Analysis: Pool of Commercial Properties Shrinks Further in Davis If We Eliminate Two Key Sites

On Tuesday, the city council received a presentation on commercially zoned properties in Davis, with staff identifying about 124.5 acres.  However, immediately 33.5 of those acres can be eliminated simply because they are extensions of medical facilities (Sutter-Davis and Kaiser).

The council focused their effort on perhaps 25 acres off of Second Street, which is currently the Frontier Fertilizer Superfund Site.  However, a September 2017 report from the EPA still casts doubt on its viability noting, “The Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) has placed land use restrictions on the Site to prevent the use of contaminated groundwater; however, institutional controls such as deed restrictions still need to be put in place on some of the parcels to ensure long-term protectiveness.”

It further notes: “There has been a change in toxicity, and thus, the current cleanup level for TCP exceeds EPA’s acceptable risk.”

Those familiar with the site believe it will be at least 20 years before the city could even begin to consider development on the site – and that may well be an optimistic view.  The first cleanup activities began in 1983, but until 1994, “investigative and cleanup activities were performed by the property owners under the remedial orders issued by the State of California. In 1994, EPA took over management of Frontier Fertilizer Site after it was added to the National Priority List.”

Another location that should draw interest is the nearly 15-acre site along Chiles and Cowell Boulevards in Davis.  This was the site of the 2015 proposal for a 225,000 square foot office/ R&D Park in Davis – the type of development the city would envision for economic development efforts.  However, the project fell through and Jim Gray, who handled the deal in 2015, is not optimistic about the prospects for rekindling that development in the near future.

The property owners, the Meyers, have made numerous applications over the years in South Davis to build housing and residential development.

The 14.85 acre site in the South Davis Specific Plan is zoned for business park or commercial activities.  Jim Gray told the Vanguard that over the years, they have proposed the site for housing, but the city has either denied or discouraged that use.

“It’s a good site, in my opinion for the development of amenities,” he said.

The prospects are not good here – at least in the near term.

Jim Gray overall was critically of the city’s zoning, calling it “rearview mirror looking backwards.”  He explained, “By that I mean we want commercial to be distinct from retail, retail to be distinct for community amenities, to be separate and removed from residential.”

He argued, “The world is moving towards mixed use, high amenity, blend of activities and we need for a site like the Meyers to really flourish – to be in Jim Gray’s opinion, the most wildly successful site in Davis, you need to amend the general plan.”

He talked about the need for mixes of uses and higher density projects.

“I don’t see anybody as a proponent developer nor as a city leader, willing to take the mantle to look towards what the future’s really asking for and demanding,” Mr. Gray said.  For him, the small cities that want to be successful have to densify and have a blend of amenities.  “Our general plan doesn’t support that.”

In terms of the next 10 to 20 years, Jim Gray was not optimistic.

“Someone would have to come to agreement with the Meyers to buy it,” Jim Gray stated.  “I believe where we are in the business cycle, is no one is going to do it on a speculative basis.  In my mind it would have to be driven by a user.

“You need a big tenant,” he said.

He put this way: “If I were living across the street from the property, and was afraid of the unknown, I think a tumbleweed field is the most likely activity for the next ten years.”

Just that analysis alone takes 25 acres along Second Street and 15 acres at Cowell off the table, meaning that immediately 73 of the 124 acres are completely eliminated from consideration – for at least ten and probably 20 years.

Based on that analysis, there is perhaps one nearly 10-acre site along Second Street that is potentially viable and available.  Everything else is either reserved for other uses, or very small and fragmented.

—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. Matt Williams

    David, your focus on the Supply side of the commercial property marketplace is getting repetitive and redundant.  I would be very interested in hearing about the Demand side of that marketplace.  What is that Demand made up of?  What new companies have located in Davis over the past five years?  What existing companies have expanded their presence in Davis?  What companies have left?

    1. David Greenwald

      The supply side is what the council dealt with on Tuesday and one of the questions is about the available land. This article, quoting from both the EPA report and Jim Gray narrows significantly the amount of available land. I think that’s an extremely pertinent issue. Instead of framing your comment as you did, I would suggest in the future, simply stating, in addition to the supply side, it would be interesting to understand the demand side. I will get into that a bit more when I take on the next piece tomorrow or so. Part of what I will argue and part of the focus in bringing Ashley Feeney back in an increased role is the need to start bringing in new companies – but we can’t bring them in if we don’t have space for them. Off the top of my head, I know two major successes in the last year are the Nugget Corporate Headquarters and ADM going into URP.

      1. Matt Williams

        Most of your readers know about the Nugget Corporate Headquarters, but I suspect that virtually none know about ADM going into URP. 

        — How significant art those additions to the Demand side? 

        — How many square feet of space are they filling respectively? 

        — What percentage of theproposed MRIC would those two examples fill? 

        — Have we really only added two companies in the past five years? 

        — Where are the Vanguard articles about the addition of ADM and the other companies over the past five years?

        — What percentage of Vanguard readers even know what the acronym URP stands for?

        — What percentage of Vanguard readers even know what the acronym ADM stands for?

        Addressing questions like those on a regular and recurring basis will help the Valguard sound less like a paid advertisement for the development community. It will also help Vanguard readers better understand the Demand side of the commercial property marketplace in Davis.

