Next Steps on Innovation Centers

NW-RFEI-4By Rob White

Last night, the Davis City Council made several decisions regarding the process for next steps on discussing the Innovation Center concepts near Davis. These decisions came after a two-day long meeting (beginning the evening of July 1 and held over to a subsequent meeting time on the evening of July 2) and over five hours of comments and deliberation from the community, staff, concept proponents, and of course City Council.

So these decisions were not made lightly. Nor without much debate and consideration.

The discussion came as a result of the City receiving three innovation park concepts as part of the Davis Innovation Center Request for Expressions of Interest (RFEI) process.  Each of the three concepts is on a different location and is about 200 acres each. And each concept has a different team of landowners, developers, and land use specialist.

The first decision was that Council would approve the request by the Oates/RAMCO/Bruner team (respondents with the Mace Innovation Center concept – northeast of Mace Blvd and I-80) to accept language for an advisory ballot measure for November 2014. Note I said “advisory”.

You might remember that the original request by the Mace Innovation Center team was for an amendment to Measure R to allow their innovation park concept to have the required vote early (November 2014) and then move through the normal City land use processing and approvals. Over the course of about a week, this request was morphed in to asking for a non-binding advisory measure instead.

Because an advisory measure is non-binding, it does not in any way pledge an outcome of an actual Measure R vote for a project and does not tie the City Council or the community to a decision during any actual project approvals.

This is important to note because the Council asked the Mace Innovation Center team to strongly consider not requesting an advisory ballot measure for the November 2014 election because of the possible confusion that it may cause in the community. And it should be noted that regardless of the outcome of such an advisory vote (pass or fail), it does not tie the Council or community to act on that outcome.

So, if the advisory measure were to fail, the City can still work with the proponents of the Mace Innovation Center to process a project and deliver it to the voters for an actual Measure R vote in mid to late 2015. And if it passes, the project proposal would still be subject to significant processing and community engagement to conform to the City’s planning and permitting regulations and ordinances.

The stated purpose of the advisory vote by the primary requestor (the Mace Innovation Center team) was to help give the identified anchor tenant, FMC Schilling Robotics, some assurances that the community was interested (and seemingly committed) to supporting the Mace Innovation Center and providing a place for the company to grow. In fact, much of the conversation about innovation parks over the last several years has been about finding a place for Davis companies to grow and create jobs and investment. This became very clear about 13 months ago during the Mace 391 discussion in June 2013.

It should also be noted that the Council made it very clear to the Mace Innovation Team that the outcome of any advisory vote would not be binding on the Council and the community’s decision-making abilities. And to demonstrate their support for an innovation center concept somewhere in Davis and their support for finding a solution for businesses to stay and grow in Davis, several Council members made strong statements to “send a message to business” that they are wanted and needed in our City.

The decision to allow for an advisory ballot measure still has to be heard for final approval at the July 15th City Council meeting.

The other two innovation center concept teams (the Davis Innovation Center near Sutter Davis Hospital and the yet to be defined 200 acres at Davis Ranch near the soccer fields east of Davis) also requested to have an advisory ballot measure on the November 2014 ballot if the Mace Innovation Center team was to have one. The two teams stated that they thought that it was bad public policy and possibly confusing for the community, but they also recognized that if one was going to have an advisory vote, it would be important to have all three.

Additionally, Council member Brett Lee requested (and won approval from his colleagues) to have the City-owned 25 acres just east of Mace Boulevard and north of the Mace Innovation Center concept to be included as a 4th advisory ballot measure to be considered for placement by Council. Basically, Council member Lee wanted to provide options for the growth of companies like Schilling Robotics. His reasoning was more complicated than this, so I encourage you to watch the recording of the meeting (found on the City’s website).

Moving forward, each team (including the City) is required to provide language for an advisory ballot measure to the City staff by July 9th in order to be considered for final approval on July 15th. And depending on how many teams submit their ballot language and are approved by Council, the cost from the County for the election will be divided accordingly. Or stated another way, if the cost is $100,000 from the County to do the advisory vote and all four measures are approved and placed on the ballot, then the cost will be split 25% to each team (including the City).

