Guest Commentary: Debunking Deceptive Descriptions of DiSC in No on H Campaign Messaging

By Jackson Mills

“The No on Measure H campaign recently sent out an argumentative mailer opposing the proposed Davis Innovation and Sustainability Campus (DiSC 2022). Not surprisingly, the flyer uses various forms of misinformation to try to scare Davis voters into rejecting this pivotal measure on the June 7 Primary ballot. While there are a lot of inaccurate claims and outright falsehoods that could merit a response, I want to focus specifically on the description of DiSC as a “sprawling car-centric 102-acre business park.”

“Sprawling”

Let’s explore the allegation that DiSC is “sprawling,” starting with the proposed residential development component. Measure H will authorize the construction of 460 housing units on approximately 12 acres of land, which makes for a density of slightly higher than 38 dwelling units per acre (dw/acre). 

Compare this to a neighborhood less than half a mile away from where DISC will be built. The area in question (outlined in the image below) has the prescribed borders of Alhambra Dr. in the north, Arroyo Dr. in the east, the houses south of Arroyo Dr. in the south, and Caricia Dr. in the west. The neighborhood is zoned for purely single-family residential. It is approximately 28.25 acres in size and contains 131 housing units. This works out to a density of 4.64 dwelling units per acre. 

The housing that would be built if Measure H passes is more than eight times as dense as this neighborhood. Put another way, DiSC housing will take up less than half the acreage while providing 3.5 times more units for people to live in. If the No on H campaign is concerned about sprawl, it should take issue with the existing low-density single-family neighborhoods that comprise the vast majority of East Davis, and not the residential units being built as part of DiSC 2022.

Some may point out that this comparison hones in on just a small section of Davis, so let’s expand our assessment a bit. If our residential density calculations include the entire area of the DiSC project and not just the areas that will be zoned for housing, we get a density of 4.51 dw/acre. According to the American Community Survey, the City of Davis is 6348 acres and contains 24,973 housing units – a density of 3.93 dw/acre. This calculation is factoring in every land use type in the city and the DiSC project, and it still shows that DiSC 2022 will be more densely populated than the rest of the city. 

On top of that, the degrees to which Davis and DiSC are respectively composed of land zoned for residential use are starkly divergent. While the vast majority of Davis’s land is zoned for some form of residential (low, medium, high, mixed-use, etc., seen in the map below), only 11.8% of the land that’s part of the DiSC proposal will be residential. This means that DiSC will achieve a higher housing density than Davis despite its residential zones representing a much smaller percentage of its total land makeup.

What about the non-residential elements of the project? DiSC as a whole is far from a sprawling development, at least in terms of its diverse land uses and especially in comparison to how Davis has principally developed since the mid-20th century. For decades, the city followed national suburbanization trends and expanded its borders to accommodate swaths of new development. Zoning code mandated (and continues to require) that almost every pocket of these newly built areas be restricted to a single type of land use (e.g., single-family residential or exclusively commercial/retail space). 

This single-use zoning for new land development had profound effects on the city’s urban landscape because it forced Davis to build out instead of up. As a result, large sections of the city today are still restricted to one type of land use. This is how sprawl conquered our built environments: Because more people began to reside in exclusively single-family neighborhoods, they lived farther away from retail, school, work, and pretty much everything else. This forced residents to drive everywhere, which increased the use of private automobiles and spurred the construction of more sprawl.

By comparison, DiSC 2022 is a mixed-use development with multiple land uses. In addition to providing some of the densest housing in the city, Measure H will zone more than 25 acres for mixed-use commercial and laboratory space and more than 32 acres for advanced manufacturing. These uses would traditionally all be built in separate locations far apart from one another. Including all of these development types in a 102-acre footprint will provide some of the most compact and diversified land use concentrations in the city’s history. 

I also want to address the misrepresentative visuals on the flyer’s map that show the location of the project. The campaign is trying to be as deceptive as possible by including the boundaries of DiSC 2020 and the highlighted areas of proposed developments that have nothing to do with DiSC. They are trying to give the illusion that the project will have a much greater footprint than it will in reality. I believe that voters will be able to see through this blatantly misleading use of visuals.

