Davis Downtown Measure H Forum: Both Sides Take on the Tough Questions – Second Part


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 Yungvanitsait 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.

Question: “One of the major arguments being made against DiSC is that there is a lot of commercial space available in Davis that research and development companies can use.  How do you view the argument that focus on infill should take priority over new development?”

Matt Williams: “The problem that we have in, in Davis is that we really have some long term vacancies in which the landlords don’t feel that they have any incentive to be able to make their space match the demands of the marketplace. So what has happened is, is that when an organization like Inventopia, Tim Keller, a great organization is looking to do greater space. There just isn’t turnkey, ready and available space. Well, the reality is that with this, there isn’t turnkey and available space either, they’re gonna have to go and build it. We should have a proactive economic development plan led by our government and our private sector. People like the local business members who are in DDBA and be doing the things to be able to transform those vacant spaces into space that will support those businesses. And then they will already be very close to, or in downtown to be able to go over and have a beer at UOB instead of catching an electric shuttle down, and then going back to work. “

Matt Keasling: “I think it’s safe to say that everybody thinks that infill development is probably the top priority and should be the top priority for the city. Filling vacant spaces is important. We by no means would disagree with that statement. Um, what we are proposing to construct with Yes on H is not designed for the types of businesses that would fill those smaller infill sites. It’s designed for companies that have already been in sites that big, that are looking for an opportunity to grow their business, that need customized space, that construct equipment or processes that need unique and, and tailored space to do it. For example, Schilling Robotics creates underwater, um, underwater exploration devices. They need a swimming pool. You don’t have that in your infill space. You actually need a deep pool to test submarines, right? That is the type of space we’re talking about creating where you have a, a 4,000 foot laboratory or an R&D space with actual manufacturing equipment inside.”

He continued, “So simply preferring to look at infill, which we all think is a priority and needs to remain a priority for downtown Davis doesn’t mean that you can’t also have space to grow the existing unique businesses that you have in town that are looking for additional room and space. And if I could too, I do want to say that there’s sort of that assertion we heard earlier that, that this type of development is no longer needed. That it’s a dinosaur. One of the changes we made was that we did shift away from office space, which used to be two thirds of the project site under the prior version, and is now 50-50 with advanced manufacturing, because while we have seen post COVID reduction in demand for office, the demand for laboratories, R&D and advanced manufacturing has gone through the roof through the roof. And so we did make that shift. It is not obsolete. The demand for this center is high and studies from across the nation would show you that.”

Question: “One of the major arguments being made in support of DiSC is the positive financial impact it will have on the City of Davis, and be a major boom for the economy.  Do you agree with the economic analysis? and Why?”

Nate Yungvanitsait: “So again, on the business side for downtown Davis having R&D facility that this is going to be having is going to be able to retain a lot of the students in Davis that graduated from UC Davis to stay in town. As of right now, we are not providing any jobs for the student that’s graduating from Davis. So they’re going to school at UC Davis when they’re done, they go to another city, they don’t, they don’t stay local because they don’t stay in town, even though they love the city, but because there’s no jobs. With this project, it will create jobs. They are going to be able to stay in town, live in town and then spend the money in town in downtown. They’ve been here for four years. If they stay in town, they’re gonna spend, go back to the same restaurant bars, retails that they’ve been spending money at for the last four years. So it’s going to create, a very good benefit for all the businesses in downtown. We don’t need to go out and find new customers from other cities. We can generate revenue from the people that actually live in town instead of hoping for people that coming to town to visit downtown, to spending money in downtown.”

Heather Caswell: “Boy, it’s a complicated subject. I appreciate your interpretation of things, Nate. I remember when, um, we put the department of agriculture down in on Fifth and G Street thinking we would get more professionals feeding our downtown. And I remember being supportive of that project, but this is so much more complicated. We have a downtown plan that we spent $2 million creating that we’re not putting focus on and attention on. And we have parking issues that we really need to be addressing. And there’s so much that can be done to enhance what we currently have. And to me, this project is a distraction. And again, it’s all about money for developers.”

Question: “How DiSC will affect vehicular traffic especially in East Davis is a hot topic. Downtown Davis is also a popular spot for people who stop along Interstate 80. Will DiSC help alleviate existing traffic issues, create more congestion, or have little or no impact?  and Why?”

