Commentary: City Needs to Recommit to Economic Development Strategy

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Innovation-Park-example

When Sierra Energy sent their press release out early on Monday, I’m sure they weren’t thinking that it would reignite discussion of the city’s economic development plan – but it was a simple reminder of how much of the previous plan has been either dropped or defeated.

In comment, Mayor Robb Davis listed ten items that “the City Council discussed at its recent retreat or that I have proposed elsewhere.”

He wrote:

  1. Use GP update to revision existing retail spaces to incentivize further development/revenue generation capacity.
  2. Protect current commercial spaces in a period in which there is NO speculative commercial development happening (think Panasonic) so that it is not converted to housing.
  3. Hotels
  4. Use GP update to reduce barriers to redevelopment of DT and along the 5th Street corridor
  5. Produce parcel tax options that include new monies directed to roads/paths and parks (preparing for parks parcel tax renewal scheduled for 2018–expect discussions starting early next year)
  6. Reduce costs by examining alternative service delivery methods for parks/rec services
  7. Increase fees for all city services (done)
  8. Change investment policy to generate more revenue from holdings (done)
  9. Propose some form of community broadband to increase speeds and reliability (key to many businesses’ needs)
  10. Assure a full accounting of revenue lost to properties moved off tax roles due to University occupation of spaces – to engage in productive conversation about commercial space needs for UCD going forward and how to not degrade city services.

To his credit, the mayor did not attempt to sugar coat this.  I greatly appreciate his candor here.  He wrote, “No magic bullets here but these are things that are within the control of the City Council, unlike the elements of the dispersed innovation strategy, which we shepherded for 2 years, and in one case, sent to the voters.”

“No doubt about it, we are in a difficult situation,” he writes.  “These are challenging times for our City.”

What we see in this is a tacit or even overt abandonment of the dispersed innovation strategy.  The mayor is right – the council put that forward, the voters voted down Nishi, but the developers pulled to the two peripheral sites before they could come to a vote.

The problem I have at this point is that I think we need the dispersed innovation strategy to come back.  We can incentivize existing retail spaces and existing R&D space, but we knew several years ago that wasn’t going to be sufficient.

When the city looked into this issue five years ago, they commissioned the Studio 30 report.

“Studio 30’s research suggests that the City pursue a broad strategy to attract innovative businesses that offers a number of sites that are scalable and range in size so the community can accommodate an incubator, startups and expanding businesses. Some should be directly in contact with the University. This mix of small and large sites allows the city the flexibility to successfully attract, grow and retain innovation businesses. External sites have the potential to support the most jobs because of their size and ability to accommodate a wider variety of both size and type of businesses.”

Studio 30 wrote, “The current isolated and dispersed sites that are available and appropriately zoned are not adequate in terms of size, location, or configuration (and related constraints) to address the emerging market need of an Innovation Center.”

The study continues, “With available reasonably priced land and effective marketing to innovative high tech companies, Studio 30 estimates Davis could absorb up to 10 percent or around 100,000 square feet of the 1-1.5 million industrial/office square footage absorbed annually in the Sacramento region. Because of this Studio 30 estimates Davis needs at least 200 acres for business development and expansion over a 20 +/- year time horizon.”

They continue, “A combination of one ‘close in’ hub or incubator with one (or in some future time, two) larger, less constrained (and presumably less costly) edge site offers the right mix of University proximity and identity with the expansion capability to address job growth and rapid business expansion.”

I think this still holds.  But the question now is do we discard this report, this strategy, for a different one?  If so, what does it look like?

Here I am going to borrow from Doby Fleeman’s comment from last night – in response to a question about the role of the new Chief Innovation Officer.

When Rob White arrived in Davis in 2013, he challenged us all to think bigger.  As one person put it, he “nudged” us along to accept innovation centers.  And, in fact, he helped completely change my thinking.  I was completely opposed to the idea of Mace 391 when it came in June 2013, but the debate forced me to re-think my position.

