Sunday Commentary: Davis Tech Industry Demonstrates Need for Space to Grow

City of Davis Chief Innovation Officer Rob White notes the good news – Davis’ tech community is growing. He cites as examples, the recent move of Marrone Bio Innovations into 45,000 square feet of offices in South Davis, which represents an 80 percent increase in space.

Then there is Engage3, located in downtown Davis, which received “a sizable investment in its new ShoppingScout mobile application” from the McClatchy Company. Mr. White notes, “As a result, the company of about 45 employees is currently hiring at least 12 new positions, and several of the company leaders have unofficially indicated there are plans to grow to as many as 300 employees in the next five years.”

He also trumpets the efforts of the Davis Downtown and other community leaders who helped launch “the creation of the JumpStart Davis monthly networking events and the soon-to-be-opened downtown co-working space are adding resources for entrepreneurs and startups.”

But of course not all of this is good news.  The Vanguard has already covered the summer of 2013 loss of Bayer CropScience (AgraQuest), which was forced to move to a larger facility in West Sacramento.

“Its new 160,000-square-foot facility opened in September, providing space for 140 current employees and the potential to grow to 300. Bayer is also developing another 5-acre parcel in West Sacramento for greenhouses and seed research,” Mr. White writes. “This $80 million facility is Bayer’s global headquarters for crop science and is part of Bayer’s corporate plans to invest more than $1 billion worldwide into research and development labs, according to CEO Liam Condon. Bayer purchased AgraQuest in 2012 for $425 million.”

We also know that Schilling Robotics needs room to grow and that, as Mr. White puts it, “Davis has very few parcels over 5 acres available, and none of them is able to accommodate the 30 acres of new growth space that Schilling wants for a new manufacturing facility of up to 400,000 square feet to be built over the next decade.”

So far, Mr. Schilling has been patient as Davis plots out the potential for innovation parks that could house his new facility.

As Rob White puts it, the growth of the tech-industry is “a mixed bag,” with “success in local growth of some small to medium tech companies while some of the more recent large-scale investments have moved to nearby locations due to lack of available land and space in the city.”

He adds, “With a university that reported more than $700 million in research funding for the 2013-14 academic year, it is likely we will continue to see growth and attraction of research and technology companies. The questions the community will have to ponder in the very near term are what actions should we take to keep some of that job growth local, and how do we benefit from increased public revenue and corporate philanthropy.”

Rob White, at least in the recent piece, does not take this to the next level – the need for innovation parks. But those of us familiar with the situation know where this is headed.

My column yesterday focused on the need for Davis to reverse some of its slow growth tendencies, if only for a brief moment, and to be willing to support parks.

As I wrote yesterday, my support is not unconditional. We have to understand the politics of the situation and assess the reality not just as we want it to be, but as it is. A poll conducted by the Ramco Company demonstrated theoretical support for an innovation park. While that is somewhat reassuring, we should treat it a bit delicately.

We have yet to see a big push back from those inclined to oppose new growth in the periphery. We also have yet to see the political process play out. That may yet be the far bigger threat to innovation parks and a Measure R vote.

With Nishi in consideration, the potential at least exists that there could be three Measure R projects on the ballot for spring 2016 – Nishi, Mace, and the Northwest. As we recently laid out, that is a recipe for failure – as the number of voters likely to support two, let alone three, projects is small and by putting competing projects on the ballot, you have the potential to split the yes votes.

However, there is also no straightforward way to determine who goes first – particularly in a scenario where the other two may well view going second as not going at all.

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Beyond that, I believe we need to be somewhat clear. I laid out several conditions under which I would support a Measure R project for Innovation Parks. Previously, the city laid out its own guiding principles – mine are simply adding to those principles.

I selected mine for good planning purposes as well as personal preferences. My views, I think, are largely in line with the city’s guiding principles that council recently agreed to.

First, while Measure R requires a 2 to 1 mitigation, my preference, at least in the northwest, would be that this mitigation is adjacent. I am not approving an innovation park that opens up the northwest quadrant to additional development. This is not a huge concern in the east, where Mace 391’s conservation easement abuts the proposed Mace Ranch Innovation Park and surrounds it nearly completely. But the west is a different story.

