Commentary: Some Early Thoughts on Aggie Research Campus

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Prakosh Patel gives a presentation on certain features of Aggie Research Campus

Between now and May when the Davis City Council is expected to make a decision on whether to put the Aggie Research Campus (ARC) on the ballot, there will be a lot of commission meetings.  On Wednesday, the Planning Commission got their first chance to get a presentation and make their thoughts known.

Here we want to address some things that came up during the Planning Commission meeting.

Traffic Impacts

Alan Pryor during his public comment, for example, argued that “the project is scheduled to produce more than 14,000 trips per day.

“If you do the math,” he said.  “You will find out it will take almost five hours to get all of that traffic onto the freeway every evening.  Obviously this is a huge huge problem.  It will likely result in total gridlock on the entire southeast side of Davis.”

We know traffic is a concern on Mace—something that Matt Keasling, an attorney representing the applicants, certainly acknowledged.

“Traffic is going to be the issue that we need to look at here,” Matt Keasling acknowledged.  On the other hand, he argued, “This is transit rich. For a greenfield development, we were blown away by the amount of bus service.”

But here’s the thing and Alan Pryor responded in a comment yesterday, making his math clear—five hours of delay?  Come on.  Let’s get real here.  We have stadiums that empty 50,000 and it might take 30 to 60 minutes to get out.  You aren’t going to leave ARC at 5 pm and get on the freeway at 10 pm.  That is absurd.

The traffic analysis will be out soon, which will give us a better idea of what the experts think, but where Alan Pryor’s analysis starts to break down is when he starts here: “Of those 7,000+ car trips leaving the project each day, I assumed 4,000 car trips will be leaving during the evening commute and would be heading east on I-80.”

There is really no basis for the 4000 car trips leaving during the evening commute.

Consider the number of parking spots.  There are 4340 spaces total, but 850 of those are for housing—people unlikely to be leaving during peak commute—and another 100 are for the hotel.  That leaves us 3400 for the commercial spaces.

The parking lot is going to be very full and everyone is going to leave at exactly the same time?  Unlikely.

Assume about 80 percent full, which is probably also a high number that knocks the number down to 2800.  Those folks are probably going to leave over a period of time from 3 pm to 7 pm, and that might mean at the very tops you have 700 to 1000 cars leaving in an hour—which is probably still a high number.

They aren’t all going to head south on Mace and east on I-80 like Alan Pryor assumes.  Some will head for the frontage road, some north on Mace, some directly west on Second Street, and some may choose to eat or go to the bar.

If you have 500 additional cars exiting on Mace to the eastbound ramp in the peak hour, I still think that will be high, but even accepting Alan Pryor’s calculations, that knocks the delay down to 30 minutes from the five-hour estimate.

We will see what the traffic analysis comes up with.  I think even my estimates are high figures.  But yes, I think Alan Pryor did himself few favors by running those kinds of numbers without considering where the cars are actually going to come from.

Jobs and Value Added

At one point during the comments by the commissioners, Herman Boschken asked why they were looking at putting ARC off Mace rather than on campus.  This is similar to those arguing that we can provide the same benefit by simply utilizing the Woodland proposal.

The first problem is that locating an innovation center outside of town removes one of the key considerations from the city’s perspective—revenue from sales tax where there are point of sales as well as property tax and potential CFDs.

We still have not seen the EPS report on the fiscal analysis.  We know what the report said from 2015 on MRIC—$2 million in city revenue which seemed like a low figure, especially since they did not consider a square foot CFD or other enhancements, plus thousands of jobs and local economic activity.

It would behoove the city to articulate the value added to the city for each job added in Davis as opposed to Woodland, West Sacramento, Sacramento and even on the UCD campus.

Tax Exemption

The applicant took one issue off the table on Wednesday, that of UC Davis leasing or owning property on the campus and exempting it from property tax.

Greg Rowe in his written comments noted that he discussed the issue with Dan Ramos, and Mr. Ramos at that time indicated he opposed the practice.

