Council Discusses Commercial Space Options and Next Steps


On Tuesday night, the city council heard staff’s presentation on available vacant commercially zoned properties in the city, making it clear that not all properties in the inventory are necessarily going to end up being marketed for economic development.

Community Development Director Ashley Feeney noted that the 27 sites, totaling about 124.22 acres, are “relatively fragmented” and there would be challenges to using those properties for larger uses.

Mr. Feeney suggested that the next step would be to do a deeper dive into the existing land inventory and allow for a more informed decision-making process.  They would build on existing economic development studies as well.

The council each took a somewhat different view, with Mayor Brett Lee stating, “This map helps me with the context.  To my way of thinking, this amount of space really allows us to make a sizable dent into the city’s ongoing deficit.”

On the other hand, Gloria Partida stated, ““That’s a lot less than what I thought what was out there.”

During public comment Ronald Oertel said, “What I’m hearing tonight is kind of what I feared with the elephant in the room being the Mace Ranch Innovation Center.”

Reading from EPS (Economic Planning Systems, Inc.) analysis of 3820 Chiles Road, “There is an abundance of land already zoned for and better located for a business park.”  He noted that on a stretch, “there are already 20 acres of office/ R&D land.  Without counting the land for this project, EPS estimates that there is a 40 to 65 year supply of vacant land in the city suitable for R&D and flexspace use.  12 to 20 years of that is regarded as shovel-ready.”

He said, “What I’m seeing happening is that the city is converting their existing commercial sites to residential and then they’re going to say, we need this peripheral site as a result.”  He said that two innovation center proposals have failed and instead housing was built.  “What this shows is developers want to build housing,” he said.

Mayor Brett Lee noted, “I was heartened in that I feel we can make a very sizable dent in that $8 million deficit with these parcels that have been identified within the city limits.”  He added, “I see this as encouraging.”

Mayor Lee said, “It’s helped put into perspective, how much land we do have versus don’t have.  Prior to this we had piecemeal proposals coming forward and each one understandably was trying to show why that proposal was the highest and best use of that land.  As I look at this, it provides some actual factual context.”

He said, “As I look at this map, converting (some parcels) from commercial to some other use that would not provide a steady ongoing revenue stream to the city, to me seems rather problematic.”

But other councilmembers had different views.

Dan Carson argued that “there are opportunities here” and urged his colleagues to be “opportunistic.”  For instance, he noted that “PG&E is literally about to have a fire sale” and sell assets in order to perhaps pay off lawsuits resulting from the Camp Fire and other destructive wildfires in the state.  He also urged the city to look more into the Frontier Fertilizer site, which with a combination of parcels could amount to as much as 25 acres.

With that said, he felt a compelling case was made, in the various studies from Studio 30 to EPS, “that doing a larger scale center that could create that critical mass for innovation, it may be hard to put together on (these small parcels).  There will be many opportunities, I want to turn over every rock and look every opportunity.”

Mayor Pro Tem Gloria Partida said that she asked for this because “I wanted to start having thoughts around what are the opportunities.”  She said, “Let’s create a vision and see what is feasible.

“We do need to create a steady revenue stream,” she said.  “I find it irresponsible for us not to make it a priority.

“That’s a lot less than what I thought what was out there,” she said.

Mayor Pro Tem Partida added, “I realize there’s some space that’s already built that may supplement this.  

“Find a vision that fits our values and fits where we want to go,” she said saying it “makes sense that we invest in technology transfer.”  

Will Arnold noted that it is important to “understand what opportunities we have.”

He did say, “124.5 is not your real number for what’s available.”

Diane Parro in responding to Councilmember Arnold said, “What’s critical is that we do more outreach now.  We have a general idea that that’s what will remain.”

Will Arnold pointed out that sites like John Jones Road and the Kaiser site on the map, for example, are less likely to be other forms of economic development and more likely to be expansions of the medical facilities.

“Just (knowing) the nature of the medical needs in the world, those are probably going to increase going forward.  That’s an example to me of the ones that don’t really fit for the purposes of why we want to have this inventory of land in front of us,” he said.  “Those are more or less off the table as far as I’m concerned.

“What we’re left with is some amount of (land)… that’s going to be a smaller number than what we’re seeing right now,” he said.  “Some of these frankly, I don’t think a commercial use is really going fit.”

Lucas Frerichs said it’s good to see an updated map – he noted about five separate parcels that have been developed in the last four or five years for commercial use.

“The one area that I’m most interested in is the Frontier Fertilizer sites,” he said.  “That’s where the bulk of the land is.”

Those parcels, he pointed out, are roughly 25 acres, one of which is owned by Mori Seiki.  The rest are on a superfund site which has been transferred from the EPA to state agencies.  “It’s not going to be a housing site,” he said.  “It needs to be cleaned up.”

As far as MRIC (Mace Ranch Innovation Center), “that’s still an open question,” he said.  “There’s no actual application in front of us at the moment.  There is no live option so to speak.  That’s something that’s certainly a potential if they even come forward with something.”

He added, “We have the ability to really focus on a couple of key sites.”

—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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11 thoughts on “Council Discusses Commercial Space Options and Next Steps”

  1. Don Shor

    Review of the Frontier Fertilizer Superfund site here:

    TCP levels are still very high. Development of the site would require EPA approval. On the plus side, energy being used for the mitigation is entirely from solar now.

    It will be a long, long time before that site will be approved for development. I suggest it be taken out of consideration for economic development for the foreseeable future. 

    1. Alan Miller

      When PG&E pulls out . . . (years, months, centuries?), there may be toxics issues as well that may take (years, months, centuries?) to clean up.  Not sure the full use history of the site, but it has happened at many other PG&E sites.

      1. David Greenwald Post author

        That’s a reasonable point. I think the chances of PG&E pulling out have gone way up, but there may be other problems as you rightly suggest.

  2. Richard McCann

    The Council doesn’t seem to be aware of the study that I’ve cited a couple of times (and probably well known by developers) that the cost of assembling parcels to a sufficient size adds 15-40% to the cost of land. That’s a major impediment to development at scale for more ambitious projects.

    1. Rik Keller

      And land costs are typically what percentage of total costs of this type of development? 10-15%? Even a relatively high land assembly cost premium will likely only increase total development costs by a small percentage. And there are scale savings for construction/infrastucture that will likely be realized that can outweigh these.

    2. David Greenwald Post author

      Talking to people today, that might be the least of their problems, Richard. Once staff does the next layer of inquiry, they are going to find the supply is small and dwindling.

        1. David Greenwald Post author

          I spent several hours today having conversations with various people – some who will be quoted in future articles – that there really is not much available commercial property in the city.  Don’s post shows the problems with the Frontier site, that appears to be at least 20 years off from being developable and that might be an optimistic guess.  I’ll have a story tomorrow on the 15 acre site on Chiles and Cowell.  And most of the rest are way too small.

          Ron (quoted in the article) keeps asserting that there is a 40 to 60 year supply of commercial property without reading even the rest of the paragraph it comes from.

  3. Craig Ross

    Can you imagine, we have our economic development team reaching out to bring companies here – come to Davis we have a good 60 to 80 acres of developable land in the city proper, but if you want to go larger, we suggest you go to woodland where they’ll have a couple hundred acre innovation site ready to go in a few years.

  4. Alan Miller

    During public comment Ronald Oertel said, “What I’m hearing tonight is kind of what I feared with the elephant in the room being the Mace Ranch Innovation Center.”

    Ronald Oertel . . . “Things that Make You Go . . . Hmmmmm”

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