Sunday Commentary: Take Two: Community Consensus

Rob White cracks a joke with David Greenwald
Rob White cracks a joke with David Greenwald

A funny thing happens that, even after eight years of doing the Vanguard, every so often I’m caught off guard by the response of the readers. While there is an interesting tendency that an early comment can steer a conversation off course, the only way for that to happen is if the comment resonates with the readers – therefore, I end up taking responsibility.

Most of the time, I will sit back and allow the discussion to happen. Occasionally I will intervene with clarifications.

This time I think it is important enough that we have the discussion I was hoping to have, that I will try again.

When I wrote the column on Saturday entitled “The Community Needs to Come to Together If It Wants Economic Development,” I did so because I am concerned that a polarized debate over the innovation parks will lead to their electoral defeat.

Now that’s not completely true from an historical standpoint. We saw a polarizing debate over Wildhorse that ultimately saw a narrow approval. We saw the defeat of Covell Village in 2005. We saw the narrow passage of Target in 2006. We saw the handily defeated Wildhorse Ranch in 2009. We saw the narrow victory for Measure I followed with the passage of Measure P to repeal the water rates.

However, having a long and drawn-out public process with a polarized electorate is not going to be conducive to moving forward with innovation parks if that is what this community chooses.

One of the interesting points of feedback we have received from Wednesday’s event is that different people see different things.

One person characterized the event as a rally from the anti-growthers. It seemed like a strange comment to me, given that part of the theme was a discussion of economic development and, among the speakers, Brett Lee has been a strong supporter of economic development, Rochelle Swanson has been out in front of the community, and our keynote speaker Betsy Cantwell discussed how economic development worked in Livermore and talked about the concept of tech transfer.

Our audience was a pretty broad cross-section of the Davis population and there were those who told me that Livermore’s land use policies are not the best example to be emulated by Davis.

As one person put it to me in an email, “The Director of Economic Development was a good speaker and I was impressed. On the other hand, I did not feel that she portrayed a balanced picture of the pros and cons of their approach.” The person added that Ms. Cantwell did not address the impacts on the citizens of the community.

And they pushed for a more balanced presentation, representing the points of view of an economic developer and someone who is dealing with both the benefits and the downsides to a development in their community. It is a good idea that we will be thinking about this week.

The bottom line, however, is that as we move forward in the discussion, we have to be mindful that not everyone comes to the table either with the same starting place or the same values and goals. If we create a polarized discussion going forward, this project could well fail or be far more contentious than need be.

There are people involved in the discussion that see this as an inevitability and they are throwing out polarizing language calling people “anti-growthers,” the no on everything group, and the like. That is not going to bring people on board – and I understand the frustration and thinking behind it.

But I think we need to consider that this community really is not black and white on development – for it or against it. We see that with the varying levels of support for projects over time. It is probably worth noting that most of the projects I listed above passed relatively narrowly if they passed and failed overwhelmingly if they failed, which actually bolsters my point on avoiding the polarization.

What I see in the current discussion is the following:

First a group that will oppose any project on principle, that it will destroy our community if we develop. Second a group that believes we will destroy our community if we don’t develop economically. Third, two more moderate groups in the middle – one that is leaning toward supporting a good project and one that needs to be convinced that this will not destroy our community.

I worry about the polarizing labels and the ability for those labels to divide the community and turn the middle groups away from engagement and potential support for these projects.

Yesterday I stated, I have to tell you, whoever the project proponents end up being, whether they be official in the form of the developers or whether they are community supporters, you need to be careful whom you put forward as your spokespeople, and you need to watch your rhetoric.

That was interpreted by one reader to denote that “only certain ‘non-polarizing figures’ should be allowed to lead the economic development discussion, insinuating that it knows best who those ‘leaders’ should be.”

I get the criticism. My point was more benign. We have a saying that only Nixon could go to China. Richard Nixon was bitterly criticized by his own party for going to China, but he had enough cachet from his anti-Communism days that he could survive. On the other hand, could you imagine what the reaction would have been if George McGovern had gone to China (had he been the one elected as president, just for the point of comparison)?

