Commentary: The Innovation Center Moves into a Stronger Position

Last week it seemed that DISC (Davis Innovation & Sustainability Campus) would probably face a lot stronger opposition than other recent projects. Now that’s not at all clear. Of the 67 people who spoke at public comment, just nine—that’s single digits—rose to oppose the project. While the council did not vote, it seems very likely that the project will go on the ballot with a 5-0 vote.

The council still has some work to do even after the staff and developer have worked to address a number of issues.

For example, the Open Space and Habitat Commission remains opposed to the project as currently proposed, arguing that “it will result in the substantial net loss of the following noteworthy combination of open space values.”

These include:

  • Prime agricultural land (96.6% classified as Farmland of Local Importance, including approximately 141 acres of Prime Farmland),
  • Open space on the City’s perimeter (“Urban Fringe”),
  • Potential habitat for sensitive species such as Swainson’s hawk (California Threatened), burrowing owl (Species of Special Concern), and white-tailed kite (Fully Protected) (“Biological Resources”),
  • Views of significant landmarks, namely the Sierra Nevada and the Sacramento skyline (“Scenic Resources”) and aesthetic qualities more generally,
  • Open space and habitat opportunities on seven of the entire City-owned twenty-five acres in the Northwest corner of the site (“Mace 25”), and
  • Open space and habitat opportunities on the Howatt-Clayton Ranch, proposed as water runoff storage.

However, it is worth noting that the last two are off the table at this point.

The city has clarified, “There is no agreement to use the Mace 25 property.” Moreover, “The city is not obligated to give the Easement to the developer.” And “in the future, the city will study the use of the Mace 25 property” and decide what to do with it separate from this development.

“Approving DISC does not result in granting an easement,” they stated.

The Natural Resources Commission (NRC) has also pushed for stronger language, with a memo approved by the commission last Friday that the Vanguard reported on earlier this week.

Richard McCann from the NRC, during the meeting, said that while not endorsing the project, “I found that the staff report that was revised and released… went a long ways towards achieving what the NRC has requested for the council to adopt.”

He expressed two elements of concern still—wanting natural gas to be only be provided at the specific request of tenants, to avoid the use of natural gas throughout the project. Second, he wanted stronger language than “the developer commits,” to make the language truly enforceable.

McCann then clarified in a comment on the Vanguard, “Unfortunately, while the Staff Report appeared to incorporate many of the NRC recommendations, the lack of language to enforce those provisions led to the developer essentially dismissing most of these recommendations as ‘infeasible.’

“Without legally enforceable language, the Staff additions as ‘commitments’ are meaningless. I can’t support moving the project forward without the City being able to force the developer to include these elements.”

However, that might not be an intractable problem. Council is still getting guidance on the language “developer commits” versus the developer “shall” which would seem to be a legal requirement. It would seem to behoove the developers and the city to nail down the language to compel the developers to comply with those requirements.

One issue I strongly disagree with is the notion that somehow this process has been rushed. I think that’s largely the nature of Measure R votes because, to get measures on the ballot, they require timelines.

At the end of the timeline, it always feels rushed, kind of like you always want one more day to write a term paper or study for an exam.

But arguing against that is the fact that the proposal came back a year ago. The subcommittee worked on it for eight months. The Planning Commission noted that this was a project they were well familiar with. There were a lot of changes and improvements along the way and the public is ultimately going to weigh the project based on its merits, not the inside baseball players’ complaint about process.

Traffic is a problem that will not go away. I believe that it contributed to the narrow defeat of Nishi 1.0 despite the strong proposal to circumvent it—and in this case, the city along with the developers have put forth a number of mitigation measures that can help.

In its favor is a relatively strong transit plan, a shuttle from the bus station, and mitigations to help alleviate traffic congestion. In addition, the project benefits from a slow down of traffic concerns in conjunction with the pandemic that will help it, because the public will not be constantly reminded about traffic issues.

