Commentary: Planning Commission Focuses on Areas of Improvement for the ARC

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There are two ways to look at the planning commission meeting—and keep in mind that in the past the planning commission has gone so far as not to recommend certification of EIRs only to have the council approve them.  One way to look at the comments is to see them as critical of the project—the other is that most of the issues pointed out on Wednesday are correctable.

I want to start with the housing and the issue of the business park uses.

There were very few people in the room on Wednesday night who were active and engaged back during the period of 2010 to 2014.  I would go so far as to suggest that it might benefit the council, planning commission and broader community to bring back the discussion of dispersed economic strategy and the “why an innovation park” question to address the 30,000 foot overarching questions.

That perspective was largely missing on Wednesday.  And it became apparent when Herman Boschken raised some of his points—and his point about the lack of engagement thus far by UC Davis is actually spot on.

His point that this is not necessarily a high tech research park misses key context.  UC Davis attracts not only technology transfer—a concept that has been strangely absent from the discussion—but also companies that want to come to Davis to draw on the pool of highly trained STEM graduates from UC Davis.

So we get companies like these emerged from Davis—Schilling, AgraQuest, Marone Biotechnologies, Engage3, Barobo, Novozymes, etc.

We also get companies that want to come here: Mori Seiki, HM Claus and more recently Mars, and many others.

We are not going to be attracting businesses to ARC that are not associated with university research and technology.

In addition, I think Herman Boschken also missed a key point that ARC would provide the space for companies like AgraQuest and Schilling Robotics to be able to expand and remain in the city, whereas now they do not have even that option.

I also disagree with a point that Greg Rowe made, arguing that ARC would attract similar businesses as Aggie Square for instance.  First of all, I think that underestimates the fact that there is more than enough commercial demand in the region, especially with San Francisco and Silicon pricing employees out of housing, to probably sustain far more.  Davis probably would have approved 400 acres had Davis Innovation and MRIC remained in place.

Moreover, Aggie Square is likely to attract more along the lines of medical technology serving the Medical Center while ARC is more likely to focus on agricultural technology and green technology, research directly spinning off from the university.  I still think ARC would be perfect as a landing spot for the World Food Center with agricultural fields that can serve as labs for food science—the type of thing that makes no sense at Aggie Square.

Housing is a big issue and I think people need to recognize the timeline.  The first talks about an Innovation Center came out of 2010 DSIDE discussions.  That emerged in 2012 as part of the Studio 30 report and eventually in 2013-14, the RFEIs.  In the period of 2010 to 2014 we were still coming out of the real estate market collapse.

At the time, the conventional wisdom was that housing would likely kill the project.  And so the thinking was, exclude housing from the proposals.  But times have changed and now with the housing crisis, not having housing would likely have a detrimental effect.

In fact, one of the key questions is whether there is enough housing on the site.  The analysis shows that 850 units would be onsite, and they project 1200 units needed in town and 1700 out of town.  That is based on projections for normal distributions of other mixed-use development.

Does that mean we will have to add housing in the future to support this project?  Possibly.  By including 850 units, we reduce that number we need over the original proposal.  But also remember we are looking at a long time horizon and so the normal course of adding housing over the next 20 to 50 years might be sufficient to meet that added demand.

The 60 percent housing projection—60 percent of the units occupied by someone who works on site—has turned a lot of heads.  Public commenters questioned it on Wednesday.  Several commissioners picked up on the issue.

Planner Sherri Metzker said, “So far all the discussion has indicated that it would be in violation of the fair housing laws and so we don’t believe we have that ability.”

There actually are things that can be done on this front.  First, there are a few things that can be done to ensure that students are not the ones living there.  Things like putting the rental period off-cycle and requiring credit checks to live there would take care of that.  There is also the possibility that companies simply purchase or rent their own blocks of housing and then sublease to employees.

The problem of 60 percent is not insurmountable—people simply need to come up with some creative solutions.

I agree with those concerned about the use of the 6.8 acres for mitigation land. The developers should remove that issue from the table.  That is probably not a huge deal, but why hand the opposition an issue that they don’t have to.