Matt Williams: “The reality is that the answer is with one word, Caltrans, run-on word. Neither DiSC, nor the city, nor the county have any control of the exits and entrances on I-80, all that Caltrans cares about is that the through traffic is not disrupted by cars getting on or getting off at the entrances and exits. And one of the things that, that you see is that there’s enough distance between the Mace ramp and the Downtown ramp. That those two really are two worlds apart. That’s why we say you’re not going to see customers that are going go from Mace to Downtown at the end of the day, in order to go get a beer, they’re going have to fight an immense amount of traffic in order to do that.”

He continued, “The reality is that places like Palo Alto have a really robust local economy because the, the daily population is a hundred thousand people more than the evening, nighttime population. You succeed in retail by serving, by capturing other people’s money, not just the money inside. And we have 7,000 students who graduate every year, Nate, are we going to create 7,000 jobs a year in order to keep those students? You’re being idealistic, but you’re not looking at the reality of the problems that we have with the cost of housing. When a, a student graduates, where are they going to find a rental place because UCD students are grabbing up all the rentals. Translating your dream into reality is impossible. The highways are not going to help it out. Brett, in terms of getting more business as a result of, in downtown as a result of the DiSC project.”

Matt Keasling: “I want to start by agreeing with Matt. The traffic problem in Davis is I-80, right? I mean, I think everybody understands the majority of traffic that we experience on a daily basis is cut through traffic. It’s people trying to get around the bottleneck that they see on I-80 and until Caltrans takes that on, I don’t know that there’s a fix period. I do know that the Mace interchange is one of the nicest ones in town. And the way that it was completed is with developer dollars, it was done when Mace Ranch was developed and it was done as mitigation for that project. Similarly, this project is required to mitigate for its impacts, and it will bring close to $30 million for traffic improvements at that location. Without the project, the traffic keeps coming, cut through traffic keeps coming to avoid I 80, but there are no improvements because there are no dollars.”

He continued, “I see that as a problem.”

He said, “I also wanted to respond just to what Matt said though, too, which is we shouldn’t be building this project because economies don’t succeed based upon having residents and workers here we should capture people cutting through town. To me, that’s ludicrous. That’s a reason why you should never do anything else that allows growth within the city of Davis. And you should just hope to pull people in off of the freeway that doesn’t sound environmentally sustainable or environmentally friendly. Similarly, I don’t think you should say because we can’t save all of the students that go through UC Davis and offer them a job, we shouldn’t try to offer any of them a job. We should do the best we can with what we have. And what’s before us, this project is an example of what we can do to proactively try to make a better future in Davis, generating dollars for the businesses, generating dollars for the city, getting traffic improvements and creating jobs and housing.”

 Question: “Is the DiSC project going to alleviate any of Davis’ current housing shortage?”

NJ Mvondo: “My answer to that question is an absolute yes, and this isn’t just coming from what I read regarding the DiSC project and the numerous studies. But it’s also coming from my various conversations with community members, with students, and graduate students and post-docs, and people doing research who after they’re done with their degrees after they’re done with the research after the postdoc degree, um, is over, would like to stay in Davis. So UC Davis has an amazing entrepreneurship center. We have many graduate students, people working at UC Davis, actually creating their own company and wanting to stay in Davis. But housing is a huge problem. You know, the moment they would like to stay, they need lab space research space. But in addition to that, they would like to raise their family here and the cost of our housing is preventing that.”

She added, “Another thing to keep in mind is that our school district has been losing about a hundred students every year. That is a loss of about $1 million. And that means that we have families leaving Davis. And one of the reasons is because once again, they reach a point where they say that cost of housing especially, is too high for them in order to maintain, uh, living there another thing.”

She continued, “DiSC is bringing about, um, 86 affordable units, we badly need affordable housing in Davis. Um, being able to provide more housing will be good, not just for the overall economy of the city, but also to the economy of our downtown businesses.”

Juliette Beck: “I’m so glad to be able to talk about housing, because that’s why we’re even having this conversation because Measure J/R is designed, to give people the vote, give the public the vote to approve annexing farmland in order to provide workforce housing. That is the number one priority of J/R projects. And what like most of our problems right now what’s happened is that’s been a lack of leadership at the city council level in actually solving our, and addressing our affordable housing crisis. They’re approving massive projects like West Davis Active Adult Community, which is geared towards seniors. They approve the Cannery Project with not very much affordable housing that was not fully built out yet and that, that was filled with a lot of Bay Area people.”

