Toward a Community Consensus Model of Economic Development

Schilling Robotics looms as a critical cog in the innovation park discussion - photo courtesy of DavisWiki
Schilling Robotics looms as a critical cog in the innovation park discussion – photo courtesy of DavisWiki

In an effort to move the discussion away from a polarized no-growth/ go-growth dichotomy this weekend, I introduced the notion that Davis’ electorate does not fall into a simple two-part model where one portion of the electorate supports all development while another portion of the electorate opposes all development.

Instead, I have created four categories of voters on the issue of peripheral innovation parks:

  • Category 1 are those who support all development.
  • Category 2 are those who are inclined to support innovation parks, but will wait for the details before completely committing.
  • Category 3 are those who have a lot of questions that will need to be addressed, but they are not necessarily opposed to the idea of a peripheral innovation park.
  • Category 4 are those who oppose all peripheral development or are likely to oppose a peripheral innovation park.

To those skeptics who wish to argue that people are not neatly typecast – I agree. People do not fall into neat categories and we might better conceptualize this as a continuum where the points of separation are gray rather than black and white.

For our current purposes, there are not a lot of Category 4’s that are posting on the Vanguard. There are a few Category 1’s however. For those wondering, I put myself in Category 2.

I have explained my stance previously, but the bottom line is that Davis has a relatively low sales tax base, the days of double digit property tax revenue increases are over, and we have a high demand for a high level of city services and amenities.

Thus we face a critical choice. We can continue to balance the budget through impositions on employee groups, in the form of pay cuts, personnel cuts, and, through impositions on the residents of Davis, in the form of service cuts. We can also 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 can see peripheral innovations parks coming forward as a means to generate revenue.

Why am I not in Category 1? First, I don’t support any proposal for the kind of traditional business parks you see in other communities – communities that don’t have a world-class university like UCD. I think we need to push the developers to create a very innovative, special project, that enhances our community. I’m not simply willing to support any project that is thrown up there – moreover, I don’t think the majority of the electorate will either.

I thought one of our posters put the need for innovation parks rather succinctly:

1. The number 1 reason is to increase the revenue to the city so that we can pay our bills and continue funding all the amenities we all demand. Business is the only net-positive city revenue generator. Residential tax revenue eventually turns negative as the cost to service the residential area exceeds the tax inflows. Davis has significantly lower business tax revenue than any other comparable city. It has been proven that the rate of tax increase required to adequately fund the city and pay for our amenities will significantly economically harm many residents. And it is unlikely that the voters would vote to tax themselves at the level required.

2. Support the university that provides us so much. UCD is way behind on its public-private partnership development when compared to other comparable universities. UCD has rocketed up to the top of the list for ag and food science, and the convergence of the historical business development deficit and the reputation advance has led us to a point where the demand for innovation park land is here today. There is a window of opportunity to support the university and it is now. If we stall or reject, then we miss the opportunity to support our university and the university will go elsewhere.

3. The moral imperative to create more good jobs. This is both a local and a regional imperative. I live and work in Davis. It is a wonderful life. We have a moral obligation to help more people… especially UCD grads… do the same. Adding some more jobs will not impact my life enough to justify my preventing them by rejecting economic development.

4. The benefits of local business contributing to the city. The owners and employees of the businesses will give back to the city. For example, Intel spends millions on Folsom schools and other programs.

5. The assist to the demographics of the city, adding more young professionals and more young families.

I think it would be helpful to begin to outline what are critical questions that have to be addressed before people are willing to support an innovation park on a Measure R vote.

To that end, another poster at least highlighted some concerns (I am slightly expanding some of these categories): (1) traffic; (2) housing needs that may be triggered by innovation park discussions; (3) energy efficiency (4) carbon neutrality; (5) fire department coverage and whether it will trigger the need for a new fire station; (5) expansion to peripheral retail or other types of business that are a concern like big box; (6) smart planning principals and concerns about urban sprawl and other growth; (7) insufficient tax revenue; (8) environmental impacts on the community.