I have spoken to a number of people who would be considered in the slow growth camp, and I think most would be reluctant to support a northwest project that does not have mitigation land that seals it from future development to the west and south.

Second, it has to be net zero energy. I will not support another project of any sort that isn’t net zero energy and I hope Davis will pass an ordinance prohibiting that. Net zero energy is included in the city’s own guiding principles.

Third, also included in the guiding principles are alternative transportation components – that is, links to existing systems that prevent this project from greatly increasing traffic. I read a recent story from UC Davis News, for example, that 47 percent of UC Davis students, staff and faculty bike to campus. In fact, another 18 percent take the bus, and only 23.9 percent drive only.

In the last seven years, bike mode share to the campus has grown by nearly 25 percent, from 38 percent in 2007 to 47 percent in 2014.

Why should we settle for less with these new innovation parks?

Finally, we have some nice models to look at. The high tech campuses that I have seen really look like extensions of a college campus. That would fit in with the existing climate in Davis and would work well.

Someone yesterday argued that my conditions were tantamount to opposition to the innovation parks, but I believe the opposite is true. I don’t think we gained nearly enough for our community from Cannery. We should have been able to get to net zero energy. We should have been able to get a more innovative project – we should not be settling for less here in Davis, there is no need for it.

I believe we can achieve these goals as well as the other guiding principles. In so doing, we can help pave the way for a better and more sustainable future here in Davis.

—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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25 Comments

  1. Tia Will

    David

    There is much here on which we are in agreement, and much that we see differently.

    But of course not all of this is good news.   The Vanguard has already covered the summer of 2013 loss of Bayer Crop Sciences (AgraQuest) that was forced to move to a larger facility in West Sacramento.”

    The words that we choose to describe factual events are quite illustrative. Rephrasing your sentence as follows :

    The Vanguard has already covered in the summer of 2013, the new availability of a space for a small to mid size science based company provided by the good news that AgraQuest was successful in finding a larger facility in West Sacramento better suited to their expanding company’s needs.

    Same information. Totally different perspective. I am not in favor of the current mindset that we need to provide for “our” companies ( or deprive other adjacent communities depending on your point of view). This is based on the erroneous notion that these our “our” companies. The company’s belong to their owners and will either stay in the community or not based on what they perceive as in their own best financial interests whether or not those interests are in alignment with those of the community as a whole.

    Why should we settle for less with these new innovation parks?”

    A major point of agreement. We have taken the “settle for less” route recently in the decision to move forward with The Cannery. The city chose to rezone in order to meet the needs of the developers ( not the true housing or economic needs of the community) and the developers returned the favor by providing a less than Net Zero development, largely bedroom, automobile dependent community with “innovations” that have been present for decades in other places by doing just enough to placate various interest groups thus curtailing their objections.

    What I would like to see is for us to be completely honest about what we are attempting to achieve with these so called “innovation parks” which are in actuality as currently proposed just models of what other communities have had for decades. So if the goal is short term financial gain, let’s just call it that and let the voters decide. If the goal is true innovation, then we need and should expect much, much more than is being presented. If the goals include both, then let’s have that conversation with honestly projected numbers regarding short and long term gains and expenses with all anticipated parameters including future housing need included.

    I also am fundamentally opposed to the government at any level, in this case the city, picking winners and losers by type of business. I would favor a much more inclusive model that would provide for the needs of a much broader swath of the wealth of “start ups” that could be engendered through the various departments on our campus instead of focusing on one segment only. In October, I had written an article on Granville Island in Vancouver with its wide array of businesses from a working concrete plant to a number of small artisans and businesses, not as a proposed model for Davis, but rather to present a different perspective on what can be accomplished by not focusing narrowly on one winning  type of industry.

