Analysis: Two Issues Loom on Mace Ranch Innovation Center

MRIC-1

Responding to feedback from the public last week, the Davis City Council will take up the issue of the timing of the EIR. Several members of the public spoke during public comment time to ask for an extension in the public review for the Environmental Impact Report (EIR), citing the massive size of the documents – some illustrating that size by holding up the more than 4000 pages worth of documents.

While there are those who see these as simply delay tactics, the Vanguard believes that there are legitimate cases to be made for delay.  As we noted last week, it may be easy to chalk up the call for the delay as a tactic to kill the project. But it is a mistake to write off the public commenters as strictly opponents. Our analysis suggests that there is a large mix of people joining in the call for delay – some have opposed every project but others are more open-minded and willing to support good and well-planned development in the community.

But the bottom line is that the EIR, 4000 pages or so, is cumbersome – and more cumbersome than just about any other project. Not to grant a 45-day extension is to invite warranted criticism that the project is being rushed before the ability of the citizens to reasonably and adequately evaluate the findings of the EIR.

On the other hand, council has to be cognizant of the timeline. There is an expressed desire, at least by the developers and perhaps the city, that the project go on the June 2016 ballot. There may be some political candidates who would prefer not to have to run alongside the initiative, but we see no reason why June 2016 is a drop dead date. We also see no reason why an extension would necessarily hamper the vote on that date if it is deemed necessary.

The far bigger question than the extension of the EIR is the inclusion of housing. We have had a number of our commenters make the statement that they would consider the innovation park – but only without housing.

When the city of Davis in May of 2014 issued its Request for Expressions of Interest (RFEI), one of the guiding attributes was “Acknowledgement of community’s current desire for no residential to be included.” The decision was based on extensive discussions in the community and the widespread belief by many that the inclusion of housing would change the terms of discussion and undermine the possibility of the project gaining Measure R approval.

However, the developer is pushing the EIR finding. In a press release they write, “A draft environmental analysis released today on the proposed Mace Ranch Innovation Center in Davis concludes that incorporating live-work housing into the project reduces its greenhouse gas and traffic impacts.”

They continue, “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.”

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

Last week, residents like Eileen Samitz argued, “The only reason I was considering this innovation park concept was because of the economics and realizing we need to come up with a better solution for how we’re going to support the city and not depend on housing as being temporary fixes.”

Against that backdrop, a poll conducted by polling firm JMM Research of 300 likely voters found that 69 percent of residents favor the Mace Ranch Innovation Park with only 11 percent against, and 57 percent of respondents said adding housing was either very or somewhat important to them. Forty percent said it wasn’t important to them.

While the poll was taken in April, we have to take these results with a good amount of skepticism. Sixty-nine percent approval seems extraordinarily high for this type of poll. Only 11 percent disapproval leads us to healthy skepticism.

For example, a year ago in April, a poll released by the same polling firm showed 60 percent supporting the plan with 29 percent opposing. So we are to believe that support has significantly widened in a year’s time? At the same time, the city’s fiscal picture has improved, the city has lost one of its projects, and opposition has seemed to grow to the innovation park concept.

But even accepting the 69-11 numbers, there is still a red flag here. The inclusion of housing seems to drop support from 69 to 57 percent – or at least that is one possible interpretation. What is beyond dispute is that support for housing is 12 percentage points weaker than support for the overall project.

If you believe that this is going to be a razor-thin margin for passage, why introduce a potential barrier?

Our reading of the full EIR suggests that there are better strategies for dealing with VMT (vehicle miles traveled) and GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions as well as traffic and circulation problems. The development of a transportation plan that can help people commute more efficiently to the park is a way to reduce the impact of VMT and GHG, while avoiding the thorny issue of on-site housing.

Given the long buildout rate of the project, the city has a number of years to address these issues before either become an insurmountable issue.

—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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34 Comments

  1. Gunrocik

    A housing component will kill the project, plain and simple.  Not even worth discussing.  It will be hard enough to get the development approved as a stand alone commercial project.

    While the survey numbers are useful in determining whether or not to at least attempt the project, the developer and city need to remember that the favorable numbers will drop precipitously once the campaign starts.

    I recall that the water project had 6-1 yes/no ratio before the opponents started their campaign of deceit and falsehoods.  You must have a huge initial lead on any vote in this town prior to the campaign — because you can be assured that the obstructionists in this community know no boundaries when it comes to negatively influencing the public.

    The energy should be focused on making sure the project generates significant revenue to the City coffers and making sure there is a transportation management plan in place to mitigate traffic issues.

