The Davis City Council will be asked this evening to make a critical choice about the future of the Mace Ranch Innovation Center (MRIC) proposal. Staff is asking for council to provide direction as to the next steps for treating a mixed-use proposal at the innovation center site.
In a letter from project manager Dan Ramos, he asked for the council to consider a potential 850 housing unit mixed-use component. He writes that “as we have proceeded over the last several months, our team has become convinced that a viable innovation center should contain a housing component such as the one reflected in the mixed use alternative.”
While initially being opposed to housing, he said that “we have learned that cutting edge innovation centers now almost always contain a housing component, the primary purpose of which is to provide housing for those who work at the innovation center. This proximate housing is endemic of the unique live/work relationship prevalent in the tech industry and is essential to the effective marketing of innovation centers.”
Moreover, he notes that “through both the Draft EIR and our own efforts at developing a first-rate sustainability plan, we have learned that a housing component contributes the reduction of VMT and has a corresponding reduction of air quality and greenhouse gas emissions. These highly desirable environmental results are important and it is difficult, if not impossible, to achieve a high degree of sustainability without them.”
One of the objections to housing has been the concern that many supporters of the innovation center concept have that housing is the third rail of Davis politics and would reduce the likelihood of the project passing a Measure R vote.
To bolster their case about the viability of the project, Dan Ramos has provided the Vanguard with a copy of the most recent poll performed by J. Moore Methods, Inc., based in Sacramento.
The poll asked, “Would you favor or oppose annexing land into the city to build an Innovation Center that produces an environment that will support UC Davis scientific research, create new research and technology jobs for UCD graduates and Davis residents here in town, and generate needed revenue for the City?”
Sixty-seven percent of respondents answered in the affirmative, with just 20 percent opposing and 13 percent offering no opinion.
The pollsters drilled down, explaining in detail the Mace Ranch Innovation Center and noting, “An independent economic study says the project could generate up to $2 million in additional revenue for the City of Davis. Proponents state the Mace Ranch Innovation Center location has sufficient traffic capacity and will link downtown and UC Davis by transit and bike trails. Critics say the project is on farmland that shouldn’t be developed, and would create some additional traffic.”
The respondents were asked, “If this project was on the ballot, would you likely support or oppose it?” Sixty-three percent said they would support it, while 26 percent were opposed.
There were then two questions regarding housing on the site.
The first asked, “One of the unanswered questions is whether to allow some limited type of housing for some of the employees that work at the site. The type of housing that could be included would be live-work loft units and townhouses designed to compliment the main research facilities. The total number of live-work units could total up to 850 over the 20+ year build-out of the project. Would you support or oppose including up to 850 live-work housing units as part of the Mace Ranch Innovation Center?”
That question generated 55 percent support with 32 percent opposition.
A follow-up question asked, “The Environmental Impact Report produced for the City of Davis showed that traffic and greenhouse gases in the project would be reduced by up to 30 percent if housing was included in the project, due to the reduced car trips from having workers living on site instead of commuting into Davis. Knowing this would you support or oppose including up to 850 live-work housing units as part of the Mace Ranch Innovation Center?”
This one generated 60 percent support versus 30 percent opposition.
For the developer, these numbers indicate that there is not immediate and inherent opposition to the inclusion of housing on the site. The housing offered here would not be traditional single-family homes, but rather would be high-density housing that would serve the workforce working at these parks.
However, while the developer is encouraged by the numbers, there is a note of caution as the project only starts with about 55 to 60 percent support for a project with housing. While Measure R only requires a bare majority of 50 percent plus one to pass, these numbers exist prior to an election campaign that figures to be highly adversarial.
Council will have to weigh the polling numbers against other considerations.
—David M. Greenwald reporting