Economic Development Series: Future of Economic Development in Davis

Mayor Pro Tem Robb Davis
Mayor Pro Tem Robb Davis

By Robb Davis

(Editor’s note: following the decision by Mace Ranch Innovation Center to put its pending project on hold, the Vanguard decided to re-start a community discussion on the future of economic development in Davis.  As such, we are reaching out to a very diverse group of people and starting May 1 we are hoping to publish one op-ed a day on this subject.  We are pleased to announce that so far we have over 40 commitments and counting. Beginning today, we will publish one article per day for the month of May into June.  If you would like to add your voice – please submit your piece on the future of economic development in Davis (800 to 1000 words).

For nearly two years we, as a community, have failed to advance a coherent vision for economic development in Davis. Instead we have advanced a peripheral real estate development strategy that has run into an inevitable dead end.  We have not articulated the ends we wish to achieve with an economic development plan, and have thus limited the discussion to revenue generation alone.

Land use and the creation and maintenance of a supply of commercial space is an important element of economic development. And certainly revenue generation that flows from economic development is an important outcome.  However, by not critically analyzing the ends of economic development and failing to strategically put forth a vision for the means that will help us arrive at these ends, we have had a very narrow and, often times, counterproductive conversation about this issue.

The Vanguard has been complicit in this narrow framing, having chosen to highlight the charged politics of peripheral land development rather than the more pedestrian realities of what it takes to have a thriving and diversified local economy.  These include things that make for a fully formed economic development system such as

  • fostering deeper University/City strategic engagement;
  • reducing business costs by providing lower priced and reliable electricity;
  • increasing productivity by developing outstanding broadband service across the City;
  • developing a more robust hospitality sector by encouraging the development of branded hotels to capture revenue leaking to other communities
  • continuing to provide high quality public safety and good schools;
  • enhancing an already thriving entertainment and retail sector; and
  • developing a more diversified housing stock built to provide walkable and bikeable access to city amenities and transit

Together these things—as well as high quality, adaptable commercial space—attract companies that want to make their home in the region. Scan the “economic development” brochures of cities in the region (that have them) and all of these issues will be highlighted as critical to their economic development plans.  Land use is just one factor among several others.

By failing to engage in a broader discussion the conversation has devolved into unhelpful rhetoric about whether Davis will “play its role in the region,” with the answer hinging on whether it will vote to entitle peripheral business or mixed-use parks. Every departure of a local company for a nearby or more distant community is met with handwringing but there is little critical analysis of the variety of reasons they chose to leave.

But since we have gone down this path, perhaps we cannot “start over” in discussing the true ends and means of local economic development without retracing our steps on the whole notion of “innovation parks.”

The companies leaving Davis are not moving into glittering new “innovation parks,” with LEED-certified facilities built to their specifications.  Rather they are moving into existing buildings in other communities.  They repurpose these existing and empty facilities rather than incur the cost of constructing to specifically suit their needs.

They occupy buildings that were either built to suit a prior occupant or were built speculatively at a time when financing for such buildings was more available and/or the certainty of filling them was greater.  The buildings are of relatively low quality construction (tilt up concrete walls), with little to no attention paid to environmental sustainability.  They were cheap to build partially because they were not required to meet Cal Green standards and were built at a time when financing was easier than today.  Arguably, they are not the kind of buildings we have in mind when we think of an “innovation center.” There is an excess supply of such buildings in the region, and for growing companies they offer an inexpensive option.

The uncertainty about absorption rates for the commercial element, constrained financing options and (reasonable) expectations about building truly green projects, make it increasingly difficult for such projects to move forward unless they can be built with more certain revenue generators such as hotel space, significant ancillary retail, and mixed-used or otherwise dense housing on site.

The MRIC and DIC developers knew from the outset that the investment potential of the properties in question was contingent on them being able to have mixed use housing, retail and hotels on their sites.  Further, in the case of the MRIC, even these elements were not sufficient to make this investment competitive with other options available to them.  They also sought preferential land mitigation options, and an Enhanced Infrastructure Finance District (an RDA-like mechanism that keeps tax increments in the project) as well as a CFD. Without these things the investment was not going to be attractive to them.

These are the realities of trying to develop speculative commercial space on the edge of our city but in the stunted discourse that equated innovation centers (as mere revenue generators) with economic development, they were not forthrightly discussed. The point is, to the extent that we determine that our economic development strategy requires peripheral commercial growth opportunities, we must enter the entitlement process with these realities transparently laid out before us.  Up until now they have not been.

But now, with both the DIC and MRIC on hold, we have a renewed opportunity to step back and ask

  • What are the ends we want to achieve with economic development?
  • What is the full set of tools we need to utilize (and invest in) to achieve the ends?

The “ends” of economic development are a more diversified and resilient local economy; a variety of jobs that provide meaningful work for people with a variety of gifts; and adaptable work spaces that accommodate start-ups, research and lab space and corporate offices.  Fundamentally, the ends should be about identifying our particular local strengths and focus on actions that build on them.

