A Look Back At a Discussion on Economic Development in Davis

In May of 2016, Mace Ranch Innovation Center had made the decision to put its project on hold, Nishi (circa 2016) was about to go on the ballot with 325,000 square feet of R&D space (unbeknownst to us at the time, it was to be defeated), and the Vanguard reached out to the a variety of community leaders for their thoughts on the future of economic development.

We got 19 responses from a wide variety of community leaders, here’s a synopsis of those thoughts with a link to the original article.

Robb Davis – Mayor Pro Tem in 2016

Robb Davis argued: “For nearly two years we, as a community, have failed to advance a coherent vision for economic development in Davis. Instead we have advanced a peripheral real estate development strategy that has run into an inevitable dead end.”

He added: “The companies leaving Davis are not moving into glittering new “innovation parks,” with LEED-certified facilities built to their specifications.  Rather they are moving into existing buildings in other communities.”

He asked: “What are the ends we want to achieve with economic development?” “What is the full set of tools we need to utilize (and invest in) to achieve the ends?”

Read the full article here.

Elaine Roberts Musser – Senior Citizens Commision, URAC

Elaine Roberts Musser expressed hope that Nishi would be approved, stated “My expectation is that MRIC is on pause only,” and argued: “The harsh reality is that if innovation parks are not welcomed here, they will move right up the road to Woodland or over the Causeway to West Sacramento.”

She wrote: “I have repeatedly asked opponents of the innovation parks where the city was going to get the funding to pay for city services as well as for repair and maintenance of city infrastructure if not from economic development. Either there is deafening silence, or there is a call for increasing taxes and/or cutting services or personnel.”

She added, “the city itself needs to support the innovation park concept more than it has.”

Read the full article here.

Dan Carson – then Chair of the Finance and Budget Commission

For Dan Carson, step one was passing Nishi Gateway project.  Step two was “conduct an MRIC rescue mission.”  He writes: “Earlier estimates indicated that the project could generate $2.48 billion in economic output for the City of Davis and more than 9,600 jobs. Even after adjustments to the project to bring the fiscal return numbers more into line, I have estimated that MRIC still has the potential for a net fiscal benefit to the city of $5 million annually plus one-time fiscal benefits in excess of $10 million.”

Step three is “to continue longstanding efforts to create a more vibrant downtown.”  Fourth, “we should examine what opportunities exist to leverage surplus city assets for economic development.”

Read the full article here.

Matt Williams – Council Candidate

Matt Williams argued, “the City, the Innovation Center developers, and UCD need to work together to build rock solid documentation of clear examples of evidence of how other cities have leveraged close collaboration with their university’s intellectual capital and research programs to produces $20 per square foot innovation center value creation.”

He also discussed the need for the Davis “to take proactive steps to upgrade its telecommunications/broadband network, replacing the current Comcast-provided network (predominantly coaxial cable, with some fiber) with an all-fiber to the premises (“FTTP”) DavisGIG network.”

He wrote: “The BATF in conjunction with Davis Community Network (“DCN”) is currently seeking proposals for a FTTP Feasibility Study that will present the recommended business direction and operating principles for municipal delivery of fiber optic broadband services to every home and business in Davis.”

Read the full article here.

Peter Bell – Davis Funding Club

“A game changing opportunity for Davis resides with the “crowd” of 60,000 Davis residents, 25,000 U.C. Davis staff and faculty, plus the 225,000 U.C. Davis alumni. This crowd could pool its capital by allocating as little as $1,000 of their retirement IRA’s, 401K’s or 403’s to backing start-ups coming out of Davis due to the new crowdfunding provisions of the JOBS Act.

“The Davis Funding Club’s mission is to be at the vanguard of the big change coming to the start-up ecosystem where everyone, no matter their income or net worth can now invest as little as $100 in start-ups due to the JOBS Act of 2012 that comes into full effect on May 16th, 2016.

“This crowdfunded pool of capital would represent more than $300 million dollars of investable capital and potentially could seed 1,000 start-ups with the funding they need to launch their ventures.  These 1,000 new start-up companies could generate over 4,000 local jobs in Davis and could very quickly fill up the proposed R&D space at the Nichi property for example.”

Read full story here

Bob Fung – Civenergy

“For the purposes of this “community dialogue,” I’d like to suggest a less specific version of Robb’s assertion (For nearly two years we, as a community, have failed to advance a coherent vision for economic development in Davis).  We, as a community, have failed to advance comprehensive, coherent, inclusive visions for development in Davis.”

