Commentary: Time is Now to Think Big on a UC Davis Village

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USC Village is about to open in August/ courtesy photo

Yesterday’s article presented new evidence of air quality concerns near freeways.  During the Measure R campaign, Thomas Cahill, a respected Professor Emeritus and an expert on air quality, expressed concerns about “the viability of the Nishi property for residential use.”

However, he believed that Nishi could work for commercial uses.  We have long believed that, while Davis is in need of additional housing for students, the best use of Nishi might be as a purely commercial, innovation space.

With a new chancellor coming in from Georgia Tech, we note that we have previously pushed the idea for a World Food Center on the Mace Ranch Innovation Center (MRIC) site.  However, we should also consider revising the idea of a UC Davis Village in the style of the now nearly complete USC Village.

One of our readers happened to be down in Los Angeles recently and snapped a few photos of the nearly complete center.  They reported “it doesn’t seem massive nor tall, and feels very human scale. Would have been awesome at Nishi.”

Given that there is no project at Nishi and given the need for economic development and the potential difficulties of residential development on the site – our question is why not reconsider such a proposal for Nishi?

The amazing thing is that Nishi is actually three times larger than the USC Village site.  USC Village is only 15 acres, but on that property USC envisioned 1.25 million square feet of retail in addition to housing 2700 students a year.

A report that came out yesterday showed the economic impact of USC on the LA region – about $8 billion. That’s actually similar to a report from earlier this year, that “UC Davis is a powerful economic engine for California, generating $8.1 billion in statewide economic activity and supporting 72,000 jobs. The Multiplier Effect. In addition to direct spending, UC Davis generates an estimated $3.1 billion and 23,000 jobs through a ripple effect.”

In the report from USC, they note “later this year, the $700 million USC Village opens directly north of the University Park Campus. The massive retail and residential project will enhance campus life for students while opening up an array of new options for the neighborhood.”

A key part of USC Village, of course, is that USC itself was investing $650 million into the village.  USC Village, of course, focuses heavily on retail, with shops that include Target and Trader Joe’s.

That is certainly not what we would be looking for at a UC Davis Village.  But having shops and restaurants within the city would be to its advantage.  Imagine a promenade on Nishi where restaurants and small retail shops could encourage faculty, staff and students to eat lunch in the city, thereby putting sales tax into the community with the easy convenience of a quick walk.

Imagine university research spinning off startups that can occupy 1.25 million square feet of R&D space, injecting life into the community and the region.

Estimates of the World Food Center are that it could be a multi-billion dollar facility – and it could end up in Sacramento which would certainly benefit the region, but not our local coffers.  I think MRIC is a better location than Nishi for the World Food Center, as it would be surrounded by agricultural land that could serve as experimental fields.  But at Nishi with city-university-private partnerships and cooperations, we can think big – far bigger than a small scale housing project with 300,000 square feet of R&D space right across from a world class university.

USC and Los Angeles city planners are projecting that the 15-acre project will pump $5.2 billion into the local economy.

Think about that – a 15-acre site that USC thinks could pump $5.2 billion into the local economy. We have a 44-acre Nishi property.

In September, Chamber President Jason Taormino wrote that “we need 10,000 new high-paying jobs in Davis. We need to increase our commercial space from 1.75 million square feet to 4 million in order to achieve this goal.”

So perhaps Mr. Taormino should take a look at this.  There is an article from March 8, “Ramping up for August opening, USC Village recruits local jobseekers.”

The article notes that there were jobseekers lined up around the block for interviews and information.

“USC Village, the mixed-used residential and retail complex, is on schedule to open for the beginning of the 2017-18 academic year. The massive project will house 2,700 students and contain 100,000 square feet of retail space, presenting new job opportunities both at USC and with individual retailers,” the article notes.

More than 1000 resumes were submitted in advance, and they note, “Throughout the course of the five-hour event, 1,500 applicants were interviewed for job openings in customer service, maintenance, building services management, custodial services and other permanent, USC Village-related positions.”

Can you imagine what the 44-acre Nishi project could generate if we did a mix of restaurants, retail and R&D space?

The beauty of it would be contained within a small space next to campus that is underutilized now, but could become the driver for jobs and massive economic development without blowing the city’s borders.

Combine that with the activity at the University Research Park and Area 52 and Davis could have its own research hub and innovation center.

With a new chancellor coming on board in August, now is the time to set things in motion and to start to think big again.

—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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16 thoughts on “Commentary: Time is Now to Think Big on a UC Davis Village”

  1. Tia Will

    “we need 10,000 new high-paying jobs in Davis.”

    We are lacking some context here. The question that I would have is : We need 10,000 new high-paying jobs in  Davis, to achieve what specific goal and at what cost to the pre-existing community ?

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      Fuller quote: ” To sustain the amenities such as our parks, pools, community services and other infrastructure, we need 10,000 new high-paying jobs in Davis. We need to increase our commercial space from 1.75 million square feet to 4 million in order to achieve this goal.”

      This is a revenue-based argument.

    2. Mark West

      “We need 10,000 new high-paying jobs in  Davis, to achieve what specific goal”

      To pay for your perceived ‘quality of life.’

      “at what cost to the pre-existing community?”

      At the ‘cost’ of being able to pay our bills rather than pushing those obligations off on future generations. At the ‘cost’ of adding wealth to the community to support our schools and non-profits, and the ‘cost’ of providing good jobs for residents so that they don’t have to commute elsewhere. Just to name a few…

       

       

      1. Tia Will

        At the ‘cost’ of being able to pay our bills”

        There is more than one way to “pay our bills” which I certainly agree we should be doing as we go. You happen to prefer one approach, I prefer another.