Assistant City Manager Ashley Feeney also noted that UC Davis is starting to move away from the practice.

Matt Keasling was more firm here: “We are ready to talk to the city about that in our commitments—the property tax is one of the key reasons for this project, so we’re sensitive toward that issue.”

He indicated that they would put into the project baseline features stipulations that would preclude UC Davis from exempting parts of the project from property tax.

UC Davis Involvement

Issues were also raised about the lack of involvement by UC Davis.  Some even suggested that the name Aggie Research Campus was misleading—but it was pointed out during the meeting that UC Davis does not have a trademark on “Aggie” and therefore has no objection to the use of the name.

Matt Keasling, in response to the question of where UC Davis is in the room, “UCD has a policy that it does not involve itself or take formal positions on local land use matters.  It is not within their jurisdiction, and therefore they stay out of it.”

They have had discussions with UC Davis and “they are very aware of our project.”

We know from other conversations that UC Davis definitely got burned when they engaged on West Village and they have attempted to avoid the fray ever since.  We will have to see if that starts to change during this process.

Cost and Benefit Analysis

Finally, traffic is a concern, and everyone knows that it is a concern, especially along Mace.  The reality is that the city is looking to add capacity by re-opening the second travel lane on a section of Mace and they are hoping at least that this allows local traffic to bypass the queue entering the freeway.  But, realistically, until Caltrans addresses congestion on the I-80 corridor and the Causeway, it is likely that local efforts will have only a small impact.

So does that mean that the city should forget about commercial and housing development on the east and southern parts of town because there is congestion along Mace that is likely to get worse?

The discussion, therefore, ought to focus less on mitigating the traffic problems and more on the tradeoffs here.

The downside of the project is that it is likely to add congestion to Mace, but the upside it provides in terms of city revenue, jobs, and a boost to our local economy might be worth that tradeoff.

This is not an argument against mitigation and minimizing as many impacts as possible, but rather an acknowledgement that there will be congestion along Mace regardless of what we do—but by creating ARC, there could be positives that outweigh those concerns.

Commissioner Emily Shandy’s comments were interesting.

“One of the things that you said to us earlier this evening is that you want this to be the most sustainable tech campus in the united states,” she continued.  “And yet you’ve come to us with a car dominated auto-centric proposal on the edge of town far from the Capitol Corridor Station, not linked to good transit, with huge parking lots and parking structures.

“I don’t want the conversation to go toward widening these streets, because that is not the answer.  Widening Mace Blvd. is not going to solve this problem, it’s going to induce more demand,” she said.

We have of course heard that this is an “auto-centric proposal” that is going to put 4340 parking spaces on a greenfield.

But as we have argued before, the promise of clean technology, agricultural technology, biotechnology, and food technology can be a huge benefit not just to our city and region, but to the world.

And, while the project is open to criticism during a time of climate crisis, we need to be cognizant that, if not here, this type of project will go somewhere—probably somewhere without the transit capacity and commitment to green development.

Comparing ARC to a greenfield in terms of carbon impact is somewhat misleading because we should be comparing ARC to the alternative location where such a center will be—and no we aren’t talking Woodland, as that project is going forward regardless.

—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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22 thoughts on “Commentary: Some Early Thoughts on Aggie Research Campus”

  1. Alan Pryor

    But as we have argued before, the promise of clean technology, agricultural technology, biotechnology, and food technology can be a huge benefit not just to our city and region, but to the world.

    Come on.  Let’s get real here“.  There is no promise of anything like that at all. This was adequately pointed out during the Planning Commission hearing when one commmissioner noted the project is like hanging out flypaper and we have no idea of the types of companies that will attach to it. David Greenwald continues to float this ridiculous idea that we should  Save the World, Vote for ARC.  This is both disingenuous and deceitful. It is not reporting nor even  even stating an opinion. It is proselytizing without any basis in fact.