This a good start for a discussion. The first question is whether we are missing potential concerns for the people in Categories 2 and 3 and the people in Category 4. It should be noted that discussion often raises important issues and considerations that we should take into account.

At the same time, I would like to see us develop questions that need to be addressed from a variety of different standpoints and then figure out ways to engage the community in discussions on these, as these are likely to become the battle lines. The more we can get out in front of these issues – and not be dismissive of people’s concerns – the more we have set up a way to discuss and improve the proposals.

In addition, I think Tia Will yesterday morning brought up something that needs to be addressed, as well. The issue is that of Tyler Schilling and Schilling Robotics. There is little doubt that the developer, as expressed by Dan Ramos and all five of the Davis City Council members, is concerned about the prospect of keeping Schilling Robotics in Davis.

As Rochelle Swanson noted, the first rule of economic development is to keep what you have. At the same time, Tia Will brings up a solid point, writing, “The question is should the city be making sweeping plans with multiple implications for change ( freely admitted by both sides of the growth issue that dramatic change will occur , seen as desirable by one side and unwanted by the other) in order to accommodate the needs of any particular business ?”

She added, “This is not the first time we have heard pleas for the city to intervene to ‘save’ a particular business. We have heard pleas to intervene with Davis Diamonds and with the Laundromat that was being forced to close. Is it the role of the city to intervene for every business ? Only when specifically asked by enough residents? Only when the business is large enough to generate significant money for the city overall ? What standards are we choosing as a community for when to intervene or should we be taking this on a case by case basis ?”

Some took issue to the term “save,” but clearly in this case she meant “save” it as a Davis business.

Along the same lines, what happens if the better project that emerges is not the Mace Innovation Project but rather one located in the Northwest Quadrant? In some ways, these projects are going to hinge on “the art of the possible.” If we have the space at the Northwest Quadrant, would Schilling be willing to move there?

If the city of Davis decides to develop their 25-acre parcel that lies between the Mace 391 property and the Mace Innovation Park property, as Councilmember Brett Lee discussed in July – would that be a possible destination for Schilling?

To me, at least, a big consideration is going to have to be what project will the voters approve and what will it take to get there. I think for those who are strongly in favor of the development of innovation parks – those in Categories 1 or a hard Category 2, those are issues that should be laid out and addressed sooner rather than later.

What else should be included in these discussions before we see formalized proposals coming forth next month? What do you think the people in Categories 2 and 3 need to hear in order to support a project? How can realistic concerns emerging from more skeptical voters be addressed? How can we avoid a polarizing fight – or can we?

—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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46 Comments

  1. Anon

    I don’t know of anyone who is in Category 1 – approve a business park no matter what. I think almost everyone would agree it needs to pencil out so that it would generate tax revenue to the city. Another issue – who says we have to stick to one innovation park? Perhaps two or three would be feasible. For instance, it looks like Nishi is a good bet. Why not a second innovation park at Mace, and perhaps another one at the Northwest Quadrant? I don’t think the city should limit itself necessarily to just one innovation park, if two or three would be advantageous. It just depends on the plans and what is offered by each proposal.

      1. Mark West

        Speaking for myself, the answer is no. I want to see the plans too, but more importantly, I want to see the development agreement that the City negotiates. There are a number of ways one can imagine that this could be screwed up, even if you come in with a predisposition of believing it is the right move. Details matter.

      2. Frankly

        Not me. I would vote to approve any business development… even one that belches black smoke into the air and fouls the soils and water. And I especially like businesses that pay minimum wage and no benefits and beats employees on a regular basis. And big trucks… I like a lot of big trucks driving around on our city streets. Theses things would make me happy. And I also like to torture kittens for a hobby.

  2. Bill

    “…a big consideration is going to have to be what project will the voters approve and what will it take to get there. I think for those who are strongly in favor of the development of innovation parks.”

