When the concept of innovation centers were introduced to the community, they were billed as research centers focused on R&D (research and development) work by startups and other companies like Schilling Robotics, who are looking to expand their operations, and, in order to remain in Davis, need additional land.
The loss of Bayer/Agraquest, a homegrown company, to West Sacramento in 2013 punctuated the need to look for additional space.
In addition to space, the city is looking to take advantage of enhanced property taxes, along with point of sales taxes, to fund growing revenue needs.
As the Final EIR (Environmental Impact Report) notes, “Housing was not recommended for inclusion in project(s) during the Request For Expressions of Interest (RFEI) process, nor did the applicant propose housing as part of their application.”
So why the need for a mixed-use housing alternative? “CEQA [California Environmental Quality Act] requires that the lead agency consider alternatives that could reasonably reduce significant impacts of the project. Staff anticipated that the project EIR might identify significant impacts related to vehicle miles traveled (VMT), and air quality and greenhouse gas emissions. A growing field of study demonstrates that mixed uses can lower the traffic, air quality, greenhouse gas, energy, and related impacts of separated land uses.”
Staff therefore “concluded that a Mixed-Use Alternative would satisfy CEQA’s requirements for the development of a reasonable range of alternatives. The alternative was intended to test the possibility that a mix of innovation center uses and residential uses would generate lowered amounts of regional traffic, vehicle miles traveled (VMT), and greenhouse gas emissions as compared to the business-only proposals. The City Council confirmed the inclusion of the Mixed-Use Alternative as part of the range of alternatives proposed for evaluation in the MRIC Draft EIR on December 16, 2014.”
None of that means that housing will be included in the proposal. At the MRIC Forum Discussion, we saw numerous citizens push back against the mixed-use alternative.
In addition, some councilmembers and candidates have, as well.
Last summer, Councilmember Brett Lee said he is against the idea of including a housing component to the innovation parks. He writes, “I am against such an idea. If we lived in an ideal world, then yes, it might make sense from a design perspective. Who would argue with the idea that it would be wonderful for the new job holders to be able to live and work in the same neighborhood.”
The councilmember argued that “there are some real problems with this concept. Unless the residents in such a housing component are required to be employees in the tech park, the vast majority of these people are likely to commute to jobs outside the area.”
This week, Lucas Frerichs also said he opposes housing on the Mace Ranch Innovation Center site. Having said that, he noted, “I feel somewhat conflicted on that.” He cited that smart growth principles suggest “mixed use is the way to go.” But he said, “This proposal was brought forward as a strictly commercial R&D proposal without housing.” He added, “I think that housing at that site will actually really hurt its chances for approval.”
He added, “There is definitely a need for housing in Davis and definitely a need for affordable housing, but I’m not sure intermixing it in that site is the way to go.” He added, “It really harms its chances of success.”
Council Candidate Will Arnold said that “the main argument for having housing at the Mace Ranch Innovation Center is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.” He said, “It’s my opinion that putting housing as part of the Mace Ranch project will reduce greenhouse gas emissions, it will reduce them to zero because there will be no project.”
One of the concerns that people have expressed is how to ensure, if you do housing, that it ends up that the people working at the innovation center are the ones living there.
According to the Final EIR (see page 4-7), “Employee occupancy could be ensured through a development agreement with the applicant. Commitments similar to the following could accomplish this:
- The housing stock would be owned and/or controlled by the applicant or a controlling entity (e.g. an MRIC Housing Authority) associated with the operation and maintenance of the MRIC.
- The applicant would have enforceable agreements with some or all of the MRIC employers to offer on-site housing to employees as a benefit or possibly a term of employment.
- The employee contract would stipulate on-site residency as a mandatory term or alternatively the housing agreement would stipulate on-site employment as a mandatory requirement.
- Appropriate housing packages would be developed to address ownership, lease, and/or rental relationships, and to identify eviction terms, etc.
The EIR notes, “If the City Council chooses to consider the Mixed Use Alternative they will deliberate the policy implications of this alternative. They will consider whether and how much employee occupancy should be guaranteed and appropriate mechanisms to do so. The Council will balance these considerations with other relevant factors including housing policy, economic feasibility, market influences, etc.”
However, the developer indicated that this arrangement was not their preferred option. Rather they would like not to restrict who can live on the site, but instead takes steps that would give existing employees a priority. That means bring jobs on board first. The MRIC developers do not want to put housing early in the process as they believe that sets the wrong signal.
Housing could come after businesses were established and that would give existing employees first priority to live on site if they choose.
The Vanguard’s read of the political tea leaves suggests that it would be a long shot for council to approve a housing option and the developers, while doing their due diligence, should be mindful of the number of people willing to support an innovation center without a housing option but oppose one with a housing option included.
—David M. Greenwald reporting