Analysis: Why Didn’t the City Poll on Innovation Parks?


opinion-pollIn retrospect, given that the city had already sent out its RFEI (Request for Expressions of Interest) requests, it seems strange that the city did not poll or ask a single question to ascertain the public’s interest in an innovation park. Perhaps they will argue this is better left to the applicants, and perhaps that is true, but to not even piggyback one question seems like a lost opportunity from the standpoint of the city.

Having said that, there are questions in the poll that can give us insight into the issue of innovation parks. As we have noted, the public seems most engaged on the issue of water, with 30% listing either quality or costs as the biggest issue facing the city.

The budget and economy rank at 8.9% (and, really, those are two separate issues). Land use issues plummeted from 34% in 2007 to 5% in 2014. Economic development is at 3.5%. Lack of retail shopping fell from 3.5% to 2% this year.

Where does that leave us? It appears that the city was correct to focus on non-retail issues for economic development. However, the polling is too scattered to be that helpful. It might have been helpful to have categories and ask a follow up question to see which category the public finds most important.

The survey focused a lot on satisfaction, but the biggest issue from our perspective is the perception of the fiscal condition of the city. That has to be – perhaps ironically – the most troubling aspect of this poll. While only 3.5% rate the fiscal condition as excellent, 25% said good and 35% said fair.

The numbers rating the city’s fiscal condition as poor or very poor jumped from 2.7% in 2007 up to 23.7% in 2014, making it nearly one-quarter of the respondents. But more people thought the city’s fiscal condition is good or very good (28.8%) than poor or very poor. And nearly 65% of respondents found it at least fair.

Yesterday we argued that this was not good news for the city in terms of their ability to pass a parcel tax, but, frankly, it is probably worse news for those hoping to get innovation parks approved.

Davis has had a history of supporting mainly slow growth policies. We have noted, of course, that this is not exclusive. The voters, for example, approved Wildhorse and Target (narrowly). However, since 2000, the voters narrowly approved Measure J in 2000, heavily voted down Covell Village in 2005, narrowly passed Target in 2006, heavily voted down Wildhorse Ranch in 2009, and heavily voted to pass Measure R in 2010.

My belief has been that the budget issue and fiscal conditions of the city would open the doors and minds of people who, like me, prefer keeping Davis small but recognize that the current situation is untenable.

If the majority of the voters actually believe that the city is okay fiscally, that becomes a tougher task. In order to get both the parcel tax and the innovation park passed, the city needs to educate the voters that the condition of the city is not good fiscally.

A good poll should have probed the public’s knowledge on fiscal issues, but strangely they asked more questions on water softeners than innovation parks and fiscal issues combined.

The city did have the voters polled on their satisfaction with housing and economic development. The voters expressed a fair level of satisfaction on the following questions, where at least 60 percent of respondents indicated satisfaction with “Determining when, City will grow,” “Balancing interests of businesses where, and how they grow, the local and employers with the needs of residents,” and “Providing retail opportunities appropriate for the community.”

But what does that mean exactly? Are the voters satisfied with the current situation in the city or are they satisfied with the proposals to put business parks on the boundaries of the city?

As we drill down into this issue, we recognize that the city’s poll does not help us that much to understand what the voters are satisfied with, because they never test what these particular answers mean.

The bottom line here is that while we disagree with those who argue point blank that the poll was a waste of money, we note that dissuading the city from putting a failed parcel tax on the ballot justifies the cost of the survey, the survey itself is poorly constructed. We do not know where the public stands on one of the biggest issues facing the community and when they do poll the public, we have no way to ascertain the meaning of those responses.

But the most alarming aspect is that if you are putting forth money to put an innovation park on the ballot in a year, you have to be concerned that the case has not been made to the public about the city’s true fiscal situation. There are too many voters in this community who would prefer we not grow. That can be overcome if the case is made that the city’s fiscal condition is such that city services will severely decline without new sources of revenue.

That is the silver lining here. The public’s overall satisfaction for city services and amenities gives us the access to make the case that, without short-term revenue (parcel tax) and long-term revenue (innovation parks), the city will not be able to maintain its high level of service.

