Vanguard Commentary: The City At Crossroads

Shakespeare once wrote, “Parting is such sweet sorrow.” Yesterday, Rob White wrote what may well turn out to be his final regular column for the Vanguard. Thinking back over that time, we saw a remarkable change in the tenor and tone of the discussion around economic development in Davis.

Rob White was initially greeted with skepticism on the Vanguard – the hired gun, funded in part by the very development interests we have been taught through experience to distrust. He overcame that initial skepticism to form a vital link between the community and the city.

It was not always a straight line in which he charted in his course. We had the poor rollout of Mace 391, with the controversy surrounding the pullback of a conservation easement, but even though Mace 391 ended up about that easement, the conversation and controversy helped to forge a new path. Without this discussion, the innovation parks, the proposals on the table may well have been dead on arrival.

It was Rob White who pushed the city into a place where it could be on the offensive and push the developers for concrete proposals. Who would have guessed there would be three innovation proposals, two of which solidified into actual applications.

There is a buzz in the air. Excitement. As Michael Bisch wrote yesterday, “Exciting things are happening, companies are forming, entrepreneurs are putting capital at risk and creating jobs.  People are actually doing things instead of just talking about doing things.”

Mr. Bisch backed it up with his work, along with Bill Habicht and Daniel Parrella and many others at Jumpstart Davis.

And so, while on the one hand we have the best of times before us – energy for startups, money from the university, the prospect of developers investing in our economic feature whether it be the innovation parks, Nishi or the hotel conference center — while we also face uncertainty and skepticism.

I laid some of this out last week – very vaguely in my “State of the City” column.

The specter of housing on the innovation park sites is interesting. Naturally we should separate the need to put housing on the CEQA study, as an impact that we need to mitigate against, from an actual proposal that would include housing with the innovation parks.

I understand those who believe that housing is the third rail of Davis – it was mentioned by both Rochelle Swanson and Brett Lee on Tuesday – but perhaps surprisingly I can see a case for it. Dense housing.

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.

On the other hand, as Lucas Frerichs pointed out, there are other and perhaps better ways to reduce VMT (vehicle miles traveled) besides putting housing on the site.

But the housing debate is not the only pitfall awaiting us here. The biggest concern may well be that we have three proposals set to go on the ballot at the same time in Spring 2016. The city faces a serious Catch-22 here.

On the one hand, putting three measures on the ballot simultaneously is a recipe for all three to be defeated. We made this point a few weeks ago with regard to competing proposals from the Mace Ranch Innovation Center and the Davis Innovation Center. We were concerned at that time there were three categories of voters: those who would support both innovation park proposals, those who would support neither and those who would support one but not the other.

 

If everyone who reads this post could pledge just $10 per month, we would meet all financial goals for 2015 and the Vanguard would be fully fiscally viable

The danger, if you support a proposal, is that by splitting the votes of those who prefer one park over the other, you end up with a scenario where neither passes.

The obvious solution to this – imposing an order of proceeding – is fraught with danger. Why? Well, who wants to be second. So if one proposal goes in March 2016 and passes, what are the chances that the voters would then pass a second proposal in the fall? Probably not very good.

But moreover, even if you happen to believe that the voters might support two parks, if you are the developers investing millions into the application and Measure R process, do you really want to take the chance of finishing second?

It’s a doomsday scenario. Mutually assured destruction.

There is now talk seeping into the discourse that there may be plans to poison the wells or that we are seeing some who, behind the scenes, will work to kill certain projects in order to ensure that their preferred project will go forward.

This talk is speculation at this point. However, bear in mind a couple of considerations. There are those who will point to the need to get Nishi passed. We will find out more, I suspect, on January 13 when the council hears an update on Nishi, but the university has clearly slowed the pace after the Solano Park controversy threatened to boil over.

Those who believe that Nishi is an easy sell are missing the key sticking point – traffic circulation. I have spoken to a lot of people who believe that Nishi would be an easy pass if traffic moves through the university but believe that exiting on Olive Drive and Richards will doom the project.

Then we have the Mace Ranch Innovation Park which is set to house an expansion for Schilling Robotics. Will that push Mace to the head of the line? If Mace does not go forward, would the city’s 25 acres be sufficient for Schilling or would Davis Innovation Center be willing to house Schilling?

These are key questions that policy makers have to make. My biggest concern is to make sure community concerns are addressed and that decisions are made based on what is best for our community, not what is best for individual politicians or stakeholders.

Finally, I think everyone involved needs to understand that there is the potential for strong opposition. Key issues will center on things like mitigation – can the parks through the acquisition of land, to provide for 2 to 1 mitigation, do so with land that is adjacent to the projects and the city, and therefore act as a buffer against future development, or will it be meaningless land in the middle of nowhere that will not help anything?

The bottom line now is whether we can resolve these obstacles and create a plan that most people can get behind, believing that it is in the best interest for the future of our city — or whether these issues will end up crippling our ability to move.

I think we have a golden opportunity to build something in Davis that will not detract from the greatness of our community, but will add to it. I worry that personal politics and petty grievances will destroy that opportunity.

The next few months will be key for the direction we are able to take.

—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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88 Comments

  1. SODA

    Thanks David for shedding some light on the innuendos which have been posted the last few days, a dim light but a light nonetheless.

    I am hopeful that the DV will continue its investigative value that it has shown in the past, to  this area. If there are shady deals or underhanded buzz, I think the best way to attack is to illuminate.

  2. Anon

    There will always be opposition to anything that is proposed in Davis.  That is a given.  That is why it is important for supporters of a reasonable and well-planned innovation park(s) to keep our collective eyes on the ball and get behind these massive efforts at bringing economic development to Davis.  If we fail (and I don’t think we will), then expect cuts in services and higher taxes. As the old saying goes, “Where there is a will there is a way.”