    I’d say that is the biggest consideration. Unless the voters approve something, all is for naught. What needs to be explored is the mechanism(s) for community input that provide easy access to most (if not all) citizens as well as being expeditious.

  3. Don Shor

    To that end, another poster at least highlighted some concerns (I am slightly expanding some of these categories): (1) traffic; (2) housing needs that may be triggered by innovation park discussions; (3) energy efficiency (4) carbon neutrality; (5) fire department coverage and whether it will trigger the need for a new fire station; (5) expansion to peripheral retail or other types of business that are a concern like big box; (6) smart planning principals and concerns about urban sprawl and other growth; (7) insufficient tax revenue; (8) environmental impacts on the community.

    I add another that was brought up in a conversation a couple of days ago, and which was mentioned on the Vanguard during previous discussions:
    (9) flood control.

          1. hpierce

            Actually, FEMA determines Special Flood Hazard Areas. Very little of Davis is so designated. All three of the proposed sites (not Nishi) are, or may be in such a SFHA. In addition to implications for “engineers” to design a project where the structures are not subject to innundation in a ‘base flood’, there are regulatory steps at both the local and Federal level that must be followed, and that will add (likely) complexity and time to any approval process. The Mace site is probably the simplest to deal with.

        1. Frankly

          Basically, it will increase the cost of the development as the developer will need to grade fill to an elevation and install drainage to mitigate flood damage risk.

          Stonegate had that problem and they just dug out some drainage ditches and a lake and used that soil to raise property elevations.

  4. Michael Harrington

    I wish the sales people for these new developments would stop using the word “innovative.”

    If I remember right, I believe that a local developer recently was quoted as asserting that the City selling him a greenbelt so he could jam houses on it for private gain was “innovative.” I am looking for one of those white bags stuck into the seat backs on airliners.

    A 200 acre business park? It’s just urban development, paving farm land and habitat on our city borders, and hugely increasing pressure for yet more housing. There’s nothing “innovative” about that concept. Woodland and Dixon sprawl their developments out, and they dont bother to game the public with the use of the word “innovative.”

    What I want to know is how rich is the income to the City off a 200 acre park. Period. I remember from the 2001 General Plan study that the proposed large business parks produced a terrible return to the City coffers. If the revenue to City coffers is very rich, then the park might make it past the R vote; if not, then I think the developer and the city pro-growthers should give it up.

    So, what’s different now? I have an open mind, but please, stop with the B.S. use of the word “innovative.”

    Also, another annoying thing about this process is no one is talking about the core issue here: the city government employee costs are still bloated, and as in institution has never really owned up to the economic disaster that the rest of us faced from 2008 forward, even to now. The City simply has to cut its costs more. Instead, the City staff are using the budget meltdown that they caused to justify more sprawl, to keep from having to make those cuts.

    David, stop shilling for business parks of dubious fiscal benefit, and let’s read more stories as to how and when the CIty is going to make further cuts.

    1. Davis Progressive

      “David, stop shilling for business parks of dubious fiscal benefit, and let’s read more stories as to how and when the CIty is going to make further cuts.”

      how is advocacy for a project if it meets certain specifications shilling? were you shilling for wildhorse ranch in 2009?

      definition of shill: “A shill, also called a plant or a stooge, is a person who publicly helps a person or organization without disclosing that they have a close relationship with the person or organization.”

      so are you accusing david of doing this?

    2. Davis Progressive

      “So, what’s different now? I have an open mind, but please, stop with the B.S. use of the word “innovative.””

      so i found this ironically from the studio 30 report at uc davis explaining the concept:

      The first question facing Studio 30 was to define
      a 21st Century Innovation park. The business
      park concept has been rapidly changing as the
      market demands new places to do innovative
      work. Studio 30 did an extensive literature
      review to understand the characteristics of a
      contemporary business park. The Association
      of University Research Parks (AURP), October
      2007 report , A Study of Characteristics and
      Trends of Research Parks in North America,
      analyzed basic information, revealed trends
      and determined the economic impact of
      134 research parks in the US and Canada.
      Although Studio 30 focused on Innovation
      Parks, there are many similarities between the
      research park concept and an innovation park
      located in Davis. Studio 30 found ARUP’s
      definition of a university research park clear and
      comprehensive and adopted it.

      so it seems that innovation park has a specific definition.

      whereas a business park is defined as: “A business park or office park is an area of land in which many office buildings are grouped together. ”

      that’s clearly not what we are talking about here.