To do that, once again, the city needs to be open and transparent with the public. They need to lay out the needs, the costs, and the potential sources for funding those costs in a way that is clear and understandable on the one hand, and on the other hand does not appear to be a fear tactic.

It’s a tough task, as we make this point, time and time again.

—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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27 thoughts on “Analysis: Why Didn’t the City Poll on Innovation Parks?”

  1. realchangz


    IMO, somebody would have needed to have already set the table for this conversation – that is, they would have needed to explain to the public the essential nexus between a vibrant technology employment sector (i.e. increased economic activity) and the role of that investment and those jobs in helping to bolster local municipal finances. Unfortunately, that task has not be done.

    Similarly, lacking both a full explanation as to the magnitude of the fiscal shortfall and a cogent explanation of drivers behind our anemic levels of per capita sales tax revenues (i.e. taxable economic activity), the public simply has no context for evaluating either the need or the relevance of new Innovation Parks.

    1. realchangz

      I don’t know if it was/is anybody’s “job” – either to assess or explain – but I do think that us “not knowing and not owning that information” lies at the heart of the problem.

    2. realchangz

      By “that information”, I am referring to the statistics mentioned in my original post – not to the work of IPTF.

      I honestly don’t know the specific charge to that body or the specific product/s they were expected to deliver.

  2. Incog

    The City Council formally recognized both the Mace and Northwest Quadrant sites as potential locations for a peripheral innovation park in October of 2010 when they adopted the Business Park Land Strategy. The vote was unanimous (Krovoza, Saylor, Souza, Swanson) with Greenwald absent because of a conflict-of-interest related to downtown redevelopment.

    As part of the adoption of the Business Park Land Strategy, the Innovation Park Task Force was formed to drive the planning process. Krovoza made the motion, which passed with the support of Saylor and Souza. It started meeting in February of 2011. The task force was led by Krovoza and then Swanson with the participation of Frerichs.

    So here we sit in August of 2014 – 43 months later – with your statement (which I agree with) that the “public simply has no context for evaluating either the need or the relevance of new Innovation Parks.”

    Based on the online agendas, minutes, and staff reports, the type of public engagement you describe was clearly within the scope of the IPTF.

  3. Davis Progressive

    i’m moving closer to believing that this was just a bad poll. haven’t some of the developers already polled the public? i’d be more interested in what those polls show.

  4. realchangz

    I don’t profess to know the thinking behind the process, however, I wouldn’t think it was much more complicated than: “OK, Let’s just do this.” After all, what’s its going to hurt to at least “study the issue”.

    So, that’s where my frustration lies. We studied the issue. We looked at examples. They didn’t look so bad.

    What I never got out of the studies was any clear picture outlining where or how Davis lines up/stacks up on the underlying economic, demographic and employment metrics with any of the communities/innovation hubs that have been explored or advanced.

    I was kind of hoping that these studies might have held some case examples, with particular applicability and parallels with the circumstances found in Davis specifically – with significant emphasis on the makeup of the local employer communities, the number and types of jobs found in the various communities, the estimated spending power associated with their presence, and an overview of their ongoing involvement in the business and social interactions within their host communities. Rightly or wrongly, if comparables had been offered they might have served as dartboards or punching bags to allow the community to weigh-in with their comments and criticisms.

    So, I don’t know where the process goes from here. Obviously it is going to go somewhere.

    Perhaps this time council can provide the task forces with more specific recommendations for investigation and research that could help shed some further light on our strengths and weaknesses, our winning strategies together with our challenge areas or opportunity areas for further exploration.

    Again, this dovetails with my previous advocacy for a paid, professional convener/s whose business/es cover the realms of community visioning and planning as well as regional economic, demographic and market analysis. By definition, these would need to be firms with national and perhaps international perspectives and experience.

    If we hope to get anywhere soon, and more importantly to be fair to the community on the one hand and the developers competing for the opportunity to invest in this community on the other, the subject is sufficiently complex that it’s time to move beyond the limited resources and expectations assigned to the IPTF.

