Sunday Commentary: What Is in the Best Interest of the Community?

This week, coming out of closed session, Mayor Brett Lee announced an agreement between the city of Davis, Yolo County and UC Davis to extend the deadline for the EIR response regarding the Long Range Development Plan (LRDP), in order to hold a mediation session.

As I have stated in other columns, I believe that the 9050 beds proposed by UC Davis is reasonable.  But I agree with the city that the concern over the timing and assurances to whether that housing is built is legitimate – particularly in light of past practices by the university.

At the same time, I believe a protracted legal dispute between the city and the university is not in the best interest of either entity.  From my perspective, any process that leads to delays in building much-needed housing is a negative impact.  Moreover, I believe the city needs to build its relationship with the university, rather than further strain it.

The city has laid out a number of mitigations it seeks (see article here: , including compensation asks for direct and indirect impacts of students on city infrastructure and services, lost property tax revenue, and other impacts.

During the discussion on Friday of the city’s agreed-to mediation with the university, one of our commenters stated, “I want what’s in the best interest of the community.”

Sounds good.  But what is that?  Is it a binding agreement?  Is it is a specific outcome?  Is it a process?

For me, rather than an outcome-based approach, we should be looking at the mediation process as a process-based approach.  The city and university should come together to reach some sort of agreement that both sides can live with.  Therefore I don’t believe we should be focused on whether the city gets agreement on these mitigation measures, but rather we should allow the process to play out and let the chips fall where they may.

But that discussion also got me thinking – maybe the best interest of the community is a bigger picture.

A key question is what is in the best long-term interest of the community.  For some that will be the ability of the university to provide housing for its projected growth without pressuring the city to grow as well.  For me, that is too parochial a view and we lose a lot of great opportunities focused solely on housing and growth.

Moreover, I believe that there are bigger opportunities for the city to prosper by forging a stronger relationship with the university and I believe that battling over land use issues and the number of student apartments we build is counter-productive to that big picture vision.

So here is a simple view of three things that I believe are in the best interest of this community.

First of all – a thriving world class university. 

Cambridge, New Haven, Palo Alto, Berkeley, Davis – which of these things do not belong?  Don’t get me wrong, Davis is a great place and UC Davis is a very good university, but you quickly get the picture here.

The best thing for our community is to be attached to an elite university.  I have said this before, but if you look at the landscape for the University of California system, the two flagship campuses are UC Berkeley and UCLA.  Both of those are largely landlocked and also contained in heavily developed metropolitan areas.

UC Davis has room to grow on campus and, as we have seen with the UC Davis Medical Center and now Aggie Square, Sacramento is a nearby population and economic center that makes UC Davis an ideal university for growth in the 21st Century.

We need to take advantage of that potential to build our own brand, because we share a namesake with this university.

Second of all – good relations with UC Davis. 

Every campaign for city council seems to have within it a plank that says we need better relations with the university.  Sometimes the candidate lays out a vision for what that looks like, but other times, they simply state it as an enduring need.

We talk about this every two years but then we have discussions about suing the university.  This point has been made before, but the reality is that things like the fight over West Village have badly damaged the relationship between the city and university in ways that I did not fully appreciate until I had some recent conversations.

We can go head to head against the university on a host of issues, attempt mitigation fees, take them to court if we have to.  More and more they are going to view us as the little sister and push their fortunes with Sacramento and their willing partner, Darrell Steinberg.

And then we wonder why the UCD Med Center and Aggie Square go to Sacramento rather than Davis.

Building a relationship with the university and creating dialogue is the best way forward and thus, I believe, in the best long-term interest of this community.

Third of all – economic development. 

Point one is really about building up the university.  Point two is about improving our relationship.  Point three is about getting something tangible out of points 1 and 2.

As we have laid out in these columns numerous times – we have a revenue problem in this community.  We see it with our schools and we see it as we attempt to get money for things as basic as infrastructure.

We need to figure out how to get revenue for this community and I believe that 1 plus 2 = 3.

A thriving university combined with good relations with UC Davis will bring us economic development and jobs and revenue.

If we can do that we can figure out things like EIRs, impacts on roads and demands for housing.  If we can’t solve our revenue problem long term, the rest isn’t going to matter.

