In yesterday’s column, the Vanguard noted that the city of Davis faces $655 million in unfunded and unmet needs over the next 20 years. When Studio 30 developed the dispersed land strategy, they estimated that Davis needed about 200 acres for business development and expansion over a 20-year time horizon, and that the existing land was insufficient to accommodate that need.
While Nishi can supply 325,000 square feet of R&D (research and development) space, the city needs far more to make even the modest projections laid out in the Studio 30 report.
A year ago we were hearing about concerted collaborations between the university and regional leaders regarding the possibility that the university would simply bypass Davis, either going to the Sacramento railyards (which they are going to, at least with the World Food Center) or putting a large innovation park directly to the south of the campus in Solano County, which would bypass both Davis and Yolo County in the discussions.
However, last fall the university appeared to take that option off the table. During their LRDP (Long Range Development Plan) discussions, Bob Segar showed a slide that basically announced the land to the south of campus would no longer be considered for an innovation center.
What happened? At the time, he simply stated that the city had made significant progress with tier one innovation centers that the university no longer needed to develop one of their own on campus.
But that always seemed an odd explanation. For one thing, the city was considering two innovation centers in the summer of 2014, and yet the Vanguard heard that high level meetings took place in the spring of 2015. It was after that point in time that the Davis Innovation Center ended its bid. If anything, by the fall of 2015, things were more and not less precarious than they were in the spring.
Now that MRIC (Mace Ranch Innovation Center) has also paused – the question comes back to where is the R&D space going to go? Clearly, Area 52 and Nishi, if approved, can be places close to campus that would be ideal for startups and incubator space, but the large-scale needs are elusive.
The Vanguard has not gotten a lot of information about the plans for the former Davis Innovation Center, but it appears that they have moved to Woodland, due to the uncertainty of the Measure R process and a battle with the neighbors. Just three miles up the road they are being greeted with open arms, enthusiasm, and a much more certain prognosis.
Think about it – Davis will face similar traffic pressures of people going from the university up Highway 113, but it will not get the tax revenue and the jobs will go to Woodland.
Another thing that has apparently, at least, landed on my radar is the idea that the county could simply bypass Davis on the innovation center.
Right now the city and county have a pass-through agreement by which the city funnels $3 million a year through the former RDA (Redevelopment Agency) to the county in exchange for the county not developing within Davis’ sphere of influence.
But one thought at least circulating around is why shouldn’t the county work with, say, either Ramos or the owners of the land on the Northwest Quadrant to develop an innovation center?
Think about it. There would be no Measure R requirements. The development would immediately void the pass-through agreement, but the revenue that the county would generate would far exceed the $3 million from the pass-through agreement.
Once again, Davis would lose. Davis would not get the tax revenue from the development but the impact on Davis’ roads and community would just be the same. And the elimination of the pass-through agreement, coupled with the jobs and the need for housing might open county land up for houses to support the new innovation center.
While there are a lot of reasons to believe this could happen – the need for research space, the county’s need for revenue, UC Davis’ need for relatively nearby space for tech transfer – there are also a lot of reasons why this probably won’t happen.
The county at this point is much less pro-development than they were a decade ago, when the County General Plan contemplated study areas on the Davis periphery. The threat of study areas was enough to cause 100 Davis residents to angrily denounce the plan, which compelled the board to kill the idea.
However, housing had a much more uncertain prospect for county revenue than a tech park would.
Still, it seems unlikely that the County Board of Supervisors would do this. That might re-open the possibility of UC Davis putting a massive tech park in Solano County – away from Yolo County’s influence and away from Davis’ ability to put a stop to the project.
What this does illustrate is that Davis’ ability to lock down land processes on the periphery is going to eventually lead to unintended consequences. UC Davis is ambitious and they see research and development as their way forward to a more powerful and prestigious university. They also see Davis not so much as a partner but an obstacle.
Davis sees UC Davis, especially on the housing front, as a less than reliable partner as well. However, UC Davis has alternatives that Davis lacks. If Davis stalls on economic development, UC Davis simply moves forward with their third campus at the railyards, potentially also collaborating with others in the county on innovation centers, and moves forward without Davis.
The point that we make here is that Davis’ level of protection against development on its boundaries is much more in the hands of others and the decisions that they make than we realized. There are ways available to build on Davis’ periphery without our permission and, if the actors involved want to play it that way, it might be far more difficult to stop than we think.
—David M. Greenwald reporting