Commentary: Reconceptualizing Innovation As Filling Internal Job Needs

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

Davis, CA – If I had to list what I think are the biggest problems facing Davis they would be in some order: lack of affordable housing, declining enrollment of K-12 due to lack of housing opportunities for family, unsustainable revenue for the cities, and lack of job opportunities outside of university employment.  Where those actually fall in rank order perhaps depends on when you ask me.

Yesterday a commenter raised a point for the umpteenth time about the imbalance in housing and jobs in the community.

He wrote, “The part that I found even more “odd” is how the housing activists were advocating for a housing shortage as a result of the 2,500 jobs that DiSC would have supposedly provided, without actually addressing where these folks would live.

“I’ve concluded that a lot of these folks aren’t actually concerned about housing shortages, at all.”

As another comment pointed out, “As opposed to a more reasonable conclusion that there might be multiple goals which are at times potentially at odds with each other.”

That’s a fairly reasonable starting place for me.  What happens if you – like me – are concerned both about housing and jobs and the budget?

Does that mean if you support one, you really don’t support the other if they are at odds?  This kind of thinking is problematic.  There are times you need to be able to address a top priority and then solve the collateral problems later.  That’s one problem with the Measure J process – it prevents such sequential thinking.

In the real world, there is nothing that prevents you from approving a jobs project and then later building housing to meet the demand.

The EIR actually addressed the point anyway.  Basically it found that there would be a certain number of people who would live on site, a certain number of people who would live off-site but in the community, and a certain number of people who would live out of town and commute.  The EIR found that the city was being asked already to provide sufficient housing to meet in the internal demand?

Is that a good enough answer?  Probably not for a lot of people.  I would have preferred we had more housing onsite.  Others have argued that people living onsite posed its own problems and that housing and jobs should have been addressed separately.

Tim Keller, who just published the Innovation Future series, made probably a more interesting point.

He pointed out, “The city called for a business park, but as far as I know provided no detail for who they intended to build that park for – is it for manufacturing companies who will come here from elsewhere and have to bring in a workforce which already isnt here?    That was what the DiSC EIR ended up assuming.”

He argued that better planning here could have addressed this point better.

He wrote, “ If you actually look at the companies that start here in the first place, OR the companies that tend to come here from outside, they are generally doing so in order hire workers who are ALREADY HERE.    There are very few exceptions to this.”

He then argues, “SO the question of “where are the people working these additional jobs going to live” is a very different discussion when you integrate that level of detail into the project assumptions.”

In short, “If we are pursuing a “homegrown” strategy of trying to retain companies that have started here, then there is no immediate influx of housing needed to balance out the commercial space.   What you are actually doing is providing in-town space for companies that might otherwise set up their companies in west sac and have their workers commute FROM Davis to there.”

This is an interesting point which I think is remarkably prescient.

First you have the companies like Schilling or Agraquest or Marrone.  The latter two left Davis in whole or in part because of the lack of expansion opportunities.  Had DiSC existed, they would have been able to stay.  That means that they wouldn’t be bringing new people here, they would be keeping people who are already here.

Second, you have companies that are looking to relocate in Davis.  But why are they looking to move to a place like Davis?  They want to tap into the research of the university and the high percentage of highly skilled graduates of UC Davis.

Thus they will not be bringing people into the community for the most part – but rather will tap into existing residents.

Keller therefore writes, “Long-term, creating local workspace for davis residents will indeed probably mean that fewer people end up leaving davis for elsewhere since their company is no longer in davis anyway, and it might be cheaper to live closer to work… but that is something we can anticipate and develop around.”

The idea that you can either have housing or jobs as your priority is not realistic.  The idea that every project needs to address every need is also not realistic.  But as I think Tim Keller correctly points out, we are thinking about this stuff from the wrong end.  We are assuming that the jobs created will attract people from out of town rather than attracting people already living in our community and once we properly conceptualize the issue, the housing problem becomes better defined.

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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11 Comments

  1. tkeller

    The real world is fuzzy.   Communities are hard to plan, but I think a good way to go about it is to look at what is already happening and let existing trends be your indication of the future.

    If you look at the list of companies that I complied for the vanguard a couple of months ago, you see such a trend.   The majority of the companies on that list started HERE, from local researchers and was built around local talent.

    Even the companies that have come here from outside – like Mars / Wrigley or BASF… have only come here because they are doing the kind of work that requires davis kind of talent.

