Commentary: For Economic Development to Succeed, We Need Leadership Lacking on ARC to Step Up

In 2010 a combination of political and business leaders came together through DSIDE (Designing a Sustainable & Innovative Davis Economy) to push for economic development in Davis.  Among the outcomes of that was the Innovation Park Task Force and the Studio 30 report, which put forward the notion of the dispersed innovation model, including the development of a large, peripheral innovation center.

Coupled with the 2013 hiring of Rob White as Chief Innovation Officer, the city was able to get several proposals the next year for Innovation Centers, including MRIC (Mace Ranch Innovation Center).

But the business and political leadership at that time was clearly ahead of the public, and so the proposals lingered and ultimately faded out.

The need for economic development has not diminished in the intervening years.  If anything, with a lingering budget shortfall, it has gotten more acute.  Moreover, the public passed two housing projects in 2018, and polling shows they are much more amenable to new development than they were five to ten years ago.

What seems to be lacking at this point is the political and business leadership.  Contrary to what happened a decade ago, there is no DSIDE, no Innovation Park Task Force, and, indeed, the political leadership seems to, for the most part, be sitting passively on the side.

That leadership at this point could make a huge difference in a lot of ways.  The public needs to have a better understanding of why we need an innovation center, what the process will look like, and what the prospects are for success.

Over the weekend in the weekly column “My View,” I raised the point, for example, that none of the three candidates for County Supervisor have expressed support for the Aggie Research Campus.  Jim Provenza may well support it, but his view was, “This is something that’s going to come before us later – so I can’t take a position right now.”

I see this as a lost opportunity for, frankly, the city, county and university.

For instance, Jim Provenza talked at one of the forums about the 2 by 2 by 2 on the issue of student housing, and he said, “We were running up against a problem where the university was simply not building enough housing and that puts pressure on the Davis housing market because every time Davis builds more housing, more students come in and the university wasn’t keeping up.”

After the meeting, Supervisor Provenza said that “this resulted in negotiations and the establishment of a 2 by 2 by 2 and, as a result, we now have an enforceable agreement that the university will house 100 percent of its increased enrollment and that will do a tremendous amount to take the pressure off the Davis housing market so when we build in Davis, we can build for everyone else as well as the students.”

Imagine if they took a similar approach to the issue of economic development with the three entities coming together to hammer out agreements and take the need for economic development to the public.

I think we need to re-conceptualize this entire process.  In 2010, we saw a community-based effort.  In fact there were no developers involved in the process at that point.  It was a discussion based on community need.

The city, county and university are not viewing this as a mutual benefit project.  This is a project that benefits all three entities.

The city needs revenue and needs to create jobs to help balance the jobs-housing imbalance.

The county is in desperate need of revenue and can use the tax sharing agreement to convert 200 acres of county land into productive innovation space.

And the university needs to transfer their millions in research dollars into technology transfer—that is why they are pushing into Sacramento with Aggie Square.  But Aggie Square figures to be relatively small and focused on medical technology—which will leave the Aggie Research Center to focus on things like Agricultural Technology and Green Technology.

This is the point that Barry Broome from the Greater Sacramento Economic Council made when he spoke to the city council in October 2018.

As Barry Broome noted a little over a year ago: “Davis and UC Davis is viewed as an untapped resource.”

Mr. Broome noted that UC Davis has been planning a research park since 1994.  There are 174 universities that have research parks and UC Davis is still not one of them.

“It’s a bit of a frustration that we haven’t been able to figure out how to take this research park forward between the city and between the university,” he said.  He noted that, even though Woodland is doing their own park, “they’re not going to really capture innovation—that’s eight miles away.”

As Mr. Broome put it: “UC Davis has the opportunity to be among the most impactful universities on climate change, farming, food security.”

This is an opportunity for all three.  So why don’t they all get together and hammer out an early agreement and then put their weight behind this proposal and go all out?

No one wants to do that.  The city has its process for sure, but it could do more to make the point about why we need this—now.

The university, having been burned on development before, is understandably gun shy, but as people have pointed out they waited on the sidelines too long on Nishi 1.0 which would have helped with R&D as well as student housing.  That was a mistake.  They got Nishi 2.0 but they don’t have that 300 thousand square feet of R&D space across the street now.

