A few weeks ago the buzz starting to leak out was that the World Food Center was going to head for the Sacramento Railyards rather than the main campus in Davis.
When the Vanguard spoke to Luanne Lawrence nearly two weeks ago, the associate chancellor for strategic communications was evasive, arguing that no decision had been made, talks were in speculative and in the early stages, and there were no concrete plans to be offered.
That tone suddenly changed when the very same Ms. Lawrence told the Enterprise, “A lot of people have been talking to (Chancellor Linda Katehi) about the World Food Center. She is committed to having some kind of location in Sacramento.”
Roger Beachy, the center’s director said, “The questions that the university can address are big enough to be on the world stage. We think that Sacramento — because of its growing importance as the capital of a state that has an enormous amount of influence in food and food policy nationally — seems to us quite logical to take on an increasingly international position, and UC Davis can help with that.”
The official statements are quite a bit weaker than the background noise which points to this being all but a done deal with massive monetary investments coming in totaling up to $1 billion. There are regional efforts that are working to bring about a large portion of that as an initial investment, and that effort is all focusing on Sacramento, not Davis.
There is no doubt that this is a blow to Davis as it looks to become a leader in food and agriculture.
Just as we had long discussions last summer about what the loss of AgraQuest to West Sacramento meant to Davis, there will be discussions here.
There has been and there will be discussion about the discussion last June in terms of Mace 391. That was a location that was proposed for a business park, but the city had already designated the land for a conservation easement, and plans to propose changing that trajectory were fumbled by both city staff and council. The council voted 3-2 against the change in June.
However, the tech community, seeing opportunity for an innovation park on the city’s edge, pressed council to re-explore the option last fall but council was talked out of it by the Yolo Land Trust, who claimed that reversing course would harm future conservation efforts. The vote was 5-0 against even opening the process for re-evaluation.
The city is now undergoing a process put into place by the Innovation Park Task Force to look at properties east of Mace and near the hospital. While those are slowly move forward without a specific project – the city just put out an RFEI (Request for Expressions of Interest) last week – the county, led by Supervisor Don Saylor, is pressing the city to slow down the process.
The reality is that while Davis may be moving in the right direction here – slowly and unevenly – competing against Mayor Kevin Johnson would probably be a losing cause. He is pushing hard for Chancellor Linda Katehi to fast forward the decision process and press UC Davis to formally commit to Sacramento.
The numbers we are talking about in terms of investments take it likely out of the range of anything that city of Davis could offer. There is some speculation that perhaps Angelo Tsakopoulos would have the capital to make his land southeast of Davis available. That would, of course, come at the price of ten thousand homes, if not more.
Even if he had the financing to compete with Sacramento, it is not clear that the voters of Davis would support it or that the leaders at UC would be even willing to listen.
Chancellor Katehi, since the pepper-spray incident put Davis on the map in the wrong way, has been said to barely hide her contempt for the city. There are other key leaders at UC Davis who clearly share that view, and it doesn’t help that former City Manager and longtime resident of Davis, John Meyer is stepping down from his position of Vice Chancellor in June.
There is also a view that Davis residents are now attempting to preserve prime agricultural land, while at the same time ignoring the fact that a World Food Center could help find a way to feed 9 billion people that are expected to inhabit the planet by 2050.
There is also the regional big picture view. Davis may have lost AgraQuest, but it stayed in the region. Davis may lose the World Food Center, but at least it stays in the region.
Councilmember Rochelle Swanson articulated some of this last week in the RFEI discussion, “This year I was lobbied. This year I was pressured. This year the region is wanting to know what are we doing and why aren’t we moving forward because they’re getting really worried because we have assets that nobody else has.”
“It’s not Davis versus West Sac, it’s not Davis versus Woodland or Folsom or Roseville,” she continued. “It’s Davis versus Austin. It’s Davis versus Chicago. It’s Davis versus cities in China. We’re losing and our region loses if we don’t step up.”
“There’s a lot of criticism in the community from certain pockets about things like the Cap-to-Cap trip and some of the investments we’re doing,” she said. “Usually when you go to these meetings, you thank them for the time and you tell them how you need help. Congressman Garamendi was very generous in that he gave us time to talk about Davis.”
“It was really unique in all the meetings, he sat back and he turned to me and he said, there are things I need from you,” she explained. “That was a very different tone and I asked him to please write me a letter so I could share it with the community.”
As John Garamendi put it in his letter, “I know that Davis is working diligently on creating an innovation center for businesses to grow and thrive… I encourage the community of Davis to get underway with an effective and expedited process to meet this demand so that the university, the community, and the region can benefit from the investment and resulting economic impact.”
At this point, Davis is clearly not ready to compete against Sacramento for the World Food Center, but the city’s inability to articulate a clear vision does take a toll.
“The city and the campus have been coordinating fantastically well on our innovation park task force to identify sites available for campus-connected enterprises. I would expect that would continue,” Mayor Joe Krovoza said. “If there’s room for the World Food Center in Davis, they certainly know of our strong commitment to working with them.”
Perhaps Dan Ramos, whose company is looking to develop 200 acres east of Mace, put it best in his comment to the Enterprise.
“Quite honestly, I would just love to see it in Yolo County,” Mr. Ramos said. “Yolo County has always been the leader in the region, in terms of ag, and UC Davis has a strong commitment to ag, so I think it’s very important that it’s located in Yolo County.”
“I don’t want to say it would be a slap in the face, but it would be a tough, tough loss for Yolo County.”
Some have spoken about bringing together the stakeholders of Davis to make a strong last-ditch effort to keep the World Food Center in Davis. Others believe even such a gesture is too late. The question is not whether this is a blow to Davis, but whether Davis can recover in time for the next once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Where does that leave us? At a crossroads and with a huge decision to make as a community.
—David M. Greenwald reporting