Davis Innovation Park- Brief Background and Next Steps

innovation-parkby Rob White

For a number of years, there has been a fair amount of discussion about the potential for an innovation park in Davis. This article discusses a very brief background of the recent activities that have led up to this discussion and an outline of next steps.

BACKGROUND

In December 2008, the City Council contracted with the Center for Strategic Economic Research (CSER) to conduct a Business Park Land Strategy (BPLS). The primary objective of the BPLS was to better understand Davis’ long-term economic future and provide guidance for future decisions regarding community economic development goals for the 2010-2035 timeframe. Specifically, the City Council wanted to gain a better understanding of long-term business growth implications and land use tradeoffs should the Cannery property be rezoned for primarily residential uses.

The results of the BPLS  were reported in October 2010, which concluded that:

1.     Davis economic development policies support knowledge-based business growth.

2.     Knowledge-based business provides substantial local economic value.

3.     Growth in knowledge-based industries has been steady.

4.     Opportunity for future business growth is strong.

5.     Future business growth will provide local economic benefit.

6.     Davis’ vacant commercial land inventory is limited, creating both immediate and future challenges for facilitating future business growth.

7.     Davis is well positioned for economic growth in industries consistent with existing economic development policies and workforce strengths.

As a result of the BPLS report, the City Council formed the Innovation Park Task Force. After two years of meetings and public outreach by the Task Force, and a study conducted by Studio 30, the City Council endorsed a set of findings and recommendations at a City Council meeting on November 2012.

The Task Force recommendations included:

1.     Adopt a new fiscal model that accurately evaluates both the fiscal impacts and economic benefits of new innovation/research development for the community.

2.     Pursue a “Dispersed Innovation Strategy” offering flexible space (scalability) supporting needs of growing and new businesses, including a combined approach of near term close-in hub with mid-term, larger less constrained edge sites offer the best mix of University proximity and expansion capability for the City.

3.     Initiate a community engagement process that incorporates the findings and recommendations of the Innovation Park Task Force and “City of Davis Innovation Center Study” and is aligned with other economic development public outreach efforts, to inform the community and solicit input.

4.     Proactively partner with UC Davis, property owners, Yolo County, community business leaders and other regional partners to define opportunities and remove constraints to future innovation business growth.

During 2013, several policy discussions were had by Council to determine if city-owned property near the Mace Blvd and Interstate 80 intersection should be considered as part of a future innovation park. These discussion occurred in June 2013 and again in October and November 2013.

The Council decided to remain with a previous commitment to implement an agricultural conservation easement on 391 acres, but directed staff to begin earnest conversations with the land owners for the remaining almost 200 acres that is between the conservation easement and Mace Blvd (also commonly referred to as the Ramos/Oates/Brunner tracts or the Mace 200).

The City Council’s direction came specifically as a result of the discussion about budget deficits and the policy discussion for the need to identify potential economic development opportunities to create revenue, including analyzing the potential for an innovation park. The need for new revenue is a direct result of the estimated almost $30 million budget gap over the next 5 years, partly due to ongoing future unfunded liabilities from infrastructure maintenance deferrals, rising employee pension costs and retiree healthcare.

NEXT STEPS

In August 2013, City Council directed staff to reestablish the Innovation Park Task Force. The first meeting for the new Task Force was held in October 2013. The initial meeting outlined the reason for restarting of the Task Force, restated the findings from the previous efforts, discussed preliminary goals and outcomes, and discussed future outreach and community engagement efforts to be implemented.

Due to scheduling conflicts and the end-of-year holidays, the new meeting schedule for the Task Force had to be reassessed and was subsequently set for the 4th Monday of each month, starting on January 27th, 2014. The meetings are scheduled to be held in the City Hall Community Chambers from 5:30 to 7 pm and the meetings will be videotaped and posted after the fact to the City’s website on the Innovation Park Task Force webpage. Live video broadcast is not planned at this time.

The role of the Innovation Park Task Force will be to discuss policy issues and make recommendations to the City Council. These discussions could include such topics as the types of companies we want to recruit or the types of facilities and amenities that would be desirable in a future innovation park. The discussions will also likely include discussions of the types of revenue and ways that the innovation park would add to the City’s overall economic health.

