Commentary: Somehow the Progressive Community Needs to Be Re-Engaged

Innovation-Park-exampleLast spring there was a series of meetings of the Innovation Park Task Force and, at several points in time, I noted a glaring absence – for the most part, complete absence – from the room of anyone from the progressive community.

I listened to the conversation and the problem became more and more evident – the room was talking to itself, and it had largely become an echo chamber filled of people of like-mindedness. There were no skeptics of the innovation parks in the room. There were no strong proponents of Measure J/R.

In those meetings it appeared that the slow-growth position was misunderstood and mischaracterized. It was obvious at the time that – without bringing in at least segments of the progressive community to direcgtly voice their thoughts and sentiments, all of this effort might be for naught.

While my thinking has changed and adapted somewhat over the years, I remain a strong supporter of slow-growth policies. I think that, by and large, Measure J/R is an important tool for the citizens of Davis. I think we should be extremely cautious about when and how we expand beyond our current borders.

At the same time, I fear that Measure J/R has cut off growth far more than originally intended. I’ll explain why shortly. I think that the community is in need of new revenue and a 200-acre innovation park is a good way to do that, while retaining most of the essential character of the community.

Although the progressive community controlled Davis politics, the heyday of the progressive era has long since passed. However, what we saw in the late 1990s with the emergence of progressives like Julie Partansky, Ken Wagstaff, Sue Greenwald, Lamar Heystek and Michael Harrington, was a reaction against the runaway growth of the late 1980s and 1990s.

It is not that the progressives have been a majority, but they have at times forged coalitions with other residents on various issues to form a working majority. And so, in the 1990s, the progressives and others were able to block the expansion of the Richards Underpass, they were able to pass Measure O and Measure J, and they were able to defeat Covell Village.

A group of progressives and, along with neighbors, in 2009 defeated Wildhorse Ranch. A group of progressive and anti-tax conservatives forced the water initiative onto the ballot and, while it passed after lengthy community discussion, they were also able to defeat the water rates at the polls in 2014’s Measure P.

It was a group of community members who joined with the progressives last year to push back against Paso Fino.

And so, while the progressives have aged and are smaller numerically, they are still a force to be reckoned with politically on certain issues.

There is a belief by some that the progressive community is simple opposed to everything. While there is a segment of the progressive community for which that may be true – I know some true zero growthers – I think the number of zero growthers is actually comparatively small. In fact, there are some in the progressive community who were willing to support Wildhorse Ranch. There were those willing to support the water project. There were those who supported a more environmentally conscious Paso Fino.  And there were those willing to support the innovation parks.

More and more, I don’t see anyone from the progressive community come to city council meetings. They come in small numbers to community outreach.

But do not be fooled – the progressive community still comes out and votes. And when city hall writes them off, they come back to bite them in their collective rear ends.

At the same time, I fear that the very things that the progressive community wishes to defend – and really where I join with them – are threatened by increasingly obstructionist tendencies. Right now, the progressives are just strong enough to be dangerous, they are just strong enough to block new development – joining with other citizens who, for various reasons, oppose projects.

There is a danger in that. The year was 1986, and Mike Fitch wrote, “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.”

As Mr. Fitch noted, Dave Rosenberg, then the mayor, acknowledged that the crisis caught Davis by surprise. “I think it’s fair to say that,” he said. “Mace Ranch changed everything.”

Not only would Mace Ranch end up being built over the objections of Davis, but it would lead to an explosive era of growth for Davis, culminating eventually with the passage of Measure J in 2000.

My view of Measure J and its successor Measure R is that there is no reason it should shut down growth. Since 2000, the only two Measure J projects were handily defeated, but both came with extenuating circumstances. Covell Village was poorly mitigated and planned, and was ultimately far too large, and came too close on the heels of other major developments. Wildhorse Ranch, while much smaller, came during the heart of the real estate collapse.

However, we have seen voters pass Wildhorse in a quasi-Measure J vote in the 1990s and Target passed narrowly in 2006.

What many on the progressive side feared is that the voters would fall into a complacency – willing to elect more moderate leaders, knowing they could always shut down development at the ballot. Some feared that developers with their deep pockets could overwhelm the grassroots opposition, who relied on their feet and the sweat of their brow.

However, the reality appears to be the opposite. As we saw with the pullout of SKK-Hines, developers are unwilling to risk millions and suffer a defeat at the polls. Indeed, as much as the Covell Partners have pined for developing the corner of Covell and Pole Line, they have yet to come forward with another proposal – even after working with citizens on a potential senior project.