I also agree with Darryl Rutherford that the affordable housing needs to be onsite, and I would suggest dedicating 5 to 10 acres and turn it over to a non-profit affordable housing developer to raise the funding.

Final point I guess I will raise—I really don’t understand the argument that we are headed for a deep economic downturn as a reason not to do this.  This is not a short-term project.  So even if we go into a deep recession, which appears where we are headed, by the time this is approved and work begins on it, we should be on the other side of that.

But even beside that, we are headed for a period where technology is going to be more important, not less.  The challenges of food distribution are not going away.  The need for medical, biotech, and agricultural technology along with clean burning and green technologies will only increase, not decrease.

To me, the best time to have done this was ten years ago.  The second best time is right now.

There are ways still to improve this project, but the idea that we should pause this because of a recession, misunderstands a lot of things.

—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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23 thoughts on “Commentary: Planning Commission Focuses on Areas of Improvement for the ARC”

  1. Matt Williams

    “Moreover, Aggie Square is likely to attract more along the lines of medical technology serving the Medical Center while ARC is more likely to focus on agricultural technology and green technology, research directly spinning off from the university.”

    The problem with this statement becomes starkly apparent when one looks at the last three years of UCD press releases trumpeting the annual number of start-ups that UCD produced.  90% of those start-ups were in medical technology.  Only 10% came from agricultural technology or green technology.

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      I was starting to look at some things to respond and came across something that would better be its own article.

      The short version:

      Looking at patents for instance – there is a good mix. And yes, at the top is medical and animal health, but the number three area is Ag and Food Science, there is also energency and environment. There is also the fact that UC Davis’ World Agri-Tech Innovation Summit took place in SF in 2019. And you have you have be careful, because a lot of the Genomics research and BioGenome work ties back into food science. You have the World Food Center but also the Mondavi Instutte for Wine and Food Science both of whom would tie back in with the Davis rather than the Sacramento Campus. There is also the work between UCD and HM Clause. And you again seem to forget that UCD is a top Ag and Environmental Science school. Bottom line: your comment sells the potential here way short.

    2. Tia Will

      Matt

      90% of those start-ups were in medical technology.  Only 10% came from agricultural technology or green technology.

      One could see either limitation or opportunity in those rather stark statistics. Having said that, I am discouraged by David’s citing the Mars Company, with its focus on food products, rather than actual food, as a potential major player in these endeavors, just as I was last time around.

  2. Doby Fleeman

    David,

    Full credit for your continued engagement on the need for Economic Development, and this type of project in particular, but how can the process be this far down the road and we find otherwise engaged readers who comment:

    I did previously state that I wouldn’t actively fight a commercial-only proposal.  (However, I was not a “supporter” of it, as I like the site the way it is.)

    However, given what I’ve since learned on here (regarding the existing net inflow of commuters, as well as witnessing the advocacy of development activists), I no longer believe the argument that a peripheral business park is wise or needed at all……

    Maddeningly, based on the the official evidence presented to date, I sympathize with the poster in his conclusion and his sentiment.

    Quantitatively, how can it be that we have no immediately available reports which explain why the City of Davis reputed jobs/housing imbalance is a complete misconstruing of the facts or why this issue should be important in discussions of this proposed project?   Why has no effort been expended to explain why jobs located on campus and outside City limits are not a useful or relevant proxy for jobs located within the City of Davis – when it comes to discussions of municipal revenue generation necessary to sustain our local city government and services?

    Otherwise, it seems, we have a conversation, discussion and debate without context.

    1. Doby Fleeman

      How does it aid the discussion to ignore a direct challenge question concerning what has been done to respond?    The questions – Why growth, Why Here, Why now could have come from a wide swath of local Davis residents.

      Is it a legitimate concern?   Does it warrant a response from Staff and the City’s consultants?

      1. David Greenwald

        Doby – I think there are lot of important discussions to have.  See my response to Matt.  I do think a separate piece on why we need peripheral innovation is important, but a separate issue to the one I attempted to address in this column.

