Innovation Park Forum Part II – Economic Development and Housing

Michael Bisch (left) and Tia Will (center) about to respond to a question from moderator Chris Granger
Michael Bisch (left) and Tia Will (center) about to respond to a question from moderator Chris Granger

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.

On Tuesday, we covered the first part of the 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 responds to a question.
Michael Bisch responds to a question.

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.”

New Chamber CEO Matt Yancey
New Chamber CEO Matt Yancey

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

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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  1. Alan Miller

    See previous articles (about this meeting and on the NW site) for my comments on transportation and these peripheral sites, if you give a damn what I think.  I would be repeating myself (something that posters never do on the Vanguard I hear).

  2. Davis Progressive

    reading this article it was interesting that the folks like matt yancey and louis stewart don’t understand the perilous nature of housing in davis.  tia will gets it.  michael bisch continues to want to push the outside the park discussion to include the downtown.  i think that’s a better discussion for nishi/gateway than mace, but i get where he’s coming from.  jim provenza gets it.

    the real question – can we deal with only the issue of the parks or will housing interject itself into ever conversation.

    1. Anon

      1. What am I missing here?  None of the innovation parks (except Nishi) will include housing.  Thus employees will have to look to the city of Davis (already existing homes, Cannery, other infill sites being proposed), or will have to live in Woodland (e.g. Springlake), Dixon, Winters, Fairfield or Vacaville.  If innovation parks do not occur in Davis, I guarantee West Sac, Sacramento or other nearby cities will be very accommodating to the idea, and Shilling Robotics and others very well may move away from our city.

      2. Instead of negatively framing the issues as “perilous nature of housing”, “concerns of traffic impacts and size”, “we have an abysmal record when it comes to following SACOG principles”, ” there will be pressure from folks who want to live here in the community”, we should be framing our concerns with a “can do” attitude.  For instance:

      a. How could we address the need for additional housing that will come from an increase in tech jobs in Davis?

      b. What can we do to successfully accommodate additional traffic that might come from adding many jobs in Davis?

      c. How can we comprehensively incorporate SACOG principles when developing an overarching innovation park plan throughout the city, to include the downtown core?

      d. Are there innovative ways to deal with the added pressures of folks who want to increase the size of the community by living here in Davis?

      1. Davis Progressive

        what are you missing?  well if these projects add say 16,000 – and there is no housing except for the 600 units at cannery and whatever will be a nishi, where are people going to live?  yes, they can move to other cities, but that will create housing pressure.

        the dilemma is this:

        1. i want to vote for the innovations parks

        2. they need to be responsible developments

        3. they have no housing

        4. housing would kill them

        5. having no housing might kill them too

        1. Matt Williams

          DP, what having no housing will do is put additional pressure on people who have Sacramento or Bay Area jobs, and also the dream of living in Davis. They will be competing for a limited housing pool with people who have jobs in Davis. Given the incremental cost of commuting to their jobs and parking their vehicles in Sacramento/Bay Area, their cost of living in Davis will be higher than their non-commuting competition in the house buying market.

          Existing residents who commute to Sacramento/Bay Area will not feel that pressure, but when a house with a “commuting out” family decides to sell their house, in many cases its new owners will be a family with employment here in Davis.

          One thing that can free up a significant number of units of single family residential (SFR) housing in the exist stock would be to pass an Ordinance that imposes a significant per-head fee for the residents of a SFR that is being used as a dormitory for UCD students. That would reverse the trend of converting existing SFRs into mini-dorms.

        2. Davis Progressive

          i think you’re not being realistic on that.  we start the build out, housing prices soar, and we will hear day after day that we need workforce housing.  guaranteed.  look i’m all for the parks, but if we don’t deal with the housing issue honestly and realistically it will kill this project.

        3. Aggie

          DP:  The three proposals currently on the table (West Covell, Mace, and Nishi) represent an aggregate of about 7,000,000 sq ft. At build-out that that translates into 28,000 new employees (based on the 250 sq ft per employee estimate from the Studio 30 study). Your estimate of 16,000 works out to about 400 sq ft per employee, which also seems reasonable for R&D (which tends to have fewer employees per square foot than office).

          In addition to the 16,000 – 28,000 jobs directly created in the innovation parks, the are additional regional jobs created by the multiplier effect.  Direct jobs are easy to estimate because there a comps from hundreds of existing parks. What’s more dicey is the number of indirect jobs.  The AURP-Battelle report claims the multiplier is 2.5.  That would translate into an additional 40,000 – 70,000 regional jobs (which seems like a gross overestimate to me).

          For context, our current housing stock in Davis is approximately 22,000 dwelling units according to the 2007 Amended General Plan.

          Your dilemma #4 would be a self-inflicted wound that the community imposes on itself.

          Your dilemma #5 would be a wound inflicted on the community by the market.

