Monday Morning Thoughts: Does the Community Really Want Innovation Parks?

Innovation-Park-example

People will tell me that I am too early on this assessment, or that I am speculating. I will admit to both here. However, as I will have been doing this for nine years come late July, just three months away, I have learned to trust my gut feelings.

There was a time when there seemed to be a clear momentum in Davis. The city had concluded a bunch of tough votes to clean up the budget, reform unfunded liabilities, move towards a sustainable budget and find a way to fund roads and other infrastructure.

At the same time, while it was clear that the city had a spending problem, it also had a huge revenue problem. Leaving aside the prolonged economic impact of the recession, there is the simple effect that we have relatively little retail business for a city of our size, and therefore we rely very heavily on the real estate market for city revenue.

The city saw an opportunity coinciding with UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi, who probably is the person who most clearly sees and understands the economic potential of UC Davis as a research and technology transfer power in the Sacramento region. As we noted two weeks ago, that train clearly will be leaving, whether or not Davis is on board. But the city has the opportunity to cash in on that grand vision by building innovation parks.

While the parks are relatively small, at 200 acres, they clearly go against the slow growth, protect the agricultural land trend that has been running the city of Davis, with few exceptions, since the passage of Measure J in 2000 – and probably even before that.

There was clear momentum in 2013-2014 – it started with the ill-fated Mace 391 which, while it failed, seemed to give real energy to the idea that Davis needed a tech-park. And so the city resumed its discussions, the City’s Chief Innovation Officer put forth an RFEI and generated the interest of three groups, two of which have filed official applications.

However, what we have seen since about July of last year is the stalling of momentum on a lot of fronts. First, the city managed to pass a sales tax, but originally the idea was to put forth a parcel tax to fund the roadways. Initial polling showed that the public (a) did not necessarily agree that there was a fiscal crisis, and (b) were not supportive of a parcel tax at the two-thirds level. Rather than put a small parcel tax on the ballot for November, the council decided to wait, and it does not seem that the idea has much traction at this point.

This is despite the fact that what the city is currently paying on roads – about $4 million – likely will, at best, hold things stable.

What about the innovation parks? We are starting to see some opposition emerge. Right now it is localized. But there also doesn’t seem to be a lot of community interest, at least yet. For instance, on the listening tour, an attendee reported that there were only six members of the public who attended the most recent one.

It is hard to read too much into that, as we often know that when there is a real proposal on the table, interest increases and we have not yet gotten to the EIR stage.

However, I think if it were my money about to go into investing in a Measure R project in Davis, I would commission a poll. There have been several polls that we know of in the city recently, and we also know that the developers commissioned at least one poll that was reported to us as being relatively favorable.

My poll would be somewhat different – it would be almost a reverse push poll. I would attempt to assess how likely people were to support an innovation park, whether having more than one park would make them less or more likely, press them on issues like traffic impact, circulation, the loss of agricultural land, etc.

There has not been a campaign yet – and I could be wrong, but right now there doesn’t feel like overwhelming support in the community for an innovation park. Perhaps that changes when we have more concrete proposals on the table.

More importantly, we have not really seen the city lay the groundwork for why we need innovation parks. There is no one really out there beating the drum on the fiscal shape of the city – in fact, more recently there seems to be a sentiment that the city is in better shape than expected. There is little discussion of the revenue gap for the city, the coming increased costs for pensions, water, and other infrastructure.

In short, for several years we were operating under the belief that we had a fiscal emergency, and now it seems that we have been business as usual with few major new initiatives coming to council and an overall lack of urgency.

Before investing potentially millions in the project and the Measure R battle, perhaps we need a better assessment that this is something that the city and community want.

—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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32 Comments

  1. Topcat

    There is little discussion of the revenue gap for the city, the coming increased costs for pensions, water, and other infrastructure.

    Yes, other than the political activists who attend council meetings and watch them on TV, there is little awareness of the city’s financial situation. The people I talk with have a general feeling that the City has been extremely generous with employee compensation and benefits.

    I know that there have already been cutbacks in expenses.  Perhaps there should be more discussion of ways that the City can make further reductions in employee costs.  I think that there are a lot of people that would like to see this before any more talk about new industrial parks.

  2. Frankly

    For instance, on the listening tour, an attendee reported that there were only six members of the public who attended the most recent one.

    I don’t see this as a sign of lack of support.  Frankly, (because I am) I see it as the opposite.

