On Friday, Mayor Pro Tem Robb Davis laid out thoughts about “the Ends of Economic Development Efforts.” He posed three questions, (1) What is the City of Davis’ role in helping develop and nurture the innovations flowing from UC Davis? (2) What are the “ends” of economic development in Davis? (3) What are the appropriate means for achieving these ends?
But the discussion really focused on a fourth unasked question about peripheral growth. The mayor pro tem addressed this in a comment on Saturday morning: “Personally, I will remain very conservative about peripheral growth (I made that clear when I ran for office and I still feel the same). Our farmland (despite what some posters here continue to insist) IS a global resource.”
Robb Davis presented his comments on the collaboration between UC Davis and HM.Clause. But as Jim Gray pointed out in a comment, “The Innovation Lab that you delivered your remarks at is not in the Davis City Limits—it is actually located in the un-incorporated Yolo County. The collaboration that you were acknowledging is actually not taking place within the boundaries of the City of Davis! The region and the global agriculture are benefiting but the infrastructure investment in this case was not made in Davis. The University and Clause had to not only go off campus but also out of the City to house the Innovation Center.”
Jim Gray’s perspective is: “Infrastructure and investment and innovation is taking place around us but increasingly Davis is missing out on that opportunity because of poor land use planning. We argue and bicker about growth – and yet if we are not careful we will not leverage our real resources and promote community and economy.”
Mr. Gray’s comment brings to mind the news that Kaiser is proposing building a medical center of 1.2 million square feet in the railyards in the northwest corner, while there is a proposal for a soccer stadium that would hold up to 25,000 in the northeast corner of the railyards.
I asked someone familiar with the situation how that would impact a potential World Food Center in the railyards and some felt it made it more likely.
As another poster points out, “There is some balance to be struck with land use based on the regional and local need.” That poster argues that blocking development on Davis’ peripheral land results in development of land elsewhere with Davis suffering from lost opportunities.
Increasingly, I find myself as centrist in this discussion. I think there are merits on both sides of the equation. The key is finding a way to balance the need for economic development with the need to preserve prime agricultural land, which the mayor pro tem rightly points out is a global resource.
Toward that end, I was a strong opponent of Covell Village and would continue to oppose housing on peripheral agriculture land. I understand we have housing needs, and I am supportive of high density housing on Nishi and near UC Davis, which would minimize the need for addition VMTs (vehicle mile traveled) for students and professors commuting to campus.
I also believe that the two sites designated as potential innovation centers are good choices. While I understand that the residents of the Binning Tract are concerned about traffic impacts and infrastructure, the land proposed for development north of Sutter-Davis is actually relatively poor agricultural land. If we have to develop land on our periphery, this is a good choice.
It will take infrastructure improvements and mitigation measures, but I think it would have been feasible had the applicants not pulled out.
On the other hand, the Mace 200 land is promising because it is already surrounded by land in conservation easement, lessening the possibility for sprawl and leapfrog development.
The need for Davis to develop a reliable tax base is driving some of my support for these projects, but as I read the discussion yesterday, I was struck by how Davis-centric my thinking has become.
Part of the problem we face is that we are no longer just a city-island of Davis, but rather part of a regional ecosystem – borrowing the parlance of economic development. As such, we need to think more as a region and less as the city of Davis.
One thing we have to understand is that UC Davis has an ambitious plan to become an academic power. Davis is its immediate neighbor, but UC Davis is increasingly thinking regionally and beyond.
The World Food Center makes some sense going into the railyards where it can be in an urban center. On the other hand, there is also a realization that part of the mission of the World Food Center will be educational, and for faculty and students there is a reluctance to cross the causeway to teach and attend classes.
That suggests that there might be dual functions for the World Food Center – some of which might be better situated for the main Davis Campus and some for the concept of a third UC Davis campus that, as the university put it, would “bring together policy, education and outreach at the nexus of food and health, will be part of a long-range strategy that will require the acquisition of dedicated resources and development of partnerships.”
On a regional level we have several issues to consider.
First, we have the housing issue. There has been some talk about the possibility of housing and a mixed-use component at the innovation parks. Many are reluctant to touch the third rail for a Measure R vote – and perhaps housing is not best situated in Davis, with lack of available land, restrictive land use policies, and the accompanying high costs.
We continue to believe high density campus or near-campus housing (like Nishi) are the order of the day. But to the extent that the region can improve its transportation network, perhaps housing is something that should be considered regionally and placed in locations where land is plentiful and costs are cheap.
That requires a regional approach to dealing with transportation needs. Simply jamming more cars on an aging and increasingly outmoded freeway system seems to be the hallmark of poor planning and limited thinking.
From the university’s perception, it needs space for its goal of technology transfer. If it cannot rely on the city of Davis for innovation centers and space for startups, then UC Davis may look regionally to Woodland, West Sacramento, or the Sacramento railyards, but it could also look inwards to Solano County and lands that UC Davis already owns.
From Davis’ perspective, that is not a great solution. We still get hammered with the traffic and other impacts but do not get the direct benefit of the economic development.
As we move forward we need to look at a balancing of needs: protection of agricultural land remains important, development of our tax base remains important, balancing our local and regional needs will become increasingly important as well.
However, my fear is that as long as we remain paralyzed in the first-level land-use debate, we will not be able to look at this problem on a regional basis and solve it for the best interests of Davis and the region as a whole.
—David M. Greenwald reporting