Commentary: Council Deals with Draft EIR, Now Needs to Take Housing Off Table

MRIC-1

The Davis City Council on Tuesday made the decision to extend the EIR deadline for the Mace Ranch Innovation Center by 45 days. In doing so, they acknowledged that they were pushing the Measure R vote back by up to six months. The council was probably headed in this direction anyway, after community members complained about the massive volume of the documents released two weeks earlier, but Mr. Ramos’ concession made it an easy decision.

For his part, Mr. Ramos is likely trying to take potential thorny issues off the table. He told council, “Public participation is crucial. Heard it loud and clear last week that (the draft EIR) is a big volume. We put a lot of resources behind that and we want to get it right. That’s what’s important – to have a great project for this community.”

He would later add, “It’s important that we don’t short-circuit public participation.”

As we noted on Monday – that is issue number one for the Mace Ranch Innovation Center. Despite polling that the developer believes shows strong support for the project, the campaign is not underway yet and numbers change drastically as key issues get highlighted.

Some may recall that early polling on the water project showed it passing heavily – when the campaign was done, the measure still passed but it was relatively close. Moreover, a year later, opponents of the projects were able to rescind the water rates, forcing the council to pass modified water rates in a compromise agreement.

The other issue that the Mace Ranch developers need to consider is housing. This is a far bigger and potentially more thorny issue than the timing of the EIR comment period.

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 developers are 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.”

The developers have polling conducted by JMM Research, of 300 likely voters, which 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.

There are of course two ways of looking at those figures – one is that they have strong support for the project and also support for housing on the project. But it may be, depending on how you read those numbers, that what we actually see is support for the project dropping by 12 percentage points when housing is included.

Given that the overall 69 percent support is expected to decline over the course of what is expected to be a tight and strongly-contested Measure R vote, 57 percent support seems alarmingly problematic as a starting place when housing is considered.

To date, on the value of housing itself, the analysis seems to be a wash.

Some of the concerns raised by opponents of housing can be easily handled. There is a concern that people who would rent the housing in the innovation park would not necessarily work there. That is entirely possible, but probably the housing could be structured in such a way to discourage students from renting the townhouses, while at the same time structuring them in such a way that they would not be single-family homes.

The timing of housing could be written into the baseline feature to prevent the developer from building any housing until thresholds are reached on the commercial components. Under Measure R, the baseline features of a project could not be changed without another vote and so the developers cannot use housing as a Trojan horse to turn the project from a research park into housing.

But none of those facts will stop potential opponents from pounding on the housing issue if they see vulnerability.

Moreover, while housing could potentially help make the project greener in terms of vehicle miles and transportation issues, it is not clear that we need to go that route.

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 onsite housing.

While it was a good idea to include a mixed-use project alternative, the council and the developers should avoid a potential polarizing issue. The developers have done a good job of backing off more contentious policies – going back to the idea of a Measure R exemption and an advisory vote, and more recently with the EIR comment period extension – and they need to do the same here.

Housing is indeed a problem – but we believe it can be better addressed regionally, with better transportation to the site that can avoid people hopping on the freeway and the traffic congestion of I-80.

In the meantime, the council and developers should quickly take this issue off the table and remove another point of contention that could threaten to derail the project.

—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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39 Comments

  1. Jim Frame

    but probably the housing could be structured in such a way to discourage students from renting the townhouses while at the same time structuring them in such a way that they would not be single-family homes.

    I haven’t yet heard a viable proposal for ensuring that MRIC housing serves only MRIC employees.

     

    1. Anon

      Yes, I would like to hear the Vanguard’s proposal to ensure only innovation park employees reside in innovation park housing, because according the the EIR, it is projected that somehow 85% or more of the housing will be purchased by innovation park employees.

      Just to add another interesting point, there is a constant drumbeat that those who work in Davis should be able to afford to live in Davis.  So let me pose this question: Should those who work as maids in the Beverly Hills mansions be able to afford to live in Beverly Hills?

  2. Davis Progressive

    i think housing is going to become a lightning rod for the naysayers and as this piece indicates – 57% of 300 voters is not a solid enough margin (just outside the margin of error) to comfortably propose it.  clearing as many of these touchy issues as possible is necessary.

  3. Michael Harrington

    Where’s the mitigation?  I do not accept that this project gets to use the Mace 391 public acreage as “mitigation.”

    I spoke with Mr. Ramos the other night after the CC meeting, and he says he will produce the mitigation map soon.  I suggested he should lead with that.