    2. Mark West

      DP: “can we deal with only the issue of the parks or will housing interject itself into ever conversation.”

      As we all know, housing development is one of the big ‘hot button’ issues in town. As a consequence, we see the ‘pressure to build more houses’ used as a proxy to fight against any number of other changes (i.e. we can’t improve the water system because that will increase the pressure to build more houses, etc.).

      At one level it is a legitimate concern. Increasing the job opportunities in town will increase the demand for more housing, but so will most any other change that improves the quality of life for potential new residents and current renters.  You could just as easily argue for instance that improving the quality of our schools, or decreasing the crime rate, or expanding our greenbelts, will all increase the pressure to build more houses, especially since these ‘quality of life’ components have all been cited as reasons for why people choose to live in Davis.

      Economic development and job creation are quality of life components that will increase the demand for new housing, but that increased demand is not a valid reason in and of itself for blocking the innovation parks. It is appropriate to ask the question about the impact on housing, but when that question is repeated ad nauseum by the same individual or group, it is reasonable to assume that the we have moved away from a legitimate concern about the proposal and are dealing with a ‘hot button’ proxy.

      In answer to your question, I believe we will continue to see housing interjected into every conversation about any potential change in town for the simple reason that for some, opposition to new housing is the only issue.

  3. Frankly

    There are two types of housing pressure in Davis.

    1. Student population that needs a bed in Davis.

    2. Everyone else that wants to live in Davis.

    The first pressure is one that we absolutely need to address.  This needs to be a collaborative project and process between the city and UCD.

    The second pressure is already there and will only increase when we build business parks.  But like today, we don’t need to succumb to the pressure.  There is nothing terribly wrong with a community that provides a region greater supply of jobs than it does housing.  It is a choice we can make.  Today we do neither very well.

    SACOG principles are only one opinion.   Palo Alto for example has a ratio of two jobs for every resident.   Boulder has a ratio of one job for every resident.   Davis has two residents for every job.  So if we wanted to get to Boulder’s 1-to-1 ratio, we can simply add 30,000 jobs and no new housing.

    1. Alan Miller

      Regional goals are for reduced VMTs (vehicle miles traveled).  There will be pressure on Davis to move towards reduced VMTs for any large project.  There are a lot of factors that go into each person’s decision of where they work and where they live, and whether the result is a longer or shorter commute.  The goal is for reduced VMTs as a total of all regional travel behavior.  “Better” overall travel behavior is a bit of a stumper to plan for within the framework of limited transportation dollars.  The reason it could be considered a negative for Davis to have more jobs than housing (and the average cost of housing and average pay of job are major factors as well) is to get from anywhere to Davis is a bit of a commute, and usually by the “V” in “VMT”.

      1. Matt Williams

        Alan: “Regional goals are for reduced VMTs (vehicle miles traveled). There will be pressure on Davis to move towards reduced VMTs for any large project.”

        Agreed Alan. Davis currently has a substantial inventory of VMTs from residents commuting to work each day in Sacramento and/or the Bay Area. Is not reducing those “commuting out” VMTs a goal as well?

        1. Alan Miller

          Yes.  I doubt we’ll ever not be a substantial bedroom community for the Capitol and Bay Area, however.  The trick is to increase public transit use by making it more convenient.

          Sacramento, however, screwed the pooch on that in a big way, moving the rail tracks an additional 3-4 minutes further out from their station, decreasing ridership by several percentage points permanently.  That isn’t hyperbole; I know a few people personally who don’t ride anymore because of the shift.  And Sacramento (via grants) spent $50-$70 million to downgrade transit accessibility in this way.

          This cluster-F project is one of several that portends as to why I am so strongly opposed to the use of mega-grants purportedly for transportation improvements that actually benefit mostly developers or large corporations, and, despite the wording used to acquire the grants, actually harm transit or could have been used for other projects that would have yielded a much larger transit benefit.

    2. Aggie

      Frankly: The number that has been floating around since the 391 debate is that Davis and the immediately surrounding unincorporated area needs 3,000 new jobs to reach parity between local jobs and employed residents.

      1. Doby Fleeman

        Yes, I too have heard the number referenced by Rob White in previous dialogue.  I don’t know the background, but I find it a somewhat useless benchmark.

        If we look at Palo Alto and its technology employment base, they claim to host over 100,000 jobs (daytime workforce) with a population of 66,000 – virtually identical to Davis.

        In their recently published Palo Alto 2030 Plan, Existing Conditions Report, they state:

        – Palo Alto has a ratio of approximately 3.04 jobs for every employed resident, compared to 1.05 jobs for every employed resident in the county as a whole.
        – Palo Alto has added over 625 affordable housing units since 1999.
        – The City has tracked increases in non-residential square footage in Downtown since 1986 and in other areas of the City since 1989.  The average annual growth in non-residential square footage Citywide between 1989 and today has been 96,406 square feet per year.

