Monday Morning Thoughts: Enterprise’s Case For Housing at MRIC Muddies the Waters

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Innovation-Park-example

There seem to be four different viewpoints on housing at the Mace Ranch Innovation Center (MRIC). There are those who believe that housing makes the project stronger by reducing the impact of traffic that would have to drive from, in many cases, out of town to come to work at the site. There are those who agree with that point, but oppose housing because they believe that housing will cause the voters to reject the project.

There are those who are willing to support an MRIC without housing. Finally there are those who oppose any development at all at the MRIC site.

The developers at MRIC started out with a claim that there would be no housing included, but for a variety of reasons they now believe that the project with housing is stronger than without housing.  As Dan Ramos, project manager, notes in his op-ed today, “When the city then asked us to consider adding a housing component to our project for environmental analysis purposes, we were hesitant.”

However, “But as we started doing serious homework on what made for successful innovation projects in communities such as Boulder, Palo Alto, Raleigh/Chapel Hill, Champaign/Urbana and more, what became increasingly clear was the importance of incorporating housing into the plans.”

Tuesday will be a key day for what course of action the project takes, as the council may make the call as to whether to direct the developer to stick with the original project or to further evaluate a project with a housing component.

While immediate reaction to housing on the site has seen both proponents and opponents pushing against the proposal, there appears a small amount of traction toward at least evaluating a housing option.

That movement continued on Sunday with the Enterprise’s editorial in support of housing. While the editorial makes a strong case on the merits, the lead-in is a huge mistake and creates a poison pill that will turn off many people on the fence.

They start with the fear mantra, writing: “We can’t let our fears govern our future… Fear. It can paralyze our community’s conversation about innovations.”

Right away the Enterprise, which has supported just about every development project in the history of Davis, taps into the pro-development movements’ depiction of slow-growthers. For them, people oppose growth because they fear change. They fear that their property values will be harmed.

The problem with the argument is, first of all, it is condescending. You are not going to change people’s minds by belittling their concerns and acting like you know best.

The reality is that there are a lot of reasons why people oppose growth. I chose to stay in Davis, despite the high cost of living, because I like a smaller town. I have lived in three urban areas, and I prefer a college town. I don’t want to see Davis outgrow this small town appeal.

The bottom line – telling people they shouldn’t fear change isn’t going to convince them to vote for a new development, housing or commercial. Instead, the argument has to be made why a given development will enhance the community.

For me, there is a clear-cut answer for that and the Enterprise makes the point, “At build-out in 20 years, it is expected to create 5,800 mostly high-wage jobs and generate millions of dollars in annual new revenues for city services like parks and public safety.”

Stick with that argument and the project has a chance to pass. Frame it with the fear argument, and it will lose 100 times out of 100.

The Enterprise doesn’t stop there, however. They continue, “For a town with plenty of liberal values, Davis is actually quite conservative. We don’t really like change; we’re happy with the way things are.”

I completely agree with the first sentence – Davis, as liberal towns go, is quite conservative. I would argue, however, that is more so on issues like social justice, race and affordable housing.

The second sentence is a problem, however: “We don’t really like change; we’re happy with the way things are.”

It may be true, but it is based on a misunderstanding of liberalism.  The problem is that it mistakes classical liberalism for contemporary liberalism. Liberalism isn’t monolithic. There are many strands – some of which come into conflict with each other.

Conflating liberalism with change is misplaced. It ignores the strand of liberalism that is embedded in environmental stewardship which necessarily is antithetical to change. Environmental stewardship takes a number of different forms, from prohibitions against emissions and industrial byproducts being put back into the land, air and water. There is also the concern about the loss of farmland and its impact on the ability to feed the population.

And there are conflicts – the need for housing and affordable housing can conflict with the need to protect the land and the environment.

The Vanguard was actually founded on the premise that beneath the liberal veneer of Davis rests a dark underbelly that is anything but liberal and progressive, but the Enterprise misses the mark by misunderstanding contemporary liberalism. That should be not surprising, given that the Enterprise is basically run by conservatives.

Finally, the Enterprise casts its criticism towards the city council, writing that “our leaders often are afraid of rocking the boat, taking the path of least resistance because doing the right thing can provoke the naysayers to fight back.”

While I agree with that statement to some extent – we certainly saw that at play with the soda tax – the Enterprise actually presents the counterargument, inadvertently, but just as well.

They write, “We know it’s risky.” They cite the reasons overall why the community needs an innovation center. These include: “A place for local companies who need more space to grow; we cannot keep losing these businesses to neighboring cities…” Second, “A place for technologies from UC Davis to develop into viable home-grown companies, employing local graduates…” Finally, “A steady stream of revenue that would broaden our tax base and pump our city coffers full of money to hire police officers, pave over our potholes and refurbish our public infrastructure.”

What the Enterprise is calling “fear” is really risk analysis that the council has to take.

There is no doubt that the project is environmentally better with housing than without. Those who argue that we want to be green, but then force people to drive from Elk Grove or Natomas to come to work here, have a point.

To this day, I still haven’t seen a good articulated reason why housing on MRIC is fundamentally bad, other than the electoral calculus.

However, the fact of the matter is that the council has to weigh the benefits of the project, considering the risk of non-passage with housing against the benefits of housing.

There are clear advantages to housing, but perhaps not overwhelming advantages.

The Enterprise, citing the city staff report, notes that the alternative project could result in:

  • A 13-percent reduction in vehicle trips, with a 35-percent reduction during the morning commute and a 32-percent reduction during the evening commute;
  • A reduction in daily vehicle miles traveled of more than 25 percent; and
  • A reduction in annual greenhouse-gas emissions.

That is a clear benefit, but is that enough to risk non-passage? Or perhaps the deeper and more important question: does that even risk non-passage?

Right now everyone seems to believe that the inclusion of housing will doom the project. We base that on anecdotal arguments. People have written on here that they might support the project without housing, but they will work against it with housing.

Aside from the unanswered question of why, the other question is do those people represent enough of a threat that the council should put forward a worse project?

The Enterprise wants the council to jump in and take the plunge, but the council has to weigh the benefits of reduced vehicle trips against the possible loss of thousands of jobs should they guess wrong. That seems a lot to ask without better data than hunches and self-serving claims about fear.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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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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71 thoughts on “Monday Morning Thoughts: Enterprise’s Case For Housing at MRIC Muddies the Waters”

  1. Jim Frame

    To this day, I still haven’t seen a good articulated reason why housing on MRIC is fundamentally bad other than the electoral calculus.