From a practical political standpoint, the people who are going to bring the middle groups into support are likely not to be people from the groups who believe we will destroy our community if we don’t develop economically. The winning argument for those people is not that Measure R is destructive or that we have too many “nimbys” or “no on everything” people living in the community.

Can we challenge people’s existing beliefs? Yes, but that takes time. We saw people move their positions during the dialogue on Mace 391. So it can happen. But we have to meet people on their own terms and their own timeline.

Polarizing rhetoric is not helpful here. That is really the point that I was attempting to make yesterday and the worry I have as this process goes forward.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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42 Comments

  1. Mr. Toad

    You misread the history of Nixon going to china. If there was criticism of him doing so it was muted in general but perhaps there were some full throated critics. By 1972 it was a centerpiece of his re-election campaign complete with a movie at the Republican National Convention. The point of the saying is that if a democrat had tried to do it say Lyndon Johnson or Kennedy they would have been ripped to shreds and that only a staunch anti-communist like Nixon can get away with it.

    Anyway the problem with your thesis is its the now is not the right time to push argument. Some people will always say its not the right time for pushing the envelope but the vanguard of change never listens. Look at any social movement and you can see the same argument. Gay marriage and civil rights come to mind. Establishment people are always telling those that buck the mainstream to not rock the boat but its those that don’t listen and speak up change the conversation.

  2. Bill

    Thanks David. That’s a helpful clarification… and a viewpoint I tend to agree with. I would love for this process to include someone who can effectively engage those in the middle. That is usually the biggest group, but also the most neglected group.

    1. Matt Williams

      Bill, it is also very frequently the most disinterested group.

      In the recent community dialogue about the Cannery there were a number of different connections to many of the people in the middle. Carbon footprint for each dwelling and for the development in total … the proportion of Senior Housing … housing affordability … bicycle connectivity … whether the site should be housing or a business park … how many houses that small local builders should/could build. All those issues connected to the middle … some more, some less. Unfortunately I don’t see in the case of the Innovation Parks similar high-interest galvanizing issues that are going to effectively engage the middle and result in their active involvement.

      With that said, what issues do you (and everyone else) believe the middle should be considering with respect to the possibilities/potential/downside of adding innovation businesses to Davis?

      Here are a few that come to my mind:

      — the existing and potential employees of the companies interested in jobs in Davis

      — UCD students who are graduating and are looking to find jobs in their field in Davis

      — the existing Davis businesses that serve the innovation marketplace companies and employees

      — the Davis businesses that will realize additional business as a result of the spending by the proposed businesses and employees

      — Commuters who regularly travel through the Mace Curve and the Mace Interchange

      That is just a start. What groups in Davis should be added to that list?

      1. Bill

        Definitely those groups. Another question beyond that is “How can this topic be framed and what methods can be utilized so that it is of interest to the average Davis citizen?

        1. I look at cities like Bristol, CT and how they approached RE-development (see http://bristolrising.com and http://www.rdatbristol.com/). While their focus was on revitalization, what intrigues me are the methods they employ to engage the entire community. I don’t see why such an approach wouldn’t work for development of an innovation park. It’s more of a 21st century approach for sure and it certainly engaged a HUGE segment of the population. In many ways, I feel like we’re talking about a 21st century innovation, but are using 20th century models to do so.

        If people don’t feel like they have a real voice in defining what this will look like, then I fear it will result in apathy from the middle and conflict from the right/left extremes. Maybe utilizing a “crowdsourcing” model would engage the middle (if there’s a place for that). Davis Barnraising (http://davisbarnraising) could certainly be adapted for such an undertaking.

  3. La pace sia con voi.

    “…could you imagine what the reaction would have been if George McGovern had gone to China…”

    “The point of the saying is that if a democrat had tried to do it say Lyndon Johnson or Kennedy they would have been ripped to shreds and that only a staunch anti-communist like Nixon can get away with it.”

    I don’t think David missed the point.