In terms of means to achieve these ends, all the elements in the list I laid out above are necessary but I highlight the following: 1) We must act aggressively to capture the benefits of the many people who visit our community.  One of the most efficient means to secure revenue is in the hospitality industry and we are far underdeveloped in this domain. 2) We must more intentionally remove barriers to redevelopment and densification across our city to achieve more efficient land use. 3) We must assure we are maximizing the revenue potential of existing neighborhood shopping centers; 4) We must lay out a clear set of strategic objectives to move forward with the University and use all means to press leadership at UCD to engage with us on them. 5) Business leaders in our community must abandon the all too frequent practice of seeking political “protection” for their particular businesses from competition.

And if we are truly committed to economic development we will more aggressively pursue a full gamut of cost containment activities so that the fruits of our economic development activities are not eaten by rapid city service cost escalation.  I have laid out the skeleton of such activities but have received virtually no support from the business community to date.  I expect all supporters of a robust local economy to join me in moving this agenda forward.

And what of commercial development?  It remains an important means to achieve the ends, and I would suggest that some peripheral growth is necessary.  However, given Measure R, it will never happen unless we are honest with the community about exactly what it requires.  Hopefully this article has contributed to naming that reality.

In the months ahead I believe we must join together to develop a renewed economic development strategy that is comprehensive and starts NOT with vague notions of innovation as an end in itself, but with how to foster development given the already existing strengths of this community—which are substantial. I hope the Vanguard articles on the subject help launch the discussion.

Robb Davis is the Mayor Pro Tem of Davis

About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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68 Comments

  1. Barack Palin

    The MRIC and DIC developers knew from the outset that the investment potential of the properties in question was contingent on them being able to have mixed use housing, retail and hotels on their sites. 

    When from the outset did MRIC state that they needed mixed use housing in order to be viable?

     

    1. Tia Will

      BP

      When from the outset did MRIC state that they needed mixed use housing in order to be viable?”

      From at least as far back as the very first public presentation and solicitation of views from the public by the Ramos team. It was at that meeting  when I asked Mr. Ramos about the number of people anticipated to be employed there, and housing for them and their families, he replied that we were talking in the thousands and that housing for them on site would be optimal from his point of view, but that the city had been clear that it was not interested in proposals that included housing. This was also the view expressed by the DIC team at their initial presentation.

      1. Barack Palin

        So Tia Will, Ramos stated to you that housing would be optimal but didn’t say to you that “the investment potential of the properties in question was contingent on them being able to have mixed use housing”.  Huge difference.  They submitted their proposal that stated they would build it without housing only later to have the city dangle that carrot and we all know what happened after that……..

  2. Michael Harrington

    Maybe you should try inviting people to the discussion who are not all rah-rah business people who think exterior development is the only way to go.

    Also, where is the mitigation land for these exterior projects?   Nishi is on top of a vote and the City and Nishi have not publically disclosed the location or quality of the 2-1 mitigation.  (Another great reason to vote No.)

    1. Tia Will

      Nishi is on top of a vote and the City and Nishi have not publically disclosed the location or quality of the 2-1 mitigation.”

      This is one point that I think Michael has right. I believe that all of the relevant details should be available to the voters prior to making a final decision on the project. I have never seen agreements struck with developers after the fact ( or without the public’s knowledge that this might not be the final agreement ) be favorable to anyone other than the developer’s.  One has only to think of the Cannery.

      If the location of the property is known, it should be disclosed well before the vote to give time for public consideration. If it is not known and will not be known in advance of the vote, then the full disclosure of that needs to be made so that people can choose to vote “no” if that uncertainty is prohibitive for them.

    2. DavisforNishiGateway

      As part of the Nishi’s baseline features, the ag mitigation will be in accordance with the City of Davis Municipal Code requirements–meaning no City-owned land may be used to fulfill this requirement, in addition to the land needing to be located within the Davis planning area and with similar soils as well as being subject to the review of the Open Space and Habitat Commission and approved by the City Council. This really isn’t an issue.

      1. Ron

        DavisforNishiGateway:  So, in other words, you’re either 1) purposefully not telling us where the mitigation land actually is (e.g., the specific site), or 2) you don’t know.

        And, that you think this answer will satisfy those who might care.

         

  3. Tia Will

    Fundamentally, the ends should be about identifying our particular local strengths and focus on actions that build on them.”

    In the months ahead I believe we must join together to develop a renewed economic development strategy that is comprehensive and starts NOT with vague notions of innovation as an end in itself, but with how to foster development given the already existing strengths of this community—which are substantial.”

    I believe that Robb has this right and that we have the ability, as a community, to build upon our own unique strengths informed by what strategies have proven successful in other communities, but always with a vision of preserving what is best about our own.

    1. Biddlin

      ” to build upon our own unique strengths informed by what strategies have proven successful in other communities, but always with a vision of preserving what is best about our own.”

      Pretty words, but what do they mean? What unique strengths would you build on? Describe a strategy from another community (and name that community) that you would employ in Davis.

      1. Tia Will

        Biddlin

        Pretty words, but what do they mean?”

        I have described what I mean on many, many occasions. I will hit a few bullet points. If interested you can look at previous posts for more details.