There is still the lesson of 1986 that comes to rear its head again. Davis has cut off development. That forced UC Davis to develop West Village south of Russell Blvd to create more housing. UC Davis may well be poised to get into the innovation park game.

One possibility is that the innovation park businesses will simply move to Woodland or West Sacramento the way Monsanto and Bayer/AgraQuest have. Davis would lose out on the potential revenue, but at least the impacts will be minimal on the city itself. More perilous would be a large innovation park located on the campus, perhaps in Solano County. Building a substantial innovation park there would dramatically impact the city with renewed housing demands and traffic coming from I-80 and perhaps from the city itself.  Costs of providing services to the city’s residents and visitors would increase, but with no increased revenues to cover those increased costs.

I have come to believe that the best approach for the city is to allow 200 or even 400 acres of Innovation Park land to be developed. That would alleviate some of the pressure for commercial growth. It would generate revenue. And the process itself would be slow, with a build out over 20 to 50 years.

Increasingly I believe that, with the pullout of SKK-Hines, the pressure will fall on Mace Ranch Innovation Park and I think that park is going to have difficulty getting voter approval.

Something has to give. My hope is that a slow release from the innovation parks would be enough to release the pressure, but if that doesn’t come to pass, we could be looking at another Mace Ranch-sized explosion. UC Davis does not have to wait for the city – they have the ability to become a regional university or the ability to create their own city next to our own.

Either way, things are going to change – but how they change is increasingly going to be outside of our control. Once again, the crisis will come swiftly, without much more warning, and it will again demonstrate that growth-control policies are more fragile and more susceptible to damage from political forces beyond the city’s borders than officials had believed.

We have not passed the point of no return, but that means re-engaging the progressives for the benefit of our community.

—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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19 Comments

  1. Barack Palin

    “Commentary: Somehow the Progressive Community Needs to Be Re-Engaged”

    Davis Progressive 
    May 18, 2015 at 10:21 am

    here’s a problem: where are the progressives?  they seemed disengaged from the political process but will show up to thwart change.  somehow the community needs to reengage the progressives in politics.

    Hmmmm, I thought I’d heard that somewhere before.

      1. davisite4

        And so I will repeat my reply to Davis Progressive:

        davisite4
        May 18, 2015 at 3:38 pm
        If the community wants to engage progressives in the process, it needs to take their concerns seriously, not ridicule and exaggerate them.  It needs to convince people of the benefits of and the need for development, not just assume (as this article does) that more economic development is good and needed.  If you want to engage people you have to meet them where they are (not necessarily literally, although that can help) and actually listen to what they have to say and acknowledge their concerns.  I have not seen any such behaviors from the pro-development forces in town.  Then they are surprised when the progressives aren’t on board.

        And TopCat’s reply to me:

        Topcat

        May 18, 2015 at 5:25 pm
        And the pro industrial parks folks need to talk about the negative impacts of such development including more traffic congestion, loss of agricultural land, need for more infrastructure, more water usage, and the inevitable pressure for more housing that will result from more people in town.  If those of us that don’t want to see Davis go the way of Vacaville or Roseville are ignored, then don’t be surprised if there is a defeat when this thing comes up for a vote.

        1. Davis Progressive

          d4: i agree with you but i think you’re also missing a point – the progressives should want to engage, because not engaging leaves them reacting to what’s coming down the pike rather than helping to shape better policies.

        2. davisite4

          Fair enough, DP, but engagement is a two-way street.  I haven’t seen opportunities for progressives to genuinely engage.  The opportunity of going to an echo-chamber meeting where the presupposition of the importance of a peripheral business park is already determined doesn’t count.  The opportunity of being ridiculed on the Vanguard doesn’t count.

  2. Tia Will

    Right now the progressives are just strong enough to be dangerous”

    Or one could rephrase this to state “right now the progressives are just strong enough to be effective”.  As you know, I am not nearly as optimistic as you seem to be about the balance of good vs detriment to the community of the major “innovation parks”. I see them as essentially at least 25 -30 year old plans being sold as “innovation” because we have not previously had one here in Davis. By the time of the build out, we would be calling “innovative” something that has been around for 50 + years. This does not make me change averse.