    As we have all seen in DV conversations devoted to this subject (Innovation Parks), there appear to be the four camps that David has identified, AND for those who believe in the virtues of additional employment opportunities and assume that proponents can make their own case for net fiscal neutrality+benefits – that seems to be all it took to get the process off and running.

    On the plus side, I guess we might say that’s hardly a case of analysis paralysis getting in the way of getting the “analysis” started. It was more like: “OK, Let’s just do this.”

    Problem is, talk is cheap. Analysis, on the other hand, is not.

    Without clear definition of

  5. Davis Progressive

    “Again, this dovetails with my previous advocacy for a paid, professional convener/s whose business/es cover the realms of community visioning and planning as well as regional economic, demographic and market analysis. By definition, these would need to be firms with national and perhaps international perspectives and experience.”

    my concern is that a professional convener speaks to the 50 usual suspects in the room and what we need is some way to speak to the voters in general.

  6. Anon

    As I said before, IMO this poll was a complete waste of money. It did not tell us anything we did not already know. Worse yet, it makes the city look as if it has money to burn on polls, while it lets basic repairs go unaddressed.

    Nevertheless, the idea of an innovation park(s) is resonating with the public, but to what degree I am not certain. I am not as convinced as the DV that people don’t understand the fiscal crisis. I just don’t think you can conclude much from the poll because of the way in which the questions were asked – much too general and “touchy-feely”.

    I talked with a consultant hired by the city. Her take on the process for putting forth innovation parks (and the four proposals are not competing with each other – there can be more than one innovation park, and each one will look different from the others) was a collaborative one, between citizens in public outreach sessions, city commissions, and check-ins with the City Council. I’m sure Rob White will shepherd some of the process as well. It is not the city’s plan to have a master facilitator, which has its own set of problems.

  7. Incog


    The Innovation Park Task Force is/was led by a Council subcommittee charged with making recommendations to the full Council. Their track record speaks for itself. In my opinion, it’s important for the City leadership to own their failures as we try and figure out how to move forward. I agree with both you and David that we are not in a good place right now with respect to public buy-in.

    1. realchangz


      I did not say: “… we are not in a good place with respect to public buy-in.” That’s a difficult thing to know.

      What I have said is that I am concerned that “we” have not been presented with enough evidence to conclude that a series of Innovation Parks would help to make a serious dent in our municipal revenues over the projected course of their buildout. While I may personally believe that the evidence will bear out this conclusion in no uncertain terms – it would be a major stretch to suggest that the majority of Davis residents currently share this view. The information simply hasn’t been compiled or presented.

      I don’t know what the city has in mind for its timetable in terms of developing a survey of citizens expectations (i.e. a list of citizens concerns together with a list of wants in terms of what the city and the community would like to see as a consequence of these new Innovation Parks) and how it intends to present this information in a timely and organized manner such that the Innovation Park proposers are able to effectively incorporate such feedback into their proposals in a timely manner.

      Maybe it will all come together as these great teams put forward their collective visions for the future. Certainly that would be the hope. It’s just that – this IS DAVIS – and if past history is any guide, our citizenry will very much want to have their opinions heard and their questions asked and answered.

      I’m just asking what is the best way to manage the timing and phasing of the process. It remains my contention that the city might want to focus more attention on first establishing a framework for evaluation and then be in a position to manage that framework and guide the conversation through the course of evaluation and review. This is where I see the need for a facilitator with credential like we would find with William McDonough Partners.

      However it all works out, I still think we need to be asking the questions: “What do we use for that framework? How do we arrive at the collaborative, shared framework for evaluation? What are to be the components for review and evaluation in this evaluation? Who is it that will be driving this process, and how is it to be conducted, in order to ensure a necessary level of community buy-in such that the process succeeds?”

      1. Incog


        Sorry. Didn’t mean to put words in your mouth. I was just keying off your statement that “… the public simply has no context for evaluating either the need or the relevance of new Innovation Parks.” It was 100% my conclusion that this is not a good place to be with respect to public buy-in.

    1. Anon

      To Incog – Drat, cannot remember her name (I’m terrible with names). If I run into her again, I will make sure to get her name and contact info and pass it along. Sorry.

