November Vote Sought on Scaled Down MRIC Project

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Dan Ramos listens to council comments surrounded by his team in February
Dan Ramos listens in February to council comments, surrounded by his team

When Mace Ranch Innovation Center (MRIC) developers put the project on pause, the community had every reason to believe the project was dead.  Already having put $3 to $4.5 million into the project, once the council nixed a mixed-use housing proposal, there was the belief that the financing hurdles were insurmountable.

However, the developers believe that, with a scaled down version, they might be able to make the financing work.  And so this week, after two months of re-evaluating their options, project sponsors are requesting that the Davis City Council place a scaled-down project proposal on the November 2016 ballot.

The request was made in a letter sent June 9, to city council members.  Mr. Ramos in the letter wrote, “The MRIC applicant team now requests that our application, as reformatted, be taken off hold and expeditiously moved to the City Council for action and placement on the November 2016 ballot.”

The updated project would seek annexation of the entire 228 acres, including the Mace Triangle and the MRIC project site, but “now seeks approval of innovation center uses on only the southern 102 acres. The northern half of the property, including the City’s 25 acres, is requested to be brought into the City with an urban reserve land use designation and will be subject to a future planning effort and subsequent Measure R vote before any development may occur.”

While some seemed to worry about the prospects of putting that land into a urban reserve within the city, the developers in a press release reiterated, “Any proposed future development there, including housing, would be subject to additional planning and another Measure R vote before it could proceed.”

“Our proposed new approach will help the city retain local companies, attract and accommodate new firms, and generate needed financial resources for city roads, parks and other important public services while improving the project’s economic viability,” said Dan Ramos, MRIC project manager.

Clearly one of the key goals of this expedited project would be to produce something quickly that a local company like Schilling Robotics could utilize for expanded space.  The initial concern with the project was that Schilling Robotics was looking to expand but had no existing location to move to.  In 2013, Bayer-AgraQuest, facing a similar dilemma, ended up moving to West Sacramento, with Monsanto moving its operations from 5th Street to rural Woodland.

“We believe strongly that when presented with the thinking and facts behind our updated plan, including its significant positive economic impact, Davis voters will understand its value and ultimately support it,” said Mr. Ramos.  “We’re ready to take on the challenge of educating residents about the many benefits a state-of-the-art innovation center will provide to the city and of delivering a project worthy of its ideal Davis location.”

The MRIC is proposed by Ramco Enterprises, The Buzz Oates Group of Companies and Reynolds & Brown.  It is anticipated to accommodate several thousand jobs at build-out.

An earlier study prepared by Economic & Planning Systems, Inc. (EPS) concluded that the initially proposed project might not be feasible, given high infrastructure costs.  Project sponsors are confident that by working in partnership with the city they can improve the project’s economics enough to proceed, if Davis voters provide their support.

“More work is needed before November on a variety of details we know Davis voters will want, but we believe we’re now ready to move forward with a vote,” said Mr. Ramos.  “We’re obviously hopeful that a majority of voters will see the project’s merits and allow us to develop an innovation center that will make Davis proud for generations to come.”

An earlier EPS study indicated that the originally proposed MRIC at build-out would create more than 10,600 direct, indirect and induced jobs in Davis and Yolo County, and annually generate $651 million of labor income and $2.6 billion of economic activity.

The item will be heard on Tuesday. Already, community members have expressed concern that a compressed timeline would short-circuit the normal public process.  That is a concern shared by city officials and councilmembers alike, who note that the final decisions would have to be made in early July to get the project on the ballot – which would likely lead to community pushback that this project was being rushed, and they would clearly have a strong case there.

The EPS study, for instance, was done on the 218-acre proposal rather than the newly-revised 102-acre proposal, which would constitute the southern portion of the property.   Mr. Ramos told the Vanguard that the project would retain its initial conception and would not simply be a bunch of warehouses and buildings.