Further, there may be shifts in the way companies do business in the future—more telecommuting and less overall traffic.

Greg Rowe pointed out at the Planning Commission: “I still have questions about the 24,000 trips per day, but the thing is that’s 20 to 25 years from now. To me there is time for the city, council, Caltrans and the Developer to figure that out.”

That is a key point that a lot of people forget—with the long build out, we have time to adjust on the fly. There are not going to suddenly be 24,000 trips added to the corridor tomorrow or even ten years from now.

Is this enough to pass the project? Like the last two projects that passed, I do not sense a huge amount of opposition to the project. Will that ramp up with a new campaign the next four months? It could. They certainly have better issues than they did with either project in 2018.

But ultimately the community may feel the need for more revenue, and housing trumps concerns about traffic and greenhouse gas emissions. We shall see.

—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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26 Comments

  1. Ron Oertel

    One way to determine the “makeup” of those speaking in support is to look for similarities in what they say, as well as arguments that don’t make sense.

    Such as, arguing for “more jobs and housing” in a development that actually creates/exacerbates a housing shortage, according to the SEIR.  (Actually, that lack of logic applies to David’s support, as well.)

    This would also apply regarding current students (arguing for “jobs”), who wouldn’t even be around by the time that anything is actually built at the site.

    It would also apply regarding those who (simultaneously) claim to be concerned about local contributions to greenhouse gasses.

    I’m not seeing a lot of activity on the Vanguard, either way.  Perhaps it’s alienated too many regarding David’s support for every development proposal that comes along (while attacking some of those in the opposition), and is becoming irrelevant itself.

    1. David Greenwald

      I heard three categories of people speaking for the project: (1) Students and student groups who see this as a job producer, (2) Business community who see this as a driver of economics, (3) Activists and supporters who are supporting the project.

      You say we aren’t seeing a lot of activity on the Vanguard – not seeing a huge amount of activity period – not in letters to the editor or op-eds. Right now the big issues are COVID and policing. Be interesting to see if that changes. And how it impacts the voting on this come November.

      1. Ron Oertel

        Regarding the first group, have you checked into any “developer involvement” with them?  Also, what (exactly) was “pizza-gate”, a few years ago? (Those are normally the types of things that reporters look into, before “gushing” about resulting “support”.)

        The second group (as a whole) supports EVERY development proposal that comes along.  (You’re referring to the Barry Broome-types.)

        The third group consists of you, and a couple of council members in particular.

        Your “fiscal profit” (of which 3 FBC commissioners couldn’t even agree with the simple/restrained statement that came out of that commission) is going to “disappear” regardless, when another peripheral housing development is approved to “make-up” for the housing shortage that will be created by this one.

         

        1. David Greenwald

          I did check into developer involvement and don’t believe anything untoward happened.

          Pizza-gate was a campaign ploy by the Covell Village developers in 2005 to use pizza inducements to get students to vote.

          “Your “fiscal profit” (of which 3 FBC commissioners couldn’t even agree with the simple/restrained statement that came out of that commission) is going to “disappear” regardless, when another peripheral housing development is approved to “make-up” for the housing shortage that will be created by this one.”

          People are entitled to their opinions.

        2. Ron Oertel

          I did check into developer involvement and don’t believe anything untoward happened.

          Please elaborate regarding what steps you took, and how you define “untoward” regarding this.

          As you know, another commenter noted developer involvement with the College Democrats, as I recall.

          I believe that some also have connections with a development advocacy company (sort of like a public relations firm), in Davis (whose name escapes me, at the moment). I suspect that you know the name of that company.

        3. Alan Miller

          I provided you the information I am comfortable providing.

          That’s an interesting comment.  I wonder was information DG is uncomfortable in providing.

    2. Richard McCann

      Ron O

      Why don’t you advocate for EVERYONE to leave town? That would solve the jobs/housing balance. Apparently every job creates costs and every house creates costs that are greater than the revenues and financial benefits. Its truly amazing that our economy even functions today.