      1. hpierce

        I’m sure that you know that “cuts both ways”.  Anti-project, anti-development folks have used “back-door deals” more than a few times.  The City should not be entertaining “back-door deals” in ANY event.

        1. Anon

          I’d go one step farther.  I suspect the perceived need by development to strike “back-door deals” often comes as a result of the anti-project, anti-development and very unsavory napalm tactics of the opposition.

      2. Anon

        Of course backroom deals are not okay, including “under the table” opposition, by filing frivolous lawsuits for personal gain, threatening initiatives be placed on the ballot to get one’s way at all costs, etc.

      3. DavisBurns

        I beg to differ.  Opposition here is not okay.  This is a pro-development blog.  David has been “captured” by the business interests he reports on.  Rub shoulders with the powers that be long enough and you begin to think like them and eventually advocate for them.  There is no neutrality in reporting done on this site.  And certainly no criticism of private interests.  There is only support for every public/private project. Criticism is reserved for the city council.  Nothing alternative happening here.

        1. Matt Williams

          I respectfully disagree DB. There is plenty of criticism/opposition on this Blog. Tia is a perfect example. You are a perfect example. Mike Harrington is a perfect example. Nancy Price is a perfect example. I am occasionally a good example. The list of critics goes on and on. The challenge for David as the publisher of the Vanguard is that very few if any of the “opposition” have laid out a plan for dealing with the fiscal realities that the City faces. Tia has suggested that we all can afford to pay enough incremental taxes to close the $100 million+ gap. Mike Harrington has suggested that we need to further reduce City employee headcount, City employee wages and benefits, and City services below the current (already reduced) levels. However, none of the opposition has coalesced their thoughts about a broad strategy into a specific gameplan and presented that gameplan to David for publication.

          Further, as we saw in the Measure P cycle, getting coherence amongst the various components of “the opposition” is difficult. Sue Greenwald and Mark Siegler took the time to put together a vey coherent OpEd about the problems with the then existing water rates, and they were excoriated by other Measure P supporters for their efforts. Mike Harrington posted here in the Vanguard that (1) “it was the responsibility of Council to come up with rates.” while (2) saying “We can not trust Council.” no more than five or six sentences later.

          Mike has come on the Vanguard and said more times than I can count that “I’m not going to tell you my plan now. I will tell you my plan when I think the time is right.” That is his right (and the right of other members of what you refer to as the opposition). It is also the right of others to make their own personal determination that for them the time currently is right for a community discussion of the issues and challenges and possible solutions. The result of that decision is that newsworthy events transpire and David, as a journalist reports his observations of those events. With that thought in mind, when was the last event that members of what you refer to as the opposition have put on for the community to come to and hear alternative solutions for the broad range of issues we face as a community? Bottom-line, it is really hard for David to write a story about silence. It is equally hard to write a story about a non-event.

          JMHO

    1. Tia Will

      “Where there is a will there is a way.”

      And I would say that this maxim could be applied to health and wellness issues faced by our community as well as to economic issues.

      1. Davis Progressive

        the question isn’t whether there’s a will, the question is whose will is stronger – those who are trying to create something or those who trying to destroy it for their own personal gain, ego, edification.

  3. Frankly

    Well done article David!

    There are creative ways to approach the multi-park Measure R risk.

    I have a legal/procedural question related to that.  The actual decision need is not this park versus that park… but a vote on the preferred mix of parks.  For example, I would vote for all three, and possibly four if the Davis Ranch park proposal is delivered on time and is compelling.  I would do this because I think Davis needs 1000 acres of new business space to support our city.    However, some will be okay with Nishi and only the NWQ park.  Some only the Mace park.  Some the NWQ and the Mace park and not Nishi, etc., etc., etc…

    So why not provide a vote matrix that lists all the potential configurations?  Is that possible?

    – Nishi Only

    – NWQ Only

    – Mace Only

    – Nishi and Mace

    – Nishi and NWQ

    – Mace and NWQ

    – All three

     

        1. Don Shor

          No, not true. Aggie is flat-out wrong about this. Nishi is an Innovation Park. For some reason, Aggie prefers to claim otherwise. From the UC Davis study; unfortunately the link I had no longer works, but here is the definition of an Innovation Park. Nishi is an Innovation Park.

          What is an Innovation Park?

          Innovation Centers are usually within
          three miles of a major university or
          research facility.
          • University proximity is complemented
          by close political, administrative,
          or financial relationships with the
          university. These relationships are
          characterized as mutually beneficial:
          the center provides a site for
          employment, particularly in the realms
          of research and development, while
          the university provides a steady stream
          of qualified staff, collaborators, and
          consumers. The university can also
          provide access to campus amenities
          and resources for innovation center
          employees. Often the community,
          innovation centers, and universities
          work together to apply for research and
          development funding.”

          Centers are near housing and a major
          downtown area. Research suggests that
          quality of life as it relates to community
          livability and access to cultural,
          entertainment and recreational amenities
          play an important role in a center’s
          success in attracting businesses.

          Innovation centers do not focus on
          recruiting a particular business or
          industry but instead try to attract a
          wide range of businesses whose
          only similarity maybe that they are
          innovative or cutting edge. Many centers
          include incubators for new and emerging
          companies to nurture cutting edge new
          technology.

          Centers have shared spaces of varying
          sizes and types in order to nurture
          creativity and innovation. Shared spaces
          that bring together center occupants,
          such meeting and conference rooms,
          shared recreation areas or cafes, are key
          components of the built environment.
          This is also why proximity to downtowns
          is valued. Innovation centers and mixed
          use innovation districts provide amenities
          and support flexible creative live-work
          and desired sustainability focused
          lifestyle choices.< ./blockquote>

          1. Matt Williams

            Don Shor: “No, not true. Aggie is flat-out wrong about this. Nishi is an Innovation Park. For some reason, Aggie prefers to claim otherwise. From the UC Davis study; unfortunately the link I had no longer works, but here is the definition of an Innovation Park. Nishi is an Innovation Park.”

