My View: New DISC Project Should Have a Good Chance For Voter Approval

By David M. Greenwald

Davis, CA – Lost in a lot of other things last November is the fact that while DISC failed the vote of the public, it was a pretty narrow margin – 52-48, or just 1300 votes.  Given all of the uncertainty and everything that went wrong in the process, that should give it a fighting chance when the new version comes forward probably in June 2022.

There is a history for this.  In 2016, Nishi failed by about 700 votes, came back in 2018 and won overwhelmingly.

Nisi is a good model for DISC to look at.  Nishi lost the first time because: (1) Traffic concerns, (2) Lack of onsite affordable housing, (3) Long-term health concerns about people living in for sale.

The new project addressed these: (1) it was a UC Davis only access eliminating the Richards traffic problems, they put onsite affordable housing in the project and they made it a rental only project eliminating concerns over long-term exposure to particulate matter from the train and freeway.

While the new DISC project doesn’t quite address the issues as neatly as Nishi was able to, there are similar factors at play here.

The smaller project was less by design and more by circumstances.

Reynolds & Brown, which owns property that comprised the northern portion of the earlier plan, is no longer involved in the project.

Talking to the development team, I think they would have preferred Reynolds and Brown to remain in the project.  But it actually works at least in the short-term to their benefit.

One of the big reasons it failed was traffic concerns.  Just look at the map of results and you see clearly that as you get closer, the opposition increased.

Those concerned that 200 acres was too large can take solace in the 100 acre footprint.  Those worried about traffic, can note that the parking space number is less than half of that projected for the original DISC.  The carbon footprint is less.  The impact is less.

We have seen some suggesting that they will simply come back at a later point to get approval for the rest.  That’s certainly possible.  But it would likely be in 20 years or so and unless something changes between now and then, it would require another vote.

Factors out of their control will line up better for the project.

When we looked at the numbers, it was pretty clear that had more students been on campus, it might have been a different result.

The pandemic overall played against the project.  It didn’t seem to ease concerns about traffic, but it increased concerns about changes in economy.

If you look the sizes, the new project reduces office space from 1.5 million square feet down to 630K.  Advanced manufacturing is reduced by a far less percentage going from 884K to 550K.  It’s subtle for sure, but it notes the shift away from office use while providing the critical space for labs and advanced manufacturing that cannot be done remotely.

Students will return to campus in the fall.  The campaign will be able to use their vast network of student labor to canvas which they were largely unable to do.

Moreover, with traffic concerns in the back of voters mind, the project is at least on paper helped by the announcement of the grant for freeway expansion.

Given that a 212 acres, 2.6 million square foot project with 850 units of housing and 4300 parking spaces run during a pandemic only failed by 1300 votes, addressing or at least reducing these issues should give the project a big boost.

Another question that arose during the campaign – commercial demand – is an interesting issue and probably wasn’t decisive in the outcome.  But I think we have a bit better data now even there.

Just before the election last year, Mark Friedman of Fulcrum, on a different project noted, “there’s good demand in Davis for research tenancies.”  He added, “We’re 98 percent leased.”

We saw the presentation to council by Tim Keller of Inventopia.  He’s of course in the early startup market, but his initial results are very promising.

Tim Keller explained that they now have a problem—but the right problem to have.

“Just a few months after opening this lab space, it’s almost completely full. And so we are going to just, right after we do this grand opening, we are going to be right back looking for more space.”

He continued, “I keep on getting more requests. I’m signing letters of intent with people who are going for SVIR funding, that engine of economic innovation that is the university and the tech transfer process is not stopping and there’s more work to be done.”

They are actually looking for more space.

Keller also addressed the idea that we have a lot of vacant space in town that could be utilized for this kind of high tech economic development.

He said, “I’ve seen the post that you’re talking about with all the for lease signs… a quarter of those signs were for retail space, which costs too much and the city doesn’t want to put lab space in a retail location because we want the sales tax revenues from actual retail spaces.”

He also said there’s a bunch of professional office buildings that are marketing to lawyers and accountants, and those kinds of landlords, he said, do not want lab type uses because they requires ventilation and holes and upgrading the electrical power and the like.

He explained, “We’re kind of a high needs constituency because we have a lot of equipment and most landlords and most of those kind of mid-scale and commercial spaces, even though they are professional space and office space, maybe even called medical space, they don’t work as lab and they don’t work as engineering space.”

What they need is R&D flex space.

And while there are some in Buzz-Oates and Interland (now University Research Park), “there is very little supply of them actually.”

He said, “If we want to continue the growth of the innovation economy here in town, we are going to need more small incubator space.”

