Applicant Explains His Thinking on Aggie Research Campus

Dan Ramos discusses the previous project during a January 2016 Vanguard Event

Last week, the applicants for a commercial development east of Mace Boulevard submitted a letter to the city signaling that they will be re-engaging in the process of attempting to entitle the 200 or so acres of land as what will now be known as Aggie Research Campus, a roughly 185-acre high tech research park with a mixed-use component which will require council approval and voter ratification through a Measure R vote.

The Vanguard sat down late last week with project manager, Dan Ramos of Ramco Enterprises, who explained, “It was time.  We still feel very strongly about the site, the location, and the market to be able to do this.”

He said that “Davis’ potential” played a huge role in his decision to continue to go forward “and be a real leader in bringing forth this kind of innovation center/research park type thing.”

Mr. Ramos also noted that with Aggie Square going forward in Sacramento, it was time for Davis to “grab ahold of that ring and we feel we’re in the right spot to do it.”

Dan Ramos discussed the decision to re-brand from Mace Ranch Innovation Center, which he said he also considered a placeholder name, to Aggie Research Campus.

“This town is known internationally,” he said, and Aggie is synonymous with the school.  For many companies looking to potentially move to Davis, UC Davis is the draw that brings many to the table.  “There are companies that know this university worldwide… they love the access to the graduate students that are coming out of here.”

He sees this as a critical way to tap into the power of the university and connect their research park with the technology transfer from the university.

“The World Food Center is a big concept,” he said.  “This is the epicenter where we learn how to feed the world.

“We can set the table for that kind of research being done,” he added.

He said, “Aggie is what brought us to Davis.”  He added, “Research is primarily what we’ll be doing here.”  And “campus” is “because we felt very strongly about introducing the workforce or the housing component that relates to the jobs that we have here.

“We see it as a campus, that kind of environment,” Dan Ramos continued.  “Live, work, innovative area.”

Dan Ramos talked about the housing component, which naturally has drawn a lot of attention early on from Vanguard readers.

“It will be high-density housing,” he said.  “A retail component below where we have the coffee shop, the brew pub, or whatever it might be where people might hang out, interface and do their thing.

“We’re not talking about single-family homes,” he said importantly and plainly.  In addition, Dan Ramos told the Vanguard that ARC will “consider” and is open to a “co-housing” model.  They have begun exploring such innovative models as they consider a more specific proposal when it comes to council.

He noted that this addresses what the users want – housing to house their workers.  He sees it as a draw for both new companies moving to town, as well as existing companies looking to upscale and trying to figure out where their employees would live.

He said that when companies approach Davis, one of the key questions in addition to available space ism, “Where do my people live?”   He said, “This housing is an opportunity to do that.

“We want the opportunity there because it really does help us on the environmental side in terms of the traffic and the greenhouse gas,” he added.  “Really embrace what Davis is all about.”

In terms of the specifics – they are still working that out at this point.  However, he suggested the 850-unit figure from the previous discussions was in the ballpark of what they would do.  He explained that there was a formula that determined the amount of housing needed for a project of this size.

“Somewhere in that 800 to 850 was a sweet spot in terms of the proper balance in the jobs-housing balance,” he said.

“This is not a housing project,” he said again, firmly and bluntly.  “If anything this is an accessory use to what we’re trying to do.  It helps us enhance the innovation or the research park part of it.  It helps us be successful.”

Housing wasn’t originally included in the proposal per the RFEI (Request for Expressions of Interest).  That was written into the proposal – based on the belief that housing would be the “third rail” and harm the project’s chances for passage.

Doing the EIR, however, staff came back to them and told them, “You need to have an alternative that’s mixed-use because it’s environmentally superior.”

“We looked into it at that point,” he said.  “Low and behold it comes back as the environmentally superior alternative.

“That’s when we started embracing (housing),” he stated.  He argued this made more sense.

It had the benefit of helping traffic impacts and it also created an innovative culture by having people living near where the jobs were created.

Dan Ramos noted that there have been a lot of new developments in the last five years since they first came forward with their concept – in terms of transit, Jump bikes, scooter-sharing, and how people connect.

He suggested they may look at automated bus service between the train station and Aggie Research Campus.