        Said another way, the Vanguard should be celebrating every new business added to Davis … especially the ones that leverage Intellectual Capital creation at UC Davis.

        1. Matt Williams

          One ADM article?  Why no follow-up stories on their plans? Has nothing happened since March?

          Cannabis dispensaries are not going to fill MRIC. 

          When was the last article you wrote about a new seed company coming to Davis?

          When was the last article that illuminated the upward trajectory of HM Claus?

          What does the renaming of FMC Schilling mean for Davis?

          Does DMG Mori anticipate any expansion in the forseeable future?

          What was the last UCD-sourced startup to land in Davis?

          Why were all but one of the UCD-announced startups from last year originated from the Sacramento campus? 

          Why did the Davis campus only produce one of the start=ups?

          So many questions … so little Vanguard coverage.

        2. David Greenwald

          There was an interesting article in Comstock on a seed company moving to the Woodland Innovation center.

          I’ll look forward to your series of articles – thanks for volunteering to write them.

        3. Matt Williams

          I’ll take that as a, “No, I’m not going to write articles about the Demand side.  It doesn’t pay the bills.  Articles about the Supply side does pay the bills.”

          It’s your Blog, not mine.  The slings and arrows thrown about the Vaguard’s bias are thrown at you, not me.  I’m simply challenging you to do better.  If you are uncomfortable with that, you won’t write the articles.  If you see the merit in a more complete coverage of both sides of the issue, then you will research and write the articles.  It’s your call.

  2. Craig Ross

    Key thing here is that we just don’t have available commercial no matter how we dice it.  Clearly we are going to need to step up recruitment efforts if we add land, but we can’t do that until we have the space available.

      1. David Greenwald

        It may be Catch-22 rather than chicken/egg.  But it seems to me that demand generation is probably akin to college sports recruiting and while we have won a few battles over the years, we’ve needed to step up our facilities and personnel in order to start winning some of these battles.

        1. Matt Williams

          David, like Craig, you are choosing to look at only one side of the ledger.  I believe that is very, very shortsighted.

          We should be talking about ALL of our wins.  We should be CELEBRATING our wins.

          We should also be talking about our losses.  Why did we lose?  We should be conducting exit interviews with companies, just the same as we conduct exit interviews with employees that choose to move on to greener pastures.

          Do we have a clearly articulated pipeline of companies that find Davis and/or UCD attractive?

          So many questions and so little coverage … of the Demand side.

          Many fewer questions and an abundance of coverage … of the Supply side.

        2. Mark West

          We will not see a significant increase in companies moving to Davis if there are no suitable sites available to build on. It really doesn’t matter for planning purposes what the present level of demand is since the limiting factor in the equation is our lack of available space now. In fact, we won’t be able to assess the actual demand until we have new land entitled for development. If the market ‘knows’ that land is not available in Davis, then the ‘demand’ that might have otherwise come here never materializes. The supply side of the equation is the one that we should be focused on. 

          We actually have plenty of available land outside of town, but the risks associated with Measure R preclude most businesses from even considering that option, especially as they can find hundreds of other sites available nearby without that risk.

          It is a complete waste of resources to have City Staff out encouraging existing companies to come to Davis unless and until we are in a position to provide those companies with space and infrastructure that they will need to prosper. 

        3. Matt Williams

          Good question Craig.  In the Fall I was returning from Philadelphia through Minneapolis Airport and struck up a conversation at the bar with a businessman, who asked me, “Tell me about Davis.  Is there a University there?  I’m thinking about opening a California office of my company.”

          You appear to be saying that I should have simply told him, “Don’t think about Davis.  We don’t have enough supply of available commercial space to meet your needs.”  Is that what you are saying.

          I had an elevator speech, thought-out and tailor-able to his needs.  It started with me asking him to tell me more about his company.

        4. Craig Ross

          Given that you are neither a city rep nor a broker, it doesn’t really matter what you told him.  At some point reality hits home and we need to expand our range of options. Sakata Seed came to Woodland, not Davis. There’s a reason for that.

        5. Matt Williams

          You are very good at binary thinking Craig.  If you think that the residents/stakeholders of a community do not reflect on the desirability of that community, then you are naive.


        6. Craig Ross

          The issue Matt is not binary thinking or whether the citizens reflect the desirability of the community, the issue is that someone has to actually have land/ commercial space for someone to move to and that requires someone with knowledge of that – i.e. a broker or staff member from the city’s economic development department.

        7. Mark West

          “We don’t have enough supply of available commercial space to meet your needs.”  Is that what you are saying.”

          Where did Craig R. say anything like that Matt?

          Whether or not your drinking buddy was able to find space in town depends upon what he was looking for, which you did not specify. Space for a satellite office may be available depending on how much is needed. What is missing are large tracts of land necessary for major research and manufacturing efforts similar to Schilling, Marrone, etc. You know that. Stop the nonsense.

          What you chose to tell your buddy however is immaterial as you do not represent the City on this issue.

        8. Alan Miller

          What you chose to tell your buddy however is immaterial as you do not represent the City on this issue.

          What if he tells them Davis is a sh**ty place to open a large business?

  3. Alan Miller

    “If I were living across the street from the property, and was afraid of the unknown, I think a tumbleweed field is the most likely activity for the next ten years.”

    Davis should stop worrying about economic development and embrace its tumbleweed fields!

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