        1)We have a strong group of people who are very locally ecologically minded. We have groups on the campus with expertise in design and conservation. I think that we could do much to reduce the use of the private automobile ( instead of continuing to build to accommodate it and mitigate its obvious harms).

        2) We have the adjacent university. We should be actively developing spaces such as Nishi for joint living and R&D projects rather than spending our time on large manufacturing complexes that may promise much but are quite uncertain and apparently not supported widely enough in the community even though they have strong proponents.

        3) We are a very well educated and affluent community. I believe that we should be willing to pay for what we want with increased taxes with exemptions or allowances for those who would be priced out of our community. Do I know how to do that ?  No. But there are many financially savvy people here who could come up with a plan if we had the will.

        4) I believe that we could generate small, but not negligible amounts of money through parking fees at least in the downtown area and that future businesses and developments should make some kind of “pay to park” arrangement as Nishi has done. Many, many other communities do this ( Berkeley and Boulder included). I named Berkeley because of its proximity and Boulder since Frankly frequently sites Boulder as a community we should be emulating. Over 40 years ago I remember the adults paying for street parking in downtown Santa Fe which seems to have survived despite a pay to park policy.

        5) I would favor putting measures that require a vote before the voters in a timely fashion without stonewalling those one does not personally favor. I believe that some of our city council members have been far too reticent to just put measures that require a vote on the ballot and let the voters decide. There have been multiple times when the explanation has been “we are afraid that it won’t pass” or “we don’t think there has been enough conversation”, or “that wasn’t part of my initial proposal”. So instead of putting the measures on the ballot and leading by advocacy for or against according to their judgement, we have council members making determinations on what their friends, supporters, backers and or public commenters have to say instead of an objective consideration of all points of view.

      2. Tia Will

        Biddlin

        I just read today’s Enterprise article on the presentation scheduled for this Thursday by an architect Michael Parolek on form based codes. These are exactly the kinds of presentations that I think we should be considering when we plan the future of our city rather than simply accepting whatever “planned development” can garner three votes on the city council. This kind of planning is an area where I believe that Rochelle Swanson and I could agree on what it truly means to engage the “entire community” in envisioning the future of our city.

  4. Misanthrop

    “2) We must more intentionally remove barriers to redevelopment and densification across our city to achieve more efficient land use.”

    Substitute peripheral development for ” densification.”

    Measure R is the biggest barrier of all, why not remove that barrier? People don’t want densification in their own neighborhood.  If I don’t want it in my own backyard why is it okay to want it in someone else’s? Robb once observed from the dais that its easier to do peripheral development than infill but we have artificially made peripheral development incredibly expensive and perhaps impossible to do. As a result we are stuck between neighborhood opposition to infill and external prohibition. In other words we are our own worst enemy both on internal and external development. The result of this over the last 16 years since Measure R and Mike Harrington was on the council has been a massive housing shortage as both the city and UC have not kept pace in support of the demand for our number one product, education, and the additional housing needed to facilitate and support that industry. Further we have not provided the business infrastructure to develop and support our second most most important driver of wealth creation, research and the concomitant value technology transfer offers this community. We lost Agraquest to an already existing facility but Monsanto built a new facility in Woodland when they left because of security reasons. Even before these losses Genentech chose Vacaville and built a huge new facility there instead of Davis because Davis wouldn’t compete to provide the infrastructure needed. Now many people drive from here to there each workday. I wonder how much greenhouse gas would have been saved had Genentech located here?

    We can argue about LEED certification and infill or outfill all we want but as we keep dithering and getting little done our infrastructure declines, our schools are kept full with the mirage of inter-district transfer and more carbon is released into our atmosphere by those who commute to school and work than will ever be save through demanding platinum energy efficiency in new construction.

    I agree we need to remove barriers Robb but I think you are wrong about removing barriers to densification. It is the barriers to peripheral development that are holding us back.

    1. Don Shor

      Measure R is the biggest barrier of all, why not remove that barrier?

      The voters of Davis have made it very clear they don’t want peripheral development. Measure R just triggers the vote automatically, rather than having one project after another subject to a referendum. It makes little difference as to the likelihood of land being annexed and developed.

      1. Misanthrop

        Nobody is right if everybody is wrong.

        But perhaps Robb is focusing on the art of the possible, the essence of politics. Sadly it therefore doesn’t provide us with much in the way of out of the box thinking.

    2. Tia Will

      So we can agree that we have groups of citizens who do not want :

      1. More taxes

      2. More peripheral development

      3. More densification

      with some overlap between some of these groups. It has been years since we came up with a comprehensive vision for the city. I would say it is high time that we did so again.

      I will be very interested to hear what Mr. Parolex has to say on Thursday addressing this issue with one potential model for addressing city planning in a collaborative manner.

      1. Frankly

        1. We already have some of the highest taxes of any comparable city.

        2. We are already more dense (in a couple of ways) that any comparable city.

        3. We have significant less commercial property than any comparable city.

        – and –

        we have a much lower rental vacancy rate that any comparable city.

        Said another way, you already got yours, time to give back now.

