Vision to Ensure Innovation Centers Are Truly Innovative

By James Zanetto and Stephen Wheeler

The city of Davis is moving forward with three proposals for “innovation centers” — business parks oriented toward innovative, high-tech companies — in an attempt to leverage commercial spinoffs from the university’s varied research programs to bring in much-needed tax dollars.

The three innovation center proposals include the Gateway/Nishi property between the university and Interstate 80 being planned by the university/developer/city “partners”; the Davis Innovation Center northwest of Highway 113 and Covell Boulevard; and the Mace Innovation Center northeast of Mace Boulevard and I-80.

The first site is 44 acres, and the other two are about 200 acres. All are private land. These projects would require a Measure R vote to be annexed to the city and developed. A vote is possible in March 2016 to consider all three projects in the same election.

Davis’ commitment to sustainability plus the overall state of the planet require that such large expansions of our city be as environmentally and socially responsible as possible; in other words, truly innovative.

In an effort to assess the community’s goals for the two larger projects, the city gathered input from a wide range of commissions and Cool Davis and recently adopted guiding principles with the following topic areas: density, sustainability, transportation, work environment, use, timing and phasing, fiscal considerations and net community benefits, and collaborative partnerships.

The city’s principles are generally fine; however, they only encourage green design rather than require it. To gain voter approval, the projects should not only show a substantial economic benefit but also should meet stringent environmental and social goals — to avoid creating “green washed” industrial parks around Davis.

We suggest the vision be strengthened by requiring one of the following programs or some combination of criteria drawn from these programs to quantify adherence to the principles.

* LEED-ND: Public and private entities nationwide use the LEED certification program (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) to give direction to planners and designers. LEED has a number of program types, including Neighborhood Development (ND) which covers large developments. LEED levels range from basic certification, through silver, gold and platinum.

The Neighborhood Development program has the following areas of concern:
* Smart location and linkage;
* Neighborhood pattern and design;

* Green infrastructure and buildings;
* Innovation and design process; and
* Regional priority credits.

The LEED certification process is a point-based system. For example, under the smart location and linkage category, an “access to quality transit” credit requires a basic level of compliance and specifies a point range depending on further achievement. By setting an overall level of certification such as gold or platinum, designers know that they need to implement advanced strategies (point totals) to gain the required certification.

* Living Community Challenge Program: One criticism of the current LEED process is that the verification documentation is based on computer simulation as opposed to actual measured performance. The Living Futures Institute has developed a more visionary type of green certification based on actual project performance. Its Living Community Challenge covers place, water, energy, health and happiness, materials, equity and beauty.

LEED-ND and LCC certification may not be possible for some of these sites since they require that development avoid prime farmland. However, the city still could require documented LEED-equivalent design at the platinum level or implement specific portions of the Living Community Challenge. For example, it could require that these large developments be zero-net-energy or plus-energy (producing more energy than they consume).

Subsequent op-ed articles by other members of the Davis community will present more information on the Living Futures programs. Some Davis groups and individuals plan to host a community forum with representatives of the Living Futures Institute to present their programs and completed projects and describe how the city and private planning/design teams could work with the institute to develop a state-of-the-art projects.

Once a project is registered with the institute, the institute provides expert consultation and guidance to direct project teams to the most innovative, yet feasible strategies. Some of these strategies can be implemented at similar or even lower costs than conventional development.

(For example, when Mike and Judy Corbett built Village Homes they provided an open stormwater drainage system, which proved to be not only a great visual amenity for the neighborhood, a means of recharging the local groundwater and a method to reduce impact on the city stormwater system, but it also lowered development costs to such a degree that they were able to pay for the basic landscaping of the neighborhood with the money saved.)

Our goal is not to substitute one of these certification programs for the guiding principles but to use one, preferably the Living Community Challenge, to ensure adequate implementation of the principles. Registering the project with the institute is a clear example of implementing the “collaborative partnership” principle.

Vision

In order to gain voter approval, an innovation center must meet state-of-the-art environmental and social goals as well as provide economic benefit to the community. Guiding principles, certification programs and staff oversight are all essential in achieving these goals, but the overarching need is for a community-based, shared vision. Without such a vision, community acceptance is questionable.

James Zanetto is a Davis architect and planner who has completed a LEED platinum small office building. Stephen Wheeler is a professor in the UC Davis department of human ecology who is the author of “Planning for Sustainability: Creating Livable, Equitable, and Ecological Communities.”

About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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35 Comments

  1. hpierce

    Probably should be L E E E D.  Certified.  As written, the short and long-term ECONOMIC benefits to the COMMUNITY seem to fit nowhere in the “point total”, and must be presumed to be an after-thought.  In weighing possible trade-offs between proposals, I’d think that public economic benefit should trump any difference between say, a “basic” LEED cert. and a “platinum” one.  And, at the end of the day, a project needs to ‘pencil out’ for the private developer and end users, as well.

    1. South of Davis

      hpierce wrote:

      > the short and long-term ECONOMIC benefits to the

      > COMMUNITY seem to fit nowhere in the “point total”

      I don’t have a problem with people spending their own money on “LEED” buildings or “Energy Star” appliances, but I wonder if it is a smart idea for a city to do it (unless we just want to make the green builders and politically connected LEED people rich).

