While Dan Ramos and his team made a strong push for consideration of a mixed-use housing proposal on the proposed 218-acre Mace Ranch Innovation Center site, there was a lot of pushback from the community on the idea of adding housing to the mix. City staff made it clear that consideration of housing would be a heavy lift to get on a November ballot.
In the spring of 2014, the city put out an RFEI (Request for Expressions of Interest) for innovation parks, which included a provision that there be no housing on the project site. Mace Ranch, one of three respondents, put forth a proposal for 2.5 million square feet of R&D (research and development) space with no housing component.
However, during the CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) process, staff and council asked the proponent to put in a mixed-use alternative, which they were reluctant to include at first. However, as Dan Ramos explained, their examination of other parks came to the conclusion that housing was an important component to provide living space for employees and reduce the impact of traffic and vehicle miles traveled (VMT).
They asked council to consider allowing them to go forward with a mixed-use project.
In the end, only Mayor Pro Tem Robb Davis was willing to ask the developers to come forward with a formal proposal for a mixed-use project. The other four members of the council were adamantly opposed to the option, and so Robb Davis moved that the staff proceed with the current proposal with no housing.
Councilmember Rochelle Swanson said, “Intellectually, mixed use can make sense.” She added, “For most communities I do believe it is a necessity.” But she said, “We’re in Davis and we’re very uniquely positioned on a global scale… we have to have a Davis DNA Innovation Park.”
For Councilmember Swanson, the key consideration was making sure that this project could pass and, quite simply, she did not believe a project with housing could pass.
She made the point that it is not just the developer who bears the cost in this process. “Who bears the cost if this doesn’t pass, (it) is $2.2 million fiscal annually… a net $6 million potentially and a one-time $10 million fee,” she said. “It’s not hyperbole, if this doesn’t pass in November, I’m going to be a big cheerleader to bring back a really big parcel tax, either that or we’re going to start closing things.”
“That’s not being a scare tactic, that’s being real,” she said. “We have a huge infrastructure problem. We need organic revenue. It’s why I agreed to run for council in the first place and why I agreed to run for a second term.”
She said that a mixed-use project would grade as a “A,” without it is a “B” but “with no project it’s an F.” She added, “I really do see why the mixed use can work well… I just don’t think in this time frame, the November 2016 vote, I don’t think that this community will pass it.”
Councilmember Rochelle Swanson concluded that, while she thinks the mixed-use project would be best, there are other ways to address housing and vehicles miles traveled, and “at the end of the day I do think we have to look at the big picture… I really think that it’s important that we put a ballot measure out there that will pass and be successful. Because I feel very strongly that if we put something on the ballot like this and it fails, that fails a lot more to our community than just this one project.”
Mayor Pro Tem Robb Davis noted that the council in the Measure R environment faces “a bit of a puzzle,” in that do they bring forward the best project that they can or do they bring forward a project that can pass? “What do we do if there’s a conflict between those?” he asked.
For Robb Davis, the city of Davis is “already in a housing crisis,” and “that crisis isn’t going to get better anytime soon.” He added that “we’re going to add a lot of jobs.” He said, “I do have a concern about where some of the people (are going to live).”
At the same time, he noted that there is no proposal on the table for mixed use. “This staff works on a basis of project proposals, we need proposals,” he said. “We don’t have a proposal on the table.”
He suggested that if the project proponents want to have a November vote, then the staff needs to process the project on the table. However, “if you want a mixed use, then bring us a proposal.”
The conversation never got much further, however, as it became clear that Robb Davis was alone in wanting to consider a mixed-use proposal.
Councilmember Brett Lee said, “I respectfully disagree with Robb… I think the council has sufficient information to know whether we are supportive of housing on the site or not.” He said that having the project applicants put forward a housing proposal would require “a fair amount of time, energy and money to prepare that.”
He said, “I’ll just say it, I’m not in favor of housing on that site.” Instead, he thinks the focus for housing should be in the center of Davis where we centralize housing to the community and focus on densification.
Councilmember Lee did acknowledge that “the applicant has made a pretty good case for this idea that the better designed innovation centers do have a mixed-use component.” However, “specific to the city of Davis, I am not in favor of a mixed-use component for this proposal.”
Councilmember Lucas Frerichs stated, “I’m not in favor of mixed use at the Mace Ranch site and have been consistent on that for a long time.” He noted the long public process that led to the development of the dispersed innovation strategy.
He stated, “I think that the proposal to now head in the direction of a mixed-use option at the Mace Ranch Innovation Center asks us to consider an option which is not even officially on the table.” He continued, “I think that the inclusion of housing… dilutes the effectiveness of the city’s dispersed economic development strategy.”
He added that it wastes potential revenue-generating business space. “Frankly,” he said, “I think it threatens the electoral success of not only the Mace Ranch Innovation Center but very possibly any future innovation park plans.”
Councilmember Frerichs believes that, without housing, the project offers the opportunity to create new jobs and expand the workforce. The focus for several years has been on the need to diversify revenue making for the city’s many needs.
He reiterated that he has consistently been opposed to a mixed-use component at the MRIC, saying, “I’m really concerned about the situation that we’re in, that the perfect being the enemy of the good with mixed-use housing versus innovation park without housing which I think will endanger the success of the project overall – the potential that the park itself would fail.” He said, “That’s a gamble at this point that I’m not willing to make.”
Mayor Dan Wolk, seeing the writing on the wall, added that he was skeptical at first, “but I think there are a lot of strong arguments for the housing.” Like the others, he saw the politics as a hindrance to the consideration of housing. “I get at the same time the political calculation,” he stated.
Based on this discussion, Robb Davis moved that staff proceed with the current project proposal and MRIC go forward for consideration without housing. Rochelle Swanson seconded it and the motion eventually passed unanimously.
—David M. Greenwald reporting