    Now before the wave of accusations of “no growth” and “change adverse” picks up, I would like to point out that I am anything but change averse. I am in favor of much more change than virtually anyone else posting here. I would like to see a change in the entire structure of our society and economy. I would like us to acknowledge the plain truth of our situation here in Davis and in our society as a whole. We are already a city and country of abundance. Our problem is not one of insufficiency, but rather one of disparity and unwillingness to share our assets with those who are less fortunate. This combined with our unwillingness to take responsibility for paying for the benefits that we desire provides the basis for our discontent in my opinion. Making this realization and acting on it to establish a strength based society with each member being enabled to live so as to provide their highest level of contribution would be my long term goal. I believe this to be change far beyond what most of you would see as acceptable.

     

    1. Miwok

      I also am fundamentally opposed to the government at any level, in this case the city, picking winners and losers by type of business.

      Well, that is what they do in Small Town America. I was a consultant at an Air Force Base, looked for some vendors to facilitate upgrades to some facilities. What I found out was since I asked a company to assess my needs and suggest upgrades, they were disqualified to bid for the work!

      What would happen at the State and City level if this were a policy or law in these projects?

      My own father was shut out of a contract to build a new church he was a member of, but the other people thought he was making a fortune doing it. When they gave it to another contractor, they paid a half million more. He was still kind enough to oversee the project with no compensation.

      Another point is the mention of the real estate. Tia, any real estate transaction is only endorsed by real estate companies when they make money. They make money by selling or turning over something. They make no money being “civic minded”, like they all would like to be thought of. Our civic leaders would be wise to listen to all the people, and that is why Council meetings get heated at times.

      I enjoy reading your ideas, and I hope mine are not too far out there for your tastes. We are in different fields, and very different perspectives.

      1. Tia Will

        Miwok

        Thanks for the smile. I do not mind ideas that are “too far out for my tastes”. I appreciate differences in perspective. I do mind dishonesty, personal attacks and and demeaning comments. I have not found those to be characteristic of your posts and therefore have also enjoyed our electronic interactions.

  2. South of Davis

    Tia wrote:

    > Same information. Totally different perspective.

    Just like yesterday when Frankly pointed out that it was a good thing when someone who was not a good fit for a job moves on and you had a “different perspective” that firing anyone was bad (even a customer service rep that hated customers)…

    If UC Davis were to close most people would be sad about the thousands of lost jobs, but Tia with her “different perspective” would finally get the “smaller town” she seems to want so much and she could write a story with the headline “Great News that hundreds of acres of farmland along Putah Creek will soon be available”…

  3. Tia Will

    South of Davis

    Alternatively, one could view this as simply a manifestation of my desire to fit in. After all, it is Frankly that frequently states that he sees the glass as “half full” and Anon who recently called me out for his/her perception of my “negative attitude” ; )

  4. Michael Harrington

    Target appears to be generating significantly  less sales tax revenue to the City than the rosy forecast used to secure it’s passage –barely.

    The Cannery is just more jammed together Valley sprawl.

    The business parks are just hype.  We have not seen the estimated economic benefits to the city coffers yet.  As gun rock correctly noted yesterday, those parks will generate huge new housing demand following the new jobs.   No one wants to address that unhappy necessity yet.  I still haven’t seen anything about the mitigation yet.  I don’t agree with David that mitigation land is less important to the Ramos project in the East than the NW Quad project.  I want to see fresh mitigation land, not relying on the city asset.

    1. Matt Williams

      Relying on a City asset does not comply with either the language of the existing law or the spirit of that law. Using a City asset to provide mitigation for a private project seems like a very clear invitation for the next Michael Harrington-led lawsuit. Not a good idea. Not a good idea at all.

      1. Miwok

        Good points by Michael and Matt, as I agree the City should not be in business. They think they are there to facilitate something, but end up participating in it to their detriment, like any public-private partnership.

        UC Davis has done this, as well as the State, and all have lost money. The “innovators” made lots though. The public is always last to benefit. Hiding the money in Foundations and such always hide the facts and figures.

        The big new housing demand has plenty of proposals, I am sure, but there will only be one at a time, like the Cannery. Housing is a chicken/egg thing, as in “do you want to live where you get a job, or do you try to get a job where you live”?