        Clearly, Davis is not Palo Alto and I-80 Corridor is not 101, but the ability to aggregate a large number of generally well-paying technology jobs in a compact area surrounding the university – without resort to a massive home construction initiative – would appear to be very doable.

        It does seem important that we begin to arrive at a common vocabulary and an agreed upon reference set when talking about things like parity in the jobs to residents ratio.



  4. Anon

    DP: “the dilemma is this:
    1. i want to vote for the innovations parks
    2. they need to be responsible developments
    3. they have no housing
    4. housing would kill them
    5. having no housing might kill them too”
    Look at the way you have framed the issue – essentially “the sky is falling” – completely negative/hopeless/it cannot be done (housing will kill innovation parks, no housing will kill innovation parks), rather than with a “can do” or “think outside the box” attitude.  Why would “no housing” in Davis kill an innovation park, if there is housing available in Davis, Woodland, Dixon, Winters, West Sac, Sacramento?  And I disagree with your premise there is “no housing” in Davis, especially with the Cannery coming on line, possibly Nishi supplying some housing for those working at the Nishi site, as well as other small infill sites.  There is no necessity for Davis to supply every employee with housing within Davis city limits.

    Despite repeating myself, here is what I said from a previous post:

    I watched an interesting forum yesterday taking place in West Sacramento on innovation. Three panelists were present, the mayor of Patterson (just got an Amazon store in their small city), the mayor of West Sac (was able to get IKEA to locate in their city) and someone from San Diego County (has developed an innovative health related program for its citizens). Some of the advice was as follows:

    1. Concentrate on the goal, don’t get hung up on the intermediary steps. (This addresses Rob White’s point – have a goal that unites.)

    2. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box.

    3. Build important relationships with business leaders and with the community. (This goes to Rob White’s second point – “create clear roles for the core and more”; “need to spend equal effort organizing potential customers on the outside”)

    4. Don’t assume it cannot be done; find ways to achieve success.

    5. Local gov’t must be flexible to accommodate new ideas, new ways of thinking, new ways to accommodate diverse cultures that will form. (This goes to Rob White’s third point – get the rewards right.)

    1. Don Shor

      DP: “the dilemma is this:
      1. i want to vote for the innovations parks

      So far, so good.

      2. they need to be responsible developments

      So far they seem to be. Staff and commissions will weigh in. Plenty of opportunity for public input.

      3. they have no housing

      Correct. They aren’t housing developments. Some housing at Nishi.

      4. housing would kill them

      Yep. Davis voters don’t like housing projects. Still so far, so good.

      5. having no housing might kill them too”

      This is where you lose me. I doubt the public will oppose these for the reason that they have no housing. Some might oppose them because they fear they will lead to pressure for housing. But the absence of housing in the larger project proposals should make them more, not less, likely to pass.

      1. Anon

        I would add to Don’s comment that if the innovation park generates enough tax revenue, having limited housing is not likely to be a net negative, because of the city’s dire fiscal situation. In other words, my guess is an innovation park creating a sizable income stream will trump any housing concerns, especially since there is housing available in surrounding communities.

  5. Anon

    Just as an aside, the mayor of West Sac was telling an anecdote of how the city of West Sac started making huge changes of improvement.  He moved there, not knowing the city’s reputation for being crime ridden and not a place to be at night.  The mayor was determined to change that image, and in consequence fixed up the waterfront, around the River Cats stadium, put in some nice big box retail (e.g. IKEA), built a new city hall and community center.  Now West Sac has a much better “reputation”, and is still undergoing a lot of sea change for the better (e.g. day care for every child 4 years of age).  One of the things West Sac offers is the speed with which they will put an innovation park together, according to the mayor.  It was a fascinating discussion, and made it clear if Davis doesn’t get its act together and take a more positive attitude in developing innovation parks, the innovation parks will pop up in surrounding areas that are more welcoming.

    1. Miwok

      As a former resident and employee in the town, I have a few decades of experience of someone who TRIED to live where I work and the Davis NIMBY attitude. The Innovation Centers are not being discussed about who is coming, only that they “need to be built”. 16K to 28K workers is more than the University has, even when they pad their numbers with students and contract workers. Some people love Davis, and others love the IDEA of Davis.

      I like what Matt W said about the SFR being used as dorms, and I have rented rooms with students, which is a disaster for the neighborhoods.

      After decades of chasing retail away and encouraging Woodland and Dixon to become bedroom communities for Davis, They are getting serious about what generates income for the City.

      When will they consider NOT taking farmland and rebuild areas like Downtown for their new initiatives? They seem to want proximity to downtown and the University, why not take several blocks and build these same buildings on top of what is there, the same retail and restaurants can move back where they were, with three or four stories above to do some business?

      These old buildings are pretty sorry for their age.

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