  5. Michael Harrington

    The draft we have for a strengthened R initiative will require disclosure of the mitigation land as early as the first application.  Right now, Nishi mitigation is totally  hidden from the voters Ruff has refused to discuss it with us

    1. Ron

      Michael Harrington:  “The draft we have for a strengthened R initiative will require disclosure of the mitigation land as early as the first application.  Right now, Nishi mitigation is totally  hidden from the voters Ruff has refused to discuss it with us.”

      Definitely needed.  Thanks, Mike – for your efforts.

    2. David Greenwald

      Baseline Project Featrure: Agricultural mitigation shall be provided in accordance with City of Davis Municipal Code requirements. City-owned land may not be utilized to fulfill any component of the agricultural mitigation obligation.

      Municpale Code Requirements: 2-1; must be located in Davis planning area, similar soils, and subject to review of open space and habitat commission and approved by City Council.

        1. Barack Palin

          It’s kind of funny that we have commenters on here talking about uninformed voters yet some people want to give the city and the developer a pass when some citizens want to know more facts about the development.

  6. Jim Frame

    It is the barriers to peripheral development that are holding us back.

    Measure R is what keeps Davis from looking like Elk Grove, the poster child for suburban sprawl. Covell Village would have been the first step, and by now we’d probably have our own personal Springlake.

    I think trying to repeal R is a fool’s errand, but if anyone wants to try, knock yourself out.

  7. Eileen Samitz

    The MRIC and DIC developers knew from the outset that the investment potential of the properties in question was contingent on them being able to have mixed use housing, retail and hotels on their sites.

    Sorry Tia, but I have the same comment and concern  by BP about this statement from Robb’s article. This statement by Robb either completely incorrect, or else the Ramos developers were scamming our community from the beginning about their real intentions for an enormous number of housing units at MRIC. Also, I asked Ramos at the Vanguard public meeting on MRIC if he would build the project without housing and he said, “Yes, I just need direction from the City to do that”. Well look how that turned out. He was told to build the commercial-only project and housing was taken off the table and now he is trying to basically “blackmail” the city into putting housing in the project. So why would be put any trust into the Ramos developers after pulling this “bait and switch”?

    The main reason our community started looking into innovation parks was for additional income needed by the City. The conversation regarding an innovation park on the Mace site was to be a commercial-only site, not having residential on site.  “No residential at the Mace Innovation Center” was pledged by Ramos over and over, yet what crept in later was these developers real “end game”. 850 high density units which they also were trying for, and what they were especially after was that none of them would be affordable housing, like Nishi Gateway.  Just to get an idea of the magnitude of that many units that would bring costs and impacts on our City’s infrastructure and City services, 850 units the same number if units as all of Mace Ranch and 2/3’s of Wildhorse for heaven’s sake!

    Also, the MRIC  “green-washing” attempt for mixed-use is just a stunt which the City should not fall for since all of the valuable space at MRIC is far more needed for as much R and D that could be located there for the revenue.  Not to bring the costs that so much residential there would bring long term.  This  green-washing attempt is pretty obvious since MRIC  can not mandate that 80% of this housing would be occupied by MRIC workers as they tried to claim as ridiculous “assumption” in the EIR. Not only that, but whomever did live in these high-density units, are likely to have a roommate for other family members who do not work there and will need to commute to their jobs elsewhere. So having 850 units on the site is far more likely to increase the carbon footprint of MRIC not make it more “green”.

    It is clear that Robb is very pro-growth and that is disappointing since I thought he was more of a progressive, but Tia I find it hard to understand that you say you are an unapologetic slow-growther yet you seemed to be fooled by this really apparent ploy by the Ramos developers. If more housing is needed, then there is over 50 acres right across the street from the MRIC site.

    1. nameless

      Eileen Samitz: “He was told to build the commercial-only project and housing was taken off the table and now he is trying to basically “blackmail” the city into putting housing in the project. So why would be put any trust into the Ramos developers after pulling this “bait and switch”?

      I agree that Ramos was told specifically by the City Council not to put housing in the project from the outset.  However I cannot agree with the remainder of your “assessment”.  Ramos was forced BY THE CITY to put housing in the CEQA analysis as an alternative.  Ramos then discussed the issue of housing with tech businesses and looked at the bottom line, realizing workforce housing is a desirable asset for absorption rates for businesses in tech parks.  It was only then that Ramos returned to the City Council, advising them of his findings that housing could be a valuable part of the project from an absorption point of view.  However, for political reasons the City Council decided against a housing component and Ramos acquiesced willingly.  Since that time the CITY’s financial consultants on the project determined MRIC is not projected to give a high enough rate of return (only 3-4% when a 12% is considered optimal).  It was at this point MRIC made the decision to put the project on pause.  Thus far the city has been in the driver’s seat in regard to the MRIC housing issue, and there has been no “bait and switch” or “blackmail” or “greenwashing” on that specific matter.  Ramos has made no demands for housing on the MRIC site threatening no project if he doesn’t get his way.

    2. Barack Palin

      This statement by Robb either completely incorrect, or else the Ramos developers were scamming our community from the beginning about their real intentions for an enormous number of housing units at MRIC.