      2. Davis Progressive

        i read david to say that he believes where mace is mitigated is less important because the conservation easement buffers development, not that we shouldn’t have mitigation as required by the law.

  5. Anon

    “With Nishi in consideration, the potential at least exists that there could be three Measure R projects on the ballot for spring 2016 – Nishi, Mace, and the Northwest. As we recently laid out, that is a recipe for failure – as the number of voters likely to support two, let alone three, projects is small and by putting competing projects on the ballot, you have the potential to split the yes votes.”

    How could you possibly know what voters will or won’t support?  How do you know voters would not support all three innovation parks?  I could envision a possible scenario where the Ramco and NW quadrants go on the first ballot, Nishi comes later, after it has worked out traffic issues, and all three would be supported assuming whatever challenges they pose are addressed and they generate enough tax revenue to make them well worth while to citizens/the city.

    “First, while Measure R requires a 2 to 1 mitigation, my preference, at least in the northwest, would be that this mitigation is adjacent. I am not approving an innovation park that opens up the northwest quadrant to additional development. This is not a huge concern in the east, where Mace 391’s conservation easement abuts the proposed Mace Ranch Innovation Park and surrounds it nearly completely. But the west is a different story.”

    Many of us see the Mace 391’s conservation easement as an incredibly stupid move.  Why cut off the possibility of opening up adjacent property in case there is a need for expansion in the future, which actually could represent a concept that will draw companies to locate in Davis.  Thus far our “no growth” policies have led us to near fiscal disaster.  What we really want is to institute “smart growth” policies, that allow for future growth in an economically and environmentally sustainable way.

    “I have spoken to a number of people who would be considered in the slow growth camp, and I think most would be reluctant to support a northwest project that does not have mitigation land that seals it from future development to the west and south.”

    Yes, you have spoken to like minded slow growth folks, that don’t necessarily represent the majority of citizens in Davis.  They may not even represent a significant minority view.  They may represent a highly vocal minority view.  I really don’t know, and I doubt you do either.

    “Second, it has to be net zero energy. I will not support another project of any sort that isn’t net zero energy and I hope Davis will pass an ordinance prohibiting that. Net zero energy is included in the city’s own guiding principles.”

    The city has indicated that is what they want.  Personally I could care less, and I suspect that is how a lot of citizens feel about this issue.  Because of energy efficiency, my home appliances do not work nearly as well as my old ones did, specifically my dishwasher.  I have to use double the soap to get them clean because the water is not hot enough, and I suspect not enough water is used.

    “In the last seven years, bike mode share to the campus has grown by nearly 25 percent, from 38 percent in 2007 to 47 percent in 2014.”

    Bicycling is fine, but not the only mode of transportation.  Try getting along without a car sometime, for say, one year.  See how you like it.  Some do it using zip car, and the like, but that is still using a car in my book.  I don’t care to do without my car.  And not all of us are capable of riding a bike, especially senior citizens.

    “Someone yesterday argued that my conditions were tantamount to opposition to the innovation parks, but I believe the opposite is true. I don’t think we gained nearly enough for our community from Cannery. We should have been able to get to net zero energy. We should have been able to get a more innovative project – we should not be settling for less here in Davis, there is no need for it.”

    You are certainly entitled to your opinion about the Cannery, but I completely disagree, and I think many citizens in Davis would also disagree w your assessment.  Certainly the many I have spoken with would disagree.

  6. Miwok

    But of course not all of this is good news.  The Vanguard has already covered the summer of 2013 loss of Bayer CropScience (AgraQuest), which was forced to move to a larger facility in West Sacramento.

    They were matching the Innovation Park and City goals. Develop an idea, then move when it gets to the level it cannot be tolerated in Davis any more.

    The slow growth of housing, and business, (SEE Schilling) is what the City wants. Businesses like Target get described as an “aberration” and a “mistake” are just what business wants to hear (/sarcasm). Mori Seiki has some room to grow because they have some extra land. It was originally zoned for Light Industrial, never Heavy, or 400 people a day working there.