      2. Bill Marshall

        Doby (off topic)… tried your old e-mail I had… no joy… think you have mine… there are some things would like to share with you and Jennifer… please contact…

    2. Matt Williams

      I believe Doby makes a very good point.  There has been virtually no analysis by either the community as a whole, or the City as a municipality, or UCD as the major community ethos driver, of how Davis got to its current non-resilient, non-sustainable, big annual deficits situation.

      David is summoning up every prayer he can think of to give spiritual force to his gut-feel belief that ARC is going to be the Silver Bullet our community needs.  I keep expecting him to shout, “Hi Ho Silver Away!

      Ironically, I was talking to a Davis resident who has been part of several very successful start-ups, and his assessment was that Davis currently does not have the broad, skills, infrastructure to become an innovation hotbed.  We have the intellectual capital generating academic institution, but the lawyers and investors and other professionals a start-up culture needs are just a few miles down the road in San Francisco and Silicon Valley.

      What does that mean?  For me it raises the importance of the self-assessment that Doby Fleeman has described in this thread and other threads.  We need to look in the mirror TOGETHER as a community and be honest with ourselves about how we got into this hole.  Answering questions like, “What are the community components we have left behind?” will help us understand what are the community components we will have to build, if we are going to chart a different course.

      All I know is a wing and a prayer doesn’t fly.  Doby’s prescription of reflective introspection is needed.

  3. Todd Edelman

    especially with San Francisco and Silicon pricing employees out of housing, to probably sustain far more.

    MAKES ARC parasitic (sure that some will waive their free market flag, but I can take it!)

    with agricultural fields that can serve as labs for food science THE AG fields immediately adjacent?

    ON UC Davis land several – most likely car – miles to the west?

    First, there are a few things that can be done to ensure that students are not the ones living there.  Things like putting the rental period off-cycle and requiring credit checks to live there would take care of that.

    I AM SURE that for the students who spoke in favor of the project consider this a hallmark of social justice branding!

    There is also the possibility that companies simply purchase or rent their own blocks of housing and then sublease to employees.

    WOAH, any Commissioner who would not exclusively dis-permit this excruciating loophole in Baseline Features needs to excuse themselves from the debate by reasons of viral anti-equity. Seriously how is stuff getting through your progressive advisory board?

      1. Todd Edelman

        If the laws don’t allow prioritizing rentals to individuals who work there, but allowed what David proposed, then this variant of master leasing would simply be exploiting a loophole and would have the same effect which the laws are supposed to make impossible.

        Do I misunderstand something about the situation?

        1. David Greenwald

          You don’t misunderstand the situation, only the law.  There is a reason why UC Davis would do master leases and provide the housing to their students.  There is a reason why UC Davis can develop housing that can be used for their employees.  A reason why DJUSD can do the same.

        2. Todd Edelman

          law

          Well, it’s clear that I understand loopholes.

          The “excuse themselves from the debate” refers to criticism of a statement I made earlier this month about Commissioner capacity during the City Emergency which has come from Brett Lee, Don Shor and most recently from Darryl Rutherford.

  4. Todd Edelman

    ARC would provide the space for companies like AgraQuest and Schilling Robotics to be able to expand and remain in the city, whereas now they do not have even that option.

    BOTH AgraQuest and Schilling could increase floor area by at least 200 to 400% by building up and in/over their parking lots.

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      When Tyler Schilling came to the council in 2014, he explained they need a single story facility. Not sure about Bayer. I also know going up is extremely expensive.

    2. Todd Edelman

      Then they can build on the parking lots, or above underground parking lots. The latter would certainly be the more expensive of the two, which they might argue could increase the price of their equipment. But to instead expand peripherally externalizes its costs. If they do this to avoid losing car parking and the equipment is used for the oil industry then it’s also rather ironic.

      (They’re also a bit closer to the Davis Depot than is the proposed ARC… where’s their, um, robot shuttle that serves Capitol Corridor trains? I would guess that their non-automobile modal share of the place is in the very low-single digits.)

  5. Doby Fleeman

    Whether commissioners, councilmembers, city staff or residents of the community – when we allow the public conversation and debate on an important topic (directly impacting on the fiscal health, sustainability, and future trajectory of the City) to be truncated, and summarily removed from the larger supporting context, nobody is well served.

