Analysis: Most Unaware of the Innovation Park Issue

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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.

The Davis Vanguard will host an Innovation Park Informational Forum at the DMG Mori Seiki Conference Center located at 3805 Faraday Ave. in Davis, on Thursday, October 16 from 6:30pm to 8:00pm. The forum will be a town hall style discussion with panelists who will answer questions from the community about the potential 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

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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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28 thoughts on “Analysis: Most Unaware of the Innovation Park Issue”

  1. Frankly

    Attended a neighborhood block party Sunday and mentioned the pending business park proposals and few knew of my neighbors knew about them.  The city and those residents interested in preventing city financial insolvency have a lot of work to do.

  2. Michael Harrington

    “It’s become clear there will be a strong opposition to the innovative business park.”

     

    I havent decided, but I never get answers.

     

    Where’s the mitigation plan?

    Where  are the fiscal calculations and the net funding to the city government ?

     

    I just see it all as a Ramos sales job for more development until they answer the questions.

     

    My number is 759-8440 and operators are standing by to receive answers.

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      “I havent decided, but I never get answers.”

      You will get answers, but you’re asking question for which the details have yet to be worked out. For instance, mitigation.

  3. hpierce

    David (& Highbeam)… see line 4 in first paragraph… suggest the word “proposed” be added to “… park”, unless David is implying/saying that the Mace Ranch area site is a fait accompli.

  4. Rob White

    I think at this point, all that should be asked of residents (and voters) is to keep an open mind. With an election still over 12 (plus) months away, the proponents of these potential innovation parks have a lot of work to do.

    One application is in (Mace Ranch Innovation Center – northwest of intersection of Interstate 80 and Mace Blvd.) and one is expected this week (Davis Innovation Center – Northwest Quadrant/near Sutter Davis Hospital). And application is the “start” of the process, not the final answers. These applications will be subjected to city regulatory process over the next 6 to 9 months (including an EIR that will assess environmental considerations), a plan for mitigation in accordance with Measure R and fiscal models that will assess potential revenue and economic benefit against expenses to the city (both now and long term). Then, the whole package goes through commission and City Council review, there is a public information campaign and then a vote of the citizenry.

    Like the Cannery project (and other projects that this City has approved), there is extensive public outreach that will be conducted by the proponents. Additionally, the city commissions, EIR process, and city council will have many opportunities for public input.

    What appears to be noteworthy here is that some seem to be expecting the answers to very large questions, while at the same time asking for ample public input to shape the proposed projects. These appear to be conflicting statements. It would seem reasonable to ask that if there is desire for increased public input, then let the proponents gather their data and request of them that they present the info at the earliest possible time. This would then lead to informed dialogue and debate, instead of supposition and mandates.

    None of us has the absolute answers and we are all in need of additional information. Early indications seem to be positive, but those are back of the napkin calculations and are highly dependent on other case studies. We need the information as it applies to Davis.

    In response to the idea of “never heard of the proposals” mentality… it would have been interesting to ask those same 500 households how many have heard of the Vanguard. It’s been around for over 8 years, but I bet not many of that group have heard of it. Is this a lack of engagement, effective outreach, or… ??

    So, I would suggest we keep up the dialogue, but the information that will make it a serious discussion is still to come.

    1. Davis Progressive

      “In response to the idea of “never heard of the proposals” mentality… it would have been interesting to ask those same 500 households how many have heard of the Vanguard. It’s been around for over 8 years, but I bet not many of that group have heard of it. Is this a lack of engagement, effective outreach, or… ??”

      while i suspect, you’re playfully poking David on this point, i don’t think he was pointing out anything we didn’t already know. rather the point is that the city will need to engage the voters on this.

  5. Anon

    “What appears to be noteworthy here is that some seem to be expecting the answers to very large questions, while at the same time asking for ample public input to shape the proposed projects.”

    Which in my opinion tells me a lot about the questioners’ “agenda” – paralysis by analysis.  If we ask enough questions to confuse the public, maybe this whole idea of innovation parks will go away.  This tactic has been used recently, to good effect, by those who argue against any change.

    “In response to the idea of “never heard of the proposals” mentality… it would have been interesting to ask those same 500 households how many have heard of the Vanguard. It’s been around for over 8 years, but I bet not many of that group have heard of it. Is this a lack of engagement, effective outreach, or… ??”

    Touche!

    1. Davis Progressive

      “Which in my opinion tells me a lot about the questioners’ “agenda” – paralysis by analysis.  If we ask enough questions to confuse the public, maybe this whole idea of innovation parks will go away.  This tactic has been used recently, to good effect, by those who argue against any change.”

      i’m not sure your point here?

      1. Anon

        Let’s see if I can explain myself better.  Rob White pointed out some people expect answers to very large questions at the same time they are asking for ample public input.  Now why would that be, since the two are essentially contradictory?  Either you want the developers to give you answers in great detail as to what the project will look like, or you want the opportunity for the community to shape the project to the needs of the community, but you cannot have it both ways.  What I was saying, however inarticulately, is that those who take these opposing positions at the same time do so to stall the process through the technique of paralysis by analysis, with impossible questions demanding minute detail while insisting there isn’t enough public input. The aim is to cause as much confusion as possible, so the whole process will halt any prayer for an innovation park, since that was their “agenda” all along.  This tactic has been used to good effect before (water rates).  Hopefully my point makes more sense now.

