Council is just about to crank up again – I know some on the council will not like my saying this, but in the nine years on the Vanguard, the period from August 2014 to July 2015 has been the quietest by far in terms of city council issues. That is going to change.
There are a number of huge city-wide issues on the near horizon and those will be bolstered by the arrival of another city council election.
One of the biggest will be the Mace Ranch Innovation Center, which currently has released its draft EIR (Environmental Impact Report) with a potential June 2016 vote. The community group Davis Advocates for Responsible Planning is already calling for an extension of the public comment period which will close on September 28, arguing that is inadequate for a project that is larger than the city’s central business district and more than twice the size of the Cannery development. They want another 45 days.
The developers are pushing a mixed-use housing alternative, which may also slow down the project. And there are some who believe that this is by design, a way by the mayor to delay the vote from June 2016, when he faces an Assembly primary, to 2017, when he would be off the council. Most of this is just idle speculation at this point.
There are really a number of important discussions centering around the issue of the innovation parks that bear further and more dispassionate discussion.
There are legitimate reasons to pursue a discussion on housing. First, there are the VMT (vehicle miles traveled) and traffic impact considerations. Even if you do not believe that everyone who would utilize the proposed rental townhouses would work at the innovation center, structuring the homes as rental and not single-family homes makes it more likely.
Given the shortage of housing in Davis and the need for high-density homes, including housing with an innovation park proposal could strengthen the proposal.
The problem, of course, is that many believe that housing is the poison pill – either rationally or irrationally. I would like to see polling on the issue, but I do believe, even if polling shows people reacting favorably to housing, it may not anticipate the campaign dynamics and how that interplay will work itself out during a Measure R vote.
I urge us as a community to start thinking bigger. Bigger than the issue of housing/no housing. Bigger than the issue of growth/no growth.
As I noted earlier this week, we have a fundraiser/community discussion for September 2 on the benefits that Davis derives from entrepreneurs, startups and tech transfer. Some people have questioned why we are not having the discussion of the need for space – and part of the reason for that is, before we even get to the land use questions, I think we need to understand what the benefit of economic development is to the community.
Clearly, a key driver has to be the budget and finances – the need for the city to derive tax revenue in a model that is unlikely to support peripheral retail. But I think there is more there than that. Part of the problem is that, if you do not work at the university, where do you go to get a high-paying skilled job? The answer is the Bay Area or Sacramento, and so one of the things we see every morning is a huge number of people driving into Davis to work at the university with another group driving out of Davis to work elsewhere in the region.
As we analyze the impacts of things like greenhouse gas emissions and VMT, we need to be cognizant that there is a jobs-work imbalance in Davis that is driving some of this.
On the other hand, I think we need to be mindful that, no matter how much housing we add in Davis, we end up with more expensive housing than neighboring communities. I think we need to start looking at housing and jobs more at the regional level and think in terms of specialization and economies of scale.
Davis cannot compete regionally for low cost housing, but it can dominate in terms of intellectual capital, high quality employee base – in short, the knowledge economy. The university is going to continue to play an increasing role in developing research that it wants to pump out into the private sector and the market. And those jobs could quickly land in Davis and take root. We have already seen many examples of those companies. That is really what Davis can do better than anywhere else in the region.
The nexus between jobs to housing and space is transportation. The EIR analyzes transportation and circulation. In my discussions, one of the issues pointed out to me is the impact on I-80. The view is that, if I-80 is hit with a four to five percent increase in traffic, Caltrans is going to be a critical factor.
The EIR notes that I-80 provides three travel lanes per direction and carries approximately 120,000 vehicles per day, based on information provided by Caltrans. The EIR notes that, for Caltrans, “freeway operations are evaluated based on their mainline volume density. Freeway segments with peak hour volumes that do not exceed capacity (LOS [level of service] E) are generally considered acceptable.”
One of the possibilities is that the developers would have to add vehicle lanes to I-80 in the form of a carpool lane that could mitigate the impact on the freeway. While that seems extreme, I was told that the cost might only be about $1 million per mile, which for a project of this magnitude, even at five to ten miles, would only be about $10 million.
However, there are other possibilities, as well, if we are looking to think big. One would be adding a third rail line. And while there is cost there, imagine UC Davis, the City of Davis, the developers of this project, and other private interests going in on a third rail line with a platform stop at Mace. The costs for such a project might be workable and we might be able to establish a new transportation system.
If the region really wants to double down on economic development, coming up with answers that can resolve the nexus between housing, transportation and the location of jobs is something that should be resolved on a regional level, with this just being one small piece.
If we are looking at a project that has a 25- to 40-year build-out horizon, we don’t have to fix these problems all at once. We can develop a plan over time that is feasible, while still maintaining the critical and essential features of our community.
—David M. Greenwald reporting