I recently read an op-ed in the local paper by James Zanetto and Judy Corbett, which argued we should “[b]oost our economy, but do it the Davis way.” Interestingly enough, it’s an argument I made last year, although I reached a different conclusion.
The idea I argued at the time was that we could do economic development that was relatively small, dense and environmentally sustainable, while adhering to the growth control measures like Measure R.
Citing Jim Gray’s op-ed from last week, the authors here write: “Although their primary focus appears to be on the larger ‘innovation center’ business park proposals, Gray suggests that the city offer ‘competitive sites that will serve the community in the long term.’
“‘Recognizing the ongoing inventory update of city-held property to determine what might be appropriate for development, Gray suggests considering public/private partnerships for underutilized parcels, especially noting the series of city and school district sites along central and east Fifth Street, including and near the city corporation yard, describing these as an “infill site with real scale,’” they continue.
They add, “If, over time, the roughly 25-acre PG&E corporation yard were to be added to this, we’d have a truly significant site for office and lab uses within bicycling distance of the university, downtown and Amtrak.”
These authors then suggest, “Let’s consider the ‘hold’ placed by the development team on the Davis Innovation Center adjacent to Highway 113. Do the experienced developers, SKK and Hines, sense that Davis voters are not ready to approve one or more large peripheral developments?”
The authors present an alternative infill vision for Davis, which they believe could be located on East Fifth Street.
They write, “These developments could create an environment that would reduce auto dependency for residents of our city. Limited parking could occur at grade, below mid-rise work and housing uses, while Davis residents could readily get where they need to go via bus, jitney, bicycle or walking.”
They add, “Car-sharing facilities could be available on-site for occasional work-related use. Mid-rise development with fewer parking spaces will reduce a number of project impacts as well as the cost per unit and the size of the parcel required for the project.”
They see that a “long-term, urban design solution is needed to address our city’s fiscal issue.” They argue, “Working with community residents, we need to develop a vision of a compact, vibrant community that recognizes the talent in its world-class university, that preserves prime agricultural land and that continues its tradition of bicycle- and pedestrian-based land-use planning through sustainable development practices.”
Their focus is on the downtown. “A vibrant, compact, mixed-use downtown is an important economic asset,” they write. “The new economy requires space where people from different silos (and of different ages) bump into one another regularly, stimulating new thinking and allowing innovative ideas to blossom.”
They conclude, “If we in Davis make the right choices, we can preserve our city’s quality of life and develop a sustainable revenue stream that will support our city staff while maintaining our parks, streets, bike paths, recreational facilities and the like. In order to achieve this, we need to ‘take our feet off the accelerator’ and develop a shared vision that will foster economic development.”
However, the authors here miss a critical point – we have already laid out a vision that includes both a short-term and mid-term strategy, with a longer-term peripheral business park strategy.
The city’s policy, passed on November 13, 2012, is to “pursue a ‘Dispersed Innovation Strategy’ offering flexible space (scalability) supporting needs of growing and new businesses. A combined approach of near-term close-in hub with mid-term, larger less constrained edge sites offer the best mix of University proximity and expansion capability for the City…”
However, while the Studio 30 report that laid the groundwork for the Dispersed Innovation Strategy starts with low-hanging fruit, ultimately it finds that “The current isolated and dispersed sites that are available and appropriately zoned are not adequate in terms of size, location, or configuration (and related constraints) to address the emerging market need of an Innovation Center.”
Therefore they conclude: “Studio 30’s research suggests that the City pursue a broad strategy to attract innovative businesses that offers a number of sites that are scalable and range in size so the community can accommodate an incubator, startups and expanding businesses. Some should be directly in contact with the University. This mix of small and large sites allows the city the flexibility to successfully attract, grow and retain innovation businesses. External sites have the potential to support the most jobs because of their size and ability to accommodate a wider variety of both size and type of businesses.”
This is a critical finding at a time when it is becoming increasingly clear that the city’s economic growth in the next five years appears to be very modest at best, and the city has growing needs in terms of infrastructure and potentially public safety that it must address.
Therefore, my view of an economic development strategy that maintains the Davis way is as follows:
First, it should adhere to current Davis land use policies. That means encouraging relatively small innovation centers that can utilize university spinoffs and tech transfer, as well as provide a landing spot for businesses who are growing, to remain in Davis.
While we have suggested a tweak in Measure R, we must recognize that most likely any project on the periphery will have to gain the approval of voters. Some view this as a disadvantage, but I suggest we turn it to our advantage.
By that I mean we develop state of the art facilities. Environmentally sustainable: that means net zero energy, state of the art environmental and sustainable features. We need them to be at the center of multi-modal transportation hubs like rails and other alternative transportation with bike connectivity.
Furthermore, we must recognize that Davis is a college community. When I traveled to the South Bay and saw places like PayPal and other high-tech campuses, they looked like extensions of college campuses. You have a main building and then the rest of campus.
This fits in perfectly with a city like Davis where people are very comfortable with the college campus set up. This would only enhance the community and provide us with the space needed for innovation and collaboration to take place.
We need to view these efforts as an extension of the college campus and recognize that in the 21st century, academic work does not end in the classroom but rather gets transferred to the private market, as we take research and turn it into the products of today and tomorrow.
To me, at least, a small, compact, college campus like an innovation park that is hooked up to bike paths and other alternative transportation modes and is net zero energy and powered by solar and other alternative energy sources is, in fact, the Davis Way.
While the authors offer us an alternative vision of infill – a vision that we should pursue as well – the Studio 30 report made it clear that even maximizing potential sites like the PG&E site and the corporation yards on Fifth Street is insufficient for our needs and to sustain the needs of growing current businesses.
I will make one final note. I really wish that these discussions could have occurred a year ago. My concern listening to the innovation parks task force was that there were too few interactions of this sort. We might have come up with a more robust discussion a year ago that would have taken the conversation down a different line.
It is clear that, for a certain number of people, the idea of peripheral development is a non-starter and they will be looking at internal solutions. I really view the internal solutions as paths that we can go down in addition to an innovation park, not instead of an innovation park.
The primary reason for this is really the need for large spaces for Tyler Schilling and, really, several other additional businesses. Studio 30 really did a good job of laying out why we need to pursue both strategies.
I agree with the conclusion of the authors. However, if we make the right choices and develop these the right way, we can preserve our quality of life, and preserve the character of Davis, while developing a sustainable revenue stream – I just don’t believe we can do that strictly with infill development.
—David M. Greenwald reporting