We get caught up in the little picture – will UC Davis provide 9000 or 10,000 beds?  Are we going to approve three or four apartment complexes?  The big picture is we need revenue to survive and thrive and, along those lines, we should re-think our strategy.

The other point is that by building more housing on campus and by us building more housing near campus, we actually mitigate a lot of the impacts of growth.  Transportation issues decrease when you locate housing near campus.  Traffic impacts decrease when you locate housing near campus.  Environmental impacts decrease when you locate housing near campus.

We need to start thinking longer term here.  What we need above most else at this point is more diverse and more stable forms of revenue to keep this city going.  I believe that the best way to do that is to help build up the university and take advantage of tech transfer and economic development.

Most importantly, if we are smart about how we proceed, we can do this while maintaining the many positive aspects of this community.  If we fail, our community is going to be inalterably changed – for the worse.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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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. John D

    I believe that the best way to do that is to help build up the university and take advantage of tech transfer and economic development.

    While there may be some who would disagree with you on this point.  It’s likely a very small percentage.

    So, why is it so difficult to posit this statement as a foundational element of our community strategy going forward?

    With respect to the Davis community, in particular, it sometimes seems as if the University doesn’t believe it has any significant role to play in bringing such a strategy to life – that is the fostering, nurturing and cultivating of its latest inventions as they transition to the local marketplace.

    While this role actually defined a key mission of the university in its early years – transferring its applied research to advances in agricultural and husbandry practices (truly local industries) – it is with the more recent transition to the fields of genetic engineering, applied biosciences, energy saving innovations – where the opportunities lie today.

    Lost in translation, it seems, is the linkage between these stunning new inventions and innovations growing out of the university’s research – and then translating the fruits of such research to the benefit of the local community which has so  patiently supported its mission over the decades?

    It truly seems like we have have lost the linkage between these efforts.

    Today, many of those fruits would today be characterized as newly developed patents for development of incredible new products to benefit the entire planet.   One, tangible of way of helping to recognize the contributions of the community towards the achievement of these transformative breakthroughs would  be to invite and encourage those businesses interested in furthering such science and applied technology to participate in the Davis community.

    It may seem like common sense, but that doesn’t mean such conversations will ever enter the public debate.

    Let me conclude with suggesting that the university has a huge role to play in helping the community to better understand the value proposition contained within its efforts to bring technology transfer to the Davis community.

    How the community chooses to process that input and evaluate the proposition is another matter entirely.   One would hope, however, that those many families whose lives and careers have benefitted from their long association with the university would see the wisdom of at least considering the proposition that David is suggesting with this article.

    1. Howard P

      You make excellent points, but…

      … the Sunday morning pessimist in me suspects that UC, including Davis Campus, are looking at a “business model”… no altruism, no community ‘responsibility’ to the “host city”… benefits from advances are for sale to the highest bidder… practical, perhaps to the point of being ‘amoral’… detached (with shades of being “superior”)… near-zero empathy…

      I sincerely hope I am incorrect… I hope I’m VERY incorrect…

      1. John D

        We’re not talking here about any need for empathy.  We’re talking here about taking ownership and leadership with respect to the unintended/untended consequences of institutional expansion and growth.

        That, and it’s corollary, the consequences of missed/untended opportunities and non-optimized evolution.  Call it a failure to recognize the blindered approach to expansion without regard to the “local environment” – taken in a holistic sense and including economic and financial sustainability of the community model (including its K-12 schools) – in addition to prioritizing and planning based solely around the very narrowly defined path of environmental sustainability (see David’s other article from this morning)).

        Or, more simply put, what’s good for the goose can be good for the gander.



        1. Howard P

          “Holistic” interests are one thing… “pure economic” interests are another… I see the latter, but hope to be proved wrong…

          I say again, you made great points… but am a tad skeptical as to how UC views its self-interest…

    2. Matt Williams

      John, while I agree with the points you make, the July 31st Press Release by UCD “Record Number of UC Davis Startups for 2017-18” tells an interesting story that merits discussion.

      The beginning of the press release reads as follows, The University of California, Davis, enabled the foundation of 16 commercial companies during the fiscal year ending June 30, an all-time high for the university. This brings the total number of startups made possible by UC Davis technologies during the past 10 years to 137.

