The end of this week has seen an interesting confluence of events involving UC Davis and the city in general. The basic prognosis is this: the city of Davis needs revenue generators and needs a partner in UC Davis to make some of it happen.
As Mayor Robb Davis laid out in his State of the City speech before the Davis Chamber this week, regarding the city of Davis: “On the face of it, it appears that revenue has more than kept pace with expenditures,” the mayor said. “However, when we dig into the expenditures or rather what we’re not spending money on, we see that the picture is not at all positive.
“Essentially, we have balanced the budget over the years by not including many infrastructure projects that really should be covered,” the mayor stated.
Mayor Davis laid it out squarely and unequivocally: “Our greatest weakness as a city right now is our inability to fund the maintenance of our infrastructure. That is true for our roads. That is true for our parks. That is true for our pools. That is true for just about every city building.
“It’s not that we’re not putting any money into those things,” he explained. “It’s that we’re not putting sufficient money into it, year on year, to really maintain the things that we already have.”
The bottom line here is that the city needs to take measures to contain costs, while finding new revenues to help pay for existing infrastructure and unfunded liabilities.
There are lots of ways that we are going to have to go about generating revenue. There is not one single answer. We will see a tax proposal this year – there is no doubt. We will see about maximizing existing commercial space and expanding hotel tax revenue.
And we need to look once again toward research parks as one of the answers to our revenue needs.
This fall the Vanguard, noting the change in chancellors at UC Davis, pushed for the idea of the World Food Center staying at Davis as a driver for technology transfer from the university, startups and other companies coming to Davis.
Earlier this week, it appeared there was good news, with newly-elected Assemblymember Cecilia Aguiar-Curry stating that she would support a UC Davis consideration for building the World Food Center “on its land and there are other parcels like the (on-hold) Mace Ranch Innovation Center proposal.”
She told the Vanguard, “I want to see Yolo County as a hub for ag-tech, including value added product manufacturing. AgPlus (Central Valley Food and Beverage Manufacturing Consortium) is one initiative I’m involved with that is a good model here.”
But UC President Janet Napolitano appears to have other plans. She told the Sacramento Bee on Wednesday that “she hopes whoever gets picked as the new chancellor of UC Davis can pull off an expansion of the campus into Sacramento.”
That would appear to include the World Food Center.
In my view, an expansion of UC Davis into Sacramento in and of itself is a good thing. It raises the profile of the university. There is a natural nexus between UC Davis and the legislature that can only enhance the importance of the university.
The World Food Center could be part of this move – but it doesn’t have to be. The key would appear to be the next chancellor of UC Davis. She told the Bee: “I really think the next chancellor should be able to weigh in on that.”
One of the big questions is what the World Food Center looks like in a future vision. Right now, it appears that there is a center in name only, with a looser affiliation of faculty and non-faculty policy oriented individuals.
Is the World Food Center going to be a research center or is it going to be a lobbying center? As a research center, it makes a lot more sense to leave it on the main campus or put it out in a research park like MRIC (Mace Ranch Innovation Center).
The advantages of MRIC for such a center are enormous. It would have the space to develop a hub of ag-tech companies that could grow and develop near agricultural land. Already there is Mace 391, a conservation easement that could become a huge boost for agricultural research and experimental agriculture.
Those are advantages that the WFC would not have in a more urban environment like the railyards.
The Vanguard has now privately spoken with each of the members of council and there seems to be an emerging view from many that the WFC is something that we want to keep in Davis as a billion dollar research center that can hopefully be a driver for further economic development.
Already Rochelle Swanson and Robb Davis, as the council subcommittee, have been working hard behind the scenes to bolster relations between the city and university. There is some thought about the need to formalize the relationship into a formal two-by-two.
In addition to council movement, the community – if it wants to house a prestigious center like the World Food Center – needs to get behind the concept and the need to create land and commercial space for the center and potential spinoffs.
That would appear to put a proposal like the Mace Ranch Innovation Center back on the main page for future discussions.
There are a lot of moving parts here including the need for the community to embrace a Measure R project that right now is on the back burner, but, given the timeline for the new chancellor, we appear to have at least until the fall to get our act together here.
The resignation of Katehi created an opportunity for the city leaders to refocus, but we need to take advantage of it because, as the UC President’s comments made clear, Sacramento is already angling for another slice of the pie.
—David M. Greenwald reporting