    1.  Housing takes up room that can be used for R&D space.  If we’re as desperately short of R&D space as everyone seems to think, why would we want to limit the R&D density at the one innovation center that appears viable?

    2.  Housing is a money-loser for the city in the long run.  Since one of the prime reasons to support the development of an innovation center for many citizens is the production of tax revenue, why saddle the project with a tax-eating housing component?

     

    1. Frankly

      Exactly!

      And we have The Cannery, Nishi (more than likely), Trackside (hopefully) and the Sterling Apartment project (probably).  I’m sure we will have more infill high-density rental projects.

      I have attempted to find writing on this concept of housing within a business or innovation park.  I cannot find anything that backs the arguments of the developer and the Enterprise.  The ONLY time I see it coming up is, not when there is an environmental sustainability argument, but when the innovation park is going to be located far away from residential access and/or in circumstances where it is company-owned housing because housing is otherwise unavailable.   Or in major urban areas where the distance and travel time from housing and the business park is significant.

      In Davis, not at all.  It only takes 15 minutes max to get from one end of town to the other.

      What I do find is writing on the topic of Innovation Districts… where there is a mix of housing and commercial space.

      MRIC is not an innovation district.  It is a piece of Davis… and we want the entire city to be an innovation district.  Why would we want to develop an island of residents and business if we want the entire city to be the innovation district?  This idea is counter to the concept of the innovation district.

      For there to be adequate random and spontaneous collaboration, we would need residents from the core of Davis to travel out to MRIC to mingle with those live-work residents of MRIC.  How does that help innovation and environmental sustainability?

      And who would want to live in the middle of an isolated business park?   The answer is primarily students that otherwise cannot find an apartment.

      Take a trip to Silicon Valley and drive through those high tech business parks.  Would you want to live there?  I don’t think so.

      To make it attractive, it would need to be designed with enough parks and amenities to detract from the fact that residents would be surrounded by office and high-tech industrial space.  And this means more land will be taken out of commercial use.

      Check the progressive European countries that many Davis residents laud.  You won’t find much of this business park with housing if any.  Typically you have some employers in the main core area, and then outside the core area.  But the standard young professional wants to live in the core area and then have adequate transportation access and service to get to his/her place of business.  Families tend to migrate to suburbs where they can have more space and a yard.

      What I see is some city leaders, the developer and possibly some influential UCD leaders attempting to pursue their personal benefit/agenda for “stealing” land that has been designated as commercial only to use for housing development.

      The resident need to scream a loud and resounding NO to this idea.  It is a bad idea.

      1. The Pugilist

        “Take a trip to Silicon Valley and drive through those high tech business parks.  Would you want to live there?  I don’t think so.”

        Aren’t they putting housing in Mission Bay.  Aren’t some of the Silicon Valley tech parks now being either build with or incorporating live-work concepts?  In fact, isn’t the Silicon Valley’s lack of housing part of what’s driving the housing crisis in San Francisco and therefore isn’t this a particularly bad argument?

        1. Frankly

          Mission Bay is UCSF campus housing.  There is a 2-year term rental limit.

          The ONLY time I see it coming up is, not when there is an environmental sustainability argument, but when the innovation park is going to be located far away from residential access and/or in circumstances where it is company-owned housing because housing is otherwise unavailable.

          I would be interested to read anything you can find about housing being built inside business/tech/innovation parks.

        2. The Pugilist

          Mission Bay:

          San Francisco, California

          The Mission Bay Project, a public/private partnership with the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency, involves the transformation of a 303 acre former rail yard into a vibrant, high-density, transit-oriented community. This brownfield infill site adjacent to the SF Giants baseball stadium is fully entitled for, and under construction with:
          • 6,400 units of housing, including 4,500 market-rate, and 1,900+ affordable homes.
          • 3.4 million sf of commercial office and biotech lab space
          • 3.15 million sf UCSF Research Campus
          • 550 bed UCSF Medical Center on 14.5 acres
          • 285,000 sf of retail
          • 250 room hotel
          • A new school, police and fire station and library
          • 49+ acres of public parks and open space, providing vastly improved access to the
             waterfront.
          $700 million of investment in new public infrastructure and parks is being leveraged to generate $9+ billion in new investment from private developers, users, and institutions. This community will be home to an estimated 11,000 new residents, promoting smart growth by placing housing and jobs directly adjacent to transit. With an estimated 30,000 jobs at full build-out in critical fields like biotech, healthcare, technology and education, Mission Bay creates a hub for innovation and economic growth for the city, region and state.
          Mission Bay is developing rapidly. Want to know current status of a particular parcel? Download a current development map (PDF) of the Mission Bay project area, here.

        3. The Pugilist

          Frankly: you should also read this on the Research Triangle Park: http://www.rtp.org/about-us/park-center/

          You can also read the one-year follow up to the Brookings Institute study on innovation centers: http://www.brookings.edu/research/papers/2015/06/24-one-year-innovation-districts-katz-vey-wagner

        4. Frankly

          Pugilist – Thanks.  I will read up.

          But I don’t think you can compare this larger Mission Bay redevelopment project with MRIC nor can you compare Davis to S.F.  The needs and dynamics of these two cities do not line up at all.

        5. The Pugilist

          Frankly: You are correct, but there is one huge commonality – the lack of housing.  Mission Bay as it was repurposed realized quickly that they would have trouble bringing in tech companies if people had no place to live.  Of course, you can get places for people to live within a fifteen to twenty minute drive from Davis.  The question is – do you want that.

        6. Matt Williams

          Frankly said . . . “But I don’t think you can compare this larger Mission Bay redevelopment project with MRIC nor can you compare Davis to S.F.  The needs and dynamics of these two cities do not line up at all.”

          At a macro level San Francisco and Davis are definitely different, but neither Mission Bay nor MRIC are macro-level projects.  Due diligence is all about attending to the devilish details while never losing sight of the macro realities.

          Perhaps, just perhaps, Mission Bay might be doing something that Davis can learn from.

        7. Frankly

          S.F. and Davis have absolutely nothing in common.

