In the past few weeks I have had some good and insightful conversations with various members of the community on economic development, innovation, and UC Davis. Last night we had a great turnout at our Student Housing Townhall Meeting. We will have coverage of that in the coming days, but the main point I make here is that for two hours the representative from the university was on the hot seat about housing issues – and rightly so.
It was pointed out to be that it looks like the focus on the Davis campus will be UC Davis student housing, whereas Sacramento is focused on benefiting from UC Davis economic development. And in fact, as Davis continues to debate land use policies, it is now Sacramento, Woodland, West Sacramento and Dixon who are all benefiting from UC Davis’ presence, and building innovation centers.
Last week the announcement hit home that UC Davis and Sacramento will be collaborating on the development of Aggie Square which “will serve as a collaborative technology and innovation campus that leverages the university’s strengths to become a catalyst for economic change, create jobs for our graduates, and help spur the economic vitality of the broader Sacramento region. It will serve as a model public-private partnership, increasing technology transfer and creating equitable opportunities for residents in the community and region.”
As Chancellor Gary May put it last week, “For UC Davis’ part, Aggie Square is a tremendous opportunity to leverage our strengths in fields of clean transportation, clean energy, public policy, the arts, agricultural and food technologies, and more.
“Aggie Square will give our students easier access to companies for internships and employment — and make it easier for companies to collaborate on research with our faculty, post-docs and graduate students,” the chancellor writes, “This hub will also open up more learning and job opportunities for our undergraduates. They could even live in Sacramento and commute to Davis, using electric vehicles that would take them across the causeway, emitting no more pollution than their bicycles.”
He added, “We look forward to working side-by-side with community leaders and a range of public and private partners in the region to bring a new wave of economic development and new jobs and housing to Sacramento.”
From Sacramento’s perspective, “Building this new center of innovation alongside the existing UC Davis Health campus will not only ensure a tight connection to the school’s great minds and resources but will also create jobs and economic development in the heart of Oak Park, along with more real opportunity for young people from all low-income neighborhoods in Sacramento.”
Clearly these efforts will benefit the region, but, from Davis’ perspective, this is a lost opportunity. Davis was actually ahead of the curve in 2014. We were out in front – having three proposals for innovation centers. People forget that in addition to Nishi, which was voted down with its 300,000 square feet of research and development and MRIC (Mace Ranch Innovation Center) which remains at least a possibility, Davis had world class developers Hines investing money for an innovation center.
But land use realities crept in. Neighbors in the nearby Binning Tract began to complain, and Hines saw the writing on the wall and pulled out, followed by the locally-based development team as well. The local development team has moved up the way to Woodland to do a project there, and we have recently seen that Bayer, which moved from Davis due to lack of available and affordable space, is investing in West Sacramento.
And Davis, well, we have student housing.
This week we saw the relaunch of the UC Davis World Food Center. The World Food Center’s mission is “to mobilize the research, educational and outreach resources of UC Davis to promote innovative, sustainable and equitable food systems.”
“The renewed program intends to work on local, national and global scales to support scientific research, extension and policy developments at UC Davis that address these goals,” said Kent J. Bradford, the newly appointed interim director of the World Food Center. Bradford is also a distinguished professor in the Department of Plant Sciences and director of the UC Davis Seed Biotechnology Center. “We are excited by the opportunity to enable the unique resources of UC Davis to be focused on improving the diverse aspects of food systems.”
The Vanguard has often seen a clear nexus between the mission of the WFC and innovation centers like MRIC, which would be able to accommodate the high tech, agtech vision of the center and sustain its experimental agriculture and other needs. But the city has been slow to recognize the potential – and by city I mean more the community than the city government.
For all the debate we have had over university-expanded enrollment and housing needs, we as a community have failed to see the promise of the university. Within the UC system, UC Davis perhaps uniquely and alone is poised for high growth potential – and I don’t just mean in size.
The flagships of the system have been Berkeley and UCLA, but both of those institutions remain landlocked. UC Davis has the ability and vision to expand and could end up by the middle to end of this century becoming the dominant campus, given its scalability and proximity to the capital.
That is the good news. It is certainly good for this community and this region. At the same time, Davis remains hopelessly locked in land use arguments over who is going to house the students at the university, rather than in leveraging the economic capital likely to flow from the university over the next 20 to 50 years.
As a result, Sacramento figures to thrive with their Aggie Square while Davis remains mired in the same land use battles of the last 40 to 50 years. It doesn’t have to be that way – but it will take vision from our leaders and courage from our citizens to break out of that.
—David M. Greenwald reporting