It became clear to me that we lacked the revenue base to maintain our way of life.  That we were not simply going to be able to cut our way to prosperity.  So that left retail expansion, taxes, or university-based technology transfer in high tech research parks.

Ask yourself, what is the most Davis way to accomplish increased revenue?  The answer, at least for me, was university-based expansion of research.  If you look at high tech parks and some of the great tech companies, they look like college campuses.  We are quite simply creating an expansion of the university concept in a way that would benefit our community, while preserving the things that make our community great.

Where all of this fell off track was that we had unreasonable expectations about the need for mixed-use housing on these sites, and we got bogged down in pointless land use disputes.

I still believe that the best way to preserve the Davis that we all love is to find a way to move forward with the dispersed innovation strategy.  That is going to take leadership from the council but the council now is gunshy on these types of projects and that means leadership from the community and the Chamber.

As Doby Fleeman wrote last night, “In my view, your question is valid and really does beg the question as to what the City and CC intend to do to address the continuing challenges related to economic development in the City of Davis.  A General Plan update would not be my first priority under the circumstances.”

I don’t see this as a threat to Davis, I see it as a way to save Davis as the community we love.

—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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28 thoughts on “Commentary: City Needs to Recommit to Economic Development Strategy”

  1. Robb Davis

    I still believe that the best way to preserve the Davis that we all love is to find a way to move forward with the dispersed innovation strategy.  That is going to take leadership from the council but the council now is gunshy on these types of projects and that means leadership from the community and the Chamber.

    I disagree 100% with this assessment.  No one is “gunshy.”  The RFEI led to proposals.  We moved on those. They did not pan out.  Anyone can submit any proposal related to the dispersed strategy at any time.  Nothing has changed.  Give us a proposal and we will act on it responsibly and in a timely way.  I will not apologize for a process that is broadly participatory for projects that are subject to a public vote.  That is the only way to do them.  Nearly all the sites in the peripheral strategy involve a Measure R vote. That is the reality we live with.

    I also disagree that this is “the best way” to move forward.  It is one element among many that we must be working on and we are working on.

      1. Robb Davis

        I guess I don’t understand what you mean by “gunshy.”  We do not have a proposal before us.  What are we supposed to do? Go out and talk to individual land owners on the periphery to request they bring us a proposal?  I don’t get your point David.  Honestly, I am not sure what you are saying.  We did not walk away from any peripheral projects.

        1. Chamber Fan

          Robb – My concern is that there doesn’t seem to be a plan on the table here for economic development.  I think the council did the right thing previously, but now there needs to be some leadership.  I’d like to see the community step as well.  This is not all on the council.

        2. Robb Davis

          I realize that very few people attended our goal setting exercise and some seem to think it was just a discussion but we not only set goals, we also received specific action steps staff is proposing to take to achieve them.  There is an entire goal around economic development.  I would suggest that is a place to start to see what we are planning and doing.  The meeting was held on September 10th and you can find the draft goals/workplan though it is being revised based on feedback.  That is the plan at this point.

        3. Grok

          Correct me if I am wrong, but I don’t see video for the goal setting meeting on the City website. I was not able to be there that day, but would have been very interested to watch it, or even read a transcript.

  2. Tia Will

    David

    “the best way to move forward”

    I am actually quite surprised to see this comment. Over many, many on line discussions of this issue, the one thing that I thought that we were consistently in agreement on was that an integrated plan including prudent use of existing revenue sources, fostering of small businesses of a wide variety of types, increased taxation, and ( and I repeat) and, the development of the dispersed model of larger innovation areas was what would be necessary. The message that I am hearing in this article ( although that may not have been your intent) is that you are placing this latter piece of the entire puzzle as your highest priority. This, I believe is an error, since I still maintain the importance of a comprehensive approach.