And the county perhaps needs this more than either the city or the university in some respects.  The county lacks a lot of revenue mechanisms, but the revenue sharing agreement here would be mutually beneficial to the county as well as the city.

This is a major project and for it to succeed and flourish, we need all our local governance entities to get together—they did it for student housing, now they need to do it for economic development.

—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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36 Comments

    1. Alan Miller

      I looked back at a Vanguard article from a few years ago.  So many more people commenting, so many more points of view.  The more rules, the less dynamic the comments section.  Kinda like socialism and everything it touches.

        1. Bill Marshall

          Actually, Craig, I sorta’ agree with Alan, except his last sentence… I don’t see the connection, but accept it as an opinion…

          As to “dynamic”… my opinion is two-fold…

          Better to have “light”, than “heat”…

          Most folk secretly (or, overtly) like to see:  “train wrecks”; Roller Derby; WWF; [Romans liked to watch gladitorial combat]; etc.

          Where to ‘draw the line’… “aye, there’s the rub…” (a different ‘Bill’ wrote that)

           

      1. Richard McCann

        I like a few humorous comments along the way. Keep up the good work, Alan.  You just now need to budget them.

        But to the contrary, I think many people have been pushed away from commenting because of a small number of individuals who play the “troll” game of never conceding a point and constantly moving the goal posts in the discussion (and you’re not one of them.) The limit of 7 comments is a reasonable approach. Make coherent full arguments and be discrete in what points you respond to.

         

        1. Ron Oertel

          Richard:  “But to the contrary, I think many people have been pushed away from commenting because of a small number of individuals who play the “troll” game of never conceding a point and constantly moving the goal posts in the discussion (and you’re not one of them.)”

          Ironically, a trolling comment in-and-of-itself.

          As far as the article is concerned, it’s just not worth rehashing the same thing over-and-over again. There’s more interesting (and less-repetitive) articles regarding the proposal on another blog.

        2. Craig Ross

          The biggest problem here is that no one is discussing the core issues. We never get to the root of the problem.   We go from talking about a “sustainable jobs and municipal revenues” issue and end up with Ron pining for the obstructionist view, Miller talking ironic and other talking side issues. Focus on the issues here. This stuff hasn’t been discussed anywhere.

    2. Richard McCann

      My wife and I wrote about a economic development strategy that is consistent with Davis’ vision (as articulated in Council goals and other forums), is unique in the region, and leverages the most recognizable asset of UCD. It’s promoting “sustainable food” in several ways for tourism, innovation and modeling how to push back climate change. Here’s the Vanguard article from 2018: https://www.davisvanguard.org/2018/10/guest-commentary-make-sustainable-food-economic-engine-downtown-davis/

      Also, the City commissioned the Food & Economic Development study which also lays out a vision of how to move forward. https://www.landandladle.com/davis-food-discussions/

      The “need” here is for the Council, business community leaders and UCD to say “yes” and then provide the staff and other resources to implement this vision.

      1. Alan Miller

        OH!  We’re supposed to DO something with a vision?  I thought we were just supposed to study it to death and stuff some cash in the pockets of the consultants doing the studies.  My bad . . .

  1. Craig Ross

    There’s a good point made here – the voters are more amenable to a development like this while the leaders are less organized than they were a decade ago.  Not sure how that plays out.

    1. Bill Marshall

      Not sure how that plays out.

      Me neither.

      But, in my experience, voters often are less amenable, when the ‘leaders’ are in ‘lock-step’… Covell Village, Wildhorse Ranch come to mind… I may be wrong, but I think those projects got 5-0 votes on CC… and voters rejected…

      And then, voters in CA have voted in Gov/Lt Gov of different parties more often than not… and the ‘leaders’ (elected) who were in ‘lock-step’, often lose in their next election… folk like controversy/conflict.  Might be a genetic thingy.