      1. Ron Oertel

        Seems like an unnecessary comment, although the current arrangement doesn’t seem to be working well in other cities/counties, either.

        There’s a difference between personal income (and costs), vs. city income (and costs).

  2. Ron Oertel

    However, it is worth noting that the last two are off the table at this point.

    That is factually incorrect, regarding the developer’s proposed use of the 25-acre city-owned site. 

    It is “to be determined”.

     

      1. Ron Oertel

        Again, factually incorrect, in regard to DISC.

        The developer’s proposed use of the 25-acre site is part of the DISC proposal.

        The developer, of course, could choose to make it “off the table” before the council makes its decision. However, it doesn’t currently appear that this will occur.

  3. Jim Frame

    In its favor is a relatively strong transit plan, a shuttle from the bus station

    Without legally enforceable language, there will be no shuttle from the bus station.

      1. Richard McCann

        More than just in the Baseline. It needs the language “developer shall”, not “developer commits to.” Enough of niceties. We have been exploited too often.

        1. Alan Miller

          Enough of niceties. We have been exploited too often.

          Agree.  If it turns out these so-called mitigations are not required and do not happen, I will haunt future city council meetings and annoy the council members of the future regarding the sins committed by council-members past.

          In other words:  no nice-to-haves-oops-it-wasn’t-required’s.  Do thy job and make all these words REQUIRED by the developer, with no squirrely language as to “is it required or not?”  We are not naive anymore!

  4. Todd Edelman

    Most GHG’s in Davis are from transportation, not from buildings. Driving gas guzzling SUV’s to an all solar-electric facility is not neutral anything. Electric cars – powered from renewables – don’t create GHG’s but they do create congestion as well as danger to other road users.

    I am curious why no one from UC Davis specifically identifying themselves as a transportation studies major said anything during public comments.

    For my comments below I am referencing the BTSSC recommendations that start on page 63 of the staff report:

    In its favor is a relatively strong transit plan

    THERE are no agreements with any providers, no concrete numbers for contributions…

    a shuttle from the bus [sic] station

    AGAIN, they are not commiting to paying for the whole thing, or even a specific amount… from the Depot or Campus

    mitigations to help alleviate traffic congestion

    AS I have mentioned previously herein, the applicant exaggerates the short time it takes to cycle to Downtown and Campus, and they explicit refuse to contribute to any improvements on 2nd St., which is the route for this exaggerated duration, has very fast motor vehicle speeds and no physical separation between motor vehicles and bikes.

    The applicant is doing nothing concrete for ped-bike connectivity aside from a grade-separated crossing on Mace, which is essentially like creating a front door to the project. Big deal. They commit to doing some studies, but they commit no funding for infrastructure. Nothing to make it safer to get to the closest supermarket by bicycle. Nothing for bikes share. Just a TDM plan.

    They rejected nearly all the BTSSC’s proposals for parking reductions. They say the market won’t bear paid commercial parking, but then the rest of us have to bear the traffic that’s the result of that. During the comment period my fellow Commissioner Joe Bolte said that any projected spillover due to parking restrictions can be dealt with using parking restrictions like in other parts of Davis. Afterwards the applicant repeated the same projection about spillover.

    Open Space and Habitat Commissioner Roberta Millstein used the metaphor of a magic wand during her critical comments at the meeting: A TDM plan and a few other bits does little to get people out of their cars if there’s “free” parking at both ends of a journey. Most people have this at home and most will have this at DISC for many years (the applicant said there might be paid parking starting at the third phase.)

    1. Ron Oertel

      They rejected nearly all the BTSSC’s proposals for parking reductions. They say the market won’t bear paid commercial parking, but then the rest of us have to bear the traffic that’s the result of that.

      I believe that a cost (dollar-figure) could actually be applied to that (regarding lost time, productivity, wear-and-tear on vehicles, gas, etc.).

