Sunday Commentary: Who Will Lead on Economic Development?

Tomorrow will be a new day in Davis as we say goodbye to Robb Davis and Rochelle Swanson, each of whom have been tremendous leaders in our community.  While each has advanced our community with their leadership, each will probably agree that many of the problems which existed when they were first elected remain to this day.

This was a letter to the editor: “We seem to be at a crossroads, where our town needs a lot more tax dollars. I’m not comfortable with this situation, and I wonder how and why we got here. We’re an affluent community, yet our roads and other infrastructure elements continue to crumble, with no end in sight. I therefore assume that’s why we’re seriously considering ‘innovation’ centers such as the Mace Ranch project.”

The remarkable thing about this letter is it was written in September 2015.  Other than the mention that we’re seriously considering innovations centers such as the Mace Ranch project, this is probably more appropriate today than it was nearly four years ago.

As Councilmember Rochelle Swanson leaves the council after eight years of service to this community, I worry where the leadership is going to come from to do the heavy lifting on economic development – that everyone seems to acknowledge we need.

Ms. Swanson should probably have mixed feelings as she leaves.  On the one hand, when she arrived on the scene, no one talked about economic development and the city did a lot of great things early on, from Davis Roots to Studio 30 to the Innovation Park Task Force that put economic development on the map.

But, as she leaves, that progress has been uneven at best, and perhaps you could say stalled.

I hearken back to comments made in May 2014 as she returned from a trip to D.C., the Cap-to-Cap trip, and related to her colleagues about her conversation with Congressman John Garamendi.

“It was really unique in all the meetings, he sat back and he turned to me and he said, there are things I need from you,” she explained. “That was a very different tone and I asked him to please write me a letter so I could share it with the community.”

In the letter (printed here), the Congressman said: “Davis and UC Davis are key to the successful Sacramento region, both intellectually and economically.  Our nation needs innovation, creativity and technology development from communities like yours to be leaders in agriculture and manufacturing research and to create companies and jobs.”

He added, “The information you shared with me about your innovation and economic development plans are impressive and highlight the regional leadership role that Davis must embody.”

Councilmember Swanson said, “The reason why I share this, and maybe there is a sense of frustration, is that we have been talking for a long time about what we’re going to do. The innovation task force has been talking for a number of years. We’ve talked about waiting for proposals… I do worry that this search for the perfect is going to kill the good.

“We have support like no other,” she continued. “I was not an hour there at a reception and had at least six to ten people, many I didn’t know, who looked at my badge and said, ‘What’s up with the innovation center? What’s going on? How come this hasn’t moved forward? You know that we need you. We have companies asking us when things are coming on line.’”

That night the council would approve plans to go forward with the RFEI (Request for Expressions of Interest).  That RFEI would generate proposals for the Davis Innovation Center and Mace Ranch Innovation Center (MRIC).  As we know, neither of those have come to fruition, with Davis Innovation Center basically moving to Woodland and MRIC on more or less permanent hold.

Davis voters in 2016 would vote down Nishi, containing about 300,000 square feet of innovation space, but there is still energy coming from the private sector with both Area 52 as well as the University Research Park (URP).

There are a lot of reasons for these failures, but a big part was that previous city managers simply did not place economic development among the top on their lists of priorities.

Ironically, with Mike Webb now as city manager, we are queued up once again with a city manager and staff that will prioritize and support economic development efforts.  This spring following the elections, I met with all of the incoming council, and to a person they recognize the truth of that goal from 2015.  Even more so today.

There are in fact a number of positives.  At the Planning Commission this week, we will have a proposal for a proposed Mace Ranch business park that will house the headquarters of Nugget.  We have the energy coming from places like the URP where ADM (Archer Daniels Midland Co.) this spring opened a new lab.  We have seen a large number of cannabis dispensaries that figure to help generate revenue.

And even before we build any of three new or revamped hotels in this community, we have seen an increase of TOT (transient occupancy tax).

We are doing well, therefore, at the small end, but what we lack is what we have sought for eight years – the large, peripheral innovation park.  We have seen Woodland get the park that was at first slated to go near Sutter Davis.  We have seen West Sacramento benefit from the exodus of Bayer from Davis.  We have seen Sacramento benefit from the type of UC Davis partnership that we can only dream of at this point, with Aggie Square.

We are no longer on the forefront as we might have been in 2014, but we are still the host city to one of the rising university powers in the state.  And there are still ample opportunities if we seize them.