      I don’t understand the comment coming from Robb Davis being that the initial project from the outset called for no housing.  Would Robb like to comment?

  8. Michael Harrington

    With the right mitigation a commercial only MRIC would glide in.  It’s far better site than Nishi

    But instead of talking about his mitigation Ramos hid it.  That means it’s of low quality and in places that will never be subject to development anyway.

    Without good mitigation the MRIC is just more junky sprawl on the valley floor

    The CC was negligent in not demanding the mitigation disclosure and actually helped doom the project Come on Rochelle: help out your friend and make Ramos disclose it. A little tough love goes a long way

    Mr Ramos:  where’s your mitigation ?  I’ve been asking you for  several years

    1. Frankly

      Thanks nameless.  Mr. Harrington keeps bringing this up; yet the MRIC clearly includes the 2:1 ag mitigation.  Mike have you even studied the plan, or are your heals so dug in against any and all development that you are on just auto-pilot criticism?

      By the way, as I understand the 2:1 ag mitigation is only a city ordinance.  As such, it will always be subject to exception by the CC.  They have that right.  Correct me if I am wrong.

      1. Ron

        Frankly (and nameless)  “Mr. Harrington keeps bringing this up; yet the MRIC clearly includes the 2:1 ag mitigation.”

        I believe that Mike Harrington is stating that the specific agricultural mitigation land (for each development proposal outside of city boundaries) should be identified, before it is presented to voters.  Seems like a reasonable thing to ask.  (And, in the case of Nishi, that land has apparently not been identified.)

        In the case of MRIC, the developers were “looking into” the possibility of using city-owned land as mitigation.  (Since the site was already owned by the city, the city already had full control regarding preservation of the site.)  Since city land cannot be used for mitigation, the developers would have had to (first) purchase the land from the city.  (Seems like a way to bypass the intent of the ordinance.) Of course, one could argue that selling-off city-owned land (that is under no threat of development) is a “great way” for the city to make money!

        I think that other privately-owned agricultural sites (that are under threat of development) are generally a more effective use of agricultural mitigation efforts.

        1. Frankly

          Since city land cannot be used for mitigation

          Did you just make that up, or do you have something to offer as evidence?  You do know that the city owned Mace 391 before putting it into permanent ag easement, right?

        2. Frankly

          Are you aware of Mace 391?  That near 400 acres of land that the city owned and put into permanent ag easement… and kept 25 acres… the same that is being pledged for this Ramos project ag mitigation?

          By the way… a comment by a poster with the name of “nameless” is useless as evidence.

        3. Ron

          Frankly:  I’m aware of Mace 391, from comments such as yours.  I don’t know the full history of it.

          I wasn’t quoting “nameless”.  I just posted the same link to a previous article that he/she did.  Not sure of the original source of the information, beyond that point.  (It was only discussed in the “comments”, without a link.  No one challenged it, at that time.)  Point acknowledged (and appreciated), if it’s not in the actual ordinance.

          http://www.davisvanguard.org/2016/02/mric-goes-outside-the-box-to-look-into-howatt-as-mitigation-land/

          Regardless, my primary point remains the same. And, in the case of Nishi, it would be most helpful for voters if the mitigation land was identified, before it’s voted on.

        4. davisite4

          It wasn’t Mace 391 that was being proposed as ag mitigation; it was Howatt Ranch.  How on earth could Mace 391 qualify as mitigation when it already has an easement on it??

        5. Frankly

          No no no.

          Ron posted that the city cannot use land it owns for ag mitigation.  My point is that the city can put any land it owns into permanent ag easement, like Mace 391, so it is clear that the city can certainly use its land for ag mitigation.

          Unless someone can point me to specific language in the 2:1 ag mitigation ordinance that disallows it, I don’t see the problem.   The spirit of the ordinance is not to be punitive to developers, but to make sure the city secures enough farmland moat property if we allow some peripheral development.  Maybe you no-growers think that every acre of land that the city owns is as good as gone from future development potential and hence don’t count it, but you would be wrong.

  9. nameless

    I have to respectfully disagree with much of this article, particularly the premise.  IMO the city has articulated what it wants – more well planned R&D space to capture business tax revenue – tax revenue that will benefit the city’s general fund and pay for infrastructure repair/maintenance.  In regard to the following specific points made:

     

    “fostering deeper University/City strategic engagement” – the city has been trying to do this for years, with little success because invariable citizens get very vocal if UCD tries to make any changes that would effect surrounding neighborhoods;
    “reducing business costs by providing lower priced and reliable electricity” – already done – the city is moving forward with forming a CCEA to reduce electricity costs;
    “increasing productivity by developing outstanding broadband service across the City” – a city task force has already formed to develop broadband service across the City;
    “developing a more robust hospitality sector by encouraging the development of branded hotels to capture revenue leaking to other communities” – the city is already contemplating approval of as many as 4 new hotels;
    “continuing to provide high quality public safety and good schools” – the city’s bicycle safety program is second to none and Davis schools are continually rated very highly;
    “enhancing an already thriving entertainment and retail sector” – the downtown is already a hopping destination for arts and entertainment – but retail is woefully lacking, which is not surprising since there is opposition to anything other than pricey small niche market retail;
    “developing a more diversified housing stock built to provide walkable and bikeable access to city amenities and transit” – Nishi is an attempt to build some student housing right next to UCD that is both walkable and bikeable, and look at the opposition it is getting! 