Dan Ramos envisions a high tech research park that also could have some manufacturing components.  An example he gives is Mori Seiki, which produces high tech widgets that can generate sales and thus sales tax for the city.

“That’s always the grand slam of economic development,” he said and Davis has had good success with companies like Mori Seiki and Schilling Robotics (FMC Technologies).  He sees a lot of potential to not only have research but products built here.

He said he was going to look toward successes at innovation campuses “where they do have working and living and doing the research with the excitement that comes along with that.”

He noted the importance of the innovation culture where people run into each other on the location, perhaps at a coffee shop, and ideas emerge.

Following the defeat of Nishi with its 300,000 acres in 2016, he felt like the city was a bit reluctant to move forward with their project.

But now he said, “As we move forward, we believe it’s really important to bring the best possible project  using the latest planning doctrine…. and Davis being a leader in the environmental movement, it was really important to have the housing component.”

For many companies, Dan Ramos said, following many others we have spoken to, the need for housing is a huge consideration as to where they will move their company.

He said talking to Bay Area companies, he learned that housing is a huge issue and “so important for attracting employees.  It’s a big priority for them in terms of recruiting and everything,” Mr. Ramos said.

Dan Ramos talked about bringing pride to this community: “We are the AgTech capital of this world.”

In terms of the university, Dan Ramos said they have reached out to Greater Sacramento and are hoping to engage the university in terms of how they can have a greater presence in the project.

He said, “That’s definitely our next step.”

At this time, they don’t have an anchor tenant lined up.  Originally the plan was that Schilling Robotics might have an opportunity to relocate there.  That opportunity, however, may have passed them up.

He explained that he didn’t know their current plans.  Tyler Schilling evidently is stepping back and FMC is more and more running the show.

Nevertheless, Mr. Ramos is optimistic.

Dan Ramos said he thinks with what Davis has to offer, in terms of quality of life, “there could be some pretty prominent companies – companies that Davis wants to have or want to be here, (and) would see this as a really good alternative.”

For many companies, having land that is “shovel ready” is critical.

“Companies want to know that entitlements are done.  They don’t want to have to go through an election,” he explained.  “Be as ready to go as you can.  They’ll wait for some infrastructure stuff if they know you have entitlements and are (otherwise) ready to go.”

He said if they get it entitled, ready to go, and phase in some infrastructure, “we believe there’s a user there.

“It’s very difficult to entice a user – they want certainty and we don’t have that anywhere,” he said.

For the most part, the EIR, certified in 2017, means that they are not changing most of their plans from the previous proposal.  About 2.5 million square feet is projected at build-out.  The changes from the mixed-use alternative will mostly be cosmetic rather than substantial.

“If anything it will be reduced,” he said.

In addition, there are 25 acres of city land that could be used for an urban farm of some sort.

“We are not proposing in our application to include that,” he clarified.  “We’ll leave it up to the city for how they want this community to put that land into play.  Whatever they want to do they’ll embrace it and make it work.”

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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. Richard McCann

    Before the City moves forward on this definitively on this project, we need to establish our economic development vision and how that project will fit into that vision. Relying on DMG and TechNip are not a “vision” and given that both have been rumored to be on the verge of moving or closing for several years, they may not be the best examples of what will unfold in the future. We need a much stronger narrative about what businesses would be uniquely attracted to Davis before we devote the resources to approve this one.

    1. Mark West

      “We need a much stronger narrative about what businesses would be uniquely attracted to Davis…”

      This is a ‘typical Davis’ response and reflects a culture in town where some feel we need to control all aspects of community life in a top-down fashion. What we need is more space for commercial enterprises in town. What we don’t need is another attempt to dictate or predict who or what businesses are allowed to come here. Create the space, businesses will come.

      “we need to establish our economic development vision…”

      We have had years worth of visioning, now it is time to implement the strategy that the community decided upon. We don’t need to ‘reinvent the wheel’ yet again.

  2. Rik Keller

    Let’s see what the policy implementation actions in  Chapter 5 “Economic And Business Development” in the City of Davis General Plan say:

    “Policy ED 3.2: Encourage new businesses to locate in Davis, targeting business which improve the city’s fiscal base, are consistent with the City’s values and identity, and match the employment skills of the population, such as those in the emerging technology and knowledge-based industries….