    What it means is that I see much more room for smaller scale innovation such as is occurring with the Davis Roots, Jump Start Davis, and Pollinate Davis enterprises.I have attended a number of these events and appreciate the value of change. These kinds of smaller scale projects and others such as Nishi area a much better fit for Davis and should be where we are focusing our efforts.  I do not feel that the huge scale projects are good fits for our community and that current technologies are likely to lead to a decreasing need for these types of large land utilizers before they are even built. Once started on these very large scale projects there will be essentially no turning back even if a better way were to be determined in the future as it will be established as “already there”. This is essentially the argument that some have put forward in defense of our continued utilization of the private automobile even in the face of its demonstrated harm, and the fact that other transportation modes have been shown to be more effective in terms of time, environmental, and individual health in multiple other countries. Yet we cling to what is possibly the least effective and most damaging means because we have so much invested in it that we cannot or will not see a better way. I do not want us to choose a less than optimal model simply because it already exists in other places which some see as more profitable than Davis, and hold profitability and economic success as their highest value. This is essentially the argument that Frankly makes when he states that Davis is already a “medium sized city” so we might as well grow “as much as we can”. Because one has adhered to a boom and bust cycle in the past, is no reason to assume that we must always follow this pattern of development. I see a slower, more deliberate, incremental, non crisis driven view of development as a much sounder way forward for Davis.

     

    1. David Greenwald

      “Or one could rephrase this to state “right now the progressives are just strong enough to be effective”.”

      True. I was addressing a group of people skeptical of the progressive community so I made the comment more ominous.

      “As you know, I am not nearly as optimistic as you seem to be about the balance of good vs detriment to the community of the major “innovation parks”. I see them as essentially at least 25 -30 year old plans being sold as “innovation” because we have not previously had one here in Davis. By the time of the build out, we would be calling “innovative” something that has been around for 50 + years.”

      I think there are a couple of problems with your comment. One is the warning that pent up demand could produce less desirable results – by building an innovation park, we retain a good measure of control. The second is that you seem to be using “innovation” in a way that it was not intended. An innovation park is not necessarily referred to it being “innovative” but rather refers to it being a place where research and technology can come together to develop new products.

      1. SODA

        But David, I think some of us WANT both an innovation park as you describe AND it to be INNOVATIVE….in design, in character, in use, etc.

        A wow if you will.  Davisites often say ‘we’re a different town’; I expect whatever innovation park to be different too!  Tia, agree?

  3. Tia Will

    SODA

    I expect whatever innovation park to be different too!  Tia, agree?”

    I am not sure, but could be convinced of the merits of an “innovation park”. However, having gone to presentations on both of the projects and attended several informational events and forums on this topic, I was not convinced that what we were being offered was anything that would not have been considered “innovative” approximately 25 years ago. What I did hear again and again were minor tweaks to aging concepts dressed as innovation. It reminds me very much of what happened with the Cannery where much was made of cutting edge and little was done that was truly innovative. What was achieved was largely at the insistence of subgroups of citizens pushing for their favored perks in order to support the project. What we ended up with, as expressed to me by one council member, is a project that “people will enjoy living in”. I am sure that is true, just as I am sure that the presence of an “innovation park” would create a space that “some people will benefit from economically”. These two statements are not synonymous with what provides a net positive for the city as a whole.

  4. SODA

    Yes David, since they have bowed out, the things I have heard  about the Hines group do appear to indicate a track record of INNOVATIVE innovation parks.

  5. Frankly

    The use of the work “progressive” with respect to ideology, worldview, economic and social policy… started with Teddie Roosevelt and the Bull Moose Party.

    The primary definition from Dictionary.com:

    favoring or advocating progress, change, improvement, or reform, as opposed to wishing to maintain things as they are, especially in political matters.

    making progress toward better conditions; employing or advocating more enlightened or liberal ideas, new or experimental methods, etc.:

    I think that many Davisites that call themselves progressive are really just liberal conservatives.

     

  6. Tia Will

    the progressives should want to engage, because not engaging leaves them reacting to what’s coming down the pike rather than helping to shape better policies.”

    As someone who does not label herself ( being way more “progressive” than most people who I see so labelled, and certainly so “liberal” as to be off the usual scale for the US ), I definitely want to engage, early and often so as to be able to represent an unusual point of view. I feel that some “progressives” do not engage either because of the “echo chamber ” or the feeling that they will be ridiculed. I feel that others feel that there is no point in trying to engage and so their best strategy is to lie in wait and then obstruct.

    Either way, I prefer engagement in the belief that the best results are usually achieved when every one has the opportunity to fully express their point of view.

     

    1. Topcat

      I feel that some “progressives” do not engage either because of the “echo chamber ” or the feeling that they will be ridiculed. I feel that others feel that there is no point in trying to engage and so their best strategy is to lie in wait and then obstruct.

      Yes, I feel that there is a core group of people including the City Council and the Vanguard (David) who have made up their minds that what Davis needs is new industrial parks.  They are unwilling to look at the adverse consequences and they are unwilling to acknowledge that those of us that want Davis to stay a small, livable city are entitled to our opinions.  We are belittled as “old fashioned”, “obstructionist”, and against progress.

