Analysis: Council Needs to Focus on Moving Forward with Innovation Center


Council’s failure to manage time at the meeting on Tuesday has led to some sharp criticism, questioning council’s commitment to moving forward with already agreed upon pieces of the city’s innovation plan.

Council took an item prepared by Chief Innovation Officer Rob White at midnight on Tuesday, Mayor Joe Krovoza gave him just three minutes to deliver an involved staff report, and council, realizing the absurdity of it all, pushed to push the item off for four weeks.

Councilmember Brett Lee pressed his colleagues to pass the needed action item on a proposed Request for Expressions of Interest (RFEI) on the Innovation Center. He suggested that Mr. White could deliver further information in four weeks, but he did not want to postpone action.

However, Councilmember Lee failed to get the votes needed to do it and Councilmember Lucas Frerichs complained that the two potential locations, both in unincorporated and thus county land, needed to be reviewed at the county level.

Adding to the complication, the issue is now on the May 1, City-County Two-by-Two, but that body has been thwarted by the electoral aspirations of the two Davis representatives – Mayor Krovoza and Mayor Pro Tem Dan Wolk – both running against each other for the State Assembly. As a result, the two-by-two has not met in over two months.

The Innovation Park Task Force has long recognized two potential sites, one in the East and One in the West. The city has agreed upon those priorities since November 2012.

Rob White explained, “What we are really asking for tonight is that we come up a number of what we call guiding attributes.”


He stated, “The point that we’d like to ask for tonight is does the council see the benefit in moving forward in requesting expresses of interest, or what we’ll call an RFEI, asking for council input tonight on those guiding attributes.” He noted, if acceptable, staff would be directed to go through the legal process and issue it on May 1.

The response date would be June 2 and staff would be directed to return in mid-June for a report out of responses.

“This is only a guidance activity,” he said. “This does not create any outcomes other than just finding out information. This is valuable for us, it allows us to tell the community what it is that we think has been talked about for many years, including from the Business Park Land Strategy as well as the Innovation Park Task Force findings from February 2012 and the work that’s been done since then.”

He also noted it allows the city to identify cohesively who out there might be interested in coming forward. It also allows the city to work with the community and other jurisdictional partners like the county.

“This doesn’t result in a proposal, it allows us to come back and have a discussion,” he stated.

Councilmember Brett Lee moved staff recommendation three to direct staff to “Incorporate comments and issue the Innovation Center RFEI for a 30 day period” and “Return to Council in June 2014 to report on received submittals from the Innovation Center RFEI and recommend next steps.”

He also wanted Rob White to come back with a full discussion on the rest of the staff report as an informational item.

“I think this presentation is too important for us to rapid fire go through all of the slides. There is a whole lot of background that I think is essential for the community to really understand about what’s going on, what Rob and his team have been working on,” he said, noting he did not want to hold up Mr. White’s efforts.

Dan Wolk would second for the purposes of discussion. Councilmember Lee’s motion would eliminate the minimum 4 million square foot floor ratio and Rob White indicated he was “absolutely comfortable with Brett (Lee)’s motion.”

Councilmember Lucas Frerichs then intervened. “My first comment is that I just don’t think we should be taking up this item in rapid fire pace and then approving it at midnight. I just think it deserves more actually thorough vetting and conversation.”

He also had an issue with the process, “in particular with regards to the county.” He noted that this was taking place “on a number of properties  in the county . In terms of process, has this been… have we had these conversations with the county thus far? I’m not sure that has occurred and frankly I think it might need to occur as a local governmental partnership with our county partner in this case, before we… I’m all in favor of fast-tracking this and getting out to the public, we definitely need to get this moving.”

He said, “As far as I know there hasn’t been much in the way of precedent where any of the cities is having this kind of request for innovation proposals without discussions especially when it’s on county property.”

He noted that the mix of heights was one to five stories, he pushed to make it more dense. He noted that Interland is all single story and that’s problematic. Rochelle Swanson, however, pointed out that Schilling Robotics specifically needs one story, however ultimately agreeing that it could be two stories. But Lucas Frerichs argued that we should be pushing for density and he is generally not in favor of single story structures.

“We definitely need to be pushing for a minimum of two stories,” he said.

Councilmember Swanson followed up that she would like to see Interland approached on the RFEI and see what they could come up with in terms of improving their density.