    I don’t have a horse in this race, since I moved away in 2012. But Davis is still a vacation destination, since I have many friends and a family member there. (I disagree with Palin’s earlier remark, in another article, that I have basically no business commenting on articles like this.)
    I think you all should be thinking of the “tourist” dollars that people like myself bring to your town. I stay in a hotel and get my meals at Dos Coyoes, Cafe Bernardo, and Village Pizza or Steve’s. I even shop for items at Rite Aid or CVS, and the “old” Nugget.
    What I worry about is that you will lose your charm, then I will just go on vavation to San Francisco instead. I like to ride by the University and visit the llama’s. I like to attend the 4th of July in Community Park and stroll the Farmers’ Market. If you get a company with 300 robotic jobs and many new employees wanting to buy real estate, you will have more people, more cars, definitely more traffic, and more pollution.
    I agree with David that you must build a community consensus on this issue and not make it all about the big bad land developers and the anti-growth hippies. You must all proceed cautiously. My views are in line with Tia.
    Thank you.

    1. Barack Palin

      Davis a vacation destination? I seriously doubt that. LOL, come on kids, load up, we’re going to Davis for vacation. Now people will come to town to see family and friends like in every town anywhere. But to say that because Davis developed some innovation centers that vacationers won’t come here and go elsewhere is highly misinformed. Vacationers weren’t coming here in the first place for the town’s ambiance, they were coming here to see family or friends. S.F., Napa or Davis for vacation? Not a hard choice.

      1. Davis Progressive

        i agree, sometimes she’s right on, sometimes she leaves my head scratching. davis isn’t attempting to be a vacation destination, that’s why they are building a hotel conference center rather than a hotel resort.

        it’s also why this is the slow season for davis on hotels.

        1. La pace sia con voi.

          Neither one of you understand that many folks have friends and family here and come here on vacation to visit them, so it is a vacation place in that sense of the word. I guess I’m really wasting my time here. Palin is so negative and now you are saying I make you scratch your head. I’ll do you all a favor and stop posting. Palin, you are so negative and pessimistic it is ridiculous. You never, ever support your posts with educated research. You just rant, and bully people.

          I don’t know anyone else who would make a joke about me wanting to take a vacation and go to Davis. What about parents who come here to show the university to their high school kids? What about parents who are visiting their college kids, and staying in a hotel here? Aren’t they taking a vacation?

          I wonder if Robb would be happy to read that I like Davis as a vacation spot, I like to spend my hard earned retirement dollars here, and I have even purchased
          “Davis Bucks”, and both of you come back with negative remarks. Okay. Fine. Adios.

          P.S. Palin, why is your glass always half empty?

          1. Barack Palin

            “What about parents who are visiting their college kids, and staying in a hotel here? Aren’t they taking a vacation?”

            Isn’t that exactly what I stated? People come here to see family or friends but it’s not a go to vacation destination. Those people that come here to see family and friends aren’t going to stop coming here if we build some innovation centers.

          2. DavisBurns

            Yeah, don’t take it personally. Say what you think, don’t expect everyone to agree and kinda ignore the ones who bite. The majority of the posters don’t bite because our mothers taught us it was rude. It is good to hear different sides of issues.

    2. Davis Progressive

      i was going to say the same thing. seems to me david understood the lesson just fine.

      “Anyway the problem with your thesis is its the now is not the right time to push argument. ”

      is your goal to push argument or is it to get the business parks developed? that’s really the point that it comes down to. i don’t see a parallel on the other issues.

    3. Mr. Toad

      La Pace, If your fears came to pass you would still come to visit as long as you have family here that you are on good terms with. It isn’t the environment that brings you here its the people. As for me its the budget that is upside down, a county with a high poverty rate and people who move away because they can’t afford to live here since we have restricted growth to the maximal extent possible that form my perspective.

      David misses the mark by citing Nixon goes to China both contextually and as a contemporary proverb. Even if we discount the historical accuracy of his interpretation who is his local Nixon? Which staunch antigrowth advocates have come forward to lead on economic development? Brett Lee? If you think Brett Lee with his no vote on Cannery is a no growth leader you are surely mistaken. That vote was a bow to his political mentor Dick Livingston and an embarrassment with his perfect as enemy of the good rationale. Perhaps Robb “I’m open for business” Davis is your champion. If you voted for these guys thinking they were going to be the anti-growth heavyweights you need a trip to detox. They may represent the future of Davis and they have been elected to lead so go ahead guys please show us the way. But where were these guys during Covell or Wildhorse or WHR? They are not Nixon. Nixon fought in WWII. He was a representative, senator and VP during the rise of Mao’s China. He was a fervent anti-communist with over 20 years of service at the highest levels of government. There is nobody with a local record coming forward as a champion of business development. Not Kopper or Greenwald or Harrington or Wagstaff or Samitz or Grenell. No one with the locally equivalent stature of Nixon that I should defer to and let take the lead.