    If the facts are overwhelmingly on your side, you have a chance to for victory–as long as their isn’t a scintilla of a chance of housing being included in the project.

     

    1. CalAg

      Someone pointed out to me that the MRIC unit count is approximately the same as the Nishi unit count.  Both parcels are strategically vital to the City.  Neither parcel has a competing site that can deliver the same benefit. Both sets of property owners can sit on their holdings forever if the City doesn’t cooperate. Is 850 units now the price the City has to pay for progress.

      1. Don Shor

        Maybe they just thought it was the number they could get away with.
        I seriously wish three council members would just come out and say they won’t vote for housing at Mace, and put an end to this nonsense.

        1. CalAg

          A “they got it so we want it too” scenario?

          I agree that it’s time for the council members to step up. This gambit has poisoned the well and the original MRIC proposal is now in jeopardy – IMO.

  2. Frankly

    I’m so irritated with this drumbeat of housing for the Mace innovation center, I could spit.

    It is really an ironic situation… we lack enough creativity and business sophistication in our population to adequately handle development projects, so we squander all of our opportunities to inject more creativity and business sophistication into our population.  And then this leads to us squandering all of our opportunities to close our dismal revenue gap due to the lack of local economic activity.

    What a bunch of Podunk Nervous Nellie chumps we seem to everyone except ourselves.

    I don’t know Ramos personally, but this push for housing in the project appears to also fit the low-sophistication model.  I get the sense that he and his project team must have a hobby of shooting themselves in the foot with the gun of Davis reactionaries.

    See here for how the more knowledgeable and sophisticated communities inventory the criteria and amenities that employees and business owners are attracted to.

    http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2012/12/silicon-valleys-exclusive-shuttles.html

    http://www.bizjournals.com/sanjose/news/2015/04/15/icymi-see-how-several-silicon-valley-tech.html

    Too bad we peed away Mace 391, otherwise we could have used it in some horse-trading for a creative transportation solution.  Think about that for a moment.  We gave away a city asset that could have been leveraged to help fund an innovative shuttle service for the business parks.  And now without this we are left trying to control a developer that owns his land and is lacking shared goals for creative transportation solutions that only take money out of his pocket.

    The woodshed is still waiting for those responsible for that idiotic decision.

      1. Frankly

        thanks DP.   even a broken clock is right twice a day.

        And I would add… if the Hines group hadn’t pulled out of the West Davis Innovation park, we would have had that more sophisticated developer that could effectively partner with the city for creative transportation solutions.

    1. Jim Frame

      Too bad we peed away Mace 391

       

      If we hadn’t locked Mace 391 into a conservation easement, I would have actively opposed a business park — or any other development — east of Mace Boulevard.  I suspect many others would have as well, making the Measure R vote likely to fail.  The *only* reason I support the concept of a business development on Ramos/Bruner is the fact that it is surrounded by a conservation easement.

      1. Frankly

        That sure is an expensive tonic to satiate your unfounded fears.

        And it is all mighty irrational if you think about it.

        You demanded that a valuable city owned peripheral property be peed away into a permanent ag easement so you would be comforted enough to vote yes on development of an adjacent parcel even though the original parcel would ALSO have to pass a Measure R vote before it could be developed.

        The city did not need to give it away for a $500,000 loss.  They city could have retained ownership and put it in a long-term lease with a farmer.  The city could have put part of it in ad easement to provide a buffer and use part for resident open space access and also to use for horse trading to do other creative things for the city.

        1. Don Shor

          The city could have built an amusement park on it. The city could have sold it to Tsakopolous for a housing tract. The city could have built Bay Meadows East there.
          Or the city could have proceeded with the intended use, which was to put it into a perpetual ag easement. And thus increasing the likelihood that the 200 acres to the south could pass a Measure R vote and get developed into a business park.

          That sure is an expensive tonic to satiate your unfounded fears.

          The fears are not unfounded.

          And it is all mighty irrational if you think about it.

          And none of it is irrational.

        2. Frankly

          First…

          The fears are not unfounded.

          And none of it is irrational.

          Then…

          The city could have built an amusement park on it.

          The city could have sold it to Tsakopolous for a housing tract.

          The city could have built Bay Meadows East there.

          Right

          1. Don Shor

            You recognize sarcasm when you see it, right?

            The fears were not unfounded. Opposition to the vague proposal for Mace 391 was not irrational.
            I am happy with the compromise that has conserved Mace 391 but will allow development of Mace 200. Jim Frame and others are apparently also happy with it. Evidently compromise is not in your lexicon.

