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.
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.
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