      Before you argue that we have Nixon going to China on growth you need a Nixon to speak up. As for me shooting off at the keyboard insulting people who might otherwise be won over you must remember I too have no skin in the game. The thing that bothers me most, the prohibitive cost of housing isn’t even being discussed. So where is my Nixon? Who is speaking up for my views? I personally gain nothing from an innovation business park. My only gain is equal to the benefits the rest of the community would gain, higher tax base, more well educated, family oriented people, with good paying jobs to support our schools and community. But where are they going to live? What will happen to the price of housing if we add all these jobs but don’t consider the housing infrastructure needed to support these projects. I’ll tell you things will only get more expensive and people will be forced to live out of town and that will lead to the very thing antigrowth people fear by opposing housing. These people will be forced to live in nearby communities supporting their schools in their domicile jurisdictions and commute longer distances by car instead of by bike spewing more CO2 and generating more traffic than would be generated by doing it my way.

      The only bad part for me personally if these projects fail is our declining roads. I’m much more interested in speaking what I see as truth to those whose vision of this community fail to see the impact of their choices on others. Failure of measure R votes just makes my arguments about the foolishness of measure R much stronger. Sucking it up and being nice to those who deserve a reality sandwich instead is the work of politicians not anonymous pundits.

      1. Davis Progressive

        ” Even if we discount the historical accuracy of his interpretation who is his local Nixon? Which staunch antigrowth advocates have come forward to lead on economic development? ”

        i think the point here is that don saylor is not going to convince david greenwald or tia will, but brett lee or robb davis might. the hardcore anti-growth people are probably not going to move, but that’s why david seems to be identifying shades of gray.

        1. Mr. Toad

          Fine but neither of these guys supports building houses. Brett voted no on Cannery in a shameless act of political cowardice and Robb says he is for infill which isn’t going to put a dent in demand and is a shibboleth for no growth. Just look at the nonsense going on at Wild Horse where the neighbors would rather have more Mcmansions as opposed to twice as many smaller more affordable homes. All the while we dither while Woodland plans for thousands of new homes that mean longer commutes, more traffic and a larger carbon footprint. So David thinks I should be nice to try to get what? A half full glass of economic water? Not going to happen.

          1. Don Shor

            Just look at the nonsense going on at Wild Horse where the neighbors would rather have more Mcmansions as opposed to twice as many smaller more affordable homes.

            The issue with Paso Fino is not the number of houses or the lot sizes. It is the retention of the greenbelt and the protection of the old trees. And the scuttling of the previous development agreement, which had resulted from considerable negotiation and compromise between all the stakeholders.

          2. Mr. Toad

            The stakeholders who were involved in the original agreement are gone, which is why this land is in play. The people now complaining are not stakeholders although they are classic nimby neighbors and the biggest trees are gone anyway in either the current permit or the new proposed agreement. If what you are saying is true there is nothing at all to complain about.

          3. Don Shor

            The stakeholders who were involved in the original agreement are gone, which is why this land is in play.

            Neighbors are stakeholders. They are not gone. It is “in play” because the developer has changed. That is only one stakeholder.

          4. Mr. Toad

            This is not greenbelt it is a unique conservation agreement between a now deceased home owner and a developer that was only intended to be in effect for the life of the homeowner, who sadly, is no longer with us.

          5. Mr. Toad

            Yes neighbors are stake holders but they have limited rights. They can try to buy the property or get the city to buy it with Measure O money or something if the owner is willing to sell it or they can get the city not to agree to to a new agreement. They can’t take the old agreement away without eminent domain and I doubt that will happen. So they have two choices neither of which saves the trees. The first is Mcmansions and the second is more affordable but larger numbers of homes with smaller footprints. That is the question to densify or not to densify. Of course densification is the ultimate nimby issue and wouldn’t even be a concern anywhere in the city were it not for measure R and opposition to peripheral development creating the need for a pressure relief valve on development. So I sympathize with the neighbors because they are bearing the brunt of the policy that provides the no growth advocates their alternative vision, a vision that sounds great until it comes to a neighborhood where someone already lives.

