Guest Commentary: DISC Is Our Chance at Environmental and Fiscal Sustainability

Councilmember Dan Carson

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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Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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  1. Keith Olsen

     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

    WOW, it’s the second coming of Christ I tell ya.

  2. Tia Will


    I know you are a strong proponent of this project. However, you are also a city council member. I strongly believe it is the duty of elected officials to be completely open and honest with their constituents. I know you are someone who will have done your homework. What I would like to see from you now, is as complete and thorough a description of the downsides to this project. I think it is only reasonable that those of us who are not conversant with economic development have, from their elected officials, a balanced discussion of any proposal having as much impact on the city as DISC will, for both good and bad.

    1. David Greenwald

      Isn’t this another downside to the Measure J process – if you believe that a project is vital and you want it to pass, it doesn’t lend itself to a balanced discussion one month before the election.

      1. Bill Marshall

        David… you miss the important point… Dan Carson is not just a CC member, but a citizen and voter… he has no obligation to ‘balance’ the discussion (at any time!), when speaking as Dan Carson, citizen/voter.  Electeds don’t give up their 1st amendment rights as a condition of assuming office…

        You are conflating Measure B with measure D… not sure how I’ll vote on B, but there are 3 strong “NO” votes on D in this household…

          1. David Greenwald

            Now I’m confused.

            This article is on DISC.

            Tia’s comment wanted the downsides to the project.

            My comment pointed out that he was in fact authorized to speak for the council on DISC based on their vote and his position on the subcommittee.

            Not sure how that morphed into Measure D.

      2. Eric Gelber

        Isn’t this another downside to the Measure J process

        Yes it is. The place for a meaningful discussion of the downsides of the project was when it came up before the City Council—when something could have been done to address them. If Dan Carson didn’t bring up those issues then, it would be unseemly for him to bring them up now. Under Measure J, the Council is able to abdicate its responsibility and pass the buck to voters, who are given only the alternatives of yes or no.

        1. Tia Will

          I respect your point about the optimal time to discuss pros and cons. But I see the citywide vote as another opportunity to consider the project in its entirety. Of course, Dan Carson has the right to present his opinion in any format he chooses. I would prefer complete discussion at every stage in this process as the vote represents another, distinct phase & final phase in project assessment.

          I also realize this is a minority position. I, by nature and training, will always prefer a cooperative to a competitive process. It is who I am..

        2. Eric Gelber

           But I see the citywide vote as another opportunity to consider the project in its entirety.

          Yes, to “consider” it, but to what end? It’s too late to address any glaring or even minor issues, other than to reject the project in its entirety. This is one of the problems I have with the existing initiative/referendum process, generally. Say what you will about the legislative process, it provides opportunities for public input and, significantly, for compromise or modifications at all stages of the process, up to the final vote. But this is a topic for another day.

      3. Tia Will


        I do not see it as much a downside to Measure J, as I do to our simple-minded adversarial system, both in our judicial system but also in our economic system. We divide into the good guys vs the bad guys on virtually all issues. We oversimplify and polarize virtually all issues and then fight for the “rightness” of our own position, even when we know full well what we are doing.

        1. Keith Echols

          I hate to break it to you but have you seen the electorate?  Most people to varying degrees are fairly simple and tribal about how they view things.  So “this good”…”that bad” is how most people view things and vote.  Most people aren’t policy wonks that view the complexity of issues.  That’s why we’re supposed to have leaders and administrators to sort all that stuff out for the people.  The leaders are supposed to break down the issues for the people as best they can and then have the people elect the leaders to address the issues.

          In most cities there is a 20 year General Plan.  That plan addresses future growth.  It provides what kinds of conditions are set forth for growth, what kind of growth…where growth…etc…  The electorate elect leaders to implement their policies that ultimately are negotiated with nuance between the leaders.  But good god…the electorate’s whims and understanding of policy and economic growth shouldn’t be tested with a new measure every time there’s an opportunity for growth.

      4. Richard McCann

        David, so you point out the inability to have a nuanced discussion about Measure R/J projects. Isn’t that another reason to vote against Measure D to at least send a message of dissatisfaction?

        1. Bill Marshall

          Works for me… instead of locking an extension in for 10 years… if needed, a new version could be discussed/crafted in the context of a GP update… instead of one leading or lagging the other…

    2. Bill Marshall

      WOW!  Carson happens to be a member of the CC… he is not speaking for the CC, nor in his role as a member.  Your comment,

      What I would like to see from you now, is as complete and thorough a description of the downsides to this project. I think it is only reasonable that those of us who are not conversant with economic development have, from their elected officials, a balanced discussion of any proposal having as much impact on the city as DISC will, for both good and bad.

      is ‘out of line’… IMNSHO… he has a right to his opinion, his voice,  just as you do… I see nothing deceptive, nor opaque… and I say that as someone who is somewhat ambivalent about DISC, not sure how I’ll vote on it, but comments like yours push the bubble towards “YES”…

      1. Tia Will

        Wow! Such a vitriolic response to such a simple statement of preference. I accused City Council Member Carson of absolutely nothing. I made a statement of what I would like to see. Nothing more and nothing less. If you would find a simple statement of personal preference by someone who has already stated here that I am undecided would push your vote towards a “yes” I doubt your “indecision” in the first place.

