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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