    (f) Study opportunities to designate lands for “green” technology, high technology and University related research uses within or adjacent to the City. Work closely with the local business community, community leaders and U.C. Davis officials in determining when and where such uses can best be accommodated in addition to the 25-acre enterprise site planned on the UC Davis campus. Preference should be given to sites that are viable economically and consistent with compact City form principles. As part of this study:

    • Consider re-designating or rezoning land(s) within the City limits (as of January 1, 2001) from Industrial, Business Park or General Commercial to research-oriented Business Park uses (that is, uses which allow a wider range of high technology, research and development uses than a URRP and which are complementary to UC Davis);

    • Encourage second floor and underground building construction to maximize the space available to accommodate URRP needs within the City limits;

    • Key considerations in such re-designation or rezoning shall include the timing of these potential development(s) and impacts and demands caused by these potential developments on the City and the Davis community. Impacts to address include, but are not limited to: traffic, water, housing (for example, growth demand), schools, effects on neighborhoods, and economics (for example, cost benefits and cost generation to the City); and

    Designation of a peripherally sited URRP shall only occur after:

    a) It is determined that lands within the City limits would not meet the needs for “research-oriented” Business Park uses.

    b) Specific guidelines for development projects on the periphery of the City are adopted.”

    As a note, it does not appear that either prerequisite for this has been met.  To my knowledge the City has not conducted a study regarding  the needs of “research-oriented” Business Park uses. And the City has not  developed “specific guidelines for development projects on the periphery of the City.”

  3. Rik Keller

    Let’s see what the “Achieving the Vision – Innovation and Economic Vitality Work Plan 2014-0216 (February 11, 2014 DRAFT)” said:

    “In November 2012, the Innovation Park Task Force and City Council identified and
    recommended a dispersed innovation park strategy, with four primary areas for
    consideration of increased growth to accommodate technology and research companies.
    These locations include:
    1. East Innovation Park – the area of about 200 acres that is northeast of Interstate 80
    and Mace Boulevard
    2. University Downtown Gateway District (also referred to as Nishi) – the 44 acres south
    of UC Davis and west of downtown, bounded by the railroad tracks on the north and
    Interstate 80 on the south.
    3. West Innovation Park – the area of about 200 acres to the north/northwest of Sutter
    Davis Hospital
    4. Downtown – a collection of several larger parcels, including the City’s corporation
    yard, and redevelopment of smaller parcels throughout the downtown and along 5th
    Street/Russell Blvd, accomplished through increased density….

    Staff have been given feedback that each of these locations has distinct advantages to serve
    parts of the innovation ecosystem and are likely to not be competitors due to the ability to
    serve different sectors. Specifically, the University Downtown Gateway District would likely
    be focused on serving startups and small tech companies that are directly associated with the
    University. Whereas the East Innovation Park might be a suitable place for expansion of some of our sustainable manufacturing companies due to freeway visibility and agtech companies due to the surrounding agricultural conservation easement. And the West Innovation Park might be most suitable for the medtech or serving or uses due to the close proximity with the hospital and UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, Genome Center, BioMechanical Engineering programs, Energy Institute, etc.”

  4. Craig Ross

    Rik’s complaining that people don’t want to read research, they also don’t generally respond to long posts where it.s unclear about what the point is.  I looked at these posts several times, I have no idea what he’s getting at.

  5. Craig Ross

    From my own perspective, there are several key points made by Ramos on housing.  He flat out says no single family homes.  He is looking at mixed use and high density.  He is considering co-housing.

    Those concerned about the housing – I’d like to know how you respond to that, understanding that we have not seen the actually proposal yet.

  6. Rik Keller

    It’s clear from the documents linked that:

    1) the City hasn’t done the required studies and findings to push forth such a proposal for a peripheral business park

    2) it is questionable whether the project conforms to the city’s expressed economic development vision and its stated locational goals.

    1. Craig Ross

      Thank you.  Now we have something we can discuss.  The city commissioned Studio 30 back in 2010 or so to do the initial innovation park land study.  They had several multi-year commissions look at the issue as well.  We know that the city lacks commercial space and at the very least such a park can accommodate that space.  Do we really need to study it to death?  What more do we really need to know at this point?  And what’s the worst case scenario if they create space and no one buys in?

