Monday Morning Thoughts: Economic Development Plan Took Too Long

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By David M. Greenwald

During the election for DISC (Davis Innovation & Sustainability Campus) this past November, the opposition rolled out the same line they usually roll out—the process was rushed.  But a lot of people like me saw the exact opposite problem—it took way too long.

The city needed to have had this vote way back in 2014—not in the 2020 as it occurred.

In 2010, as the city was mired in the middle of the Great Recession, DSIDE came together consisting of local entrepreneurs, local government leaders and others.

As William Alger and Rochelle Swanson wrote in May 2011, “A group of community folks believe there exists significant opportunities to invigorate our local economy, and the size of that group is growing. A year ago, a small group of civic-minded people launched the kernel of the idea that would grow into the organization DSIDE (Designing a Sustainable & Innovative Davis Economy).”

Out of that effort emerged things like the Innovation Park Task Force, and the Studio 30 report—which formed the basis for the peripheral innovation center that finally came to the voters in 2020, eight years after the idea emerged in the report as the culmination of Dispersed Economic Development Strategy.

But think about what came and went in the time between these ideas and the ballot: the Innovation Park Task Force, Studio 30, Davis Roots, and Jump Start Davis.  All of these brought together local leaders, business people, start ups, entrepreneurs—and all of them eventually faded, beaten down over time.

And so by the time DISC came to the voters, most of the people who had been involved from 2010 to 2015 were long gone or moved on to other endeavors.

When Ramos and company brought the Innovation Park concept back in 2019, no one had any idea what 2020 would bring—the upheaval, the shutdown of public life, the pandemic, etc.  Under normal conditions would local business leaders, entrepreneurs and the start up community have become reengaged in the process like they were in 2014 and 2015?  I don’t know.

The future at this point is pretty unclear.  Will the pandemic bring about transformational change to the business community?  Will we see a society less apt to commute and more apt to work remotely?  Probably.  I think a lot of people in business realized that we have tremendous capacity to better leverage technology, which could have huge consequences down the road for how we situate our work spaces.

At the same time, Davis remains an enigma—the home of a world class university, probably an emerging academic power in the 21st century, but it is trapped in a mindset that limits its ability to capture its potential.  A community that remains relatively closely divided among competing visions.

The question is how things move forward at this point.  One option is that, like Nishi in 2016, DISC simply comes back in two years.  Or perhaps it is better suited to come back in four years, makes some tweaks, hopes that the environment is more conducive to passage and recognizes that, despite a lot going against it, it was a relatively close vote.

But there is another possible way forward.  We attempt to recapture the spirit of 2010.  We go back to the drawing board and recognize that the dispersed innovation model did not work.  Gone is Nishi.  Gone is the potential of the Davis Innovation Center site.  And the voters rejected at least the first round of the Mace location.

On the other hand, we have things we did not have in 2010.  Mori Seiki and its prowess.  HM Clause and their partnership with the university.  URP and its commitment to densify and expand.  Sierra Energy remains a potential spot.

Our analysis of available spots in town shows that the city is lacking, especially in medium to large sites for economic development.  The Downtown Plan might generate more office space, but will not accommodate the need for multi-acre, large facilities.

Going back to the drawing board, creating a more community-oriented plan is not a bad idea.  The Studio 30 report is dated now.  Ten years ago, Davis would have been on the leading edge of economic development in the Sacramento Valley region—now we see Aggie Square, facilities in neighboring cities, expansions in Vacaville.  The playing field has changed.

But Davis still has huge advantages over all of them—the proximity of UC Davis, the ready supply of high-tech, STEM-educated labor.

What we need now is a new vision, a new energy, to engage the next generation of leaders and entrepreneurs in a vision for the future.

My recommendation to the city would be to recreate the Business and Economic Development Commission, and create a new community-based task force—that brings together leaders from tech industry, business community, university, city, and the broader community to create a new vision to move forward that can gain community and eventually voter approval.

If anything, the times will be even more challenging over the next five years—all the more reason to start planning for that future now.

—David M. Greenwald reporting


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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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24 thoughts on “Monday Morning Thoughts: Economic Development Plan Took Too Long”

  1. Keith Olsen

    I believe Davis would be building out an innovation park today if they had just stuck to the original plan, a business park only with no housing or in other words the original MRIC.

        1. David Greenwald Post author

          Which doesn’t make much sense given that you were complaining about traffic. Regardless, I suspect that’s not true of most people – the proximity vote suggests traffic was the overwhelming factor – traffic would have been far worse without housing there. I mean, we have a housing crisis and people are going to vote against it because it has housing? That makes no sense.