  3. Anon

    On the other hand, council has to be cognizant of the timeline. There is an expressed desire, at least by the developers and perhaps the city, that the project go on the June 2016 ballot. There may be some political candidates who would prefer not to have to run alongside the initiative, but we see no reason why June 2016 is a drop dead date. We also see no reason why an extension would necessarily hamper the vote on that date if it is deemed necessary.

    There are at least two good reasons for keeping to the June 2016 ballot.  First, Schilling is ready to bolt for another city if Davis is unwilling to provide it with space to expand. Second, the city is beginning to lose momentum on the innovation park concept, with the exit of Chief Innovation Officer Rob White and Davis Chamber of Commerce CEO Matt Yancey. To delay past the June 2016 ballot is to invite the opposition to gain momentum. Is that really what we want to do? I don’t particularly have any problem delaying the public comment period for the EIR another 45 days if and only if it will not delay a June 2016 ballot.

    As to including housing in the project, IMO that is a nonstarter for the following reasons:

    1. The city needs economic development that generates substantial tax revenue, not new residential housing that will require new costly city services.

    2. Including housing in the project invites more opposition, jeopardizing approval on a Measure R vote.

    3. Since residential housing is more fiscally advantageous to the developer then building for businesses,  there is more of an incentive to increase residential housing in this project over economic development over time.

    4. And lastly, there is no way to guarantee that those who are employed in the innovation park will be the persons residing in the residential housing inside the innovation park.

    1. Frankly

      Well said.

      And related to your last point.  When we go back to 1975 and track Davis’s housing growth it is significant and exceeds the region.  But we failed to keep up with commercial development during that same time because before we were against more housing development, we rejected the need for commercial development being fat, dumb and happy thinking we could just continue to sustain ourselves on the soft money of the university.

      So what happened to all that housing we developed before we put on the Measure R brakes?  Davis has become a bedroom community with a higher than average percentage of residents working outside of Davis than found in other comparable communities.

      And there is nothing to prevent this trend from continuing.  Today it is more than 50% and so we would expect the same for the new housing.

      If we build more housing in the innovation park, it will be populated with that same high percentage of people working outside of Davis and commuting.

      So, don’t build the housing and more workers will live outside of Davis and commute to Davis for their work… versus build the housing and more residents will work outside of Davis and commute outside of Davis for their work.  Not any material difference in carbon output and traffic.

      The main difference is that the housing would be a net drain on Davis’s finances… probably wiping out much of the fiscal benefit of the businesses that locate in the park.  And we would waste valuable commercial acreage using it for the housing… also reducing the business revenue benefit to the city.

      It is easy to understand why the developer wants to include housing… it provides him a greater return.   It is also pretty easy to understand why residents and city leaders support adding housing to the Mace innovation park… they want to kill the project.

      It will take 20 years to populate the park.  In that 20 years there will be turnover in the housing market and we will become less of a bedroom community and more of the employees of the park will take over ownership of existing housing stock.  We do not need to add housing to the Mace innovation park.  It is a bad idea.

    2. SODA

      Interesting that we have not heard anything from Schilling for a long time when that was the hurry up rhetoric at the start.

      If we still had a CIO I would hope he would approach the Hines group saying now might be a good time to renter the arena since some of us are still enthusiastic about the innovation park ideas but soured on the politics and housing.

  4. CalAg

    However, the developer is pushing the EIR finding.

    It’s a mistake to frame the housing controversy as “the developer” doing a bait and switch.  The whole system is to blame.  The City Council approved housing as one of the required EIR alternatives.  The EIR consultants (reporting to the Planning Director) did all the technical studies necessary to facilitate the current housing debate.  The City Manager and senior city staff dropped the ball and allowed the draft EIR to come forward full of analyses that have clearly been “cooked” to support the housing agenda.  I would be surprised if he applicant hasn’t been actively lobbying at least some of the City Council on housing, maybe since the very beginning (although they will all deny it).

    This didn’t just appear out of thin air.

    That being said, our high performance city government has painted itself into a corner.  We now have one applicant that is well positioned to hold the economic development future of the city hostage.  Brazil and the Council are going to be forced to capitulate on housing, circulation, bike/ped connectivity, special tax assessments, sustainability, etc. if they want to get this project in front of the voters.

    If the Council is really going to allow housing in innovation parks, they should reopen the RFEI process and see what other proposals come forward.  Under the current circumstances, sole sourcing this to the Ramos group is a huge mistake.

