Last Thursday, the Vanguard hosted its Innovation Park Discussion Forum at DMG Mori in Davis. At least 50 people from the community came out to hear an early discussion on the innovation parks. The panel featured County Supervisor Jim Provenza; Louis Stewart, the Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurship from the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development (Go-Biz); Matt Yancey, the new CEO of the Davis Chamber; Michael Bisch, the President of Davis Downtown; and Tia Will from the Vanguard editorial board.
The forum was moderated by Chris Granger from Cool Davis and featured three questions from the moderator followed by some audience questions. The Vanguard has compiled all of the audience questions and will be breaking them out over the next weeks as points of discussion.
The second question: SACOG has set regional goals for balancing housing and jobs. Considering the direct jobs in the innovation parks plus the new jobs from the multiplier effect in the community, plus UCD’s planned growth of 5000 students and 700 faculty and staff, demand for housing and additional business development will certainly increase. Describe your understanding of the benefits and burdens (including the non-economic quality of life impacts) that the innovation parks are likely to generate. How can the city be assured that the long term costs related to increased housing and other service demands (schools, parks, roads police, fire) will be covered? What criteria would you use to weigh the benefits and burdens of this expansion?
Tia Will explained her biggest concern is that she has heard that “economic development and growth in the community is a completely separate issue from the issue of population growth. I am concerned that that’s actually not the case.” She argued, “If we do have a large number of jobs created there will doubtlessly be pressure from folks who want to live here in our community.”
She explained that she had directly asked Dan Ramos (who is one of the developers on the Mace Ranch Innovation Park) about housing at one of their outreach meetings and “he said yes, we do anticipate that if we bring in significant jobs there will be increased pressure for increased population growth.”
“There’s talk about that being absorbed into the existing housing,” she said. “I think that there ultimately will be increased growth and he stated that that’s the case.” When she pushed Mr. Ramos further on growth estimates, she said he didn’t know. “There are many people here in our community that don’t mind seeing population growth but that’s not universal and I think that’s something that’s worthy of community discussion.”
In terms of alternative transportation, Ms. Will said, in her view, only the Nishi property under consideration has good alternative transportation possibilities as it is close to the university and the train station, close to the downtown, while “all of the other parks, we are really talking about heavy automobile dependence.”
Michael Bisch stated, “Let’s be clear, we’re not talking about one innovation park. We’re not talking about one physical location. The strategy that the city council adopted based on the work by Studio 30 was the dispersed strategy where you would have innovation in a number of places – some of those locations were on the periphery and some were within in the core, immediately adjacent to the university. That would be the downtown, the gateway area, and the Nishi property. That long ago was determined by the city council to be an innovation district.”
He said, “It is all of those pieces together, what comprises the innovation center, that Studio 30 talks about and that the city council said yes that’s the strategy that we’re pursuing.”
“So we’re not here talking about a choice between a peripheral site and Nishi and the downtown – it’s all of that together,” she added.
Mr. Bisch noted that we have “an abysmal record when it comes to following SACOG principles.” They focus on “creating jobs in close proximity to where people live and to transportation modes. The reason for that is so that you’re not burning a bunch of fossil fuels and driving wherever you have to go to work.”
He argued, “That hasn’t been happening in Davis. As I pointed out over half our workforce is driving to Davis from somewhere else. And half our residents are driving to another community for their jobs. So we’re upside down when it comes to small urban planning principles.”
He said that there are costs and benefits to these developments, and those have to be analyzed. “I have no clue what the answer to that today is and I don’t think anybody else does.”
Matt Yancey said that the SACOG goal is to “make the highest, best and smartest use of the land that’s developed. So if we’re going to accommodate population growth, let’s do so in a manner that’s appropriate to maintaining the fabric of the communities where the housing is going and insuring that we’re not having undo impacts on the environment by spreading too far out, driving too far, emitting too many greenhouse gases, etc.”
He argued that a university research park model “is about as consistent as one can get with the goals that SACOG has set for land use.” He said, “Yes, they will have additional added pressure on population growth, but those pressures are there as it is. The population is growing and it’s a problem that we do need to solve.”
He argued that “they also have positive net impacts on the community and the quality of life that we’re looking for. The unfortunate fact is that year over year the quality of life that have gets more expensive and so there’s two key ways we can solve that problem – we can increase the number of people that are paying for those services or we can increase the per person cost of the services.”
He called it a “balancing act.”
Louis Stewart said he was in downtown Davis the other week and said that “it’s very walkable. I can see how negative an impact additional cars would have.” He said we should look at the Davis Innovation Parks as a “demonstration site” where we’re “actually prototyping the future possibilities for other communities in California.”
We can have bike stations to allow people to get around the city as opposed to having to drive. He said that looking across the state at different innovation districts, “the walkability is key, the integration of additional housing within the community is key, and quality of life… is vital to the success of Davis as a community, for the county overall, and for the region.”
He said, “If I’m looking at the benefits, all of a sudden Davis becomes an innovation center, world renowned. UC Davis gets more credibility than it has right now – UC Davis doesn’t get enough credit for what it does right now.” He added, “If you look at Davis as a college town, as most of the region looks at it as, it has a lot of potential to do great things.”
Supervisor Jim Provenza said that Davis may be a community where the jobs-housing balance is out of balance. “We see a mass migration every morning if you get up at 7 in the morning and look at I-80 going east, you see a good half of Davis going into Sacramento to jobs.”
SACOG’s conception of balance is “so that the greatest number of people possible can live and work in their work in their own community without driving somewhere else. It’s important for how we structure society going forward in terms of our CO2 footprint and in terms of Global Warming.”
He added, “The city of Davis has a financial crisis – you can talk about how to solve that, what cuts to make, what additional revenues to bring in. The reality is that there isn’t much of a tax base compared to other areas, so it’s going to be increasingly difficult to finance the operations no matter what you do.
“Having more jobs and more business is vitally important,” he said. That said, he said, we have to think about the impacts. “We should have an objective economic analysis of what is the impact of housing, how big should we go, how much is too much, what are the impacts on traffic and how can they be addressed.”
He said that this is the beginning of the process and we need to therefore address concerns of traffic impacts and size. He said that often when we like a project, the analysis is tailored to that. “I’m very much for finding the most objective analysis so that we can make decisions based on that.
“We are in a county that values its agricultural land, we probably do a better job than most of the state,” he said. “Around Mace Curve that is prime agricultural land. If we use agricultural land, we have to mitigate for that loss.”
He noted that there is land in conservation easement around the proposed Mace project, “I spoke to the agricultural commissioner and he said yeah that works… We have to commit ourselves to that because if you were to surround that agricultural land with other business parks, guess what, that agricultural land is not going to stay in agriculture.
“You can’t totally surround an agricultural land, even if it’s in a conservation easement, and expect it to stay in agriculture,” he added. “Those are important questions to ask because it’s an important value in the county.”
He said he told all of the developers that the most important issue is the county’s value in protecting agricultural land and then the related issues around transportation.
—David M. Greenwald reporting