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.”
- Use GP update to revision existing retail spaces to incentivize further development/revenue generation capacity.
- 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.
- Use GP update to reduce barriers to redevelopment of DT and along the 5th Street corridor
- 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)
- Reduce costs by examining alternative service delivery methods for parks/rec services
- Increase fees for all city services (done)
- Change investment policy to generate more revenue from holdings (done)
- Propose some form of community broadband to increase speeds and reliability (key to many businesses’ needs)
- 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