He wrote: “In 2011/2012, a study was commissioned by the City of Davis with the firm William McDonough + Partners to create a vision for Davis. The study report is titled “Davis California Visioning Study Step One – An initial Draft Roadmap”. “  The next step, he wrote, “a more significant Visioning Process” did not happen. It is my understanding that the next step required more resources than the City was willing to spend in the aftermath of the Great Recession.”

Read full story here

Rob White – former Chief Innovation Officer

He highlighted “two documents specific to the City of Davis that are meant to address this subject of economic development in Davis. Both of these documents have been worked on by staff and approved as work plans/road maps by a 5-0 city council vote.”

“The first is the City of Davis’ “Innovation and Economic Vitality Work Program”, approved by Council at the May 13, 2015 meeting. The work plan lists specific focus areas that the City Council directed staff to devote time to over the period July 1, 2014 to June 30, 2016, which means it is still relevant.”

He writes: “Both of these documents also reflect that not everything in the area of economic development can be worked on by any single organization, and that there is need for collaboration and partnership from organizations like: the Davis Chamber of Commerce; Downtown Davis; Yolo County Visitor’s Bureau; Davis Roots; Area 52; Pollinate Davis; the UC Davis Childs Family Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship; and the UC Davis Office of Research Venture Catalyst.”

Read the full story here

Alan Humason – former Director of the Yolo County Visitors Bureau

He writes: “take a closer look at where we are right now. Davis has 11 hotels with a total of 733 rooms. Davis has not had a new hotel built in more than a dozen years.”

He noted, “There are two new extended-stay hotel proposals working their way through the system, and a possible expansion of an existing hotel; however, none of these are remotely close to breaking ground. It is almost unheard of for a city with a major university to not have an extended-stay property.

“By contrast, the City of Woodland has opened two new hotels in the past year alone: the 66 room Comfort Suites and the 72 room Fairfield Inn & Suite Marriott, bringing Woodland’s total to 10 hotels and 719 rooms. Woodland has also approved a new hotel to be built across the street from the new County Courthouse—a five-story, 82-room Hilton Home-2 Suites, an upper-end extended-stay brand. That’s a lot of “new” in one short paragraph. Clearly that community has seized on something.”

Read the full story here

Mike Hart – Sierra Energy

He writes: “I have historically been critical of new housing subdivisions in Davis.  They never seem to cover the cost of the many additional burdens they impose on our local infrastructure, contribute little tax revenue, and do nothing but speed Davis down a path to becoming a commuter community for Sacramento and San Francisco.

“But as critical as I’ve been of new housing, I have been a firm supporter for the development of an innovation park in Davis for over a decade now.  The Nishi project is one I can fully support. It’s ideally situated, adjacent to UC Davis and an easy walk from our downtown core. It’s also just a few hundred feet from Area 52, an incubator, makerspace and accelerator that my company is developing to give local startups access to resources they need, tools they can share, and mentorship to help them succeed.

“But our Area 52 isn’t nearly enough; it’s just a start. My hope is that the Nishi project, with its much- needed 325,000 square feet of innovation space, will allow local innovators and researcher at UCD to move to the next stage: development.”

Read the full story here

Judy Corbett – Local Government Commission

“It’s pretty clear that the City of Davis is going to have to raise more revenues to meet our infrastructure and program needs.  The question is, what’s the best way to accomplish this?  Do we have any data that will provide us with the information we need to make good decisions?  Data from other communities has illuminated an answer that just might provide answers to our own economic development challenges.”

She writes: “At this time, the data we need to build our way out of our deficit is lacking.  We now know that Research Parks won’t provide us with enough income to address this deficit.”

She added: “As Executive Director of the Local Government Commission, I worked with Minicozzi to gather data in seven cities, primarily in the San Joaquin Valley…  A naysayer might ask, why calculate revenues on a per acre rather than a per project basis?  In response, Minicozzi recommends that our City think like a farmer who must continually reassess what crop is going to bring in the most revenue on the acreage that he/she owns.  Davis has a decades-old policy of preserving our surrounding, highly precious agricultural lands.  Our revenue generating acreage is limited, thus we need to think about where we get the most bang for the buck on the properties that are available for development.”