The AgStart wet lab  opened in June in Woodland and Leanna Sweha told the Vanguard it’s already half full.

One thing Sweha told us, there is not nearly enough wet lab space in the Valley.  The existing labs are either too expensive for start ups or basically full.

“Equivalent space in the Bay Area would be probably double, if not more the cost, if you’re talking again about shared wet lab space,” she explained.

Finally this week Russ Moroz of Marcus & Millichap brokered a major deal to get a biotech company to move from South San Francisco to Vacaville.

He explained, “the difficult aspect has always been in getting these types of biotech users and and life science users to expand beyond their target areas.”

He explained that that is really Boston, South San Francisco, and Seattle.

“It’s been really difficult to get them to pay attention outside of those markets,” he said.  But that is changing.

“Now that housing has become so expensive in a lot of those regions, in a lot of those parts of the country, they are looking for alternative locations because their employees simply can’t afford to live in a lot of those places,” he said.

“What we’re finding is that more and more of those companies are exploring alternative locations that have the trained workforce that they need, which I think Davis is pretty well positioned for because, obviously being a major research university with a significant presence in life science, I think that would be a very good source of potential employees,” he added.

All of this is promising in terms of showing where the demand lies.  Of course some are going to insist on seeing a list of companies that would move here with the space.  It doesn’t really work that way.

Moroz was telling me how much work it was to get a company like Agenus to come even when there is space.  That’s the nature of the market.  No one is going to wait around for 10 years for a project to go through a voter approval process, get built and then open.  They want something shovel ready at worst.

But I think this discussion at least illustrates the potential if Davis had shovel-ready land and a more robust economic development team to help lure top companies seeking more affordability in space, housing and proximity to a major university.

As always, the trick will be if the voters see the need.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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 Comments

  1. Alan Miller

    Those concerned that 200 acres was too large can take solace in the 100 acre footprint.

    No they can’t.

    They are actually looking for more space.

    They are?  I had no idea!

    You really need to run more articles about that topic.  Maybe 300 or so articles between now and June 2022.  Pretty please!

    What are the plans for the Mace under-crossing?  I don’t see it on the map.  Doesn’t mean it’s not planned, but I’d like to know.

    This seems worse to me.  I liked Nishi I.  I held my nose and voted for Nishi II, still not sure I’m glad I did.  I voted for DiSC I after being convinced of the intention to build an undercrossing.  I actually voted for DISC I mainly because of the housing, so less isn’t a plus to me.

    1. Matt Williams

      David Greenwald said … “Those concerned that 200 acres was too large can take solace in the 100 acre footprint.”

      Alan Miller replied … “No they can’t”

      I agree with Alan.  Was the project actually reduced by 50%.  Unless the norther 85 acres is put into permanent mitigation under the City’s Agricultural Mitigation Ordinance and program, then the only thing that has changed vis-a-vis footprint is that it has been broken apart into two phases … a south phase and a north phase.  Once both phases have been completed the project impact/footprint of DISC 2020 and the project impact/footprint of DISC 2021/22 will be the same. Depending on how the north parcel is developed the impact could actually be greater (if the north parcel comes forward as 100% housing).

      1. Keith Olsen

        Great point Matt.   Your conjecture here seems like a possibility and I don’t think would surprise anyone in the least.  Maybe instead of ARC/MRIC/DISC 4 it should be referred to as ARC/MRIC/DISC 3 1/2?

  2. Alan Pryor

    You really need to run more articles about that topic.  Maybe 300 or so articles between now and June 2022.  Pretty please!

    Patience, grasshopper…and your wish shall be granted!

  3. Bill Marshall

    David… your post seems a whole like more than “odds-making” rather than speaking as to merits/problems with the project… typical “reporter”…

  4. Keith Y Echols

    I really dunno how this is all gonna go down.  I saw on a Facebook posting (maybe the Enterprise?) about the new proposal; the immediate comments about it were complaints about the traffic impact on Mace.  The Mace exit area traffic already gets nasty and backed up sometimes due to regular traffic and sometimes because commuters are getting rerouted around 80 through Davis.  I don’t think it’s any great stretch of the imagination to say that traffic impacts are the most important issue to the people of Davis when it comes to growth and expansion in the Mace area.

    So I’m thinking that whatever the proposal is that the city and/or the developer’s response to the traffic implications (real and perceived) needs to be front and center and be better than simply…it’s not as big as the last proposal so it’ll impact the area less.  Does the city and/or developer need to fund expanding Mace and the exit area?  Will it make any difference until 80 itself is widened?  Will the new proposed toll lane on 80 help or make things worse?

