In the weeks that have followed the June election, the Vanguard has met with pretty much the entire incoming city council, as well as members of the community and city staff. One issue that is a matter of some urgency – how will the city find the revenue needed to finance key infrastructure in the wake of the defeat of the roads tax (Measure I)?
While the city will probably dodge one bullet it didn’t see coming in the form of a two-thirds vote requirement, it does have to get the current one-percent sales tax renewed in 2020. That likely takes additional funding off the table for 2020, as the city relies on the $9 million in tax revenue from that measure to supply about 15 percent (give or take) of its general fund budget.
There seems to be a clear desire on the part of the council to push for economic development, and, for the first time in probably four years, a strong desire from city management to put the pieces in place to do so.
The question is really going to be: Where is that leadership going to come from to push the agenda from the conceptual phase into a workable action plan?
One thing that seems clear is we do not need to go back to the drawing board, we already have a plan that still seems viable – the dispersed innovation strategy.
Looking back over the resolution passed by the city council back in November 2012, for the most part the strategy seems to hold. Some modifications are likely in order to proceed with both the short-term and mid-term strategies, however.
Off the table is Nishi as a near-term strategy, which the July 2012 Studio 30 report described as “the best close/in location due to the proximity to University and property owner and University interest, and should be pursued as the City’s top innovation center priority.”
But while voters turned down Nishi in that respect, we have seen other opportunities arise, including University Research Park, which is in the process of being redeveloped and densified as well under the name of Area 52. Another intriguing idea might come from the Downtown Core Area Specific Plan, where we might see the creation of mixed-use flex space that could create labs and space for startups in the downtown.
Still, if you read the Studio 30 report, the main finding holds: “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.”
The report concludes: “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.”
The world has changed course in the years since November 2012. At the time, things seemed very promising for a full implementation of this plan.
By 2014, the council had received a number of proposals, and eventually two applications for innovation centers in the identified Mace Ranch Innovation Center (MRIC) and Davis Innovation Center locations.
The council also voted 5-0 to put Nishi on the ballot in 2016 with 300,000 square feet of innovation space. Nishi was narrowly voted down by the voters in 2016, and the 2018 resubmitted project, which gained voter approval, has no R&D space. The Davis Innovation Center has moved up to Woodland and been approved. MRIC is on hold and may remain so.
We have seen innovation center proposals in Woodland, West Sacramento, Dixon, and now the Aggie Square in Sacramento.
However, Davis remains ripe for an innovation center. The proximity to the university continues to be advantageous, even as UC Davis takes steps to toward Sacramento expansion opportunities.
The key is probably going to be Davis creating zoned and entitled space capable of supporting an innovation center, and once the land use hurdles are cleared, it seems likely that the university and other private actors would get involved.
However, what appears to be unarguable at this point is that, without dealing with the land use issues, the current political climate in Davis will act as a deterrent toward investors – including the university – getting involved.
Think about how much money the developers at Nishi likely put into their two plans. Think about the millions that MRIC has already spent getting to the point where their EIR was certified but got no further. Who wants to spend high-risk money like that, when other communities will roll out the red carpet for them?
In Sacramento, not only did Mayor Steinberg bring the university into a partnership, they secured $2.8 million in state funds to help build the partnership.
The next two years in Davis needs to be about figuring out how to re-ignite the energy and excitement that existed just a few years ago in 2014. But more importantly we need to find a way to get past the land use debates that will cripple our efforts, and to the point where we can utilize our advantages to woo potential investors and companies to come to our community.
—David M. Greenwald reporting