    Opposition provides stronger motivation than does acceptance.  I think most people have accepted that the city needs to grow it’s local economy, and that the university is expanding and growing its public-private partnerships… and that those enterprises will need commercial real estate.   As long as we can prevent the hand-wringing over housing from corrupting the business-focus of these parks, I expect at least one and probably two of them (Nishi is not an innovation park, IMO) to easily pass the Measure R test.

    1. hpierce

      ” I expect at least one and probably two of them (Nishi is not an innovation park, IMO) to easily pass the Measure R test.”  “Opposition provides stronger motivation than does acceptance.”  I’m strongly leaning to support the proposed ‘park’ @ Mace….not so much the other.  That being said, I think Frankly has two important points…. if the Measure R vote on a ‘park’ occurs at a general election, I can easily see it passing, but not by a wide margin.  If it shows up @ a primary or special election, I’d see where Frankly’s second point would govern, and it would fail, again, by a small margin.

        1. hpierce

          My comment about voters.  [BTW thank your ‘honestly curious’ line.  I respect that]

          Nishi isn’t fully formed as ‘formal’ project yet.  A big issue is whether the main MV connection will be to UCD or W Olive.

          Like it or not, most voters are easily swayed by ‘sound bites’.  Maybe 5% of voters actually understand trip generation rates, traffic signal timing, origins/destinations, etc., and most of those are engineers.  Nishi is complex as far as high potential for bike/ped trips, but lousy connections to the motor vehicle traffic grid.

          I believe a measure R vote on Nishi will be couched in terms of “green-ness”, ‘possibility’ of bike/ped connectivity (which I think has a high potential of success, if it is ‘framed’ right, including requiring the project to fully fund and construct a bike/ped facility over Richards, on the west side of UPRR), “density”, “UCD oriented”, and “connectivity” for MV and emergency vehicle access will be lost in the “static”.  I suspect (based on many years listening to voters), that the Measure R vote will not hinge on analytical consideration by the voters who turn out to vote.  It’ll be driven by “buzz-words”.  Am a pessimist, admittedly, on this.

      1. Topcat

        i think nishi is the only one that can pass, and only if they fix the connectivity.

        The way the property is constrained by the freeway on one side and the railroad on the other and the already maxed out Richards Blvd/I80/Olive drive mess, it would be very difficult and expensive to truly “fix” the connectivity issue.  Perhaps this property would be best suited for a solar energy farm that wouldn’t generate much vehicular traffic?

      1. Frankly

        The city has really barely lifted a finger since day one.  Rob White was a 50% private-funded resource.  Now the Dan and Dirk show has effectively silenced him.  But the city does not really control the agenda here other that stalling the ballot.  The Mace and Covell parks will proceed to Measure R vote despite the city barely lifting a finger.   There is a lot of grass-roots organization around the innovation parks.  Count on a big youth vote when it comes to ballot.  The growth of UCD is both a reason we need to grow the local economy, and the democratic opportunity to override the crusty old no-growers and farmland moat lovers that have dominated the agenda previously.

        1. hpierce

          You raise an interesting point, Frankly.  Rob White’s position is now 100% publicly funded, max range at ~ 165k/year, plus benefits, pension, etc., and if he is effectively silenced [your words] what is that position/occupant doing?

          Seems like the salary range is higher than for most department heads.

  3. aaahirsch8

    David…

    Please Stop repeating the Orwellian Language created by these projects advocates.

    Use objective terms, not spin.

    Not: “Innovation Park”

    RE: “Innovation”:  There is no way to guarantee these area will only host “Innovation” companies. Will city zone out Manufacturing plants or warehouses? Will developer they ever say no to a company that want to rent here?   And while the company that do come might be doing cutting edge stuff…like GMO seed or Undersea Oil robots….the land use residents of Davis will experience won’t be Innovative.  Has East Davis improved with the “innovative” the corporations along 2nd street?  Or what sort of spin offs does South Davis get from having seed innovator Monsanto located there?

    Time to be honest: the “I” word is a spin. This is just Industrial growth zone.

    RE: “Park”.  There is nothing “Park” like about these areas…Land used for Parking Lots space will be more than any land set aside for Green.  Looks at the “green-ness” around the plants along 2nd street. Putting solar panels on the roof does not make it a Park or “green”.

