Community Development Director Mike Webb on Tuesday night explained to the Davis City Council that right now, all three innovation park proposals – Mace, Northwest, and Nishi — are on schedule to be placed on the ballot in March 2016.
Obviously, the council, as well as City Manager Dirk Brazil, has some concerns about the viability of three proposals simultaneously, and the discussions on potential bifurcation and determining who would go first, second and third will need to take place sooner rather than later.
“I do agree that we need to start thinking strategy,” Councilmember Rochelle Swanson noted later in the meeting. “I do get concerned when we talk at the 30 thousand feet that we’re suddenly going to have folks in the community say ‘oh my goodness we’re going to have 10 million square feet on the ballot all in the same month.’”
“I know that’s what the applicants are looking for,” she said. “But I do think we need to start having that conversation.”
Much of the evening was informational, but there was important discussion about the mixed use component that was presented in one project alternative. As Mike Webb explained, “Our recommendation to include that as an EIR alternative stems from that community feedback and there being a clear interest in seeing what that looks like from a CEQA perspective.”
The housing would not necessarily be restricted to those working in the park. Currently the city is modeling for job generation at the two centers, what types of jobs, where those employees may be coming from and where they would live, so they can calculate assumptions for traffic impacts.
There are a certain number of homes that will be built in Davis as well as in the surrounding communities that would factor into this analysis. “Those additional employees would have to secure housing outside of the area if there weren’t additional homes either built as part of the project or elsewhere,” Heidi Tschudin, the Contract Project Manager told council on Tuesday.
Ms. Tschudin added, “I don’t know that right now we could leap to an assumption as to the relationship between the houses and the businesses. It could be that there is a stronger relationship between the businesses and the homes, depending on where the EIR analysis takes it.” She added, “I think that that piece of it kind of remains to be seen.”
Councilmember Brett Lee noted that CEQA analysis seems to lean towards increased vehicle miles for all projects unless there is literally housing on site to accommodate new employees. “I’m a little concerned that… this notion that (we have) 5000 jobs created and therefore we need to build 3000 units,” he stated. “It’s somewhat alarming because the applicants and what community feedback and council feedback has been… these are not to have residential.”
Mike Webb stated that this was really theoretical at this time. He did note that the correlation between units and employees living there depends on the type of units that are created and whether they are created with that employee in mind. “If there’s high-tech companies, that’s attracting a certain demographic of employee, and that employee is looking for a certain type of housing… there are some studies that indicate that there is relationship there between the type of housing that those employees are looking for,” he explained. “That may strengthen the argument that there may be a bit higher than typical ratio of employees who actually do work and live there.”
Davis Chamber CEO Matt Yancey spoke in support of the staff recommendations. On housing, he noted, “It’s important to note that it’s not included in staff’s guiding principles. It really has only entered the conversation at this stage for the purposes of keeping the city compliant with CEQA law.” He added, “It’s not indicative of a change in direction relative to the innovation parks and what the city would like to see those look like.”
Elaine Roberts Musser spoke on the issue of the housing component. “I agree with Brett’s (Lee) concerns about the housing element. I think he raised some very good questions. My fear is if you start raising this – you gave everyone the impression that there was going to be no housing, now you bring up the issue of housing, this gives a wedge issue for those who are opposed to innovation parks to try and defeat an innovation park. This what we don’t want to see.”
She urged caution in how the issue was handled.
On the other hand, Don Fouts said, “I really think it’s fooling ourselves if we don’t talk about housing concurrently with this. If we’re going to build 5000 jobs, long after Cannery’s 547 houses are built and occupied, the 96 I’m going to build at Chiles Ranch, the 47 at Grande, the 16 a Villas and El Macero, those will long be built and occupied.”
“Where are the people who are going to be working in these 5000 jobs going to find houses?” he asked. He noted he is constantly called by people wanting to find executive housing. “The people who own the business parks want a place to put their head on a pillow at night, we don’t have any of that in Davis.”
He concluded, “I think it’s foolish not to at least parallel track a conversation. I know the fear of Measure R, Measure J or whatever we’re calling it today.”
Mayor Pro Tem Robb Davis said, “I hear the concerns about housing. It’s really interesting to me that as we just started talking to the community, it came up.” He called it “the third rail” or “the word that cannot be spoken,” “it was when we talked to community members that people said it’s what makes sense.”
He said how do we reconcile our desire to having meaningful jobs but have them not just sprawled out, living everywhere. He said, “The point that I wanted to make is that it came up because of community conversation. It didn’t come up because someone pushed it. It came up because people said, how are we going to manage this.”
Councilmember Lucas Frerichs said, “Housing and/ or the debate about housing in Davis is indeed alive and well. For me, a major reason for my support of the Cannery a year ago, and other infill projects, is because it’s part of a larger strategy of housing and jobs balance that we are certainly looking for in Davis.”
He said in part he supported the Cannery because he knew they would be moving forward on innovation centers. He sees them providing for the likelihood of jobs that would be generated by a potential innovation center.
He talked about VMT (vehicle miles traveled) reduction: “The keys for the whole process of VMT reduction are integrating land use and transportation decisions…, investing in alternatives to solo-driving, increased public transportation…” He noted that there are ways to reduce VMT aside from having workers living where they work.
Councilmember Swanson said that when the housing issue came up, she was concerned and also used the term, “third rail.” “It does cause concern, there were conversations that there weren’t going to be houses on this site,” she said. “But it is hard to reconcile” our desire to reduce vehicle miles and reduction of GHG emissions. “We can’t expect people to jump on a hovercraft from Sacramento to come to Davis” so “we don’t have any emissions.”
At the same time, she reiterated that the council is not talking housing at the innovation parks.
—David M. Greenwald reporting