The council will get a chance to weigh in on Tuesday.  Staff noted that the EIR for the original project was released in early January. “This included responses to all comments received on the Draft EIR, plus revisions to the draft document. Master Responses addressed topics of UPRR [Union Pacific Railroad] and County Road 32A closure, bicycle connection along CR 32A, the Mixed-Use alternative, guarantees of developer performance, project phasing, project ownership, western burrowing owl, and Swainson’s hawk.”

Staff writes: “The Draft EIR analyzed the proposed project and the Mixed-Use Alternative at equal weights. The statutorily-required ‘Alternatives’ Chapter also included analysis of a range of alternatives including a ‘Reduced Site Size’ alternative of 106 acres plus the Mace Triangle, and a ‘Reduced Project Alternative’ of 540,000 square feet on the MRIC site, plus the Mace Triangle. The Reduced Project Alternative is essentially the same as the anticipated ‘Phase 1’ of the Mace Ranch Innovation Center.

“If directed by the City Council, staff would confer with environmental and traffic consultants to determine whether this revised concept falls within ‘brackets’ established in the Draft and Final EIRs. If so, the City would be able to prepare an analysis showing that the revised project does not result in new environmental impacts, a substantial increase in the severity of an environmental impact, or the need to recirculate the Draft EIR document for additional public review and comment.”

In addition, “staff or consultants would need to prepare Findings for Approval and a Mitigation Monitoring and Reporting Program (MMRP).”

—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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19 thoughts on “November Vote Sought on Scaled Down MRIC Project”

  1. Anon

    The item will be heard on Tuesday.  Already community members have expressed concern that a compressed timeline would short-circuit the normal public process.  That is a concern shared by city officials and councilmembers alike who note that the final decisions would have to be made in early July to get the project on the ballot – that would lead to community pushback that this project was being rushed – and they would clearly have a strong case there.

    Of course the usual suspects have expressed concern that a compressed timeline would short-circuit the normal public process.  Never mind that this project is essentially just Phase I of the original project, so nothing much has changed other than lopping off at least half of it.  There is no doubt in my mind the no growthers will fight tooth and nail to kill this project, with all sorts of bogus reasons why it is not good for the city, e.g too much traffic congestion, too much pollution, no housing, no affordable housing, etc. ad nauseum.  But of course the no growthers still have as yet to explain how the city is supposed to get out of its fiscal troubles and repair roads – other than higher taxes or cuts in services, which is hardly a satisfactory solution.  Bravo to the MRIC developers for having the courage to bring their project forward after what happened with Nishi.  My hope is this time around the City Council/city will get foursquare behind this project and more PROACTIVELY SUPPORT IT instead of remaining neutral – but I have my doubts.

    1. The Pugilist

      I think you’re being dismissive here.  It’s not just the usual suspects.  It is the city manager, planning staff, councilmembers, people who voted yes on A.

    2. Tia Will

      Anon

      with all sorts of bogus reasons why it is not good for the city, e.g too much traffic congestion, too much pollution, no housing, no affordable housing,”

      So are you taking that position that none of these are potential problems that should be addressed ? I know that you have a tendency to label anyone who does not support every project you like as a no growther. But I supported and voted for Nishi in the end. Because I did not and likely will not support MRIC largely because of the problems you cite does not mean I am opposed to what I perceive as good projects.

      I saw Nishi as innovative, balanced, and environmentally more friendly with the huge advantage for me of offering a car free lifestyle option in a town which basically has none. MRIC is to me just another industrial park dressed up with the word “innovation”. With the housing option, I was willing to take another look. Without it….not so much so.

  2. gunrock

    Totally opposed.

    I am not a “no-growther” and I strongly supported Measure A as a good infill project.  Bu this is just leapfrog sprawl at its worst…  The proposed MRIC is just a bad idea at the wrong location.  The city council would be well advised to simply oppose it entirely.

