Davis Downtown Measure H Forum – Clash of the Opening Arguments

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

Davis, CA – The Davis Downtown held a forum on Measure H last week.  Yes on H panelists included Nate Yngvanitsait from University of Beer, NH Mvondo from the Human Relations Commission, and Matt Keasling an Environmental Law Specialist.  No on H Panelists included Heather Caswell from the Wardrobe, Juliette Beck, a candidate for Yolo County Supervisor, and Matt Williams.

The opening arguments were made by Matt Williams and Matt Keasling.

According to Matt Williams, “there are 10 good reasons to vote No on H.  It starts with traffic. There are more than 1200 additional daily car trips from the project reported in the EIR. The EIR says significant and unavoidable delays.  And all of that makes the Mace Mess, South of I-80, look like a stroll in the park.”

He added, “Further, the EIR does not include the additional planned development projects, Palomino Place, which is currently at the planning department being reviewed…  Shriner’s is also in planning.”

Furthermore, he argued, “The Northern hundred acres would produce 12,000 to 13,000 more daily car trips per the 2020 EIR.”

In addition, he argued, “there are no firm, and I emphasize the word firm plans to mitigate the traffic. There are suggestions of 23 improvements along the mace corridor, but many of them, if not all of them are subject to study, and we won’t know what they’re going to be until they’re studied further. The commitments to fund them are often only for the initial funding or design funding and with no firm completion dates in the overall project plan.  Figuring it out later is not a plan.”

Williams further stated, “Yes on H has said the independent study by the traffic consultant traffic engineers, they are professionals. So they said the average intersection delay is reported in seconds per vehicle for all approaches. And that overall you would see traffic improve with the project on the mace corridor.”

He continued, “Well, the reality is that when you look at all four directions and you think about the current problems on the Mace Corridor, the problems are all southbound.”

He explained, “There are no problems northbound, and the east and westbound are not a problem. So what happens is the improvements such as adding two northbound lanes on Mace north of Alhambra will improve northbound traffic, which is already okay. And that improvement overweighs the serious problems that exist southbound.”

Williams argued that the 23 improvements “doesn’t deal with the elephant in the room, which is the I-80 eastbound on ramp—the ramp meter there lets one car on every 15 seconds when it’s turned on, that’s four cars a minute. If you figure two lanes, that’s eight cars a minute.  When you look at the traffic study, it says they’re gonna add 156 additional cars turning in out of the project onto southbound Mace at Alhambra and another 243, turning south out of County Route 32, that’s 400 additional cars.”

He argues, “If you figure there’s eight cars per minute, that’s 50 minutes of additional traffic. That’s going to be added.”

Williams further argued, “The project will make this housing shortage in Davis worse. This says it will bring just under 2,500 new jobs to Davis, but only provide 460 residents.  That means that the current Davis housing shortage will be worse by 2000 people looking for jobs.  The financial analysis the city put together projects only 187 of the project residents, will be assumed to work on site.”

Finally Williams argued, “According to the EIR, hundreds of thousands of square feet of existing Davis retail are at risk of vacancy due to competition. It adds 1.3 million worth of additional space and 80,000 square feet of that is in more retail. 80,000 of that is in more retail.”

He explained, “If you figure the average small retailer in downtown has about 800 square feet, give or take, that’s a hundred small retail shops that they’re talking about adding to DiSC, which is going to act as a gravitational pull of customers away from downtown.”

Matt Keasling explained the Yes side of the argument.  He said, “We’ve argued that it will combat climate change, that it will create a carbon-free community using a hundred percent renewable energy, deliver more housing and affordable housing for the next generation of Davisites.  That it will restore and improve native habitats and permanently preserve farmland.

“And at unprecedented scale, that it’ll create STEM jobs and internship opportunities. It will expand the greenbelt systems walking path, and create safe connections. Yes on H builds upon the amazing research taking place at UC Davis and allows businesses generated by that research to grow here locally.”

Further, he argued, “I think more important for Downtown Davis, Yes on H delivers $2 million for the south Davis library and community center. It generates conservatively $3.6 million annually for the city’s general fund. And it creates an estimated $2.3 million in ADA funds and $700,000 in taxes for Davis Joint Unified School District annually. These are major commitments that are going to be a benefit to the community as a whole.”

He said, “Yes on measure  H would approve the Davis Innovation and Sustainability Campus of 2022.”  He explained, “We are talking about 550,000 square feet of office, R &D and laboratory space, as well as 550,000 square feet of advanced manufacturing. These are not 800 square foot buildings or 3,500 square foot of office. This is major office, laboratory and manufacturing, similar to what you see on Second Street adjacent to I, 80, where you have Schilling Robotics, where you have FMC just purchased a new facility and is intending to expand here locally in Davis, thanks to the applicants that are proposing this project.”

He continued, “And what we’ve experienced on Second Street is a large demand from companies that desire to be close to UC Davis that are tied to the research that’s occurring at UC Davis, and they want to stay in Davis. The only problem is once they grow to a certain size, there’s no space available for them to stay in Davis. And so they start looking in Vacaville, they start looking in Sacramento, they start looking in west Sacramento and they leave Davis and the jobs that they created and the tax revenue that they generate leave Davis, along with them.”

