In yesterday’s Vanguard, Mayor Pro Tem Robb Davis said, “Fundamentally what we’re trying to do is diversify our economic landscape – diversify the opportunities for businesses to come and stay here. Diversity the employment picture, so we don’t just have a couple of major employers, but we have a more diverse set of employers providing jobs in the future.”
He said that while “innovation” has been the main topic of conversation, the reality is that what we are trying to do is create more diversity.
John Meyer in his report on City Hall called for “doubling down” on economic development efforts. The report stated, “I believe the City should ‘double-down’ on its investment in economic development activities.”
“The City is developing a reputation of supporting business development,” he said. “A number of major businesses have chosen to locate in Davis. Should the City now dim its focus and investment in economic development, that action will be broadcast throughout the region by your competitors.”
John Meyer elaborated on the point that the “[c]ity has made phenomenal progress on Economic Development.” He made a point that he doesn’t think got enough regional play – the city of Davis beat out Chicago to get Mori Seiki. “It’s on an amazing trajectory,” he said. But he warned that we “have to make sure the foot is on the accelerator. The region is very competitive.”
Robb Davis noted that that comment got a lot of attention. “I think John is just saying that we can’t lose momentum. We need to keep looking hard to again figure out how we can nurture startups, how we can provide opportunities for them to grow within Davis, where we want to be. Attract companies that want to be here because of the proximity with the university. And just continue to do the heavy-lifting that it requires to create that diversified economy.”
“I think his statement is just born out of the fact that we don’t want to say that we’ve arrived,” he said. “The economic situation is improving, it looks like we’re getting our reserves back up, we’ve got it figured out. I think what he’s suggesting is that we need to continue working hard to create the diversified economy that is going to make us more resilient.”
He said that we should not sit back just because the economy is improving. “To me,” he said. “It’s about intentionality.”
“Rochelle and I have avoided saying that we have made a decision on one or more innovation parks,” he said. “That’s really true. I think what we’re both interesting in doing along with staff is really counting the cost.”
“We see an opportunity in the peripheral innovation parks – or else we wouldn’t even be discussing them,” Mayor Pro Tem Davis continued. “Now is the hard work or analyzing the benefits, analyzing the costs, not just the cost of putting them but the cost in terms of impacts and how we’re going to mitigate them, so that we can derive the maximum benefit that is foreseen.”
Robb Davis said that the Cannery was a tremendous learning experience in that we really learned about the need and importance of “driving a hard bargain.”
He said “if the city council votes to entitle one or more of the innovation sites, that’s the closest thing we come in a local government to printing money. We create tremendous potential value, not just for the developer (but) for our community.”
However, the lesson of Cannery comes up here because we need to, in the developer agreement, make sure that we make the negotiations, as Robb Davis put it, “nail down the terms so that we can derive the maximum benefit.” That is hard work, he believes.
“So doubling down to me is that we don’t lose site of the fact that we need to do our homework, we need to stick to the guiding principles that we’ve already laid,” he said. He said that in the next few weeks those guiding principles will be coming out. Then, he said, we need to stick to those principles.
Robb Davis strongly disagrees with the idea that the city is backing down from the innovation parks. “We are doing exactly what we need to do to move the decision point… To make it so that we have the information we need – economic, environmental – to make a decision.”
“We can’t move any faster,” he said. “If there’s less talk about it, it’s because we’ve done exactly what Meyer has suggested, we’re doing the hard work of moving them forward so that we can make an informed decision.”
He is under no illusion that this is not going to be challenging. The mitigation measures and issues like housing figure to be very difficult discussions that still need to be addressed. But he says that will be based on facts derived from the studies that are taking place now.
This will allow us to “make our best informed judgment about whether we should move forward and under what terms.”
He said that they are working to do exactly what the community wants: “A deliberate, transparent, development agreement process that is not subject just whims of people in the community, but is really guided by principles.”
He said, “I don’t see any backing down. I don’t see any backing away. I honestly don’t know where that fear comes from.”
Robb Davis returned to the point that this is not a done deal from his perspective. “I sit here today and I can tell you I don’t know how I’m going to vote on one, two, or three of these sites,” he said.
He explained that, right now, he does not have the economic analysis, the traffic analysis, the EIR, and doesn’t know what mitigations are going to be required and doesn’t know what the developer will be asked to do in the development agreement.
Instead, he said that there is a process that will enable staff to do the work required so that a solid decision can be made.
“The decision that is made has to be based on the best evidence that we have about the impacts and opportunities with this project,” Mayor Pro Tem Davis continued.
—David M. Greenwald reporting