        1. Keith Echols

          Possible negatives as I see them:

          Traffic impact on Mace much is greater than expected.  The city unable to remedy the situation immediately due to funds.

          Tennant leasing projections are unable to meet projected deadlines and milestones which threaten the ongoing project’s viability.  The developer then goes back to the city to say that they need to be able to proceed with the housing development despite the restrictions in the original development agreement concerning leased commercial square footage.  The project becomes primarily a housing development (another cost to the community) with the commercial space as an after thought.

          The city of Davis and (possibly the developers) have grossly over estimated the need commercial office space in a competitive Sacramento market.   Companies find that leasing comparable commercial square footage in places like Woodland and Sacramento are cheaper and have less restrictions/costs.  The DISC commercial office space ends up being space used as a large marijuana distribution and retail operations center.  Not necessarily a bad thing but not the scalable ag/tech that was originally envisioned (also kinda weird having a housing development next to it).


        2. Matt Williams

          Traffic impact on Mace much is greater than expected.  The city unable to remedy the situation immediately due to funds.

          Keith, even more important than funds … much, much more important … is the fact that any and all of the remedies for the traffic issues are controlled by CalTrans, and they have been very clear that those potential remedies are at the beginning of the planning stage, and won’t be designed until that planning stage is completed.   Construction won’t even start for ten years … probably more.

      2. Matt Williams

        he has a right to his opinion, his voice,  just as you do

        Bill, I agree wholeheartedly he does have a right to his opinion, but because of his elected office, I would expect the first words of his opinion to be “I am an elected member of the Davis City Council, but in my comments in this article, I am not speaking for the City Council.  I am expressing my opinions solely as an individual citizen.”  

  3. Dan Cornford

    It is to say the least very hypocritical on Dan Carson’s part to be one of the leading advocate for DISC as Ron Oertel mentioned  in a post on Sept 28, 2020.  For your further information:  In 2003,  Dan Carson was a leader (a former steering committee member of West Davis Neighbors, and then the vice chair of the Davis Finance and Budget Commission, FBC) who unsuccessfully sued UCD over its LRDP which, among other things, provided for the construction of West Village and a UCD on-campus “innovation center.”

    One of the major objections of Carson and the West Davis Neighbors was the traffic impact on their neighborhood. On January 20, 2017, Carson published an article in the Davis Enterprise entitled “Let’s make a Deal.”  In this article Carson stressed traffic congestion and the related impacts and he stated that “it is also fair to say that unmitigated effects of UCD growth have contributed to some of the city’s biggest challenges.”

    How incredibly ironic and hypocritical on many counts!  First, Carson’s unreserved approval (since he became a City Council member in 2018)  for almost all city development projects including U-Mall/U-Commons that stand, according to EIRS, to have major impacts on city traffic and parking.  But most of all, as the EIR for DISC makes unambiguously clear, DISC will have unprecedented long term traffic impacts on Davis.

    The project will generate 24,000 additional car trips daily, and the EIR (Appendix F, p. 123) says that at 14 intersections traffic will deteriorate to Level F. This does not take full account of the traffic produced  by the building of 21,000 units, completed, or approved and in the pipeline in the last few years.  Moreover, the developers are in no way committed to mitigate in any way the inevitable traffic deadlock.

    Furthermore, Carson makes grandiose assumptions about the fiscal benefits of DISC to the city that several members of the FBC have challenged, to say nothing of the cumulative infrastructural  impacts and costs  of the wave of development projects approved by the City Council in the last few years—the very costs he and the West Davis Neighbor highlighted in 2003.

    So what gives Dan?  Are you older and wiser than you were 17 years ago, or is it that the project is on the far east side of Davis?

    1. Keith Echols

      I dunno…maybe Dan realizes this time around how much the city needs the projected tax revenue.

      Much of this strikes me as…”let’s get her built…and fix all the other stuff later when we”….of course that’s more like IF we (the city) can.  I get it…get the thing approved however much to start generating some revenue.

      1. Ron Oertel

        The problem with that argument is that there is nothing to indicate that there’s any commercial demand for this type of development.

        That’s why these proposals keep failing, unless they include housing to subsidize it.

        As far as Tia’s comment goes, this is the system we have. I would question, however, a council member acting as part of the development team.

        1. David Greenwald

          “The problem with that argument is that there is nothing to indicate that there’s any commercial demand for this type of development.”

          Why would they spend tens of millions if they believed there was no commercial demand for this development?

        2. Keith Echols

          I think it’s more of a DEGREE of commercial demand.

          If it doesn’t work out, I’m sure some renegotiations of  some of the requirements in the development agreement can make the commercial component work for the developer in some way.  I suspect that initially it may be heavily dependent on the housing component….more so than city originally intended.

