By David M. Greenwald
In years past when campaigns have kicked off it was the time for rallies, festivities and speeches, but during times of COVID, the Measure B team pushing for the passage of the Davis Innovation and Sustainability Center, like everyone else, has gone the virtual route and had their announcement and speeches via Zoom.
The event on Wednesday was hosted by Councilmember Dan Carson who, along with Mayor Gloria Partida, served on the council subcommittee. He said on Wednesday, “DISC would bring green jobs, affordable housing, and it would rely 100 percent on clean energy.”
He added, “This will be an historic campaign over the next sixty days to convince
the public to provide us the resources to help our school system and help our city to recover from this very very serious economic recession that we’re in.”
He noted that there were already 700 endorsements for the project and he announced the support of the Yolo County Democrats.
Mayor Partida said, “This event is 20 years in the making. Twenty years ago we dreamed about harnessing the potential on the UC Davis Campus. A Yes on B vote will make that dream a reality.”
She noted that she has lived in Davis for 31 years—30 of those years as a research scientist at UC Davis.
She said, “As a scientist I understand the importance of lab space. Lab space equals opportunity. Good lab space promotes collaboration, and the advancement of discovery, and that discovery can ultimately advance quality of life.
“This project is especially unique in that the improvement of quality of life for our area is not something we would need decades and multiple trials to wait for. Almost immediately our city and the region would benefit.
“It will benefit from affordable housing,” the mayor said. “And housing that will reduce vehicle miles traveled. That in turn will reduce greenhouse gas emissions —generated from people driving into or out of work for our area.”
Justin Siegel, a 14-year resident of Davis is a science professor at UC Davis and an entrepreneur with six different startups. He noted that, while there are a lot of opportunities, there are a lot of real downfalls he’s hoping to address through DISC.
He said that through the technologies he and his research team have developed, “we have spun out six biotechnology companies and many more in the pipeline.” But he said, “unfortunately, zero of those six are currently in Davis.”
This is not due to lack of interest and he went further, saying, “This was despite effort to locate here.” Many of his employees live in Davis. “There has literally been no space for biotechnology companies,” he said. One he managed to get in the region in Sacramento, but the rest are spread throughout the country.
He said there is a lot of great expertise and there are great biotechnology companies in Davis with local management.
“A viable biotechnology ecosystem has not been realized in our region,” he said. “The number one problem with that is there is no space.”
The timing, he argued, couldn’t be better for this, with a growing interest in biotechnology companies.
He argued, “The world epicenter research-wise for that is UC Davis—a world premier institute for sustainability.” He believes with capital from the Bay Area, it should allow our ecosystem to thrive if we have that one piece—that space we need.
“Even during COVID this is the right time—in the Bay Area, biotechnology companies are considered essential businesses,” he said. “Biotechnology is where the solutions for testing and therapies and vaccines are going to come from.”
Cory Koehler, Executive Director of the Davis Chamber, also spoke. The Chamber was naturally an early supporter of the project, and he believes this is a critical time and that in the end the project will win at the ballot box.
He said that the Chamber conducted two extensive surveys with local businesses during the pandemic. They heard from 125 local businesses. Over 70 percent reported experiencing a reduction in business income and almost half saw that as significant. Twenty-five percent reported laying off staff. Many reduced operating hours or now operate remotely. Sixty percent believed the business environment became worse rather than better over the last month.
Many are receiving assistance from the federal government and most were concerned about continuing once that assistance dried up.
“For the Chamber, we took the position of supporting wholeheartedly the project. It comes at a critical time,” Koehler said. “We believe that the project will give an overall shot to the landscape to the tune of $1.7 billion.”
He sees that as “generating jobs,” “local tax revenue” and “more customers to our businesses.”
Assemblymember Cecilia Aguiar-Curry was the headline speaker. She has made economic development a priority as an assemblymember, noting that when the county and district loses projects, “my heart gets broken.”
She said, “We should be the epicenter of this whole entire district and region.
“This is about moving into the future for our children and our communities,” the assemblymember said. “For 30 years, the city of Davis… has discussed an innovation center to harness the cutting edge of technology and the capacity of UC Davis.
“That’s important to me for Davis and the entire region,” she said. “We have the opportunity right in our backyard to do this.”
She said, “DISC will help Davis realize the incredible possibility of the knowledge economy—clean tech and sustainable ag business going into this project will bring good local jobs, and help the young professionals in our community.”
She added, “We are talking about businesses solving great challenges.” She argued this is an opportunity to fight for this in our own backyard. She also believe,s with the housing provided in the project, it will help “to address the local housing affordability crisis.”
The assemblymember added, “DISC gives me hope—and we need hope right now. We’re struggling. This project is a potential possibility←this is an outstanding focus on sustainable affordable housing and will serve as a project leader for live-work spaces.”
She said, “I want us to be a leader.”
Measure B—DISC—will be on the ballot on November 3.
—David M. Greenwald reporting