            I agree wholeheartedly Don. Nishi, with its close physical proximity to the UCD R&D mothership, appears to be on a trajectory to be on the “incubation center” end of the innovation park continuum. The East and West Innovation Centers appear capable of providing incubation center services, but my personal view is that they will have an innovation focus that is less immediately tied to daily collaborative innovation activities with the University. The companies there will be looking for ways to do what Mori Seiki and Schilling and AgraQuest and Marrone and HM Clause and Calgene and others are doing … matching their supply of innovations to the demands of the marketplace.

            Together the University, Nishi, the companies currently active in Jumpstart Davis, and the East and West Innovation Centers will expand the Davis innovation ecosystem.

  4. Davis Progressive

    I would say with potentially half a million square feet of business park, nishi could be considered an innovation park:

    This conceptual framework plan would provide approximately 26 developable acres which could accommodate 500-700 apartments/condominiums at 38-60 units per acre and 300-500,000 square feet of business park at 53-88% FAR.

    1. Aggie

      Nishi is a high density housing development. The business park component is window dressing to try and get a site with major infrastructure problems entitled. But I’m not interested in arguing semantics.

      The primary political driver for the innovation parks is fiscal sustainability.  The business park component of Nishi is about 22 acres. This represents approximately 5% of the business park acreage that is currently on the table. Consequently, Nishi is at best irrelevant to the broader issue of how do we bring in sufficient tax revenue on a timeline that avoids the draconian taxes and cuts in service that the City has been threatening.

          1. Matt Williams

            The simple answer to that is twofold, first you have UCD’s 2020 Initiative, and second you have the expected market demand by the employees and principals of the expected incubation center companies that will populate Nishi/Gateway for housing that allows them to roll out of bed and walk to their place of work and/or the research labs at the University that they are closely tethered to..

        1. Aggie

          100% high density business park – vertical, with an FAR >>1.0 – on this site would be transformative (in a good way) to the downtown, the City and the University.

          1. Matt Williams

            Can you flesh out what you are describing? I’m not sure that I completely follow what you have in mind.

        2. Aggie

          Matt: There’s lots of examples to draw on from around the world.

          Here’s just one close to home that shows what you can do with 31 acres (Nishi is 44 acres).

          Santa Clara Technology Campus

          Land Area: 30.69 acres
          Number of Dwellings/Space: 1,200,000 sq ft of office space, 35,000 sq ft of retail
          Number of Stories: 6 to 8 story office buildings, plus amenity buildings
          Number of Parking: 4,136 spaces
          Occupancy Date: TBD
          Project Description: The Santa Clara Technology Campus Project amends the previously approved 1,969,600 square feet of office development and 35,000 square feet of retail development (2009 Project) and provides for the development of an office campus in two phases, roughly equal in size, totaling approximately 1,200,000 square feet of office development and up to 35,000 square feet of retail space.
          Valuation Change:* $223 mil
          Permanent Jobs:* 7,100

          Note that this project has an FAR of  0.92 (less than what the West Covell developers initially proposed for their 220 acre site during the RFEI process).

          The other data worth noting is the project will have 1 employee per 174 sq ft. This translates into 40,000 employees per 7M sq ft (the total number of sq ft currently proposed for Davis). My personal opinion is that Davis development (because of the nature of the likely tenants) will be closer to 1 employee per 350 sq ft which works out to 20,000 employees if both innovation parks are entitled.

          Like most of these types of projects, build-out is phased. One could envision a project like this in Davis that is phased over maybe 10 years or so. Staff is telling us we can fill up 7M sq ft or more – so the argument that we can’t adsorb a project of this scale in Davis is either wrong or we’re getting bad information on demand.

          1. Matt Williams

            Aggie, you misinterpreted my question, but the information you provided is very informative/useful in its own right.

            When I asked “Can you flesh out what you are describing? my intended focus of the question was on your words “… would be transformative (in a good way) to the downtown, the City and the University.”

        3. Aggie

          Matt: How do you and Don post comments out of order?

          Regarding the claim that housing is needed on Nishi – my position is put it all on the Solano park site. If UCD is able to put some commercial development on the north side of the tracks (because we’ve allowed the bulk of Nishi to be removed from economic development for a high density housing project) the tax benefits will all accrue to the County. The argument that the City has to service the housing demand from the 2020 plan on that particular site doesn’t cut it for me.

          1. Don Shor

            Regarding the claim that housing is needed on Nishi – my position is put it all on the Solano park site.

            This is exactly the argument I get from no-growth advocates when I discuss our shortage of housing for young adults in Davis. We’re short thousands of beds, and the problem is going to get worse as the university keeps adding 600+ enrollment per year. “UCD should build housing.”
            Reminded that UCD hasn’t come near to building enough even for the previous shortfall, much less for the announced increase in enrollment, and that UCD simply will not build enough housing now or ever to make up the shortfall, those no-growth advocates just shrug.
            You just shrugged.

          2. Matt Williams

            Regarding the claim that housing is needed on Nishi – my position is put it all on the Solano park site.

            The Achilles Heel of that approach is that the University is more than likely to see the highest and best use of the Solano Park site as academic/research/innovation rather than housing.

            The on-the-ground reality for the City of Davis is that its current supply of Single Family Residential housing is actively being cannibalized by the burgeoning Off Campus Student Housing demand … a demand that is going to expand by 5,000+ beds in the next 6 years. This cannibalization means that there are fewer and fewer available residences for families that will provide students for the DJUSD schools.

            Based on past discussions I have had with David Morrison, who at the time was the assistant planning and public works director for Yolo County, your statement that “the tax benefits will all accrue to the County” is incorrect.

