Innovation Center Draft EIR Concludes Housing Alternative Greatly Reduces Environmental Impacts

Internal View of Mace Ranch Innovation Center
Internal View of Mace Ranch Innovation Center

On Thursday, the city of Davis released the Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) for the Mace Ranch Innovation Center (MRIC), which begins the statutory 47-day comment period extending from August 13 through September 28, 2015.  The developers highlight conclusions that find that incorporating live-work housing into the project reduces its greenhouse gas and traffic impacts (to view the DEIR – click here).

The Mace Ranch Innovation Center is proposed on 212 acres located at the northeast quadrant of Interstate 80 and Mace Boulevard in Yolo County, immediately adjacent to the city limits. The project also includes the adjacent 16.6-acre Mace Triangle property owned by the city of Davis.

“The release of the DEIR is an important step in the City’s formal evaluation of the innovation center proposals,” said Assistant City Manager Mike Webb in the city’s press release. “The DEIR is an informational document that provides a detailed analysis of the potential for environmental impacts under multiple scenarios, and identifies measures to eliminate or minimize impacts.”

The DEIR analyzes impacts that may result from development of the project under different circumstances including Phase 1 of the Mace Ranch Innovation Center only, full project build-out, and project build-out in addition to cumulative growth. At the September 9, 2015, Planning Commission meeting, the city announced that staff will present a summary of the Mace Ranch Innovation Center DEIR and the public will have the opportunity to present verbal comments on the document. A schedule of additional city commission meetings on the DEIR is available on the city’s website.

The city is also analyzing other important components of the project that are not assessed in the DEIR. Additional analysis includes: fiscal and economic impacts, project design and architecture, community benefits, and overall project merit. Reports addressing these topics will be released soon.

“Community feedback is essential to the innovation center projects,” said Chief Innovation Officer Diane Parro. “City staff is scheduling additional public forums for the community to learn more and discuss the projects with City staff and project applicants.”

The press release from Gene Endicott of Endicott Communications, on behalf of the Ramco Enterprises and Buzz Oates Group of Companies, focused on the housing alternative.  They note that the 212-acre project “is anticipated to generate up to 5,882 jobs, generate millions of dollars in new revenues for city services like parks and public safety, and offer more opportunity for Davis residents to work where they live.”

“After many years of visioning, the City Council now has the critical environmental analysis of its first innovation project to consider,” said Davis Mayor Dan Wolk.  “This is very exciting.  The potential for thousands of high wage jobs and millions of dollars in new tax revenue for the city could make this project the cornerstone of our effort to diversify our local economy while remaining wholly sustainable.  Now is the time for the community to thoroughly review the analysis.”

Among the EIR’s key findings on a project alternative that includes on-site housing:

  • A 13 percent overall reduction in vehicular trips, with a 35 percent reduction during the morning commute period and a 32 percent reduction during the evening commute period.
  • A reduction in daily vehicle miles traveled of more than 25 percent.
  • A reduction in annual greenhouse gas emissions.

“Based on these findings, the study determines that the project alternative with housing is environmentally superior to the innovation center without housing,” the press release states.

According to the EIR, the mixed-use alternative includes up to 850 dwelling units which is “envisioned as a live/work environment that would allow some of the innovation center employees to live within the project site in proximity to where the employees would work.”

The developers further note that the “project incorporates drought-tolerant native landscaping to be maintained with recycled and other non-potable water sources, solar panels in parking lots and on roof tops to meet renewable energy sustainability goals, and robust broadband infrastructure.”

Sixty-five acres of the site will be preserved as publicly accessible green open space, including an agricultural buffer on the north and east sides of the project to protect the continued use of adjacent farm property.   The Mace Ranch project also is designed to provide and encourage the use of alternative transportation options, including bicycling, carpooling, bus transit, shuttles, car share and other technology supported services.

The developers further note that the economic benefit report will be made public in September.  That report analyzes the Mace Ranch Innovation Center’s economic benefits for the city and the region.