The claim from the No on H campaign that DiSC is “sprawling” is unfounded when you look into what will actually be built on this concentration of land. It demonstrates either a lack of understanding for what constitutes sprawl (and a contradictory belief that existing sprawl in Davis is acceptable) or a willingness to mislead voters about the true nature of the project. Perhaps it’s both. 

“Car-Centric”

The second descriptor of DiSC 2022 from the No on H campaign mailer—that Measure H will create a car-centric community—doesn’t hold up any better under scrutiny.

The No on H campaign might agree that we should be investing heavily in alternative transportation methods, including public transit, bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, so that people do not have to rely on private automobiles to get to where they need to go. Measure H will accomplish a lot of this: A 1.5-mile long bike/pedestrian trail will circumnavigate the development area and connect with Davis’s existing trail system, which means residents and employees will be able to get to the rest of Davis safely without the need for a car. Gaps in bike lane coverage on the Mace Curve will be filled in, and land for a fully grade-separated bike/pedestrian crossing over Mace will be acquired. 

Measure H also authorizes the construction of a transit plaza just south of the Mace and Alhambra intersection that can accommodate up to three buses at once. This stop will be serviced by Unitrans’s A, P, Q, and Z lines, in addition to service from Sacramento Regional Transit and Yolobus. It will be no more than a half-mile walk from every structure that’s part of the project. An electric shuttle will also provide direct service to Amtrak, Downtown Davis and the UCD campus. This means residents, employees, and visitors alike won’t need to use a car to get to the main transit/activity hubs in the city. 

These investments make DiSC a transit-oriented development. The entire project will be within walking distance of multiple bus lines that can get you to Sacramento and anywhere in Davis. DiSC embodies the recognition that it is efficient and sustainable for residential, commercial and leisure space in close proximity to public transportation. No matter what the No on H campaign promotes to voters, a development of this sort is inherently not “sprawling” or “car-centric.”

The backside of the flyer lists figures about the project’s supposed dependence on private automobiles. One of the main negatives cited is that DiSC will have more than 2000 parking spaces. This is a bit of a disingenuous argument; if DiSC 2022 contained zero parking spots, the No on H campaign would certainly list that as a negative and ask, “Where are people going to park?”

The campaign also conveniently leaves out the reason behind those parking spaces. Davis’s Municipal Code establishes minimum parking requirements for specific land uses in the city. The nature of the proposed DiSC project means that the developers must build 2050 parking spaces. To be sure, these mandatory parking minimums are fundamentally detrimental to our climate goals and are inconsistent in principle with Davis’s Climate Action Plan. It’s a shame that any project is mandated to build more parking than is often necessary; even so, Measure H’s commitments to sustainable modes of transportation help offset this cost.

The No on H campaign is misleading Davis voters by focusing solely on the project’s vehicular impact in an attempt to convince voters that DiSC will unleash carmageddon on city streets. In actuality, DiSC is a fundamentally transit-oriented community that will incorporate many 21st-century sustainable transportation solutions.

“Business Park”

Finally, let’s explore the whole description of DiSC 2022 as a “sprawling car-centric business park.” The statement is an attempt by the No on H campaign to invoke 1960s-era low-density office parks with such abysmal land use that the parking lots take up much more space than the office buildings. Davis contains several of these types of business parks, most notably in South Davis along Drew Ave and East Davis along 2nd St and I-80.

The campaign wants voters to translate their mental images of these areas to DiSC, but DiSC is nothing like these developments. Describing the entire project as a business park is a truly ridiculous assertion. This so-called “business park” will contain enough housing for more than a thousand people, provide nearly two dozen acres of new park/open space, and contain tens of thousands of square feet for new businesses to find a home in Davis, in addition to hundreds of thousands of square feet of laboratory and advanced manufacturing space. If this is a business park, it is the coolest business park the city has ever seen.