      1. Don Shor

        No, Aggie, Nishi is not “a high density housing development.” I don’t know what axe you have to grind on this, but it’s been a consistent theme of yours with respect to Nishi. In the past you’ve called it a “Whitcombe student housing project.” You’re not “arguing semantics,” you’re misrepresenting the Nishi project.
        It’s an Innovation Park.

          1. Matt Williams

            I respectfully disagree Aggie. Nishi is one component of the budding multi-component Davis innovation ecosystem.

      2. Matt Williams

        Aggie, what you appear to be ignoring in your description is the ability of Nishi to best serve the niche of the innovation community that has its feet both in the pure research world of the University and the applied research (and development) world of the private sector. The companies that will gravitate to the Nishi site are going to be those that sit astride UCD’s technology transfer vector, as well as the legal, financial and business service providers that help those startup companies to grow to self sustainability.

          1. Matt Williams

            Understood. With that said, how do you expect the City of Davis to deal with incremental housing demand (5,000+ beds) that UCD’s 2020 Initiative will add to the already out of balance City of Davis student housing situation?

        1. Aggie

          You deal with the incremental housing demand from the 2020 initiative the same way you deal with the incremental housing demand from new innovation centers. Increase the city-wide housing stock. That being said, the highest and best use for Nishi does not include more Tandem high density residential on this critical piece of land.

          You and Don have your panties in a twist over student housing, but I’m not hearing much concern from either of you about how to accommodate the 20,000+ new employees that the proposed 7M sq ft of innovation center development will bring (I assume that you concede the need for significant development of this land use in order to solve our budget crisis).

          1. Matt Williams

            The difference between the very real, immediate and increasing student housing demand within the City Limits and the to be determined, future and indeterminate size incremental housing demand from the new employees is threefold. (1) there is no practical, viable housing location alternative for the vast majority of the students. Their very practical desire is to live in close (walking or bicycling distance) proximity to both their classes and their fellow students. (2) The currently active and escalating conversion of single family residences out of the SFR market supply and into the student housing supply is damaging to the quality of life in Davis in two ways, (a) there are fewer and fewer houses availbla for families, and (b) the character of existing family neighborhoods is degraded by the lack of compatability of families living in each neighborhood house and a dozen students living in neighborhood houses. Then (3) the ability of Innovation Park workers to live outside the Davis City Limits is significant. We really have no idea what the proportion of commuters to residents will be.

            Your twisted panties are all about rushing to judgement with regard to worker housing and at the same time ignoring the immediate deleterious effect of the current overabundance of student housing demand when compared to student housing supply. Pot meet kettle.

        2. Aggie

          (1a) And my child wants a pony for Christmas. The “desires” of the students should not be material to City policy decisions related to long term fiscal sustainability. This debate is obviously being driven by the near term economic interests of the Nishi developers. What I see is a lot of people from outside the technology sector preaching pap about “innovation ecosystems” while promoting a plan for a critical piece of land that has no vision or ambition.

          (1b) UCD has massive land resources. If they want to provide convenient housing for the students, they have plenty of options. The reason they support high density housing on Nishi is that it is cheaper for UCD to let the City – and the City taxpayers – subsidize their housing problem. There was a fair share agreement worked out years ago that Katehi ignores.

          (2) Nishi doesn’t solve the conversion problem.  I doubt if the cost per bed on Nishi would be lower than in a mini-dorm based on the data from West Village.

          (3) The lack of housing stock is not a new problem. It certainly predates the 2020 initiative. Our failure to deal with the issue is why the 2020 initiative and the proposed influx of new employees is a problem.

          1. Matt Williams

            Aggie, regarding (1a) under the current City ordinances the City is not in a position to interfere with a private business transaction between a landlord and a tenant. So if the student renters want to outbid non-student renters for the units that are close to the campus, then there is nothing that we can do to stop that. Its a market economy pure and simple.

            Regarding (1b) the University has shown no inclination toward devoting substantial portions of those massive land resources toward housing. Since 2002, UCD has taken just as many housing units/beds out of service as they have added. They absolutely will be incrementally adding upwards of 5,000 students, 500 faculty and 300 staff by 2020 and virtually no net additional housing. Where do you expect those 5,000 students, 500 faculty and 300 staff to attempt to live?

            Nishi won’t do it alone, and ordinances making mini-dorm conversions extremely expensive for both the property owners and the students need to be considered. Most importantly, the workings of the housing marketplace will cause students to weigh the differences between living in an apartment at Nishi vs. a converted single family residence (mini-dorm) in Mace Ranch. The commute will push them toward the former rather than the latter.

            Regarding (3) I completely agree. We have been playing ostrich here in Davis for well over a decade. Do you propose continuing to hide our collective and individual heads in the sand?

        3. Aggie

          “Where do you expect those 5,000 students, 500 faculty and 300 staff to attempt to live?”

          Increase the housing stock – including multifamily – citywide and let them find housing like everyone else. Giving Tandem another 500-700 units on a prime A+ economic development site doesn’t solve anything.

          1. Matt Williams

            How? Where? What are the specifics of your plan for doing so? As we learned from The Cannery process, the land owner has to be willing to use their land in the fashion you propose. The current construction at Third and G is a perfect example of how the highest and best use isn’t always compatible with the property owner’s plans and/or appetite and/or fiscal wherewithall. The highest and best use for the AT&T/Paesanos complex between F and G and 1st and 2nd Streets would be very similar to the Chew Building less than a block away, and the City tried very hard to get the property owner to come forward with just such a plan, but the property owner was only willing to build a one story structure. The new building that replaced the Pena House at 337 D Street is an exception, and it took an incredibly persistent set of owners to make that highest and best use happen.

            I look forward to hearing your implementation plan.

        4. Miwok

          Matt, thank you for your comments about the housing.