    So far, Mr. Schilling has been patient as Davis plots out the potential for innovation parks that could house his new facility.

    Who knows what conversations Mr Schilling had with The City to make him build. then have the patience to wait for the City to make up its mind to “let him stay”? I read between the lines that he was told something off the record, which I am sure happens a lot, that makes him wait. I am sure the City does not want him here, as manufacturing and large employee populations are not in the vision of what Davis is or has been. Once a business  like AgraQuest sold out to Bayer, they are not “innovations” any more?

  7. Mark West

    Someone yesterday argued that my conditions were tantamount to opposition to the innovation parks, but I believe the opposite is true.

    We already have regulations in place that make it very difficult to get new developments approved. You clearly already are aware of this ‘high bar’ as you lament the possibility of three projects coming in front of the voters at one time.  Yet, this high bar is not enough as you have a list of additional requirements that the project must have to gain your approval.

    I see it as highly desirable for the community to work together to produce the best possible projects, with all interested parties coming to the table with their list of suggestions and wishes. The Developer and the City can then work together to incorporate the best of these ideas to improve the projects, at which point we can all decide for ourselves if the final proposal makes sense.

    Make your suggestions and advocate for the things that you think are important.  That is what should be expected, and something we all should be doing.  When we all work together in this way, we have a chance to produce the best overall project for the community.  One, that while perhaps none of us will be 100% satisfied with, most of us may be able to support.

    As soon as you set up a list of demands however, with items that you say have to be included in advance, you are no longer working with others to create the best project for the community, but are instead working alone to block any project that does not reflect your own selfish viewpoint.  As suggestions, your ideas have value and should be consider closely, as demands, your list makes you a ‘no growth’ fanatic. Your choice.

    1. Davis Progressive

      “You clearly already are aware of this ‘high bar’ as you lament the possibility of three projects coming in front of the voters at one time.  Yet, this high bar is not enough as you have a list of additional requirements that the project must have to gain your approval.”

      isn’t part of the bar getting the project approved by the voters?  so if people have things they’d like to see included, shouldn’t they push for them now rather than just voting against the project?

      speaking for myself, i’m leaning towards voting for an innovation park – one of them – and will pick the one that is closest to my preferred alternative.  i agree with much of what david says, and i’d be very reluctant to vote for a project that opens up further development.

      it just seems like you’re unnecessarily hitting david below the belt when he’s been pretty consistent on this issue.

      1. Mark West

        DP:  “so if people have things they’d like to see included, shouldn’t they push for them now rather than just voting against the project?”

        I guess you missed the third paragraph of my comment.

        There is a big difference between advocating for inclusion of project components in the hope of making the project better, and placing demands on the project in advance before seeing the final proposal.  One is an open minded approach, with a willingness to potentially accept a good compromise that benefits the community, while the other is a closed minded approach that depends entirely on your own selfish point of view, and the needs of the community be damned. Much like what we saw from some during the water debate.

        1. Davis Progressive

          i didn’t miss it all.  so let’s say there is a measure r housing project project, they propose four stories, i say, i won’t support anything above three stories.  is it wrong for me to say i won’t support a four story housing development?

        2. Mark West

          How do you know in advance that a well designed 4 story development won’t both benefit the community and satisfy you personal needs?

          If you make the choice after you have seen the final plan and it is time to vote, then no you would not be wrong.

          If you make it before the final design is presented and you have no idea how well a compromise solution may benefit the community and address your personal needs, then yes you would be wrong.

  8. Miwok

    With a university that reported more than $700 million in research funding for the 2013-14 academic year, it is likely we will continue to see growth and attraction of research and technology companies.

    The next press release UC puts out will tell you how they cannot pay their people a living wage, or build new buildings for students. Since I have been there for over 20 years, I see the carefully and masterly press releases contradict each other, depending on the audience they are meant for. Even the Sacramento Bee is disinterested in these types of stories they tell, and the City leaders take them as truth.

