It was last spring when the city of Davis finally rolled out the proposal for Mace 391. But almost from the start there were problems with that proposal. For one thing, the land was already designated to go into conservation easement and the proposal to do otherwise, under the best of circumstances, would have generated controversy.
But the rollout of that proposal was fatally flawed – a consent item on the agenda, a last-minute land swap proposal, a failure to brief, let alone engage, critical sectors of the community. The result was a split council making a 3-2 decision with Joe Krovoza, Lucas Frerichs and Brett Lee opposing Mace 391.
That would not be the end of that discussion however as prominent business leaders – many of them worried after Bayer-AgraQuest left for West Sacramento, concerned that Schilling Robotics, Marrone Bio Innovations, and HM Klaus would be the next prominent Davis companies to leave – pushed to re-open the discussion.
However, when the Yolo Land Trust and the NCRS (Natural Resources Conservation Service) indicated that pulling the application at that late date would be detrimental to future Davis conservation efforts and the Land Trust’s reputation, the council unanimously rejected the proposal to re-examine a business park at the Mace 391 location.
Our view, however, is that those efforts were not in vain. The discussion generated, first in June and then in September and October, has led to an emerging consensus, really, across the Davis political divide of the need for Davis to find business park space, not only to keep these companies in Davis, but also as a means to generate revenue.
The city of Davis is facing a $5.1 million deficit, which as we have discussed is actually more complex than that. The city has ongoing revenue needs to pay for increases to employment compensation. The city has needs to be able to pay for what has been deferred maintenance on roads, parks and city buildings.
In the short term, the city is looking to fill this gap first with a sales tax in June and then a parcel tax in November.
What is clear is that the city needs a long term strategy to generate more local tax revenue. In 2006, the city put forward the Target proposal that was said to capture about $600,000 in sales tax revenue. The measure was placed on the ballot and narrowly passed.
For the most part, the idea of additional sales tax revenue from peripheral retail is not an idea supported by those in elected office, those running for the city council, and perhaps large segments of the community.
The arrival of Chief Innovation Officer Rob White, as well as the discussion on Mace 391, served as a catalyst to reignite discussions of the Innovation Park Task Force.
Emerging from those discussions have been few concrete proposals and more discussion about how to dialogue with the community on the need for a business park.
In the next few weeks, the city is expecting the first concrete proposal to come forward on what is being called Mace 200. These are the tracts east of Mace but to the west of Mace 391 that are owned by Ramos and Oates in one tract and Brunner in the other tract.
The proposed business park would need to go through a Measure R process that might place it on the ballot by November.
A 200-acre business park might be of sufficient size to house an expanded Schilling Robotics, HM Klaus and Marrone Bio Innovations, while also providing necessary land for startups and freeing up existing space.
At the same time, we have recently seen presentations on the University-Downtown Gateway district. Unlike Mace 200, this district would have additional high density housing, both on the existing Solano Park site as well as the Nishi Property.
Moreover, it would have innovation space to allow university spinoffs that need the proximity of campus to help serve as a driver for new startups.
Along with this development is the proposal to fix the Richards-Olive Drive-1st Street area. Proposals now look for a separate pedestrian bicycle entrance into town, fixing the traffic light sequence, and making the entire entry area into Davis more inviting.
In the same area we now have an application for a Hotel Conference center.
“The project would replace the existing single-story 43 room University Inn and Suites Hotel with a new seven-story 120 room hotel including a 3,000 square foot restaurant and 14,700 square foot conference center,” City Community Development & Sustainability Director Mike Webb told the Vanguard.
While financing is still a thorny area, this could be a critical means to boost city revenue through a Transient Occupancy Tax.
At the time, when the Redevelopment Agency was still around, the city believed that the hotel conference facility could generate around $100,000 in new property taxes to the RDA while it generated a whopping $350,000 per year to the Transit Occupancy Tax.
However, there are huge hurdles to climb here. The proposed seven-story hotel conference center is sure to generate controversy; Nishi is a Measure R property and needs to address access issues to the east on the already congested Richards Blvd.
There may be an additional proposal west of Sutter-Davis Hospital on the Binning Tract currently owned by Parlin. The downside there is they seem to be insisting on housing.
There are also needs for discussion of better use of existing facilities.
There are proposals by the city looking to redevelop portions of the downtown, there are talks underway for relocating the railroad tracks that extend northward through Davis, which could free up vital space in the core of town for economic development.
There are continuing talks about potentially utilizing the PG&E site, as well as the City and School District Corporation Yards on 5th St.
One area that seems to be underutilized is Interland. Right now, that is a single-level and very spread out business park. If there is ever an influx of capital into this area, redeveloping and repurposing much of that space could generate a lot of additional space for startups and other small high tech businesses.
Davis is regionally just starting to capture the attention of the Sacramento region. But, in many ways, there are huge opportunities.
But with these opportunities come challenges. For one thing, any additional economic development not only has to accommodate and navigate through the land use policies, but it has to gain approval of the voters.
Many live in Davis for the high quality of life, the college town and small town atmosphere. Any changes must be consistent with current community character.
On the one hand, I think those pushing for more economic development have a strong point that, without a new influx of capital and tax dollars, many of the great amenities and city services will become unaffordable.
On the other hand, I think those same entities tend to misread the community reluctance for growth as a means to hold onto high property values. Many have lived here for decades and have no desire to sell their homes. For them, this is not a means to protect property value, this is a means to protect the community from the degradation of sprawl and the fear that allowing additional development opens the door for even more development.
City leaders need to educate the public on the city’s precarious financial condition, lay out options for the community to move forward, but ultimately allow the key decisions to be made by the community at large rather than a small sub-portion of the stakeholders and people with a vested financial interest.
This will undoubtedly be a long, difficult and arduous process – but one where the future could be a good one for all involved, so long as the right decisions are made.
The sooner this discussion starts the better. There needs to be economic analysis to show exactly how much revenue we can capture at each step of this process. And the public – many of whom were caught unaware of the fiscal crisis – must be engaged from day one of these discussions.
—David M. Greenwald reporting