If the developers for the Aggie Research Campus (ARC) wanted critical feedback, they got it. Whether it was the mixed comments from the public or the largely critical ones from the Planning Commission, the applicants vowed to attempt to go back and incorporate some of the concerns into the project.
The workshop format meant there was to be no decision by the Planning Commission on Wednesday night, but they heard from 24 members of the public, half of them opposing the project.
Attorney Matt Keasling, representing the applicants, pointed out that one of the differences between 2015’s MRIC (Mace Ranch Innovation Center) and ARC was that ARC has not identified an end use. That, he argued, allowed them to scale back on the project features and made it more about the entitlements.
“If you don’t have a user, what’s the rush?” he asked.
“If a research and innovation center is going to occur here and if Davis is going to have the ability to retain its current companies and attract other companies that do desire to be in this community, we need to get past that first hurdle,” Mr. Keasling said. “We need the community to weigh in and say yes, we’ve been looking at this for 20-30 years, yes we want it. Yes, it’s time to do an innovation center here.”
At that point, he said, there would be a whole slew of entitlements that they will be back with.
He told the Planning Commission that “you will see ARC again and again.”
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.”
He noted the tax benefits of having the innovation center not on UC Davis land.
Commissioner Boschken, for instance, had suggested perhaps a better location was on the UC Davis site.
There were also questions about how frequently UC Davis properties and leased properties within the town were exempted from the tax rolls.
This was a concern expressed by Greg Rowe, who was not in attendance but emailed his comments to Chair Cheryl Essex. In a discussion with developer Dan Ramos, he indicated that Mr. Ramos had 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.”
A number of students came out in support of the project.
Joshua Mason, a PhD student who is with the Graduate Student Association, noted the lack of locations for graduating students “to put their skill sets to use.” He talked about the need for people to find places to work and find employment in private industry.
“Folks want to stay in the community,” he said. “There just aren’t the opportunities for that to happen.”
Another student, in fact, noted that there is only about a 20 percent retention rate for students to be able to find jobs and stay in the area after graduation.
Cory Day, a graduate of UC Davis who stayed in the area, warned that “we see more and more of our friends move to surrounding areas because there just aren’t opportunities in town.
“Davis has a problem, we are squandering our most valuable resource—the people,” he said. “UC Davis is a stone’s throw from this chamber, it’s developing the top talent in this region. But there aren’t businesses to utilize that talent. There aren’t places to put those businesses. And there aren’t places for those people to live.”
He said, in the US, there are 174 universities with research parks, and “UC Davis is not one of them.”
Scott Powell, a Davis resident and Senior Vice President for the Greater Sacramento Economic Council, added, “Davis has a vacancy rate (commercial) according to Co-Star of below four percent in terms of the office space.” For the region it’s closer to nine percent, he said. Davis’ low vacancy rate “hinders our ability to bring in new jobs.”
He added that less than 30 percent of Davis graduates stay in the Sacramento region. “More go to the Bay Area,” he said, noting that that number represents an improvement over the last five years. “This community spends a lot of time and resources educating those students, only to send them to some place else.”
At the same time, the developers heard clearly from the commission and the public—concerns about “Mace mess.” Concerns about traffic impacts.
Matt Keasling told the commission that they want to “make sure this isn’t a car-centric development.”
But, clearly, from both the public and the commission, those are areas of concern.
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.”
Charlene Henwood, a South Davis resident, after spending a year “watching the Mace mess unfold,” argued that the “city may reap only $1 million per year after expenses,” and she added, “To put this into perspective, the city has spent $4 million making a hash out of South Mace Blvd. and they’re still spending like drunken sailors trying to fix the mess they made.
“The current Mace Mess is caused by only 400 additional commuter trips for a two-hour peak commuter period, driven to Mace by the Waze application,” she said, noting that south Davis residents are blockaded in their homes for two to three hours during Thursday and Friday evenings. She said that city engineers predict ARC will generate over 14,000 car trips, “with most concentrated in the peak commute periods.”
She argued that “the city expects us to believe that they can manage 14,000 trips when they can’t even manage 400 additional trips over a two-hour peak commute period.”
Commissioner Emily Shandy also unloaded on the project, arguing, “I’m happy to hear a concern expressed by a lot of people, not only on this commission but from the public.”
She expressed concern that “a lot of the critical decisions have been pushed off until this goes through and you have the security of knowing that has been annexed.
“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.
Alan Hirsch, who called himself a big critic of the MRIC project, while stopping short of supporting the project, said that the “project has improved considerably” but added that this “needs to be transit-oriented.”
In the developer’s response, however, they acknowledged that traffic is clearly a big concern which they will have to address.
“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 those buses, he admits, are well-used and so “there will be a need for us to increase the number of buses.”
He pointed out that the reason for this to be a mixed-use project was “because it internalized trips and therefore minimized external trips.
“It is absolutely not intended to be housing for the sake of housing, it is housing to capture the workforce that we know will be creating that demand,” he said, and the hope is “to keep it internal to Davis, so that it’s not long commutes to other jurisdictions.”
Mr. Keasling agrees that those going out of Davis for commutes will likely take I-80 east and a majority through the Mace Blvd. on-ramp. He noted that it has “a much greater capacity than the Chiles Road on-ramp has.”
He noted that the supplemental EIR will focus on traffic, as “traffic in the region, traffic in Davis has changed considerably (since 2015).”
He added that the traffic study is not ready yet, but once it is, “Traffic mitigation measures will be a long long laundry list of TDM [transportation demand measures] measures that we need to put in place.
“We are creating a certain amount of congestion with the project and we need to mitigate those impacts,” he said.
This project will come back to the Planning Commission for more formal action ahead of what could be a May vote by the council to determine whether or not to put the project on the ballot.
—David M. Greenwald reporting