DiSC, he said, “will be an opportunity for the city of Davis to retain those jobs and grow those companies for the benefit of the entire economy.”

Keasling then started to address some of the criticisms of the project.

He said that “those points would be one that this is greenwashing; two, that somehow the project will have a drain on downtown and the downtown businesses and economy, and three that the traffic is unmitigated with no firm commitments.”

He started with “greenwashing.”

He said, “This project that you see before you today has made commitments to energy sustainability, unlike any that I’ve ever seen, unlike any that we can be shown an example of in the state of California. Every structure is required to have photovoltaics placed on them, is required to utilize 100% renewable energy, meaning all of the energy that we don’t create on the site we purchase from VCEs ultra green program. Meaning every bit of electricity that’s utilized onsite is from a sustainable source. In addition to that, the buildings themselves are all electric. Our housing is all electric, no natural gas. Even commercial facilities have an all electric building shell, meaning that if they have a use inside that requires gas, say a laboratory that needs gas, they can have it, but for the heating and cooling of the systems, that is all electric using all renewables.”

He continued, “[W]e have just recently had UC Davis come out and say that the train heating and cooling system that would be a systems wide program that we would utilize on the site would have considerable benefits from sustainability and resulting in overall, uh, 12% reduction in, in carbon emissions from the site.”  Keasling added that “put simply this is the greenest facility of its type that would exist in the state, if not the nation and what an awesome opportunity for Davis to be an example for the rest of this state, to be an example for the rest of the country on how to do something like this and do it right, and do it in a way that’s sustainable.”

Next he addressed the issue of the drain on downtown.

He said, “There seems to be a misconception that the site is going to be full of retail that’s going to pull people away. Let’s be clear that this is not going to be a new mall that is going to pull people away from downtown.”

Keasling explained, “There is a maximum of 80,000 square foot of retail on site with the largest retail permitted 25,000 square feet. There’s also firm commitment that this retail will only be intended to serve the needs of those living and working on site. Likely that means food, coffee childcare, perhaps a fitness center, right? Things that if I work on site and I’m busy at my desk, and I only have time to slip out for a second to buy a sandwich, and then I’m going back to my desk to keep working. That’s the type of users we have here so that people don’t have to hop in their cars and drive off site. It’s also an environmental benefit to have that, but in no way, is that competition for downtown retail, it is not intended to pull people into the site. It’s simply intended to provide convenient locations for those on site to have some amenities.  So they don’t have to leave every single day.”

He pointed out that Target is 130,000 square feet; this is 80,000 total in a center that’s going to create 2400 jobs.

He said, “So it’s not going to be actually a drain on downtown. In fact, what the analysis tells us is that at build out DiSC is gonna have approximately 2,400 residents that live there with annual compensation of 200 million. These are people that are going to be making good salaries and are gonna be looking for places to spend that money.”

He mostly ran out of time, but addressed the issue of “unmitigated traffic” briefly.  He said, “I will say that the traffic is mitigated, the county board of supervisors and the council unanimously supported an MOU that not only states that we absolutely will build all these improvements, we will build them concurrent with the project. And the traffic analysis shows that with these mitigations in place, we can adequately mitigate for our traffic impacts. And in fact, be an improvement on Mace Boulevard compared to what it would be in 10 years, if the project is not built.”

The next portion will address some of the Q&A portion of the forum.

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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  1. Don Shor

    When Second Street Crossing (Target) went to the ballot, the development agreement contained a very detailed list of the types of retail businesses that would not be permitted. It had clearly been worked out with Davis Downtown Business Association as it specifically prohibited retail uses that would have competed with downtown retailers. This essentially precluded opposition from downtown retailers, and DDBA took no position on the ballot measure. (The Chamber of Commerce, in a full public display of dysfunction, first heartily endorsed Target and then withdrew that endorsement).

    If downtown retailers have these concerns about the types of businesses that would locate at DISC, why were they not brought into the discussions in the same manner here?

    1. David Greenwald

      As I understand it, the developer cut a deal with the downtown businesses to put language in that would prevent them from encroaching. Last time there were a whole bunch of downtown businesses that came out against the project, this time, there are very few that I’ve seen.

      1. Matt Williams

        Don raises good questions, and David’s observation deserves a response.

        Regarding Don’s question, as I understand it, there is not a unanimity of opinions/perspectives in the DDBA.  DDBA’s members that are services businesses like restaurants and bars and professionals (accountants, consultants, the Vanguard, etc.) are less afraid of competition from DiSC than retail establishments like clothing and shoe stores.  Getting a similar kind of list to the one you described requires coordination and some effort.  Both those attributes are in short supply right now with so many downtown business owners scrambling simply to ensure that their businesses survive.  Participation in DDBA activities is a luxury, not a necessity.