          (1) there is no practical, viable housing location alternative for the vast majority of the students. Their very practical desire is to live in close (walking or bicycling distance) proximity to both their classes and their fellow students. (2) The currently active and escalating conversion of single family residences out of the SFR market supply and into the student housing supply is damaging to the quality of life in Davis in two ways, (a) there are fewer and fewer houses availbla for families, and (b) the character of existing family neighborhoods is degraded by the lack of compatability of families living in each neighborhood house and a dozen students living in neighborhood houses. Then (3) the ability of Innovation Park workers to live outside the Davis City Limits is significant. We really have no idea what the proportion of commuters to residents will be.

          I have mentioned this before, and to me, Code Enforcement should weed out the “residential” vs “student housing” merely by simple math. I have lived in owner occupied places as a “roomie” and in a house full of students with an absentee owner. The last was so distasteful I left Davis. This has benefited many other communities greatly, to the detriment of Davis. Companies are finding out this now after years of trying.

  5. Tia Will

    What’s in a name except for advertising to make these proposals more attractive ? All are proposed significant developments with major potential advantages and downsides for our community. Since some variations on this theme have been around for at least 20+ years, my preference would not to be to call them “innovation parks” which carries with it the concept that this is something new other than just to Davis. I would prefer to drop the PR attempts and just stick with the neutral term “developments”, which, now that we also appear to be considering housing, it just what they are.

    1. Matt Williams

      Tia, what you are ignoring in that proposed approach is the thriving, world-class innovation core competencies of UC Davis. Why do you seek to throw that baby out with your “labeling” bath water? The City of Davis is uniquely able to connect with that core competency mothership. Why do you choose to turn your back on that reality?

      1. Tia Will

        Matt

        And you keep on questioning me about why I am saying what I have never said.

        I am all for “leveraging the core competencies of the university”. What I am not convinced of is that building ever larger spaces for companies that are already successful, and attempting to draw in established companies that are  better situated to larger spaces elsewhere is the best way to do so. If what were being proposed were spaces designed to optimally support small start ups and companies generated by fresh ideas from the university, I would be very supportive. What I see are proposals that are designed at least in part to “help” those that are clearly already thriving and need much more space. I do not like the idea of the city heading, in its own very small way, towards what I see as essentially corporate welfare with land instead of dollars as the medium of exchange.

         

        1. Matt Williams

          Fair enough Tia. I ask these questions because I see a lot of nuance to the issues we are discussing … similar in many ways to the nuance that you referred to in our last conversation about doctor-patient dialogues in Siddhartha Mukherjee’s book.

          What you point out is one of the key components of [b]the dialogue[/b] about the Davis innovation ecosystem … specifically the visibility of Schilling Robotics, both in terms of its existing facility and the presence of its existing employees in our community. Those current employees and their families are part of our schools, our churches, our bridge clubs, our environmental groups, our City’s commissions and committees, our arts organizations, and the customer streams that patronize our retail and service businesses. With that said, based on the information provided by SARTA’s Executive Director at the early IPTF meetings, there were 59 Tech Companies in Davis in 2012. Schilling is only one of those companies. In many ways, JumpStart Davis is all about expanding the dialogue beyond a tight focus on Schilling and “humanizing” those companies and their current employees … expanding the dialogue to be more reflective of the whole picture.

          With the above said, when I read your last sentence above I have two questions. The first revolves around the fact that the land, which you refer to as “corporate welfare,” is privately owned, and if ownership of it transfers from the current owners to new owners, the transaction will no doubt happen at market rates. How is such a market rate transaction “welfare”? The second revolves around all those current residents of Davis whom you will be evicting from Davis when you force their employer to move on to a location remote from Davis (Texas could well be the likely landing point in that scenario). Are you being unilateral in your decision making about the future lives of those current Davis residents?

  6. Alan Miller

    “What’s in a name except for advertising to make these proposals more attractive ?”

    Exactly!  Thus, the use of “positive thinking” in advertising, and detracting those who are critical of issues as “not thinking positively”.  Innovation Park, even if a definition exists as above, is a “positive” buzz word.  It’s a business park, and Davis intends to design it with an emphasis on businesses that are related to the University or doing research.  Fine.  Glass contents half water half air.  Hopefully not hot air.

  7. Tia Will

    Alan

    the use of “positive thinking” in advertising, and detracting those who are critical of issues as “not thinking positively”.

    Kind of reminds me of the “positive thinking” of the cigarette manufacturers who were denying cancer and cardiovascular risks while claiming that cigarettes were actually healthy because they decreased stress. Same strategy is now being employed by the “risk reduction” promotion of e cigarettes all the while ignoring the fact that more teens are now vaping ( becoming addicted to nicotine) than are using cigarettes to begin with. So much for the “positive thinking” of risk reduction.

    Or how about the “positive thinking” portrayed on adds for sweetened cereals that they are “part of a healthy breakfast”.

    “Positive spin” put on something that is detrimental or even maybe just not the best approach may sell the product, but does nothing to improve it or mitigate its potentially negative effects.

    I am not saying yeah or nay to any of the proposals at this point in time. I am arguing for an honest portrayal with all the pros and cons fully laid out before taking on any cheer leading position, pro or con.

  8. Tia Will

    Matt

    Good questions.

    First while the land is in private hands, as the land that is now the Cannery site was in private hands, the City had the ability to shape the fate of the site through zoning and has the ability to specify certain constraints on those who would develop. The question for me is is the degree to which the benefits to the entire community will be weighed as compared with those of the developers and involved businesses. As you said, a lot of nuances, not a straight positive or negative.

    As for the “eviction” of current workers. This is a decision being made by the owners of Schilling Robotics, not by the city. The company has a number of options,. Leaving if they do not get the space the want is only one. Other options would be to remain on the current space or to divide the company into divisions on different sites. It is not as though the City is demanding that Schilling Robotics move as you are implying.