    1. Jim Frame

      “increasing productivity by developing outstanding broadband service across the City” – a city task force has already formed to develop broadband service across the City;

      Forming a task force and getting a universal FTTP network built are two very different things.  This isn’t something to be complacent about; there will be plenty of pushback from the incumbent operators (Comcast and AT&T) when they see their revenue bases threatened.  It’s very important that Davis residents and business owners understand the benefits offered by an open (not proprietary) fiber-to-the-premises network in terms of lifestyle and economic development.  The work has only begun, and the project needs steady support from residents, the business community and elected officials in order to achieve its goals.

  10. Frankly

    There isn’t anything I disagree with in this piece from Robb.

    However, I assume he is walking the nuanced line of a good politician by not stating the obvious.

    He makes a list of things he believes will result in a “fully formed economic development system”:

    fostering deeper University/City strategic engagement;

    reducing business costs by providing lower priced and reliable electricity;

    increasing productivity by developing outstanding broadband service across the City;

    developing a more robust hospitality sector by encouraging the development of branded hotels to capture revenue leaking to other communities

    continuing to provide high quality public safety and good schools;

    enhancing an already thriving entertainment and retail sector; and

    developing a more diversified housing stock built to provide walkable and bikeable access to city amenities and transit

    Again, no argument from me.

    But this is like describing all the ingredients that go into a fantastic chocolate cake while ignoring the lack of an oven.

    Capital – both monetary and human – are two of the three primary needs for a successful economic development system.  We have them both.  The third is space.  This we don’t have.  And when you understand WHY we don’t have it, there is very clear justification and explanation for the “charged politics of peripheral land development” that the VG hosts.

    We are in a battle for the future of the city.  Will it go the way of the well-off older residents demanding Davis be an exclusive and  sleepy little retirement village with ever increasing taxes; or will it become a city with a vibrant innovation economy with more working professionals and young families that work in the city… one that can pay its bills and repair its roads?

    Nishi is the “Omaha Beach” of this battle.  We either take it or the enemies of change win and seal the fate of the city.

    1. Tia Will

      Frankly

      We are in a battle for the future of the city.  Will it go the way of the well-off older residents demanding Davis be an exclusive and  sleepy little retirement village with ever increasing taxes; or will it become a city with a vibrant innovation economy with more working professionals and young families that work in the city… one that can pay its bills and repair its roads?

      Nishi is the “Omaha Beach” of this battle.  We either take it or the enemies of change win and seal the fate of the city.”

      Sometimes I am just amazed at the way you write exclusively in stark oppositional positions as though no middle ground is ever possible or even ever worthy of consideration. Life is not lived in “black and white” unless of course you have a truly rare genetic, neurologic or ophthalmic condition. There is more to life than competition. There is also collaboration as an alternative modality and yet you write as though you are unaware of this possibility. You and I both support Nishi ( you seemingly unequivocally and me with some reservations) and yet you consistently post as though you see life as a perpetual struggle between “good” ( defined as your way) and “evil” ( defined as anyone who does not share your “all capitalist, all the time world view).

  11. Tia Will

    Eileen

    This statement by Robb either completely incorrect, or else the Ramos developers were scamming our community from the beginning about their real intentions for an enormous number of housing units at MRIC.”

    You and I have had this conversation before and I still feel that you are taking too narrow a view of the possibilities. I think it is entirely possible for Ramos and company, just like DIC, to have preferred a mixed use model from the beginning and been instructed by the city that it would not be considered. Obviously under these circumstances, it would have done no good to insist on putting a mixed use plan up for consideration. This does not mean that anyone was doing anything to “scam” the community. It might simply be that they felt there was no possibility at all for their favored plan. I do not know since I cannot see into the heart and mind of Mr. Ramos. But I do believe that we should be willing to give all parties the benefit of the doubt. This doesn’t mean we have to agree with them, but I do believe it means that we should not use accusations of nefarious behavior when we cannot prove that it existed especially when there are other reasonable alternatives explanations for the same behavior. I did not and do not support MRIC for many reasons. But making up nefarious intent on the part of the developer is not one of them.

    Tia I find it hard to understand that you say you are an unapologetic slow-growther yet you seemed to be fooled by this really apparent ploy by the Ramos developers”

    It would appear that we are not sharing a mutually agreed upon definition of “slow-growther”. I did not support MRIC either with or without the housing component although I felt that the mixed use plan was the better of the two. I prefer a Nishi style plan due to the mixed use component and location. To me slow-growth does not equal no growth. We just need to be very careful about the specific pros and cons of each project and whether on the whole, the pros out weight the cons. I happen to believe that this is true for Nishi, was likely to be true for DIC and unlikely to be true for either of the versions of MRIC.