  3. Nancy Price

    Let’s be clear. Historically, Davis City Councils have put out RFP or RFEI’s or the equivalent and have never clearly stated exactly what the city’s or the community’s interest is except in the broadest of terms. Then, through a combination of community reaction, City Council and developer response there has ensued protracted, difficult, time-consuming, legal and other responses with sometimes modifications and wins and sometimes modifications and loses, and often some people wondering, as with The Cannery, for example, what happened?

    Why is it that with Trackside, for example, the neighborhood has to work so hard on refining a project that “suits” the neighborhood, work that the city, the Planning Department and the City Council  should have, in my opinion, done in the first place?

    Why is it that the Guiding Principles were only “aspirational” and not part of the RFEIs?

    Why is the city and the City Council loathe to put real forward-looking principles into an RFEI?

    Why does the community have to step up and demand and work for higher standards?

    Cities everywhere in the US and across the world are facing the social, economic, climate/extreme weather, transportation realities with truly creative planing and solutions. It’s time for the city, the planning department and the City Council to do the research need to find the best solutions, see what’s applicable for Davis, and present a short-term and long-term plan to the community. No more piece-meal by piece-meal project planning.

    And, it’s time for the city and City Council to work with the University for better  signage on the freeway and in Davis to move traffic on to and off campus efficiently and not through the downtown and along First Street, and to build the housing on campus that UCD  needs to and must build.

    1. Grok

      Excellent points Nancy.

      Why is it that with Trackside, for example, the neighborhood has to work so hard on refining a project that “suits” the neighborhood, work that the city, the Planning Department and the City Council  should have, in my opinion, done in the first place?

      The same could be said of several other projects. One thing that really stands out about the new Sierra Energy project is that is proposed for land that is already zoned for the intended use.

      1. Frankly

        Grok – This is one of your canards, but most of the city is build on land that was not originally zoned for what has been built on it.  I don’t think you understand the intent and use of zoning.  It isn’t to provide NIMBYs another tool of opposition, it is simply a tool for planning a community with the best available information at the time.

        It would be interesting to know what the UCD growth projections where when the existing GP and zoning maps were developed.  I know you did not live here then so I don’t hold you responsible for not knowing.

  4. Don Shor

    I still believe that the best way to preserve the Davis that we all love is to find a way to move forward with the dispersed innovation strategy

    On the same sites? If not, where? If so, how? Not much point in applying a strategy that has no physical locations.

     

      1. Don Shor

        So that would essentially entail starting over on the process. Reconstitute the task force, try to identify new sites. There aren’t any other sites, except for redevelopment along 5th Street–which presents some challenges as well.
        I think it may be worthwhile reassessing the dispersed model, but it won’t get us any closer to actual projects in any short- or mid-range planning horizon.
        Who owns the land around the hospital (the north Davis site)? What are the interests of the owners? Would it be worth issuing a new request for proposals?
        I made a comment several weeks ago that the city should consider annexing that land first before eliciting development proposals. I don’t think any landowner is going to waste the money on a Measure R vote at this point.

          1. Don Shor

            I suggest that you personally contact the owner(s) of the northwest properties and ask them what their development plans are.

      2. Mark West

        ‘Best practices’ for innovation parks involve mixed-use developments with workforce housing included. If the City is willing to accept workforce housing on the sites then we should expect new proposals for the previously identified locations. If the knee-jerk response is to say ‘no’ then another proposal is unlikely.

        1. Mark West

          “What do you suggest?”

          1a. The voters, led by our vocal No crowd, have decided that we prefer a tax-heavy approach to meeting our unfunded obligations. Consequently, the CC should present to the residents the full extent of those obligations, and layout the tax increases that will be required to fulfill those needs. I would go so far as to have the CC create a schedule for when those taxes are going to be put forward for a vote. For example, a $500 parks parcel tax – Spring 2017, $750 roads parcel tax- Fall 2017, $1500 Retiree pension and healthcare parcel tax – Spring 2018, etc.