    Here again I perceive the city being “willing to help” only if the business involved is large enough and powerful enough to persuade those in a decision making capacity to “help” them. Although the issues are not identical, I certainly did not see any “help” from the city for the laundry that was forced out of business or for R&R when the Goodwill wanted their space. It is these kind of differential actions that lead me to use the term “corporate welfare”. Years ago a small pastry shop had to fight for a long time for the ability to build their own restaurant rather than continue to face increasing rental costs.  The city was singularly less than helpful with this enterprise. I remember quite clearly Rocehelle’s statement regarding the first step in promoting financial well being would be to keep the businesses that we already have. It would seem to me that this would only apply to those who are already successful or “promising” or “well connected”. These are not the Davis values that I want to promote.

    I am much more interested in “paving the way” for those who actually are in need of help than I am for those who have many options and opportunities. Those folks don’t need our help but seem to be well positioned to obtain the majority of it.

    1. hpierce

      Ah… but the subsidies and other government help that KP got when they moved to Davis was because “they needed help” and didn’t have many “options and opportunities”.  Right.

      1. Tia Will

        hpierce

        I simply do not see the need for the snide comment. The decisions that allowed KP to have a site in Davis were made long before I got here. I had no part in them and have no idea of how the matter was conducted. Perhaps you would like to provide the information that I am lacking. Since I have never opined on this matter, I can’t imagine what you are hoping to convey or prove with your comment.

    2. Matt Williams

      Here again I perceive the city being “willing to help” only if the business involved is large enough and powerful enough to persuade those in a decision making capacity to “help” them. Although the issues are not identical, I certainly did not see any “help” from the city for the laundry that was forced out of business or for R&R when the Goodwill wanted their space. It is these kind of differential actions that lead me to use the term “corporate welfare”.

      Your statement above confuses me Tia. The only reason that the City is involved in the Schilling situation is that there is no alternative location currently available to Schilling within the City footprint. If such a site did exist, the City would not be involved other than through its normal building permitting activities. Addressing the problem that the Schilling situation illuminates, by definition involves the City in inter jurisdictional dialogue because of the location of the possible solutions.

      Compare that to the laundry, where the decision by the landlord to not renew the lease did not involve the City in any way. Further, there were a wealth of similar-sized location alternatives available to the laundry within the existing City Limits. The problem for the laundry was that they could not afford the one-time costs associated with relocating their business to one of the myriad of available alternative locations. Right & Relevant faced the same situation. The private landowner that owned the 8th Street location made a straightforward ownership decision. Right & Relevant may not have enjoyed dealing with the impacts of their landlord’s decision, but in the end, I wouldn’t be surprised if the leaders of Right & Relevant said that their current situation is better than their former situation … and that absent the not so gentla push from their landlord they wouldn’t have embraced change.

      The second sentence of the second sentence of your comment above paints the situation in stark black/white terms. Schilling is indeed making a business decision to respond to the ever increasing demands of its customers for its products, and none of us have seen Schilling trying to abdicate that responsibility. They began “warning” the City that their continually increasing customer demand defined a trajectory that would require expansion … that “warning” was an invitation to collaboratively plan together, but the City repeatedly and consistently chose to ignore Schillings regular and consistent communications. In essence the City was like a hypothetical Kaiser doctor who received lab test results on one of his/her patients each year that showed first the warning signs of cancer, then the presence of precancerous cells, then the presence of malignant cells, but didn’t work with the patient to address these regular and consistent “warnings.” Just as it does the patient no good to cry out “Oh, woe is me!” when the cancer is shown to be metastacized, it does no good to look at the Schilling situation as an example of “holding the community hostage” and expecting “corporate welfare.” Similarly, it really does Schilling no good to say “Screw you Davis. We are taking our robots and going to another place that will allow us to efficiently and effectively conduct our business under one roof!” The reality of the situation is that there can be constructive collaboration of all the parties in the grey area that exists between the black and white starkness that you describe.

      Regarding Rochelle’s statement, you appear to be ignoring its context. Counting employees (and their families) when looking at individual businesses is really no different than counting votes during an election. When we were deciding which precincts to walk during the June Council eclection campaign, we clearly looked a t the voting history of each of the City’s 103 voting precincts, and put our resources initially in those precincts where the voting history told us that the count of voters was very high. That didn’t mean we didn’t walk the smaller precincts, but only that we marshaled our resources in a way to maximize efficiency and effectiveness. it wasn’t an either/or approach it was a both/and approach. Similarly, Rochelle’s comment was not an either/or comment, but rather one part of a both/and continuum.

      1. Tia Will

        Matt

        Compare that to the laundry, where the decision by the landlord to not renew the lease did not involve the City in any way”

        We fundamentally disagree on whether or not the fate of small businesses as well as large ones should “involve” the city. You could equally well say well the laundry, or R&R warned the city that they could not afford the costs involved in moving and so the city should help them do to the inherent interest in maintaining small businesses in our city, especially those geared to the interests of the less affluent. I do not see this as fundamentally different from Schilling “warning the city” that they are in need of more room. In the case of all three, the city is aware that there will be deleterious effects on the business if they do not help, and yet choose to “help” only the most prosperous. The only thing I see different is that Schilling seems to be being regarded as “too big to fail” where as the smaller enterprises were disposable.

        Regarding Rochelle’s statement, you appear to be ignoring its context. Counting employees (and their families) when looking at individual businesses is really no different than counting votes during an election. 