        As it was explained to me, that survival situation is one of the reasons David isn’t seeing as much activity.  Another factor is that the DDBA has been much more careful this time not to get ahead of itself with a premature endorsement.  So the businesses haven’t had to deal with “walking back” anything.  Another key factor is that Heather Caswell as a person and The Wardrobe as a business has stepped up to carry the ball … be the messenger.  And one last factor is the Ron deSantis – Disney retribution considerations … which everyone knows have a recent local reinforcing event that makes anyone concerned, doubly concerned.

        1. Don Shor

          Regarding Don’s question, as I understand it, there is not a unanimity of opinions/perspectives in the DDBA. DDBA’s members that are services businesses like restaurants and bars and professionals (accountants, consultants, the Vanguard, etc.) are less afraid of competition from DiSC than retail establishments like clothing and shoe stores. Getting a similar kind of list to the one you described requires coordination and some effort. Both those attributes are in short supply right now with so many downtown business owners scrambling simply to ensure that their businesses survive. Participation in DDBA activities is a luxury, not a necessity.

          Based on a quick review of their board minutes over the last year, the only time they discussed DISC at all was in a brief response to Heather Caswell’s email on the topic.

          Minutes 2/10/2022:

          11. New Business
          A. Heather Caswell of The Wardrobe sent an email to the board regarding DiSC 2022 (included in board email packet)
          i. Brett has attended meetings and communicated with a number of stakeholders to gather more information and has made it known the DDBA has not taken a stance on the project
          ii. Previous Board of Directors had agreed to be a proponent of the original DiSC plan which lost in public vote (~48% to 52%)
          iii. New project has been scaled down
          iv. Staff is considering holding an info session with project stakeholders and DDBA members to allow membership the opportunity to ask questions, address concerns, and get well-informed

  2. Matt Williams

    Especially given the fact that both Matts were asked to cut their Opening Statements short by DDBA’s moderator, it is probably more representative if the respective Closing Statements for Yes and No were included in the Vanguard article.  Without any editorial comment, here are transcripts of those two Closing Statements.

    Yes on Measure H Closing Statement delivered by Nate Yngvanitsait

    I’ll take this one.  So again I just wanna focus on that the DiSC project will provide 2400 new jobs, and those are potential new customers for our businesses. I have University of Beer in Davis that I started in 2012.  Now I have six locations throughout the whole Sacramento region.  One thing that I see that is different from the Davis location and the other five, is that we don’t have any young professionals that come into my Davis location.  Vacaville, Sacramento, Roseville, Rocklin, Folsom, all of them have young professionals (as customers).  That’s because we don’t have jobs for them.  In return, we don’t get the business.

    30% of my current employees … in the next two months beginning in August … they are moving away from Davis because they do not have jobs in Davis  So they are done with school and they are gone.  30% … that is costing a lot for a business owner like me to retrain people … to find new employees.  So what I believe is that have got to give ourselves an opportunity to win the business from customers.  But actually right now if we are not doing this project we are not going to have the 2400 new jobs, and that’s not giving us an opportunity to win the business from them at all.

    So you know that is something that I believe is gonna be great, because we are going to get young professionals.  They have more spending power than any other age group because they don’t own a home, they don’t own a car, they don’t have kids yet, so they can spend all their money on entertainment in downtown … spend all their excess money on retail shopping, for clothing, for going out eating … doing all the fun stuff in downtown.  And that is what we need in downtown Davis.  We need more customers.  We need more of them to come and spend money in our businesses in downtown.

    No on Measure H Closing Statement delivered by Matt Williams and Juliette Beck

    Let’s address the first point that Matt (Keasling) made about it (the project) being carbon neutral.  Over 80% of the carbon that’s going to be made from this project is going to be from transportation.  The positives of making the buildings green is really easy, but the only way they’re going to offset the transportation component of GHGs is buying greenhouse gas (carbon) credits, and that’s not truly getting to carbon neutral on the project.

    We also feel that there are ways to achieve everything that Nate just said (in his closing) without doing this project.  You need a commitment to active, collaborative planning with the City, UCD, the County and DJUSD … leveraging our current strengths.  Matt, we’re not bringing other people (who are) transporting themselves to Davis for a special trip. We have 110 thousand people/families who apply to undergraduate studies (at UCD) every single year. (Currently) nothing is done to have those people … when they come for a campus visit … stay and buy a beer at UOB, and stay for another night at a hotel,  and the like. We have  a situation where there are lots of opportunities to leverage our current strengths.

    I’m going to turn it over to Juliette now.

    Okay, well unfortunately this project feels way too much to me like a “field of dreams.” It is a lot of “smoke and mirrors.”  This idea that we have all these students that need jobs … we actually have a great employer right here in town.  It is called UC Davis, and they are doing a really great job employing postgraduates on campus.  The Research Center for Transportation is a great example out at West Village. They are bringing in huge grants to keep local jobs in our community for UC Davis students.

    Everything else is hypothetical.  Once again I’m going to say this is an age of uncertainty. And what we do know is sticking with this development model is an extractive development model.  If you are talking about jobs issues, these kinds of companies, they are all about taking wealth out of the community.  That is not what Davis has been about.  It is not the community values that we have for Davis.  We have out of town developers driving this project for the community in a way that’s not consistent with our values for the future.



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