Read the full story here

Mark Braly –

“The Nishi project seems to me the culmination of decades of land use arguments in Davis.  Ever since that time in the 70s when a young group of revolutionaries seized City Council from the typical real estate and business interests which ran most towns then, planning in Davis has been in flux.  Sometimes the no growthers were on top; other times well-designed projects managed to get through.   But the time for all out development never came back and probably never will.”

He later writes: “As we decide the fate of Nishi and choose a new City Council majority, we should give serious thought to the kind of planning that will work for Davis.  That could be form based planning, which puts the emphasis most how a project looks and fits into the community, not what it is used for.  It could be planned development districts, but with more guidance to city council and staff about what Davis should be in the future.”

Read the full story here

Susan Rainier

The circular economy is a generic term for an industrial economy that is producing no waste and pollution, by design or intention, and in which material flows are of two types, biological nutrients, designed to reenter the biosphere safely, and technical nutrients, which are designed to circulate at high quality in the production system without entering the biosphere as well as being restorative and regenerative by design”

She concludes: “Nishi is not following the intent of the Davis General Plan and is not sustainable at the level needed and is not a new way of thinking, alternate way. Policy is only as good as the people implementing it. Vote No on Nishi. It is Not Healthy, Not Infill, Not Equitable, and Not Good for the Economy.  This development is the same old developer sprawl business as usual.”

Read the full story here

Tia Will

“Along with many others, I was asked to share my thoughts about how best to proceed in dealing with our city’s economic problems. At first, I thought that I would write about the limitations and potential pitfalls of rapid growth and development since so many are already extolling the need for “more”. But then, I realized that this is not the crux of the issue for me. This issue is not less or more, it is not an issue of scarcity vs plenty. For me the central issue is collaboration and optimization, not just of money, but of all of our resources.”

Read the full story here

Anya McCann – Cool Cuisine

“It is Spring and Yolo and Sacramento Counties are once again flush with farm to fork activities. Davisites may have noticed that Sacramento has devoted significant energy and funds to declare they are the Farm-to-Fork Capital of America, featuring the farmers, chefs, and the foodie community in the Sacramento region. Though Davis is in the region, we are an afterthought to the Sac F2F leadership. Our city’s contributions have not been actively marketed in tandem. We have not stepped up to the dining plate.”

Read the full story here

Bob Poppenga – then a candidate for school board

“The relationship between public schools and local economic development is often overlooked in community discussions.  Without debating the pros and cons of economic development in Davis, it might be instructive to look at how a community’s economic development is affected by the strength or weakness of its schools.

“Interestingly, I found few studies or objective reviews of the topic that were directly applicable to a community like Davis:  a relatively small and affluent university city with a highly educated population, but with a significant number of English Language learners and at-risk children.  Much of the information has been generated with a view toward public education’s impact on national and state economies or on economic development of local neighborhoods in larger urban areas.”

Read the full story here

Dushyant PathakAssociate Vice Chancellor for Technology Management & Corporate Relations & Executive Director of Venture Catalyst in the Office of Research at UC Davis.

It is tempting to look at economic development in Davis and the surrounding area only through the prism of specific initiatives and proposals that are either currently in process or under consideration.  These are of course important inasmuch as they represent physical infrastructure and the planning and resources required to support the types of businesses and commercial opportunities whose development and growth will contribute to economic impact in Davis and beyond.

“In the context of UC Davis however, it is important to keep in mind the University’s mission as a public, land-grant academic institution.  A look through this lens leads to the recognition that the University’s focus on education, research, service, the dissemination of knowledge, and preparing the work force of the future, aligns well with the vision of a thriving economic environment in the City of Davis and the broader community that surrounds the University.”

Read the full story here

Jim Gray – commercial real estate broker and developer for over 30 years

Our efforts to do a public private partnership incorporating community based planning focused on economic development has not yet come to fruition, and may I even dare assert has failed.

“The RFEI process started with enthusiasm and transparency to address real community needs and take advantage of the opportunity to collaborate to create innovation centers.  The process stimulated and attracted a mix of world class local, regional, and national developers.  Then the enthusiasm and vision gave way to process, silos, and then slowed in pursuit of perfection and consensus and led to a stalling out.”

Read the full story here

Ralph Hexter – then Acting Chancellor

Since adoption of the Innovation Park Task Force recommendations in 2012, much has happened to inform ongoing consideration of how to expand and diversify the Davis economy.