    I think” David Greenwald ” did himself few favors by running those kinds of” arguments “without considering where the” companies “are actually going to come from“.

    1. Alan Miller

      David Greenwald continues to float this ridiculous idea that we should  Save the World, Vote for ARC.  This is both disingenuous and deceitful. It is not reporting nor even  even stating an opinion. It is proselytizing without any basis in fact.

      Alan says:  I don’t see eye-to-eye with Alan on this project, but regarding the above statement regarding the D.V., Alan, when you are right, you’re right, Alan”  –Signed, Alan (not Alan, that’s another Alan)

      (Davis needs more Alans)

    2. Alan Miller

      But as we have argued before, the promise of clean technology, agricultural technology, biotechnology, and food technology can be a huge benefit not just to our city and region, but to the world.

      I’m hoping for a tire storage warehouse and an ice-sculpture guy, maybe a plumbing supply company.

  2. Matt Williams

    Matt Keasling, in response to the question of where UC Davis is in the room, “UCD has a policy that it does not involve itself or take formal positions on local land use matters.  It is not within their jurisdiction, and therefore they stay out of it.”

    In reading that statement about UCD and its policy, it is very logical to ask “Why?”

    Is that a policy imposed on UCD by the UC Office of the President?  Or is it a local artifact of the long-standing arm’s length relationship that UCD has had with the City of Davis?

    Does UC Berkeley have a similar policy?  UC Santa Cruz?  As I drove past the UC Irvine Research Park last weekend, I wondered whether UCI has a similar policy.

    Bottom-line, in many (but not all) cases policies can be changed.

    1. David Greenwald Post author

       Or is it a local artifact of the long-standing arm’s length relationship that UCD has had with the City of Davis?”

      Suspect something like this

  3. Ron Oertel

    It would behoove the city to articulate the value added to the city for each job added in Davis as opposed to Woodland, West Sacramento, Sacramento and even on the UCD campus.

    The only “choice” to be made is whether an additional office park should be built approximately 4-5 miles from campus (ARC).

    They’re going to build the ones in Woodland (7 miles from UCD) and Sacramento (on UCD’s land, using public subsidies), regardless.  West Sacramento probably has enough space to accommodate businesses (within the city) without even building another separate development.  (And a lot cheaper than any other location, no doubt.)

    And again, even the one in Woodland seems to require housing in order to make it “pencil out”.

    A couple of the planning commissioners at the meeting asked why ARC would have any “competitive advantage”, regarding the commercial market.  One of them noted the “flypaper approach”, of seeing what type of businesses they could attract (vs. having this pre-planned).  He also noted that there’s an existing abundance of vacant commercial properties in the Bay Area, as part of this same point.

     

  4. Ron Oertel

    Another point that came up during the meeting is that there would apparently be a significant portion of the commercial component left “unbuilt”, after the housing is completed.  I am not sure of the amount/size.

    I suspect that this “unbuilt” section will be the most-difficult to build, as there’d be no developer incentive left from housing.  (At least, not on-site.)

    Another point that came up was that the 850 units (larger than The Cannery, by the way), is not sufficient to house thousands of workers (assuming that they even live on site.)  Ultimately, I strongly suspect that this development will lead to another peripheral housing development.

    It seemed to be acknowledged that there is no practical way to ensure that 60% of the households have at least one worker at the site.  (This is apparently the “basis” for claiming that the mixed-use alternative is environmentally-superior.)

    1. Ron Oertel

      I got cut-off, so I’m hoping that this doesn’t count as an “extra” comment:

      It was also acknowledged that a significant number of workers would commute to the site from the direction of West Sacramento.  (This issue came up because of the positioning of multiple access points on Mace, rather than 2nd Street.)

      One of the commissioners said that there didn’t seem to be enough time for the developers to incorporate any meaningful changes (suggested by commissioners), prior to the July “deadline” for council members to decide whether or not to place this on the November ballot.