          6. Don Shor

            They can try to buy the property or get the city to buy it with Measure O money or something if the owner is willing to sell it or they can get the city not to agree to to a new agreement.

            Or they can all come to some kind of compromise, which is what I think is likely to happen.

          7. Barack Palin

            Don Shor:
            “Neighbors are stakeholders. They are not gone. It is “in play” because the developer has changed.”

            Exactly, the “NEW” stakeholder is the “NEW” developer who it seems is trying to maximize his profits through the sale of more houses on the property. The old stakeholders, the neighbors, are still in place.

          8. Mr. Toad

            Okay, that is one way to view it or another is that opportunity is created by what the members of the city council all ran on, infill densification. The choice is also between Mcmansions or closer together smaller homes. If the city council chooses Mcmansions then I don’t want to hear about why densification is good for poorer neighborhoods but not richer more politically organized ones. Densification is an excuse not to build on the periphery. Beware of what you ask for.

          9. Don Shor

            My recollection is that 4 units on that site already was densification, since it was zoned for 2 units.

          10. Mr. Toad

            Four units gets you more Mcmansions. That is what the neighbors want but 8 is what the elected officials claim we want as justification against peripheral development.

          11. Don Shor

            The site is 0.8 acre. I don’t think a 1/5 acre lot with a house on it is a McMansion. In fact, that term has become a tired cliché. I don’t know any “elected officials” who are making any claims about the Paso Fino rezoning as anything to do with peripheral development. The four units was the original development agreement, and is already a greater density than the surrounding neighborhood. Taormino wanted to try for more. They’re getting pushback, so they’re likely to compromise. The developer will make plenty of money in any case. If they can save the trees and avoid selling the greenbelt, so much the better.

        2. Matt Williams

          Well said DP. The staunch antigrowth advocates are going to have just as much trouble gaining traction with the middle. What are the resonant antigrowth issues vis-a-vis innovation focused businesses? When the anti-growth advocates look at retaining the current Schilling Robotics employees, what are the problems that they feel compromise the character of Davis?

          So David’s model works for me. Anon on one side and Mike Harrington on the other side, and then lots of people in the middle.

      2. Don Shor

        There is nobody with a local record coming forward as a champion of business development. Not Kopper or Greenwald or Harrington or Wagstaff or Samitz or Grenell.

        Just curious where you think each of those folks comes down with regard to annexing the sites under discussion for business parks. Eileen is fine with it, so far as I can tell. Sue Greenwald mostly seems to be making sort of academic points in her replies on the Enterprise, repeating her thesis that business parks don’t net the city revenues. Mike keeps asking about mitigation.

  4. Anon

    Hmmm, not sure I agree with the thesis of the four different groupings of citizens. I don’t think Davisites can be conveniently pigeon-holed as such. I think there is a larger issue out there – a lack of tax revenue and the need for a new source to pay for city services. IMO, that is the biggest reason for bringing an innovation park to Davis. However, there is a valid concern that an innovation park will bring with it problems, e.g. traffic, more residential development. So there is a natural tension between the two opposing positions (“yes” we want an innovation park; “no” we don’t want an innovation park), and an effort needs to be made to overcome the difficulties that any innovation park will bring. That is going to take more than mere “rhetoric” or endless discussion, more like serious planning, with an eye to improving the city rather than detracting from it. We have been given examples where innovation parks have been successful, so it would behoove us to pay attention to lessons already learned elsewhere. How did they deal with additional traffic, was there a need for more housing, etc.? I suspect we have the resources, tools and will to build at least one (or more) very successful innovation parks, that will be nothing but assets to the city.

    1. Davis Progressive

      “I don’t think Davisites can be conveniently pigeon-holed as such.”

      i don’t think he’s saying they’re neatly fitting into those categories, what he’s saying is that there is not an all-or-nothing orientation in the electorate.