    Time For City to be Honest: This is Industrial Growth…and the city’s staff refusal to use the word GROWTH in any of its literature give away the game. The outreach campaign is not about an adult conservation about revenue to support  the city, it is a political campaign that greenwashes Growth.

    We many need new sources of revenue to support school and city government, but what is going on…being paid for by our tax dollars…is a political campaign to overturn Measure R by talking voters into rezoning Land for more growth that will take decades to be built out.

     

    David…

    Please in future pieces don’t fall into the trap of using the City’s Propaganda Spin words “Innovation Park”.  Call it them what they are: Industrial Growth Zones.

    And unless you think corporations are people. let not call them Corporate “Parks” placing them in the same frame as Dog Park, Skate Park, playgrounds, and real green spaces only biological beings appreciate and need.

    Alan

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    1. Davis Progressive

      here we go again.  if the project proponent and the industry calls them “innovation park” why would you call it something else?

      ” Has East Davis improved with the “innovative” the corporations along 2nd street?”

      i don’t know if east davis has, but i know that the revenue from mori seiki is a good chunk of change for the city.

      1. Alan Miller

        here we go again.

        Here we go again using the phrase, “Here we go again”.

        if the project proponent and the industry calls them “innovation park” why would you call it something else?

        For the same reason I don’t call ballparks by the names corporations give them when they buy the name rights.

    2. Topcat

      David…

      Please in future pieces don’t fall into the trap of using the City’s Propaganda Spin words “Innovation Park”.  Call it them what they are: Industrial Growth Zones.

      Yes, I would like to see more honest language used to describe things rather than the euphemistic terms that are clearly chosen to fool people into thinking that a goat is a racehorse.

      1. Alan Miller

        De-Orwellianizing the term “Rail Relocation” = Massive federally and fraudulently misappropriated flood control and other taxpayer dollars for the benefit of a few shady politicians and their shady developer friends, and PORK.

      2. Davis Progressive

        i guess i don’t understand the objection here.  we tend to call things what the proposal calls things.  we don’t call the wastewater treatment plant the sh*t remover.

  4. davisite4

    David, how do you figure 200 acres is “relatively small”?  Compared to what?  For Davis, compared to what is here now, it seems huge, both in terms of acreage and in terms of the number of people who will be employed (and thus the impact on the City).

    To answer the question of your post, my answer is “no.”  Nothing that large, nothing that chews up that much ag land.  As has been said above, yes, something like Nishi if the details can be worked out.

    1. Topcat

      To answer the question of your post, my answer is “no.”  Nothing that large, nothing that chews up that much ag land.

      I’m leaning towards “No” also, primarily because of the additional traffic congestion it would add as well as the pressure for more residential development due to the additional employees.  I guess this makes me a “crusty old no-growther” and I wear that label proudly.

      1. hpierce

        “… additional traffic congestion…”  Really? except maybe for Richards, during a weekday, when UCD is in session, where in Davis do we have traffic congestion?  Were you raised in Arbuckle?  I don’t count missing a signal cycle, or losing ~ 1 minute transit time per mile as “congestion”.  But that’s just me.

      2. Topcat

        “… additional traffic congestion…”  Really? except maybe for Richards, during a weekday, when UCD is in session, where in Davis do we have traffic congestion?

        Yes really.  Driving through the downtown grid is very frustrating with all the four way stops, pedestrians, bikes and cars pulling in and out of parking places. Covell Blvd. is much more congested than it was when I moved to town.  Russell Blvd and Fifth can get pretty slow and I usually divert up to eighth if I have to cross town.  Finding a parking place downtown can be very difficult and I’ve seen University Mall with no parking available too.

        I know that Davis is not congested compared to some bigger cities, but the point is that I don’t want to see the traffic situation get any worse.  Do I get my “crusty old no-growther” badge now?

        1. hpierce

          “Do I get my “crusty old no-growther” badge now?”  That’s for others to award, but would not oppose that.  You definitely qualify for the “it’s all about me” certificate you need to be called a “true Davisite” [tongue (somewhat) fully in cheek!].  I probably qualify for that certificate as well, often.

        2. hpierce

          Actually, DP, in my opinion, the transportation system is fine…  it “ain’t broke”… we do need to maintain it, though… and encourage more folk to choose the ped, bike, and transit modes we already have…  I feel no need to accommodate anyone who wants everything “now”.  Again, that’s just me.

          I know better than when to travel certain segments at certain times, by certain modes.  Just me, though.  I just think and plan a bit.  What a concept!

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