by Elaine Roberts Musser
(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).
My hope is the Nishi project will be approved by the voters in June. Nishi has the potential to improve traffic around the Richards Blvd. underpass, by diverting traffic away from the tunnel via an extension of Olive Dr. or through Old Davis Road, and by making improvements at the freeway interchange. But more importantly the tax revenue generated to the city could be as high as $1.4 million, with another $400,000 going to Davis schools. Nishi would provide much needed research and development space, as well as new jobs and student housing. Juxtapose these arguments against those of the opposition, and I believe the stronger position favors Nishi.
My expectation is that MRIC is on pause only, and that the developer will take seriously the suggestions of the Finance & Budget Commission to:
- Pare down the amenities to something more reasonable;
- Farm on a portion of the land until the project is halfway built;
- Finance the project on the open market rather than thru a CFD;
- Put housing designed for the workforce, e.g. lofts above work spaces, in the project.
Adding workforce housing to MRIC would be a controversial step, but one I think citizens need to seriously think about. It will make the project more attractive to potential business customers, resulting in a faster buildout time. The amount of research and development space would not decrease, but be built up rather than out. Some have wondered why not increase the projected research and development area? The problem is that the absorption rate for businesses is not infinite. Estimates have been made as to what that absorption rate will be, and the developer has predicated the amount of space allocated on that absorption rate.
Opponents of the innovation parks have used every excuse possible to defeat the innovation parks, including traffic congestion, poor air quality, lack of high enough LEED certification, interference with viewscapes, and the like. When one issue is addressed by the developer, the target is moved to encompass some other perceived flaw in the project, e.g lack of affordable housing. If that doesn’t work to disgruntle the public, then other questionable tactics are employed, e.g. disinformation campaigns, disruption of either public meetings or tabling at the Farmers Market, filing frivolous lawsuits. The opposition knows the “perfect is the enemy of good”. Demanding perfection and continually raising the bar for something better is the name of the game to defeat a proposal. Eventually the project will not pencil out fiscally for the developer, if enough unreasonable requirements are made.
The harsh reality is that if innovation parks are not welcomed here, they will move right up the road to Woodland or over the Causeway to West Sacramento. This already occurred with the proposed Davis Innovation Center, which has now relocated to Woodland. Unfortunately Davis will likely suffer impacts from the Innovation Center now located just north of our city, while failing to garner any of its benefits. Opponents of the innovation parks may perceive that as a “win”, but ultimately the city lost a big chunk of potential tax revenue as well as community amenities.
So I have repeatedly asked opponents of the innovation parks where the city was going to get the funding to pay for city services as well as for repair and maintenance of city infrastructure if not from economic development. Either there is deafening silence, or there is a call for increasing taxes and/or cutting services or personnel. When I ask which personnel, again silence. And do the opponents truly believe citizens will agree to ever increasing taxes? History shows parcel taxes are just barely squeaking by as it is. Any new taxes are unlikely to be approved. Then what? All that is left is to begin cutting services and continue to allow city infrastructure to deteriorate. Take a look at the current state of the roads and bike paths in Davis – it is abominable!
Those who are change averse, who want to keep Davis small in size, don’t see what I see, the graying of our population. Fewer families with young children are locating here. Does Davis want to become a retirement community, or remain vibrant with a mix of folks who all contribute to the fabric of the city? New jobs and more housing are necessary for this city to truly thrive. Innovation parks are the wave of the future, eminently suitable for a city surrounding a research university. Innovation parks do not compete with already existing businesses, but bring more customers in to them.
However, the city itself needs to support the innovation park concept more than it has. I believe the city made a huge mistake when it fired the Chief Innovation Officer Rob White. It sent the wrong signal to the innovation park developers, one of whom got cold feet and went elsewhere. Since that time, a new innovation officer has been hired, but not much has been heard from her. City staff are working diligently with the developers, but there is no PR campaign from the city to bolster the innovation parks. No articles in the Davis Enterprise as Rob White used to do, for instance. If Davis is not willing to put out the welcome mat for innovation parks and continues to remain essentially neutral, surrounding cities like Sacramento, Woodland, and West Sacramento will roll out the red carpet. There are times when I feel as if Councilmember Swanson is alone in her quest to bring well planned economic development to Davis.
One final thought. Many have indicated the belief that Measure R is the problem causing innovation parks not to be built. On the contrary, Measure R allows all citizens to weigh in on a potential project outside the city limits. Opponents of the innovation parks are trying to prevent a Measure R vote from happening. They don’t want voters to weigh in. The reality is that if there was no Measure R, opponents would still carry out their disreputable tactics, including frivolous lawsuits, in attempts to chip away at citizen support for economic development.
Previous installments of the Economic Development Series: