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

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: “Project developers said they listened to the concerns of voters after the project’s first failed attempt when it was narrowly defeated at the polls.  Is the new project any different than the 2020 version other than being scaled back?”

Matt Keasling (Yes): “I would start with, first of all, scaling it back was a major change to the project. What we heard overwhelmingly in 2020, in which we were just narrowly defeated, was that there was a good amount of concern that this was too large and out of scale with Davis. At now 50% of the size of the prior project, we believe that that this is now right-sized, it’s Davis-sized and still allows us space to grow for the next decade. Um, but in addition to that, the commitments that have been made this time through, with respect to agricultural preservation have been increased considerably. The commitments made with respect to sustainability have been increased considerably. We believe that the, the changes that are being made with respect to how we will heat and cool the facility are only making it more environmentally sustainable and a better project as a whole for the city of Davis.”

Matt Williams (No): “The reality is that the project isn’t scaled down from the resident’s perspective, what has happened is that the California laws have, have been gamed. So that, uh, anything that is outside a 10-year window doesn’t get counted from a traffic perspective. So all of that future traffic is still in line. The original project had a 25-year build out. This one has a 12-year build out. It’s really the same project. It’s just a game to have only half the traffic counted in the numbers. If it truly was a half size project, then the northern hundred acres would be the logical land to put into agricultural mitigation and, and take off the table completely going forward.”

Question: “A major item in the debate is whether the proposed retail component of DiSC will help or hurt Downtown businesses. Please provide your viewpoint.”

Heather Caswell (No): “We need to focus our attention on our downtown and building it back. We have a downtown plan that hasn’t been given time or energy because of the distraction of this project. And we’re all trying to do our best to keep our businesses, alive and vibrant. And again, the distraction component of focusing retail and other types of businesses would definitely not serve this community.”

Nate Yungvanitsait (Yes): “I own a business in downtown Davis. I’ve been doing business the last 20 years in, in downtown Davis. And the problem that we have right now is we don’t have enough demand. We don’t have enough customers who (are) coming to shop or spending money. So with all the extra jobs that will create it, I believe people will come to spend more money in the downtown and that’s going to help all the businesses, restaurant bars, retails. If there’s 2,400 jobs, there’s a good amount of people that will come to the downtown to spend the money on them.”

Question: “Do you feel there are specific business sectors throughout the City of Davis that DiSC will help or harm? And why?”

Nate Yungvanitsait (Yes): “I’m in the restaurant and bar business, and I can tell you from my experience, big facilities like Schilling Robotics or… (DMG Mori), they actually use restaurants like us to provide lunch for their employees and they’re giving us to provide lunch that in a hundred, 200 of their employees on a weekly basis. So that actually’s giving us a lot of revenue from those facilities. So in terms of how much it would help from the restaurant and bar side, it helps us greatly. And we’ve been doing business with DMG Mori the last few years.”

Matt Keasling added: “I think that’s a great point, Nate, but I don’t think it’s just limited to the restaurant and bars. we have huge sectors across the board of startups and innovators in Davis that are companies that have really amazing technology that are growing and want space and keeping that is important, not just for those companies, but for the companies like the restaurants and bars that benefit from their presence as well as nonprofits that benefit from having well healed corporate sponsors located in town. So I think you’re going to see a benefit for businesses across the board.”

Juliette Beck (No): “I appreciate this question because it gets that. What kind of vision do we want for our community moving forward for our economic development strategy? Do we see ourselves as being tied and hinged to a business park that is part of the old economy? It’s a dinosaur economy based in, obsolete, currently, not even available technologies. We don’t know who’s going to move in there. Since the pandemic the nature of work has changed dramatically. What we’ve realized is that people are very productive working from home and the type of businesses that in communities that people want to live in are green and surrounded by green space, it’s particularly farming and agriculture and gardening. This project has none of that sense of circular economy building. We’re giving up an opportunity for Yolo County to be the center for a new economy to attract businesses and attract visitors.”

She continued, “I think our best vision for Yolo County is to attract visitors through our tourism, eco-tourism industry, knowing that we are at the center for sustainability and this is why also why UC Davis has been lukewarm on this project at best. They have a giant research and development park. Okay. It’s called UC Davis. So I’m concerned that draining and creating a new downtown, a new whole center based in an old technology model, old development model, which Teichert and the developers that are represented on this call, have been invested in which is taking us off the cliff to an unsustainable future, taking us off the cliff to extinction. If you look at what’s happening with our greenhouse gas emissions and the impacts on our water, on our soil, on our climate, this is, this is a time to be really thinking innovatively and thinking about the type of economy we want to build in the future, which is going to be resilient. And it’s gonna be based in a model of local, small development, local, small community businesses that are oriented around creating local markets for local products.”

Question: “The language of Measure H says the retail uses at DiSC the will be limited and will not compete with the Downtown or Neighborhood Shopping Center businesses.  How will this be analyzed and determined?” 