        1. David Greenwald

          I happen to prefer the mixed approach but what if we could pay our bills simply with a development of 44 acres next to campus – shouldn’t we at least consider it?

        2. Mark West

          “I prefer another.”

          Yes, you want to raise everyone’s taxes and make the community poorer so that you won’t have to accept any changes to your lifestyle.

        3. Howard P

          Well, David, when someone says development is non-“preferred”  from their view (perhaps would “prefer” it comes ‘off-the table’?) that sure points to drastic cuts in services and/or employee compensation, or a hefty parcel tax; or, do you see another option to put into the mix?  I don’t think any one element can be eliminated at this point.  Am convinced there needs to be a mix of approaches, if we are to successful in grappling with the overall finances.

  2. Greg Rowe

    Thanks for a thoughtful article, David.  I’m one of those who opposed Measure A, largely because I did not think it is the responsibility of Davis to annex land to provide housing for UCD students.  That’s UCD’s responsibility, one in which it has failed miserably in comparison to campuses such as UC San Diego, whose chancellor told the Board of Regents on January 25 that he is pushing for a 4-year on-campus student housing guarantee by 2024-25.

    As a retired environmental planner and former health educator for the American Lung Association, I’m also concerned about the potential residential air quality impacts in a site such as Nishi.  I would have probably voted for the project had it been solely an R&D innovation park. Because the recent resolution adopted by the Davis City Council includes keeping open the option of developing Nishi, I think it would be wise for the City of Davis to consider addressing the air quality issue “up front” by commissioning a one or two year air quality monitoring study at the site.  The City might even want to contract with Dr. Cahill for the project.  The results would answer, once and for all, the concerns about air quality at the site, thereby helping guide development decisions. Some may assert that the cost of conducting such a study should be borne by the prospective developer, but having also worked in economic development for a number of years, I’ve seen instances in which a city or county facilitated desired development by actions such as fronting the cost of baseline studies, infrastructure improvements, etc.

    The only remaining question is whether UCD has the expertise, capacity and vision to carry out such a project, or to work with the City of Davis to make it happen. As a private sector entity, USC might very well “have a leg up” on a public entity such as UCD.  And, UCD has thus far not exhibited the forward thinking and capabilities of other UC campuses such as UC Irvine and UC San Diego, at least when it comes to forward thinking campus housing and commercial development.  That’s where I think the Regents made a good choice by bringing in an outsider from a well-regarded institution.  Based on my quick review of Georgia Tech’s website, it appears that university is well ahead of UCD in the realm of on-campus student housing.

    1. Matt Williams

      Greg, I agree David’s article is thoughtful, as is your comment.  I do have one question about your statement

      I did not think it is the responsibility of Davis to annex land to provide housing for UCD students.  That’s UCD’s responsibility, one in which it has failed miserably in comparison to campuses such as UC San Diego.

      The question is, “Do you think it is the responsibility of Genentech to provide housing for its Vacaville employees, or Intel to provide housing for its Folsom employees, or Facebook or Google to provide housing for its employees on the Peninsula?”

       

      1. John D

        Matt,

        Interesting point, however, these employers do so indirectly by compensating all those who toil on their campuses – versus requiring tuition.

    2. Ron

      Greg:  “I’m one of those who opposed Measure A, largely because I did not think it is the responsibility of Davis to annex land to provide housing for UCD students.”

      “I would have probably voted for the project had it been solely an R&D innovation park.  Because the recent resolution adopted by the Davis City Council includes keeping open the option of developing Nishi, I think it would be wise for the City of Davis to consider addressing the air quality issue “up front” by commissioning a one or two year air quality monitoring study at the site.”

      Greg, I have the utmost respect for your contributions.  But, is an air quality study even needed, assuming that the council is (only) interested in the “R&D innovation park” option that you’re suggesting?  Also – what about the other parties involved (e.g., the owner/developer, the university)?  We haven’t even heard from them, regarding their interests.

      Didn’t MRIC (also) start out as an “innovation park”, before the developer started floating the idea of a “mini-city”?  (I hope that the city didn’t “invest” in that proposal, in addition to the funds that they already wasted at Nishi.)

      Also, is the owner too “cash-strapped” to finance his own study (assuming that he even wants to present an innovation park only, to voters)?

      There isn’t even agreement on the goal, let alone justification for the city to fund a study.

       

       

       

       

      1. Howard P

        Ron… as I understand it, the study envisioned would not be site specific, and certainly not use-specific, but as a “baseline” of basic research into wind direction/speed patterns, contaminant composition and concentrations, and likely exposure/morbidity.

        Would contribute to modelling all aspects as a predictive tool.

        In other words, ‘basic research’ that could not only be applied to the Nishi site, but other properties similarly situated, similar factors.  Therefore, it would make sense for UCD/other UC, Yolo-Solano AQB, CalEPA, EPA, etc. to jointly fund most if not all the costs.

  3. Matt Williams

    Howard said . . . “In other words, ‘basic research’ that could not only be applied to the Nishi site, but other properties similarly situated, similar factors.  Therefore, it would make sense for UCD/other UC, Yolo-Solano AQB, CalEPA, EPA, etc. to jointly fund most if not all the costs”

    That sounds like a solid assessment Howard.

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