      One probable “difference” between me and you is that I believe there’s no realistic way to make this a less car-centric development.  There’s a reason it’s adjacent to a freeway, far from downtown.

      For that matter, there’d never be “dense” housing this far-away from the city center, under “normal” circumstances. The nearby developments are significantly less-dense, as would anything else on the periphery that would be built as a result of this development.

    2. Todd Edelman

      Correction: Before the BTSSC created its Baseline Features proposal the applicant agreed to create a bike path on the inside of the Mace Curve, from approx. Alhambra to Frances Harper Junior High. That’s nice, but it does nothing to make DISC “close” to UCD Campus by bike.

      DISC will connect to Greenbelt paths that lead towards Campus, but these paths terminate well east of Pole Line and e.g. the connection to Campus via 5th St. will take at least 20 min., and that’s just to the MU area. The more western side of campus where a lot of the agricultural facilities are located is a lot further. Who’s going to ride a bike for this journey if they have access to a car? In every housing situation I’ve lived in in Davis, every student who had a bike and a car, everyone almost always used the car when parking was easy or fee-free on the other side — employees working at DISC will demand their employer pays their parking permit costs if they have to travel to western parts of campus frequently. A shuttle will take too long.

      Ron Oertel wrote: “One probable “difference” between me and you is that I believe there’s no realistic way to make this a less car-centric development. There’s a reason it’s adjacent to a freeway, far from downtown.”

      The “Google Bus” made it clear to Bay Area transport activists that good transportation cannot solve bad spatial planning, or where new things are built. The density to the east is such that any dedicated transit solution on an HOV lane or better on I-80 will need a lot of Park & Ride facilities. These may be relatively close to residences but every new stop lengthens journey time, or at least feels annoying (just like it will for every Capitol Corridor passenger who travels from the east and passes DISC before doubling back by shuttle).

    3. Ron Oertel

      During the comment period my fellow Commissioner Joe Bolte said that any projected spillover due to parking restrictions can be dealt with using parking restrictions like in other parts of Davis. Afterwards the applicant repeated the same projection about spillover.

      For that matter, there’s a cost (dollar-figure) associated with any new parking restrictions (and enforcement), which is not included in the EPS analysis.

      It also ends up impacting “visitors” to existing residences.

      Who’s going to ride a bike for this journey if they have access to a car?

      Very few, if they can park there.

    4. Ron Oertel

      The “Google Bus” made it clear to Bay Area transport activists that good transportation cannot solve bad spatial planning, or where new things are built. The density to the east is such that any dedicated transit solution on an HOV lane or better on I-80 will need a lot of Park & Ride facilities. These may be relatively close to residences but every new stop lengthens journey time, or at least feels annoying (just like it will for every Capitol Corridor passenger who travels from the east and passes DISC before doubling back by shuttle).

      Another good point.

      Also, I would think that any existing “express” or “regular-service” Yolobus users (from Davis to Sacramento) would be annoyed at having to make another stop.

      (Oh, and put yet another dollar-figure on that lost time, as well.) 😉

  5. David Greenwald

    ***Readers Please Note***

    We are going to be shifting our moderation policy over the next few weeks.  One change today is one of our staffers will put comments into pending if deemed potentially objectionable.  Pending moderation means exactly that – pending moderation.  Please do not attempt to repost.  The amount of workload right now necessitates this new approach.  We will hopefully have a revised policy in the next few weeks and once the new moderator is used to the forum, they will make most of the decisions themselves.  Please bear with us.

    1. Alan Miller

      New moderator!

      Are they left leaning, politically?

      Do they believe in the first amendment for private blogs?

      Will this very comment be “deemed” “potentially objectionable” ?

      Do they also own a plant store?

    2. Alan Miller

      Pending moderation means exactly that – pending moderation.

      I have never once had a message marked for “pending moderation” not be deleted.  So I say it means “will be deleted”.

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