    Such would be the case with the City’s 2017 State of the City Report originally commissioned by the Planning Commission.   This unwillingness to compare and discuss the City’s demographic, economic and land use policies is one part of the equation.

    The other part has been the unwillingness of the Finance and Budget Commission to discuss the foundational components of the City’s underlying revenue model.   In other words, we don’t know what we don’t know.   So how, exactly, does that help us in “contextualizing and prioritizing” our best pathway forward – regardless of the issue?

    Sorry, I just don’t get it.

  6. Doby Fleeman

    David,

    I can’t see your comments when I am logged in, so here follows my response your 11:14 post:

    Rather than starting with “why we need peripheral innovation” (which I view in one sense as a solution in search of a problem), how about if we start with “Do we have a problem in need of a fix?”  If we agree there is a problem/s, “What is/are the underlying driver/s of the problem?  Finally, “What are  out best options/best fix to address the problem/s?”

    I firmly believe the jury is still out as to the nature and causes of the challenges we face.

    Simply saying that the City faces a multi-million dollar (and growing) operating deficit and that we need some combination of “more new taxes” and “economic development” does a real disservice to the conversation.   A viable solution may indeed require action on both fronts – but the more we understand about how we stack up against other, desirable peer communities and the more we understand about our fiscal and financial model – the better prepared we will be to develop an authentic, effective strategy keyed to our core competencies as a City and a community.

    1. Matt Williams

      (which I view in one sense as a solution in search of a problem),

      BINGO!!!!

      BTW, the dot com bubble was largely built on many a solution that was in search of a problem to solve … and the dot com crash that followed happened when the public came to the realization that many of those solutions were never going to find a problem they could solve.

      1. Doby Fleeman

        I happen to believe that an Innnovation Park of the size and scale of  the ARC is an essential element, a foundational cornerstone, to a viable long-term Economic Development strategy.  During the 1990s, I was personally involved with construction of campus clusters for Yahoo, CISCO, Intel, HP and Sun Micro (before it became the Facebook campus).

        It is the complete absence of these types of stable, mothership employers within the Davis ecosphere that is most remarkable.  The much vaunted Studio 30 report rightly focused on the role and co-incidence of leading research universities in sparking development of Innovation Centers within these host communities.  What it did not acknowledge, however, was the equally important role of large, mothership employers which anchored, encouraged and supported those developments.  It’s a natural, healthy symbiotic relationship.   The idea of a “dispersed innovation strategy” sounds good, but what does it mean in practice?   The idea is not hard to grasp, but realistically what is the role of one or more major mothership employers in fostering, incubating and supporting such a strategy – because it is a strategy.   So, what are the components that would make such a strategy succeed here in Davis?   Yes, it requires a willing, partnering university – that is essential.   But, its more than that.  It requires well-funded, patient private sector partners.    If you want those employers in a community,  if you believe they have something to offer – both to the university and the larger community – then you’d better take heed of what they need in order to be successful in your community.

        To me, that is precisely what an ARC scale project brings to the table.

        1. Matt Williams

          Doby, you just made a much more cogent and compelling argument for ARC than the developer or the City have made.  You nudged me closer to support.

          Thank you for that.

  7. Ron Glick

    I think we need to stop talking about Schilling expanding in Davis. The company would have committed to expanding in Davis in 2014 before the collapse in oil prices began if it had not been for Measure R. Measure R creates a process that guarantees Davis is not open for business no matter what the Mayor was claiming at the time in 2014. He we are almost six years later still debating what a project should entail when it goes on the ballot. Of the three proposals that originated under the RFP only one remains willing to continue trying to move ahead in Davis. Another of the three is moving ahead with its project but in the next town over, a town that is actually open for business.

    As long as Davis remains closed to peripheral development under Measure R this is all an exercise in Sisyphean repetition.

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      “I think we need to stop talking about Schilling expanding in Davis. ”

      I wasn’t. I used them as an example of the problem, not as a possibility in the future.

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