Vote Yes

Misleading messaging from the No on H campaign about DiSC 2022 should serve as a reminder to Davis voters to remain vigilant about the spread of misinformation during election cycles. It is telling that the only way the No on H campaign seems to think it can get enough support to strike down DiSC 2022 is to openly mislead people on the nature of the development. I humbly ask that you, Davis voters, don’t fall for this. Please reject these inaccurate and erroneous claims by voting Yes on H on your Primary ballot. 

Jackson Mills is a student at UC Davis, Director of Political Affairs for the Davis College Democrats, and bus driver for ASUCD Unitrans.

About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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14 Comments

  1. Colin Walsh

    The Vanguard has done nothing to address the Misrepresentations of the Yes on H campaign. Those claims have included such outrageous exaggerations and misinformation such as:

    Measure H “helps our community fight the housing crisis” – DiSC will have over 2,400 employees, and by the City’s own documents only 187 will live in the onsite housing. That adds over 2,200 additional people looking for housing in Davis, adding pressure to our already incredibly tight Davis housing market.

    The Davis City Council “often disagree” – The Davis City Council members rarely disagree, and have no disagreement on DiSC.

    “restore Native habitat” – a single artificial burrowing owl burrow or a 100’ wide swath of ag buffer that will capture spray drift from the adjacent ag lands is not “restoring habitat.”

    “protect endangered species” – what species? Where? Burrowing owls are not endangered species (they are CA species of special concern) not that anything about this project does anything that would actually protect them.

    “solving the world’s greatest challenge, climate change” – this is so ludicrous I am not going to bother refuting it.

    “creates STEM internship opportunities” – this is beyond speculative since not a single company has agreed to locate here, yet alone agreed to an internship program.

    “ensure that all families in our community will have a bright future” – “all families”? this can’t ensure that any family except maybe the Ramos family will have a bright future.

    Or what Dan Carson claimed from the dais, measure H will “save the planet, literally”

    Or my personal favorite, that there will be a paddle board water feature in the development like the one that is pictured in in both Enterprise ads and in Yes on H mailers. Are they paddle boarding in the drainage ditch? This is just ridiculous.

    Now let’s look at Mr. Mills failed attempts to debunk the No on H mailer. Not a single one of his claims passes muster

    Is Disc Sprawling – yes, Measure H extends the city onto 102 acres of prime farmland rather than being infill development. Comparing only the housing portion of the DiSC development to previous housing as Mills does is not the point, The Disc Development is a large commercial industrial complex on the edge of Davis that expands the footprint of the City in a sprawling manner. Mr. Mills suggestion that the mixed use zoning makes DiSC something other than sprawl is also not on point. This is absolutely a fair use of the term sprawling.

    Mr. Mills takes issue with the Map, but his issue is misplaced. This map is copied directly from the City of Davis website, but adds the boundary for DiSC 2022 that the City did not include. The City of Davis continues to list the larger DiSC footprint as a potential development site, and that is exactly what the mailer shows.  https://www.cityofdavis.org/city-hall/community-development-and-sustainability/development-projects

    Next Mr. Mills claims DiSC is not “Car-Centric.” The EIR produced by the City for DiSC predicts 12,000 more car trips daily on Mace. That is “net” after deducting all the people who will walk, bicycle, and/or take public transit to the site. The DiSC location was projected by Fehr and Peers to be one of the highest VMT sites in the Sacramento region. DiSC is investing less in bicycle infrastructure than many previous Davis projects. The Baseline Features and development agreement do not even guarantee the developer will pay for a undercrossing on Mace, only that the developer “will construct” a not-at-grade crossing. “Will construct” does not mean “will pay for.” There are other places in the development agreement that are very explicit about paying for things, and by comparison the Nishi development agreement is very specific about who will pay for the railway undercrossing for that project.

    Mr. Mills cites the so called “transit plaza” ignoring that it is really just a large bus stop for only south bound busses and that nothing is being done for northbound busses at all. Further, there are no guarantees for improved bus services, and the transit stop is a long walk for some parts of the development. “transit plaza” is a perfect example of how the developer has used over blown terms to describe very mundane project features.