    1. Matt Williams

      Mike, Mace 391 is already fully in a conservation easement and is owned by a farmer who is farming it. It doesn’t qualify under the rules of mitigation, because its LESA (the Land Evaluation & Site Assessment Model administered by the USDA) score would be lower than the MRIC land.

  4. Barbara King

    Is a guaranteed ride home program included in the possible mitigations for traffic impacts at the MRIC?

    Here is a description of what a guaranteed ride home program does and a link to the source of this description.

    Guaranteed Ride Home (GRH) provides commuters who regularly vanpool, carpool, bike, walk, or take transit with a reliable ride home when one of life’s unexpected emergencies arises. Commuters are able to use GRH for personal emergencies and unscheduled overtime up to four time per year. Best of all, the ride home by cab, rental car, bus or train is free (excluding gratuity, fuel and insurance charges).
    GRH is designed to rescue commuters who are worried about how they’ll get home when an emergency arises. Knowing there’s a guaranteed ride home allows one to use commuting options like transit and carpools with peace of mind and confidence.”
    http://www.commuterpage.com/pages/tools-resources/guaranteed-ride-home/

    1. Barbara King

      To answer my own question, yes the EIR does include a guaranteed ride home program as part of the mitigations for “Increase in Vehicle Miles Traveled.”

      ” 4.14-6 IncreaseinVehicleMiles Traveled. . . .

      The Master Owners’ Association (MOA) shall be responsible for implementing the TDM Program.

      (a) The MOA shall be responsible for funding and overseeing the delivery of trip reduction/TDM proposed programs and strategies to achieve the AVR objectives, which may include, but are not limited to, the following:

      . . .

      (5) Parking fees set at levels sufficient to incentivize alternative modes;

      . . .

      (9) Guaranteed ride-home program for ridesharing; . . . ‘

      I was surprised to see parking fees as a traffic impact mitigation item.  Perhaps this could be changed to exempt at least the low paid workers such as janitors who will not have the option of using public transit if they work the night shift and who may not be able to pay parking fees.

      I am also concerned to see that the guaranteed ride home program seems to be limited to people who participate in ridesharing and evidently excludes people who bike, walk, or take public transit to work.

      1. Barbara King

        Dang, my edit took too long.

        In the section about the MOA’s requirement to mitigate the Increase in Vehicle Miles Travelled, I see nothing about who will be watching to see if the MOA fulfills this duty or what the penalties could be if the MOA does not fulfill this duty.  Might this be in some other part of this document?

        (The quotes in my 2:50 pm post are from pages 2-87 to 2-88 of the excutive summary of the draft EIR.)  It is available at 
        http://documents.cityofdavis.org/Media/Default/Documents/PDF/CDD/ED/projects/Innovation-Centers/Mace-Ranch/Draft-EIR/2_Executive%20Summary.pdf

         

  5. Eileen Samitz

    First, I want to commend the City Council, particularly Rochelle Swanson, for unanimously supporting the extension of the EIR review period. The EIR is massive and needs more time for review by the public.

     Second, this article is excellent and defines the issue well, particularly that Ramos need to take the housing off the table and sooner than later, before opposition builds to what will become growing negativity against the entire project. As I have stated before at Council and has been covered here in the Vanguard, the entire reason to explore the possibility of a tech research innovation park was to see if this would help the City economically long-term and to have our finances more sustainable.  A major concept here was to change an unsustainable reliance on building housing, which in the long-term increases costs to the city in services and infrastructure.  The attempt to introduce high density housing which would use up valuable acreage on a site which was criticized early on as being “too small in the long term” for a high tech innovation park, is astonishing and hypocritical. The further annoying and incorrect assumption that the majority of the residents in that housing would be innovation park workers is ridiculous since legally housing cannot be reserved or restricted to any working group.

    If Dan Ramos wants and honest discussion about the Mace Innovation park then he needs to cease and desist on trying to change the original intent of our community considering a commercial-only tech  innovation park into a “bait and switch”  situation for his desire to now try to make it a mixed-use project.  Since housing creates more costs and impacts, adding it would also negate the original reason for building the innovation park which was to raise revenue, not create more costs.

    1. Anon

      If Dan Ramos wants and honest discussion about the Mace Innovation park then he needs to cease and desist on trying to change the original intent of our community considering a commercial-only tech  innovation park into a “bait and switch”  situation for his desire to now try to make it a mixed-use project.  Since housing creates more costs and impacts, adding it would also negate the original reason for building the innovation park which was to raise revenue, not create more costs.

