By David M. Greenwald
Davis, CA – DiSC 2022 is heading back to the voters as the council voted 5-0 to put the measure on the ballot for June 7, 2022. The original project was defeated by a 52-48 in November 2020.
On Tuesday night, Attorney Matt Keasling spent some time anticipating and, he hoped, heading off some likely criticism of the project. First, that it would add GHG emissions and move away from climate change goals. Second, that it would worsen traffic on Mace Blvd. Third, that it would hurt downtown businesses. And fourth, that it is just another office park, with no true demand from Innovation Companies.
“We want to take an opportunity to respond to all of those things proactively,” Keasling told the council.
He referenced a regional map on VMT (Vehicle Miles Traveled) and said, “Davis, quite frankly has a challenge with VMT. Particularly that if you’re living in Davis and you need to do anything that’s not in the city of Davis, it actually is a pretty long drive to your next location.”
Because of that, “you tend to have a higher VMT across the board than other jurisdictions, particularly the city and county of Sacramento.”
“However, what our analysis shows us is that the VMT associated with this project is less than the city’s average. It’s almost 10% less than the city and UC Davis combined VMT average,” Keasling explained. “And so DISC is moving the city in the right direction when it comes to VMT and with our mitigation measures to create a robust TDM, we believe we will achieve the 15% below the regional VMT average at project buildout with our mitigations.”
With respect to Mace traffic, Keasling pointed out, “On day one of this project, we’re required to fund the city doing a comprehensive Mace Blvd corridor study that looks at Mace Blvd from Cowell Blvd, all the way up to Harper Junior High.”
At that point the city will look at Mace and ask what needs to happen “to make it work better than it does today.” He said, the analysis tells them that at the end of the day, “Mace Blvd, both north and south of the freeway, functions better with this project, because of the mitigations it brings online, then it does without this project.”
He continued, “I do think that’s important to point out that although there will be additional cars coming and going from this location, the project is required to mitigate for it. And those mitigations result in an overall roadway system that functions better than it would otherwise.”
Next Keasling addressed the impact of downtown businesses.
EPS estimates that employees on the site will “spend on average $8.3 million offsite within Davis a year – that’s $8.3 million spent at other Davis businesses by the folks living and working here.” He continued, “that does not include the almost $42 million in business to business transactions where the businesses at the DISC site are doing business with other businesses within the city of Davis.”
He continues, “Additionally, what it shows is at full buildout, the annual employee compensation is around $200 million from the people that work at this site, which is a major boost to the regional economy.”
Finally he noted, “as sort of a safeguard against any concern that perhaps our retail will draw people away from the core, we do have a requirement that prior to developing any retail on site, we have to conduct a demand study to show that there is sufficient demand generated on our project site that warrants creation of that retail, or we are precluded from creating the retail until the demand exists from within the DiSC 2022 development.”
Finally to respond to the issue of demand, Keasling brought in Bob Geolis. Geolis has spent 30 years working at the Research Triangle Park in North Carolina including eight at the Vice President of Economic Development at Clemson and five years as President and CEO of the Research Triangle Park itself.
He has spent time recently advising and working on the Aggie Square Project.
When the Research Triangle Park (“RTP”) was conceived in North Carolina, leaders in North Carolina worried about the state’s economic future. Per capita income was 49th in the nation.
Geolis related the story of growing up in an area in North Carolina near Raleigh-Durham as a young boy and the impact that the project had on his father, a working class electrician.
“He ultimately got a job selling pagers for a company called Motorola to all the new employees moving into RTP from IBM. We were able to buy a house, moving into a neighborhood… I got a chance to grow up and go to college,” he explained. “I look back and I think about that experience and realize that the fact that RTP existed for us gave a kid like me from a working class family, the opportunity to grow up one day and actually have the ability to run it and to lead it.”
He added, “Always with the expectation that what we were really all about was lifting other people up.”
Since that time, “research parks have changed,” and “the way we think about them is entirely different,” Geolis explained. “I think that’s what this project represents. We don’t build old fashioned office parks or research parks or business parks anymore. We build communities of innovation and we build them with the expectation that they’re going to be places of collaboration that they’re going to bring together, university industry, government partnerships.”
He said, “I think what you’re seeing in this project, it’s laying that groundwork.”
“It’s not the biggest project out there,” he said. “It’s a good size. But it’s smaller than most, but that means it represents your community. It also means it can have a very meaningful impact in people’s lives.”
He concluded, “I’m very bullish on it and I’m excited about what it can mean for Davis and your community.”