City staff have had some early meetings with the landowners and development partners for the Mace 200. Though there is much to be worked out, initial discussions have identified a potential timeline for a public vote on the innovation park as soon as November 2014, most likely conducted as a citizen’s initiative (which is roughly analogous to a Measure R/J vote).

In short, because the property is outside the current City boundary and is currently being used for agricultural uses, a simple majority vote of the community is required to development the property in to an urban use (such as commercial or manufacturing). A citizen’s initiative process would allow the land owners and City to more rapidly plan for the proposed innovation park and allow for a community vote earlier in the process, but the same regulatory and planning requirements will need to be conducted. Future articles will detail this process more fully if it is the chosen method for the community vote.

The Downtown/University Gateway (Nishi) project was also identified in the Innovation Park Task Force recommendations as a potential place for technology companies to grow and the landowners, City, University and County stakeholders have been meeting regularly. Initial findings and project description will be discussed with the City Council in February, so I will let that process unfold before detailing much more information here. This project would also require a Measure R/J vote.

And a representative for the landowners of the properties often referred to as the Northwest Quadrant (near Sutter Davis Hospital, west of Highway 113) has approached the City staff to begin discussions about a potential innovation park use in that location. This representative also briefly discussed the interest at the City Council meeting on December 10, 2013. Again, any proposal for this area would require a Measure R/J vote.

Lastly, the Task Force report of November 2012 also denoted that the downtown needed to be assessed for appropriate locations for increased density and potential technology business facilities. This concept follows on the success of incubators like Davis Roots, the recent relocation of technology business like Engage3 and Mytrus to existing downtown buildings, and the establishment of several engineering workshops (or makerspaces) (including Hacker Lab in Summer of 2014). City staff will be engaging the downtown landowners and businesses over the coming months to begin discussions of the activities already occurring and brainstorm on opportunities.

Each of these areas of the City have opportunities and challenges and will be part of the discussion about designating appropriate locations for technology business growth. And there are also discussion to be had about the areas where commercial and manufacturing facilities already exist and how can these areas be maximized.

Much of the ongoing conversation will be focused on the Innovation Park Task Force meetings, but the City will also be hosting workshops, forums and symposia as appropriate to educate and engage the broad spectrum of the community. The discussion is evolving quickly and City leadership want to do the best job possible in bringing the stakeholders together. Other community organizations may also bring their expertise or ideas to the discussion and may even host community meetings, but the City Council has made it clear to this point that they would like to provide the framework for the discussion. This is appropriate because it will be the City that will be the primary negotiator with the landowners and development partners to ensure that any efforts result in a sustainable plan that is economically beneficial to the community.

We ask your patience as the City staff are working hard to craft an open dialogue, a transparent process and the best opportunity for the greatest input that might lead to success.

Please let me know your thoughts here on the Vanguard or email to me at rwhite@cityofdavis.org.

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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3 Comments

  1. Frankly

    Rob White – Thank you for this great synopsis. A few comments and questions:

    1. Since the CSER BPLS in 2008 and the subsequent development of the Innovation Task Force, we have gone almost five years without any substantive movement toward development a business park. Why? And related to that, why is it any different today?

    2. Does a business park development passed in a voter initiative grandfather in Measure O requirements? For example would the 2-1 open space to developed land requirement still apply?

    3. I don’t see anything here related to growth in retail. Is the Innovation Task Force steering clear of this business type for any reason? Davis experience a tremendous amount of sales tax leakage while also failing to realize the opportunity for attracting more shopping dollars from outsiders. Also, if we are looking at locating more non-retail business downtown, that then limits the land available for downtown retail expansion. It seems that we need a retail plan that integrates with any non-retail business development plan.

    4. I have read and heard that Davis should easily be able to support 1000 acres of new business development given the UCD connection and dearth of retail. It appears that the Innovation Task Force is opining for much less than that. AM I wrong about the demand, or is the Innovation Task Force lowering that target to help prevent a FUD campaign from the no and slow growth camp?

    1. David Greenwald

      “I don’t see anything here related to growth in retail. Is the Innovation Task Force steering clear of this business type for any reason?”

      My understanding is that the city is not looking at additional retail options right now and that they are simply focusing on innovation and high tech start ups.

  2. David Greenwald

    Rob: Thanks for writing this. I have two questions.

    First, what are your plans for expanded public input into the planning process here?

    Second, how do you plan to reach out to a broader audience?

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