    Yes, there are exceptions to these rules.   Schilling robotics is the notable one.

    But in general, if we are talking about a strategy for economic growth, it behooves us to focus on our natural strengths and competitive advantages.    There is a big biomanufacturing campus going in in Vacaville right now.    Its is going to be an insane windfall for Vacaville…

    We are letting other communities nearby eat our lunch while Davis, the source of the innovation and the talent gets used as a bedroom community for people to commute FROM.   That is an economic worst-case scenario for our city.

    People yesterday were talking about 15 minute cities…  We cant aspire to a 15 minute city without making room for life science / agtech / foodtech / pharma / medtech / robotics jobs here as well.

    1. Richard_McCann

      Of course being an outsider living in Woodland, Ron O can’t speak for whether the Davis residents see these as concerns or not. And his observations reflect imposing his own selfish views of how Davisites should lead their lives on his behalf. The facts are as follows:

      Many residents express concerns about the lack of affordable housing–in particular its a source of the homelessness that is directly impacting their perceived quality of life. In addition, students are residents in this city–I believe they number up to 17,000. Ron would just ignore their concerns for which affordable rents is a problem.
      Declining school quality impacts housing values (I’ve posted several studies documenting this fact.) Smaller schools means fewer class and program opportunities, which less of an education premium over other communities. (If you live in Woodland and want to increase the value of your house, your best strategy is to undermine the school system in Davis.)
      Citizens are complaining about upkeep in the community (but if you live in Woodland, you wouldn’t be aware of these complaints.) That upkeep can’t be funded by revenues growing at a slower pace than expenses.
      As I discussed in a separate comment, UCD must identify potential employment for faculty recruits to be attractive. If you live outside of Davis, you probably aren’t aware of this situation because you don’t interact regularly with households with UCD employees.

      So all of these are problems that impact Davis (but not necessarily Woodland) residents today.

      1. Ron Oertel

        Of course being an outsider living in Woodland, Ron O can’t speak for whether the Davis residents see these as concerns or not.

        This is getting tiring.  I’ve never discussed where I live, or any other possible connections I have to Davis.

        What does any of this have to do with any of the points raised?

        What makes you think you can “speak for Davis residents” in the first place? Apparently, you didn’t speak for some 62% of voters last time, regardless.

        And assuming you supported DiSC, how did your “single vote” work out for you, last time?

        And his observations reflect imposing his own selfish views of how Davisites should lead their lives on his behalf.

        Wow.

        The facts are as follows:
        Many residents express concerns about the lack of affordable housing–in particular its a source of the homelessness that is directly impacting their perceived quality of life. In addition, students are residents in this city–I believe they number up to 17,000. Ron would just ignore their concerns for which affordable rents is a problem.

        My comment specifically referred to non-students.

        I support rent control, which would primarily benefit non-students. Though truth be told, there ought to be an analysis regarding how many of these students actually had a choice to attend a local community college (near their home) for the first couple of years. Also, how many students are supported by their parents?

        One thing I rarely hear are any complaints from the “non-resident” (International) students, despite having to pay FULL tuition costs.

        As far as homeless individuals, do you honestly believe that they would be able to occupy any market-rate housing?

        Declining school quality impacts housing values (I’ve posted several studies documenting this fact.) Smaller schools means fewer class and program opportunities, which less of an education premium over other communities. (If you live in Woodland and want to increase the value of your house, your best strategy is to undermine the school system in Davis.)

        This is pure crap.

        “Right-sizing the school system” to meet internal needs does NOT correspond with a decrease in “quality”.  If that was the case, small school systems would consistently be worse than larger school systems.  If anything, the opposite is true.

        As far as “undermining” housing values in Woodland, the ability to send Woodland kids to Davis schools INCREASES the value of Woodland homes.  Plus, they don’t have to pay for it, in the form of parcel taxes.

        Citizens are complaining about upkeep in the community (but if you live in Woodland, you wouldn’t be aware of these complaints.) That upkeep can’t be funded by revenues growing at a slower pace than expenses.

        I’m well-aware of what goes on in Davis.

        As far as revenues growing at a slower pace than expenses, it seems that you and others are proposing continued growth (endless sprawl) as a “solution”.  This is not sustainable.

        As I discussed in a separate comment, UCD must identify potential employment for faculty recruits to be attractive. If you live outside of Davis, you probably aren’t aware of this situation because you don’t interact regularly with households with UCD employees.

