By David M. Greenwald
It was a close race, relatively speaking. The final gap was just under 1300 votes. Fifty-two percent voted no, but over 15,000 people voted for the project.
The last project to lose in Davis was in 2016. Nishi at that time lost by around 800 votes—slightly narrower. Based on that result and the developer’s analysis of the reasons why the project went down, the developers came back with a new proposal addressing two of the key concerns.
For those concerned with traffic on Richards, they eliminated through traffic to Richards from the project. For those concerned with the lack of affordable housing, they included a sizable on-site proposal. And they also moved away from ownership units over concerns about the long-term impact of freeway emissions on people living on the site.
The result is that a narrow loss in 2016 turned into an overwhelming win in 2018.
Could DISC do that? That will probably be a question that is followed in the next year.
On Monday, in a statement from Dan Ramos, he didn’t tip his hand.
“Although obviously disappointed with the election outcome, my project partners and I are hugely appreciative of the support from so many community and business leaders and Davis residents, who understood our vision for bringing a transformative project to Davis that would have accomplished so much for the community,” Ramos said.
He added, “We especially want to thank the City Council for allowing us to take our case to the community, the commissioners whose feedback helped shape the project to make it work as well as possible for the City, the more than 900 public endorsers, and the many others whose insights and energy were an invaluable help.”
Still, the question about the future remains.
Ramos said, “After several years of work, we brought forward a project that we were confident was a great fit for Davis. Beyond not delivering the many fiscal and other local benefits that the DISC would have provided, Measure B’s failure also represents a missed opportunity for Davis to play a more significant role in helping to address a range of pressing global issues that affect everyone, including food security and climate change.”
He continued, “The need and demand for the type of facilities and cutting-edge businesses that the DISC would have accommodated is not going away because Measure B failed. They’ll simply look elsewhere.”
That represents a challenge for Davis. In 2014, Davis, when Mace Ranch and the Davis Innovation Centers submitted proposals, Davis would have been ahead of the curve. Situated with a premier research university in their background yard, it was primed to take advantage of the next wave of high tech innovation and research.
Since then, Davis has lost ground. They have not only lost some key local businesses, but neighboring cities have taken advantage, with huge proposals in places like Sacramento, West Sacramento, Woodland, Dixon and Vacaville.
Still, Davis remains a key and prime location. But it has lost out on a half a decade of growth potential.
In the meantime, Davis’ fiscal situation remains precarious. The loss of revenue potential, the decline of TOT and other taxes will put increased pressure on the city’s resources at the same time there are new demands for expenditures and infrastructure needs.
Will the community support more taxes? We are probably about to find out.
The question for Ramos and DISC—is this a one-shot deal?
Dan Ramos put it this way on Monday: “As the project partners and I evaluate our options, the question for Davis residents and voters is whether they could ever support an innovation center, or if they’re comfortable continuing to let those types of projects and their related benefits go to other communities.”
There remain several questions.
First—was this the result of a moment in time? There are legitimate concerns about traffic impacts. You could argue that perhaps the plan did not go far enough to address them. You could also argue in a few years, with corridor repairs, perhaps some of those problems would be mitigated.
But clearly the concerns about traffic weighed heavily on the outcome. The areas of town closest to the project and most impacted by traffic were the areas that were strongly opposed to the project, while the other side of town was more evenly split, if not supportive of the project.
In a narrow result, other factors creep in as well. For example, the uncertainty of COVID. Many people expressed the position that this was not the right time for a large project when we are uncertain about what a post-COVID world will look like.
Will consolidation of companies continue? Will companies decrease their physical space needs due to remote work?
If that’s the case, perhaps a reconsideration of the project in four years is in order.
By then, the city will likely have both its downtown plan and general plan update addressed—reducing perhaps some uncertainty.
There were also concerns that, despite the lengthy ramp up to the project since 2014, there had been insufficient community engagement. I can see that point. Back in 2013 and 2014, I made the comment that, during the Innovation Task Force meetings, half the “Davis room” was not there. That half of the room was the half that ended up opposing DISC.
Finally, there are other modifications to the project that could be considered.
First, taking housing off the table might be helpful—although, to be honest, I think it would be irresponsible to add jobs without housing in such a tight market. A number of people expressed opposition based on the presence of housing.
Second, the developers have looked at reduced size projects in the past. They found the projects non-viable, but it might be an option to take one section at a time rather than the full 200 acres.
Third, developing a better transportation plan is another approach—although the experience of Nishi suggested, even with a robust plan, the project was still vulnerable to traffic impacts until traffic on Richards was literally taken off the table. There is no legitimate way to do that on Mace.
In the end, the developers will have to evaluate whether and when and in what form to bring back a proposal—and the community will have to decide whether they are willing to support an innovation center of any sort.
—David M. Greenwald reporting
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