    I suspect that Nishi will be back after addressing some of the concerns raised by the No on A people.  And when it does come back, it remains the right answer for our community.

     

    1. Tia Will

      Anon

      with all sorts of bogus reasons why it is not good for the city, e.g too much traffic congestion, too much pollution, no housing, no affordable housing,”

      So are you taking that position that none of these are potential problems that should be addressed ? I know that you have a tendency to label anyone who does not support every project you like as a no growther. But I supported and voted for Nishi in the end. Because I did not and likely will not support MRIC largely because of the problems you cite does not mean I am opposed to what I perceive as good projects.

      I saw Nishi as innovative, balanced, and environmentally more friendly with the huge advantage for me of offering a car free lifestyle option in a town which basically has none. MRIC is to me just another industrial park dressed up with the word “innovation”. With the housing option, I was willing to take another look. Without it….not so much so.

    2. Tia Will

      gunrock

      I certainly would like to think that you are right that Nishi will return with modifications. Seeing the apparent alternative revived, I would be willing to actively volunteer for Nishi rather than my belated endorsement this time.

  3. Eileen Samitz

    While I think it is good that the Mace Ranch Innovation Center is back on the table, it was originally proposed to be an innovation park that is the land use designation it needs to be – innovation park, not urban reserve which is a total “wild card” for any type of development there. There is absolutely no excuse for the developers to change the land use designation at this point,  and it is a “red flag” for the community to notice. Do not expect to get an innovation park at all with an urban reserve land use designation.  Furthermore, the EIR would not stand because it did not cover the many different other options that urban reserve would allow like regional retail, or an entirely residential project, or who knows what? And yes, I would expect there to be plenty of opposition, including me, if the Council and City Staff make the terrible mistake of allowing this new “bait and switch” attempt by the Ramos developers to change the land use designation to urban reserve.

    I have made it clear in the past that I support the concept of a commercial-only innovation park at Mace and I have not changed my position on that. If the Ramos developers have a clue, they will cease and desist trying to con the public, yet again,  into turning Mace Ranch Innovation Center something other than what was first sought and promised to the community. And that is a commercial-only innovation park to help provide more revenue for the City.

    1. Don Shor

      I have tried to figure out any reason they would put an undeveloped portion of the property through a Measure R vote when it would require another Measure R vote to then change the designation again. The only thing I can think of is that it would possibly increase the value of the undeveloped land, and perhaps they intend to sell it. Other than that, why would they bother?

      1. Roberta Millstein

        Don Shor, perhaps they feel that the Urban Reserve designation puts them one step closer toward developing on part of the property.  Perhaps they see it as a sign that the City is supportive of development there, and they will use that as leverage to develop when the time comes.  Maybe this isn’t the best analogy, but sort of like the idea that there “may” be a CFD for the Cannery, and then “may” becomes “will be.”

      2. Barbara King

        Is Measure R sunsetting any time soon, or are modifications  to Measure R being worked on?  If so,  how might the removal of or modifications to to Measure R  change what the owner of the land under discussion could get from that land’s designation being changed to  “urban reserve”?

    2. Tia Will

      Eileen

      And that is a commercial-only innovation park to help provide more revenue for the City.”

      I would like to paraphrase as follows: And that is a commercial-only innovation park to help provide more revenue for the City by following an outdated model of industrial park, renamed so as to be more appealing, in order to tax people other than ourselves for our past and ongoing economic irresponsibility.

    3. Tia Will

      Eileen

      And that is a commercial-only innovation park to help provide more revenue for the City.”

      I would like to paraphrase as follows: And that is a commercial-only innovation park to help provide more revenue for the City by following an outdated model of  peripheral industrial park, renamed so as to be more appealing, in order to tax people other than ourselves for our past and ongoing economic irresponsibility.