          1b. Set out a schedule for implementing cost reductions, including staff layoffs, service cuts, and job outsourcing. Connect the reductions that will be required if a specific tax proposal is defeated. For instance, if the Parks tax is voted down, the Rec department will be slashed 50%, and the pools and Playfields closed. If the tax fails, follow through with the reductions.

          Robb is the one who needs to be ‘out front’ in this process, he is the Mayor and his words matter. I have been giving him a hard time of late for the simple reason that you ‘expect the most from the best,’ and he is clearly the one on the current council that has demonstrated the competence to understand the problem and the independence to present it to the voters in an honest and transparent way. We saw the damage caused when the Mayor and his City Manger were more concerned with the Mayor’s next election than in giving an honest appraisal of our problems to voters. Robb doesn’t have to worry about his next election, and he has clearly demonstrated the passion required to push for the things he believes in. Let us all hope that he will harness some of that passion and put it towards this effort. We have a very narrow window of opportunity here, as the next Mayor does not appear to have similar abilities.

          2a. Annex the land at MRIC and around the hospital and change the zoning to include conditional use for commercial development with integrated high-density workforce housing. Do the Measure R vote up front, then call for proposals for the sites.

          2b. Incorporate into any innovation park development agreements the specific parcel taxes that will be rescinded in response to revenue generated from the developments. Make it clear that the new development will ultimately reduce citizen’s taxes, not just be added on top of them.

          3. Finally, Brett, Rochelle, Will, Lucas and Robb, all need to demonstrate that they have the fortitude to accomplish the job to which they were elected. To make the difficult decisions to increase revenues and decrease costs, and to ignore the ‘screaming’ from the No Crowd and the ‘fear of change’ expressed by project neighbors.  We need to stop living in this Davis fantasyland that we have created and start paying our bills, and it is incumbent upon all five on the CC to lead the way. First up, though, they each need to commit to acting to actually solve our problems, to meet the needs of the entire City (and not just the wants of the few), and to stop pushing the problems off on someone else to take care of.

          I don’t have any confidence that any of this will happen, but it is what I suggest.

           

      3. South of Davis

        David wrote:

        > That will be part of the challenge – to identify locations.

        The real challenge will be to identify locations that are not near anyone’s “back yard” (the people that could see they Hyatt House, Trackside and Mace Curve projects from their “back yards” were some of the most vocal opponents to the projects)…

        1. David Greenwald Post author

          That’s going to be part of the equation – finding land that is available that people will allow to be developed.

          But again, if we simply give up, that solves nothing.

        2. Odin

          Why not focus on 2nd street along the tracks?  There are many “for lease” signs and empty lots still available.  Heck, move the dog park elsewhere and build there.  2nd street is the one area where you won’t get a backlash from citizens considering it is already our “industrial” part of town.

        3. Mark West

          “Why not focus on 2nd street along the tracks?  There are many “for lease” signs and empty lots still available.”

          The available lots are all relatively small or otherwise insufficient. Vibrations from the railroad make the site unsuitable for some high-tech uses.

          “Heck, move the dog park elsewhere and build there.”

          The dog park is located in the storm water collection basin which floods every year following heavy rain events. It is an inappropriate site for any sort of construction.

          “2nd street is the one area where you won’t get a backlash from citizens considering it is already our “industrial” part of town.”

          Uh huh, like the opponents of the Target, who used the noise from delivery vehicles impacting the neighbors to the north as one of their many reasons for opposing the project.

        4. South of Davis

          Mark wrote:

          > The dog park is located in the storm water collection basin which

          > floods every year following heavy rain events. It is an inappropriate

          > site for any sort of construction.

          Don’t forget that dog park is also a “toad park” and is where the toads are supposed to end up when they use the “toad tunnel” (if a toad ever does use the toad tunnel some day) to go from the post office under Pole Line to play in the park…

          http://www.cc.com/video-clips/x8gy2p/the-daily-show-with-jon-stewart-tunnel-vision

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