          S.F. is a major world-class large city.

          S.F. has copious commercial space and not enough housing.

          S.F. is land and water-locked.

          S.F. does not have the relative fiscal problems that we have.

          S.F. has plenty of jobs.

          S.F. attracts young professionals.  That demographic is the strongest and is growing.

          S.F. housing costs are 2-3 times what Davis’s are.

          S.F. does not have tens of thousands of residential options in communities that are only a 15-20 minute drive to where the innovation park would be.

          The Mission Bay project is a REDEVELOPMENT project… already developed but not returning enough value to the community for the existing land-use.

          Davis is a small rural city.

          The MRIC project is 100% ground-up private development.

          Davis lacks commercial space…  in a big way.

          Davis is not land locked.  It is not water locked.  It is NIMBY, no-growther, change-averse locked.  Davis has acres and acres and acres of peripheral land that we can build more housing on… but Davis voters reject it.

          Davis has tremendous fiscal problems that only get solved growing our local economy.  Residential development is a net fiscal drain.

          Davis would not have a shortage of rental housing if UCD had kept up its responsibility for providing student housing.

          Davis would not be looking at a future crunch in housing if UCD was not pursuing aggressive student growth.

          The bottom line is that the shortage of rental housing is a UCD problem.

          The shortage of commercial space is a Davis problem.  The lack of good paying jobs in Davis is a Davis problem.

          Each should focus on their own problems.

          All this effort to corrupt the innovation parks with housing is allowing the pursuit of stupid perfection be the enemy of the reasonable good.

        8. Matt Williams

          Frankly said . . . “The shortage of commercial space is a Davis problem.  The lack of good paying jobs in Davis is a Davis problem.”

          Frankly, MRIC is planned to be built out in phases over a 20-year buildout period.  During the early and mid phases, the availability of footprint space on the MRIC site is not going to be a constraint in the buildout of all the commercial space needed to meet the market demand for commercial space. The only thing that will constrain that buildout will be if actual demand does not materialize for the space.

          Frankly said . . . “The bottom line is that the shortage of rental housing is a UCD problem.”

          No, it is a UCD creation.  It very definitely is a problem for all the young single workers who find they can not compete with groups of students in the competition for the rental housing supply. Restricting any housing on the MRIC site to rental units would be one way to address that problem. As an FBC commissioner, I would be interested to see how that pencils out.

          With that said, how to you expect housing to affect the absorption rate of MRIC. Will a lack of housing cause prospective companies to go elsewhere?

    2. The Pugilist

      “1.  Housing takes up room that can be used for R&D space.  If we’re as desperately short of R&D space as everyone seems to think, why would we want to limit the R&D density at the one innovation center that appears viable?”
      Is the mixed-use proposal seeking less R&D space than the original proposal?
      “2.  Housing is a money-loser for the city in the long run.  Since one of the prime reasons to support the development of an innovation center for many citizens is the production of tax revenue, why saddle the project with a tax-eating housing component?”

      Would this type of housing be a money-loser in the long run?  Has the Finance and Budget commission examined it yet?

      1. CalAg

        The only housing that is revenue positive in the City’s fiscal model is large single family detached selling for more than approximately $500K or more. The higher the price, the better the yield to the General Fund. You can run the City building this type of product, which we did in the 80’s and 90’s. In 2016, even if you could overcome the political (gale force) headwinds, we are running very short on land that is not in the floodplain.

        1. Matt Williams

          CalAg, as we just saw in the Nishi process, that is true in the City’s plain-vanilla model, but with appropriate diligent negotiations, and full transparent open disclosure of costs that plain-vanilla model can be improved substantially.

          Your final two sentences seem to indicate that you are a McMansions fan.  Given the significant rise in the numbers of residents who are 55 and over, I suspect if we explre the available evidence (a nod to Ron) the aggregate demand for housing in the McMansions category will be dwarfed by the demand for more modest residences.

    3. Matt Williams

      Jim, for the purposes of discussion here are some thoughts your two points cause me to wrestle with.

      Regarding your point #1, at the Open Space and Habitat public hearing on Monday, February 1st, the commissioners and the developer and staff and the public in attendance discussed the phasing of the project.  Unlike Nishi, where the vast majority of the project is going to be built out all at once, MRIC will have multiple phases that will roll out over a period of 20 years.  The size and duration of each phase (four phases was the number used for discussion purposes in the meeting) would be determined by the actual levels of demand for the various types of innovation space the center will offer.  The OSHC commissioners were particularly concerned with the number of acres that were being consumed by the dispersed horizontal parking approach.  It was suggested that parking could use a more structured vertical approach if it was planned to match the actual parking needs of the actual demand of each of the four phases.  Why is that meaningful to your point #1?  Because in each of the first three phases of MRIC (assuming, as the OSHC discussion did, that there would be four total phases) the ability to build 100% of the needed R&D capacity is unconstrained by space.  You start by designing that space as vertically as possible, and then add the “support” components like parking … also vertically.  The OSHC commissioners argued that that kind of planning would provide all the R&D capacity that Davis needs while making much more efficient use of the land area dedicated to the center.   That begs the question, can housing be handled with that same kind of synergistic vertical approach as OSHC has proposed for handling parking?

      Regarding you point #2, the Finance and Budget Commission is scheduled to hear a financial comparison of the two alternatives on Monday, March 14th.  It will be interesting to hear that comparison.  I’m willing to hold my judgment until some evidence is actually presented on the comparison.

  2. Tia Will

    The developers at MRIC started out with a claim that there would be no housing included”

    In fairness to Mr. Ramos, I think it is important to recall the underlying reason. The city’s initial specifications for the projects were that there be no housing. This should at least set the record straight on the suggestion that this is a “bait and switch” by the developer. Whether one choses to see it as a city “bait and switch” is another matter. But this is not on Ramos.

    1. CalAg

      TW: This was a classic bait-and-switch.

      The developer was complicit with the staff in bringing the housing alternative forward. In addition, there is some evidence that there may have been a backroom “understanding” prior to the release of the RFEI that the no-housing restriction would be revisited during the processing of the application.

      It’s fascinating that you give Ramos so much benefit of the doubt given this developer’s track record on Mace Ranch.

       

  3. Tia Will

    “… the strand of liberalism that is embedded in environmental stewardship which necessarily is antithetical to change.”