To a person I think the council recognizes that, and will prioritize this as we have not seen since 2014.  The question is where that critical leadership will come from to make this happen.

The stakes are actually higher than they were in 2014.  The failed roads tax means that we will have to probably find another $30 to $50 million to keep our roads from crumbling.  This community, that has known greatness and affluence, teeters on the brink.

While I believe that cost containment is an important component of economic development, I do not believe we can cut our way back to greatness.  And so the challenge going forward is where the leadership will come from, now that the biggest champion of economic development is leaving council.  That will be a key question for the next four years.

—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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  1. Todd Edelman

    6 am: South Davis. Wake up. Read the Davis Vanguard, its competition, the Bee and any fresh Enterprise offering;
    7 am: Take dog out for a run;
    8 am: Drive child to Cesar Chavez Elementary;
    8:30 am: Arrive at Nugget HQ;
    12:30 pm: Bored of single cafe on-site, drive over to Cindy’s for lunch;
    5:30 pm: Drive to Nugget;
    6:30 pm: Arrive home.
    Mace & Alhambra Business Park. You could almost be anywhere, and you’re not sure, but whatever.

    This project is a joke. It’s generic nonsense with some predictable LEED stuff, electric car hookups,  and water-runoff mitigation. Of course my focus is transportation (display page 66/real page 103 at the above link): They do their own analysis showing a 4% modal share for bicycles, about 1/7 of the current goal for cycling to work. They report states that two Unitrans bus lines serve the area, but it’s only one, and this runs every 30 to 60 minutes, accounting for another 4% modal share (unless because they made that bus lines serving mistake, it’s only 2%!). Yet to the question “Conflict with adopted policies, plans, or programs regarding public transit, bicycle, or pedestrian facilities, or otherwise decrease the performance or safety of such facilities?” the answer is “Less than significant impact”.

    Ah ha! It’s all good because this is all less impacting than what was previously planned for the site, what’s in the General Plan, etc. Staff is asking for approval of a negative declaration and development for a project with 92% automobile  modal share in the “Cycling Capitol of the USA”. Is there any reason this development needs to be so peripheral?I hope that this thought crime is not any kind of model for economic development in Davis.

    1. David Greenwald

      Question: how is a project that brings the corporate headquarters of a well-respect local company to Davis, “a joke”? We wonder why we are struggling in this community, perhaps this kind of comment embodies that problem – both in perception and fact?

    2. Todd Edelman

      “a joke”?

      Well, leaving aide the large parking lotted-locations currently run by Nugget – a market I like – isn’t it sort of obvious that this is simply clusterf*ckingly and absurdly-peripheral? Lots of offices are fine, but it’s mono-use and it’s ultimately most convenient to I-80.  Is there any reason it the non-office stuff needs to be here due to any light industrial activities?


      1. Don Shor

        There’s no non-peripheral place readily available for it. It is convenient for access to both Nugget markets in Davis.
        I really think your comments often go way over the line into absurdity.

      2. Todd Edelman

        convenient for access

        Don, as you saw I referred to the projected automobile modal share of 92%. The report mentions goals, and concludes that the 4% projected modal share for cycling does not conflict with policies, plans, or programs regarding bicycle facilities, though the 2014 “Beyond Platinum” Cycling Plan has a goal for 30% for trips to work.  

        While it may be good for Nugget and may even decrease their current employee-related GHG impacts, it’s simply not contributing to the City’s goals for modal share.

        I know that you’ve said previously that the City should drop those cycling goals, because they are unrealistic. I don’t even know how to respond to that — where would the culling stop?

        There’s a big problem that an individual project can be determined to have “Less than significant impacts”, get points since it’s determined to be better than what was previously approved in general form for a site, but perhaps worse than anything else can have a projected modal share that’s a fraction of an officially-approved goal.  It’s happening in a big way with WDAAC. As I’ve mentioned many times in the past, my casual counts at facilities from Sutter Davis across to East Covell Nugget show a cycling modal share of 3 to 4%. (This last bit in response to the report in question referring to its 4% analysis as “conservative”.)

        Imagine the Davis highwheeler in anthropomorphic form, crying about all of this.

        There are lots of important goals in town, from economic generation to social inclusion and I hope soon for vegetation buffers 300 ft. along the entire length of I-80. but there’s obviously no justification for casting some to the side because we can’t figure out an alternative to a generic, Vic Fazio-Peak Automobile-style solution for Nugget and job siting for some unknown businesses (and curious if we can figure out where people live who might work there…)

        Perhaps you should start an initiative process that would have the City add some Agent Orange to the “Beyond Platinum” plan and I should start one that adds soil amendments to ensure that new project share percentages reflect what’s in the plan?

