Despite concerns about a truncated policy, planning commissioners remarked that they had actually spent so much time on what is now known as the Davis Innovation & Sustainability Campus that they know more about this project than most coming before them. Several commissioners went so far as to remark that they had been skeptical, but are now strongly in support of the project.
With the commission taking public comment last week, this week they asked a series of questions from staff and consultants before ending up with their own deliberation. The project will move to the city council in two weeks where they have to act by July 7 to put the matter to a vote.
Several commissioners noted that they had never had another project where they knew more about it.
Commissioner Steve Mikesell noted this is the fourth hearing he has been involved with on this project.
“I feel like there has never been another project that I’ve spent as much time on, and I feel like I really understand the details,” he said.
Greg Rowe noted, “We’ve been talking about this for a long time, I think it’s time to put it on the ballot and let the voters decide.” He added, “That’s the exact intent of Measure R.”
Emily Shandy had a similar thought, “We’ve been debating this project for a while—it’s come before us multiple times.”
She pointed out the public has had a chance to weigh in and the commission has “elevated and poked at those concerns” and being “able to push the applicant forward on that will be the best that it can be for the city of Davis.
“At this point if this is the project that they want to take before the voters and try their luck at the ballot, we should empower them to do that.”
One of the areas the commission remained skeptical of was the plan for utilizing portions of the city-owned Mace 25 as mitigation land.
As Commissioner Emily Shandy put it, “I continue to struggle with the conservation easement on the Mace 25 parcel.” She noted that she heard a lot of justification for why it’s legal, but she said, “I have not really heard anything to help me understand why this is so important to this project that it is worth all of these circular conversations when, from where I am sitting, we have heard loud and clear from the community already that this is not how the Davis community wants that city land that was purchased with that funding to be used.”
She called it a “puzzling choice to be bickering over this six-acre easement.”
Greg Rowe said that deferring a decision on this 6.8 acres “is probably a good idea” and noted a land swap would make sense, but later added, “I still think the developer, if they want to get past the Measure R vote, they should really think seriously about taking those seven acres off the table.”
Darryl Rutherford had a similar concern about the Mace 25 property.
“I’m really challenged with the Mace-25 property,” he said but added, “I appreciate where its gotten as having the commitment to take on the buffer if needed through the General Plan update. But I’m still a little concerned about it.”
Steve Mikesell noted that this project will help develop a high-tech R&D industry in the city. He noted that he was moved heavily by the letter from Pam Marrone who almost left the city of Davis with Marrone Bio Innovations.
Marrone, writing to the city last week, noted that she was fortunate when she outgrew the buildings on Second Street that “we were fortunate (although not good for Davis) that Bayer moved my old company AgraQuest to West Sacramento so I could take over their facilities for Marrone Bio.”
She added, “With UC Davis right here, Davis has always had tremendous potential to create an innovation economy, but Davis continues to underperform in our potential to attract, retain and grow startups and other R&D-related businesses (clean tech and agtech, biotech) because of a lack of suitable facilities.”
From her perspective, “The current proposal by DISC (The Davis Innovation & Sustainability Campus) would be a badly needed addition to Davis to create jobs and grow our entrepreneurial sector.”
Herman Boschken was more skeptical about the need for this project, arguing the potential that this simply “becomes another business park” and that it “has the potential to become a cannibalizing agent for businesses already existing in town.”
His belief is “there’s really an oversupply of business parks that claim to be devoted to innovation and technology.” He said, “We have three just around here.”
Chair Cheryl Essex said, “I’ve become really convinced that this project is really needed now.” She noted, “We received so many from organizations and people that were indicating how important it was to have a project like this in the city.”
She noted comments from “several technology developers that were looking for space” really making “a convincing argument that this project is sorely needed from the technology side.”
Essex also cited the fiscal benefit as well as the need for “permanent jobs, internships, and housing.”
Greg Rowe noted his background as a Economic Development director, and said he learned “these companies want certainty, speed, and availability.” He said, “They’re not interested in buildings that need a lot of renovation. They don’t want to wait till a site that’s cleared for them—they want to move now.”
He noted that Schilling has three properties, is looking to consolidate their facilities and, because there is nothing in Davis that fits their needs, “they are looking at moving all three of their facilities under one roof to West Sacramento.”
But, overall, the commissioners were pleased with the project.
Darryl Rutherford said, with respect to the affordable housing portion, that he was “pleasantly surprised and pleased where it’s at right now given what we’ve heard proposed.” He said, “I know we always push for more. I think we’ve gotten it to a point where I’m pretty comfortable with the affordable housing component.
“I’m not sure what can be done at this part of the process,” he said. “I wish there was more that could be done, that this was workforce centered housing. We need some assurance that this is going to be something that benefit the people who are working there.”
Steve Mikesell said, like every project, this project has both advantages and disadvantages.
“I think in this case, the advantages are much more numerous than the disadvantages,” he said. Among them is “having a net benefit to the city of more than $5 million per year on build out.” He noted that this project won’t solve the city’s fiscal problems, but “it will help the city get through and get onto solid financial ground.”
Mikesell, however, expressed concern that this was taking a lot of good ag land and that it was taking the city away from its “normal geometry” in terms of the location on the periphery.
Nevertheless, he concluded that “the advantages far outweighs the disadvantages.”
Herman Boschken stated, “For me there are so many hypotheticals that it’s hard to know what the outcome is going to look like.”
Greg Rowe said he came into this “consistently opposed to it.” He expressed concerns about how the 850 housing units would be used and whether it would become UC Davis student housing or, like the Cannery, filled with Bay Area transplants.
He said, “I still have questions about the 24,000 trips per day,” but added “the thing is that’s 20 to 25 years from now.” He said there’s time for the city and others “to figure that out.”
Rowe recalled 11 years ago when they broke ground on Terminal B at the Sacramento airport and they said “we’re not building this terminal for today, we’re building it for the next 50 years.
“I still have a lot of reservations about the project,” he said. But “Davis has one of the most highly educated populations in the country… and I think there is really a need for a dynamic innovation culture in Davis to match the needs and abilities of our populace.” He noted, “I don’t think we can predict what’s going to be here in 20 or 25 years, but I don’t think we should be reluctant to change or to take a chance on getting there.”
The commission unanimously backed a resolution that recommends that the city council take various actions to approve and annex the project.
The council takes this up in two weeks to decide whether to put the project before the voters.
—David M. Greenwald reporting