      1. Craig Ross

        I’ll add this, Woodland recently approved a similar center, did they do the studies that you are talking about.  Sacramento is partnering with UC Davis did they do the studies?  Did UC Davis?  Are you holding the COD to a standard no one else is holding themselves to?

    2. Mark West

      1) the City hasn’t done the required studies and findings to push forth such a proposal for a peripheral business park

      What authority do you believe requires the City to do a study like that which you propose?

      2) it is questionable whether the project conforms to the city’s expressed economic development vision and its stated locational goals.

      This is quite the ‘stretch’ considering the Studio 30 report that the City commissioned. This project seems to fit perfectly with those findings, which largely superseded the nearly 20 year old General Plan section that you posted.

      1. Rik Keller

        Mark West said “What authority do you believe requires the City to do a study like that which you propose?”

        The City’s own General Plan policies that I cited above. Is that enough authority for you?

        1. Rik Keller

          Mark West: that element of the General Plan was updated in 2007. So your contention that it is 20 years old is flat out wrong. Point of fact: the GP is ruling policy document and the City is required to do those studies and make those findings. Why would you not want them to do this basic due diligence?

          Furthermore, the Studio 3o document is not adopted policy,  General Plan or otherwise. But it does have some guidance as to appropriate uses that this project violates, as I have highlighted.

  7. Ron Oertel

    “They had several multi-year commissions look at the issue as well.”

    Did the city’s open space commission have an opportunity to review or weigh in on the site?

    1. Don Shor

      “They had several multi-year commissions look at the issue as well.”

      Did the city’s open space commission have an opportunity to review or weigh in on the site?

      The open space commission reviewed the Mace Ranch proposal on Feb. 1 2016.

      1. Ron Oertel

        Thanks, Don.  What did they conclude? (I don’t already know the answer to this.)

        Irregardless of the MRIC proposal, did they view the site as possibly appropriate for open space and continued farming operations? Thereby providing a logical boundary for the city?

        Do they have a list of sites as a goal, or do they just wait for development proposals to arise? (I’d feel more comfortable if a representative of that commission would weigh in.)

        1. Don Shor

          Roberta Millstein is on the commission and could probably give you an answer. Some of her comments are appended to the minutes from that date, and they are clearly negative about the proposal as it stood at that time. The minutes reference another meeting to be held in March, but those minutes don’t seem to be on the city’s web site.

        2. Ron Oertel

          Thanks, Don.  I knew that Roberta was on the commission.  However, she apparently no longer comments on here.

          But, I’m not surprised that there were negative comments regarding that proposal.  Since you’re already familiar with it, would you mind posting a link to the document that you’re referring to?

          If you’d rather not do so, I’ll probably search it out on my own later – when I have more time.

  8. Ron Oertel

    “Sacramento is partnering with UC Davis did they do the studies?  Did UC Davis?”

    Aggie Square in Sacramento is being subsidized by taxpayers and UCD.  It’s also on UCD’s land.

        1. Craig Ross

          I brought it up in the context of Rik’s questioning the lack of studies and asked if that was relevant point – why none of the nearby communities have done those kinds of studies, and we can extend that to West Sac and Dixon if that makes you feel better, but the question of subsidies and ownership was irrelevant to my point.

        2. Ron Oertel

          There’s also the matter of the adjacent medical center, in Sacramento.

          But if you also want to start talking about other examples of the “innovation center” fad, those will directly compete with anything that Davis approves. And, they’ll probably offer lower commercial rents.

          That is, if a commercial tenant can’t ALREADY find an inexpensive place in West Sacramento, for example. (Which has already occurred with another former Davis company, I recall.)

          In addition to being just across the causeway from Davis, West Sacramento is also very close to Sacramento, itself.

          And then there’s the Woodland site, which provides very easy access to Davis and UCD.

        3. Rik Keller

          Ron: it should be noted that the term “innovation center” is just marketing fluff. This is the same old, same old peripheral, suburban business/office/research park  model. Oh, and they’re apparently adding a residential component to pay the bills since the business park component isn’t economically viable on its own.

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