    I agree that “liberalism” has many strands. However, I think that the above quote is a mischaracterization of the strand of environmental stewardship. Many of us who hold this as a core of our beliefs are very much in favor of change. Many of us are very vocal about our desire for change to clean energy use leaving behind our dependence on “dirty fuels”. What greater change can you imagine that gradually abandoning the general use of the gas burning automobile ?  Solar and wind energy….many of us have promoted these once dramatic and now more mainstream changes. This does not mean moving back to horse and buggies or walking through quaint villages as some of us are derided as advocating. It means that we need to be putting our innovative and creative powers into technologies that are less harmful to our health and our environment. This, not just calling for more and bigger of the same,  is the essence of embracing change.

    1. Frankly

      Tia – if you were a small organic farmer living off the land I might have more respect for these views of yours.   However, most of your life and livelihood has been created and is supported by the very things you consistently say you want to change.   Either you have lost perspective for understanding this, or you are just stubborn in getting yours and now wanting to shut the door behind you to prevent the same for others.   Don’t you see how many modern conveniences you benefit from and how many of the life-saving technologies you leverage in your line of work have been created by this style of life that you hold so much disdain for?

  4. Barack Palin

    I see it as a bait and switch.  First we were being told that we needed revenue for things like fixing our streets and running the city.  So the city pushes innovation parks with no housing knowing that the community might be open to that possibility.  When that option seemed to be gaining some traction then the switch to adding housing started creeping in.  In my mind it’s a total bait and switch.  You can bet if the council decides to go with housing that the opposition’s campaign motto will be:

    STOP THE BAIT AND SWITCH

     

    1. The Pugilist

      Is it bait and switch when the process hasn’t even progressed to the council yet?  Is it bait and switch or trying to figure out the best mechanism to deliver revenue through an innovation park?

      1. Barack Palin

        So are you saying that when the innovation only parks were being presented to the public that it never occurred to the city where people were going to live and how many vmt’s it might produce?  That those issues didn’t appear on the city’s radar until years later in the process?  I’m not buying it.

        1. The Pugilist

          You’ve framed the question in such a way to get your desired answered.  I’m not privy to the city’s discussions.  The city has clearly taken an approach that housing equals death, that makes for reasonable politics but not necessarily the best planning.  All I am in favor of at this point is hearing them out.  At the end of the day, we can always say no housing and of course no project.

        2. The Pugilist

          More important question: if the project is better with housing, why does it matter if it was first presented as a non-housing project?  If the project is not better with housing, why does it matter if  it was first presented as a non-housing project?   In other words, shouldn’t we be evaluating what is the best project rather than how it was first conceived?

        3. Matt Williams

          Good question BP.  From my own first-hand knowledge (through meetings I attended) and second-hand knowledge (through discussions) I would say that VMTs were definitely considered as evidence, but that they were being considered withing the context of political calculations about the strong slow growth ethos in Davis.  At each step along the six-year process, the highest profile next step has been well stated by the Studio 30 report, specifically,“Community outreach activities related to the benefits and opportunities for a University-related innovation center in Davis and its role in a multi-faceted economic development strategy for the City.”

          In that context, VMTs was relegated to the category of detailed evidence that could be dealt with later if, and only if, the community outreach bore fruit.

  5. Tia Will

    Jim

    Since one of the prime reasons to support the development of an innovation center for many citizens is the production of tax revenue, why saddle the project with a tax-eating housing component?”

    The key for me is in your question. “one of the prime reasons….is production of revenue”. While this is true, it is not the only reason. As Don Shor points out repeatedly, we also have major housing issues. We have health and environmental concerns. There are many different aspects of what makes for a desirable project. I tend to look at the proposals holistically, not just in terms of dollars generated. I may be one of those who would support the project with housing, but will doubtless oppose it if housing is not included.

    Sorry city council. I admire your courage and would not want to be in your shoes.

  6. Don Shor

    The Request for Proposals that led to MRIC was the culmination of a long public process. The Innovation Park Task Force, originally the Peripheral Park Task Force, developed a strategy for dispersed economic development. It involved many hours of public hearings over several years. Meanwhile, the review of housing sites and options took place via the housing task force several years ago in which dozens of citizens worked for hundreds of hours to identify and rank sites for potential housing around Davis.

    Neither of those processes, to my knowledge, identified the properties east of Mace Blvd. as sites for housing. The two proposals that came forth were based on public input and clearly identified the east and north Davis sites, along with Nishi (which was in the housing discussions), for business.

    The proposal for housing at Mace Ranch circumvents the public process, dilutes the effectiveness of the dispersed economic development strategy, wastes potential revenue-generating business space, and threatens the electoral success of not only MRIC but any future business park plans. If the north Davis plan revives, the public would be very justified in considering it a likely site for housing as well — flouting the process that led to the site consideration in the first place

    Once again the public process is being derailed. And the likely outcome is that the park itself would fail, and future parks would fail, at the ballot box.

    1. The Pugilist

      It seems like your viewing this as standard housing rather than developing a commercial site that provides a housing component for the employees – it seems like you view MRIC just as you might have the Cannery or even Nishi, when the housing at least in concept would be completely tied to the idea of providing living quarters to employees.

      And how do you derail a public process by publicly examining a change, eight months before the soonest election before the process has gone through even the planning commission?

      It seems like you’re derailing the public process to at least examine whether this is the best approach before it can even be fully considered – why?

      1. Don Shor

        It seems like your viewing this as standard housing

        It is.

        … a commercial site that provides a housing component for the employees

        It isn’t.

        the housing at least in concept would be completely tied to the idea of providing living quarters to employees.

        Nope.

        It seems like you’re derailing the public process

        Nice try.

          1. Don Shor

            I don’t believe you really understand.

            I don’t need insults from anonymous commenters. I have engaged actively in all growth- and housing-related discussions on the Vanguard for several years now. You’re a new commenter who does not reveal your interests in this project or the issue in general.

        1. The Pugilist

          “Nice try.”

          And that’s not an insulting response to me?  You’re one and two word responses are not insulting?  Besides, I think you’re factually wrong.

          “You’re a new commenter who does not reveal your interests in this project or the issue in general.”

          Isn’t that allowed?  Besides, why does it matter who I am – I’m either right or wrong, no?