      I have (wealthy) friend that tore down a perfectly nice home to build a new Green/LEED home and is “saving” about $200/month in gas & electricity after spending about $900K.  When I bought a new washing machine I could have paid $400 more for an “Energy Star” washer (and saved about $1/YEAR based on the US Government Energy Guide tag).

      I tend to agree with (world famous) architect Frank Gehry when he says:

      “A lot of LEED is given for bogus stuff.” The costs of making a green building are “enormous,”  “they don’t pay back in your lifetime.”

      1. Michelle Millet

        Hopefully as technology continues to improve, as more developers continue to use sustainable building practices, and the demand for these structures continue to grow the cost of building “green” will continue to decrease.

        1. South of Davis

          Michelle wrote:

          > Hopefully as technology continues to improve, as more

          > developers continue to use sustainable building practices, 

          The technology DOES continue to improve  and as the price of the technology continues to drop way more people are using it.  I got a bunch of LED light bulbs for my home at the Sacramento Costco last year (that was cheaper than the Woodland Costco due to a SMUD instant rebate) for about 10% of the typical cost of similar LED bulbs just five years ago…

          I just have a problem when a city spends millions of taxpayer money to save thousands in electricity and tells us the millions are “worth it” because they are being “green” (when in reality they are always just paying off politically connected “green” contractors that kick back part of the huge profits in the form of “perfectly legal” campaign contributions)…

           

          1. Davis Progressive

            “I just have a problem when a city spends millions of taxpayer money to save thousands in electricity and tells us the millions are “worth it” because they are being “green” (when in reality they are always just paying off politically connected “green” contractors that kick back part of the huge profits in the form of “perfectly legal” campaign contributions)…”

            if you’re referring to the pou you, you have it reversed, the city would have saved millions.

          2. South of Davis

            DP wrote:

            > if you’re referring to the pou you, you have it reversed,

            > the city would have saved millions.

            I was not referring to the POU and no one (including you) has any idea how much (if anything) we will save until we get:

            1. The price that PG&E agrees to sell their assets for

            2. The cost that PG&E will bill the POU for managing the transfer of the assets

            3. A long term contract from a qualified firm (like SMUD) to manage the former PG&E assets in town.

          3. Michelle Millet

            My problem is when the city allows developers to build “green washed” developments, make a huge profit, then leave the city and it’s tax payers to cover the costs of the side effects of the infrastructure.

          4. Alan Miller

            “My problem is when the city allows developers to build “green washed” developments, make a huge profit, then leave the city and it’s tax payers to cover the costs of the side effects of the infrastructure.”

            Amen, sister MM!

    2. Jim Frame

      For me the environmental benefits of LEED are nice, but what makes LEED certification and other high-end features much more appealing to me is the idea that high-quality companies with big taxsheds (I just coined that word; taxes are to taxsheds as water is to watersheds) will want to locate in high-quality, high-visibility spaces in order to reap the marketing cache from same.  I’m not interested in building cheap business parks that appeal to low-rent businesses with low tax returns to the city.

      LEED certification is like freeway visibility:  it doesn’t improve the product or the lower the cost of production, but it does improve the bottom line for businesses with sufficient heft to absorb the additional cost and announce themselves to the world as worthy of occupying the most desirable spaces.

        1. Topcat

          Jim Said:  I’m not interested in building cheap business parks that appeal to low-rent businesses with low tax returns to the city.

          I guess we’ll all have to go to West Sacramento, Woodland, or Vacaville to get the goods and services provided by those “low-rent businesses”.

        2. Jim Frame

          I make no bones about it:  my primary interest in innovation parks is tax revenue to backfill our structural deficit.  Growing the “innovation ecosystem” is a secondary goal, in the interest of keeping the UCD/City connection vibrant.  Good-paying jobs growth is a distant third, and only because it might help the jobs-housing balance.  Growth for growth’s sake has zero appeal to me.

  2. Michelle Millet

    To see an example of the Living Building Challenge put into action check out the Seattle’s Bullitt Center-dubbed the the greenest commercial building in the the world.

    Here are some of it’s features.

    -It is heated (and cooled) via radiant tubing that coils a few inches beneath the concrete overlay of each floor. 
    -Using solar panels it annually produces as much electricity as it uses.
    -All the water that is used in the building  (including drinking water) is collected onsite through a rainwater collection and purification system.
    -The Bullitt Center is the tallest building ever to implement a composting toilet system. 
    -Water from sinks and showers is stored in a greywater tank and cleaned in a constructed wetland. Clean greywater is infiltrated back into the soil to recharge the local aquifer. 

    – See more at: http://www.bullittcenter.org/building/building-features/warmth-from-below/#sthash.pWaIFQxM.dpuf

      1. Michelle Millet

        One of the things I found intriguing about this building is that the developers sourced all their materials and workers locally. When they realized that the most energy efficient windows came from a german company they got the company to agree to set up its first American assembly plant, in the Puget Sound region.

