By David M. Greenwald
Davis, CA – Yesterday I was told a bit about the story of the Research Triangle Park in North Carolina. At the time, leaders in North Carolina worried about the state’s economic future. Their per capita income was among the lowest in nation, one quip was they were 49th in the nation and thank goodness for Mississippi.
Leaders got together to take advantage of the Triangle’s three research universities: UNC-Chapel Hill, North Carolina State, and Duke University. Leaders decided to make the project a private endeavor, with cooperation from the universities, instead of being a government-sponsored action.
As an historical site notes, “Developers had to overcome a few problems.
“Leaders worked to rehabilitate the state’s image to attract companies (and their employees) from across the nation. One, the rest of the nation watched and read news reports detailing the Civil Rights Movement. Two, developers had to convince prospective companies that the South was capable of handling such a research park. Developers also needed to raise money and purchase land,” they write.
Research Triangle Park is now one of the top five research parks in the nation. It has fostered a boom of high-tech business and transformed the state.
As the Davis City Council weighs DiSC 2022, could DiSC have this kind of impact for Davis and the Sacramento Region?
Answer for me: not likely. DiSC is projected at 102 acres, which pales in size to the 7000-acre RTP. But as we have seen with Aggie Square, even a relatively small park has the potential to attract high end companies and research.
Davis has the advantage of a world class university, in a region that has been developing its economic development base. Davis generates a huge amount of talent—most of which leaves the region after graduating. The university brings in $1 billion each year in research money—money and knowledge and technology that can be leveraged into technology transfer to the private sector.
The city of Davis has been described by many as a bedroom community, where many leave town to work in Sacramento. Many more still come into town to work at the university, which is by far the largest employer.
The city has become older, with much of its talent leaving for other areas of the country.
And yet in a lot of ways, the battle for DiSC, which will have to go to the voters in June for final approval, will likely not hinge on these issues. The people in Davis who vote, most of them are not tied to how many jobs are produced or even necessarily the cost of living in the area—the success or failure of this project will come down to impact mitigation rather than vision or economic promise.
The project has addressed most of what it can reasonably promise. They are now set to build a grade-separated crossing, they have put their commitments into the project baseline features, and have committed to a TDM to attempt to manage traffic.
Some have complained that because the project contains housing, it has morphed into a housing project. Others have argued that the number of employees will create new demands for housing in the city and the region.
At the end of the day, though, this project rises and falls based on the assessment of traffic impacts. While the southern portion of Mace Blvd. has gotten the most attention, with the derisive moniker, “Mace Mess,” problems with connectivity and added traffic on the northern section of Mace are troublesome to many who have seen long lines of traffic, particularly on Thursday and Friday evenings.
The new project decreases in size from over 200 acres to 102 acres and it reduces the projected traffic impact from 24,000 per day down to 11,000. But for many that remains troublesome—even with better traffic demand strategies, even with phasing the project over time, even with the promised upgrades to I-80 that are in the works by Cal Trans.
Will this cause the periodic traffic backups to increase in frequency and duration and in congestion? Or can the strategies put in place by the developers, along with fixes to Mace and upgrades to I-80, mitigate them?
This project holds out a lot of promise to improve the fiscal and jobs climate of Davis, but it might rise on fall depending on how well the developers can address issues like traffic impacts and the like.
Tonight likely will mark the first step in a four-month campaign that figures to be tightly fought over the future of the community. Stay tuned.