A Look At Davis City Council Candidates’ View of Economic Development in Davis


Last week the Vanguard asked the Davis City Council candidates what tangible steps can be taken to promote economic viability and jobs in Davis.  Reading through the answers, one big realization is that there needs to be a second question in the coming weeks about redevelopment, because in order for the city at this point to do anything but play cheerleader, we will need to find a new funding mechanism.

There are some interesting ideas posed by some of the candidates.  To me at this point there are a couple of conversations that I think need to occur with the community.

One of them is going to have to be on peripheral growth.  Right now there seems little support for that.  So we are stuck at the same place on ConAgra.  The city seems likely to develop that as some mix, heavily tilted towards housing.

If that is the case, and many believe it is not suitable for a business park, then you end up with the obvious question of how and where to put a large business park that can house the types of university spinoffs everyone seems to salivate over.

We end up in the same places.  You have Nishi which has huge advantages of being close to both the downtown and UC Davis, but the huge disadvantage of needing expensive infrastructure to get reasonable access without dumping more cars out on Richards Blvd.

Solving those problems and Nishi probably is the Measure R property most likely to gain approval.

But the other spots of proposal are so controversial none of the candidates even dared mentioning them directly – that is the Northwest Quadrant and East of Mace.  The closest you get such a reference is Stephen Souza referencing the Business and Economic Development Commission’s CEDS (Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy) document which references the Business Park Land Strategy.

But even there, CEDS only directly mentions: “Maintain a steady supply of developable business park/industrial land.  Pursue (re)development of Downtown and Nishi/Gateway as a dynamic mixed-use innovation district.”

The closest we get to acknowledgment of the need for developing the Northwest Quadrant or East of Mace comes again from Mr. Souza who writes, “Continue suitability assessments of parcels for business/research park development–actively encourage development of key parcels including support of Measure R votes if required.”

In short, there are lots of references to Nishi/Gateway including Mr. Souza, “Continue efforts with UCD and the business community to develop the Nishi/Gateway/Downtown innovation district and tech transfer to create well-paying Davis jobs.”

Dan Wolk references his Davis Enterprise op-ed in which he advocates, “Improving the Richards Boulevard/Gateway. Many, if not most, visitors to Davis use Richards Boulevard. Unfortunately, it is a less-than-inviting gateway to our community. We need to concentrate on making this a gateway that matches our ambition as a community.”

And even Sue Greenwald offers, “The Nishi property would be an excellent site for business and for some residential on the Eastern portion if it pencils out, but the high infrastructure costs could preclude development.”

However, Sue Greenwald remains concerned with the prospect of developing ConAgra as she argues, “All potential peripheral high-tech sites will have higher infrastructure costs than Hunt-Wesson.”

I think most will agree with the three points that Lucas Frerichs laid out: process streamlining, an environment that encourages people to spend money in Davis, and partnerships with UC Davis.

Dan Wolk again, utilizing the hyperlink, lays out the a big vision for downtown.

He advocates “streetscape improvements,” and the idea would be perhaps to “examine more closely ideas for improving the entrance to downtown, the E Street Plaza and the stretch of E Street in between. This area comprises the primary entrance and geographic heart of our downtown and has great potential to be the signature feature of our community.”

While he acknowledges problems with the current parking proposal, he argues “To become the downtown that we want to be – to provide more housing, to draw more people from throughout the region, to improve streetscapes and plazas, and to make the downtown more bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly – parking needs to be part of the equation.”

He writes, “The City Council has decided to study this issue in greater detail. I look forward to that.”

One of my biggest pet-peeves is the lack of bicycle and pedestrian friendliness of the downtown.  In fact, it is difficult to navigate through downtown no matter what your mode of transportation.

He said, “It is deeply ironic that the geographic and cultural core of a community so devoted to bicycling is in many ways bicycle-unfriendly.”

And he also argues for improving and redeveloping existing building.  This is where we would need redevelopment money.

This is a similar recommendation to Mr. Souza’s, who writes: “Design and construct downtown directional signage, definitively identify historical properties in the core area to streamline and encourage redevelopment of non-historical properties.”

Mr. Wolk is not alone with concerns about parking.  Mr. Souza writes, “Increase the supply downtown through better management of the current supply and/or developing additional parking space.”

Brett Lee also advocates, “We need to have information billboards that let people know how many spots are available in each parking garage.  We should consider having more metered parking.  We can work with the banks and other businesses that are closed in the evenings to open up their lots for general parking.”

Brett Lee received some criticism with his suggestion: “Develop an infill, senior friendly community.  This would add additional service and health care jobs to our town.”