Rob White responded on the issue of process, noting, “As was referenced pretty rigorously here, this whole process and what we’re focused on are those outcomes from the 2012 November decision that this council made regarding the two peripheral sites,” he said, noting they don’t expect to see additional proposals.

He noted some CEQA issues with having advanced discussion without a project, and added that the proposers from both sites have sat down with both county supervisors and discussed the matter.

“There’s more to be done for certain,” he added. By going this route, it will expedite the discussion and get everyone into the room to discuss it.

A discussion on this and the Broadband RFEI have been added to the May 1 meeting. Rob White discussed this a bit yesterday, noting that the city is seeking information that might give the city and residents a gigabit access to every parcel in the city.

He writes, “That would be a HUGE improvement over the current situation. And we would have a selling point that few other communities have – including Google Fiber communities.”

The city had a chance to get in on this much earlier, but the city process has been slow and now Pacific Grove and Fullerton are launching projects and Davis is still talking.

“Imagine a day (in the near future) where the community has achieved the vision of a true high-speed broadband connectivity to ALL community members in Davis, residents and businesses alike,” he wrote.

Concerns have been expressed that an important item like the Innovation Center and Rob White’s presentation was pushed back until midnight. It revives criticism of agenda management, as the city took well over an hour early in the evening for recognition awards and then spent nearly three hours on the Covell Corridor Plan.

The council leadership needs to be called to task. When Joe Krovoza and Dan Wolk both decided to run for office, it seemed that attention to council issues would take a hit, and critics have cited this as a critical cause.

Finally, the Vanguard has heard that regional leaders saw the spectacle play out and are now concerned about the council and city’s commitment to economic development. The city has had a golden opportunity here, and is now getting bogged down in needless delays.

The Vanguard will have more on this.

—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. Tia Will

    To posters in the business and development community, I would like to clarify a point that I made previously.

    All of the items that come before the city council including awards ceremonies, relations with other communities,
    less economically impactful proposals are all of great importance to some segments of our community and thus are worthy of council attention.

    However, I am in complete agreement that this particular item is of so much importance to our community that it should never, never be relegated to the end of a packed council agenda. I would propose that an issue having this level of significance is worthy of its own special session of the council open to the public and should be the sole
    item for consideration and that this consideration should be expedited.

  2. Frankly

    That it. I am going to do everything I can to make sure that the tax increase measures don’t pass. We apparently need a nuclear fiscal disaster.

    David – where are the council candidate’s response to the question about their vision for a future Davis? We need to get their direct quotes on the subject of economic development and peripheral development.

      1. Tia Will

        I should have either put it in quotes since i got it from the Batman movie with Heath Ledger as the Joker, or modified it to reflect my reality:

        “Some people just want to see the world burn”

        Are you feeling that lovely light breeze yet ?

          1. Tia Will

            I guess if we are going for that much latitude, I could also have said:

            Some corporations just want to watch the world burn !

            Ok….now I am probably pushing my luck ; )

  3. Mark West

    This City Council needed to demonstrate that economic development was an important part of a comprehensive response to our fiscal crisis if they wanted to secure support for their tax measures. Unfortunately, what this Council demonstrated instead was their collective incompetence for implementing even the most basic steps towards business growth and economic development.

    These five all love to talk about economic development, but they obviously have no interest in actually doing anything about it, or for that matter, really solving our fiscal crisis. Raising taxes by itself will do nothing to solve our problems as it is just a band-aid effort. We need a comprehensive approach that includes higher taxes, spending cuts and economic development. Unfortunately, all we can expect to see from this bunch are higher taxes and more unsustainable spending on ‘feel good’ projects (plus a few more all-important photo-ops).

    1. Mark West

      Collective incompetence suggests the group is incapable of acting together. Each member of the current Council has their own strengths and shortcomings, but it does not necessarily follow that each is individually incompetent. I intend to support the candidates that I believe will help create a Council capable of acting competently. Getting rid of at least one of the two members who have shown more interest in their run for Assembly, than what they now must view as the mundane job of doing the City’s business, will significantly aid in that effort.

      Being a member of a dysfunctional School Board and/or suing the City for your own gain, are not characteristics that suggest to me the ability to work together for a common good so for me that narrows the field considerably. If you are asking for specific names, you may check out the lawn signs in front of my house and assume the named candidates will receive at least one vote from our household.

      1. Mark West

        I will add that it is a matter of public record that I have endorsed Robb Davis. He is clearly the cream of the crop in this field and should be the Mayor in two years.

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