By David M. Greenwald
Yesterday marked a huge announcement as Chancellor Gary May and Mayor Darrell Steinberg announced a “groundbreaking Community Benefits Partnership Agreement (CBPA) to ensure the Aggie Square innovation district on the UC Davis Sacramento campus not only boosts the economy of the region but also provides meaningful access to jobs, affordable housing and other benefits for residents of the surrounding neighborhoods.”
The centerpiece of that deal: the creation of an affordable housing fund with a minimum of $50 million for the Stockton Boulevard corridor. They also announced that the agreement would prioritize “local residents for entry-level and higher-wage jobs and providing training pathways to those jobs.”
Aggie Square is scheduled to break ground in late 2021 and contains more than 1.2 million square feet of public and private space that will be used for research and academic pursuits; support for start-ups launching new businesses; and continuing education and job training.
They note: “Unlike the typical university campus, Aggie Square will co-locate private industry and community organizations alongside university programs, creating an integrated hub for research, innovation and education. It will also include housing, teaching and training facilities, and public spaces for community meetings and events.”
The billion-dollar project is being built by Wexford Science & Technology, a leading developer of university-based innovation districts in such cities as Philadelphia and St. Louis, in partnership with UC Davis.
“This is what inclusive economic development really means,” said Mayor Steinberg. “Aggie Square is the single biggest high-wage jobs and housing opportunity we have had in this city in decades. The Community Benefits Partnership Agreement is a promise to all of Sacramento that this transformational project will be for all, not just for some.”
Added UC Davis Chancellor Gary May, “Aggie Square is a platform for partnerships across the university, and with our city, our neighborhoods and innovative companies. And partnerships are the key to a stronger university, a diverse economy and more resilient communities.”
“This is the most exciting thing that’s happened on Stockton Boulevard since the UC Davis Medical Center purchased the Sacramento County Hospital,” said Elgin Bradley, Chair of the Stockton Boulevard Partnership and the owner of A Toucha Class restaurant and nightclub.
He added, “With the jobs and the housing that ‘s going to accompany this development, this project is going to be a really important engine for the people who live in the surrounding neighborhoods, the people who operate businesses along Stockton Boulevard, the property owners of Stockton Boulevard and the employees who will be working at Aggie Square and the UC Davis Medical Center.”
It is the quote from Mayor Steinberg that resonates. This is what economic development really means—generating the capital and resources to be able to fund affordable housing to help adjacent neighborhoods and lower income residents.
In part, that is what the voters rejected last November when they narrowly voted down DISC (Davis Innovation & Sustainability Campus). That project would have generated the largest affordable housing project in the city.
The citizens of Davis, perhaps concerned with traffic impacts, made it harder for lower income residents to reside in our community.
But what the Aggie Square project again demonstrates is that this kind of opposition to development comes with an opportunity cost. It means that UC Davis, rather than heavily investing in local projects like DISC, instead put its resources and muscle into Sacramento.
As Gary May said in a statement to faculty and staff, “This agreement is the result of actively listening to community and neighborhood groups over the past three years. It spells out specific benefits that the Aggie Square project will generate, including more than $50 million from tax revenue and city funds to build affordable housing near the development, create thousands of jobs and job training, and transportation improvements, among many others.”
He pointed out: “The university has never taken more seriously its responsibility to be a good neighbor, partnering with members of the communities in which our campuses are located, than during the COVID-19 crisis. With this landmark agreement, we believe that we have charted a course for future collaborations with our community partners in Sacramento in the years to come.”
Exactly, he charted a course for a community partnership in Sacramento.
In recent years, Gary May and the City of Davis have made some progress in their relationship as well. The joint MOU with the University and County was a clear win-win for the community.
But UC Davis sat on the sidelines during the DISC campaign. They refused to commit even minor involvement. Instead, they have put their resources—some $50 million—into affordable housing not in Davis but in Sacramento.
This comes at a time when the city will be asked to provide record numbers of affordable housing with little in the way of market rate projects or other resources with which to build them.
But for UC Davis to put their time and effort in, the community itself—not just the leadership—has to show a commitment to wanting to expand its resource opportunities. So far, that has not happened.
—David M. Greenwald reporting
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