          1. Don Shor

            The question for me isn’t “should the DISC site be developed,” but rather “*how* should the DISC site be developed.”  As originally envisioned by early MRIC concepts it was to be all commercial/industrial.  I supported that, as the property seems ideally suited to those uses owing to its proximity to major highway and fiber infrastructure.  But in my view the DISC proposal is more about housing than commercial, which is a waste of the site and the reason I voted no.

            — Jim Frame

        2. Keith Olsen

          Back then Mace traffic wasn’t as bad as it got the last few years, I don’t believe it would’ve been as big an issue as it was for DISC.

          traffic would have been far worse without housing there.

          You don’t know that, you don’t know how many of the DISC work force would’ve lived there.  Housing possibly could’ve made it worse with many more people living there and working elsewhere, plus all their daily trips to the store, restaurants, etc.

           

          1. David Greenwald Post author

            “You don’t know that”

            In the sense that we only have projections that is true.

    1. Richard McCann

      The reason the innovation parks fell off wagon was because key individuals in City government didn’t step forward to push the proposals that had been made. Rob White could carry those only so far by himself. It reflected that we lacked then what we seem to lack now–a form of a collective vision of where we should be heading rather than drifting along in nostalgia.

  2. Ron Glick

    “What we need now is a new vision, a new energy, to engage the next generation of leaders and entrepreneurs in a vision for the future.”

    What did Einstein say about insanity?

    Let’s reinvent the wheel and have more of the same. Then take another run at a Measure D vote. Good luck with that.

    By the way, you left out 391, the project that was the biggest bang for the city’s buck.

    One thing you have never addressed is the impact of the Ramos brand. There are lots of old people who aren’t over Mace Ranch and won’t vote for a Ramos project. The irony here is that their biggest allies live in Mace Ranch. People who closed the gate once they got in joining in alliance with people who wanted the gate closed before the Mace Ranch people got in.

    1. Don Shor

      That is one of the problems. Another is that it looked to some like a bait and switch: the planning process that we undertook was for a business park, and then ‘at the last minute’ (a couple of years ago) some housing got added. Then more housing. The project before the voters had over 800 housing units and was at least as much a housing development as it was a business park project. The purpose of the planning process was to help the city’s finances as one of the primary goals. Housing reduces the value to the city by increasing service costs. And overall, the type of housing provided is not the kind that Davis voters have shown any propensity for approving.

      IMO the housing was a big mistake, and was probably one of the reasons it failed. If they address the traffic issue with a robust transportation plan (assess the properties and hand a bunch of ongoing cash to Unitrans and YoloBus, for example, or implement shuttles and trolleys and provide free electric bikes to everyone in East Davis), and substantially reduce the housing component (small amount of residential directly integrated into the commercial buildings), they could probably turn the vote around.

      Or they could just thumb their noses at Davis and plant a walnut orchard, thereby driving out any remaining burrowing owls and subjecting Mace Ranch residents to a dozen or more pesticide applications every year, while blocking the view of the Sierra.

      1. Ron Oertel

        Or they could just thumb their noses at Davis and plant a walnut orchard, thereby driving out any remaining burrowing owls and subjecting Mace Ranch residents to a dozen or more pesticide applications every year, while blocking the view of the Sierra.

        Orchards are nice, as well.  I think you can see through them in the winter.

        Or, here’s an idea:  Integrate with Ikeda’s fruit stand.  Bring back a Nut-Tree type operation, where there’s some local connection to (and distribution with) farming – probably organic. A natural stopping point between the Bay Area and the Sierra.

        “free electric bikes to everyone in East Davis”

        Are you “channeling” another periodic commenter on here? 😉

  3. Alan Pryor

    During the election for DISC (Davis Innovation & Sustainability Campus) this past November, the opposition rolled out the same line they usually roll out—the process was rushed.

    You are conveniently forgetting the fact that a number of citizens and Commissioners started speaking out to Council  during Public Comments as early as Oct 2019 saying that there are many aspects of the project that needed a deep dive review by numerous Commissions and imploring that the process should be started immediately.

    However, by early 2020, many of the most relevent Commssions, (NRC, Tree, Open Space) were still not even scheduled to get a formal review of at the project at all. It was only after many Commissioners and Commissions spole out against this process (or lack thereof) that the City and Developer even agreed to allow these Commissions to review the project at all which then did not even start until April after the release of the 1,000-page plus SEIR.

