Mike Fitch in his book on Davis, Growing Pains, describes Mace Ranch as “a disturbing challenge.” He writes, “Davis was unprepared in 1986 for a high-stakes political showdown over development along its borders, and its slow-growth policies were largely to blame. The crisis came swiftly, without much warning, demonstrating that the growth-control policies were more fragile and more susceptible to damage from political forces beyond the city’s borders than officials had believed.”
“Davis city suddenly found itself tormented by a recurring nightmare, where new houses, shopping centers, and industrial projects kept popping up just outside of the city’s borders, just beyond the city’s control,” Mr. Fitch writes.
He then quotes two-time Mayor Dave Rosenberg who, he says, “acknowledged the crisis caught Davis by surprise.
“I think it’s fair to say that,” Mr. Rosenberg said. “Mace Ranch changed everything.”
The Mace Ranch situation led to two things. First was the pass-through agreement, where there was county agreement not to develop on the borders of Davis in exchange for the city passing through redevelopment money to the county.
There was also the passage of Measure L by 56 percent of the voters, which indicated three principles. First, “Davis should grow as slowly as it legally could.” Second, “Future growth should be concentrated on lands already within the city limits and additional annexations should be discouraged.”
Finally, “The county should not approve development on the periphery of Davis unless the city gives its stamp of approval by ruling it consistent with the Davis General Plan. Measure L included several findings, including the beliefs that ‘the prime agricultural land surrounding Davis is a resource of local, state and national importance’ and ‘the growth of Davis is an issue best determined by Davis citizens without outside pressure or influence.’”
In 2000, the voters would then approve Measure J, which required approval of the voters in order for Davis to convert agricultural land. One of the possible results of Measure J and its renewal in 2010 in the form of Measure R, is that Davis has not approved another peripheral development.
In 2005, voters heavily voted down Covell Village. Four years later, by an even larger margin they voted down Wildhorse Ranch. Now we have made arguments that Measure R isn’t the only factor to blame here. Developers probably overreached on Covell Village, while Wildhorse Ranch was proposed in the midst of the housing collapse.
We have also seen how non-Measure R projects like Cannery have been delayed by community concerns and process, as well as small developments like Paso Fino that have been slowed by council and community concerns.
That said, the city has not approved a major peripheral subdivision in over 15 years. The question is whether that will be sustainable, long term.
UC Davis, projecting increased student populations in 2003, began proposing a plan for West Village that would house faculty and staff in just under 500 homes, plus about 1000 or so units for student housing.
Even that process took a long time, but was perceived to be the university’s answer to the city’s slow growth policies – namely – if Davis will not accommodate housing, we will build it ourselves.
The big question now is with the proposed innovation parks. Davis is moving towards putting Davis Innovation Center and Mace Ranch Innovation Center on the ballot, perhaps by next spring. The same may be true for Nishi, which has both a housing and innovation component.
We are already seeing at least a few signs of community resistance. The innovation parks would offer the city valuable revenue and allow native businesses to stay close to home.
But what is clear is that UC Davis will probably continue with its bold ambitions, regardless of whether Davis becomes a partner.
In a recent column in the Vanguard, UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi noted, “Today, with a $4 billion annual budget that includes more than $700 million in research and $1.5 billion in clinical activities, UC Davis is the region’s largest employer, after state government.
“All told, UC Davis is responsible for $7 billion a year in annual economic activity and supports nearly 70,000 jobs. It generates more than $3.4 billion a year in employee pay alone. With our role as employer, purchaser, real-estate and workforce developer, collaborator and facilitator, UC Davis is arguably the most dynamic economic development engine in the region. Since we now receive about $340 million in state funding, that’s an impressive return on investment of more than 20:1,” the chancellor wrote.
UC Davis sees itself as potentially the UC Campus of the 21st century. And Chancellor Katehi has been establishing the structures to make that come true.
In her column from late March, the chancellor lays out a lot of the work that they have done in just the last five years. This includes the launching of the Child Family Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, the Venture Catalyst program in the Office of Research, and the Engineering Translational Technology Center.
And there is more coming. The chancellor stated, “We have more initiatives underway and more will come down the road. These are efforts that support job creation in Davis, as well as regionally and nationally. But even more valuable may be the life-saving and life-enhancing innovations put out into society where they can do the most good.”
They also announced plans to develop a 70-acre solar farm with SunPower Corp on a site south of Interstate 80. The chancellor writes, “This facility will open in June and generate 14 percent of campus electricity needs, making it the largest solar power installation in the UC system.”
UC Davis is clearly a driving force in economic development, tech transfer and the creation of startups in Davis and throughout the region.
The ideal partnership would be for Davis and UC Davis to work together in synergy. That would benefit the city by allowing it to take home more tax revenue, and it would benefit the university as it would ready available space to continue and increase its technology transfer.
However, if history shows itself to be true, UC Davis is not going to wait for the city to get in gear.
Last week, local businessman Doby Fleeman noted, “Historically, Davis has been willing to acknowledge, but reluctant to pursue the need for long-term economic development initiatives. These initiatives could prove essential if the community is to afford the services and amenities we often take for granted.”
In noting UC Davis’ role as major regional jobs creator, he wrote that this was “best exemplified by the success of its Sacramento-based UCD Medical Center. Today, the Med Center is situated on a 142-acre campus and serves as the principal employer for some 10,000 people, with countless other supporting jobs in medical offices and laboratories throughout the Sacramento area.”
The Medical Center, of course, ended up away from the university’s main campus.
That is similar to what may happen with the World Food Center, as it was reported last year that UC Davis was considering Sacramento’s downtown railyard as a potential location for a third campus and a spot where the billion dollar world food center might be located.
Harold Schmitz, a chief scientist at Mars Inc. and a visiting professor at the Graduate School of Management at UC Davis, wrote in the Bee last weekend, “Why did Mars choose UC Davis above all other universities in the world? Because this public powerhouse is the best place to discover ways to improve the health of all three of our primary consumers: people, dogs and cats. It’s home to the world’s best agricultural school and ideally positioned to find ways to create sustainable supply chains for our key raw materials, including cacao, corn, peanuts, tomatoes and rice.”
He adds, “Being in Davis also places us next to the world’s leading innovation cluster in the Bay Area and Silicon Valley, which faces the emerging markets of Asia.
“I believe UC Davis and the UC system are at the forefront of this curve,” he continues. “This is why UC Davis and Mars have jointly established the Innovation Institute for Food and Health. The institute aims to establish a new type of university-industry relationship that catalyzes much needed innovation at the nexus of food, agricultural and health.”
This is the game that UC Davis is entering. Does anyone think that they are going to wait for Davis to get its act together and approve some small innovation parks? No. UC Davis does not have to wait. They have lots of options.
They can do like they did with the UC Davis Medical Center and build in Sacramento, at the railyards, or they can do what they want with West Village and expand their own campus.
Davis has an opportunity to benefit from this new thrust, but UC Davis is clearly prepared to proceed with or without the approval of the voters of Davis.
—David M. Greenwald reporting