    3. Frankly

      So the opposition has tipped their strategy hand again… instill fear that peripheral economic development is going to cost us money, or not bring in enough money.

      Ok, so let’s flip this argument of these enemies of economic development. We have much more data out there to asses the monetary value of adding retail. So, if this argument is only that we are afraid that we won’t get enough revenue out of tech business parks, then let’s shift to building more peripheral retail.

      What do you say Mike and Sue? Is that what you would prefer?

      Or are you just putting up your strawman alarms to block any and all economic development?

      Of course these business parks will return revenue to the city. How much will depend on a lot of things still undecided.

      Stop and think about city revenue in general. Where does it come from?

      Asked another way… say you cut everything you possibly could from the city budget and voters have rejected the next tax increase and you are still running a budget deficit. What would you do?

    4. Bill

      Michael, it’s a matter of perspective I suppose. An innovation park is much more than urban development. It’s a shift in thinking and, eventually, a shift in local culture. You don’t need to google very deep to find the impact an innovation center or innovation park can have upon the culture of a community.

      There are, generally stated, two mindsets with which one engages the world. A scarcity mindset and an abundance mindset. Those who live from a scarcity mindset tend to try to save their way to prosperity, while those who live from an abundance mindset see opportunity and hope in what is to come. There’s a whole psychology behind it, research away 🙂

      As a Gen X-er who understands the upcoming generations, the Innovation Park and Innovation Center ideas are without a doubt on target. Without such a move, this city will remain stuck in a 20th century while the rest of the world moves forward. It’s not about “pro-growthers” vs. “non-growthers”… that’s missing the point. It’s about establishing a culture that can thrive and build up this city in ways we can’t even imagine yet.

      1. Frankly

        Nice post Bill. I agree. It really is all about mindset.

        You might read Virginia Postrel’s book “The Future and Its Enemies”. The title is a bit divisive, but she does a very good job laying out arguments for what you describe. However, she calls your “scarcity” and “abundance” actors “stasis” and “dynamist”. Again, it is mindset. Some of us seem wired to more desire a calm steady state and get anxious around a lot of activity and social and economic moving pieces. We naturally pursue a course to limit and control change in our lives. Others have the opposite mindset… they actually get anxious without enough change and disruption and naturally pursue a course to effect change.

        I am definitely in the later camp even though I am a back-end baby boomer. However, I do certainly fee myself moving toward a more stasis and scarcity mindset as I grow older. I think this is natural. And I think that is another consideration… younger people are generally more likely than older people to have a mindset of change acceptance and even change demand.

        The challenge is to honor and accept differing mindsets without undermining necessary progress and change. Frankly (because I am), the way I see it… we adults have pretty much over-consumed and recklessly pursued our own interests… sort of like a swarm of locusts. And now many of us are trying to make a case that everyone, including younger people, need to chill out and accept a much more modest and more stasis existence. I think just the opposite. I think the olds need to give up their need to control so much, and to accept the anxiety that comes with the type of change required to provide copious opportunity for the youngs.

        The abundance that the olds harvested over the last 20 years was largely false… built on a house of cards that crashed. Now many of us older folk are trying to hold on to that ill-gotten wealth by demanding that younger generations accept much less.

        My mindset is that I can have my cake and eat it to by accepting dynamism and change that grows the economy so youngs have greater opportunity to grow their wealth, while I can preserve at least some of my wealth (because I am getting too old to go off an make more). What will I give up instead? I will give up the demand that the world slows down so I don’t get so anxious that it is leaving me behind.