    While I agree with you that Robb Davis is more pro growth than I would have predicted, what one can be absolutely sure of with Robb is that he is acting on his own independent assessment of the city’s needs . He is not unduly influenced by any one group or “in anyone’s pocket” for those of you who like to think in terms of “corruption vs lack thereof”.  Robb thinks in terms of objective, evidence based decision making and although I do not always agree with him, I am always cognizant that he uses the approaches that I favor and advocate in arriving at his conclusions.

     

  12. Michael Harrington

    Ron:  correct.  WHERE is the mitigation?  At the city’s borders, preventing development outside of that mitigation ? Or yet more land out in the county somewhere that has no threat of development ?

    Close in is more expensive

    So Nishi hides the location because it’s proabably fairly cheap land out in the middle of nowhere.  If it was close in land you had better believe Ruff would be touting it early and often

    But not one CC member demanded Ruff to disclose it   Just another example of the CC negligence in negotiating this deal.

     

    No tax sharing agreement with County? If Nishi passes then the City’s hand will be greatly diminished.  They will have to accept anything the county demands.

    The tunnel under the RR tracks ?  They not only dont have a deal with UCD but they are not even at the table together.

     

    Plan and funding deal with Caltrans for the Grand Fix at I80?  Nothing in writing or even in negotiations  and short in funding .

     

      1. hpierce

        And, an absolute promise/guarantee that no matter what the economy, no matter what the interest in the non-res space for the each of the next 20 years, we get a minimum of all the rosiest revenues/benefits, and the least (or less) of any and all problems… those should ABSOLUTELY be fully figured out and presented before ANY developer or the City even thinks of rolling the dice on a Measure R vote… the voters need all of those before even considering a vote…

        You want fries with that? Ketchup? Ranch?

    1. DavisforNishiGateway

      More misleading or erroneous claims by Mr. Harrington. First, the City will have the strongest position in negotiating the tax sharing agreement with the County because they can always refuse to annex Nishi which would leave the County with nothing. Second, the tunnel under the railroad tracks has not only been part of the ongoing conversation between the property owners and UC Davis for the past eight years (not even at the table together, really?), but UC Davis has also set a placeholder for Nishi as part of their LRDP and has drawn up plans for creating the new connection to campus through Nishi. Finally, the City has been working for years now with CalTrans to come up with a plan for the Richards Interchange (which, apparently, you think doesn’t need changing?) and have just released preliminary plans. I am not really sure what you expect since these things take time, but the process is well under way, and it is written in the project baseline features that no construction can begin at Nishi until all improvements at Richards are completed. These are non-issues being magnified and distorted.

    1. Frankly

      Right Mike.  I appreciate that you fight for what you clearly want and think is right.  I do respect that even though I disagree in this case.  Tia, my friend, like some others, is all over the map trying to walk such a narrow razor’s edge of nuanced consideration that she routinely slips and cuts herself.  If she supports any significant development, she first requires that it be far enough away from her home.  Then she does so tenuously… letting everyone know that she might flop at any moment if anyone says anything too insensitive.

      It is important for everyone to recognize that Davis will not get another chance at another innovation park if Nishi goes down.   Mike, you know that.  So do others that are hard no-growthers.  They also know that if Measure A passes with a reasonable cushion, that Ramos will be more apt to go forward with MRIC.

      So, yes it is black and white.  I know this is a hard thing to understand for those that want to see the world painted in a rainbow of watercolors, and that the City ensures even the least informed have a say and are made to feel good about all decisions… but at some point it is just a binary choice.  Yes or no.  Go or no-go.  Left or right.  Young or old.  Innovate of stagnate.  Stasis or dynamism.  Regress or progress.

  13. Jim Frame

    Just out of curiosity, would anyone care to take a stab at estimating the cost of a full traffic EIR for Richards/Olive versus the cost of defending a claim that the MND violates CEQA, assuming that the city prevails in the matter?  Don’t forget to include the cost of staff time in assembling supporting documentation.  I don’t have any sense of how the two stack up, but it might be useful to know for future reference.

    1. hpierce

      The cost of the analysis, including data collection, records review, preparation of the traffic study to base either a MND or ‘focused EIR’…  including staff review time, staff reports, etc…

      Cost to prepare everything for a MND ~= 1/2 to 3/4 cost of what is needed  for a focused EIR

      But, a full, focused EIR is generally much more bullet-proof, from a process standpoint, which, as we may see, would have been “priceless”… the technical information is basically the same for either…  the only true basis for the lawsuit is procedural, not factual.   The litigants either know, or should know that…

      Staff also should know, and I suspect they were advised, to do the focused EIR to make the project ‘bullet-resistant’, if not ‘bullet-proof’, given location, likely “bogies”/opposition… process-wise, a couple of layers of kevlar…

      Seems like staff realizes that for the Carlton proposal on Fifth…

      Does that answer your question, Jim?
       

      1. Jim Frame

        Does that answer your question, Jim?

        Without knowing the cost to defend, I can’t make the comparison.  If doing a MND instead of an EIR saves 1/4 the cost of an EIR, and the cost to defend the CEQA complaint is only 1/8 the cost of an EIR, then the MND makes financial sense.  But if the cost of defense is some multiple of the EIR cost, then not so much.