        1. Tia Will

          “Either you want the developers to give you answers in great detail as to what the project will look like, or you want the opportunity for the community to shape the project to the needs of the community, but you cannot have it both ways”

          I don’t see these two objectives as being in opposition at all. I am sure that the developers have some kind of vision for what they would have in mind. After all , this is their job. I am also sure that members of the community will have visions for what they would like to see. How is it in opposition to want to get as much information from all concerned as possible as it becomes available rather than having each side storing up their ammunition for some last minute show down ?  If everyone is being honest and transparent, it would seem to be best to be dealing with everyone’s preferences and concerns from the very beginning.

        2. hpierce

          Ah, Tia… big difference.. developers take risks to vet their proposals.  The citizens don’t.

          The more detail a proposal gives, the more those who have little/no skin in the game can snipe.

          At this stage, the developers are “running flags up the flagpole”.  They need to see how the winds are blowing before they can offer more specificity.

          Duh.

          There are real physical constraints to specific proposals, but many will ignore these to see the ‘glossy’ attributes.  The “social studies”/liberal arts types will frame the discussion.  More is the pity.  The science/engineering/analytical types will be ignored.  As Dunning says, ‘trust me on this’.

           

      2. Frankly

        I think Anon is referring to the FUD tactic.  Spread fear, uncertainty and doubt through endless challenges and misinformation.  Put the project proponents on the defensive combatting all that crap, and prevent them from surfing the wave of positive vibes about the change.

    1. Anon

      “I think we have 2 options.
      1. Declare bankruptcy
      or
      2. Figure out how pay for what we need
      a. Innovation parks
      b. You name it…”

      Love this comment – direct and to the point! Bravo!

    2. Tia Will

      keithvb

      And at what date do you think this bankruptcy will have to be declared ? Because if it is in the next five of so years, the innovation parks aren’t going to save us so we had all better be looking for that alternative rather than just challenging others to do so.

      1. Anon

        No one is saying that innovation parks are going to get us out of the fiscal mess we are in within the next five years, which is the short term.  What is being said is that innovation parks, with an assessment district that generates a significant tax revenue stream, could possibly be a long term solution to our fiscal mess, and would take approximately 10 years to develop.

  6. Frankly

    In response to the idea of “never heard of the proposals” mentality… it would have been interesting to ask those same 500 households how many have heard of the Vanguard. It’s been around for over 8 years, but I bet not many of that group have heard of it. Is this a lack of engagement, effective outreach, or… ??

    LOL.  Well, I asked those same neighbors about the VG, and none of them knew about it.  I told them about it and there was interest.  So the VG certainly has not reached market saturation.

  7. Tia Will

    “Ah, Tia… big difference.. developers take risks to vet their proposals.  The citizens don’t.”

    This statement is only true if you feel that all that is at stake is money. A developer may or may not live in close proximity to any given project. Presumably their goal is to make money on the project the existence of which may, or may not  affect them in non monetary ways. The citizen who has most of their wealth and their favored lifestyle dependent upon the presence of absence of a given project is also in a high stakes game with much to gain or lose depending on the outcome of development.

    One example that I have used before is my hometown. Some people look at the increased economic activity that occurred in turing my hometown from a 2000 inhabitant working fishing farming community into a 60,000 + , millionaires playground and tourist destination as a huge win. It is true that there is now much more money circulating in the area. But it came with huge cost , not to the developers , but to those who lost their way of living off the land. No more hunting. No more fishing. But hey, you can all buy your meat and fish nicely plastic wrapped at the Safeway, if you have the money, so what’s the problem ? Ironically enough, one of the developers I spoke with is aware of the situation of my hometown and agreed with me that this was probably not the optimal change for this area. But of course, given  that it is his current project that is at stake here in Davis, I doubt that he would be extending that sentiment to changes here.

    For those who thrive on growth and its associated buzz words of “vibrant” and “innovative” and ‘bustling” this may not be seen as a loss. For them it may be hard to understand  those who prefer “calm” and “peaceful” and “familiar”.  It would be a mistake to believe that both do not have significant vested interest and feel that they are at risk with only one side taking the risk for the potential of significant gain, the developer. For the citizen who does not favor a proposal there is much risk, but no potential for monetary gain.

    1. Anon

      “For the citizen who does not favor a proposal there is much risk, but no potential for monetary gain.”

      Not true.  The citizen who does not favor a proposal will stand to gain financially from the innovation park that brings in a huge stream of income that pays for those wonderful city services the town provides to its residents.  And since citizens who do not favor an innovation park proposal have failed to tell us how to get the city out of its fiscal mess, other than to raise taxes and/or cut services, which you concede is unsustainable, I don’t think such citizens have a leg to stand on!

  8. Tia Will

    Anon

    I have never, not one time stated, that I feel that increasing taxes in not sustainable. I believe that this is exactly what we should do and I have said so many, many times. I have stated that those of us who are affluent should pay more. We should provide for those who are unable to pay as much. We are the ones who have had the benefit of all the nice things that we like about our city and we are the ones that should pay for them. What we are doing is saying that we are going to build and build and let others pay for our excesses. To me it is this unwillingnesses to pay for our own choices that is the height of personal irresponsibility. So please do not tell me that I have not proposed an alternative even if it is one that you do not like.

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