The project currently is expected to be considered by the city council early in 2016.  If approved by the city council, under the city’s Measure R it would likely then go to a public vote on the June 2016 ballot.

According to the transmittal letter to the city, “The DEIR identifies adverse environmental impacts that may result from development of the project. It also concludes that most of the identified impacts can be mitigated by specific actions called mitigation measures. However some of the adverse impacts are likely to occur even with implementation of identified mitigation.”

The impacts range from air quality to GHG emissions to traffic and circulation issues.  The transmittal letter notes, “This is not an unusual outcome. Given the size and scope of this project, this list is relatively modest. Virtually all large projects in California reach similar conclusions. This is important information for decision making but there is more to be considered.”

Again, according to the transmittal letter, there are seven project alternatives including: no project, reduced site size, reduced project, two offsite locations – one the Davis Innovation Center, and the other Covell Property, infill, and mixed use.

They write, “The Draft EIR identifies the Mixed Use alternative as the environmentally superior alternative that also best meets all of the project objectives. The DEIR notes that because this alternative includes housing it is not consistent with the City’s expressed goal of having only non-residential uses within the innovation center.”

They continue, “While the Mixed Use Alternative is identified as the Environmentally Superior alternative under CEQA the ultimate decision regarding feasibility of the alternatives lies with the City Council. The Council will make findings regarding the desirability of the proposed project and the feasibility of each alternative.”

The report notes, “The Davis Innovation Center was placed on hold by the applicant in May, with no indications of reinitiating the project presented thus far by the applicant. As such, we believe the Modified Cumulative Analysis presents a more realistic assessment of cumulative impacts.”

The modified cumulative analysis scenario assumes full build-out of: MRIC, General Plan, and Nishi. This scenario does not include the Davis Innovation Center.

The release of the DEIR is a massive document.  The mixed-use alternative alone is 219 pages.  The Vanguard will be analyzing this report over the next few weeks.

—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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20 Comments

  1. Barack Palin

    In my opinion if they add the housing element the project is DOA.  People were coming around to the idea of a new business park but to throw a curve and add housing will change many opinions.

    1. David Greenwald

      The EIR has to consider all impacts and reasonable mitigations. Ultimately this is a policy issue for the council and they’ve already basically said no housing. The curious thing is that the developer’s release really emphasized housing above all else. More on that tomorrow hopefully.

  2. Tia Will

     People were coming around to the idea of a new business park but to throw a curve and add housing will change many opinions.”

    One of my main objections to the business parks as proposed was the environmental impacts. If a mixed use proposal significantly mitigated that concern, I would be much more likely to support the project.

     

    1. Barack Palin

      Covell Village was shot down by 60% of the voters, Wildhorse Ranch lost to 75%.  By adding housing to the business park you bring in the anti housing votes.  Why would they want to take that risk?

      1. Davis Progressive

        they take a risk either way.  i assume the vanguard will do piece on the traffic analysis, but covell village project went down as much over traffic on covell as over size.  whr was in the heart of the recession, i don’t know that either are true tests of housing.

    2. hpierce

      If indeed, housing on-site is a “poison pill”, I can see where serious no-growthers would support housing in the measure that goes to the voters.  I am neither pro, nor anti growth, per se, I want to see ‘intelligent’ growth (to distinguish from “smart growth” which is a cult unto itself, with some truths, and many falsehoods/agendas).

      A lot of “environmental” impacts of projects can be mis-represented.  Let’s say you lived on a 4 acre plot. and owned one acre, with one road access point for the four lots.  If the other three lots are built on, you would see a 300% increase of TRAFFIC!… definitely a HUGE “environmental impact”.

      The physical environment is one thing… the “perception”of an individual’s or group’s sense of “their environment”, is entirely another.

  3. Davis Progressive

    the part of this i don’t get is why would the developer highlight the third rail of davis politics – housing.  housing is an important discussion, but why now?  why highlight it in the eir?  it’s like waving a giant red flag in front of the charging bull.

    1. Doby Fleeman

      Why would the “developer” highlight the third rail?  I think it might be more accurate to ask your question of the City Council.