    2. Michael Harrington

      Jim: peanuts more.   BTW. I’ve heard several serious business people around town tell me that the rush job for the Embassy Suites was merely to get it ahead of the other two proposals for hotels.  And that the ES developers may not intend to even do the project.  It all may be a tricky deal to protect the existing hotel facility at Richards and Olive.

      I personally think the South Davis site is by far the best of the three

  14. Tia Will

    Frankly

     If she supports any significant development, she first requires that it be far enough away from her home” 

    This is patently absurd. None of the planned developments, including Trackside, is close enough to my home to make any difference to my interest as you yourself pointed out. So, gee, I guess that proximity to my home can’t really be the issue now can it ?

    It is important for everyone to recognize that Davis will not get another chance at another innovation park if Nishi goes down.”

    This also is patently absurd, but only because you are neglecting to put in any time frame. Another chance in the next 5 years ?  The next 10 ?  The next 50 ?  Of course there will be more opportunities, just not in a time frame acceptable to you.

    So, yes it is black and white.”

    My, my such an argument from a view of life as one of scarcity. Only two options  ?  Really ? You see only “yes or no”. You fail to acknowledge any of the huge array of intermediate alternatives. I actually feel a little sorry for you if you truly cannot see beyond the list of dichotomous conditions that you put out many of which are patently false. For instance where do “down the center” ( instead of right or left), child, adolescent, middle aged, senior citizen ( instead of young or old), “equilibrium” ( instead of “innovate or stagnate”), evolve ( instead of stasis vs dynamism), or maintain while adapting ( instead of “regress vs progress”). You see, there are a wealth of alternatives somewhere between black or white, go or no go. It is a shame if you truly are unable to perceive them.

  15. davisite4

    I truly don’t understand how anyone can read this thoughtful and measured piece by Robb Davis and come away with the impression that he is pro-growth.  I hear him saying that we should only pursue large “innovation centers” if they serve a particular end, that our ends have not been well-articulated, and to the extent that they have been articulated, the innovation centers don’t seem to serve them.  The suggestions that he gives are only mildly growth *at best*, and what he is really trying to do is to restart the conversation in a more productive direction – i.e., let’s talk about what sort of town we want to be and what our needs are, and then let’s talk about how to get there.  Let’s not get caught up in one piece of the puzzle (financing through large business parks, which is far more dicey than some would make it out to be) without looking at all of the rest of the pieces.

    Thank you, Robb, for writing this and for your thoughtful service for Davis so far.  I hope you stick with us for many years in spite of the challenges and frustrations in doing so.  Please know that there are many of us out here who appreciate the work you do.

  16. Eileen Samitz

    Tia,

    I am sorry but I don;t agree with your recollection of the innovation park “genesis”. The entire reason the City stated that it was looking into innovation parks was for revenue, not as mixed use project with residential, particularity the Mace Ranch Innovation Center proposal. This issue came up early on in the innovation parks discussions including by the Innovation Park Task Force, and it was to be “commercial-only” at the Mace Ranch Innovation Center.

    The only exception was the Nishi Gateway project because of its proximity to UCD, but I did not agree with the housing portion of it either early on, but at least it was “on the table” from early on.

    NOT so with the MRIC which REPEATEDLY assured the community that it was focusing entirely on a commercial-only innovation park. But they eventually came forward with their true agenda, which was the 850 units later on when the developers started their “green-washing” campaign to try to turn MRIC into a mixed-use project.

    On Robb being pro-development, this has been pretty clear since he has been elected. I have heard about the disappointment in his pro-growth positions from a number of people who have been as surprised as Tia seems to be, as well as I am.

    1. davisite4

      Eileen, can you give some specific examples of positions or votes that he has taken that show he is pro-growth/pro-development?  I am not trying to disagree with you, but I can’t think of anything, and so would be genuinely interested to learn.

      (Things are often so contentious on this blog that I have to make a point of saying when my questions are genuinely questions, as this one is).

    2. Jim Frame

      On Robb being pro-development, this has been pretty clear since he has been elected.

      I don’t see Robb as either pro-development or anti-development, but rather about honest, efficient and responsible management of the city he was elected to help lead.  The “pro-growth” label is typically applied to CC members who are either looking for a financial path to higher office, or are philosophically disposed toward building things because they believe that building things will improve the city.  (Right now we have 2 of the former and 1 of the latter, in my view. More’s the pity.)  Robb doesn’t fit either of those profiles.

    3. Barack Palin

      I agree with everything Eileen Samitz wrote here and she laid out the circumstances perfectly.  I also see Robb Davis as pro-growth.

  17. Davis Progressive

    I find Eileen’s comment about Robb being pro-development to be disingenuous at best.  She’s been all over the map in terms of her support for Cannery and council candidates.

    Last time she supported Rochelle, who just gave about the most rah-rah development speech you can imagine.  She is supporting Lucas, who in addition to working for Covell Village, has supported every development in Davis on the council including Measure A which she opposes.  And Will is basically tied at the hip with Rochelle.  Meanwhile, she is not supporting Brett Lee who is probably the least pro-development candidate on council.  So for her to say that Robb’s pro-development really means nothing coming from her.

     

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