By Dan Carson
Every community faces certain events that, in retrospect, turn out to be big turning points for their residents. The decision we face as City of Davis voters on November 3 on Measure B is one of those moments. I urge you to vote yes for the Davis Innovation & Sustainability Campus (DISC) to address our city’s long-term funding gap, create new affordable housing and approve the most environmentally friendly business park in the nation with 100% green power.
Like many communities, we face significant fiscal challenges. We love our parks and greenbelts and bike paths and other civic amenities but lack the money to sustain them. We have a demographic skewed to students and seniors who don’t buy as much and therefore aren’t generating as much city sales tax revenue as others. We lack sufficient industry and retail to make up for this and to help support our city.
These fiscal challenges have gotten even worse because of the pandemic. Many local residents lost their jobs and are still struggling to pay their bills. We have already lost Bistro 33 and DeVere’s and businesses all over town are fighting for their lives. Our options to solve these problems are limited.
Tax increases? We are grateful voters approved Measure Q last March to keep the existing sales taxes we have, but the Covid recession means new taxes have virtually no chance of passage, probably for many years.
Budget cuts? We took swift action to respond to a projected $20 million loss of city revenue with real reductions to our programs and projects and furloughs for city staff. But further cuts could aggravate impacts to city services.
We won’t truly achieve fiscally sustainability without our continued pursuit of economic development in our downtown and through innovative projects like DISC. For two decades experts have studied the issue closely and concluded that we must diversify our economy by taking full advantage of the extraordinary opportunity that comes with having one of the most important research universities in the world, UC Davis, in our backyard.
Unfortunately, right now we don’t now have enough properly zoned and appropriately located land available in one place to create an innovation center that could stimulate critical research and generate the tax monies our city needs to become more sustainable. Time and again major Davis-created companies, like Calgene in 2014, left town for other cities to secure ready-to-go commercial sites of sufficient size, denying us the chance at extraordinary sales and property tax revenues they could generate to support our city’s needs.
DISC could harness the incredible brainpower of campus graduate students and professors making breakthroughs in ag and seed technology, clean transportation, adaptation of our planet to climate change, and other important fields.
An independent fiscal and economic analysis by experts says such an innovation enter can succeed here and that the payoff from DISC would be dramatic:
— A $1.7 billion (that’s billion with a “b”) ongoing annual economic impact within the City of Davis including many new local green jobs for the City of Davis and our region. The economic gains would spill over beyond the DISC site to add jobs, retail sales, and investment elsewhere in our city.
— A more than $5 million net fiscal benefit per year to the city ‘s General Fund to support critical city services and fix our streets and bike paths and parks. The Finance and Budget Commission confirmed the project would help make our city more financially sustainable.
— Contributions of $77.5 million in Roadway Impact Fees infrastructure plus a $250,000 per year revenue stream for transit, shuttles to Amtrak, roadway repairs, and bicycle/pedestrian safety. This supplements the unknown but significant dollars the builder must pay out of its own pocket for such traffic improvements as an on-site transit plaza and a bike/pedestrian grade separated crossing of Mace Boulevard.
— About $1.3 million in new revenues annually would flow to our school. Yolo County, the library system, Yolo Habitat Conservancy, and other local agencies would collect more property and parcel taxes and fees.
These fiscal benefits grew from estimates of a few years ago for reasons that are explained in public reports. The addition of 850 units of workforce housing our community sorely needs will generate more property taxes. Estimated sales tax revenues increased because Davis voters renewed Measure Q; outdated prior estimates assumed Q failed and that the city lost out on those monies.
Davis Chamber of Commerce and the Downtown Davis Business Association support DISC because it will help provide us a path out our local Covid recession. UC Davis leaders support DISC because it will assist in their technology transfers efforts. They know that research and advanced manufacturing firms prize locations like DISC close to leading research universities. UC Davis is now attracting $950 million a year in research grants and contracts.
As noted above, this is a turning point for our city, one that someday might be viewed as being almost as important as the arrival of the Pacific Railroad, our incorporation as a city, and the opening of the University State Farm (now UC Davis) next door. As we recover from the economic body-blow from Covid-19, there has never been a more important time to go after new jobs, affordable housing, and the city revenues we need. Please vote Yes on B.
Dan Carson is a member of the Davis City Council
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