      If you want to engage the people who are against the industrial parks, then you need to start talking about the long term consequences of these actions.  What do you see as the long term future for Davis?  Do you want us to grow to 150,000 people in 20 or 30 years?  Do you want us to look like Vacaville or Roseville with urban sprawl?  Do you want I80 to be so congested with people commuting to and from Davis that there is daily gridlock?

      1. Jim Frame

        If you want to engage the people who are against the industrial parks, then you need to start talking about the long term consequences of these actions.

         

        This is the reason I favor looking at the Ramos parcel for business park development.  It has excellent freeway access (which means less traffic on city streets) and is surrounded by protected ag land.  There’s practically no chance (never say never, but this is about as close as it gets to never) of growth pressure resulting in adjacent parcel development.  It’s sizeable enough (in theory, anyway) to generate significant tax revenue, and it will offer (in theory, anyway) space for the kind of tech transfer businesses that UCD is spinning off.

        We still need to see details, and the developers will have to sell the community on the benefits in order to pass the Measure R vote, but the out-of-the-gate positives for this parcel are very substantial and unique in Davis.

  7. Alan Miller

    I believe the answer is quite simple:  there is no need to be engaged when there is no threat.  The J/R votes are so lopsided that zero growth to the city limits is assured.

    Having said that, I believe Nishi at least has a chance even with housing, as it will be largely perceived as student housing and therefore (true or not) less of a threat, and, I believe, business parks, properly framed, have a ghost of chance.

    I feel it’s a real shame Hines-SKK pulled out. I liked the team presentations and I believe they were being relatively straightforward with meeting participants.

  8. Tia Will

    David

    The second is that you seem to be using “innovation” in a way that it was not intended. An innovation park is not necessarily referred to it being “innovative” but rather refers to it being a place where research and technology can come together to develop new products.”

    While I agree with you that I am using the term in a way that is perhaps not intended by you, I will stand by the value of my calling these centers out for lack of innovation. I am relying on my experience and that of my partner, an expert in a narrow field of mental health for the state. Early in my career it was very common to get together for meetings in the belief that having many people “in the same room” was optimal for the communication of ideas. We also flew some of our experts around the country on a fairly frequent basis to attend conferences and for teaching sessions and the like. While we have not abandoned this strategy, there is a trend towards doing progressively more collaboration on line, through skype and other technologies. I believe that this will continue to be the trend of the future and will stand my ground that huge land consuming physical plants are gradually going to go the way of many brick and mortar stores and some malls which were huge economic engines years ago, but are now giving way to services such as Amazon and other on line companies.

    I feel that we have come very late to the “innovation center” party.

    If we truly want innovation, I simply am not convinced that these by now rather traditional ways of bringing people together are truly worth the physical land that they consume, the infrastructure needs, and the adverse environmental  and social consequences of their presence.

  9. Doby Fleeman

     
    Gripe sessions are fine to a degree, but uninformed gripe sessions – without a stated purpose – are a non-starter.  Everybody knows there will be a large contingent of Davisites who will be legitimately concerned about how the Innovation Centers are likely to change the face of the community – for better or worse.  I have argued, unsuccessfully for several years, for a Community Vision process designed to help us arrive at a more unified view of the challenges and opportunities ahead.
     
    We’re nearing the summer break, and a legitimate, comprehensive, and inclusive community visioning process isn’t likely to happen over some long weekend in the Fall.  From my standpoint, it really doesn’t matter what the environmental reports and financial consultants have to say, the crux of the conversation must necessarily shift to this focus on how our community is likely to be impacted – for better or worse.
     
    I’m continually amazed at the degree to which this aspect of the process is so regularly disregarded.  It truly is the cart before the horse.  Be that as it may, inevitably, there will be the need for this coming together and meeting of the minds within our community.  As I have asked before, how is the process imagined to be convened?  Who will be hired to direct the facilitation?  What should be our expectations from the outcome of such a process?
     
    This isn’t a new idea.  The issue was brought forward under Mayor Krovoza’s tenure.  It would have moved forward, but for the state of our city’s finances.  Funny how those pesky financial limitations keep poking their way into our conversation. 
     
    That none of our leaders is the least engaged on this aspect of their undertaking is what I find most amazing.

  10. Alan Miller

    More and more, I don’t see anyone from the progressive community come to city council meetings.

    The so-called progressive community would be there in numbers for all potential peripheral projects if J/R was not the law of the land.

    Now, they can emulate Alfred E. Newman: “What me Worry?”

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