davis offers no all-night coffee shops or restaurants. Only drive-ins are open 24 hours, offering students a quick bite to eat, but nowhere to study.

Davis' International House of Pancakes is open until 4 a.m. half the week, but DavisWiki.org, a guide to all things Davis, doesn't recommend it.

"It closes daily," reads the site. "In the opinion of some commentators, this makes it unique among IHOPs, and not in a good way. Apart from that, there's nothing special about it."

Conversely, Dixon welcomes students 24 hours at an IHOP, a Denny's and Java California, highly recommended on DavisWiki.org.

"Last night at 1 a.m., there were about 45 UCD students at the coffee shop," Java California owner John Waterman said. "They like the 24 hours, the free wi-fi and I let them be kids."

Waterman posted a Davis coffee shop's restrictions with all the rules crossed out.

"I spend an absurd amount of time in Dixon at Java California," UC Davis student Eric Klein said. "I go there because it offers something Davis doesn't, all night coffee and wi-fi. You would think that the college town would have something like that, but no."

The rolling green land between Dixon and Davis is a tenuous connection after the two city councils and the university worked together to create a greenbelt. A greenbelt will prevent sprawl from connecting the two cities, but working together broke down other barriers.

When Dixon council members approved the greenbelt in mid-June, Councilman Loren Ferrero called the decision a "historic moment."

Vice Mayor Gil Vega seconded by leaning into his microphone to say "Go Ags."

Although Dixon is in Solano County - lumped with a Bay Area association of counties - and Davis is in Yolo County - rolled in with a Sacramento association of counties - the two city managers try to stay in touch about common issues.

The most controversial thing on Dixon's agenda right now is Dixon Downs, a horse racetrack and entertainment destination the council will vote on during the late summer. The racetrack would be on 260 acres in Dixon's northeast quadrant, about five miles from Davis.

Dixon City Manager Warren Salmons sends Davis City Manager Jim Antonen updates on the project, but so far, neither Davis council members nor residents have made their opinions clear.

Although Dixon Downs would affect Davis in a number of ways, the decision is ultimately Dixon's, Antonen said.

"I think in the past it's been mentioned a couple of times," Antonen said of the racetrack. "It's not in our planning area. It's on the edge of it, but it's not in our area."

Although Dixon is often characterized as a small farming town and Davis is considered a crunchy-granola, earth-shoes kind of place, statistics show that some stereotypes ought to be left behind.

For instance, the people living below the poverty level in Davis far exceed those in Dixon. Although initially surprising, the numbers make sense considering that the jobs of 30,000 Davis residents - attending the university - don't pull down a lot of cash. That could also be why Dixon has far higher individual income levels.

In Davis, however, the median family income is about $15,000 more than in Dixon.

Despite their differences, voters in both Davis and Dixon agreed a small city is a good city. Dixon residents passed Measure B in 2001, capping growth at 3 percent per year. Davis has Measure J, which calls for a public vote for any residential annexation.

Covell Village, a proposed 1,864 unit development on 422 acres of farmland, is going before the Davis City Council soon, and is that city's most controversial current item. If council members approve it in June, the item will be before voters in November.

Davis and Dixon have more similarities and differences than can be addressed simply. But one difference may play into all others.

Davis, with a rotating group of 30,000 students, has an essentially transient population. Dixon, on the other hand, has residents who can boast their great-grandparents knew Thomas Dickson, a farmer and minister for whom the town was named.

"Davis has a totally different mentality than Dixon," said Paul Moller, who lives in Dixon but started the UC Davis Aeronautics Department and is currently fine-tuning a flying car there. "Dixon has a lot of people who have grown up there. There's a lot of people who come and go in Davis."

Reach Claire St. John at 427-6955 or cstjohn@dailyrepublic.net.

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