    Mr. Mills is parroting the developer when he claims, “DiSC is a fundamentally transit-oriented community that will incorporate many 21st-century sustainable transportation solutions” is without support unless he includes cars as part of that transit. The project is primarily geared to cars and the EIR projects that people will mostly drive. There is really nothing particularly innovative about the transit for this project and No transit plan has even been written for it. The project has the most minimal of possible bike connection to the City with a single bike path going west, but does nothing to improve bike transportation to Pioneer elementary school the likely school for kids that Live at DiSC to attend. It does little or nothing to improve buss connections. Every aspect of this predates the 21st century certainly, and none of it is particularly innovative.

    But really, just by the placement of this development next to an Interstate 80 freeway onramp, on the edge of town, far away from UCD and central Davis make it very fair to claim this is a car centric development.

    The sentence Mr. Mills includes about parking spaces is astounding. Not having enough material to aim at in the mailer itself, Mr. Mills makes up his own argument claiming that opponents to H would complain “where will people park” if their were no parking spaces. He has no evidence of this. In reality it is the developer who did actually make these complaints when asked to reduce parking or guarantee that the parking would be pay to park only. This clearly shows Mr. Mills bias in writing this article.

    Mr. Mills goes on to suggest that the Davis Municipal Code requires these parking spaces. As we just saw with the new Olive Drive project, the City has considerable flexibility when applying its parking standards, and the DiSC development is a new zoning designation anyway. Really though what Mr. Mills misses here is that over 2,000 parking spaces is actually evidence of the car centric nature of the development.

    Mr. Mills wants to take issue with the term business park. The Cambridge online dictionary defines Business Park as “an area that is specially designed to have business offices, small factories, etc.” that is exactly what is planned at DiSC.

    Finally we get to Mr. Mills overriding message “Vote Yes” This article is not an objective look at the No on DiSC mailer, this article is an advocacy piece.

    Mr. Mills, if you want to see misleading mailers, please look at the Yes on H mailers.

    1. Bill Marshall

      Mr Walsh…

      Are you saying, implying, that only the “yes” mailers have misleading info and the “no” mailers don’t?  Sounds like it… my view is they both have, but I doubt you’re inclined to admit that…

      So, we’ll go to your posts…

      “restore Native habitat” – a single artificial burrowing owl burrow or a 100’ wide swath of ag buffer that will capture spray drift from the adjacent ag lands is not restoring habitat.

      So are there burrowing owls on the site now, or in past 10 years?  I wonder…

      So the site, as ag, has neither been ‘sprayed’, nor subject to ‘spray drift’ in the last 1-10 years?  I wonder…
      The ‘habitat’ was strongly affected when the first folk cleared the land and turned it into Ag… truth.

      My point is, for many reasons, not just the ones “presented”, there is ‘spin’ (ie. misinformation, “selected” information, implied untruths) on either side… a strong artifact of the JeRkeD ordinances, making land use decisions ‘political’ at the two levels… Commissions(s)/CC level, and the vox populi level … can you ‘own’ that truth?  Am thinking “not”… but I could be mistaken…

      I ask you to be honest with yourself… I need no reply… unless you move residency, I’ll not have a ‘voice’ in any future CC elections you run for (another topic, so I’ll end that ‘drift’)

      I am neither an opponent, nor supporter/advocate on the proposed project… but I have decided how to vote (being challenged to make a decision by the JeRkeD process)… I’ll lose no sleep either way the vote turns out… to me, it’s a ‘mixed bag’… pros and cons in my life… but I won’t abstain/recuse from voting on it…

      I’m being honest… are you?  I have no ‘agenda’ (except encouraging folk to vote)… do you (if yes, please be honest about it)?  I wonder…

      Please vote your conscience, either way, but please don’t add to the ‘misinformation’, direct or implied.

       

    2. Keith Y Echols

      Collin

      The Vanguard has done nothing to address the Misrepresentations of the Yes on H campaign. Those claims have included such outrageous exaggerations and misinformation such as:

      So write one.  Stop btchn about it….I’m pretty sure the Vanguard will publish whatever you or the NO Campaign wants published.