  5. Mr. Toad

    I agree with Mike on this point. Lets look at the numbers. How a deal is structured for revenue generation is not an abstract exercise and a reasonable question.

    As for the rest of it Mike the city has come a long way to getting the budget back under control since 2008 and while I agree we could do more part of the solution is to grow the tax base.

    But there is a more fundamental reason to build out. There is a lot of poverty in this county and a generation of well educated yet underemployed people who would like to live here. We should get over our fear and stop loathing them. We should embrace them and welcome them. We can enrich our community both economically and culturally if we just stop being so mean spirited about growth.

  6. davisite4

    The first question is whether we are missing potential concerns for the people in Categories 2 and 3 and the people in Category 4. It should be noted that discussion often raises important issues and considerations that we should take into account.

    One thing that has been mostly missing from the discussion, as far as I can tell, is attention to *where* the proposed innovation park will be located. Some might be more willing to support an innovation park in some locations than others. Location considerations include agricultural and aesthetic values, among other things.

    I know that some commenters will jump all over me for saying this, and say that these things are not important, or are less important, than other considerations. But if you really want to know factors that are important to some members of the community, these are among them, and we won’t be harangued into changing them.

    1. Davis Progressive

      there have been three potential locations that have been proposed: east of mace, north of the water tower; northwest of sutter-davis hospital, and just to the west of the levy on i-80.

      1. davisite4

        I know that. My point is that nowhere in your discussion above does it mention that some people may favor one site over another because of the location alone. For example, the soils are not as good in the northwest location as they are in the east Mace location.

        1. Don Shor

          nowhere in your discussion above does it mention that some people may favor one site over another

          Yes, I’ve already encountered this. Not all sites are going to be equally favored.

        2. Frankly

          Soil quality will be primarily a scapegoat argument for those masking their true opposition. And their true opposition will generally be proximity to or perceived personal impacts from the new business park.

          The city of Davis is built on high quality soils.

          1. Frankly

            Ok… most of Davis is built on high quality soils.

            My neighborhood is built on the clay beneath the top soil from the drainage pond excavation.

  7. Tia Will

    Mr. Toad

    I am confused by your last paragraph. I am not sure just exactly who you are talking about.
    You site a lot of poverty in the county and I agree. However, I do not see anything but affordable housing helping this particular population. Apartments would seem to be the best fit for Davis and would be appropriate for students, low income young singles and families working their way up to home ownership if that is their desire.

    Who are not, in my opinion “loathed” are the young professionals with salaries sufficient to buy the Cannery homes or the like.
    Not only does no one loath them, I believe that they are the demographic for which you have been proposing more housing.
    However, I fail to see how “helping them to afford” 400,000 dollar homes is going to help those in poverty who will not qualify for those homes anyway.

    1. South of Davis

      Tia wrote:

      > Not only does no one loath them, I believe that they are the
      > demographic for which you have been proposing more housing.

      There are plenty of people that “loath” young professionals (drive through the parking lot at a Phish Concert or at an Occupy Wall Street event in a BMW M6 Cabrio with a “Proud to be Yuppie” license plate frame if you don’t believe me).

      In Davis not as many people hate Yuppies, but a much larger group (including Tia unless I have missed a post where she is in favor of more housing) hate building anywhere for the “young professionals” (you need to be a student to live in the new West Davis housing) to live.

      1. Tia Will

        South of Davis

        You would appear to have missed many, many posts where I have stated that I favor more housing. It is just that I favor more housing for those who actually need it. What I do not favor is providing more housing for those who want to buy housing in a range that most cannot afford. “Yuppies” do not need our help in finding housing. They can temporarily live in less expensive housing until they can afford their dream home, or they can buy there dream home elsewhere. These options are not available to those who are living in poverty, or near the edge of it, or who need rental housing in a community running a 2-3 % vacancy rate as is common in Davis.