      I would probably tone down the above statement, removing the pejoratives, to say:

      If Dan Ramos wants maximum community support for the Mace Innovation Park then he needs to move away from changing the original intent of the City Council considering a commercial-only tech innovation park for his desire to try to make it a mixed-use project.  Since housing creates more costs and impacts, adding it would also negate the original reason for building the innovation park which was to raise revenue, not create more costs.”  

      Said that way, I would agree with the sentiment being spot on!

    1. David Greenwald

      I believe that the consultant recommended they put housing as an alternative. I believe that the the developer likes it because of financing issues. I can’t say for sure which came first.

    2. Anon

      My understanding, and I could be wrong, was that it was legally required to consider a housing component in the EIR.  Not sure about this, but that is what I was told (cannot remember precisely who said this).  It would be good to nail down this detail.

  6. Robb Davis

    A bit of background on the mixed use alternative.  Please note the following from the December 16 Staff report:

    Housing was not recommended for inclusion in project(s) during the RFEI process, nor are the applicants proposing housing as part of their proposals. However, CEQA requires that the lead agency test alternatives that could reasonably reduce significant impacts of the project. Staff anticipates that the project EIRs may identify significant impacts related to vehicle miles traveled, and air quality and greenhouse gas emissions. As a result, staff has concluded that a mixed use alternative will likely be necessary to satisfy CEQA requirements. There is a growing field of study that demonstrates that mixed uses can lower the traffic, air quality, greenhouse gas, energy efficiency, and related impacts of separated land uses. This alternative will test the possibility that a mix of innovation center and residential uses will generate lowered amounts of regional traffic, vehicle miles traveled (VMT), and greenhouse gas emissions as compared to the business-only proposals.

    During the review of the Guiding Principles with the various City Commissions, questions about the inclusion of a residential component were raised by the Bicycling, Transportation, and Street Safety Commission, the Natural Resources Commission, and Cool Davis.

    The final paragraph is important.  During the process of developing the guiding principles (approved by the Council at the December 16 meeting), the a/m commissions/groups raised the question about housing.  Staff recommended (Rob White being the staff member who first suggested it to me during a meeting of the subcommittee) that we could deal with the issue as one of the CEQA-required alternatives (note: CEQA does NOT require one of the alternatives to include housing but staff’s recommendation was that the mixed use could be).

    On December 16th the Council approved the EIR alternatives–including the mixed use alternative–in a 5-0 vote.

    Here is what the DEIR says about the mixed use option (summary):

    The most environmentally superior alternative that appears to best meet the project objectives is the Mixed Use Alternative. The Mixed Use Alternative would result in greater impacts than the proposed project related to BOD loading at the wastewater treatment plant and aesthetics related to increased building heights. However, as compared to the project, this alternative will achieve reductions in daily VMT and GHG emissions, lower AM and PM peak hour vehicle trips, fewer impacts at Mace Boulevard, and elimination of impacts related to population and housing (see Table 2-2). This alternative is thus environmentally superior and meets all of the objectives of the City and applicant. However, it should be noted that because it includes housing it is not consistent with the City’s expressed goal of having only non-residential uses within the innovation center.

    While the Mixed Use Alternative is identified as the Environmentally Superior alternative under CEQA, the ultimate decision regarding feasibility of the alternatives lies with the City Council…

    I will note one other point.  Approximately one month after submitting their proposal the Davis Innovation Center team asked to meet with me and expressed an interest in pursuing a housing component as part of their project.  They felt that their own research into the direction innovation parks around the country were going, as well as their own sense of what would create the most appealing site, led them to believe that their site would benefit from housing.  The also felt it might be key to traffic mitigation (a large concern for their project).  They even invited me (and I assume other CC members) to visit mixed-used developments that project team members had designed and built in and around mid-town Sacramento.  I add this to make the point that it is not just the Ramos team that was interested in a mixed-used alternative on an innovation site.  Those familiar with issues related to funding such large projects understand why.

    1. Frankly

      Robb – Thanks for this detailed explanation.

      “Bicycling, Transportation, and Street Safety Commission, the Natural Resources Commission, and Cool Davis.”

      Too bad we don’t have as many commissions in the “fiscally-responsible” role.

      It is also too bad that some, if not all, of these commissions typically side on anti-business and anti-growth.

      What are your opinions on this?  Do you think we should include housing in the Mace Innovation Park, or not?