      ” I think there is a larger issue out there – a lack of tax revenue and the need for a new source to pay for city services.”

      which is david’s point when he writes, “We face a choice now. We can continue to balance the budget through impositions on employee groups, personnel cuts, and ultimately service cuts. We can pass taxes in five-year increments to shore up revenue needs. Or we now have a third option, and in the next year to two years, we will see peripheral innovations parks coming forward as a means to generate revenue.”

      and there are trade offs. so you don’t seem to be disagreeing.

    2. DavisBurns

      I don’t suppose we’ll get any examples of innovation parks that failed or failed to supply a city with revenue they anticipated. I like the idea of hearing from other cities as to how they handled traffic, etc. I also think of the last economic crash and what happens when it happens again and the business park is half built.

      The more I read about these business developments and the bright and shiny things they will provide the more skeptical I become. There is no free lunch. I’d like to see Shilling stay here but we really aren’t looking for a place for them to expand. We are talking 200 acres of development that may or may not include shilling. I look at The Cannery and shudder. It is 100 acres and HUGE! Then I think about the 547 new houses, the traffic, the additional street lights, the impact on the city and I wonder how we can even think about something twice that size–and we are talking about THREE business parks.

      1. Matt Williams

        DB, there really aren’t very many innovation parks in the US like what is being proposed in Davis … lots of business parks, but that is a different animal. First, you have to start with the presence of a world class (dare I say best in the World) research university. Second, that university has to be committed to technology transfer to the private sector. Third, the business environment of the local community has to be willing/able to accept the technology transfer from the university. That narrows the field considerably.

        My alma mater, Cornell University, fits the first two criteria, but absent the third criteria, there is no innovation park in Ithaca. Stanford and Palo Alto have combined all three, and their innovation park has definitely not failed.

        With that said, the key is to construct an agreement with the innovation park developer that guarantees the City a pre-agreed-to cash flow that is independent of the build-out schedule of the innovation park. That way if the innovation park only gets half built, the revenues still flow to the City, and the 50% of the acreage that isn’t built out continues to be planted in crops each year.

        When I think about traffic, the first place to start is location. A substantial part of the traffic challenge for the Cannery is its location. In order to get to inter city public transportation one had to go from north of Covell to the train station through the heart of town. In order to get to San Francisco or Sacramento you had to go west on Covell and then south on CA 113 (a total of 4.1 miles) or east on Covell and then south on Mace Blvd (a total of 3.9 miles) in order to connect with I-80. Traveling to and from the mace Innovation Center will be a straight shot down 2nd Street to the train station, or less than 0.5 miles to I-80 at the Mace Interchange if driving to San Francisco or Sacramento.

        I’m not saying that traffic isn’t a concern, but the impacted area of traffic concern is concise and remote from Downtown.

        1. Tia Will

          Matt

          I would not consider the train station remote from Downtown. This has both upsides and downsides. As a resident of the community just east of the train station, I have become aware of the parking issues related to the train station and believe that this would not be a trivial issue.
          There would likely be some advantages for downtown businesses but that is not the only impact.
          I am concerned that the advantages are being sold as “bright and shiny” and the disadvantages glossed over in the conversation so far.

          1. Matt Williams

            Tia, hopefully the issues you and I are raising in this dialogue will prompt other Vanguard readers to add their thoughts and concerns to this dialogue.

            With that said, I agree with you that the train station is not remote from Downtown. The proposed Mace Innovation Park is; however, remote from Downtown. Given the concerns you have raised regarding the current parking issues related to the train station, how do you think those parking issues would be impacted if the proposed Mace Innovation Center were approved by the voters?

            Taking that question to the next step, how do you think the Mace Innovation Center should incorporate the use of (connection to) inter-city public transportation into their design?

  5. Tia Will

    Anon

    I thought that your post overall was excellent. You were clearly presenting a balanced view and then you got to the final sentence.

    “that will be nothing but assets to the city.”

    There is nothing in life in my experience that has ever been 100% good or 100% bad. Everything has its pros and cons. Everything has its benefits and its costs. Maybe this is just the perspective of a doctor who counsels daily on the pros and cons of important decisions. Everyone knows my bias, so if anyone can name even one action that has had no downside whatsoever, then I will certainly be wiling to re consider my position.

  6. Anon

    Tia,
    Let me correct my last sentence, because your point is well taken. “that will be an net asset to the city” is a more accurate representation of what I was trying to say.

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