The criticism seems a bit strange.  He did not argue that instead of other kinds of economic development, but on the other hand it is clear that such facilities can bring jobs as well.

The big issue that advocates of redevelopment will face is the tension between competing values.  On the one hand, there is general belief that we should take advantage of the proximity of UC Davis and develop the high-tech and university spinoffs.

On the other hand, our biggest parcel of land that is zoned for high-tech or could accommodate high tech with its zoning is being rezoned to accommodate a large housing development.

That will add houses, without a clear way to implement a business park without encroaching into two hot zones, as far as development is concerned, either the Northwest Quadrant or Mace.  Both of those figure to trigger a fight.

The other key disagreement is the better utilization of downtown Davis as a commercial hub.  Business interests clearly align behind major changes, but it is not clear what the public as a whole desires.

What happens if the business vision for Davis does not mesh with the voters?  That is a big question at this point going forward.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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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  1. Mr.Toad

    Yes I agree the last article on this subject missed the mark because everyone failed to recognize the biggest single factor driving economic development in Davis, the University. I made the post below before but I think it is worth revisiting since nobody else wants to state the obvious.

    Support the infrastructure needs of the biggest employer in the region, UC Davis. By supporting the growth of this world class University we would continue to bring here and train the highly skilled people who will have the greater earnings power needed to support a healthy local service economy. Those that work at the University have, in addition to salary, good benefits. Many trained or working there do research that can lead to high tech spin-offs. By working in collaboration, instead of opposing, this giant jobs machine, the City of Davis will continue to prosper. The multiplier effect of money brought to the university that is spent in the community will keep our community economically strong long into the future. Our economic goal should be to figure out how to manage that growth to maintain the quality of life in Davis while providing the infrastructure needed for the University to grow. The best way to do this is through good planning with a cooperative vision not the piecemeal, ham handed, chess game that has occurred over the last decade of opposition to growth. It is time for a new vision of cooperation in economic development for Davis, one in which the University is once again seen as an asset to the community.

  2. Rifkin

    [i]”… everyone failed to recognize the biggest single factor driving economic development in Davis, the University.”[/i]

    Not everyone. This is what I wrote ([url]http://davisvanguard.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=5327:vanguard-question-council-candidates-on-economic-development&catid=50:elections&Itemid=83&cpage=30[/url]): [quote]Because the University and the state government serve as our primary job creators for residents of Davis, I don’t think the City really needs to “promote economic viability and jobs in Davis.”[/quote]

  3. Don Shor

    I’d be surprised if anyone “fails to recognize” the impact of UC Davis on the city of Davis.

    All of the candidates, to varying degrees, support going forward with Nishi/Gateway. Everything else requires funds. My question to those making specific proposals is how they plan to fund them.
    The RDA funds that remain are encumbered, currently intended for the parking structure.
    If they support doing something else with those funds, then they basically oppose proceeding with the parking/retail structure.
    If they want to do things that require money, but don’t want to use the remaining RDA funds, then either they are proposing a new “funding mechanism” (tax or assessment), or they are just engaging in wishful thinking.

    When someone proposes that downtown buildings be renovated, that is of interest only if they are seeking eminent domain condemnation or proposing some kind of incentive to the property owners. Incentives cost money. Any sidewalk promenades cost money. Even signage costs money. When you are closing community pools, deferring maintenance on roads, and cutting maintenance staff for parks, you aren’t likely to get much public buy-in for more downtown beautification projects.
    The other aspect of “economic development” has to do with long-range planning. If candidates are advocating peripheral business park development, they probably should say so. The choice is mostly between infill and peripheral. Those who wish to keep Davis much as it is, in character and scale, will probably prefer infill.
    Those who want faster, more aggressive growth understand that they are up against the Measure R limits, and the electorate has made it clear they will not accept large projects. It isn’t a matter of education, it’s a matter of values.

  4. DT Businessman

    Don, as I understand your comments, you are generally supportive of the candidates’ economic development proposals/projects, save for peripheral development. Your concern is solely about how to fund the policies/projects, is that right?

    -Michael Bisch

  5. Jim Frame

    [quote]Dan Wolk references his Davis Enterprise op-ed in which he advocates, “Improving the Richards Boulevard/Gateway. Many, if not most, visitors to Davis use Richards Boulevard. Unfortunately, it is a less-than-inviting gateway to our community. We need to concentrate on making this a gateway that matches our ambition as a community.”[/quote]

    I asked Dan if this means he supports widening the undercrossing. His response was somewhat equivocal, but I interpret it mostly as “no.”

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