        1. Michael Bisch

          It’s not clear to me where you’re headed with your reasoning. The parcel is already within the city limits & zoned for commercial uses. You’re essentially arguing that the owner should be denied their right to develop the property because they can’t pick up the property & move it closer to the Core or to campus. That’s not the way it works. You can’t dial the clock back to pre-1989.

        2. Todd Edelman

          Michael: Nope. What’s happening is that the proposal is giving an official – and what I had thought was a core goal – the middle finger, and waving it around a bit to boot.

          Imagine instead: “We, the developers and Nugget recognize that for reasons of siting – and other issues out of our direct control – that if the Mace-Alhambra project has conventional, old school mobility solutions, it cannot meet e.g. goals for cycling modal share (we’re not sure why, but the City has no goals for the modal share of any other mode).  For these reasons we’re considering:

          1) BEST IDEA: Locating the Nugget facilities on the existing, extremely large parking lots that serve both our markets in Davis (while initially preserving existing parking for shopping visitors);
          2) Keeping additional car parking to a minimum;
          3) Purchasing a fleet of 28 mph-assist electric bikes for employee use within Davis, both from home to work and in-between our facilities, and for visitors who arrive by train. These would include versions that can carry children safely (and of course…. multiple shopping bags!);
          4) Purchasing a fleet of small electric vehicles mostly for journeys outside of Davis;
          5) Contributing to an existing transit operator’s plan to have a bus service that serves East Davis and Mace Ranch synchronized with Capitol Corridor services, or at minimum a company shuttle just for a our project, or immediate area;
          6) Charging employees to park, proving free transit passes;7) Supporting teleworking or four days a week job schedules…”

        3. Richard McCann

          Todd, while your vision is valid in some ways, its both impractical and expensive. Neither Nugget lot is large enough to accommodate this square footage (along with the fact that Nugget doesn’t own either of those retail-zoned parcels). Neither does it reflect Nugget’s objectives. According to the Enterprise article,, Nugget is looking for closer access to the I-80 corridor to access its other stores. As for EV access, its much better to provide incentives of some kind (e.g., $ for GHG credits, etc) to get employees to buy EVs rather than a stupid mandate (yes, these types of mandates are often stupid and poorly conceived.)

          If Davis imposes all of these requirements, Nugget will choose not to move to Davis at all, and instead will either consolidate in Woodland, or move to West Sac or Vacaville, and in the end NONE of the innovations that you are proposing will be implemented. Instead of looking for purity, we need to be looking for what can we get in incremental improvements. Threatening to hold our breath until the perfect is presented means that the better will never happen.

          As a side note, I’ve heard from several people that the 4/10 work week is brutal and losing favor. However, the 9/9 two week schedule is gaining favor, and probably more reflective of how people really work.

        4. Todd Edelman

          Richard: Where are the “incremental improvements” with this project in regards to transportation? They’ve so far proposed not a thing. In the main narrative on (display) page 44 the info about the closest bus routes is incorrect and all it says is that it will be possible to walk to bus stops. There is nothing else… they are waving their middle finger with their 1/7 of goal. Are they allowed to ignore this goal with energy generation, pollution, etc?

          We can’t threaten them with too much… but what are they doing here that they wouldn’t do in another town? The ‘comprehensive cycling network” can only get them to 5% bike modal share… really? Could that be because it’s really not so comprehensive? (It’s not, mainly because of gaps in the core, unsafe and/or not wide enough and unprotected bike lanes… and a Greenbelt path network that’s existentially challenged by its inappropriateness for faster cycling, whether by e-bike or not.)

          I’m not holding my breath about the suggestions I proposed, and anyway nearly all are only mobility fixes. Bad development cannot truly be solved with good transportation practices.

          Thanks for the work week info.

        5. Alan Miller

          > Nugget is looking for closer access to the I-80 corridor to access its other stores.

          Combine this with TE’s plan to put a roof on I-80 and place Nugget headquarters on the roof of I-80.  Problem solved.

        6. Todd Edelman

          headquarters on the roof of I-80

          Actually, as part of the Yolo80 widening-managed lane project we could have a lane that’s a Linear Nugget: Your car goes into electric autonomous mode and moves at approximately walking speed: Alongside are all the shelves of a nugget, in one long row, for – I dunno – a mile or two? You shop and your toll is built into the price. No reason to get out of your car. No parking lot needed for shopping. Nugget pays for a big chunk of the roof and so on. So many people would come to just see it that we’d probably need a linear hotel or two so that all the stay nights are not stolen by evil Sacramento!

