It was just over a year ago when the residents of the Binning Tract were gearing up to fight the development of the proposed Davis Innovation Center, arguing that the proposed development of an innovation park at the site could threaten their quality of life.
The opposition to the proposed development was not coming from Davis residents, but rather from the group of people living in a 54-unit neighborhood that is outside of the city limits and north of Sutter-Davis Hospital.
The concerns included the loss of view because the development would have come within 150 feet of the backyards of the southernmost residents of the development, which was built way back in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
They were also concerns about flooding and the impacts on the existing vernal pools and flood drainage system in an area that floods frequently now — even during periods of relatively low rainfall. They were concerned with the size of the project, and the impact of traffic on a roadway system that is narrow and poorly designed.
By May, the Davis Innovation Center had pulled out of the proposal for a 208-acre high-technology innovation and research campus located at Highway 113 and Covell Boulevard. While the project was said to be “put on hold” or “paused,” the reality always seemed much more than that.
At the time, the developers issued a statement, “We strongly believe the City of Davis should entitle and annex land that can accommodate and support innovation centers. This can only be accomplished by a true public-private partnership in the spirit of the RFEI. We continue to believe that the project we have proposed could be a great asset to Davis and the region.”
However, it looks more and more like that asset will now be benefiting Woodland and the region rather than Davis. The Vanguard has learned that the same project developers are now moving towards an innovation center south of Woodland near the Road 25A and Highway 113 intersection.
John Hodgson of the Hodgson Company, who was one of the main partners in the original proposal in Davis, told the Vanguard he has been asked to say “no comment,” in terms of confirming the plans for the innovation center. An email to Woodland City Manager Paul Navazio has had no response as of the writing of this piece.
There is lots of speculation about the reasons why the Davis Innovation Center pulled out, however, it is widely believed that the opposition of the Binning Tract residents added to the uncertainty of the prospects for passage of a Measure R vote – that at some point would have run up against the Mace Ranch Innovation Center proposal.
The conservative estimates on MRIC are that it would generate $2 million according to the EPS Consulting report, with others believing it could generate $10 million in one-time fees along with another perhaps $5 to $6 million in ongoing revenue as build out occurs.
The Davis Innovation Center, at 4 million square feet, would have generated at least that much, perhaps more.
The idea that the protests from non-residents to the city could be so costly to the prospects for Davis seeing ongoing revenue from economic development is just another concerning turn, as the best laid plans from 2014 seem to be falling by the wayside.
Davis had at one point hoped to send the message that we are open for business, but instead the message is more muddled – anyone who wants to set up shop in Davis has to meander through the gauntlet just to get a project to a Measure R vote, where the voters then get the final say.
The question that Davis must ask is why would anyone invest millions of dollars into a process that is likely to incur strong opposition from residents and even non-residents, when they can do as the developers of the Davis Innovation Center have apparently done and move the project literally four miles up the road to the outskirts of Woodland, and have to deal with no such uncertainty?
More importantly, as we move forward with MRIC headed potentially to a November 2016 vote, how will these developments impact the viability of that development? Will Davis be able to attract the high quality clientele to make that innovation center work if the process and prospects in Woodland are that much easier?
The rest of the region is not waiting for Davis to get its act in gear either. Not only is Woodland moving on a large new hotel and an innovation center, but this week, Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson made a huge splash by hiring a young innovator to run his new Office of Innovation.
As the Sacramento Business Journal reported, “Mayor Kevin Johnson doesn’t yet know what his new Office of Innovation will do, but he has handed the reins to a quintessential denizen of the startup community: a 27-year-old with a dazzling resume in government and technology.”
According to the article, “Abhi Nemani, the mayor’s interim chief innovation officer, is the former chief data officer for Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, where he designed apps aimed at boosting government efficiency. He is also a former leader of Code for America, a national nonprofit that aims to improve government transparency through technology. The organization now has over 120 chapters, including one in Sacramento.”
Sacramento is stepping up big time as it pushes the railyards as its new hub for innovation. Woodland is stepping up. UC Davis, while stumbling a bit, is still looking to expand its reach in Sacramento. And Davis, it seems, cannot get out of its own way, as we pointed out in our column yesterday.
So, add more to the uncertainty as to whether Davis can build Nishi and its 325,000 square feet of R&D space next to UC Davis, or MRIC and its more than three million square feet this fall, and now the ultimate uncertainty – will any of this even matter or has the region just passed Davis by – again.
A question for Binning residents, as they look to figure out how to go from septic tanks to sewers, is just how much did their vow to fight the Davis Innovation Center end up costing the city of Davis in annual revenue and how much of that will now need to borne by the Davis taxpayers?
These are all questions that will be coming down the pike as Davis struggles to find revenue to keep its quality of life at its previous high levels.
—David M. Greenwald reporting