Right now we are looking at a spring 2016 vote date for a Measure R vote on at least one and possibly three innovation parks. I have previously made arguments against putting competing measures on the ballot, but the decision is clearly coming much sooner than we would like to believe.
Last week, we ran Jason Taormino’s comments on why he wants an innovation park and I kept thinking that those reasons are not really my own. He speaks like a pro-development person. I, on the other hand, am a self-proclaimed slow growther.
I have remained in Davis to raise my family here because I prefer the smaller college town lifestyle to the bigger city. I have lived in cities during periods of my life and prefer smaller cities with less traffic, bike and walkable communities. I am also against continued sprawl for housing developments on the periphery. I am willing to support some densification and I would have an open mind for a highly innovative new housing development, even on the periphery, under the right conditions.
So why I am I willing to support a peripheral innovation park? First of all, let me be clear that my support is not unconditional. I will vote for a Measure R project if it has at least 2 to 1 adjacent mitigation. By that, of course, I mean that the innovation park does not become the gateway to new peripheral housing.
Second, it has to be net zero energy. I will not support another housing project of any sort that isn’t net zero energy and I hope Davis will pass an ordinance prohibiting that. Third, it has to have alternative transportation components built into it. Fourth, it really should be like the high tech campuses that we see in the Silicon Valley – I really believe a design like a college campus will fit this community and enhance it.
So the real question is why should slow growthers be willing to support a 200-acre innovation park on Davis’ periphery?
For me, it starts with the budget and our needs. Davis got hit a lot harder than probably many people expected during the last recession and it has been slow going coming out the recession. Part of the problem is that leading up to the recession we greatly expanded employee compensation – salaries, health care, and pensions. We built up large unfunded liabilities.
During the onset of the recession, we balanced the budget in part by cutting spending on infrastructure – roads, parks, bike paths, greenbelts, city buildings, pools, etc. We have racked up over $100 million in deferred maintenance costs.
Despite an improving economy, we are still in the same mode for funding these, with the options to cut city services, raise taxes, or build the economy. We live in a community that is not going to accept a long-term decrease in city services. We have families who enjoy the pools, the parks, and recreational services.
We have liberals who are not going to accept mass outsourcing of positions.
We have come to expect working roads, parks in good condition, and a beautiful network of greenbelts and bike paths.
We can increase our taxes every time hard times hit but that is going price this city out of the reach of even the middle class.
I increasingly believe that the center will not hold here. We cannot in the long term hold down labor costs, operate on a shoestring, and cut back on services. We also cannot continue to survive by passing parcel taxes and increasing sales tax.
At some point, the pressure is going to mount for new revenue sources, and the best way that I have seen that preserves our community is an innovation park.
Fairly soon we will get the independent analysis of how much revenue an innovation park with three to four million square feet will be expected to generate, what the build out rate will be, etc. But in the long term, those revenues will help us avoid needing new taxes and, I think, avoid needing new homes.
I am not necessarily opposed to mixed use at these parks, as I believe that a confined housing that serves workforce needs will accomplish much of what I want to accomplish with these parks anyway while further reducing the need for new housing. However, that may be too thorny a political leap.
But I actually believe that by building relatively small, 200-acre innovation parks, we decrease the 0verall demand on housing. Building housing on 200 acres of land is not going to generate much new revenue for the city in the long term. It is also not going to drastically decrease the price of housing or the overall cost of living.
The best model for a regional approach is to look at economic scales –where is the best place to put new high tech job space? Near the university is a good answer. That is where the students are, it is where the money is from the research engine of UC Davis, and it is where the intellectual capital lies.
Where is the best place to put housing? I would argue there are a lot cheaper locations for new housing than Davis and if we can utilize alternative modes of transportation, we can accomplish the jobs-housing balance regionally at a much lower cost to the workers. We simply need ways to transport commuters without adding to our carbon emissions.
If we do this right, we can generate good jobs, balance our budget, and utilize better housing locations in the region. And if we do that, we actually reduce the demand for new housing and create a more balanced community.
In short, I see the economic and budget drivers as being a critical reason why we need the innovation parks. It will generate revenue for our city, reduce the need for new taxes, allow our city services to stay up where we expect them. If we design them correctly, they can reduce rather than increase the need for new housing and that can help protect our farmland and the periphery from future growth.
We are a university town. We have a world-class university that I know a lot of people believe is on the forefront of becoming a leading academic center for the 21st century. This is a way for us to help in that process without harming the fundamental character of this community.
The technology we help to bring in will help with the next wave – clean-tech, green-tech, and ag-tech which are, at least in my view, needed to produce a cleaner future that remains economically robust.
To me that is why we need to build innovation parks – we need to ensure our community’s economic well-being as well as to continue our value of environmental stewardship.
—David M. Greenwald reporting