The Sacramento Bee reported on Tuesday that the end of Linda Katehi’s tenure as “chancellor of UC Davis effectively ended efforts to make the university’s World Food Center the centerpiece of a third campus, possibly in Sacramento’s downtown railyard.”
The paper quoted World Food Center spokesman Brad Hooker, who would confirm that the university was not pursuing such a plan. “No one is working on it,” he said.
In fact, the paper reports Mr. Hooker saying that “the World Food Center is planning to move to another space on the existing UC Davis campus.”
These plans had been laid out by the former chancellor, who had a vision to build another campus in Sacramento, one that would include “a school focusing on population and a global health and public policy institute, as well as clinics to treat people dealing with nutrition and other food-related issues.” At the time, all signs pointed to the railyard being the prime location for such a plan.
The Bee also quotes Denton Kelley, “the developer of the downtown railyard, and Sacramento city staff confirmed that plans to build a UC Davis campus on the site have stalled.”
“Everything is on hold in light of the leadership transition that has gone on at UC Davis over the last year,” Mr. Kelley told the paper.
Right now, plans for the 244-acre railyard include a Major League Soccer stadium seating 19,621, up to 10,000 homes and a Kaiser Permanente medical campus of up to 1.2 million square feet.
According to the Bee, the developers are “still interested in working with the next UC Davis chancellor to see if the school is interested in the railyard, a piece of property so large it could essentially double the size of Sacramento’s downtown core over the next 20 years.”
Back in the spring of 2014, news leaked out that the chancellor planned to potentially put the World Food Center at the railyard in Sacramento. However, from the start that was not a popular decision, either for the Davis community or for faculty that would have to relocate to Sacramento from the Davis campus.
The loss of a potentially $1 billion center from the main UC Davis campus was locally seen as a blow to the community.
Chancellor Katehi first mentioned the idea of a third campus in her annual State of the Campus presentation to the Academic Senate in that February. At that time, she said the campus would emphasize UC Davis’ commitment to education, research, clinical and policy aspirations with a focus on food, health and the environment.
“Because of our location, history and expertise, UC Davis is in a unique position to be an even greater positive source for California state government and policy than we have been in the past,” Chancellor Katehi said in a 2014 letter announcing her plans to create the advisory group to help crystallize the vision for a third campus.
“To take full advantage of that opportunity and raise the profile and reputation of the entire university, we have been thinking for some time about developing a third campus somewhere in Sacramento,” she wrote. “The time is now right to begin moving forward with this process.”
But that ambition has fallen flat in the wake of the chancellor’s resignation and the continued search process for a new chancellor.
The Bee reported that UC Davis spokesperson Dana Topousis said, “UC Davis is still exploring the possibility of developing an additional presence in Sacramento. There will be further discussion about how UC Davis moves forward in Sacramento once a permanent chancellor is on board.”
The Bee also quoted incoming Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg who “expressed hope that the next UC Davis chancellor will embrace the idea of establishing a major presence in Sacramento beyond the UC Davis Medical Center.”
“It’s my understanding that nothing will be decided until UC Davis has a permanent chancellor on board,” he said in a prepared statement. “We’re continuing to build a great relationship with the team at UC Davis and have been very open in our desire to help them have a stronger presence here in Sacramento. That presence and relationship shouldn’t be defined or limited by one program; we want to go big and really help our region grow together.”
But this also gives Davis a chance to rally its troops. The railyard project of 244 acres is not much bigger than the 200-acre Davis Innovation Center or Mace Ranch Innovation Center projects that are on hold. And UC Davis’ potential third campus would share space with a giant Kaiser building and an MLS Soccer Stadium.
With leadership and movement, perhaps the city of Davis could proactively clear the way for the potential billion dollar World Food Center going into one of its own sites – either in a new peripheral spot or in town. While the city would not generate the revenue from the WFC, the spin-offs and companies working adjacent to the WFC could be a huge boon for the burgeoning ag-tech and food security sectors in this community.
Local leaders have put food security near the top of the list of goals, and ag tech would fit in nicely with the community’s commitment to agricultural land preservation and innovation.
The opportunity has reemerged, but the city has to be nimble enough to jump on it.
—David M. Greenwald reporting