        7. Mark West

          “Don, as you saw I referred to the projected automobile modal share of 92%. The report mentions goals, and concludes that the 4% projected modal share for cycling does not conflict with policies, plans, or programs regarding bicycle facilities, though the 2014 “Beyond Platinum” Cycling Plan has a goal for 30% for trips to work.”

          Last I heard…there was a Staff Report that said that Davis has a Bike Modal Share that was greater than any other City in the Country. If that is the case, and I welcome corrections, why, considering all of our obvious challenges, is increasing the bike modal share a priority?

          IMHO – The ‘Beyond Platinum’ cycling plan was ‘Beyond Stupid.’



          1. Don Shor

            California had more cities ranking among the top twenty for bike commute mode share:

            4th: SF, 3.7 percent
            6th: Oakland, 3 percent
            9th: Sacramento, 2.3 percent
            15th: Los Angeles, 1.1 percent
            16th: Fresno, 1.1 percent
            18th: Long Beach, 1 percent
            Among smaller cities, Davis, at 20.3 percent bike mode share, was far and away the top U.S. city, far higher than number two Boulder, where 10.8 percent of commuters ride bikes.

            Some of these high-ranking cities also have fewer bike-ped deaths. The number of bike-ped fatalities per 10,000 commuters may be the most telling statistic in the report. What is the relationship between the number of people who bike or walk and the number of traffic deaths involving bike riders or walkers? San Francisco ranks fifth among U.S. cities, with only 2.8 fatalities per 10K commuters, and Oakland ranks 15th with 7.4. Among smaller cities, Davis ranks third nationally–behind Burlington, VA, and Fort Collins, Colorado–with 0.9 fatalities per 10K commuters.


    3. Alan Pryor

      While I believe that cost containment is an important component of economic development, I do not believe we can cut our way back to greatness.

      No, but we can spend our way into bankruptcy as the recent spate of grossly excessive MOUs shows. There is NO cost containment going on in the City. Management cannot show one single project in the recent years that has substantially reduced our overhead yet they are allowing double-digit employee salary increases. Everytime we get a tax increase approved or a new spate of even modest economic upturn (TOT, marijuana dispensaries), the employee salaries go up to consume the new revenue. We’ll never get our roads fixed until a new management mindset is installed in City Hall that at least tries to run our City government like a business.

  2. Michael Bisch

    A few comments:


    1) Land use is merely a subset of economic development yet the Vanguard consistently treats the two as if they are one and the same.


    2) Tax revenue is not the primary community benefit from economic development. Jobs, economic opportunity, goods & services is how we shelter, feed, clothe and otherwise provide for our families. I would encourage the Vanguard to keep this in mind.


    3) “To a person I think the council recognizes that, and will prioritize this as we have not seen since 2014. ”  This statement, presumably pertaining to commercially-zoned land-use decisions, is seemingly divorced from fact. As far as I can tell, the Council since 2014 has approved every significant commercial project (as well as the vast majority of the smaller projects). I suppose one could argue that the Council has failed to take full advantage of the economic opportunities provided by some of the projects by project size reduction, overly restrictive zoning conditions, extractions and the like, but that was certainly true of pre-2014 Councils as well.

    1. David Greenwald

      Michael: You are correct that the council has supported commercial and housing projects, but note the title – the question is about leadership and who is going to do the heavy-lifting on the next council to push economic development back onto the main stage.

    2. Howard P

      Your # 2… VERY true story… those City Staff directly involved in ED, lead with excusing/reducing development fees, future assessments, etc., to “draw” new enterprises in (justifying their City paid existence), with little/no cares about net gain to the the City for revenues…


  3. Michael Bisch

    Todd Edelman is going to determine where Nugget is going to locate their corporate HQ? Are you going to do that for every business or is there something specific to Nugget where you or anybody else gets to decide where they have to locate?


    The 2nd area where you’re off kilter is the notion that the property owner has to meet higher transportation standards when the impacts from the land use amendments they are seeking are less than the impacts from the current zoning.

  4. Sharla C.

    It sounds like there is no reason to oppose this project.  It seems to me that opposition is or has become the goal, in and of itself.   Just what does it take for people to be excited about a company deciding to establish their headquarters in Davis?

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