        I do not believe that I am taking it out of context. I believe that I am considering these views in a broader context. If you look at what the city has actually done over the past few years, instead of just listening to the cheer leading for either the pro or anti growth side, my point would become clear, whether or not you agree with it. Take one example. The hiring of Rob White as our “Innovation Officer”. Now, this is no comment against Rob who I believe has done a very good job at what he was hired for. It is the choice to hire into this position that I feel is quite telling. Notice who we did not choose to hire. We did not choose a Health and Wellness Officer”. We did not hire a “Promotion of Very Small to MicroBusiness Officer”. We did not hire a “Collaborative Enterprises Officer”. We hired an “Innovation Officer” because a particular way of looking at prosperity and material abundance seems to be ascendent in our community at present. With the hire of Rob White, and the emphasis on the promotion of certain types of businesses, it would appear to me that the city has entered the business of picking winners and losers although we have not chosen to admit that.

        Further, I do not believe that counting employees is or should be considered the same as counting the votes for an election. A couple of major points of difference. When we were out walking precincts, we were using our own time and resources to advocate for the candidates that we felt were best representative of our view points. This is very different from a compensated city elected official who presumably has an obligation to act in the interests of the entire community, not just those who have some kind of leverage be it success or wealth or connections within the community.

        Secondly, what is being counted should not just be the employees of one business, but rather the employment situation for the entire city and region. Deciding that the city must make major accommodations to suit any single employer is again, in my eyes, an unseemly way of picking winners and losers.

         

        1. Matt Williams

          Tia, you and I have a huge disconnect in this discussion … specifically with respect to any “help” that the City is providing to Schilling Robotics. Your laundry example delineates a proposed solution to address mitigating the impact of the private transaction between the laundry owner and the property owner, where the City intervenes and makes a financial contribution to the laundry owner that defrays their cost of moving to a new site. Do I have that correct? Given that the laundry owner has not been able to save any money during their current business tenure, I am assuming that you also see this financial contribution by the City as a gift rather than a loan. Is that also correct?

          Now let’s look at the Schilling situation. Is Schilling asking for a financial contribution from the City? If your answer to that question is “no” then what is the parallel that you see between the laundry situation and the Schilling situation?

          Rather than addressing the specific points you raise in the second, I ask you to step back and ask the very simple question, “How many dollars will the strategy/tactic you have espoused contribute toward reducing the $100 million deferred maintenance amount for Davis’ roads?” or if you will, “”How many dollars will the strategy/tactic you have espoused contribute toward reducing the unknown millions of dollars of deferred maintenance for Davis’ building and structures?”

          The hiring of Rob White was the very simple recognition that the City of Davis needed to create incremental revenue streams in order to pay our bills. Nothing more, nothing less.

          Now I realize that you have said many times in the past that you are willing to fund the $100 million of deferred roads maintenance with increases in your personal taxes. I respect you for that, but I think you are prescient enough to know that you are in the overwhelming minority when you support that tax and spend approach.

      2. DavisBurns

         I wouldn’t be surprised if the leaders of Right & Relevant said that their current situation is better than their former situation 

        While I would be very surprised if R&R is doing better in their current location.  We should ask them if their revenues are up or down/

  9. Tia Will

    Anon

    To Alan Miller and Tia Will: “Positive spin” is a sin, but “negative spin” is not?  Hmmm…”

    I think that you must be hmm….ing at yourself since you are the only one who has said that.

  10. Tia Will

    Matt

    where the City intervenes and makes a financial contribution to the laundry owner that defrays their cost of moving to a new site. Do I have that correct?”

    No Matt, you do not have that right. For the simple reason that I did not say anything at all about what I thought the possible actions might be for the city to help a small business. My point was that if we have ways to help large businesses, I suspect that there would also be options for helping small businesses if we chose to exercise them. As you well know, I am not well versed in what those might be, but I am sure there are creative folks here who could make suggestions.

    As I already made clear, Schilling is not asking directly for money. What they are asking for is access to land which I think that we could both agree is of monetary value. So, a distinction without a difference in my mind.

    I am sure that you are aware that I do not have the numeric facility to answer the question of how much would have to be generated. Instead of asking questions that you know I am ill  prepared to answer, how about making your best guess at providing that information if you want to discuss specifics instead of concepts ?

    The hiring of Rob White was the very simple recognition that the City of Davis needed to create incremental revenue streams in order to pay our bills. Nothing more, nothing less.”

    On this, it looks like we will simply have to agree to disagree. Who you chose to fill a position that is available depends a great deal on the decision that you have already made about your preferred approach. I have been on our hiring group far too long to believe that a hire is made without any preconceived notion of what your goals are and how you anticipate that candidate will perform.

    when you support that tax and spend approach.”

    Nice negative buzz word usage. However, I don’t see it that way. I see it as responsible planning in order to raise the revenue that is needed for the amenities that our citizens  have already decided they want.  For me, this is about responsible fiscal management, not just hoping we will grow our way out of trouble.

    1. Matt Williams

      As I already made clear, Schilling is not asking directly for money. What they are asking for is access to land which I think that we could both agree is of monetary value. So, a distinction without a difference in my mind.

      The transaction for access to the land is one that is between the private land owner and Schilling, and the private land owner is not going to grant that access to Schilling unless Schilling pays a periodic fair market rental payment to the private land owner. They are not asking the City for the access. The City is a third party to the two-party market-rate transaction.

      I am not looking for specific information to discuss, rather I am hoping that you will attempt to walk in the shoes of the people you are castigating.