      “Our commitment to supporting innovative faculty, students and staff — with the coordinated suite of resources we offer through Venture Catalyst — is accelerating societal benefit and regional economic impact through a robust pipeline of university spinoffs,” said Dushyant Pathak, associate vice chancellor of research and executive director of UC Davis Venture Catalyst. 

      “Not only are we seeing an uptick in the number of exciting new technology ventures from the university, but we are also seeing the achievement of significant commercialization milestones by prior years’ startups,” Pathak said.

      The article describes 13 of the 16 (the other 3 are in “stealth mode” for competitive reasons and are not listed.) 12 of the 13 companies did not come from the Davis campus.  They all were medical stat-ups coming from the Sacramento campus.  The one startup from the Davis campus is described as follows: NanoHue — Commercializing a system to be used in sports through which the landing spot of a ball can be precisely identified”  What is missing from that picture?

    3. Don Shor

      A couple of points.
      I have the impression, confirmed to me by people who work with the administration, that there is an attitude of disdain at the higher levels toward the public officials and activists in town. Generally those higher UC folks perceive growth of the campus as a benefit to the town and the region, and feel that those who oppose it are too parochial in their outlook and are unaccepting or unaware of the benefits that UC brings to Davis and the region.
      Certainly this seems to have been true under the last chancellor, but I have seen the attitude going back before her. Katehi came to this area from an urban region with a large campus spread out over the community, and probably had no idea what a small town mentality Davis residents have.
      You can say that this shows disrespect toward the city, but that goes both ways. Certainly I’ve seen rhetoric from Davis residents that was very disrespectful of the university as well. So there is a damaged relationship that isn’t fostering communication. A process of mediation will, at least, formalize the communication and perhaps help to clear the air.
      UC officials, in my opinion, perceive their community in a regional way. UC is a powerhouse in the Sacramento metropolitan region. The mayors of West Sac and Sacramento itself actively seek out university investment and development. Their attitudes are much more positive. They actually look for ways to help projects move forward. There is talk of using tax revenues to encourage projects. Meanwhile, Davis residents want to sue UC to block development and extract money from them.
      I think you can see why UC looks outside the city limits when they’re seeking expansion sites. Both parties need to be more respectful of the other’s goals. UC’s mission is not developing housing for students, nor is it providing for the economic benefit of the host city or helping with the schools or any of that. But there are costs to their presence that could be shared more fairly. Hence the letters and the move toward mediation. But they have little incentive to cooperate other than public relations.

  2. Ken A

    Since the “community” is made up of different people different things (often complete opposite things) are in each person’s “best interest”.

    The lady renting a cot in her garage for $500/month does not want new housing in town but the kid renting the cot does.

    The small business owner in town would love a program that lets them pay below minimum wage to college students who get credit for learning about business, most kids would want $15/hour.

    Some in the community would love to increase taxes so Davis could start a UBI program while others in the community want lower taxes and even less poor people in town…

  3. Ron

    This question to David remains unanswered (from yesterday):

    “If I recall correctly, you actually oppose having UCD reimburse the city for its impacts.  I’m basing this on memory, so feel free to correct me or clarify. But, it certainly is a strange position to take, while simultaneously expressing concern about the city’s fiscal health.”

    1. David Greenwald

      I don’t know why this is important to you.  It’s actually irrevelevant.  My position at this point is a process-based position whereby the outcome is secondary to the process so long as the city and UCD are agreeable to the results of the mediation process.

      1. Ron

        Again (in this article), you’ve noted that you are interested in the “timing” of student housing build-out.  Resolving that is apparently your (only) hoped-for “outcome” of this process.

        You still haven’t responded to the question, which is hardly irrelevant.  If you’re so concerned about the city’s fiscal health (as you often state), why are you not interested in having UCD reimburse the city for its impacts?

        The link in your article above lists these proposed mitigations, as well as others.

        1. David Greenwald

          I am concerned about a lot of things.  Student housing build-out timing is very important.  However, I am hoping that any process between the city and university builds on their relationship.

          In terms of fiscal health – it is a concern – it is not the only concern I have, as I have noted in many previous columns and interactions with you.

          I view the list of mitigation’s that demand reimbursement as potentially self-defeating – we can gain short-term compensation at the risk of losing longer term opportunities.  That’s not a good trade off.

