I read a recent letter to the local paper which started out, “We seem to be at a crossroads, where our town needs a lot more tax dollars. I’m not comfortable with this situation, and I wonder how and why we got here. We’re an affluent community, yet our roads and other infrastructure elements continue to crumble, with no end in sight. I therefore assume that’s why we’re seriously considering ‘innovation’ centers such as the Mace Ranch project.”
It is striking to me that the community at large is finally coming to terms with the fact that three factors have led to an affluent community struggling. First, we made a series of bad decisions fiscally in the last decade that a lot of people either do not seem to understand or do not want to acknowledge. Second, the Great Recession has hammered everyone, and across the state infrastructure and roads are crumbling – Davis is no longer immune but it is hardly unique.
Finally, Davis does not generate the type of tax revenue that can and will help it to get out of this. We as a community do not seem to want a bunch of peripheral retail. Therefore, utilizing high tech and the university as a vehicle for economic development seems like a good approach and one that fits in well with this community – ag-tech, biotech, robotics, medical technology, environmental and green technology.
The writer then goes to what is a strange pet peeve that some people have: “First of all, using a fancy name doesn’t change the fact that this proposal is just a business park, with possible housing attached.”
It is seems unlikely that housing will be attached at this point, but the bigger point that needs to be addressed is the business park name. An innovation park is a kind of business park. It is a specific type. We are not looking to build a bunch of offices and warehouses. We are looking to house research facilities. Facilities that transfer the research developed at UC Davis into the market.
I do not understand why people have gotten so bent out of shape over the name “innovation park” – call it a research park or a high-tech park, but it is not projected to be a simple business park with a group of office buildings or warehouses put together.
“It’s a massive development, with absolutely no verifiable acknowledgment of the water and energy certain to be used by resident companies and homes.”
That is part of what we have to get to understand – what are the impacts? That is why we do things like EIRs and attempt to mitigate impacts.
“Worse yet, this project will cover beautiful, rapidly shrinking farmland.”
200 acres is a big development. On the other hand, it is a development that is already surrounded by a conservation easement. It is also possible that some of the food and agricultural technologies developed here will help make our farming more efficient and less water dependent. There is no certainty, but we are on the cutting edge of technologies that might help in world food production.
They continue, “Yes, the project would produce much-needed tax dollars, but at the unacceptable expense of what we hold dear about our town. We have a charming community, with a population of well-educated citizens. We have lots of green space, and the perimeter is surrounded by farmland. That should remain as is: Our community planning should not be changed in order to build this — or any other — ‘innovation center.’
“If we truly need more income to cover our expenses, we must find another way. If this requires higher property taxes, then so be it. We must be willing, as a community, to sacrifice some of our hard-earned dollars in order to keep our town in better physical — and fiscal — shape.”
I think this will be the debate that emerges – whether we are better off trying to develop business or increase taxes on property owners or utility users.
Part of that debate should be an understanding of the need for high end jobs for people who live in the Davis. If this is really a project that can generate $1 billion in economic transactions, then merely raising taxes is not going to help.
I think part of the problem goes back to the lack of community-based discussions with the larger community on the need for these kinds of innovation park developments – and the benefits that such development would have for the community, not just in the form of revenue to the city, but in terms of economic growth to the region.
Finally, I wanted to briefly discuss another argument I saw in a column in the local paper this week. It has to do with the certainty of change. There is no doubt that change is inevitable and that the community is not going to remain unchanged from how it was 30 years ago. As much as I am a slow-growther at heart, I would argue that change is a good thing because the community, when I moved here, had a lot of shortcomings – as it does today.
But aside from the reality that time marches on, the rest of the argument is really a straw man argument. The question is not whether we will change, but rather what kind of change we want.
Davis is going to have to make changes to meet its fiscal challenges. The direction of that change is not inevitable, however. We could choose fewer city services. We could choose to get rid of our parks and greenbelts and allow our streets to reduce to gravel and potholed dirt roads.
We could choose to finance our city services through a series of taxes – sales, parcel, utility user.
We could choose to finance our city services through peripheral retail and big box.
Finally, we could choose to attempt to create innovation centers –and once again, all innovation parks are business parks but not all business parks are innovation parks. An innovation park is a specific type of business park.
In any case, the voters are going to have decisions to make. Change is inevitable, the type of change is not.
—David M. Greenwald reporting