  4. Eileen Samitz

    Tia,

    I find it astonishing that you would criticize having a way to help provide revenue to the City via Mace Ranch Innovation Center as a commercial-only project.  Yet, you supported the Nishi project with the enormous traffic impacts, costs it would bring, offering no affordable housing, and exposing potential residents to detrimental air quality conditions. I guess we are clearly going to agree to disagree on the Mace Ranch Innovation Center as well as Nishi.

  5. Tia Will

    Eileen and BP

    I simply did not see the tradeoffs in the same way that you have stated Eileen. I saw the advantages of Nishi as outweighing the disadvantages. I felt that what those who focused on the traffic issue were missing was twofold. First, with increased students, traffic will increase regardless of where we locate the housing. Having it as close as possible to the university was a huge plus for me. Even in the extremely unlikely event that every one of those students chose to drive to class every day, they would still be driving much less miles than if they make the same decision coming from either the 5th street development or Woodland, or Vacaville or South Sac.

    Second, with a walkability index of 94, Nishi offered the prospect of near car free living in extremely close proximity to both the University and downtown as well as the train station. Just because some would not choose to live there does not mean that many would not find it desirable.

    Also I think that those who are favoring MRIC but who opposed Nishi are missing another critical point. They are choosing to close their eyes to the fact that every job created by MRIC is not going to be taken by someone already living in Davis. When I asked Ramos for his estimate of how many not currently living in Davis would have jobs through MRIC his answer was “thousands”. Thus despite the fact that this is not being addressed, this will be very costly in terms of commuting and all of the adverse consequences inherent in traveling distances by individual automobile to work. This is turn will lead to the next development based on
    “the housing that we have not planned for”. What I would truly love to see is both needs addressed in one project. Nishi is the only major project to date that has attempted this type of planning locally.

    “I think some people support housing at MRIC because they know it will kill the project.”
    You may be right, but I am not in that camp.

  6. Eileen Samitz

    Tia,

    Here is where we will have to agree to disagree again. The Nishi project had far more disadvantages and impacts and rather then go through all of these reasons yet again, I here is the link to my Op-ed on this subject: https://www.davisvanguard.org/2016/06/many-reasons-vote-no-nishi-measure/

    I have stated the many reasons why housing is a “non-starter”at the Mace Ranch Innovation Center. Just a few of the reasons include the fact that there is no legal way to mandate that only MRIC workers would live there. Therefore, this is simply a poor attempt to “greenwash” the project and for the Ramos developers to get their “foot in the door” to turn the original commercial-only project, into a residential project as well for the profit. In fact, the vertical-only housing would attract highway commuters to jobs outside the City primarily.

    Second, the Ramos developers were expecting to not include NO affordable housing just like Nishi (and that is in the EIR).

    Third, the Mace site was criticized as being too small initially with for the amount of R and D the City was trying to recruit for the revenue. So the any amount of the land for residential decreases the amount of space that is needed to maximize  R and D.  Let’s recall that the entire  reason why the Mace site was even being considered for development was to be a commercial-only innovation center to provide revenue to the City. Adding any residential defeats the original objective because then the project would incur costs to the City in the long run, rather than bring in revenue. And again, the additional issue is that the Mace project proposal with residential would provide no affordable housing, just like Nishi was trying for.

    So again, this is just another even more blatant “bait and switch” attempt by the Ramos developers.

     

  7. Ron

    I’m wondering if the developers are driven by a desire to have the current council make a decision this Tuesday (regarding whether or not to place this latest version of a “bait and switch” on the November ballot), before Dan leaves in 2 weeks.  Perhaps the developers are concerned that the makeup of the new council would result in a different decision, beyond that date.  And yet, the new council (and residents/voters) will have to deal with the decision made by the current council.

    The “urban reserve” could be any type of development, including housing, a mall, etc.  (Of course, the developers have already clearly expressed their desire to include housing at MRIC.)  Approving it would basically guarantee that the site is developed, but we have no idea what we would get.  The purpose of Measure R is to disclose what developers are proposing, for a given site.  Why can’t we know, now?

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