For too long the city of Davis has been polarized and, as a result, paralyzed on the issue of growth. Even as we go forward here, with the Mace Ranch Innovation Center slowly moving towards a potential spring 2016 vote, there are doubts about the viability of an innovation park and whether one can pass Measure R muster.
While Measure R is blamed for making it difficult to pass a project – expensive and uncertain for developers – it gives the community a say in what this community will ultimately look like.
Like Brett Lee, I support the idea of an innovation/tech park for Davis, but my ultimate support will “depend” on what that tech park looks like.
Last year we conceptualized four sets of voters. Those in the first category will support any development proposal that gets put on the ballot. Now that’s perhaps more theoretical than not, but remember, as much as Covell Village went down to defeat, 40 percent of the voters voted yes. There is another class of voters that are simply anti-growth and will vote against any project.
I believe that the future Measure R votes will come down to a middle set of voters. There is a group of people who are generally supportive of the innovation park concept but want to see the details before signing on. And there is a group of people more skeptical of the concept that will have to be convinced to vote for it. These are category 2 and 3 voters.
I would put myself in the second category and, based on Brett Lee’s column from last week, he is pretty close to where I stand.
On the upside, he notes that it will create high-paying jobs in Davis which will help reduce and alleviate the problem of hundreds or thousands of residents who leave Davis each morning headed east or west to work. Moreover, it will help bring in additional customers to help existing businesses, and, finally and from my perspective most importantly, it would provide much needed revenue to the city to enable us to maintain a high level of city services.
But we can get lost in this positive vision. As Brett Lee put it, “We must clearly identify and mitigate the negative aspects of a tech park.” He adds, “Poor design is difficult to mitigate; therefore, any proposal must have a well thought out design that includes planning best practices with a heavy emphasis on sustainability.”
This is exactly where I stand, and where any innovation park proposal will earn or lose my vote.
I am a slow-growther at my core. I opposed Covell Village, as I believed that it was too large, would change the nature of the community too much, and that it had unmitigated traffic impacts on core infrastructure with limited ways to mitigate the impacts.
I take to heart the concerns that residents have of entitling 200 acres for projects that will project 40-year build outs.
At the same time, I believe that, if constructed properly, an innovation park can augment and enhance our community. I see the activity and need for space arising out of the technology transfer from UC Davis that is revving up its economic engines to help fuel economic growth in the entire region for the next century.
Sacramento this week made Entrepreneur Magazine’s “hot startup cities” list, and part of that, if not most of that, is based on its 18 agriculture and food tech startups and the $40 million grant from Mars candy to help UC Davis build its World Food Center.
I am not asking that Davis become the home of all that activity, but, as we saw in the report from a few weeks ago, Davis is a center of startup and technology transfer activities. At the same time, I hear from those in the commercial property industry that we simply lack the facilities and the space for these startups to come in and, as we know, we lack the space for the native industries like AgraQuest to growth.
So for me, a 200-acre tech park is a compromise – it is probably not enough to house the kind of activity that UC Davis figures to generate, but it is enough to tap into some of it, get some of the revenue and help put our community on firmer feet, while helping the region become a new center for innovation and technology.
And I am willing to go to 200 acres if we can do it the right way.
To me the right way is that we build with a heavy emphasis on sustainability. That means we create environmentally efficient design, helping to be energy efficient and net carbon neutral, and we look toward alternative energy sources to power some of the features.
But that also means we have to mitigate transportation impacts because what good does a net carbon neutral building do for us if we simply are driving people across I-80 and forcing them to drive 40 miles a day to get to work?
That means if we are not going to go mixed use, we work to advance our transportation system. We take advantage of the Capitol Corridor train system, improve our road design to mitigate traffic impacts, and tap into existing infrastructure for bikes and pedestrians and existing public transit networks.
As Brett Lee put it, “It would be reasonable and proper to expect that the project proponent (developer) would cover the lion’s share of these costs.”
And we have to have assurances that this project will generate the revenue we need. As Brett Lee puts it, “The revenue-sharing agreement with the developer must be made concurrent with the developer agreement, and any agreement on a community facilities district. There should be no surprises and no ‘oh, we will work that out later.’”
The city council in my view lost a lot of trust in my circles by allowing the New Homes Company to dictate the terms of the CFD (Community Facilities District) after the fact. Fortunately, with a Measure R vote, we have leverage we never had on the Cannery to get it right.
If we can design this the right way up front to deal with the major issues that are before us – carbon emissions, transportation, and concern about opening the door to future housing developments – then I think the project can win a Measure R vote.
It will not be easy, but the aim of the campaign should be to address the concerns of those in categories two and three, knowing that those in category one will support the Measure R vote and those in the fourth category will oppose it.
Brett Lee’s contribution here is starting to formulate a blueprint for success. There is much work to do, however, and a short period of time in which to do it.
—David M. Greenwald reporting