    1. Matt Williams

      I agree with Keith.  Were the traffic impacts of the project actually reduced?  Unless the northern 85 acres is put into permanent mitigation under the City’s Agricultural Mitigation Ordinance and program, then the only thing that has changed vis-a-vis traffic impacts is that the same amount of total traffic impact has been broken apart into two phases … a south phase and a north phase. 

      Once the first phase has been completed and the delayed second phase proposed and commenced, the project footprint / traffic impact of DISC 2020 and the project footprint / traffic impact of DISC 2021/22 will be the same. In fact, depending on how the north parcel is developed, the total traffic impact could actually be greater (if the north parcel comes forward as 100% housing).

      1. David Greenwald

        Except that the second phase – if there is one in 20 years or so – would be evaluated at the time it is proposed rather than projected 20 or 30 years into the future.

        1. Ron Oertel

          There is no timeframe that has any meaning.

          And as Matt noted – they could also come back with a 100% housing development for the northern part – anytime.

          They also attempted to do a smaller proposal in the past, but it did not “pencil out”.

          This thing has gone through so many attempts (and names) that it’s pretty much lost all meaning. As far as it being a “horse race”, I’m not even sure it will get to the starting gate (the next election).

      2. Don Shor

        Once the first phase has been completed and the delayed second phase proposed and commenced

        There is no “delayed second phase.”

        This project should be judged on its merits, not on speculation about what the other property owners might do some day.

        1. Ron Oertel

          Any and all proposals should be examined as to the probable impact on surrounding properties, regarding likely outcomes/scenarios.

          Especially when they “jump” a logical boundary, for the city.

          It would be foolish to examine such a proposal in isolation. Especially one that has gone through as many changes in size and scope as this one, over an extended period of time.

          Matt’s correct, in that they should put the Northern portion in agricultural mitigation, if they don’t want that “looked at”. “Pay no attention to the property behind the curtain”, to paraphrase the Wizard of Oz.

          But really, this proposal (even in its reduced size) would likely lead to more development beyond the Northern portion, as well. Putting greater pressure to develop properties like Shriner’s. Especially since one of the considerations when establishing future RHNA requirements is the number of local jobs created.

           

        2. Matt Williams

          Don, the original project was judged in large part including speculation about what the property owner directly to the east might do some day.  All projects are judged including how the project will impact its neighbors , and how its neighbors will impact the project.

          That process/approach is formally included in the Fehr and Pehrs traffic study where the impact evaluation scenarios are (1) Existing Conditions, (2) Cumulative No Project, (3) Existing Plus Project, and (4) Cumulative Plus Project.

          The northern 85 acre parcel has simply moved out of the Project portion of analysis scenarios (3) and (4) into the Cumulative portion of analysis scenarios (2) and (4).

          1. Don Shor

            There is no “delayed second phase.” That is a misrepresentation of a possible future development that doesn’t exist in any form at present.

          2. David Greenwald

            And even if there was – it would be subject to a vote and the voters would be able to weigh real time circumstances.

  5. Bill Marshall

    The northern 85 acre parcel has simply moved out of the Project portion of analysis scenarios (3) and (4) into the Cumulative portion of analysis scenarios (2) and (4).

    Without getting into the nuances, ‘cumulative’ is often based on ‘reasonably foreseen’… beyond existing zoning/GP designations… for instance, the area below the “Mace Curve” is reasonably foreseen, despite its current land use designation/annexation status…

    Somewhere (different thread?) I saw someone opine that Mace (and/or Covell) was a “logical boundary”… I see a major arterial street as a “connector”, not a “boundary”… a river is a logical boundary… to each, their own as to definitions…

    Both the current proposal and the previous, would have benefitted from a connection to 30-H… dispersal of traffic (more options @ peak hour).  Much like a development @ Covell Village, would have given Cannery folk more options for connections to roadways… the two sites should have been planned TOGETHER, even if built in phases… Cannery would have access to intersections @ L, and two or three to Pole Line… Covell Village could have had ‘alternatives’ as well… but competing property owners, lack of long range planning visions (a politically motivated planning staff @ that time), and an easily misled public, pretty much killed a rational approach towards long term planning… it is what it is…

    1. Ron Oertel

      [edited]
      Yes, I think it’s sad when a city jumps a boundary, or even worse – when there’s no effective boundary at all (which is often the case).  Another example is Folsom spreading across Highway 50.

      Of course, some people would rather look at sprawl, rather than farmland/open space.  These folks will build right up a a river, [edited]  (Or, usually beyond that, as well.)  These folks have no boundary or limit whatsoever in mind. Sometimes, they even build “within” the river’s boundaries.