    2. CalAg

      This bears repeating …

      The Request for Proposals that led to MRIC was the culmination of a long public process. The Innovation Park Task Force, originally the Peripheral Park Task Force, developed a strategy for dispersed economic development. It involved many hours of public hearings over several years. Meanwhile, the review of housing sites and options took place via the housing task force several years ago in which dozens of citizens worked for hundreds of hours to identify and rank sites for potential housing around Davis.

      Neither of those processes, to my knowledge, identified the properties east of Mace Blvd. as sites for housing. The two proposals that came forth were based on public input and clearly identified the east and north Davis sites, along with Nishi (which was in the housing discussions), for business.

      The proposal for housing at Mace Ranch circumvents the public process, dilutes the effectiveness of the dispersed economic development strategy, wastes potential revenue-generating business space, and threatens the electoral success of not only MRIC but any future business park plans. If the north Davis plan revives, the public would be very justified in considering it a likely site for housing as well — flouting the process that led to the site consideration in the first place

      Once again the public process is being derailed. And the likely outcome is that the park itself would fail, and future parks would fail, at the ballot box.

      Don Shor

      I agree 100% with this. I hope the City Council members will read and re-read this.

      Housing at MRIC should be rejected tomorrow by the Council out-right on process grounds. This is a pure policy decision that needs no further study.

      If they are foolish enough to switch to the mixed use alternative, the Measure R campaign against the project will start immediately. Hopefully, they won’t play the developer’s bait-and-switch game, and we can start to try and rebuild the broad consensus that existed before Ramos tried to subvert the process outlined by Don Shor above. A reminder that this is actually strike two. Ramos also tried to get an exemption from Measure J/R early in the application processing and had to back down because of the firestorm.

  7. gunrock

    The whole Innovation Park idea was to create an opportunity for local businesses to have a place to expand. The city had exactly one place that was adequately sized and correctly zoned (ConAgra site) but the city decided to turn it into overpriced little houses. So now they still need a place to provide existing Davis-based businesses a place to expand. One of the options was the Mace site. But rather than simply doing as planned the discussion now is to add layers of housing to the site. This is no longer about supporting local expanding business, this is simply another trojan horse to add still more housing to Davis.  City staff’s war against the public continues.

      1. Frankly

        Davis has a high percentage of commuters and also a high and growing percentage of retirees.  I expect that to change over time as housing turns over and these new employees purchase available housing.  And then there is Woodland, Dixon and West Sacramento… all three are fine places to live and would result in a relatively short commute.  And because the area housing is still relatively inexpensive and the commutes relatively short, I don’t see the lack of live-work developments as having much of an impact on absorption. That is a canard that we will hear from developers who obviously stand to benefit monetarily if they build housing rather than commercial space.

        The primary cause of our housing imbalance is that UCD has failed to keep up its end of the bargain.  Yes moving forward without building housing for each business park will have impacts on rents and vacancy; but frankly UCD is not going to change until and unless it actually sees their ranking fall because of the housing challenge for students.  We need UCD to build more student housing to relieve the pressure on the city rental housing and that will compensate for the extra needed as a result of more commercial development.

        I also support some high-density infill housing development… especially downtown in the core and near core area.

        I have 20 employees.  15 of them work in my Davis office.  8 of them commute to work from Sacramento.  These are all professionals that make a good wage.  They live in Sacramento primarily because they would not be able to afford anything close to the type of house they own in Sacramento in Davis.  The same consideration will happen for the employees of these innovation parks.  Some will be willing to pay the high price for Davis housing and have a smaller and less impressive abode (like me).  Others will want to buy-up living where housing is less expensive so they can buy-up.  The same will be true for renters.  We are not going to be able to build enough housing to make it affordable.  The residents would never allow it.  It is always going to be constrained.  But consider that Davis has grown in population and has built housing over the last 3 decades. What it has done is failed to do is develop its local economy while erroneously believing it could live off the soft money of the university.

        One thing I need to see about this live-work innovation park idea is how it changes the dynamic.  Business parks are busy during work hours and if they have any retail maybe they generate activity into the evening.   But residential and commercial can mix like oil and water in terms of activity and lifestyle mix.  Adding residential also changes the needed city service mix and impacts the long-term net positive revenue picture.  And students will live in those units, and so will lower-income people that don’t work in the innovation park… and these things will have a big impact on the dynamic too.

        It is bone-headed to keep repeating that we would be building housing for the employees of the innovation parks.

        1. wdf1

          Frankly:  UCD is not going to change until and unless it actually sees their ranking fall because of the housing challenge for students.

          Have you seen UC Berkeley’s ranking fall because of a housing challenge for students? or for that matter, UCLA? UC Santa Cruz?

          So far I don’t think housing accessibility has been a very big factor in determining college rankings.

          Also, some will choose to live in Davis to put their kids in the schools here, which are perceived as being very good among schools in the Sacramento area, and there is data to support that.  Also, others may (also) choose to live in Davis because of parks and bike paths.

        2. The Pugilist

          “One thing I need to see about this live-work innovation park idea is how it changes the dynamic.  Business parks are busy during work hours and if they have any retail maybe they generate activity into the evening.   But residential and commercial can mix like oil and water in terms of activity and lifestyle mix.  Adding residential also changes the needed city service mix and impacts the long-term net positive revenue picture.  And students will live in those units, and so will lower-income people that don’t work in the innovation park… and these things will have a big impact on the dynamic too.”

          But if the people who inhabit the units are people who work at the park, how do the two lifestyles fail to mix?  If you are living above commercial, you know that going in.  If that is going to bother you – don’t live there.

        3. Misanthrop

          The answer to lack of supply is to add supply. Until we add lots of supply there won’t be affordable supply. Whether its on campus or off we need more supply. The fact of the matter is that peripheral development is easier than infill because there are no nimby’s where there are no backyards.

        4. Barack Palin

          Were there already backyards in the Covell development proposal?   How many backyards were we talking about in the Wildhorse Ranch proposal?  Proximity had nothing to do with both of those projects getting shot down by huge margins.

        5. Frankly

          Have you seen UC Berkeley’s ranking fall because of a housing challenge for students? or for that matter, UCLA? UC Santa Cruz?