“First, this past March the campus released its latest economic impact report demonstrating again that the size, scope and economic reach of our campus is greater than ever. With our campus in Davis and the Health System campus across the Yolo Causeway in Sacramento, the university now accounts for   72,000 jobs statewide and more than $8 billion of annual economic activity.  The vast majority of that impact, of course, is in our own region, where UC Davis generates nearly $7 billion in annual economic activity and 65,000 jobs.

“The Davis campus alone generates nearly $3 billion dollars in economic activity a year and 40,000 jobs for the Davis-Sacramento area. As was noted when the report went out in March, UC Davis, by any measure one chooses, pays big dividends to California and its taxpayers, with most of those benefits felt locally.”

Read the full story here

Bill Dodd – then State Assemblymember

“Economic development may not be the most exciting topic for everyone, but it’s absolutely critical for Davis and our state as a whole. In its simplest form, economic development is how a community attempts to improve the quality of life for its people.

“Building a strong local economy doesn’t just help to create new job opportunities and promote higher wages. Economic development also broadens the tax base, allowing our state and local governments to provide key services and build a more robust safety net.

“While we’re on the right track, I believe the state can do more to help bolster economic development, particularly for local governments.”

Read the full story here

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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. Craig Ross

    Should be an interesting debate coming up on economic development.

    Looking at this some interesting names.  I think I’m disappointed with Robb Davis not recognizing the space limitation and impressed with Matt Williams recognizing the issue of Broadband.

    1. Robb Davis

      Craig – the commentary I wrote was situated at a point in time.  I was frustrated at the too narrow (in my view) framing of the issue around land use.  I felt it needed to be broader.  However, I was the only City Council member willing to entertain the idea of allowing MRIC to add housing to their plan.  Why? Because they had told me flat out that they could not build it without adding housing.  I heard this refrain over and over and it is also THE main reason DIC pulled out so early.  I know lots (most?) people in the community reject the notion of MRIC having housing but when the developer says straight out that they cannot move forward without it then I think we should at least have a discussion about it.

      Having said all that, I STILL think that a broader discussion of economic development is necessary.  Davis has MANY of the elements necessary to attract world class companies.  I did extensive listening to local business leaders in the biotech and seed industries.  My conclusion is that broadband access was not a huge problem (though Davis has lost a least one major business due to that and I support exploration of options related to expanding broadband access); that space was an issue for some (but not in the way you might think—many want an expanded plot of greenhouses close to the city); but that THE single biggest challenge was finding housing in Davis for their skilled workers. That issue was repeated over and over.

        1. Bill Marshall

          Craig… not trying to pick on you, but…

          Robb said the developer told him they needed housing… think there are subtleties… have heard credible rumors (not ‘facts’, no ‘documentation’) that senior City planning staff said they could support it more if there was ‘work-force housing’ @ MRIC (encouraging them to add that component)… reduces total vehicle trips, traffic, GHG stuff… just positing, did that create the “need” for the developer?  Or other…

          As for me, I’m OK (somewhat supportive of) with MRIC as it was proposed… and if it has no housing, ‘work-force housing’, or housing unrelated to those who work there, am OK with that… and I live close enough that I’d experience the traffic impacts (~ 1mi., but same main streets)… Covell, Alhambra, Mace, Second…


        2. Craig Ross

          An innovation center needs housing for a lot of reasons – financing frankly is lower on my list, but it’s there because otherwise you have huge infrastructure costs without immediate return on investment.

  2. Bill Marshall

    Good anthology…

    Some parts from folk I highly respect, others, not so much… different viewpoints, some of which I agree with, others not so much…

    But, a very good range of thought/opinion… that’s precisely what is needed…

  3. Alan Miller

    I think what this says is ‘why bother having visions, they don’t go anywhere anyhow’.  Whatever we talk about or envision today will suffer the same phate.

    1. Craig Ross

      How do you propose we plan without having some sort of vision?  Your comments show a level of naïveté at times that is mind boggling for someone who purports to be a professional.

      1. Alan Miller

        As usual, straight to the personal insults, CR.

        This isn’t naivate (with or without the fancy letters).  It’s genuine cynicism from dealing having gone through all this before.  Naivate is believing in the process after you’ve been burned, and burned, and burned . . .

        And when did I purport to be a professional?  A professional what?  What kind of an insult is that?

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