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.
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