For the second time in ten days, wiser heads have prevailed in terms of the process by which the voters will vet the innovations parks. Last week, Dan Ramos pulled back from requesting an expedited Measure R process to requesting an advisory vote that would help to guide their decision as to whether and how to proceed with a full-blown Measure R vote.
While we understand why they might want to do that – particularly to avoid having to spend millions on a vote that may go sideways on them and send a clear message to Tyler Schilling of Schilling Robotics that the community was behind the project – the fact is, no one really thought was a good idea.
Four councilmembers all but opposed it but for the need to keep Schilling Robotics. Two councilmembers likened it to being backed into a corner and newly-elected Mayor Pro Tem Robb Davis pointedly warned the developers that this would not get them what they were hoping for.
In addition, the other two project applicants both came out against the idea of an early vote and an advisory vote – but they too felt backed into a corner to go forward if the Mace Ranch Innovation Center led by Dan Ramos had moved forward.
However, cooler heads prevailed once again with city staff doing some of the heavy lifting behind the scenes to convince Dan Ramos and company that there is a better way forward.
Dan Ramos told the Vanguard in a phone conversation that, while Tyler Schilling “participated in this decision and concurs with it,” he remains on a very tight schedule. They have to move forward with this project quickly and show that the community is behind them.
As they made it clear in their letter, “Our intent is to move forward as expeditiously as reasonable with that application, with the anticipation that we will be ready, pending Council approval, for a Measure R vote in November 2015.”
Mr. Ramos added, “Although not his preferred course, Tyler Schilling supports this course of action since he believes that the our expeditiously moving forward on an application presents his best opportunity for securing the expansion space which he needs – in Davis – on a timely basis.”
We agree with Mr. Ramos’ assessment here. An advisory vote would have unnecessarily complicated matters and may have made it more rather than less difficult for a project to pass.
By avoiding either a circumvention of Measure R or an advisory vote, Dan Ramos keeps a critical constituency in play for his project. There is a group of people in this community that will support just about any project. We would estimate that at the 30 to 40 percent range.
There is another probably 30 to 40 percent that is likely to oppose any project. The key to success in Davis is that middle group of voters who want to see a business park but for them it needs to be a good project that adheres to Davis values and follows the laid out process.
This is not a small point – there was a group of people, some of whom would fall into the progressive camp, that would be willing to support these projects, but not at the expense of Measure R.
As one such person wrote me, “I was not happy about his attempt at a Measure J/R exemption nor the advisory vote. All the options should have an equal chance to be described and offer to the public for a vote.”
That is the group that the Mace Ranch folks, the Northwest Quadrant folks, and even the Davis Ranch folks need in order to win.
This entire discussion has unfortunately re-opened the debate on Measure R. In 2000, Measure J relatively narrowly was approved by the voters. That vote was an outgrowth of a battle that emerged in the 1990s after a period of rapid growth of major subdivisions.
But critics, who argue that Measure J and now Measure R is stifling Davis, also need to recognize that the last decade may not be the best test case for it. The massive Covell Village project went down overwhelmingly – 60-40. Given the history of Davis, even without Measure R, Covell Village would likely have ended up on the ballot like Wildhorse before it and Target after it.
The only other project, a small Wildhorse Ranch project, was proposed in 2009, during the heart of the collapse of the housing market.
The question is whether the public is willing to support business park opportunities in key locations: East of Mace, West of Sutter Davis, Nishi, and possibly Davis Ranch?
I actually believe that Measure R and what I will call the Davis Way is a strength and not a weakness. It forces developers and the city to come up with nice, innovative projects.
I believe that the city, the developers and the community supporting these projects need to make the case to the voters.
First, Davis needs new revenue and, without new sources of revenue, we are looking at cuts to services and/or incremental increases in taxes.
Second, we need an innovative project that reflects the community’s values. In other spaces I have suggested business park campus concepts that can replicate the college environment for start-ups and university spinoffs. They are neat, they will fit in well with the community, and they can be innovative and environmentally stable.
Third, we need proper mitigation. Davis is co-located with a world-class university but it is also located near world-class farmland. Those do not have to be competing values. The number one agricultural school can utilize the world-class soils to develop a world-class World Food Center and spinoff agricultural technology companies that can utilize our natural resources. In other words, we can develop economically while we preserve farmland.
I firmly believe that the Davis way can work. I believe that Measure R does not have to be a hindrance to economic development or fiscal sustainability. But democracy is by its nature and its design difficult. And so it will take work to convince the community to go along with these projects.
What we need from the applicants is innovative and strong projects that we can back with pride, excitement and without hesitation. If you do that, this community will back you.
—David M. Greenwald reporting