She continued, “And now we’ve got a hundred acres of farmland with only 85 units of affordable housing. Are you kidding me? I mean, this is an insult to our affordable housing problem. We have much better solutions that I’ve been promoting people in Davis and young people and people who live here and are working here and are going to school here. They want to live in community oriented housing. They wanna be able to afford housing that doesn’t require them to work for a corporation to slave for a corporation in order to live in California. And the solutions are tiny home ecological communities that allow people to live on a smaller carbon footprint, smaller footprint, shared resources, shared communities, surrounded by green lands, surrounded by farmland, to sequester carbon in the land. And regenerative agriculture is the most important issue that Yolo county can provide as a solution to the climate crisis.”

Beck added, “It is the main focus of our climate action commission right now is talking about how we’re going to transition our agricultural system to regenerative agriculture. And when I drive down that Mace Curve, what I see is a showcase for regenerative agriculture and a small, tiny home community that’s actually going to get at the root of the problem, which is a lack of affordable housing. 85 units is not gonna solve the problem when you’re actually creating a business park that’s going have, if it even succeeds, it’s gonna have way more employees than you actually have housing for on site. It’s gonna increase the demand for housing in Davis, and it’s gonna it’s, it’s not addressing our supply problem and it’s certainly not addressing our affordability problem. So I really think that we need to think much more innovatively about our affordable housing crisis and start to build the co-housing Village Homes is a place that’s always in demand.”

Question: “How would you describe the environmental impact of the DiSC project?”

Julliette Beck: “… the environmental impact of DiSC … we are in an epic drought with no end in sight. And speculation, it means that there’s a new gold brush. It’s called the blue gold rush going on right now for our water supply. All across Yolo County, the aquifer has dropped 10 feet from last year. 150 Wells went dry. We are in a crisis of epic proportions when it comes to water. We cannot afford another sprawling development on the outside town that could be water intensive and add another drain to arc aquifer. Number one, we’ve already been talking a lot about the auto dependence. There’s 2000 parking spaces in this development. 2000. You’re knowing me that it’s not gonna increase our greenhouse gas emissions and our transportation problems. We have a solution to too many cars on I-80.  It’s called stop driving cars. We’ve gotta get people out of their cars.

“We’ve gotta get people out of their cars. Okay. If we build another freeway and expand the freeway, it’s an invitation, it’s a green light to keep driving our cars. We have a relationship in in California, where the half of the Amazon crude from the Amazon comes to refineries in California, which means that one in nine gas gallons of gas comes directly from the Amazon and complicit in the destruction of the Amazon, which is the lungs and the heart of our planet, driving weather patterns for the entire planet. So to me, this development, this autocentric development is so irresponsible when it comes to acknowledging our historic greenhouse gas emissions, I’d love to know what percentage of greenhouse gas emissions is Teichert and their developments responsible for, because they have an obligation now to get us off fossil fuels and stop building these kind of developments that are taking us off the cliff to extinction. I don’t think people realize what a level of civilizational crisis we’re in and that we need to think and build our land, use our land more wisely. We can transition. We can transition off fossil fuels in a sustainable way that allows people to have an inclusive and healthy future, but is not with these types of mega development projects with this level of uncertainty and the massive environmental impact that they have on our planet.”

Matt Keasling: “I just want to say while I appreciate the picture that, that Ms. Beck paints, I, I want to point out that the city of Davis on a per capita basis actually has a higher vehicle miles traveled than anyone else in the region. The primary reason for that is that Davis doesn’t have enough jobs. Primarily your major employer is UC Davis and other family members travel outside of Davis for work. They travel into downtown Sacramento or the bay area on a daily basis. If you would like to reduce the dependence upon cars, create more jobs locally so that people have an opportunity to get a good job in Davis. And then they don’t have to commute over the Causeway or to the bay area on a daily basis”

NJ Mvondo added: “I just want to reiterate that we believe this will be the most sustainable innovation center anywhere in the country. We have made strong commitments, including the top one that DiSC will be achieve carbon neutrality by 2040. This is a baseline project feature when you vote. Yes On Measure H this becomes binding the voters, make this a binding commitment on the developer. These are baseline project features to be a hundred percent clean energy to utilize an ultra green program with a hundred percent renewables. There is not another business or innovation center in the nation that has made commitments to this degree.”


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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