          I’m talking about affordability rankings.  http://www.affordablecollegesonline.org/affordable-colleges-with-high-returns/   Davis falls just below Berkeley on this list.

          UC Santa Cruz have a much higher percentage of on-campus housing. Santa Cruz also has almost 50% student housing on campus.

          UCLA is right below Davis and Berkeley.

           

    1. Tia Will

      gunrock

      The whole Innovation Park idea was to create an opportunity for local businesses to have a place to expand”

      That was one reason for the innovation parks. I seem to remember that another goal was to attract outside businesses to Davis as well as to provide space for the homegrown. This was one of the reasons that I was concerned about proposed housing for the anticipated newcomers.

  8. Eileen Samitz

    Tia,

    I am sorry but this IS on Ramos and on Staff. There is no doubt on my mind that Ramos wanted this alternative of mixed-use in the alternatives and Staff went along with it. Ramos swore up and down originally that this going to be a commercial-only project which is the ONLY reason it got any attention from folks like me who realize that we need better ways to have more revenue for our City than short-term money from residential. But developers jump at any opportunity to do residential because it is more profitable for them, but it brings costs to the City long-term.

    Also, most people do not want to live in vertical high density housing long-term. At some point they are likely to have a family, or even if not, to want a little more space with even a small yard rather than a high rise apartment-sized unit long-term even if to just have pets or children.

    I agree with the many postings here that housing at MRIC will just be a “poison pill” and will kill the project because many people will mobilize against it. I would be one person organizing against it and I am already getting feedback about this now from people willing to help.  I know SO many people furious about Ramos trying this stunt. So I am supportive of the project as long as it is well designed, but will oppose it with housing. Adding housing defeats the purpose of doing the project as far as I am concerned.

    Let’s not forget that the original excuse for adding this housing was that 85% of the workers would live there. Well, when so much criticism came up about this ridiculous assumption they sure backed down from that. Even their current assumptions for workers residing in these high density units are ridiculous particularly because the developers cannot mandate this. So the the reduced vehicle trips to the extent they are claiming is purely theoretical. One of there pitches necessitate “at least one MRIC worker living in each of the 850 units”.  I mean come on…  Aren’t they embarrassed to try using this assumption? It is interesting that these guys think that they can convince people with this long shot attempt to try to “green wash” the project.  Furthermore, if we needed more housing there is 50 acres within the City right across the street from MRIC where housing could go which could offer a variety of housing types rather then just vertical apartment-like units.

    I agree with what Jim has posted and have said it before as well, MRIC should density any space they have with more commercial, not housing. The original complaint was that the MRIC  site was not big enough for what we needed for research and development. Another issue is that a research and development park is NOT the same as a business park. All kinds of research goes on in a research park which is not compatible with nearby housing.  Housing in a research and development park is a turn off for some companies which do not want housing nearby in case there are concerns about safety. For instance, who would want to live next to or across the street from a cancer research facility? So housing in the project would be a deterrent for some research and development companies that would otherwise locate at MRIC. In a business park it is more like office use which is more compatible with housing nearby. A  research and development park as compared to a business park are two very different commercial products.

    1. Matt Williams

      Eileen Samitz said . . . “Also, most people do not want to live in vertical high density housing long-term. At some point they are likely to have a family, or even if not, to want a little more space with even a small yard rather than a high rise apartment-sized unit long-term even if to just have pets, as well as children.”

      I believe Eileen is correct in her quote above, and is so doing has probably done a good job of describing what the residents of the kind of live-work housing are likely to be.  They will be at the stage of their lives where the thought of children is somewhere out there in the future.  They will be looking to leverage their newly acquired personal intellectual capital.  They will also, more than likely, neither have the money for a house down payment, nor want to add monthly mortgage loan payments to monthly student loan payments.  The time for children, and possibly even pets, is somewhere in the future . . . and I believe Eileen is right, when that time for children comes, they will look for more space with the knowledge that their student loans have been paid off, their intellectual capital has been leveraged, and that they can afford to make the down payment that a home ownership requires.  At that time, they will turn over the monthly rental of their live-work unit to the next tenant who is part of the next wave of the agricultural innovation economy flowing out of UCD.

       

    2. Tia Will

      Frankly

      Don’t you see how many modern conveniences you benefit from and how many of the life-saving technologies you leverage in your line of work have been created by this style of life that you hold so much disdain for?”

      I am keenly aware and appreciative of many modern conveniences. I don’t know what it is that you think that I “disdain”. I do not however see the world in terms of black and white. Many of the advantages of the technologies that we currently use have downsides as well. Ambulances save lives. But it is also true that the internal combustion engine creates smog which shortens the lives of others. What I see as desirable is constant innovation to provide our “conveniences” in ways that do not simultaneously do harm. This is only possible through continuous innovation. You seem to feel that simply doing more of the same is progress. I disagree. What I do not understand is how you fail to grasp this distinction.

  9. Odin

    Why do we want to gentrify like SF?  The whole tech park idea attracts the exact type of people who prefer our town be a nightclub/fancy restaurant type of place to live.  Those of us who prefer open space and culture downtown be damned.  Just more oppression against low-income earners who are gradually being priced out of this town.

    1. Matt Williams

      Odin said . . . “Why do we want to gentrify like SF?”

      From the very beginning of the discussions in 2011, a core principle of building the innovation economy in Davis has been building on the core competencies of UCD . . . Agricultural Technology.  How many of the people gentrifying San Francisco work in Ag Tech?

      Odin said . . .  “Just more oppression against low-income earners who are gradually being priced out of this town.”

      Here’s a question to everyone.  Is the higher cost of living in Davis an across the board phenomenon, or is is pretty much concentrated on the cost of housing?  Said another way, is Odin’s concern about being priced out of this town driven by the upward march of housing costs, or is it a broader concern about all costs in Davis?

      1. The Pugilist

        Isn’t Davis already gentrified?  Isn’t one of the reasons to build these parks to bring in younger and less affluent employees?  We want their work, but want to send them to Elk Grove to live?

  10. Eileen Samitz

    Matt,

    Just so that we understand each other,  I strongly oppose 850 units at MRIC for the many reasons such as he ones I posted above. MRIC was proposed from the beginning to be a commercial-only innovation park to help bring revenue to the City. So every inch of it should be focused on that only as the public was originally promised, not housing which brings costs to the City long-term.

