Commentary: Improving Relations with University Holds the Key

In Sunday’s column, the effort was made to look beyond the simple issue of student housing with regard to city-university relations and ask – what is in the best interest of the community?

A key point that I reiterated: I believe there are bigger opportunities for the city to prosper by forging a stronger relationship with the university and I believe that battling over land use issues and the number of student apartments we build is counter-productive to that big picture vision.

The three things identified as being in the best interest of this community, at least from my perspective, were a thriving world class university, good relations with UC Davis and economic development.

I conclude: What we need above most else at this point is more diverse and more stable forms of revenue to keep this city going.  I believe that the best way to do that is to help build up the university and take advantage of tech transfer and economic development.

As one of the posters pointed out: “[T]he university has a huge role to play in helping the community to better understand the value proposition contained within its efforts to bring technology transfer to the Davis community.”

The problem as he sees it is “it sometimes seems as if the University doesn’t believe it has any significant role to play in bringing such a strategy to life – that is the fostering, nurturing and cultivating of its latest inventions as they transition to the local marketplace.”

Matt Williams then, in response, raises the point of the UC Davis press release on the record number of startups for 2017-18, “The article describes 13 of the 16 (the other 3 are in “stealth mode” for competitive reasons and are not listed). 12 of the 13 companies did not come from the Davis campus.  They all were medical stat-ups coming from the Sacramento campus.”

Is this an accident?  Is UC Davis creating Davis-based startups and not mentioning them, or not creating Davis-based startups?

Don Shor then notes: “I have the impression, confirmed to me by people who work with the administration, that there is an attitude of disdain at the higher levels toward the public officials and activists in town. Generally those higher UC folks perceive growth of the campus as a benefit to the town and the region, and feel that those who oppose it are too parochial in their outlook and are unaccepting or unaware of the benefits that UC brings to Davis and the region.”

Don Shor adds: “I think you can see why UC looks outside the city limits when they’re seeking expansion sites. Both parties need to be more respectful of the other’s goals. UC’s mission is not developing housing for students, nor is it providing for the economic benefit of the host city or helping with the schools or any of that. But there are costs to their presence that could be shared more fairly. Hence the letters and the move toward mediation. But they have little incentive to cooperate other than public relations.”

What Don Shor is stating is what I have been hearing for some time.  It is a point that Mayor Brett Lee made to me when we spoke two weeks ago – the city of Davis compared to the university is small potatoes.  UC Davis is a multi-billion dollar a year entity.  They don’t view Davis as an equal partner, nor, perhaps, should they.

My understanding from various conversations is the relationship between the university and the community, at least from the perspective of the university, was badly damaged by the interactions over West Village.

Part of why we seemed to inexplicably see the university take such a low key approach to community discussions over Nishi was that they wished to avoid, as much as possible, Davis land use battles.

I have been concerned over the past few years about the disrespectful tone taken by residents of the city toward the university.  But as Don points out, this disrespect goes two ways and there is a badly damaged relationship that is not fostering either cooperation or communication.

From the university’s perspective, they perhaps and even probably see the city as more trouble than its worth.  At this point, they seem perfectly happy to look past the city, and seek expansion with more willing partners like Sacramento, and also to some extent West Sacramento and Woodland if the opportunities are available.

The question is really going to be thrust into our courts because the university at this point has little incentive to cooperate with the city.  I view the idea of mediation as a positive step.  Yes, I view it as a way to move forward with much needed student housing – but the bigger picture, as I attempted to highlight on Sunday, is that we benefit from a strong university and we also benefit from good relations with the university.

Toward that end, I have pushed for us to view the mediation process as process-based rather than outcome-based.

The city has laid out a series of goals, some of which involve mitigation and compensation.  If those goals materialize in discussions – fine.  If they do not, the outcome we should seek above perhaps all else is better relations.

Better relations actually benefit the community in more than one way.  Yes, it will help us with our economic development goals, but it may also mean that the university will take into account the needs of the city more as it moves forward with its goals and ambitions.

The bottom line is I agree with the poster who stated that the university has a huge role to play here in helping the community to better understand the value in bringing technology transfer to the Davis community, but unless the university sees the value in the Davis community, why would they bother?

They can get what they need without the hassle from many other communities.  Therefore, while I agree we need to enter a public conversation on the value of the university in fostering economic development, we also need to figure better ways to make both the public and university see the value of such partnerships.

—David M. Greenwald reporting


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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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15 thoughts on “Commentary: Improving Relations with University Holds the Key”

  1. Ron

    From article:   “They all were medical stat-ups coming from the Sacramento campus.”

    “Is this an accident?  Is UC Davis creating Davis-based startups and not mentioning them, or not creating Davis-based startups?”

    No – it’s not an “accident”.  And (despite what the article implies), it has nothing to do with UCD’s “relationship” with Davis.

    The medical field has been one of the fastest-growing, most prosperous industries for years.  UCD’s medical center is in Sacramento, where they own the land that will (also) house Aggie Square.