Matt Williams (No): “Like so many of the things, like many of the traffic improvements, it’s well, we’ll study it. We’ll take a look at it. The hotel operators have said there isn’t enough demand now to fill up our existing hotels. And there’s a commitment in the EIR that a demand study will be coming forward in order to justify it. So we don’t even know if there’s going to be a hotel. Same thing is going to be true with regard to the businesses. But as Jonathan said, in our preparation call, if you take 80,000 square feet and you have 800 square feet for these small service oriented businesses, that’s a hundred small businesses serving these people. You’re clearly going to create a magnet that is going to keep people there. Nate, I want them to come down and have a beer at UOB. I want ’em to sit next to me and have a beer at UOB. Why are they going to do that? And when you have the financial analysis that says only 187 of the employees are actually going to work on site, you’re going to have over 2200 of those employees who are living outside of the project, who are going to go home to Sacramento, to West Sac, to Woodland, to Vacaville. They’re not going to come downtown to spend their money. They’re going to spend it in their home community.”

Matt Keasling (Yes): “We hear repeatedly that there’s no firm commitments, but it’s without citation. If I could just quickly show you, this is in the development agreement, which is a contract, it’s a firm commitment. It’s a contractual obligation with the city of Davis and the citizens of Davis. And what this says is ‘prior to occupancy of any retail space, the developer will demonstrate that the proposed ancillary retail will not exceed the anticipated demand increase generated by the project, employees and residents. If the analysis demonstrates that the proposed amount of ancillary retail space is outpacing employee and residential generated demand, then that retail use shall be scaled back to be commensurate with the project demand or omitted.’ The city is basically requiring us to submit an economic analysis proving that the site itself generates the demand for the uses, or we shall not have them. I don’t know how you get a more firm commitment than that to demonstrate that you’re not going to be a drain on downtown businesses.”

Question: “Have you heard whether or not DiSC developers and the City of Davis will work collaboratively with the DDBA on enhanced transportation to and from Downtown.  And whether business owners will have a voice in what retail establishments will be allowed at DiSC?” 

NJ Mvondo (Yes): “This is an opportunity for me to share that one of the reasons I’m supporting this project is actually for the improvement on our public transportation system, which I believe will be beneficial to downtown. So this project bcomes, with, the developers have consulted with, Amtrak, Yolo Bus, Unitrans, to come up with the 23 improvement projects that are attached to the project. So one of the things I’m most excited about is the creation of an express transit lane using an electric shuttle, going, not just from this project, but from that part of town to the train station, to downtown and to campus.”

She continued, “So facilitating an easier transportation to downtown using public transportation, I believe will be good for all businesses. Another thing I want to say is that the reason there is a vote on June 7th is precisely also for public input and the public input isn’t just facilitated on that day. At any time we have the ability to reach out to our city council to provide input and not just to public comments. Yes on H campaign, in partnership with the developers have been very open also in welcoming feedback suggestion. And overall, I believe you’re all trying to keep this a transparent process, including on the no on H side. So my answer, short answer to your question, is yes, downtown business owners won’t just have the opportunity to provide input throughout the process, but they’re actually invited to do so.”

Juliette Beck (No): “I think the transportation issues are absolutely critical to this. And as a mother I moved to Davis and I live in Davis because what I appreciate about Davis is it’s a bikeable community and my children bike back and forth to school every day. I bike to downtown. But we know from traffic demand studies and traffic studies is that the farther out you are from the downtown core, the less people are gonna bike. So this is a really much, very much an auto-dependent project. I’m very concerned about the idea that kids would try to bike across Mace Boulevard and the whole I-80 intersection there to try to get to Pioneer Elementary. Um, but we we’re talking about transit into downtown. First of all, city of Davis should be using its developer fees right now to fund this kind of electric transportation—these shuttles.”

She continued, “If we were going to do that, we should have done it for the Cannery. The Cannery is a perfect example where people are not able to access downtown, unless they bike, they could bike, but they’re usually not driving to downtown from the cannery. So we could have the electric shuttle that would be modeled right now and be used right now. But unless it’s in the baseline agreement, whatever is going into the development agreement I don’t trust because I’ve seen so many broken promises from developers. I absolutely don’t trust that just because it’s in writing on this piece of paper in front of us, it’s not a given contract with an anchor tenant that is going to guarantee something with an anchor tenant. That’s a guaranteed contract. This is a piece of, of writing. It’s a piece of paper that you can go back to the city council with, in a couple of years and saying, conditions have changed. We didn’t get enough income here. We didn’t get enough income there. We can’t fulfill this promise. And that’s what happens over and over again in the city and why we’ve lost faith in developers like the, what’s, what’s being pushed for this project down our throats.”

The second half of the questions will be forthcoming.

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. Keith Y Echols

    One thing I know now; I sure as heck am not voting for Juliet Beck for Supervisor!

     “I think our best vision for Yolo County is to attract visitors through our tourism, eco-tourism industry,

    LOL….seriously?  Yes, let’s base the local economy on tourism of farm fields!  Oh wait, what about the wineries?  Yeah, those beautiful wineries located in the heart of the city of Davis that will drive needed tax revenue?

    I know!  Let’s be innovative and create URBAN DOWNTOWN WINERIES!  We can grow wine grapes on the roofs of buildings (but then I don’t know where we’re going to put the solar panels).