      To realchangz: Who is Bill McDonough??? And why would he be a good person to “lead the conversation”? Why do you feel it is necessary for a single person to facilitate? According to the consultant hired by the city I talked to, sometimes facilitators are used for this sort of discussion, but it is not the common practice. In so far as she is aware, having one facilitator will not be the case for the 4 proposals moving forward in Davis. That does not mean it might not happen if there is a perceived need, because of circumstances however. So I would like to better understand why you feel this process should be led by a single person. I see some danger in that, one of which Davis Progressive has mentioned. A facilitator might end up listening only to the loudest voices, and not really “get” what the community as a whole desires. Another concern I have is that a facilitator brings their own biases to the table; their personality might not mesh with the public; that person could become the “scapegoat” to dump on should their be a no-growth push that gets ugly, etc. And each innovation park needs to stand on its own merits, and will be quite different from each other. For instance, Nishi will have live/work housing, and has serious access problems. It also is right next to UCD, with a plan to use part of UCD property in the plans, making UCD an integral partner of the project with the city. None of this is true with the other 3 proposals, e.g. none of the other 3 proposals will have housing (at least thus far), they are not next to UCD. I spoke to the NW Quadrant folks, who seem to think their innovation park proposal will be quite different from the Mace proposal. NW Q would be smaller high tech companies, perhaps selected based on a theme of agricultural research or something of the sort (not quite sure about this, and neither were they).

        1. Anon

          I’m confused. McDonough Partners sounds more like an architectural firm than a facilitator of community discussions on how to get an innovation park past a Measure R vote. What am I missing?

      1. Matt Williams

        Anon: “I talked with a consultant hired by the city. Her take on the process for putting forth innovation parks (and the four proposals are not competing with each other – there can be more than one innovation park, and each one will look different from the others) was a collaborative one, between citizens in public outreach sessions, city commissions, and check-ins with the City Council.”

        Incog: “Who is the consultant? Since she was hired by the City it should be public information. Thanks.”

        Anon: “To Incog – Drat, cannot remember her name (I’m terrible with names). If I run into her again, I will make sure to get her name and contact info and pass it along. Sorry.”

        When I went to the Thursday night public meeting for the Davis Innovation Park, I spoke to Heidi Tschudin who has been hired by the City to supplement the CEQA compliance and EIR completion resources of the Community Development team led by Mike Webb. Heidi was the Project Manager on Yolo County’s award winning 2030 Countywide General Plan, adopted by the Yolo County Board of Supervisors in November 2009, which can be accessed at She was also the Project Manager on the Yolo County Conservation Plan for the Yolo Habitat JPA chaired by Don Saylor and Petrea Marchand. Heidi’s SACOG information page is

        I don’t know if Heidi is the person that Anon spoke to, but the fact that Heidi is actively helping the City is very good news indeed.

  8. Anon

    Also, it has been said many times by Rob White and the various developers that there will be a detailed fiscal analysis forthcoming to determine tax revenue generation projections. My only concern is that information come from a disinterested source rather than the developers themselves. I want to make sure that whatever figures are fed to the public are not advertising fluff, but honest to gosh realistic projections. This city does have a fiscal crisis, that is long term, that needs to be addressed. It will be of no use to the city if an innovation park is built and does not bring in sufficient tax revenue to offset the negative impacts as well as address some of the city’s fiscal unmet needs problems.

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      I have heard through the grapevine that the city would be hiring an outside, neutral and very reputable agency to do the fiscal analysis. They seem to understand the stakes and importance on that point.

      1. realchangz


        That’s good to hear, but do you really believe that is the basis by which you win the hearts and minds of Davis voters? As you can see from McDonough’s website, their work barely touches upon the bottom line financial numbers – their work focuses on how the projects fits in terms of moving the community forward in a contextual planning paradigm (my words – I don’t know else to describe it).

        At some point, we are going to be talking about the possibility of adding possibly 15,00-20,000 jobs and the impacts of that upon both infrastructure, culture, resources, etc.

        Who is to be guiding that conversation to an inclusive, credible and satisfying conclusion?

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