      1. Alan Miller

        I got cut-off, so I’m hoping that this doesn’t count as an “extra” comment

        Getting in those seven comments per housing article is very important to maintaining a good lifestyle.

  5. Ron Oertel

    I was surprised at how little discussion there was regarding the Affordable housing component, as well.  There seemed to be some suggestion by the developer that the small-unit size of the planned housing would “count as “affordable” (in-and-of-itself, without any subsidy I assume), but I’m not sure that I understood him.

    There was also a statement by the developer acknowledging that commissioners prefer the Affordable housing to be on-site.  However, there appeared to be some “waffling” regarding that commitment, from the developer.  (A casual statement made very quickly, something along the lines that most of it would probably be on-site.  Basing this on what I recall/memory from the meeting.)

    In any case, there was very little discussion of the Affordable housing component by staff, the developer or the commissioners.  It seemed that this issue has not been settled at all.

     

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      I think that will come. What you saw was largely a response to points raised by the public. I think the affordable housing proposal is a bit of a moving target.

  6. David Greenwald Post author

    Someone made a good point to me – the days of 9 to 5 are over. Particularly in a tech park. So not only are people overestimating capacity but peak hour may not be that meaningful.

  7. Pam Gunnell

    Besides  the overt lack of any real  affordable housing plan, the other unresolved issue with the housing is that the project proponent has no mechanism in place to assure/enforce that employees live in the onsite housing. Fair housing laws can not prohibit non-employees from purchasing homes.  Unless the business coming in also purchases the land for the housing and builds them like Google/Facebook did in Silicon Valley. Without such a mechanism, the EIR traffic assumptions are not meaningful IMO.

  8. Tim Keller

    Still need to point out that people object to this project pointing to its traffic implications…  Without acknowledging that ANY alternative is MORE traffic intensive.

    I can walk to the ARC from my house.   When I started my last company, I had to commute 45 min everyday.   For the students, spouses of faculty etc that will be employed at companies that reside in ARC – this project means LESS traffic.  If we dont build it here it WILL go someplace else.

    We cant control whether or not people choose to live in place A and work in place B.  All we can do is to try to provide a balance of space types and hope that it allows people to work as close as possible to their homes.    For davis, we lack commercial R&D space, and we lack higher-density smaller-footprint housing.     This project provides both.

    1. Ron Oertel

        Without acknowledging that ANY alternative is MORE traffic intensive.

      Nope. The “no project” alternative is far-less intensive.

       If we dont build it here it WILL go someplace else.

      Nope.  Check out the comment from the commissioner that I referenced, regarding the commercial vacancies in the Bay Area, for example.  For that matter, what’s the commercial vacancy rate in West Sacramento?  Also, the site in Woodland has a “100% vacancy rate“, at this point. That proposal is competing with ARC, to land the same types of businesses.

      Take away the housing component (at either location), and you’d see no proposal whatsoever.  There’s already evidence of that, regarding ARC.

      We cant control whether or not people choose to live in place A and work in place B. 

      Yeap.

         For davis, we lack commercial R&D space, and we lack higher-density smaller-footprint housing. 

      This development creates its own “need”.

      Still need to point out that people object to this project pointing to its traffic implications…

      Due to cell-phone applications such as WAZE (and the inability to control who lives at the site), it seems that any traffic study would be based upon questionable assumptions.

       

       

       

      1. Tim Keller

        Nope. The “no project” alternative is far-less intensive.

        Completely disagree.   Its not like people will decide to not have a job or an internship if we don’t build this.  They will just go out of town for it – and that IS more traffic intensive.

        This development creates its own “need”.

        Not at all.  I end up talking to a lot of the companies that are looking for a place here in town.  Its the UNIVERSITY and the TALENT here in Davis they want to be near.   Generic commercial space is readily avaliable for less money elsewhere.   Nobody is going to come to ARC just randomly, or because its cheap (it wont be)

        Which is again, another point why the assertion that this project will be drawing in people from other areas is over-stated.  I’m sure that some of that will happen, but the kind of companies that want to set up shop in Davis are mostly the kind of companies that are either already here, or would be here already if we had made room for them before.