      In fact I want the NO Campaign to offer up an alternative to the financial benefit that (in theory) DISC will provide for the city.  And I’ll stop you there you anyone offers up developing infill as the only alternative.

      David

      Ok, I’ll ask – is any peripheral development sprawl or does sprawl has specific characteristics above and beyond that?

      Yes. Technically if the development adds to the city’s size; it’s sprawl. It could be a 100 story sky scraper and if it’s annexed to the city; it’s technically sprawl.

  2. Keith Y Echols

    Jesus, this article is embarrassing.

    DISC is sprawl?  OF COURSE IT’S SPRAWL.  The project forces the city to grow outward.  The city is annexing property.  That’s literally sprawl.  Just because you’re a proponent doesn’t mean you have to try to alter reality.

    Is it Car Centric?  OF COURSE IT’S CAR CENTRIC.  It’s where people work.  It’s where people live.  People drive to work and drive home.  Let’s be real, the vast majority of people that are going to live there aren’t going to be working at DISC.  Oh yeah….and it’s right next to the freakin freeway?

    Is it a business park?  OF COURSE IT’S a BUSINESS PARK.  Otherwise what’s the point of the project in the first place?

    Whoever this young person is that wrote this just projects defensive weakness for his campaign.  It’s just sad.  Man up and admit to what the project is.  A car centric business park (because that’s what business parks in the central valley are).  If you want voters to vote for it; TELL VOTERS WHY THEY SHOULD VOTE FOR IT.  Not that it’s not as bad as the opponents are making it out to be.  It all goes back to playground politics.  If kids are telling saying you suck.  And your response is I don’t suck as bad as you think…..you’re not doing a good job of convincing the other kids on the playground that you don’t suck.  What should you do?  Ignore them or do something you’re good at to show them you don’t suck.

      1. Richard_McCann

        “Sprawl” is used pejoratively so often that it has lost its original meaning. Well planned expansions when needed did not originally fit the description. Now the term has both lost its meaning and gained in power.

        1. Keith Y Echols

          “Sprawl” is used pejoratively so often that it has lost its original meaning. 

          Good god….I didn’t know we were tip toeing around the sensitivity of how the development (developers?) feel about how their project is described.  What happened to it is what it is?

          Here’s more technical definition.

          According to the definition of Jaeger and Schwick (2012, 2014) the degree of sprawl is higher when more area is built up, buildings are more dispersed in the landscape, and the utilization intensity of built-up areas is lower (i.e. the land uptake per inhabitant or job is higher). All these measures are put together into the Weighted Urban Proliferation (WUP) index of urban sprawl.

          So basically DISC is on the clear farthest outskirts of the city.  In fact it’s right now OUTSIDE of the city it spreads the overall space of the buildings out more.  So you create a ratio of the total area of the city to the total amount of developed square footage.  Then you add in the new project to see if it makes that ratio denser or less dense.  But an even more technical analysis would take into consideration the density of a project in relation to existing community clusters and structures.  If you want to dive deeper; you could calculate the walkability and bikability within the new project and to the rest of the community (again how the project relates to the rest of the community….being far out on the edge doesn’t help).  Some environmentalist types would then calculate the carbon impact of the project compared to denser alternatives (but that’s outside of my knowledge to speak of).

          So as far as sprawl calculations go DISC maybe good for urban density in it’s design as a stand alone project.  But how it relates to the rest of the community where it is qualitatively and quantitatively considered “sprawl”.

  3. Colin Walsh

    Ironically Mr. Mills himself chooses to miss lead people in his selection of an outdated illustration to lead the article. It is notable that the illustration used with this article is from the previous DISC proposal and is certainly not an accurate picture of the current DiSC proposal. The water feature in this picture is a idealized version of the drainage ditch that ran through the middle of the previous project (it also shows far more water than there ever would have been). The drainage ditch does not run through the project in the current iteration. And the drainage ditch certainly doesn’t support paddle boarding as depicted on the Yes on H mailers.