    One might ask, though – why was UCD attempting to purchase one of Davis’ multi-million dollar business parks, a few years back? (Which would have removed the property from tax rolls.)

     

  2. John D

    State and local tax laws are nothing if not “location” centric in their essential construct.

    The distinction between regional and local is everything in this context.  If you don’t believe me, just take a look at the gold rush to develop a new Amazon distribution center in your town.  The horse trading in unparalleled.

    Particularly when we are talking about influences of the university, to ignore- or otherwise minimize – this critical distinction is to ignore the crux of the problem when it comes to discussing the fiscal and programming challenges facing the Davis community.
    So, I get back to two essential questions:  “What is Davis’ unique, economic value proposition to the region?   And, “How does Davis capitalize upon, or otherwise monetize, that value proposition towards the goal of fiscal sustainability to maintain a vibrant, healthy and sustainable local economy?”
     

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      I think one of the key questions is: does Davis has unique economic value to the region? If UC Davis can simply expand elsewhere without the hassle, why would they bother with Davis?

      1. Ron

        David:  Other than their own medical center campus in Sacramento (where local/state politicians are also attempting to help fund UCD’s expansion), where else are UCD’s “business operations” expanding?

        Also, do we even know what Aggie Square’s activities/operations will consist of? Are there going to be private businesses that will operate on the medical center campus, without paying any taxes?

      2. John D

        To remain a desirable community over the long run, Davis needs a competitive abd sustainable development strategy.

        The nexus for the university should be self evident in context of its long term reputation and success.

         

        1. David Greenwald

          I agree John.  The biggest problem Davis faces right now is why would anyone want to go through the spanking machine when they can have the red carpet rolled out in the region by other communities.

          I really believe we had a huge opportunity in 2014 and damaged it through bickering over land use.  That’s why I believe we need to entitled the land and then focus on selling our advantages – proximity to the university, nice community, safe community, good schools, etc.  But if we have nowhere to house the workers, how well are some of those selling points going to work?

        2. Alan Miller

          But if we have nowhere to house the workers, how well are some of those selling points going to work?

          Everyone can live in nearby Kidwell, or Allendale, or Saxon.

    2. Alan Miller

      “What is Davis’ unique, economic value proposition to the region?

      Putah Creek

      “How does Davis capitalize upon, or otherwise monetize, that value proposition towards the goal of fiscal sustainability to maintain a vibrant, healthy and sustainable local economy?”

      Gondolas

      1. Jim Hoch

        “What is Davis’ unique, economic value proposition to the region?

        Boba on demand

        “How does Davis capitalize upon, or otherwise monetize, that value proposition towards the goal of fiscal sustainability to maintain a vibrant, healthy and sustainable local economy?”

        Teams of grumpy old hippies scream at anyone with a new idea.

  3. Alan Miller

    “So I, Dave Is, was hanging out with Cecily the other day and I’m like ‘no way’, and she’s like ‘no way’ and I’m like ‘f**k you’, and she’s like ‘f**k YOU!’, and then she’s like, ‘I don’t want to hang out anymore, I’m gonna hang out with Stan.”

    And that’s the history of Davis-UCD relations in a nutshell.

     

  4. Jim Hoch

    “I have the impression, confirmed to me by people who work with the administration, that there is an attitude of disdain at the higher levels toward the public officials and activists in town. Generally those higher UC folks perceive growth of the campus as a benefit to the town and the region, and feel that those who oppose it are too parochial in their outlook and are unaccepting or unaware of the benefits that UC brings to Davis and the region.”

    Agreed that many of our “activists” are meatheads. Our public officials are way too deferential towards the meatheads who, based on no evidence, claim to represent various groups of people.

    So you  represent the “Wailing Witches of Wildhorse”? So what!

  5. Mark West

    “My understanding from various conversations is the relationship between the university and the community, at least from the perspective of the university, was badly damaged by the interactions over West Village.”

    Yet the community just elected a new CC member who had been intimately involved in the lawsuit over West Village, and then our CC chose him to represent the City in front of the Regents during the discussion of the LRDP EIR? Do you suppose the UCD Administration didn’t note those choices?

     

  6. John Hobbs

    https://www.sacbee.com/article216308180.html

    From the Sacramento Bee— UC Davis is building a $60 million rehabilitation hospital on its Sacramento campus for stroke and brain trauma patients, the first step in the Aggie Square technology and innovation development planned for the area, officials announced Wednesday.

     

    The 40-bed hospital on Broadway, near Stockton Boulevard, will create 200 jobs and will bring in “pioneers, practitioners and patients all in the same space,” said UC Davis Chancellor Gary May.

     

    May and Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg announced in April that the city and UC Davis would work together to build Aggie Square on the medical center campus. The project site has a total of 25 acres, which one day could include 1 million square feet of research space, parks, entertainment venues and housing.

     

    Steinberg and other local officials noted Wednesday they were pleasantly surprised by how quickly the project was already taking shape.—

    UCD seems quite capable of working with reasonable partners who act in good faith.

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