Fiscal Sustainability – Investing in Our Community

City-Budget-Flyerby Rob White

Over the last several weeks, I have been having discussions with various parts of our community (both locally and regionally) about some of the investment activities needed to achieve financial outcomes desirable for Davis.

Some of these items many Davisites are aware of, but I suspect some will be news.

Of course, one item that many are discussing (including this Vanguard community) is the proposed sales tax measure on the June ballot and the possibility of a parcel tax on the November ballot. Though I cannot be a proponent of either measure since I am a city employee, the city manager and I have been meeting with groups across the city to provide information and answer factual questions. These groups include the services clubs, parent-teacher associations and homeowner’s groups.

If you have not had a chance to review the new “budget in brief” flier prepared by the city, it explains the current budget shortfall, why it is a ‘structural’ deficit that cannot be solved through one-time cuts or cost savings, and what the suggested solutions are to solve the problem for the next 6 years. You can find the document here. Please feel free to share it with your family, friends and co-workers in Davis and please contact the city if you have questions.

Coupled with that has been a growing conversation about economic development in Davis and what does it mean in the context of our recognized community values. Many of my past (and future) articles for the Vanguard have focused on aspects of this discussion. One possibility is an innovation park that could bring significant additional revenue sources to the city. By adding growth space for our successful local tech companies we would be increasing the amount of available employment opportunities for our residents and students, adding investment from corporations into our companies and university, and most certainly increasing the amount of philanthropy to our local civic organizations.

Another area of investment being discussed is that of early venture funding for our startup businesses. You may have heard that some of the founders and executives from AgraQuest have started a new company called BioConsortia and have chosen to locate in Davis. They recently received a $15 million Series B investment (shared equally by two venture funds) which was announced on Monday.

Some have asked if this is significant. My answer is that this size of early investment is something you typically read about for Silicon Valley-based firms and a simple Google search will demonstrate to you that it has made national (and global) news across the tech communities.

Another discussion that is evolving is the desire by several local personal and institutional investors to raise funds for early stage ventures that can be primarily focused on the Davis and Sacramento region. I coordinated a meeting on this topic on Monday with a regional bank, some angel investors, and a few of our local tech entrepreneur organizations.

There are a significant amount of startups that require early investment and many of them are located in and around Davis. Receiving investments of just a few $10,000s can mean the difference of a good idea becoming a reality or being shelved for lack of financial investment. A good example of the activity happening in this space is demonstrated on television by the show ‘Shark Tank’. And though we don’t have that kind of nationally recognized investor panel looking at local investments regularly, there are several companies from Sacramento that have been featured on the show and a few have actually received funding.

What this means to Davis is that local investors are increasingly assessing the need (and opportunity) to develop more locally focused early stage investment funds. This activity could literally bring millions of dollars of investment opportunity to our local startups. And though these investment funds would not be focused only on local startups, by virtue of the investors being local there will be a stronger linkage to our region’s startups. It will also result in attention being drawn to the region as investors look for investment opportunities in other places and the news of that investment is shared by the media (much like we saw this week with BioConsortia). That brings attention and awareness to our city and our region.

Additionally, I was told earlier this week that several individuals that have been working diligently to create a sizable venture fund around our local technology sectors have had some success in securing a significant pledge of investment capital from a global bank. I won’t disclose any more at this time because this is their exciting news to share when they are ready, but it is great news and it is significant. And it will positively impact our local startup environment by bringing a regionally focused investment group together in our area.

Other examples of investments that are meaningful to us as individuals include the local philanthropy and giving that betters our community and city. One idea that has been discussed at several City Council meetings is the concept of corporations funding civic amenities (like fountains, benches and play structures) in return for visible recognition. Though this concept has been used previously to help fund community events, this concept takes it one step further and draws a nexus to physical improvements or our community. City staff continue to work on the details of this concept to present to City Council for their consideration.

There are also many examples of personal and community giving of time and money to help our local social causes and provide assistance to those that might need a little extra help now and again. As we think about the things we really appreciate in life, it is probably always advantageous to also take stock of what our individual role might be in perpetuating the sustainability of those personal and public amenities.

An easy to illustrate example might include this very online forum, the Davis Vanguard. Though I am not promoting that anyone donate to the activities of this blog, I would use the fact that many of you reading this article have seen information provided by the editorial board that the Davis Vanguard is in the midst of trying to raise sustainable funding. As a 501c3, I am aware that the very existence of this forum is a struggle to produce and keep funded and that the dramatic increase in readership on a daily basis has caused both hardware and software challenges that none of the executives could have forecast. I guess success is a challenge that is probably welcome by the Vanguard management, but it clearly presents some logistical issues.