      With respect to the Rob White decision you are focusing on the action as opposed to the cause for the action. The cause, is the fact that we have promised ourselves as a community recurring access to more goods and services than we can afford. As a community we have swept that unfortunate fiscal reality under the rug for so many years that we now have Mount Whitney under that rug. There has been a consistent dearth of “responsible fiscal management” and even Mephisto the Magnificent can’t magically balance our books, nor can Harry Houdini provide us with a sensational escape route. We have to increase revenues or reduce costs, most likely both. The decision to create the position is the key event … not the decision of whom to fill the position with. So, if you are going to draw a Kaiser comparison, you need to jump into a time machine and go back to a time well before there was a hiring group. The decision by the Council to create the Chief Information Officer position was the result of (A) the belief that raising sales and parcel taxes alone would not raise the needed incremental revenue, coupled with (B) the belief that the Union employees of the City would not voluntarily reduce their salaries and benefits to sufficiently low enough levels to effect meaningful reductions in costs, coupled with (C) the abandonment of the provision of enough City Services/Amenities to further reduce costs enough to be able to (AB&C) cover all the ongoing and deferred expenses of the City. Given that the decision makers were elected officials, it is easy to understand that they saw a full, open and honest engagement of (A) (B) and (C) was a political bridge-too-far, and as a result they chose to pursue economic development as a revenue enhancement alternative.

  11. DavisBurns

    I want the growth proponents to show me other similar cities who have grown their way out of financial trouble.  We expand, we need more roads, more schools, more people need services, the facilities we have become crowded, we need to build more, we need more city employees, every city council member represents x-thousand more people…I am waiting for someone to do more than reassure me new development will not only pay for itself but also pay enough to deal with our deficit.  Right now, in all the arguing, I do not see numbers that convince me that we have a clue.  It is all smoke and promises.  I can tell you Charlottesville, Virginia, looked at the cost of growth and found it cost more to grow than to stay the same size.  Here is a link: http://www.cvilletomorrow.org/news/article/13784-costs_of_growth/

    When we spend money to have a team look at the cost of growth and come back with real numbers, I will be convinced.  Until then, I see this as a full court press by the innovation center promotion forces to sell a concept, I would imagine for the benefit of their constituents. Follow the money.

    1. Anon

      Examples of many successful innovation parks that have improved the fiscal circumstances of the city they were in have been given – you just haven’t been reading apparently.  If someone wants to pull up past comments that gave specific examples, please do…

  12. DavisBurns

    Here I am, the information junkie, saying we need more information.  Why do we do things without taking inventory of what we have?  Why don’t we engage the community, or at least the ones who want to be engaged, by providing a little education.  How many businesses do we have in Davis?  How many with 5 or less employees?  How many under 25, 100, 200.  What kind of revenue do we get from them?  Where is that revenue spend, what demands do they make on city services.  Which class of business provides the most income for the city per employee (or is it based on gross revenues?)  I haven’t a clue what kind or size business benefits Davis the most.  I agree with Tia, we need to support small business that provide important services especially for the poorest people, like corner grocery stores and laundry mats.  A small town ought to have a shoe repair shop, a place that repairs equipment and at least one handy man service.  There are probably a lot more but if we had hired someone to do an analysis of the mix of businesses we have, what we are missing and how we can support our very small (and you can’t be very small without being innovative!) business we’d be having discussion based on the facts of what we have instead of all the hot air about what we might get and what it might do.

    We ran a small innovative business from the time we moved here in 1988 until we closed it in 2012.  We talk to other small business owners and we shake our heads and say, ‘what’s with this innovation s**t? We’ve been innovating since day one and all the city ever did for us was say ‘pay your taxes, pay your taxes’.  The city never hired anyone to figure out how to retain our business.’

      1. DavisBurns

        we weren’t downtown, we were on Pena drive so no help there but from what I heard at a city council meeting part of the city taxes we paid were used to fund Downtown Davis.  I am unclear what that does for business not downtown. Ask yourself why you assume we didn’t provide high paying jobs.  We paid competitive salaries for engineers, we paid our support staff living wages and benefits for all employees. We weren’t merchants.

        the bold, underline italics don’t like my iPad

    1. Matt Williams

      We ran a small innovative business from the time we moved here in 1988 until we closed it in 2012.  We talk to other small business owners and we shake our heads and say, ‘what’s with this innovation s**t? We’ve been innovating since day one and all the city ever did for us was say ‘pay your taxes, pay your taxes’.  The city never hired anyone to figure out how to retain our business.’

      DB, your story is precisely why Michael Bisch and Bill Habicht created JumpStart Davis . . . to increase the community’s focus on the people like you who are contributing your intellectual capital toward increasing innovative output in Davis.

      With that said, I personally believe that the increased focus on innovation and technology transfer at both the City and the University is an overt acknowledgement that the actions of the past 20 years contain a dearth of successes, and that the successes that have taken place have been much more as the result of the personal initiative of the individuals in the individual business rather than a collective, mutually supportive community ethos.

       

        1. Don Shor

          The planning principles embodied in our General Plan are designed to preserve the downtown core and the neighborhood shopping centers, such as the University Mall where Forever 21 is located. Second Street Crossing, where Target and TJ Maxx are located, went to the voters precisely because it was a major exception to that policy. City staff strongly encouraged Second Street Crossing at every level. But I think everyone, including the council majority that approved it, recognized that it was a serious change and that the voters should decide — even though that wasn’t actually required by law.

      1. DT Businessman

        “For downtown retail it has been to prevent competition and ensure the downtown is the primary shopping area.”

        This comment is completely clueless.  Downtown retail has plenty of competition such as peripheral shopping centers, shopping districts in neighboring communities and online retail.  What the downtown retailers have consistently requested is for the city to take action to remove impediments to the downtown shopping experience such as doing a better job of managing the parking supply and upgrades to public infrastructure such as sidewalks, lighting, pothole-filled streets, etc.  This is no different than what any other retailer would do in a shopping center where the landlord had failed to properly maintain the center.

         

        -Michael Bisch

  13. Tia Will

    Don

    Points appreciated Don. I guess I had always thought of University Mall as just that, a mall and not so much a neighborhood shopping center such as the location of the shops  adjacent to the Co-op, or that adjacent to the Symposium , or those on the corner of what used to be the Lucky supermarket, which have frequently been allowed to languish.

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