It is interesting—and frankly kind of nice—to see that Bob Dunning on Friday and Sunday this week has waded into the issue of Aggie Research Campus. This coming week’s council meeting deals almost exclusively with COVID-19 related issues, but there are going to be other issues that get taken up in the next several months and this is probably one of them.
Mr. Dunning addresses a few issues that are likely to come up.
One he notes: “Every time I see the words ‘Aggie Research Campus’ I assume it has something to do with UC Davis.”
As someone who has wanted to see UC Davis partner with the city on a research park, and believes that the university has missed the ball by not pushing for the World Food Center at ARC, I can understand the confusion.
But make no mistake, while there is no official tie between the research park and the campus, there will be a strong tie in fact.
As we have been noting for years now, this is all about technology transfer—taking research that happens on the UC Davis campus and spinning it off into new technology and startups and larger companies that can develop and put products on the market.
UC Davis is a huge magnetic pull for potential companies to move to Davis, hire employees, and create funding streams for the city. But right now the efforts at doing that are hamstrung by lack of space for local companies to move into and a long and uncertain planning process.
To understand how important a connection UC Davis has, let’s look at the announcement from about eight years ago, when Mori Seiki broke ground with their 195,000 square-foot manufacturing plant in Davis.
Davis had to beat out an Illinois site near Chicago to land its biggest coup to date.
Mark Mohr, the president of DMG Mori at the time, talked about the advantages that Davis had.
One is “a lot of fresh graduates” from UC Davis. Right now there are a huge number of STEM field graduates from UC Davis and some of those graduates will become interns, and later employees, at the new manufacturing plant. But right now, UC Davis graduates represent among the lowest retention rates in the country.
The announcement from several years ago noted another huge advantage: Mori Seiki was a big supporter of a UCD lab in the department of mechanical and aeronautical engineering.
In other words, bringing in companies will help the university, help students at the university—and the companies are helped by the supply of high quality workers.
Enrique Lavernia, Dean of the College of Engineering at UCD, described the move: “It’s a pathway to create what I call a regional economic ecosystem… The university provides innovation, the students provide intellectual horsepower, industry provides jobs … it’s a self-supporting success.”
So I think the name is appropriate, given that UC Davis is going to be the regional draw for companies and the producer of the innovation and the students.
Of course, in order for it to be approved, the voters must be sold on the project.
As Bob Dunning notes: “One question that every proposed development faces is traffic.”
He notes that Matt Keasling, the attorney for the project, acknowledged at the Planning Commission, “Traffic is obviously going to be the real issue we have to look at.”
One of the answers that the developers have is “having all that housing on site will allow those who are employed at the Aggie Research Campus to live where they work, which should substantially cut down on traffic impacts.”
As Mr. Dunning points out: “It’s unknown, though, whether folks will actually wish to live where they work or if they’ll want to get away from the job site when the five o’clock whistle blows.”
He notes, “I don’t wish to have a pillow and a cot inside the world headquarters of The Davis Enterprise, but maybe some of my colleagues would.” (Of course Mr. Dunning also primarily works from home, not the office, which brings up an interesting point…)
The advent of motor vehicles and mass transportation was a revolution that allowed people to escape the noisy and crowded cities and live in the suburbs and commute to work.
But while that freed up people to move out of crowded cities, it also produced things like long commute times. It created larger VMT (vehicle miles traveled) and GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions.
Living closer to work frees up time that can be spent doing other things, which factors into concerns for live-work balance. This is definitely a topic that should be engaged far more as a community.
But basically, from a smart development standpoint, putting housing with jobs is better for the environment. And from a live-work balance, putting housing with jobs is better for balance in one’s life because, instead of a full day of work and an hour or two extra of commuting, they can essentially be home once work ends.
That is certainly not going to fix all of the traffic concerns—the EIR, which we will discuss in more detail at a later point, lays out what the developer will need to do to mitigate traffic impacts; it will be costly and elaborate, but ultimately workable.
Finally, Bob Dunning cites a statement from Planning Commission Chairwoman Cheryl Essex.
She “was concerned about the cost of housing at the campus and the wages that employees will be earning.”
She said, “Some employees will be folks cleaning rooms in the hotel and serving food and some will be janitorial staff and some will be highly skilled scientists. I would like to see an affordable housing plan that actually ties the wages paid to the affordable housing plan so there is a true connect there.”
That leads Bob Dunning to ask: “[I]s the new standard in Davis going to be that every new business coming to town will have to guarantee that all its workers, top to bottom, will be able to afford their own homes in our city? Seriously?”
I would not recommend the word “guarantee” but I think that we need to start taking the issue of jobs-housing balance more seriously than we have. One of the big reasons we have so much commuting is that we have a large number of people who can afford to live in Davis, but their jobs are outside of town. They naturally drive out of town in the morning and come home in the evening.
On the other hand, we have a large number of people, especially the non-faculty people at the university who work in Davis but cannot afford to live here, who drive from their homes outside of town and drive into town.
If we had housing that those people could afford, it would alleviate a lot of traffic congestion. If we had jobs for more people who live in town and could afford to continue to live in town, that would do the same.
I think that is what Ms. Essex is talking about—providing housing for people who are on the lower end, not necessarily guaranteeing it.
—David M. Greenwald reporting