        One big example is schilling robotics, which was supposed to be the anchor tenant of this site originaly.   Due to our inability to get them more space to grow, they are now moving to West Sac.   All of those employees who work there and live here?  They will be getting on that freeway too…  That is a loss for all of us – and a prime example of why NOT building this will NOT reduce traffic.

        1. Matt Williams

          Not at all.  I end up talking to a lot of the companies that are looking for a place here in town.  Its the UNIVERSITY and the TALENT here in Davis they want to be near. 

          Tim, those discussions and companies should be front and center in dialogue about this project.  What you are saying is that “the emperor actually has clothes” but all we are hearing from the developer, the City, and UCD can be summed up in the graphic below.

          I happen to agree with you that there are both companies and jobs that fit your description. But there is a big difference between belief (dare I say faith?) and evidence.

          https://www.davisvanguard.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/Emperors-New-Clothes.jpeg

          [Moderator: edited; no gifs or cartoons or memes, please]

          Response to Moderator. I checked with David and confirmed that he had no objection to the reinstatement of my graphical support of my Emperor’s New Clothes verbal point. If you have any problems with that, please contact David.

        2. Ron Oertel

          Tim:  “Completely disagree.   Its not like people will decide to not have a job or an internship if we don’t build this.  They will just go out of town for it – and that IS more traffic intensive.”

          They are already there, with lots more housing to come.  Why do you want them to make them commute to ARC?

          Me:  “This development creates its own “need”.”
          Tim:  “Not at all.”

          I was referring to the additional “need” for housing, beyond that provided by ARC.  This is not just my “opinion” – it’s in the EIR.

          Tim:  “Which is again, another point why the assertion that this project will be drawing in people from other areas is over-stated.”  

          You probably should have been at the workshop/presentation, when even the developer acknowledged this – as I already noted above.  Note that a commissioner recommended that the access points be changed for this very reason.

          Tim:  “One big example is schilling robotics, which was supposed to be the anchor tenant of this site originaly.”

          What was the rent that was offered to them, in West Sacramento?  And, how does that compare with the projected commercial rent at ARC?  (Assuming the commercial space at ARC is not initially priced as a “loss-leader”, for the purpose of obtaining revenue from housing?)

          What is the commercial vacancy rate in West Sacramento?  (We already know that it’s “100%”, at the site in Woodland.)

          Bayer apparently left due to “fire-sale pricing”, in West Sacramento.

          That is a loss for all of us – and a prime example of why NOT building this will NOT reduce traffic.

          Again, that’s the location/direction that has already been acknowledged as a source of the commuters to ARC, in the first place.

          To clarify, the “source” of the commuters was acknowledged to primarily be from the east, which is a reason that a commissioner recommended a reconfiguration of the access points – as mentioned in my earlier comment.

          Now, whether or not the developer can actually address this type of recommendation before the self-created “deadline” is another issue that was brought up, by the commission.

          The first sentence in David’s article mentions an expected decision from the council by May, but there was discussion of a July council deadline at the workshop (to accommodate the developer’s goal, of placing this on the November ballot).

          Perhaps David can clarify this, as it’s a critical piece of information.

          1. David Greenwald Post author

            My understanding is they are shooting for May. July is the deadline to put it on the ballot. As you know these things tend to go to the deadline.

        3. Matt Williams

          It will more than likely be late in May.  The FBC review of the economic and fiscal analysis will begin in the April meeting, and unless the process has been fiddled with by staff, that is a two meeting process. 

          The first meeting being presentation of the analysis by the consultant, followed by questions from the FBC to both the economic consultant and the developer/applicant, then public comment.  Armed with the questions posed by the FBC and the public, the consultant puts together written answers to each question, and then the answers are discussed by the FBC, the consultant, staff and the developer/applicant at the second meeting, which would be on May 11th.

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