To address these challenges, the Vanguard management has been requesting that readers who enjoy the content of the forum and want to assist in keeping the blog active might consider a monthly, recurring donation. So I did the math in my head when reading the articles… If just 10% of the daily readership of about 3000 were to donate $10 per month, the Vanguard would likely realize enough funding so that they could implement a more scalable website and start to provide more dynamic content (and I am using a low number of readers just for demonstration purposes… I am told that the actual number of unique views per day is hovering more closely to about 5,000, with a monthly page view of almost 1 million). That is comparable to a few days of coffee per month or the price of a movie ticket.

So I started to think bigger… Imagine if those same 300 regular readers (10% of total average daily readers) made their monthly donation $25. Now we are probably looking at a budget to start to invest in upgrades to the technology and more opportunities to hire freelance reporters to cover more aspects of the community (like college life, or small business concerns or neighborhood issues). And richer content would most certainly make this forum more valuable to all who enjoy it as a source of news, information and virtual community.

I use this analogy simply because I am assuming if by reading this article each of us has a vested interest in this community forum.

So, extrapolate for a moment if each of us invested similarly in just 5 of the non-profits that provided the activities we spent our time on each day or week? Like swimming, or parks, or conservancy, or carbon reduction, or… You get the idea. Could most of us part with $50 a month and be ok? Could you individually do more? Are the activities you spend your time on worth your investment of both time and money?

Each of us has to answer that question personally. My encouragement is that we each look at what we want our community to be, and then recognize that by giving generously or your time and money to the activities and organizations you hold most dear, you are investing in our sustainability as a community… both socially, and fiscally. I know, this may seem like a call to arms… and it is. It’s a call to recognize that as one of the most socially and environmentally sustainable communities in the world, we can each take an active role in our fiscal sustainability as well. It really is in each of our hands to do as much as we can in all parts of sustainability… for ourselves, our families, our community and our planet.

Thanks for considering my ideas. I look forward to your comments and questions. My email is rwhite@cityofdavis.org if you choose to email me directly.

About The Author

Rob White is the Chief Innovation Officer for the City of Davis and was selected as a 2012 White House Champion of Change for Local Innovation. He serves as an ex-officio Board Member for techDAVIS (a local tech entrepreneur industry group), as an executive Board Member for the Innovate North State iHub, and as a Board Member for Hacker Lab and the California Network for Manufacturing Innovation. He is a candidate for the Doctorate in Policy, Planning and Development from the University of Southern California and has a Masters from USC in Planning and Development and a Bachelors of Science in Geology from Chico State.

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7 Comments

    1. Rob White

      DP, great questions.

      Mace 200 – we have been meeting bi-weekly with one of the landowners. I am expecting to see some kind of actual proposal from them in the next few weeks.

      CM turnover should have no material impact. Steve has been a very good catalyst for this effort, but the very clear direction from Council on the innovation park is for me to continue to work through the challenges with the landowners that results in a successful proposal presented to the community as soon as possible. Though I had expected to see something earlier this year, we are still on track for a community dialogue this summer and a possible citizen-initiated vote in Spring or Summer of 2015 (depending on the process).

      I can say this as well… there is now very clear (and public) interest from at least one other party in developing a site, so we may have some healthy competition brewing. We will see what happens, but its a positive sign that interest in Davis is coming from more than one source. Not sure how that will play out ultimately, but it allows the Council and community an opportunity to be a little more directive in what we would like to see as characteristics for an innovation park proposal.

      Also, please note that the city has to be careful not to be a proponent for any proposal at this point so as not trigger any CEQA or planning issues. That is why you don’t hear city staff or officials being too directive of what an innovation park might be like.

        1. Rob White

          There will be lots of Council (and community) input. We have several options, but what you are highlighting is key to any successful path forward. Hard to speak to just what mechanisms will be used until we get an idea from the proponents what they would like to do (submitting an official project app is step one), but there will be a variety of ways for the community and Council to provide their insight and input prior to a vote of any kind.

  1. hpierce

    As far as “investments” how about the volunteer hours spent with STEAC, DCM, cold weather rotating shelter, [and as Yul Brenner says in the King and I], etc., etc., etc.?

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