By David M. Greenwald
Davis, CA – On the one hand, Measure J campaigns almost ensure that the opposition has to go negative—after all, without pointing out the flaws of the prospective project, how are you going to get voters to vote against it?
On the other hand, why the need for personal swipes? Stephen Wheeler, who was one of the signers of the No on Measure H Ballot Statement now being sued with a hearing set for Tuesday, has gone not only negative but personal.
He writes in an op-ed this week, “DiSC represents neither innovation nor sustainability. It is another big piece of suburban sprawl promoted by one of Davis’ most aggressive sprawl-builders, Dan Ramos.”
While it is questionable in content—the last project built by the Ramos family was Mace Ranch in the 1980s, it seems you could find more prominent developers in recent years. Still, even if you want to argue that’s true, what is gained by taking a personal swipe if you have the facts on your side?
Wheeler argues that “DiSC is essentially a greenwashed business park. Business parks are a traditional, much-discredited economic development approach in which cities designate a large area of land on their periphery for whatever commercial development they can manage to attract. These projects are highly motor-vehicle-dependent and undercut efforts to revitalize more centrally located downtown areas.”
On the contrary, Innovation Centers are popping up all over the region, the most recent being Aggie Square, the collaboration between UC Davis and Sacramento.
As Bruce Katz and Julie Wagner wrote in the Brooking Institute’s seminal study, The Rise of Innovation Districts, “These districts, by our definition, are geographic areas where leading-edge anchor institutions and companies cluster and connect with start-ups, business incubators and accelerators. They are also physically compact, transit-accessible, and technically-wired and offer mixed-use housing, office, and retail.”
It has been a decade now since the Studio 30 report recommended Davis set aside around 200 acres on the edge of town for large scale economic development. In fits and starts over the last eight years, various proposals have struggled under Davis’ land use laws, and DiSC 2022 would represent half of the recommended acreage.
Wheeler continues his attack noting, “Ramos has no clients signed up for this site who will represent innovation or sustainability. If none appear once the project is approved, he will come back to the city asking for changes in previous agreements about uses and types of buildings at the site.”
There are of course two problems with this attack. The first is that, if the developers want to change the usage of the site or the types of buildings, it would have to go back to the voters as the design details are in the Baseline Project Agreements.
Moreover, the frequent criticism of the site is that there are no clients signed up for the site—but why would there be? Most clients looking to expand want a shovel-ready project and DiSC has to gain voter approval and begin to build out, which will take several years as we have seen.
Aggie Square we saw quickly filled out their space. Regional Start up centers like AgStart and Inventopia have both filled up their space and are looking to expand, or have already done so.
Wheeler warns the result of this invented failure is that “20 years from now is likely to be a motley collection of freeway-oriented retail and commercial businesses on our eastern edge, along with high-end housing catering to commuters with jobs in Sacramento or the Bay Area. The I-80 causeway will be even more congested than it is today. And with those homes and businesses attracting drivers from around the region, our greenhouse gas emissions will be higher as well.”
This is the whole shtick but it ignores Measure J—ironic as that might seem. As we have pointed out, there are insurances built into this project to prevent these kinds of worst-case scenarios. In addition to the development mix, there is also a number of sustainability requirements that will prevent this from becoming a problem for climate change.
The Baseline Features requires simply that “DiSC 2022 will achieve carbon neutrality by 2040.”
The DA adds, “To achieve this goal each individual development must, prior to the issuance of building permits, demonstrate consistency with the City’s Climate Action and Adaptation Plan by demonstrating a fair-share reduction of GHG emissions.”
There are a host of requirements to achieve all of this—everything from renewable power requirements to other mitigations and, if they don’t meet it, it is written into the agreement “developments may not progress unless project applicants can show they are reducing greenhouse gas emissions in an amount equal to production.”
Wheeler suggests a better form of development, arguing, “New building should take place in walkable, transit-accessible locations near existing homes, shops, offices, and schools. For Davis this means more incremental development of our downtown, the commercial centers in each neighborhood, and opportunity areas such as the East Fifth Street corridor (which is walkable and bikable to downtown).”
I’m all for that. There is nothing that would preclude this sort of development in Davis. But if Davis wants to be the landing spot for Tech Transfer, the place where high tech and environmentally friendly research-oriented business wants to move or a place where Marrone Bio Innovations, AgraQuest or Schilling Robotics want be able to remain, even as they grow, then Davis needs more space.
UC Davis is a place where research is taking place to help feed the world.
For example, a recent article from UC Davis news talked about the need to develop food without the need to slaughter and process animals.
They write “it’s set off an investment boom in recent years as startups vie for the technology that could win an entire new food sector.”
“The societal need is to provide dietary protein for a growing population,” said David Block, professor and chair of the UC Davis Department of Viticulture and Enology and professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering. “If the current food system can’t expand, we have to come up with alternatives.”
The team received an NSF Grant in September 2020 to study this issue, and, “With support from two nonprofits, the Good Food Institute and New Harvest, the consortium aims to meet needs of the new industry for research and growing interest from graduate students.”
Eventually that could be the type of high tech business that moves to a place like DiSC should they develop the research that could go to market. Or it could be the next Genentech which started out at UC Davis but went to Vacaville because Davis lacked the space. That was a huge loss for Davis.
Wheeler concludes, “Don’t be fooled by DiSC proponents. Ramos and his friends will use terms like ‘innovation’ and ‘sustainability’ as much as they can to get the initial entitlements to build. But once the project is in motion, they will work the city to let them build whatever will make the most money.”
But that’s precisely why we have Measure J, which has safeguards and requirements to prevent the very type of subterfuge that Wheeler and other opponents are concerned about.