          However, a mutually agreed to mediation process is a win-win.  we can gain some things we are looking for while building on mutual understanding and cooperation. That is a win-win for me.

        2. Ron

          David:  “I view the list of mitigation’s that demand reimbursement as potentially self-defeating – we can gain short-term compensation at the risk of losing longer term opportunities.”

          Well again, you’ve constantly harped on the timing of student housing on campus.  I suspect that’s really your only “demand”, regarding the proposed mitigations.  (And, that it’s the only mitigation that’s potentially “achievable” via the mediation effort.)

          Addressing UCD’s impacts on the city is a long-term solution, not a short-term one.

  4. Ron

    From article:  “And then we wonder why the UCD Med Center and Aggie Square go to Sacramento rather than Davis.”

    As previously noted:

    “According to the article below, Aggie Square is planned to be built on UC Davis’ own land (thereby paying no taxes), with costs estimated to be in the “. . . tens of millions, if not hundreds . . .”, and will take years to develop.  In addition, the article notes that politicians are attempting to help fund it with state and local taxpayer dollars, and that housing may be build on adjacent, private land.”

    David has also previously stated that UCD did not want to provide access through campus, for an innovation center at Nishi. (They were agreeable to do so, for student housing only.)

      1. Ron

        Aggie Village (in which UCD owns the land, as noted above) might also have a similar timeframe. That might also apply to the other nearby proposed innovation centers in the region (assuming they’re even built, at all).

        Also, an inevitable “recession-is-a-coming”, according to several articles I’ve read recently. (Perhaps around 2020.) That also would impact plans.

        1. David Greenwald

          Do you mean Aggie Square?  Aggie Village is the little housing development next to campus?

          Broader point: yes, innovation centers have long projected build outs.  That’s why I have always couched the need for taxes as a short-term revenue solutions and economic development as longer term solutions.

        2. Ron

          Yes – thank you.  I meant “Aggie Square”.  UCD owns the land at the Aggie Square site (in Sacramento).

          As noted in the article I referenced above, politicians are considering financial contributions (from local and state government), to make it happen. Also, housing may be built on the private land adjacent to the site.

        3. Howard P

          Ron is slightly right on this one… Aggie Village land is owned by UC… ‘homeowners’ have up to 99 year leases… it was annexed to the City… the time frame reference is just weird… Aggie Village was 90%+ built out in 2-3 years, and it never was a “innovation center”…

          Classic example of a kernel of truth, followed by much (not allowed to say, lest it be considered a personal attack) …

          Aggie Village was meant to be for Jr Faculty, etc., then expanded to DJUSD and City employees (eligibility)… not sure of current status…

          [thing about 99 year leases… lessee pays property tax, jut like they owned it…]

        4. Ron

          Howard:  I’ve already noted that I was not referring to “Aggie Village”.  (That was a typo, as David picked up on).

          I was referring to “Aggie Square”. UCD already owns the Aggie Square innovation center site (in Sacramento).

        5. Howard P

          Yeah, “Village” vs. “Square” … obvious typo… missed that… my bad… apologies…

          Guess you are superior… you check all previous posts before you post… admirable… will attempt to emulate…

        1. Ron

          I recall that at one point, UCD actually put forth a multi-million dollar bid to purchase one of Davis’ existing commercial sites (which would have removed it from the tax rolls).  Was that at University Research Park, or was it some other site?

          Pretty sure that David would know, if you don’t recall this.

          In any case, UCD’s efforts will likely be focused on Aggie Square (and perhaps at other nearby proposed innovation centers), for years to come.

  5. Greg Rowe

    Ron, it was University Research Park.  I was informed by former UCD local government relations director Marj Dickinson that UCD offered $66 million for the site.  Sacramento investor and developer Mark Friedman was the successful bidder, reportedly for about $70 million.  When I asked Dickinson what would have been the source of the $66 million if UCD’s bid had been successful, she responded that a funding source had not yet been identified when UCD placed its offer.  If UCD’s offer had been successful, the property would have been removed from the County’s property tax rolls because UCD is a tax-exempt entity, with the resulting reduction of property tax revenue on the part of both the County and City.

    1. Ron

      Thanks, Greg.  It certainly would have “poured salt into the wound”, if UCD’s offer had been successful.

      Seems more than a little strange to make an offer, in the absence of an identified funding source.

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