    Because of the compressed time frame to get input into the Planning Commissision and Council before their votes, the NRC, Tree, and Bicycling, Transportation and Street Safety Commissions all had to hold special meetings in order to be able to recommend baseline features. And then Staff withheld many of those same recommendations from the Planning Commission and the Council during their final meetings leading up to approval of the project. These final Planning Commission and Council meetings to approve the project were then held on the very last possible days the project could be heard in order to get it on the November ballot.

    Had the Commission review process started in October when it was first suggested, at least the Commissioners would have been able to deliberate more thoughtfully and not rushed into judgement by the artificial deadlines imposed by the Council and Developer.

    Many Commissioners felt this process and schedule was rushed at the last minute by intentional design in order to minimize the input by the Commissions and they were not happy at all about it nor the fact that their baseline feature recommendations were withheld from the Planning Commission and Council. I think that is apparent by the number of Commissioners who publicly opposed the project and by the number of Commissions who recommended against approval by the Council and Planning Commission if their recommended baseline features were not included in the project.

    When the project comes back there will have to be a better job reaching out earlier to the Commissions to get their input in a timely manner if the project is to avoid the type of pushback it got this time around because of the rushed nature of the Commission review.

     

     

    1. Bill Marshall

      You conveniently ignore all the ‘vetting’ on the primary aspects of the project during the original EIR process…

      Given that I assume you’ll demand a complete “do-over”… as if nothing had been proposed/evaluated… ‘start from scratch’ EIR… every Commission, a complete do-over (and if a new commission is created, as advocated by some, them too)… fine… your right to advocate for that.  But, I disagree with that approach…

      But such an approach is likely to stop anything from being proposed, pursued… but that might well fit with your goals (or, may not)…

      1. Alan Pryor

        You conveniently ignore the fact that the new EIR and project was substantially different than the original EIR certified by Council. This is why a Subsequent EIR was required by law.

        And you conveniently ignore the fact that the Council and Developer originally did not even allow the NRC, Tree Commission, and Open Space and Habitat Commission to review the SEIR and project when it was brought back.

        And you conveniently ignore the fact that the Staff did not forward recommendations for Baseline Features inclusions from the NRC, Tree Commission, and BT&SSC to the Planning Commission ans Council before their deliberations and vote on the project.

        Seems to me you’re the person conveniently ignoring facts here.

    2. Richard McCann

      I must agree with Alan on this that the DISC developer failed to get this project in front of the various commissions in the fall of 2019. They had the project substantially defined and scoped by then, and little changed between when we saw it in a private meeting in September and when it was submitted in the spring of 2020. Six months of deliberations was lost and that is ENTIRELY on the developer.

  4. Matt Williams

    The city needed to have had this vote way back in 2014—not in the 2020 as it occurred.

    That could have happened if any of the three developers who responded were able to assemble a project application and description that met (ideally exceeded the minimum requirements of the City of Davis project evaluation process.

    However, the three responding groups quickly dropped down to two when the south of I-80 east of El Macero project group that was counting on the UC Davis World Food Center as their primary tenant, withdrew.

    Then the Davis Innovation Center group (for the site north of Sutter Davis Hospital) withered on the vine and migrated north to the shores of Woodland.

    Finally in April 2016 internecine strife within the remaining group MRIC caused them to back away from the table.

    With that history, how exactly would you have accomplished “the city needed to have had this vote way back in 2014”?

    1. Richard McCann

      Those who live in the fantasy land that we can continue to muddle along and maintain the best of this community might have thought that having no solutions so far to our economic and fiscal dilemma can be described as “what went right.”

      1. Ron Oertel

        Aren’t you gonna ask me who will pave the bike paths, unless the city continues to pursue peripheral developments?  So that a city is promised a small “piece of the profit”, from that?

        As if the city’s survival is dependent upon that? (Sadly, that appears to be the mindset.)

        It must be amazing to some folks that many cities never expand their borders, anymore. And some have done quite well, up until this point. (Though some of the businesses are now leaving, due to opportunities from telecommuting.)

  5. Richard McCann

    I agree with David that we need to have a task force of some type, if not a Business and Economic Development Commission, to develop a cohesive vision with actionable steps to move forward.

    1. Ron Oertel

      Hilarious.

      I’d suggest a Studio 30-type report, with a continuing, sequential numbering system.

      Do you think we’re up to “Studio 54”, yet? (Actually, how about putting something like that, there?) 😉

      Or, maybe the “electric bike” bribe for all, mentioned earlier?

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