      The definition of “leaders” is squishy…

        1. Bill Marshall

          Craig,

          Feel free to clearly articulate the “things we need in this community” (and please add any suggestions as to how to fulfill those needs)… and to clearly articulate the issues related to MRIC/ARC that are not being addressed (and how you feel they should be addressed)… [My opinion is that the factual issues have been/are being addressed… CEQA docs don’t deal with philosophy (much)]

          Don’t wait for others to do so, that you may comment on those…

        2. Craig Ross

          Here’s my issue: I had to move away from Davis because unless you work for the university, there are no jobs available.  People like Ron doesn’t care.  He thinks that bringing in jobs adds people and he doesn’t want to.  The other site thinks the same way.  All those people have jobs.  They have places to live in Davis.  Great.  But we are training generations of people in Davis that don’t get to have the choice of staying here.  The dispossessed need a voice – that will be me.

        3. Ron Oertel

          Here’s my issue: I had to move away from Davis because unless you work for the university, there are no jobs available.  People like Ron doesn’t care.  

          Well, according to you – there’s no places to “live”, either.  So, it works out perfectly, unless you think that your current location is “worse”.  Why are those who think that Davis is “better” than other places the same ones who are constantly trying to change it? (Presumably, to “match” the locations that are worse?)

          He thinks that bringing in jobs adds people . . .   

          It does, and Davis already has a net inbound flow of commuters (to UCD).

          The other site thinks the same way.  

          “Sites” don’t have an opinion, but the “other” blog does seem to attract more of those who value preservation of farmland, discouraging traffic/greenhouse gasses, etc. In addition, it accepts no advertising dollars from developers (or from anyone else, to my knowledge), and does not seem to attract those whose views are similar to that espoused by organizations like the Chamber of Commerce.

          All those people have jobs.  

          Not necessarily. Some have jobs, some might work in Sacramento, etc.

           

        4. Craig Ross

          It comes down to what do you think this community needs order to thrive.  Right now we have a place that is increasingly inhabited by college students and retirees and the middle is shrinking.

          Everyone who lives in Davis values things like protection of ag land and reduction of traffic.  But we need balance – we need to bring in jobs and need some additional housing.

        5. Ron Oertel

          Davis already has an “excess supply” of jobs, as demonstrated by the net inbound flow of commuters (to UCD).

          Add more jobs, and yeah – it will create more demand for housing.  (Beyond that which is proposed for ARC, according to its EIR.)

        6. Craig Ross

          No. No. No.  THat’s the whole point.  If you don’t work for the university, there are no jobs in Davis right now.  And the only way you work for the university for the most part and make a decent a salary is with a doctorate.  You’re completely wrong.

        7. Ron Oertel

          I believe that’s 7 comments for you.

          Again, you’re failing to note that UCD is already providing an excess supply of jobs, resulting in a net inbound flow of commuters through Davis.

          Apparently, those jobs are “good enough” to attract that inbound flow of commuters.

          There’s also a large number of people who are perfectly happy living in Davis, and working in Sacramento.  Many of whom take Yolobus commuter lines.  (For that matter, there’s also inbound Yolobus commuter buses, to UCD/Davis.)

          If that’s not enough “evidence” for you, I’d suggest examining the unemployment rate for Davis, if such statistics are maintained.

          ARC would, however, provide further “justification” for yet another sprawling housing development – beyond ARC, itself.  (Perhaps on the Shriner’s property, Covell Village site, etc.)

          In regard to your earlier comment, I believe that some (maybe even most?) of the development activists on here couldn’t care less about preservation of farmland, traffic, greenhouse gasses, etc.

          Perhaps additional jobs should go in locations where sprawl has already occurred or been approved. There’s no shortage of such locations, in the region. (And, some of those locations actually “need” jobs.)

        8. Ron Oertel

          Seems like a waste of a comment to respond to such a silly question, but I’d say that he (and you) are “missing” a basic sense of logic, in the face of overwhelming evidence which undermines your own claims.

        9. David Greenwald

          The point that I have been making is that the university jobs are limited in scope.  Craig made the point that he couldn’t find a job in town.  There is a mismatch between the people who live in town and have to commute out of town for work and the people who work in town and have to commute in for work.  A lot of the people coming into town to work at UCD are working at the lower end jobs.  You’re ignoring the full picture here.  Innovation center gives us high tech jobs that young people with STEM degrees can get and they pay well.