    1. Jim Frame

      Brazil and the Council are going to be forced to capitulate on housing, circulation, bike/ped connectivity, special tax assessments, sustainability, etc. if they want to get this project in front of the voters.

      I might agree were it not for Measure R, which was specifically designed to forestall any need for capitulation.

      When in doubt, people will vote no.  It wouldn’t take much of a campaign to hose MRIC at the ballot box.

       

      1. CalAg

        … if they want to get this project in front of the voters.

        They are caught between the applicant and the voters. The applicant can outlast the city.

        I agree that MRIC+housing=DOA.

      2. hpierce

        And Jim, am thinking (from what you’ve written immediately above) you’d like to see the proposed project “hosed”, with or without a housing component.  Fine.  But please have the honesty to admit the current application does NOT include housing.

        1. Jim Frame

          And Jim, am thinking (from what you’ve written immediately above) you’d like to see the proposed project “hosed”

           

          Not sure where you got that idea, but it’s patently untrue.

  5. CalAg

    Another thought.

    The housing vs technology park debate during the first Cannery application might inform the current MRIC debate.  During the Cannery application the position of the City attorney was that the project had to have an “equal-weight EIR” if the Council wanted to have two alternatives to pick from (50/50 vs 80/20).  This was why the Lewis group pulled out – they refused to agree to support an EIR that did a full analysis of the two alternatives.  As I understand it, in a typical EIR, the only alternative that gets a full analysis is the preferred alternative

    This begs the question.  Is the housing alternative in the current MRIC draft EIR sufficient to give the Council a legally defensible environmental document?

    If the Council agrees to housing, is the City then required to go back and beef-up the environmental analysis of this new preferred alternative?  This could add another 6 months to the timeline.

    1. hpierce

      CalAg… looks like you are against the project AS PROPOSED by the applicant, whose application does not include housing.

      You write, “If the Council agrees to housing…”, they cannot ‘agree‘ on housing on an application that has not proposed housing.  I suspect you know this, but are throwing stuff on the wall to see what “sticks”.

      Please be honest, CalAg.

      1. CalAg

        hpierce: I support the project as initially proposed by the applicant, so you’re barking up the wrong tree. What I don’t support is the applicant’s recent effort to get the Council to change course and direct staff to proceed with the project+housing alternative. The fact that this is even being discussed by the Council illustrates what a weak negotiating position the City is in.

  6. Jim Frame

    But please have the honesty to admit the current application does NOT include housing.

     

    (Good thing hpierce is on the job, or I’d surely revert to my regular dishonest nature.)

    1. hpierce

      Your honesty in professional matters is beyond reproach.

      I react to what I see as folk deliberately, or by inference, tying a housing component to an application that does not not include housing.  The EIR is supposed to consider, along with the proposed project, no project, other reasonably likely off-site changes in land use, and an environmentally superior project.  As it relates to traffic, a housing component probably has to be considered/discussed as a ‘environmentally’ superior option, even if it is a bad idea for political or other reasons.

      1. Doby Fleeman

        Perhaps one weakness from which most “evaluations” suffer – they are never required to comment on their long-term fiscal impacts to future budgets – that being the problem of another generation and not their concern.

        1. hpierce

          No, there was no apparent reason to tout it, except as a trial balloon. As I’ve heard it, the staff pushed for consideration of housing as a ‘smart growth’ concept (pushing the idea of ‘compact design, live/work, etc), and via the polling etc., the applicant was checking to see if agreeing to consider the staff’s concepts would help or hurt the project @ time of a Measure R vote.  Sort of a “due diligence”.

        2. Davis Progressive

          i’ve heard that the developer wants housing.  it makes the project easier to finance.  it makes it easier to mitigate environmental impacts.  they want it.  on the other hand, i think they will back down just as they did on the timing issue with community push back.

      2. CalAg

        There was no CEQA requirement that the mixed use alternative – as proposed by staff – be considered.  The purpose of alternatives analysis is to determine if there is a feasible way to achieve the basic objectives of the project, while avoiding impacts.

        The staff’s mixed use alternative (presumable their “mitigated” alternative), has the same number of commercial square feet as the proposed project with the addition of 850 units. So we have the additive impacts of new housing plus all the commercial. The claimed environmental benefits don’t pass the smell test. Certainly not enough to justify the current talk about a possible course correction to include housing.

        1. hpierce

          To be clear, I am NOT advocating for ANY housing component.  I believe the project description should remain as submitted.  I just don’t support contorted arguments.

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