    2. Don Shor

      This alternative will test the possibility that a mix of innovation center and residential uses will generate lowered amounts of regional traffic, vehicle miles traveled (VMT), and greenhouse gas emissions as compared to the business-only proposals.

      I question the underlying assumptions that would lead to that possibility when you factor in the uniquely tight Davis housing market. To put it another way: the housing provided wouldn’t be as likely to sell to the people working there as they might be in a market that had more inventory. The housing inventory in Davis is SO low that it distorts every assumption you would make about jobs/housing balance.

    3. Don Shor

      It’s because of things like this that observers tend to feel that ‘bait and switch’ is going on.
      A business park was proposed.
      Housing is discussed at some level, but it’s not clear who suggested it.
      It gets onto the council agenda, but it’s not part of the actual proposed development.
      Staff moves it forward, but it’s not clear if staff actually supports it.
      Council discusses it, but it’s not clear if any council members actually support it.
      It’s not even clear if the developer wants it, proposes it, or even wants it considered, but seems to.
      Council: please fish or cut bait. Preferably cut bait. This discussion is harming the prospects of getting a business park at Mace.

      1. Robb Davis

        I hear you Don but, honestly, I think it is responsible to analyze various alternatives (and not just because CEQA requires it).  Please have a look at (and critique) the assumptions made about housing in the DEIR.

        I am not clear exactly how the mere fact of analyzing something is “harmful” at this point (guess I need to come hang out at the nursery sometime soon ;-).  We do not even have the comments on the DEIR, or the final economic analysis.  We have added 45 days to the review process and will be vetting everything with a variety of commissions.  So, we have a ways to go.  People here are demanding a full analysis of the project and want to examine it closely.  I think that is exactly what we are engaged in.  I know that is what I am doing.

         

        1. Don Shor

          Scrolling through the 122 pages of the Executive Summary, I do not see how many of the residences they assume will be owned or occupied by people who work in the business park.

  7. Eileen Samitz

    Robb,       
     
     While I do appreciate that you are coming forth with information about how the housing component became introduced, I am not surprised to hear that Dan Ramos is quite anxious to move forward with this idea.  I think that the concept of making this project more “green” is quite a clever maneuver to try to bring in housing, however the residents of these housing units cannot legally be determined by the City. You cannot “reserve” the housing units for workers at the innovation park. Also, how many residents would feel comfortable in living in the same building that cancer research is occurring in? If you restrict that use, you diminish the intent and flexibility of recruiting users for the innovation park for research. The objective of having an innovation research park was help the City’s finances, not to create more residential which would bring more costs to the City. This was not to be a business park, but a research park.

    While I understand that the concept of adding high density housing to the Mace Innovation Research Park may be well intended, any movement in this direction, in the name of making the project “more green” is just a manipulation that the City Council, hopefully, is wise enough to not be baited into believing.

    1. Jim Frame

      how many residents would feel comfortable in living in the same building that cancer research is occurring in?

       

      From what I’ve seen in the DEIR, that wouldn’t be a problem.  They’re not looking at putting residential on top of commercial, they’re looking at building two little residential subdivisions within the site.

       

      1. Rodney Robinson

        In conversation w/ Ramos and his team, the impression I got is that most if not all housing is intended to be live/work w/ the residents living above the work spaces.

        1. Jim Frame

          I only have the drawing in the DEIR (linked above) for reference.  It shows a clear separation between residential and R&D, manufacturing and hotel/conference.  A bit of the residential appears to be mixed with some of the ancillary retail, which I infer to be residential-over-commercial, but that only accounts for a small percentage of the residential.

          Separated residential could still be live/work, but I expect it’d be for artisans or professionals rather than the tax-heavy stuff I’d really like to see.

  8. Michael Harrington

    I understand that the 391 is not appropriate for use by Ramos as his project’s legally required mitigation.  What I meant by my comment (probably poorly worded) is that I don’t want the Ramos Mace project to get any breaks with their legally required mitigation location and quality because 391 is already there, so Ramos doesn’t have to do much else but to provide yet another block of junk land in the county that no one wants to develop anyway.

    I would like to see the fiscal numbers, and how the on site housing would work.  I am not knee-jerk against housing on that site, as a complement to the main commercial.  I don’t know how those units could be restricted to on-site workers, but maybe there are strategies that can mitigate that shortcoming.

     

    I do know that since housing is so profitable, if Ramos wants housing, there is going to be an even higher demand on benefits flowing back to the public from the upzoning benefit that the developer will get.  Nothing is for free.