        10. Ron Oertel

          The point that I have been making is that the university jobs are limited in scope.  Craig made the point that he couldn’t find a job in town.  

          Well, Craig said (above) that he doesn’t live in town.  So, maybe he found a job where he lives.  Other than blogging and advocating for development, I’m not sure what type of job he’s qualified for, or where he’s working.  But apparently, he’s found another place (perhaps to live AND work).  So, it’s difficult to determine exactly what his (or your) “beef” is, or why he (and you) are constantly advocating for development.

          There is a mismatch between the people who live in town and have to commute out of town for work and the people who work in town and have to commute in for work.  

          Had to look at that sentence a couple of times, as it’s pretty confusing as written.

          There will always be people commuting in/out of town.  Sacramento is a major employer, as well – for the entire region.  And again, there’s LOTS of people who are perfectly happy living in Davis, and working in Sacramento (or elsewhere).

          A lot of the people coming into town to work at UCD are working at the lower end jobs.  

          A lot of people working at UCD have higher-level jobs, as well.  There’s a mixture of jobs.  If you add more higher-level jobs, what makes you think that people won’t commute (inbound) to those, as well?

          You’re ignoring the full picture here.  Innovation center gives us high tech jobs that young people with STEM degrees can get and they pay well.

          Those people have no trouble getting jobs in the first place.  I suspect that Davis is not at the “top of the list” in terms of their preferred locations to live.  And, never will be.

          And frankly, the site in Woodland (or others in places like West Sacramento) will provide opportunities for those who prefer hot, flat, inexpensive locations – other than Davis (which is actually included in that description, when compared to a lot of nicer locations).  Bonus points if some of the locations mentioned are also in floodplains.

        11. Alan Miller

          I had to move away from Davis because unless you work for the university, there are no jobs available.

          It’s also possible that the purpose of UCD isn’t to train people to live in Davis.  In the 40 years I’ve been here, the basic idea ‘there aren’t a lot of great jobs in Davis’ has been true.  Yet I’ve managed to live here and have five different career paths in four different cities, largely using public transit when available.  “Don’t give up the dream, man!”

          1. David Greenwald

            It’s probable that the purpose of UCD is not to train people to live in Davis. However, it is in UCD’s interest to provide opportunities for students and faculty to transfer technology to the private sector. So I think you’re point is missing that context.

        12. Alan Miller

          I believe that’s 7 comments for you.

          Two ironically blown on criticizing people for not talking about the issues.  But it’s OK . . .  DG has come to save the day and speak for CR!

  2. Don Shor

    And the university needs to transfer their millions in research dollars into technology transfer—that is why they are pushing into Sacramento with Aggie Square.  But Aggie Square figures to be relatively small and focused on medical technology—which will leave the Aggie Research Center to focus on things like Agricultural Technology and Green Technology.

    I don’t see how this is a “need” for the university at all. Nor can I think of any reason they would get in the middle of a fight about development in a town where lawsuits and acrimony prevail about every single development proposal. If they get some usable space from ARC, great. But they have literally no incentive to get involved. At this point I also don’t think the political leadership of our community feel this is worth fighting over, either. They’ve got other priorities and may consider this project an unwieldy ill-defined approach to economic development at this time. That could change, but IMO it will only get worse when we go to district elections.

    It’s up to the developer to sell ARC now. UCD is going elsewhere. Business leaders have lost interest. The housing at ARC makes the whole project problematic from a political standpoint. Davis will simply have to keep raising taxes to pay its bills and get the roads repaired, and that will barely tread water.

  3. Doby Fleeman

    Don,
    Beg to differ on several points.

    Just hazarding a guess, but I would think major research universities find value in having corporate partner/sponsors co-located in the same community.   Whether for research/equipment sharing opportunities available to graduate students, collaboration, help with funding of on-campus programs, or attractive employment opportunities for faculty spouses and partners – when looking at other communities, the idea of local partnerships seems to be more the norm than not.

    “Not worth fighting over” – really?  Maybe our political leaders do have some other plan for improving the City’s fiscal picture beyond their aspirations for the Downtown Plan.  While positive and exciting, I don’t see the proposed FED initiative as making a significant impact on the current budget.  On the other hand, as you observe, maybe it’s as simple as more borrowing, together with more and better taxes.    