    So much of the CC is ignoring they even have a University nearby, until they have a reason to influence people with it. They can’t say They are ignoring it with housing projections, then use it for an asset to their Innovation Parks. See? Contradictions.

  9. Michael Harrington

    Anon:  David is probably the most knowledgeable resident of Davis in terms of voter sentiment.  He talks to everyone, reads everything, and attends dozens of public and informal meetings a week concerning city issues.  He loves to know everything!  It’s his job …  So if he says something might not fly with voters, listen carefully.

     

    That said, I did shock him twice:  the fall 2011 water rates referendum knocked out those crazy rates and Measure P won, repealing that new rate package and ensuring we pay the same for a January unit of water as an August unit.

  10. Davis Progressive

    anon: “How could you possibly know what voters will or won’t support?  How do you know voters would not support all three innovation parks?”

    david laid out the math a few weeks ago.  even a one-on-one battle seems problematic if you believe, as i do that the margin for passage will be narrow to begin with.

    i think the poll by ramos showed support for a hypothetical at 60-30-10.  i think it’s safe to assume that details will draw that much closer, but for the sake of argument let’s say it ends up at 60-40 that people will support a hypethetical innovation park.  you really think that 80% of that 60 would support two parks?

    for the sake of math simplicity, let us say that half support two parks, and the half of that support is evenly divided 25-25 on mace and nw.

    so now you get 30% of the vote supporting both parks.  another 15% supports one park.  15% supports another park.  but now you are at 45% support for both parks and they both lose.

    we can quibble on what the real numbers are, but i think 60% baseline support is too high and i think getting half of that baseline to support both is probably also too high, but whatever the real numbers are, it demonstrates how fragile a two park scenario makes it.

  11. Davis Progressive

    anon: “Many of us see the Mace 391’s conservation easement as an incredibly stupid move.  Why cut off the possibility of opening up adjacent property in case there is a need for expansion in the future, which actually could represent a concept that will draw companies to locate in Davis.”

    you have to be able to get stuff passed in this town.  a lot of people who might in theory support an innovation park aren’t going to vote for it if they believe it opens up the prospect of future development.

    anon: “Thus far our “no growth” policies have led us to near fiscal disaster.”

    what led us to near fiscal disaster was very poor fiscal management for a decade.  had we had more revenue available at that time, we’d have just spent more and be in worse shape than we are, imo.

    anon: “What we really want is to institute “smart growth” policies, that allow for future growth in an economically and environmentally sustainable way.”

    such as?

    anon: “Yes, you have spoken to like minded slow growth folks, that don’t necessarily represent the majority of citizens in Davis.  They may not even represent a significant minority view.  They may represent a highly vocal minority view.  I really don’t know, and I doubt you do either.”

    as mike said, david talks to probably more people than most in this town.  i think your comment is pretty condescending.

    1. Anon

      you have to be able to get stuff passed in this town.  a lot of people who might in theory support an innovation park aren’t going to vote for it if they believe it opens up the prospect of future development.”

      “a lot of people”?  Exactly how many is that?  How could you possibly know?

      what led us to near fiscal disaster was very poor fiscal management for a decade.  had we had more revenue available at that time, we’d have just spent more and be in worse shape than we are, imo.”

      I would agree that fiscal mismanagement for a decade led us to near fiscal disaster, but so did a lack of business tax revenue.  Had we had more tax revenue, it might have been spent on fixing our roads, instead of putting road repairs in the “unmet need” category and declaring a “balanced budget”.

      such as?

      Smart growth to me means fiscally and environmentally sustainable.  If the growth ends up costing the city money, it probably is not wise.  If the growth causes extensive environmental problems, it probably is not wise.  Very generalized vision, but I try to keep an open mind and decide based on specifics at the time the project is proposed.

      as mike said, david talks to probably more people than most in this town.  i think your comment is pretty condescending.

      I very much doubt the Vangaurd represents a majority opinion in this town. Don’t you think it is rather condescending of the Vanguard to assume it knows what the majority wants in this town?

       

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