What was also interesting during the deliberations was that there were several of the original authors and supporters of Measure J (and the subsequent Measure R that extended Measure J in to 2020) that spoke about the ways to ensure that an innovation park would meet Davis’ values and embrace our community’s ideals. They spoke of the need for open space conservation as mitigation, the need to instill new sustainability measures in building design and the need for strong (yet expedited) community outreach and engagement.

This is an important nuance because up until now representatives of this group had not materially weighed in on the most recent discussions regarding an innovation center. The dialogue over the last few days has demonstrated at least a willingness to discuss the innovation center concepts. Of course, there is much to do in evolving towards project proposals and community engagement will be key to any of the concepts moving forward.

An announcement also made last night by the Davis Innovation Center team was that they had filed a pre-application for their project proposal with the City and paid the initial deposit. This had previously been done by the Mace Innovation Center team several weeks ago. The Mace Innovation Center team also announced in public comment that they plan to submit their full application by September 1st of this year.

This means that the Request for Expressions of Interest (RFEI) process had the result that the City had hoped to achieve. Namely, project proposals from interested parties have now been identified and the teams are officially engaged with the City.

The other decision made by Council last night was to create an ad hoc subcommittee of two Council members to work with the staff on more fully defining the ‘guiding attributes’ list from the RFEI and catalogue the City’s and community’s stated goals and values for use in determining project features for proposal on an innovation center. This list would be brought back to Council in September 2014 for review, discussion and possible approval.

This clarity early in the process will allow project teams to look at the requirements that the Davis community would have for a project, enumerated already in the City’s planning documents (like the General Plan) and reinforced in our policies and ordinances. It will also help provide further direction on topics like sustainability measures, transportation, building densities and architecture.

The subcommittee will also meet with businesses over the coming months to gather input on tech business growth and expansion plans and to more fully understand the market conditions. This direct dialogue with the tech business community will help the Council validate the described need for space for local companies to expand and new tech companies to locate in Davis. It is important that the Council has the information to evaluate and direct the process effectively as we further explore the evolving potential for an innovation center.

Thanks for considering my thoughts. Your ideas are always welcome. My email is rwhite@cityofdavis.org if you choose to email me directly.

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16 Comments

  1. davisite4

    Thanks for that helpful summary.

    The subcommittee will meet with staff, the subcommittee will meet with businesses… will the subcommittee meet with citizens?

    1. Rob White

      They will most certainly be meeting with the citizenry… but primarily as a full Council through the public process. Additionally, Council members will be engaged as partners through staff outreach, community forums and as participants to what will be robust outreach (I hope) by the concept teams.

  2. davisite4

    Thanks for that helpful summary.

    The subcommittee will meet with staff, the subcommittee will meet with businesses… will the subcommittee meet with citizens?

    1. Rob White

      They will most certainly be meeting with the citizenry… but primarily as a full Council through the public process. Additionally, Council members will be engaged as partners through staff outreach, community forums and as participants to what will be robust outreach (I hope) by the concept teams.

  3. Davis Progressive

    i’m going to say it again, people have asked what rob white’s value is to davis, we see it with the rfei process. without that, we have no projects and no discussion right now. rob deserves the credit here.

  4. Davis Progressive

    i’m going to say it again, people have asked what rob white’s value is to davis, we see it with the rfei process. without that, we have no projects and no discussion right now. rob deserves the credit here.

  5. Rob White

    Thanks DP. We all deserve the credit for creating a dialogue that will hopefully result in at least one incredible innovation park, and the prestige and marvel at our City’s success in collaboration and not petty politics that got us there. I am hopeful… I know if we can conceive of it, it can be a reality. We’ll see.

  6. Rob White

    Thanks DP. We all deserve the credit for creating a dialogue that will hopefully result in at least one incredible innovation park, and the prestige and marvel at our City’s success in collaboration and not petty politics that got us there. I am hopeful… I know if we can conceive of it, it can be a reality. We’ll see.

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