If public comment were a match between two prized fighters, they would have stopped it long before we got to the end of it. In the end, 67 people spoke about the Davis Innovation & Sustainability Campus (DISC) project, and only 9 of them declared their clear opposition—with another small handful taking no official position although seeming to be more positive than negative about the project.
The opposition, it seemed, largely dried up and was limited for the most part to a pocket full of people who have opposed this and other projects from the start. That is not to say that opposition is gone—if and when the project gets placed on the ballot, there will be a fierce battle, to be sure.
The council has yet to really weigh in. On Tuesday, they took public comment and asked a preliminary round of questions.
Incoming Mayor Gloria Partida noted that a public commenter said that they failed in this process, and she said she was going to push back against that, “We approached this with a very open mind as far as we heard everything that was coming out of the commissions.
“We had a lot of conversations really trying to find the balance between what was feasible and where we could make the best choices for everyone,” she said.
Dan Carson added, “We all made a lot of changes that made this a much better project.”
He said that they could not accommodate all the changes, in part because the folks had differing recommendations that “were just inalterably in collision with each other.”
Councilmember Carson noted that someone suggested the city not pursue this because “it’s in a world of COVID-19.”
He said, “COVID-19, the world we’re in right now, is all the more evidence we ever needed—we have to pursue jobs, housing, and revenues for our city. We need to diversify and the campus is a great local partner—we can help them but help ourselves by moving off into ag tech, the new kinds of mobility solutions that are coming along.
“There is area after area where UC Davis excels,” he said. “We can turn through a project like this, to new products that will generate a monstrous amount of sales tax for our city, as well as help the county, our library system and our school system.”
The concerns were acknowledged and the feeling, at least right now, is that they addressed a lot of those.
Councilmember Carson said, “We pushed to push the 25-acre ag buffer off the parcel.”
That was a big issue. Ultimately the development agreement will see the placement of the 150-foot ag buffer around the perimeter of the property. The city and developers stressed, ‘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.
Dan Carson noted one commenter said that the council ignored the commission’s recommendations, while her colleague on the Open Space Commission had that evening for the first time come out and endorsed the project based on the changes made by the city and developer.
The developer made the point that the entire project has been shaped based on discussions with community stakeholders and the commissions, and these resulted in a long and robust set of commitments.
Ron Oertel said, “I’m really disappointed. This kind of proposal with the thousands of parking spots, it really has no place in a city like Davis. Assuming you are concerned with local contributions to greenhouse gasses, not to mention the contributions to traffic, etc.”
Pam Gunnell argued that this project had morphed into a residential project with housing and had done so at the 11th hour.
Larry Guenther said, “I do not feel that the DISC proposal is ready to be put before the voters. There are many good aspects and many things that need to be improved. The comments from the city commissions point this out very clearly, as will many of the comments from the community this evening.”
Roberta Millstein argued that Measure R attempts to assure “well vetted, well thought out projects to vote on.” She argued that the DISC proposal “is not well vetted” and “well thought out,” arguing, “It was a very different proposal from MRIC and yet it was given mere months to be vetted.”
She noted that commissions have been forced to double their meetings during a pandemic, and they have made many recommendations. “Those recommendations have largely been ignored,” she said.
But these voices were in the exceeding minority.
Indeed, Richard McCann from the Natural Resources Commission (NRC), while not endorsing the project, said, “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.
Alan Hirsch, a strong advocate of trees, expressed strong support for the improvements made to the project as well.
The council pushed back on the notion that changes were being made at the 11th hour to the fundamental nature of the project. In contrast to the point made by Pam Gunnell, it was noted that housing was included on the project a year out. Moreover, the subcommittee has spent eight months working on the project and attempting to address a myriad of public concerns, and concerns expressed by the commissions.
In addition to the Planning Commission, which supported the project on a 7-0 vote, the Finance and Budget Commission majority supported the financial recommendations, members of the NRC got most of their requests, and a few members of the Open Space Commission expressed support for the project as well.
At the request of the Social Services Commission and other input, the developer committed to 153 affordable housing units, 125 of them on site, and offered both rental and for-sale housing.
The developers have also agreed to several environmental innovations, becoming the first innovation center to commit to using 100 percent renewable, all electric housing for the 850 units, and they have committed to utilize the city’s reach code which enables them to exceed LEED Gold standards.
The item will return to council next week and enable them to put into baseline features additional commitments and concerns that the council may have before putting the matter, and it would seem before the voters in November.
—David M. Greenwald reporting