    1. Matt Williams

      I understand and respect that political decision Eileen.

      I personally do not feel I have enough evidence to actually take a position on the project.  My personal position is that we need to openly and transparently and thoroughly do more homework.

      1. CalAg

        Why? Isn’t any of this intuitively obvious to you? I personally like leaders that can make good decisions with limited information. It’s a big red flag when everything has to get punted for further study.

        850 apartments for 5,900 employees? That’s not going to take care of MRIC housing demand. Why put the entire City of Davis dispersed innovation strategy at risk for a best case (making absurdly optimistic assumptions) 15% impact?

        Most MRIC employees (in my opinion >95% – not the nonsensical 15% assumed by the economic analyst) are going to live off-site, either in Davis or the surrounding regions.

         

        1. CalAg

          correction – the analyst assumed 85% occupancy which would work out to roughly 12% on-site … you get to approx 15% on-site assuming 100% occupancy of MRIC units by at least one MRIC employee.

        2. The Pugilist

          “850 apartments for 5,900 employees? That’s not going to take care of MRIC housing demand. ”

          They aren’t billing it as a way to take care of the housing demand.  They are billing it as a sizable reduction in VMT.  As you guys have noted, not everyone is going to want those kinds of housing, especially families.  It’s a modest proposal.  I don’t see why it’s being made into such a big deal.

        3. Matt Williams

          When my “intuition” considers the impact of housing on the MRIC absorption rate, and therefore the speed with which new jobs are created, it is very easy to see prospective CEOs deciding not to come to Davis because their rank and file employees can’t find readily available rental housing.  I can “intuitively” see a compelling argument given by those CEOs that if their employees are going to have to live in West Sac or Woodland, then why shouldn’t they simply locate the business in West Sac or Woodland.

          If we change the Davis culture from its current “reactive” state to a “proactive” state, then we won’t constantly be playing catch up and making decisions based on limited information.  We need to work smarter.  We need to avoid digging holes for ourselves like we did with the Hotel/Conference Center.  The Cannery CFD decision was made with limited information despite the clarion call for more information by Brett and Robb.  How did that work out?

           

        4. CalAg

          TP: Big deal? Because it will doom the Measure J/R vote.

          VMT claims don’t pass the smell test. Any VMT savings from the MRIC employees will be more than offset by the other residents that commute to jobs outside of Davis.

        5. Jim Frame

          it is very easy to see prospective CEOs deciding not to come to Davis because their rank and file employees can’t find readily available rental housing

          We’ve been told ever since Rob White came to Davis about the incredible pent-up demand for innovation space in Davis, that R&D firms covet locations close to the intellectual hub of UCD.  “Build it and they will come” was the mantra.  The MRIC site was especially prized because of its I-80 visibility, it’s exactly the kind of location big-name companies want to occupy.

          But when I asked Dan Ramos why they didn’t densify the R&D space instead of building housing, he passed the question to one of the consultant team who replied, “Because the area can’t absorb more R&D space fast enough.”

          Somebody’s not telling the truth, and I think I know who it is.

           

           

        6. Matt Williams

          Jim, you make a good point.  One of our biggest challenges is that we really have no handle on what the actual demand is.  Rob’s statement could very well be right, but we don’t know.  The context he gave that statement in leads me to believe that he truly believed he was right.  One of the challenges with Rob’s statement is determining how much of the theoretical demand for space is going to turn into real, actionable, make-a-down-payment demand.   One of the challenges with Dan’s statement is that he wears a lot of hats, and sometimes you get the overly cautious Dan, and other times you get the balls to the wall Dan.   The Open Space and Habitat Commission members were definitely not bashful about sending a Densify message at their last meeting.  It will be interesting to see how the Ramos team addresses those concerns at the March 1st OSHC meeting.

          With that said, I still believe the CEOs and housing question can’t simply be dismissed/ignored.  Phase One may not be as susceptible to that question because so many Schilling employees already live in Davis, but the later three Phases of the project may not be as fortunate.  JMHO

           

  11. Eileen Samitz

    Matt,

    You say that you have not taken a position but you consistently post comments supporting housing at MRIC. So please don’t try to imply that you are neutral on this.  As a candidate running for City Council it is important to be transparent and up front on where you are on the issues.

    1. Matt Williams

      My comments do not support a conclusion that MRIC should have housing.

      My comments do support a full investigation of the evidence about what the fiscal impact of a pro/anti housing decision will have on MRIC.  We have not as yet seen side-by-side economic models of the two alternatives.  Absent that, how can we make an informed decision?  We can’t . . . just as we couldn’t make an informed decision about the Cannery CFD without a side-by-side economic comparison of the value we were giving up and the value we were receiving.

        1. The Pugilist

          It has a fiscal component, even Eileen noted that.  “The long term costs of the housing on the City have been confirmed over and over again historically.”  That being the case, there is a fiscal issue here.  I agree with Matt, we should do the work before saying no.  

        2. Matt Williams

          Is this the same CalAg speaking who used the fiscal results in the EPS report as a bludgeon against the Nishi project?  Why is fiscal the be-all and end-all issue for Nishi and “not a fiscal issue” at MRIC?

          Bottom-line, for Davis in its current financial situation, every issue is a fiscal issue.  We can’t afford to think otherwise.

        3. CalAg

          “Bottom-line, for Davis in its current financial situation, every issue is a fiscal issue.  We can’t afford to think otherwise.” MW

          In this case the process issue (DS) trumps the fiscal issue (MW). Sorry.

          There is zero fiscal benefit from a failed Measure J/R vote on MRIC. In fact, the negative consequences could echo for a decade or more.

          In addition, the back-of-the envelop answer is already self-evident. The 650 units at Nishi essentially zeroed out the the fiscal benefits of 325,000 sq ft of innovation space. Accordingly, 850 units at MRIC would zero out the fiscal benefits of roughly 425,000 sq ft of  innovation space. Using the numbers from the EPS study, I’d guess the proposed 850 units would drop the annual fiscal benefit from $2.2M to roughly $1.8M. This is in sync with the Ramos article where he talks about a fiscal benefit of “nearly $2M.”