      Proactively, the council may have felt it had no alternatives given that current “best practices” in research park design is now including housing components – and somebody was bound to bring it up.

      The interesting dynamic will be to see how the council manages the discussion of its competing goals of “more jobs + more municipal revenues” with it’s desire to lead in “sustainable best practices”.

      Bottom line, given our particular employment and tax base, there is a basic challenge for this community with respect to “sustainable municipal finances”.  It would seem, given the largely housing-centric (not jobs) design of the Nishi project, that the Nishi project could be consider the ying to the MRIC yang.  In other words, look at the two projects a parts of a whole and the community does end up with both – significant numbers of new jobs, new commercial tax base and more new housing.

      Presumably, it was beyond the scope of the DEIR to consider these issues in context of the community.

      1. Davis Progressive

        i’m not following you here.  i understand why the city wanted to put the mixed use alternative into the eir, i’m unclear as to why the developer would trumpet those results ignoring the context of the community.

        1. Doby Fleeman

          Busted! I hadn’t ready the article – just the headline.  Now I understand your question.

          Maybe they figure they’d take the positive approach in supporting community goals for greater sustainability, and give those supporters a unique opportunity – between Nishi and MRIC – to advocate for more housing.

  4. Tia Will

    BP

    Why would they want to take that risk?”

    My answer would be to get a better, more environmentally sustainable project. My purpose is to improve the community. Unlike some, I do not separate out the economic health of our community as a priority above all else. I see the economic, social, environmental, health and well being aspects of our community in a holistic way. Thus, the risk is just part of the process of the community deciding where its priorities lie.

  5. ryankelly

    Why not build the commercial part first and leave the housing until last and base it on true need?  My worry is that they build the residential component first, move people in, and then have problems building out and getting tenants for the commercial buildings due to possible complaints from the residential community.  Look at the opposition to building a Target in far East Davis.

    1. Davis Progressive

      that would require a separate measure r vote – might not be a bad idea, but if people start attacking traffic impacts and ghg emissions, it won’t help them on the election.

  6. Anon

    “Based on these findings, the study determines that the project alternative with housing is environmentally superior to the innovation center without housing,” the press release states.
    According to the EIR, the mixed-use alternative includes up to 850 dwelling units which is “envisioned as a live/work environment that would allow some of the innovation center employees to live within the project site in proximity to where the employees would work.””

    “Allow SOME of the innovation center employees to live within the project…”?  In other words, there is NO GUARANTEE ANY innovation park employees will necessarily live within the project. So it appears the “environmentally superior” determination is based on mere speculation.  Speculation that how many employees will live within the project?

    Furthermore, if the innovation park fails to attract business tenants right away or in the future, what is to stop the developers from building more houses than businesses?  Which is more lucrative for the developer, housing or business – especially if there is a business tax assessment district set up to guarantee a tax revenue stream to the city?

    I personally don’t have any problem with the inclusion of workforce housing from an idealistic standpoint, but I can see some very troubling practical aspects in this particular situation.

    1. hpierce

      Ahhhh, yes… to have ‘guarantees in life’… that seems like a base-line expectation in Davis today.  Not sure it’s realistic… at the Target site on second Street… there was to be a ‘family restaurant’ at the entrance… now occupied by B of A.  Once Chase bought and built across the street, and absent a strong interest in the restaurant site, here we are.  [btw if you deal with banks, why?  That’s dumb… you should be looking at Credit Unions]

    1. hpierce

      Frankly, you’re on the right track… the EIR is a ‘disclosure’ document.  It is neither the ‘law’, nor ‘scripture’ in its content, suggested mitigations, etc.  It is a tool, nothing more, nothing less.  About 5% of the electorate know this.

  7. Jim Frame

    Based on these findings, the study determines that the project alternative with housing is environmentally superior to the innovation center without housing

    I’m very skeptical about the emphasis on housing. A quick look at page 33 of the draft EIR (on a tiny phone screen, so I may have missed something) shows that implementation of a transportation demand management system would reduce the VMT impact to a less than significant level.

     

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