        As for how they are doing now, according to their website their current tenants are: (they also have a co-working space available).

        -Bullitt Foundation

        -Hammer & Hand

        -Intentional Futures

        -International Living Future Institute

        -PAE Consulting Engineers

        -Point32

        -University of Washington Integrated Design Lab 

  3. Michelle Millet

    I hope that most of the people who read your article will learn from it, like I did, and be inspired to work for more sustainable building practices in Davis. There are exciting things going on, I hope we can be part of it. Thanks for writing this piece. I hope it leads to productive dialogue and positive action.

    [edited by moderator]

  4. hpierce

    Ok… one of the main “raison d’etre” issue that has been raised in the past is that the community NEEDS innovation centers for financial health, and that could offset the “no growth/no sprawl” concerns.  Finances are notably absent from this discussion.. Which is it?  Do we , as a community tangibly benefit from these proposals, or is it something else? Bragging rights for the type of “values” ‘the community’ supposedly espouses by a 50% plus 1 margin (theoretical, environmental, aesthetics, etc.)?

  5. Davis Progressive

    i think this is the kind of article we need – we have already at least on the vanguard discussed the need for innovation parks, now we need to discuss how they can fill our sustainability needs.  i know this won’t suit the frankly’s and barack palin’s, but the core davisite is going to be looking at sustainability when they decide whether or not to vote for the project.

    1. Frankly

      By sustainability, you mean for the city to be able to pay for all the services and amenities demanded by the population and provided by those expensive city employees?  If yes, then I agree with you.

      If you are talking about environmental sustainability… there isn’t any accepted definition for that and there really isn’t a problem what we need to solve… except maybe for water use.  Energy efficiency is going to be an economic interest for every business.  Beyond that I don’t know why Davis would stick its nose into the business of private business that is really none of our business.

      1. Michelle Millet

        I would say that anytime the operational side effects of running a business effect Davis, either finically or physically, it is time to “stick our noses in it”. Take stormwater runoff for example, the city has to ensure that it meets certain standards and is discharged properly, this costs taxpayers money. When a building deals with it’s own runoff the way the Bullitt Center has it takes the finical burden off the tax payers. This is an instance where I think its appropriate for the city to require some sort of runoff mitigation.

      2. Michelle Millet

        There is also something to be said for consumers demanding change. The developers of the Bullitt building made the decision to exclude any construction materials that contained items on a “red list” of hazardous material. In response a company who manufactured a sealant decided to reformulate their product to exclude phthalates, a hormone that is linked to endocrine disruption. The company then decided to voluntarily remove this compound from all of their products. No one forced them to do this, they did it because there was a viable market for hazardous free building materials.  I would love to see that market expand voluntarily, which will happen when demand for it increases, that demand has to start somewhere.

         

        1. Frankly

          I doubt that the Bullitt building developers were responsible for the company to reformulate their products.  most businesses reformulate their products as a result of market changes, or anticipated market changes.   Yes government can force those market changes, but often government just creates a mess.  There are a lot of construction products that cannot be purchased in CA due to environmental extremism.  In some cases the alternatives are worse or substandard and come with other consequential problems.

      3. Jim Frame

          Beyond that I don’t know why Davis would stick its nose into the business of private business that is really none of our business.

        Because Measure R makes it our business.  The electorate is one leg of the stool in this business, and if the electorate isn’t convinced, those private business dreams will remain just that:  dreams.

         

        1. Frankly

          Measure R is a simple yes/no vote not an invitation to have us make believe we are all architects, engineers, commercial real estate experts and future visionaries.

        2. Jim Frame

          Measure R is a simple yes/no vote

          A simple yes/no vote on a project that’s been shaped by the developer with input from the community, including wannabe architects, engineers and urban planners.  The developer can be trusted to listen to those he believes will influence the project in a way that provides an acceptable ROI *and* can pass a Measure R vote.

  6. Alan Miller

    I am hereby banning the use of the words “innovate/innovation” as the most overused and thus now meaningless buzzwords of 2014.

    For 2015, we will use the words “glory/glorious”.  Thus this article is now, “Vision to Ensure Glory Centers are Truly Glorious”.

    Have a nice 2015.

        1. South of Davis

          Alan wrote:

          > Glory Parks, my dear DP, Glory Parks

          If I was running the campaign I would go with “Super Green Eco Innovation Parks” (who in Davis would vote against a “Super Green Eco Innovation Park”?)

        2. Alan Miller

          “who in Davis would vote against a “Super Green Eco Innovation Park”?”

          It depends on what it REALLY was, not what the words say it was.

          That’s the problem with the electorate; the special interests, no matter the “side”, have learned that you stick in some liberal catch phrases, and the majority of people who don’t research the ballot go “oh, cool, a super green eco innovation park”, and vote for it, only to discover the money actually is going to have Hitler’s brain installed in a gorilla in Latvia, and $1 billion goes to the consultants who funded the campaign.

  7. Aggie

    A better title for this article would be …

    Vision to Ensure Innovation Centers Don’t Pencil

    Or maybe …

    Vision to Ensure Fiscal Sustainability Strategy Fails

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