  12. CalAg

    Bump – thread from 1/6/16

    Regarding the efforts to twist the Brookings Institute report (which I have read) to rationalize housing at MRIC, this is a previous thread on the topic. I apologize for the last paragraph which was a little over the top. Chalk it up to frustration over the failure of the City Council to reign-in this process and get it back on track. Hopefully, they will get the job done tomorrow.

    CalAg
    January 6, 2016 at 2:25 pm

    From the BI report:

    In recent years, a rising number of innovative firms and talented workers are choosing to congregate and co-locate in compact, amenity-rich enclaves in the cores of central cities. Rather than building on green-field sites, marquee companies in knowledge-intensive sectors are locating key facilities close to other firms, research labs, and universities so that they can share ideas and practice “open innovation.”

    The entire City of Davis is a compact, amenity-rich enclave. The “dispersed innovation” strategy adopted by the Council effectively makes the whole city a 10 sq mi innovation district.
    The problem is that, by no stretch of the imagination, is Davis a “central city.” As a consequence, it remains to be seen whether or not “innovative firms and talented workers” will flock to the Davis enclave.

    Report comment

    CalAg
    January 6, 2016 at 2:36 pm

    From the BI report:

    “… innovation districts are emerging in dozens of cities and metropolitan areas in the United States and abroad and already reflect distinctive typologies and levels of formal planning. Globally, Barcelona, Berlin, London, Medellin, Montreal, Seoul, Stockholm and Toronto contain examples of evolving districts. In the United States, districts are emerging near anchor institutions in the downtowns and midtowns of cities like Atlanta, Baltimore, Buffalo, Cambridge, Cleveland, Detroit, Houston, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, and San Diego. They are developing in Boston, Brooklyn, Chicago, Portland, Providence, San Francisco and Seattle where underutilized areas (particularly older industrial areas) are being re-imagined and remade.”

    If anyone is aware of an “innovation district” or “innovation center” with housing and a mini-downtown on the edge of a small college town, please post.

    ReplyReport comment

    CalAg
    January 6, 2016 at 2:55 pm

    From the BI report:

    “The third model, “urbanized science park,” commonly found in suburban and exurban areas, is where traditionally isolated, sprawling areas of innovation are urbanizing through increased density and an infusion of new activities (including retail and restaurants) that are mixed as opposed to separated. North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park, perhaps the 20th century’s most iconic research and development campus, is the strongest validation of this model. In November, 2012, after several years of review and outreach, RTP announced a new 50-year master plan to urbanize the quintessential exurban science park, recognizing that its isolated car-dependent environment is no longer optimal for spurring innovation and attracting younger talent. The master plan calls for a greater concentration of buildings and amenities, including the creation of a vibrant central district, the addition of up to 1,400 multi-family housing units, retail, and the possible construction of a light rail transit line to connect the park with the larger Raleigh-Durham region, including the universities. Other science parks actively engaged in urbanization efforts include the University Research Park at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the University of Virginia Research Park in Charlottesville and the University of Arizona Tech Park in Tucson.”

    The closest model of innovation districts that fits MRIC is posted above. These examples all involve urbanization of successful science parks. They are all much bigger than MRIC, and have large numbers of end users and employees plus long distinguished track records of success.
    MRIC with housing would represent a fourth model. Phantom innovation districts that never got built because the planning and execution were fatally flawed.

    Report comment

    CalAg
    January 6, 2016 at 2:04 pm

    Frankly: “Innovation Centers” (and MRIC is being pitched as an innovation center) are a relatively new phenomenon – generally R&D-focused redevelopment of brown-field sites in urban cores. The projects have on-site housing because they are generally in old blighted areas with minimal housing, services, or amenities in the vicinity .
    MRIC is a green-field development with good housing within walking distance and an entitled commercial center (unbuilt) across the street. In fact, there is an entire City (i.e. Davis) within the immediate vicinity with abundant high-quality housing, services, and amenities.
    What the developers are doing is dissembling the facts to try and mislead the public about why housing is sometimes embedded in these types of projects. MRIC needs to integrate itself into the City, not try to sell the bogus idea of a self contained island where nobody has to drive. That’s just self-serving nonsense.

    ReplyReport comment

    CalAg
    January 6, 2016 at 2:18 pm

    I realize that “brown-field” site implies environment contamination. More accurately I mean derelict sites in urban cores.
    Mace is a green-field site (literally) adjacent to a compact suburban City.

    ReplyReport comment

    CalAg
    January 6, 2016 at 12:48 pm

    I’m pro economic development
    I’m pro innovation parks
    I’m pro housing
    I’m pro environmental and fiscal sustainability
    I’m pro ag land preservation
    I’m anti stupidity
    The VMT/sustainability claim is false
    The claim that MRIC needs housing to succeed is false
    The developer’s push poll is misleading and irrelevant
    The proposed housing will doom the Measure R vote (this is a complete metaphysical certitude)
    Wolk needs to  rescind his apparent support of housing on MRIC.
    I don’t know who he is listening to besides RAMCO and their surrogates, but he is making stupid decisions on this issue and should not be an accessory to the bait-and-switch.
    The political ramifications of the MRIC housing clown-show – like the blow-back from the original plundering of the city by RAMCO (the Mace Ranch blackmail in the mid 80’s) – will take decades to repair. What politician in their right mind would be dumb enough to get in bed with the developers on this pernicious power play?

    ReplyReport comment

    Frankly
    January 6, 2016 at 1:31 pm

    I line up 100% with this.  Well-said.

    ReplyReport comment

    Barack Palin
    January 6, 2016 at 1:51 pm

    ^^^^^DITTO^^^^^

    Reply

     

  13. Eileen Samitz

    Matt,

    The long term costs of the housing on the City have been confirmed over and over again historically. This is also about the impacts of an enormous number of high density vertical housing units on the edge of town, and there is no way that the 850 units will be occupied by the workers at MRIC to reduce vehicle trips to justify the housing and the impacts.

  14. ruralknight

    “People have written on here that they might support the project without housing, but they will work against it with housing.”

    I don’t think those that have written here is a good representation of Davis. I’ve just recently started reading the Vanguard regularly and it seems like there’s 10 people who spend way too much time commenting on here. Its gotten to the point where I can pretty much guess who is going to say what…they mostly want to just argue attempting to prove their intellectual prowless over the others. I sure hope Council doesn’t use these comments as being representative of Davis voters…

     

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