    Dwelling a longer on this same point, however, I question why it should all be “up to the developer” to sell the benefits to the City and community as to why we “need” economic development and “how” economic development can serve to improve the local economy, improve prospects for new businesses coming to town, provide additional sources of revenue to help pay for essential city services.  Am I correct that you see no “need” for growth, new development or new businesses in town?   

    Sorry to hear you feel that Davis business leaders have lost interest in this discussion.  That’s definitely not how I feel. I feel the project is incredibly important to the future trajectory of the community. I would point out, however, that the City previously had a Business & Economic Development Commission until 2011 when it was disbanded in favor of a new program and new economic development initiative overseen by a full-time development officer.   When you remove economic development as a key program and priority of the city – the energy and engagement level declines accordingly.

  4. Ron Oertel

    So, it seems to me that voters will ultimately have to ask themselves if it’s worth “selling” the opportunity to pave over prime farmland (outside of a logical boundary for the city), for the relative pittance that the city would receive (somewhere in the range of 20% of the property tax, I believe).

    While simultaneously trusting that the city wouldn’t squander that money (in advance, for that matter), as they’re already doing with the increases that they receive in property taxes each year (in the amount allowed by Proposition 13, and via resales/re-assessments when a property is sold).

    Of course, there’s also a simultaneous “bill of goods” being sold, by ignoring the cost of the new residents (on-site, or off-site), which might very well eliminate the claimed “fiscal profit”.

    Needless to say, cities don’t have a very good record, in this regard.  Not even the bastion/birthplace of pursuit of this approach (e.g., San Francisco, which is facing its own massive fiscal deficit – despite its all-out pursuit of technology companies).

    There would also have to be a simultaneous “hope” (against all reason) that costs resulting from increased traffic and congestion wouldn’t be passed directly to existing users, in the form of lost time, energy, and wear-and-tear on vehicles, etc.

    Overall, I doubt that this is going to put money in anyone’s pocket, other than the developers.

    But perhaps the first question to ask is why the city is allowing existing commercial sites to be converted for other uses. By the way, is the former Davis ACE housewares building still for sale? What’s to become of that? (Not to mention the massive Hibbert’s site, University Mall, etc.)

    I believe that’s “7” comments, for me.

     

  5. Doby Fleeman

    Ron,

    I take it your comments are directed to my earlier post.

    Trying to respond to your position as a land/agricultural-use preservationist, I tend to think of myself as a community evolutionist.  Communities, like prime farmland, don’t seem to do so well when left untended.  Things seem to wear out, costs of maintenance increase, people like new things to entertain them, the neighboring university keeps growing, more young people keep coming, the urban limits last reset was 50 years ago and its pretty much all built out.  Add to that, the model is no longer paying for itself like it did last century and many seem to feel the local economy could use a reset.

    Under these conditions, what is a community supposed to do?  I’m sure you have some thoughts to share.

    What do you see as the best, all-around direction for the community and university to pursue?

     

     

     

  6. David Greenwald

     So, it seems to me that voters will ultimately have to ask themselves if it’s worth “selling” the opportunity to pave over prime farmland (outside of a logical boundary for the city), for the relative pittance that the city would receive (somewhere in the range of 20% of the property tax, I believe).”

    The previous projections were something on the order of $5 million annually at build out.

    But of course that ignores the value of bringing in jobs and commerce to town.

    1. Ron Oertel

      David:  I’m over the 7-comment limit, already.

      Post your source in the next article (or the next one, or the next one), and perhaps we’ll go over it from there.

      I’d be interested in the “net” figure – after housing is included. (Along with the timeframe, and other assumptions.) The current proposal hasn’t even been fully defined.

      [edited]

  7. Doby Fleeman

    Ron,

    I realize you are over-limit, but something to consider for future posts might be a set of constructive recommendations, or perhaps your vision of a plan for addressing the combination of challenges and opportunities present within the community.

    Speaking for myself, criticisms without offering constructive alternatives and positive example for discussion is not a winning proposition.   I’d be very interested in your examples of sustainable, fiscally-sound bedroom communities for comparison.

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