          I can see the housing component initially subsidizing the commercial component.   But at some point there’s a commercial business park built and through painful resetting of the expected overall concept, revenues and returns…eventually the business park will be up and going….even if it’s a shell of what it was originally intended.

        3. Keith Echols

          I have faith that there’s gotta be some way around having to go up for a new proposition wide vote to get some changes to the development agreement.  I can’t imagine a developer paint themselves into a corner like that….it is unfathomable to me that any development I’ve been a part of or any other developer I know of would get locked and exposed without some wiggle room or recourse….and that goes double or triple for any financier of this kind of project.

          I’ve said before and I’ll say again….it’s hard to estimate how many lost opportunities there have been for Davis because of Measure J.  Leaving granular level city planning up to the whims of the voters is just bad government.

        4. Richard McCann

          The problem with that argument is that there is nothing to indicate that there’s any commercial demand for this type of development.

          You keep on saying this, but professionals who are (1) in a much better positioned to be informed on this and (2) have an actual monetary stake in the success are disagreeing with you. You do not have a single person with knowledge of the commercial real estate business express an opinion that supports what you say. Yes, there’s lost of ambiguous statements from various officials including at UCD, but that is NOT saying that there’s no market for this project. Apparently the financing entities see enough probability that they are willing to risk their funds. In a market economy, we decentralize decisions and risks and you personally cannot be privy to all of the information that goes into private decisions. You can only go by the signals from those who have a true financial stake in those decisions.

        5. Ron Oertel

          You can only go by the signals from those who have a true financial stake in those decisions.

          The “signals” are that these proposals keep failing, as commercial proposals.  Other signals include the conversion of existing commercial/industrial sites for housing.

          Not just in Davis.

          Then, there’s the “signal” of technology companies abandoning their leased space, due to a permanent shift toward telecommuting.

          Matt provided a pretty good “signal” as well, showing (via photos) the large number of remaining commercial properties that have a glaring “for lease” or “for sale” sign on them, in Davis. Some of them quite large.

          Since you’re opposed to this proposal (and have stated that you’re going to write about that), I’d suggest that you do so, rather than continuing to challenge me.

          Again, take away the housing (that’s subsidizing the DISC proposal), and you’ll see it withdrawn faster than MRIC was.

        6. Ron Glick

          “Leaving granular level city planning up to the whims of the voters is just bad government.”

          Welcome to Davis. Vote no on Measure D. Otherwise be ready for 10 more years of bad government.

      2. Ron Oertel

        And truth be told, ALL cities are suffering, but have not found a “solution” to that.

        Primarily has to do with unfunded liabilities (e.g., retirement/medical benefits that weren’t budgeted for).

        David: I don’t know how much they’re spending (your “estimate” seems a little high), but take away the housing and this thing will be withdrawn faster than MRIC was.

        Truth be told, Davis can’t compete with other locales for this type of development. Especially West Sacramento, which can accommodate these things without even expanding their urban footrpint.

        Then, there’s the development that “moved” from Davis to Woodland. To a location that’s easier to access, from UCD.

        (Is Woodland perhaps the locale where proposals go to die a “second death”? Even with 1,600 housing units included?)

        1. David Greenwald

          They can’t build the housing until they get a baseline of commercial in – so they are better large on commercial development. This is going to being end up being a billion dollar plus project.

        2. Ron Oertel

          I can’t tell if you’re referring to DISC, or the proposal in Woodland (since I mentioned both of them, as well as West Sacramento – which has ALL of them beat).

          With DISC, the housing would primarily be built during the first two phases.  2,000 square feet of commercial, for each residential unit.  (Rather than the 3,000 square feet recommended by at least a couple of the city’s commissions.)

          The broader issue is whether or not you want the city to grow and continue to spread outward (e.g., more residential, in addition to the 850 units at DISC). Because that’s what would occur, if there actually was commercial demand in future decades.

          And we already know that housing is a money-loser, for cities.  So, the “net benefit” escapes me, unless you like sprawl.

          Under “normal” circumstances (proposals), there is NO WAY that a dense housing proposal would be approved in that location, beyond the borders of the city.

          Again, this thing has already failed (more than once), as a commercial business park proposal. As have all others.

  4. Don Shor

    Commercial vacancy rates in Davis were low pre-COVID. There are analysts who assess how quickly the economy will be likely to recover under different scenarios for the severity of the pandemic and its economic fallout. Here is one example:

    People who have stated expectations of long-term or even permanent impact on the commercial market haven’t provided any analysis that shows that would apply within the planning and build-out duration of a project like DISC.

  5. Tia Will


    Yes, to “consider” it, but to what end? 

    To help those of us who remain undecided make our final decision. I know it may seem strange to those who follow the details of the major projects proposed, but many citizens have really not paid much attention up to this point. I would like them to have a balanced presentation from someone who has been engaged long term.

    Although Dan has every right to post anything he likes, I would find it admirable to give a balanced presentation for the benefit of citizens belatedly trying to make an informed decision. That is all.

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