      That’s why development patterns exist as they do, in the valley and beyond. It’s sad that some advocate this for Davis, as well.

       

       

      1. Tim Keller

        Mace isn’t a barrier, it’s an artery that leads directly to the freeway.  I mean the entire purpose of a road is to provide access, not block it,  Development on both sides of mace should be ‘reasonably foreseen’.

        Lacking any physical barriers for horizontal expansion, as we do I think that a good litmus test for knowing when peripheral development = sprawl is when the new development brings a new freeway exit within the city limits.

        For,freeway exits that are already developed and within the scope of the city, we need to be putting as much development in there as close to those exits as we can.  And that certainly includes retail.. or it should, if we want our city to “not be bankrupt” all the time.

        1. Ron Oertel

          It is both a barrier and an artery – for existing development/movement. Essentially none of which has occurred on the northeast side of that area.  It even provides access for those traveling to Woodland (and/or those using WAZE-type cell phone applications, to avoid traffic on I-80).  And with more development (including an “innovation center” in Woodland, expect that to intensify.  Especially as I-80 (and eventually Highway 113) become more impacted.

          Some (including myself) “foresee” development within the Mace Curve, since it is both within the curve (barrier), and surrounded by development.

          If development “jumps the curve” (where there currently is no development), one can easily foresee that development on adjacent and nearby parcels would be a certainty.

          Especially since RHNA requirements are now a factor, and a primary consideration in the establishment of those requirements is the number of local jobs created.

          Personally, I’d rather look out over farmland/open space, when traveling on Mace (and shopping at Ikeda’s).  I guess some people prefer looking out at sprawl, instead.  (Well, when they’re subsequently stuck in traffic – they’ll at least have a good view of that.)

          I’m consistently amazed that some people look at a freeway access point (and farmland), and say to themselves – “let’s fill it up”.  That type of thought is completely foreign, to me.

          Another sad situation occurred when Folsom recently “jumped” Highway 50.  Up until this point, Highway 50 provided a barrier.

          No particular development brings another freeway access point.  Developers simply take advantage of existing access points and freeways (that they don’t pay for), well-beyond the point of gridlock.  And then, their politician friends advocate for taxpayer (and tollpayer) subsidies to moderately expand the freeway – of course, without complete funds in place.  And by the time that occurs, development in the region will have “pre-overwhelmed” the planned freeway construction.

          By the way, how will the half-sized proposal impact your hoped-for, fully-equipped lab space (and natural gas line)? Is it down to “half” the space, and “half” the gas line)?

          Not to mention “half” the bicycle underpass?

          1. David Greenwald

            I find it strange that a road, which is a human construction, could be a natural barrier. The coastline, a river, maybe mountains are a natural barrier. A road is an access point.

            The actual barrier is the current limit line – the ag/ urban boundary. But it’s also permeable – the voters can approve expansion.

        2. Ron Oertel

          I did not say that it was a “natural” barrier.

          I said that it’s a logical boundary, and serves existing development and traffic.  It’s also a physical barrier regarding existing utilities/infrastructure, bicycle underpasses, etc.

          It also provides a means for which those traveling on that road (or shopping at Ikedas, for fresh farm produce) can see farmland and open space, and appreciate that the city has a boundary.  Some people may not appreciate this aspect, but I certainly do. To me, this might be the most important aspect of all.

          If development continues beyond that point, it cuts people off from seeing where they actually are (and ultimately, from appreciating the reason that the city and UCD exist), instead of just the usual sea of development.

          As another example, you’ve photographed the sunflowers growing at the so-called “Covell Village” site, and have previously posted them on here.  So, I know that you have some appreciation of that, whether you acknowledge it or not.  (Let’s not forget that at one time, you worked against Covell Village, before you pursued your current direction.)

          The road (for the most part) already provides the urban limit line.  So for those advocating moving beyond it, the question is – where do you think it “should” be?  (Assuming that you’re not suggesting to build up to the flood zones near the causeway, or up to Road 29.)

           

           

  6. Tim Keller

    Forgive what is perhaps a stupid question, but how cast in stone are things like this usage map?

    As someone who lives very close to this, and who knows that this side of town does not have a good supply of restaraunts and shopping options, it’s wierd that there is all of this lab space up front, with no mention of retail, and the housing is tucked in the back…  and where is the transit plaza?

    I’d like this project to serve as a “business district”. A really dense secondary downtown kind of core that caters to the R&D and tech sector, but also provides more retail options for the entire surrounding community AND because we are so housing starved here, I’d love to see there be “more housing than marginal jobs” included in this project…

    But are those discussions even on the table?  Or do we need to just say yes or no to what the developer has proposed?

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