        1. South of Davis

          Tia wrote:

          > You would appear to have missed many, many posts where I have stated
          > that I favor more housing. It is just that I favor more housing for those
          > who actually need it.

          I wrote that you have posted that you seem to “hate building anywhere for the “young professionals” to live”. Not that there is anything wrong with that I have plenty of friends that say “let’s stop all new construction so when I sell my tiny home a yuppie will be forced to pay me $250K more than I paid). EVERYONE needs housing (unless you are trying to say that “young professionals don’t actually need it”)…

          > “Yuppies” do not need our help in finding housing. They can temporarily
          > live in less expensive housing until they can afford their dream home,
          > or they can buy there dream home elsewhere

          Unless you don’t want more young professionals in town why would you make them wait for another young professional family to move before they come here? Why not be fair and also make the poor wait for a Section 8 or a Mutual Housing apartment to open up?

          P.S. It is interesting that in the past 24 hours we had the owner of multiple Davis “young professional” homes post that we should not build more homes for young professional (and not mention how this will keep values and rents high) and the owner of multiple Davis office buildings post that we don’t need a new office park (and not mention how this will keep values and rents high for current office buildings)…

    2. Mr. Toad

      I was describing two different demographics that deserve our support that justifies supporting economic development. You conflated them.

      The fear of losing your quality of life and your loathing of the new housing that would shelter those that by their very presence you believe would adversely impact your lifestyle. Fear and loathing in Davis. Hunter I miss you.

  8. Michael Harrington

    Nobody is loathing anyone … it’s just my point of view that I like Davis the size it is, and I dont want to see it much larger or urban development gobble up our open land around the city.

    It’s just a different view of Davis. I know many of the local power elites envision Davis at about 150,000, and we are on that road with Cannery, Nishi, and the 200 acre commercial development.

      1. Mr. Toad

        Who is saying that besides me and believe me I’m not sure even I have said that and also believe me I’m pretty far down the power elite hierarchy. I think I’ve said we could grow at 2% and double reaching 130,000 around 2050 or 3% and get there around 2040. Of course the world is going to reach 9 billion by that time and like it or not some of those people are going to be found right here so try as you might to baton down the hatches Mike. If I can paraphrase Ronald Reagan, Mike Harrington tear down that wall.

  9. Mr. Toad

    By the way I don’t think urban development is the right term. Perhaps its better to think of it as described by Daniel Bell and Ivan Illich “Post-Industrial Society.”

  10. Michael Harrington

    Where’s the mitigation? The usual past practice is allow the developer to provide “mitigation land” by providing junk land out in the county that no one cares much about and that will never be developed.

    The mitigation should be next to the city border and positioned so that it will stop additional outward growth.

    1. Mr. Toad

      I love the way you will use any argument in your opposition to growth. Is that all you got? “Where is the mitigation?” “Where is the mitigation?” Hey Mike, its with the plans. Where are the plans? They are still on the drawing board. Now I can make a prediction that people will complain about the mitigation when the plan is rolled out but like your denial about loathing liking the mitigation is a matter of opinion.

  11. Michael Harrington

    Shilling: “definition of shill: “A shill, also called a plant or a stooge, is a person who publicly helps a person or organization without disclosing that they have a close relationship with the person or organization.”

    Anyone notice the list of major contributors to the DV Birthday Dinner Event?

  12. Anon

    Robb White has estimated conservatively that a 200 acre innovation park would bring in about $12 million per year.

    To Mr. Harrington: if you do not want to support an innovation park, then where exactly would you make the cuts to Davis services? It is easy to say the city should cut back, but where? The city cut more than 20% of its workforce in the last few years already. Who is next in line to be fired in your opinion? Or what services do we cut? How do we get employees to take less in salaries and benefits, when under contract the city is obligated to pay what it has promised? How, in your opinion is the city going to balance its budget? It is a fair question.

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