    So Juliet Beck’s economic plan is close to a “Great Leap Backward”. 

    As for Matt Williams; I appreciate Policy Wonks (the guys that dive into spread sheets and legal documents for financial, legal and political details).  But his opposition to DISC does not make sense to me.  He is acutely aware of the city of Davis’ financial situation; that it needs economic development.

    Matt Williams and the NO campaign talk about an economic plan and downtown development.  That’s all well and fine; but DISC is on the menu right now. Putting it off because of the lack of an overall Economic Development plan and an updated General Plan is sort of like a middle aged person passing up on a job opportunity in favor of going to college for a better career all the while you have a mortgage to pay and kids to get through school.  Should the city create an economic development plan and update it’s general plan?  Absolutely.  But that shouldn’t hold back efforts to find immediate economic development solutions.

    What I haven’t seen is a viable alternative; because Davis needs the tax revenue.  Opponents of DISC like to believe that existing office availability and infill is the only solution.  It’s as if they believe these companies are all magical plug and play ready.  The truth is that for most of these tech companies that are either looking to move here or expand; the existing office space is inadequate.   The second thing is that often infill development is cost prohibitive except in the most constrained urban areas.  I’ve said in the past that peripheral development has a cost to the community.  But it’s also necessary in it’s ability to create office space desirable by many companies at a desirable location.  What do I mean by that?  Despite what the YES campaign claims, DISC is a car centric project.  And that’s fine…because it is what it is…that’s what business parks are….car centric.   People need to be able to conveniently drive to work.  Now imagine dropping DISC (or some approximation of it) in town…like the lumber yards….imagine the traffic downtown and infrastructure costs to accommodate all those workers and homes.

    Finally, from an economic development standpoint….if DISC goes down again…it’s going to dig Davis even deeper in the hole for any future economic development.  It already has a reputation as an overly difficult community to work with.  If a local developer can’t get it done, outside developers sure won’t want to get involved.  Opponents like to say that no one’s committed to the office space at DISC.  Well of course no one has committed to it.  Would you trust the people of Davis to be able to help smoothly facilitate the development of desirable office space?

    1. David Greenwald

      I agree with most of this.

      Two really critical points that Keith makes – one is that we can update the economic development plan, but that’s not a good reason to vote against DiSC and second, as Keith points out, if DiSC goes down again, it’s hard to see them coming back for another bite of the apple, and it’s even harder to see another location at this point for economic development.

      1. Bill Marshall

        For the record… same developer, same piece of land– Nishi… what folk call Nishi 2.0 was actually the developer’s third time at bat…

        The question would be not if, but when, another ‘bite’ might take place…

    2. Don Shor

      Putting it off because of the lack of an overall Economic Development plan

      DISC was the result of an economic development plan. So we should start over? Revive DCIDE? Set up another innovation park task force? Put out another Request for Proposals?
      What would be the point?

      1. Matt Williams

        Don, there was (and continues to be) only half an economic development plan.  Any business school you contact will tell you that an economic development plan needs to include a thorough analysis of both the components and characteristics of Supply and the components and characteristics of Demand.  Studio 30 and the Business and Economic Development Commission and the Business Park Innovation Park Task Force and DSIDE, all of whom contributed to what you are calling an economic development plan all only looked at the commercial buildings Supply.  They did not even scratch the surface of  an understanding of the components and characteristics of market demand.  The one person who understood how important understanding market demand was Chief Innovation Officer Rob White, but he was fired by our city’s power brokers.

        There is plenty of evidence that we do not need to start over.  Working with UCD and Yolo County in a collaborative regional planning effort would produce a market profile matched well to the intellectual capital creation strengths of UCD.  Then bring that clearly described information about the market that UCD’s intellectual capital creation engine produces, together with the Supply side information that the City and UCD have, and you are on the way toward actually having something that is more than half a plan.

        1. Matt Williams

          Don is “probably right.”  But history (and the US Census reports) tell us that the City has not done any economic development in well over 20 years.  Further, history also tells us that for 50 years Davis has either been a bedroom community … or a university community where the university doesn’t want to either pull their weight or for that matter have anything to do with the City.  

          Edgar Wai’s May 18th comment below is very germane to Don’s comment above.

          UCD is the host of UCD students.  As the host, UCD has the responsibility of taking care of its invited guests.

          It is powerfully elegant in its simplicity.  Is there any reason that you disagree with Edgar’s statement?  I would go further and say that “taking care of its invited guests” is much easier to accomplish if UCD works with its regional “partners.”

          The proportion of the city residents that is supportive of (let alone knowledgeable about) economic development is incredibly small. As a result Don’s comment illuminates the argument that the local effort to Pursue DiSC-like massive economic development is a far cry from democracy.  Many have said  that it is a tyranny of a minority especially in an environment, where UCD hasn’t come out in support of changing 50 years of history.

  2. Ron Oertel

    Great news!

    Yolo County judge orders Councilmember Carson to pay the No on Measure H campaign $42,210 in legal fees


    Thanks again to those who were willing to sign the ballot statement, at unexpected and significant personal financial risk to themselves.

    This is a brave bunch, who stuck it out until this conclusion.

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