    1. Ron Oertel

      And the drainage ditch certainly doesn’t support paddle boarding as depicted on the Yes on H mailers.

      Whatever happened to the glider that used to be soaring above the images of MRIC/ARC/DISC?   Did it crash and burn?

      One thing that is both accurate and concerning is the “potential new projects” shown in the “No on DiSC” mailer. Given that one of them is advertising on this blog, and another is in process.

      Approval of DiSC would make these sprawling developments much more likely to be approved. (Shriner’s in particular is concerning, as is the “other half” of DiSC.)

      None of these have been analyzed regarding the impact on traffic, etc.

  4. Darell Dickey

    Wow. So much. Overwhelming, really. I’m sure you thought that you were doing the Yes campaign a service here. But I’m afraid that it didn’t translate well.

    I’ll comment on this one little item…. because I have no self control. And because I ride and walk all over town and this one made me chuckle. Clearly asserted by somebody who has not tried to regularly ride a bike from here to “the rest of Davis.”

    >>…circumnavigate the development area and connect with Davis’s existing trail system, which means residents and employees will be able to get to the rest of Davis safely without the need for a car <<

    Imagine that you live there with your family and your kid attends Pioneer Elementary. Or you wish to shop at Nugget just a stone’s throw away across the freeway. Or maybe you’re one of those sustainable innovators who is working with UCD to solve climate change. Could you and I please take a ride together from the Mace Curve (we’ll pretend that we’ve just enjoyed the (no funding-yet-secured MUP undercrossing of Mace, and start on the “existing trail system.” ) We’ll pretend that we’re your child riding alone to Pioneer (on that “existing trail system, remember). Or we can try going shopping at Nugget. And next we’ll ride to UCD campus (on that same existing trail system!) Or we’ll grab lunch at Davis Commons. 

    These trips are almost never going to happen by bicycle. Kids will be driven to school and their activities. Quick lunch trips into downtown will require a car. Most of town destinations are too distant or too uncomfortable for a convenient bike ride from this location. It’ll be pretty great for Harper and Target access. But the rest of town? Only the “avid” riders will survive.

    It is literally designed for motor vehicle priority access. (the traffic “mitigations” mostly involve adding lanes and making the intersections wider to hold more cars! Thus the need for the MUP undercrossing of course). And yes… it will have a bit of multi-use access tossed in for the checkbox as per usual. Please get back to me when you have details on this new active transportation infrastructure that will inspire everybody to ride and walk. Because the developer certainly doesn’t know ANY details on what will be installed… and has only been able to say that it will  follow the Davis Standards….  (he actually that that would be impressive!)

  5. Todd Edelman

    A 1.5-mile long bike/pedestrian trail will circumnavigate the development area and connect with Davis’s existing trail system,

    No one really calls this a trail system. Okay, let’s not get bogged down in technical terms…. There are lots of old school bike lanes, lots of often narrow, shared bike-ped paths with some nice grade separated crossings, mostly on the periphery. There is virtually no modern cycling infrastructure (Class IV cycle tracks). There’s no consistent and direct cycling route from DISC to Downtown and beyond, and in places it’s dangerous.

    which means residents and employees will be able to get to the rest of Davis safely without the need for a car.

    Jackson’s university’s travel survey shows a steep decline in bike trips over 15 min. in length – MU is more than 20 min away, and it’s on the closer end of campus. There’s no safe way to get directly to the east side of South Davis, including Pioneer ES and Nugget. Simply nothing. This is not even analysis, it’s basic reading of maps.

    and land for a fully grade-separated bike/pedestrian crossing over Mace will be acquired.

    YES on H says most of the design costs only, construction costs millions and will compete with other things in Davis with no private funding source. Also what is a “partly” grade separated crossing?

    1. Bill Marshall

      and land for a fully grade-separated bike/pedestrian crossing over Mace will be acquired.

      YES on H says most of the design costs only, construction costs millions and will compete with other things in Davis with no private funding source. Also what is a “partly” grade separated crossing?

      Huh?????????????

      Je ne comprends pas…

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