When I first heard the idea of a peripheral business park, I thought it was crazy to be planning for something that most likely would be dead on arrival. It took a very realistic assessment of the city’s fiscal condition and a participation in the community discussion on Mace 391 to recognize the need for the development of peripheral business parks.
The fiscal condition in the city of Davis is dire. Over the last decade and a half, we expanded pay and benefits during a period of unsustainable property tax growth to the point where we can no longer sustain our high level of services.
So right now we have three choices moving forward: we can cut back on services, we can raise taxes, or we can grow our tax base. In the short term we have done what we have needed to do – we cut back on compensation to employees, raised sales taxes in 2004, renewed them in 2010, and raised them again in 2014. If we wish to improve our roadway conditions we will need to raise parcel taxes.
However, in the long term, we as a city simply do not collect as much in taxes as we need to, and the best way we can move forward with growing our revenue base – while keeping Davis the community that endears itself to so many, preserving our essential character – is to develop business parks in a couple of key spots that reflect our community values: environmentally progressive, net zero, LEED certified, and high-tech oriented.
When I saw the PayPal campus last week my thought was not only that this was something really “cool” but it is something that would fit right into Davis, where university spinoffs would feel at home and the community could embrace them as an extension of what we have.
We are not talking about sprawling big box stores, chain retail, and suburban sprawl.
The reaction by some has been to talk in terms of 3 to 1 ag mitigation. I understand that impulse and it makes sense when we are talking about developer-driven processes that encroach upon our prime farmland, which still represents one of our greatest community assets.
But this is different. This has not been a developer-driven process. In fact, it is quite the opposite. The community over a period of time identified the need for attracting new business – high-tech start ups, med-tech, ag-tech business – as a way to generate revenue in a way that we can remain at the core of what we are, a progressive, environmentally conscious community.
We had a process where we identified potential locations for these parks. We see right now a process where we are moving forward on a Hotel Conference Center, Nishi, and now potential peripheral sites at Mace and the Northwest Quadrant.
We actually reached out to the development world to ask for expressions of interest through the RFEI process. They did not come to us – we went to them.
Now the question is how should this process play out. This is where it gets tricky. Some of the proposals are asking that this process occur in November and that we allow for small modifications in Measure R for them to reduce their risk.
I want to make it clear – I understand completely why developers want to minimize their upfront investment on projects that entail a good amount of risk. However, I believe the appearance of meddling with Measure R will result in the shift in the debate from the merits of the projects and the need for the project to a debate on Measure R and the attempt to go around it.
That is not going to lead to a good process. We have to understand that there is a sizable segment of the community that is simply going to vote against any project and we are dealing with a small segment, 10 to 20 percent, that could legitimately go either way.
November presents other problems, as well. We would have to act by July 15 to put something on November’s ballot. The council and much of the community then disappear until late August, and potentially not until after Labor Day. Do we really think that the project proposers can make the case in eight weeks?
Let us not mince words – while I believe we can pass a project on the periphery, this is going to be a heavy lift and it will take reach community outreach to make the case.
So my preference is March 2015. I think we need to run the business park proposal – pick the best one to move forward first – concurrent with the parcel tax proposal. Lay it all on the line.
It is a very simple message – we are in fiscal trouble. If we do not do something, our roads will crumble, our parks and greenbelts will decay and will eventually be closed. We will not have the resources to run our recreational programs.
As we know from our other discussions and the evaluation of the polling, we need to really educate the public on the stakes and the troubles.
The advantage of running the innovation park with the parcel tax is that we can present this as a package to the voters. In the short term we need to be able to produce the money to take out bonds so that we can repair our roads and infrastructure.
In the longer term, creating a business park is a way to generate new revenue for the city so that we do not have to constantly raise taxes to pay for programs and infrastructure.
This is our need and this is our way forward. That is a powerful message.
To get there however, we need the developers to step up a little bit more. They have already come forward with project proposals, but instead of trying to circumvent Measure R, they need to take this to the people. If the Measure P folks, with limited resources, could put their measure on the ballot and get it passed, there is no reason that the developers can’t do the same thing.
Then it is not about trying to circumvent Measure R, it’s about the members of the public supporting a project enough to put it on the ballot.
Finally I need to make this clear, I want to see good projects come forward. We have a chance to do some very nice things, neat stuff. I’m not going support just any project that gets thrown out there, I want something great and I think we as a community can do great things.
This is our time, and hopefully we will not stumble into past bickering and can rise above it.
—David M. Greenwald reporting