It was just a year ago, when departing Chief Innovation Officer Rob White presented a staff report for the council to act on for a proposed Request for Expressions of Interest (RFEI) on the Innovation Center, that Councilmember Lucas Frerichs expressed concerns about the process, “in particular with regards to the county.”
He noted that this was taking place “on a number of properties in the county. In terms of process, has this been… have we had these conversations with the county thus far? I’m not sure that has occurred and frankly I think it might need to occur as a local governmental partnership with our county partner in this case, before we… I’m all in favor of fast-tracking this and getting out to the public, we definitely need to get this moving.”
Shortly thereafter, at a discussion at the city-county two-by-two, Supervisor Don Saylor raised the prospect that the innovation park discussion was a developer-driven process. He asked that the city and county establish a community engagement process.
Supervisor Saylor noted that a few years ago the county proceeded with a general plan update studying the same areas we are discussing now, “and the city was not interested in that, in fact I was one of the people on the city council at the time so I know some of the discussions that happened and the community response to that consideration.”
“So for the city to proceed brings up some sort of question about what we’re doing here,” he continued. “A developer making a plea in a private office is not a community based process.”
Before closing, however, he would add, “I don’t want this to be interpreted as opposition to economic development in this area.”
Just over a year later, the entire scene has dramatically shifted. Dirk Brazil was at that meeting back in May of 2014 as the county’s Deputy CAO (County Administrator, or chief administrative officer), he now sits as Davis City Manager. And Rob White will be leaving the city at the end of June and he will be replaced by Don Saylor’s Chief Deputy, Diane Parro.
The deck of cards that existed at the meeting on May 1, 2014, was completely shuffled with Mayor Joe Krovoza leaving, Dan Wolk ascending to Mayor and Robb Davis joining as mayor pro tem.
The county has been looking for ways to get additional revenue from the city in exchange for facilitating the annexation process. Back in December, the county held a discussion about getting a larger take from annexation processes, although they did seem to downplay the impact of a new policy on Davis – setting their sites on Woodland.
The bigger question is political and that is where it gets complicated. While Supervisor Saylor made it clear he was not an opponent of the innovation parks, he plays a complex role in it all.
One source told the Vanguard that there was little question that Supervisor Saylor is looking to push development to the county, where it came become a source for revenue for the cash-strapped entity. Don Saylor was very adamant from the start that West Village would remain outside of the Davis City limits, which put a damper on any possible move to annex the university-developed housing project.
That source told the Vanguard that, from the start going back to discussions over Mace 391, any other peripheral development needed to be secondary to Nishi.
While the Davis City Council itself sets city policy, you now have a city manager with a county orientation and Mr. Saylor’s chief deputy coming in as chief innovation officer – and it seems very likely that we will see a shift in prioritization of the peripheral innovation parks as opposed to Nishi and the downtown.
Indeed, City Manager Dirk Brazil told the Vanguard as much on May 1 of this year, when the Vanguard met with the city manager and former City Manager John Meyer. At that time, Mr. Brazil explained that it was not he was opposed to the innovation parks, but rather that he felt that the city’s resources had disproportionately shifted to the peripheral sites and away from the downtown.
He wanted to make sure that the downtown was taken care of and, in his words, “figure out the balance.”
However, others familiar with Mr. Brazil’s views have been more explicit, telling the Vanguard that Mr. Brazil does not see a need for either of the innovation parks, believing that the city should focus on Nishi and the downtown.
This comes at a time when we saw one of the proposed projects – the Davis Innovation Park – put their project on hold, while community voices like James Zanetto and Judy Corbett suggested that we need to put a hold on peripheral innovation parks, arguing that perhaps Davis voters are not ready to approve one or more large peripheral developments.
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.”
So, instead, they focus inward at sites like PG&E.
But the shift of balance of power to the county with the hiring of Dirk Brazil, and now Diane Parro, opens another possibility. There was always a fear on the part of the city that, with the end of redevelopment, the pass-through agreement would wither and lose influence. Clearly, it signals that Don Saylor’s view of economic development will be much more influential in the current regime.
The county could seize on that to build their own innovation parks on the edge of Davis without the need for voter approval. However, one of the reasons that this possibility was downplayed was that the county would still need access to services like sewer and water in order to build these parks and that gave the city the leverage it needed to preclude such a move.
However, with a more favorably disposed leadership team from Davis, the door may be open to an arrangement where the city would lease or rent the water and sewer, much as it does to places like El Macero.
To be sure, the Davis City Council remains in control of policy decisions, but the movement towards the county here opens a lot of doors for more subtle shifts in policies. Stay tuned.
—David M. Greenwald reporting