Sunday Commentary: Housing Not Needed for MRIC

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

There have been missteps before on the path towards a June 2016 Measure R vote. Early on, the developer had asked for council to consider an exemption to Measure R and then an advisory vote on their project before, in the face of criticism from the community and council, backing down from those requests. As we highlighted yesterday, leading on the housing issue will complicate the vote, but in the end the decisions remain in the hands of the city council and ultimately the voters.

Unlike the actions of the city council on the Cannery CFD, the voters in Davis will get the final say on what happens to the Mace Ranch Innovation Center. The housing issue is an unnecessary distraction.

While there are good reasons to consider housing there are three key reasons not to. First, the city in its RFEI (Request for Expressions of Interest) made it clear that there was not to be a housing component. We can call that a political decision, but the expectation was this was to be a tech park – not a housing project. Second, there are reasons to believe that the voters might be willing to approve a tech park, but not housing. We have had two votes in which residents turned down housing and one vote in which the voters narrowly approved Target in the last ten years.

So, as we put it, why complicate matters? There is a third reason and it comes from the Draft EIR itself.

Section 4.14 discusses Transportation and Circulation. On page 33, they write, “The proposed project will generate substantial new travel demand related to commuting and other trip purposes associated with the industrial and retail uses on-site. The proposed project is estimated to generate 195,000 VMT at build-out.”

That is a good amount of additional VMT but, remember, build out is not to be for 25 to 40 years. They continue, “As such, it would increase City-generated VMT and GHG, not reduce them.”

But all is not lost. “However, as a concentrated employment center, the project applicant and future tenants have a unique ability to implement programs that promote travel alternatives to the single-occupant vehicle, control the fuel types and efficiencies of vehicles accessing the site, and collectively contribute to the goal of minimizing VMT and GHG growth.”

The EIR calls for the creation of a TDM (Transportation Demand Management) program “for the entire proposed project, including any anticipated phasing, and shall submit the TDM program to the City Department of Public Works for review and approval.” This program would reduce the number of vehicle trips and reduce daily and peak house vehicle trips.

On page 33 and 34, it has a long list of possibilities, including carpooling, busing, telecommuting, bicycling, car-share, and one of the ideas that I think we should pursue in the long term – enhancements to the bus service, Capitol Corridor, and the bicycling network.

Because build out is projected over a 25 to 40 year period, we can start working on new transportation systems to get people from where they live to where they work without ramping up VMTs.

If you think about it – will it be easier for the developers to go to the voters with an 850-unit housing project or to go to the voters saying they want to help invest in improvements to our regional transportation system?

At the end of the day, there are a lot of considerations that have to go into people’s votes to begin with. They must determine whether the city needs to develop its tech and innovation economy. They must determine whether such a proposed park will draw the businesses that will produce the promised revenue. They must make a calculation that the trade-off between new business and revenue is worth the loss of open space and agricultural land.

The developer can help this process by looking at innovative ways to handle transportation issues and thereby reducing GHG emissions and VMT.

I was reading the column by Bob Medearis in today’s paper. He is a retired member of our community, having founded the Silicon Valley Bank and worked as a retired consulting professor for Stanford University’s School of Engineering and at the UC Davis Graduate School of Management.

He writes that Mace Ranch is the “classic win-win opportunity, and it’s definitely an idea whose time has come for Davis, meeting all of the standards of an enlightened and progressive city.”

Mr. Medearis argues, “Technologies developing into viable business concepts here at UC Davis would have a local place to grow. People who want to work at those companies can live in close proximity to their facilities. And the city reaps the financial rewards from keeping these employers here rather than having them relocate as businesses expand.”

“It also would help established companies like Schilling Robotics that already are located here but need space to grow. With an approved Mace Ranch Innovation Park project moving forward, tech firms like Schilling can start making plans to stay, grow and hire more employees. Other companies engaged in innovation here and from around the world can make similar plans,” he continues. “We can continue as a community to express frustration and complain about the real effects of the city’s financial constraints on our cherished quality of life. Or we can choose to be participatory in the city’s intelligent growth and the university’s outreach.”

Mr. Medearis concludes, “I hope the City Council, when it has the chance, enables the needed discussions by putting the project on the ballot, and that Davis voters ultimately understand the project’s merits enough to approve it. If that happens, we can all look forward to a very exciting and more prosperous future for all who live in this community.”

There is still much that the community needs to know before we can get to that point, but it is clear we have a way to reduce VMT without the inclusion of housing. Hopefully the council can stand firm and help push a project to the voters that has a chance to win a majority vote.  The voters will then have the chance to decide if this vision is the one that is right for their community.

—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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5 Comments

  1. SODA

    “Unlike the actions of the City Council on the Cannery CFD, the voters in Davis will get the final say on what happens to the Mace Ranch Innovation Center. The housing issue is an unnecessary distraction.”

    Question: Will the voters KNOW the design, e.g., housing, no housing, type of housing, etc. at the time of the vote?

    “While there are good reasons to consider housing there are three key reasons not to. First, the city in its RFEI made it clear that there was not to be a housing component. We can call that a political decision, but the expectation was this was to be a tech park – not a housing project. Second, there are reasons to believe that the voters might be willing to approve a tech park but not housing. We have two votes in which residents turned down housing and one vote in which the voters narrowly approved Target in the last ten years.”

    Question: Is this true also of Nishi? I am sure they are planning housing and in fact implied  at the open house that that was the only way it ‘penciled out’ .

    1. David Greenwald

      “Is this true also of Nishi? I am sure they are planning housing and in fact implied at the open house that that was the only way it ‘penciled out’ ”

      Sorry, I guess I’m not following your questions here. Is what also true of Nishi? And housing was the only way what “penciled out”?

      1. SODA

        That ‘it was clear there was not to be housing’

        Is that true of Nishi?  I thought the Nishi developer stated that having housing was the only way the project penciled out.

         

        And my first question?  Sorry it got buried. Did not know that using quotes would darken the second quote section but not the first…..Is there a primer on it on the DV site somewhere?

  2. Anon

    There is still much that the community needs to know before we can get to that point, but it is clear we have a way to reduce VMT WITHOUT THE INCLUSION OF HOUSING. Hopefully the council can stand firm and help push a project to the voters that has a chance to win a majority vote.

    Very well said!

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