    1. davisite4

      What I meant by my comment (probably poorly worded) is that I don’t want the Ramos Mace project to get any breaks with their legally required mitigation location and quality because 391 is already there, so Ramos doesn’t have to do much else but to provide yet another block of junk land in the county that no one wants to develop anyway.

      Well, I certainly agree with this.  And so I agree with your previous comment that we ought to know which land they propose to use for the 2:1 mitigation before we sign on.

      1. Matt Williams

        we ought to know which land they propose to use for the 2:1 mitigation before we sign on.

        I too agree with this point.

        With that said, is the locally required mitigation ordinance an EIR issue or a Measure J/R Baseline Features issue?

        1. hpierce

          Since the “2:1 required mitigation” is a City thing, not a State thing, it has nothing to do with CEQA, per se, except as to the loss of ‘prime ag land’, if any (environmental), but is part of the EIR as ‘context’.  As a City policy/ordinance.  Arguably, it should be part of the ‘baseline’ features, as part of the vote.  CEQA does not require a Measure R approach.

  9. Robb Davis

    Frankly – Even though staff did not list it, I am pretty certain the issue was also raised in the FBC discussion.  I went to all of the meetings about the guiding principles and am almost certain the FBC raised it.

    I definitely hear and take to heart the concerns expressed here by you, Eileen Samitz, Anon, Don Shor and others (and in several emails I have received) on the issue of housing.

    I should also note that housing was discussed very briefly in two places in the first economic impact analysis report done by EPS (it laid out assumptions and provided nice literature and region situational reviews).  I recommend people read it (not for what it says about housing but its general value as a background document).  It was presented to the FBC in July.

    Under a section entitled “Real Estate Feasibility” on Page 80:

    Housing would be a powerful mechanism for improving returns, as well as creating a basis for funding infrastructure. This topic will be further explored, in a concise, qualitative, discussion, as part of Phase II of this study.

    (Phase II will be out within a few weeks.)

    Also in a section entitled “Key Issues for Ongoing Discussion” on page 89:

    Consider housing. This use may help reduce trips, lower burden on infrastructure, and provide a more complete innovation environment.

    I have also read articles referenced by Rob White here that indicate to me that in other places around the country (including in the Bay Area), so-called innovation centers are being developed with housing. (I say “so-called” because I don’t think there is a completely accepted definition of what an innovation center is).  Again, I am providing these links/resources to point out that the issue has been raised in various venues and give people access to what is being said in various reports.

    Let me fully digest the DEIR and the Phase II EPS study before I offer further perspectives (which I WILL provide when it comes to the CC).

  10. Eileen Samitz

    Robb,

    Regarding the following info from the Economic Impacts Analysis Phase I report:

    “Housing would be a powerful mechanism for improving returns, as well as creating a basis for funding infrastructure….”

    My first impression is that the ” improved returns” would be profits to the developer, not the City, and my second impression is that the “basis for funding infrastructure” would be primarily for the developer’s project, not other infrastructure for the City.

    Also, I appreciate that you are considering the many concerns and objections to the proposed housing component and hope that you will see how this issue will only bring on more opposition to the Mace Innovation Park proposal.

  11. Anon

    Don Shor: “Scrolling through the 122 pages of the Executive Summary, I do not see how many of the residences they assume will be owned or occupied by people who work in the business park.

    The EIR estimates (assumes) 85% of the 840 housing units would be purchased/occupied by employees of the innovation park. (I believe those are the numbers I read – someone correct me if I am wrong.)  In so far as I am aware, there is no way to guarantee or legally require that innovation park employees will purchase any of that housing.

    To Robb Davis: Thanks for the info on how the idea of housing came about for MRIC. That is very helpful. The City Council needs to be mindful of the fact that Davis politics plays a role in all of this turmoil over the innovation parks. Other cities do not necessarily have a Measure R requirement for development outside city limits. Nor do other cities necessarily have such a paucity of (or as the former city manager put it – an “allergy to”) economic development like big box retail. And other cities do not necessarily have a contingent of citizens that will pull every trick in the book to prevent any sort of growth in residential housing or economic development.  Nor do other cities have a group of citizens who would actively work to defeat one innovation park project in order to push their own favored innovation park project forward.  Davis politics being what it is, my fear is twofold: 1) that workforce housing within the MRIC proposal will be used as a “poison pill” to defeat MRIC as a first step to killing the innovation parks concept altogether; and/or as a “poison pill” to defeat MRIC to further the interests of Nishi.

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