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.
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.”