On Thursday, we will have an Innovation Park Discussion forum at DMG Mori at 6:30. In planning the event, putting it out at DMG seemed like an intriguing idea. First, it showcases economic development. But second, it puts us fairly close to the location of one of the proposed parks – Mace Ranch Innovation Center.
The developers have filed their formal application with the city (and the Davis Innovation Center group is expected to do the same this week), and we will have more information on that perhaps by tomorrow.
From there we came up with the idea that, in addition to our usual ways of promoting the event, we would walk the neighborhood of Mace Ranch. After all, there are none who will personally feel the impact more than the adjacent neighborhood. This weekend, we delivered fliers and knocked on perhaps 500 households.
We really saw this as a promotional activity more than an information gathering activity, but there are always good possibilities for gathering information.
The results were mixed but instructive. Given the purpose of our operation, to get some turnout from people who might not otherwise be engaged in the process, we were not targeting registered voters or likely voters.
For the most part, the result was limited, but the small sample of people that we talked to were not aware of the issue of the innovation parks.
However, one of the people who walked also was dropping for one of the school board candidates and used their campaign’s list that targeted frequent voters. The result there was a bit different, as a number of the people had at least heard about the innovation parks.
While none of this is terribly shocking, it does help explain the polling that we saw on the Godbe Poll results, as well as anecdotal information. The majority of the community is not engaged in the details of local politics. They either do not take the local paper, or, if they do, they primarily pay attention to things other than what goes on at City Hall.
As we have noted, the Godbe Research Poll shows the citizens’ knowledge of the city’s fiscal system is troubling. While only 3.5 percent of the respondents thought the city’s fiscal condition is excellent, 25 percent said good and 35 percent said fair. Only 23.7 percent of the voters believe that the city’s current financial situation is poor or very poor.
This is after the city had to pass a sales tax.
These factors are critical because it has become clear that there will be a strong campaign against an innovation park.
If the citizens of Davis wish to oppose economic development initiatives, that is fine. We have other alternatives such as cutting services and raising taxes. Those are perfectly valid options – as long as the public has a full understanding of the choices before them and the consequences of those choices.
Where I worry is when the public believes that we are fiscally all right, or that innovation parks will not bring the type of revenue we need.
Former Mayor Sue Greenwald questioned this in a comment on the Davis Enterprise site: “Business parks rarely bring net new revenue to cities. We should be honest and clear about the benefits of a business park.”
Last weekend, Rob White, the city’s chief innovation officer, took another shot at it. As he wrote in his Davis Enterprise column, “One major reason that innovation parks are being discuss[ed] is the recognition that there is a significant need to increase the amount of revenues coming in to the city to pay for maintenance and upgrades of existing amenities — things like parks, bike paths, streets, swimming pools and public facilities.”
He noted, as we often have, “Our sales tax collection is about half of that in a comparable community. Davis also has a lower comparable citywide property tax total because the community has not experienced significant resetting of values over the past few decades and has not built new housing stock.”
As he acknowledges, this is far more complex than just those factors. However, the current revenue situation means “that Davis has not experienced the kind of economic recovery that other comparable cities have. Therefore, major decisions on the future of public service delivery are more pressing and urgent.”
I am happy to have open debates and discussions as to whether and what type of innovation parks we need as long as they are based on facts and evidence. Informed choices are critical.
I think we need to start looking at the use of engagement models. A point that was made a few months ago is that campaigns can actually take care of some of that. A vigorous campaign will send people – much as we did – to the field, walking precincts, writing letters, standing out at Farmer’s Market.
The various developer teams will have a vested interest in making their case. At the same time, campaign information is rightly viewed through a lens of skepticism. We need to have independent assessments of the economic and environmental impact of these developments on our community.
I think there has been a tendency to be too dismissive of people’s concerns about changing the community that they chose to live in. Those of us who moved here from elsewhere chose to do so for a reason. Those who stayed here also chose to do that for a reason.
For me, it was an opportunity to live in a vibrant and engaged college town. I had lived in cities before, like Sacramento, Washington DC and St. Louis, and preferred the small town to the urban lifestyle. I also chose Davis because of its schools and amenities.
For me, at least, the fiscal factors, the need for revenue and the difficulty of sustaining city services have led me to go against my traditional very slow growth stance to embrace the possibility of innovation parks – with strong caveats of environmental, sustainability, and what I’ll call innovative considerations.
But in order to move this forward, we need a good and honest debate. Those of us who read the local paper, read the Vanguard and watch the council meetings know what’s going on. Many in the community don’t, and will fill in that lack of knowledge with information that may not be well vetted – if we are not proactive in our approach.
I think Tia Will said it well this weekend, “While I am very skeptical about the ideas currently being put forward, I would see it as a real loss if a great idea were advanced and it went down only because of lack of awareness until too late in the game to convince the developer to make meaningful changes.”
I think that illustrates the dilemma well.
—David M. Greenwald reporting