        Again, pure crap.

        By the way, how many UCD employees do you suppose live in Woodland?

        UCD is not in Davis.

        So all of these are problems that impact Davis (but not necessarily Woodland) residents today.

        Asking Woodland to pay for the costs of Davis’ decisions does indeed impact that city.  But again, not my primary concern.

        Again, you have no idea what connections I may have to Davis. Nor do I feel any need to disclose anything about myself on here.

        As far as your ongoing efforts to “revive” the failed innovation centers, good luck with that. I find it amusing, if anything. Never say die, I guess. 🙂

      2. Ron Oertel

        And in the case of Measure J, you (also) didn’t speak for at least 80% of voters last time.

        Keep at it! Maybe you and a few others can wear them down. After all, you know better than those 80%.

  2. tkeller

    I’d follow up that comment with a clarifying one… because someone might say…. If you live in Davis and get hired by a new life science company in vacaville who is really only setting up THERE to access davis talent.. then maybe you should move OUT of davis…

    If it were that simple, that would be the correct and the sustainable thing to do… And I’m sure that will be happening, which is fine.  But as I said in my above post, the real world is fuzzy and difficult to plan…

    Consider this:   Probably about 40% of the founders and employees of companies at inventopia are the SPOUSES of someone who works on campus.   Often they have similar levels of education and expertise… but one stays in academia and gets a post at UC Davis while the other one needs to find another job somewhere else…     So they end up starting their own company, or joining one.   The spouse should be able to find a place to live here because the university is here… that is clear, but what about the similarly skilled spouse?

    Masters students and postdocs are the other large contingent.    They need to be close to campus for their work there, but many if not most of them also are working their way through those programs and funding their studies with related outside outside work.   This is also a common situation for the people who work with the startups at inventopia.

    So we can NEVER assume that the economic base of our city starts and ends with the unversity.  There needs to be off-campus opportunities which also match the talent pool of the university, both for the sake of the university’s tech-transfer mandate, as well as to accomodate the “overflow” effects of the talent base we will always naturally have.

     

    1. Richard_McCann

      The dual income couple with a faculty member is an interesting situation that has arisen over the last 40 years. When UCD started the (male) professor brought home a salary to support his family with his (female) wife staying at home. As the university grew, it needed to recruit young assistant professors who generally were married to ambitious spouses (male and female). Those spouses usually don’t work on campus, and as our in town economic base stagnates (or shrinks), UCD becomes less attractive to those young faculty recruits. The quality of UCD then suffers, which means that the students who come here have a lower quality education and less opportunity (which would be a disappointment given UCD’s high ranking for providing opportunities to less advantaged students.) Our community choices impact UCD’s functions and roles and we need to consider that because if UCD declines, our community will decline.

    2. Edgar Wai

      Tim, you are arguing that when housing is available at a location with a housing shortage (Davis), the priority shall be given to the entrepreneur spouse of an UCD Professor who already has one house in Davis, over someone who works in Davis but had to commute due to lack of housing.

      This is your priority:
      A. An entrepreneur with a startup outside Davis, whose spouse works at UCD and ALREADY has a house in Davis. The entrepreneur shall get a SECOND house to live in Davis.
      B. A worker or student who works at UCD but could not find affordable housing to live in Davis. They are commuting to work in Davis.

      If this is not your priority, your argument about the spouse should be gone because the couple will be living in the SAME house, which does not stress the housing situation. The case that would stress the housing situation is this:

      C. An entrepreneur/worker who does not work in Davis but lives in Davis, who could certainly swap housing space with a family in category B in terms of affordability.

      Common sense priority is B > A and B > C.
      The priority expressed in your post is A > B and C > B.

      1. Ron Oertel

        Not to mention the fact that none of what Tim is claiming is actually an employer’s priority.

        They don’t care where you live, or where you come from. They’d gladly hire someone from 20 miles away, if they’re more-qualified than someone who lives next-door.

        And in the case of places like Silicon Valley, they’re also glad to recruit from other countries, where they can get the talent they actually need.

      2. Bill Marshall

        Wai weird… I believe Tim’s point was there should be commercial/research/innovation space available in Davis for the entrepreneur’s start up, avoiding the longer commute, or need to relocate (or, “dump the spouse”)…

        I’d follow up that comment with a clarifying one… because someone might say…. If you live in Davis and get hired by a new life science company in Vacaville who is really only setting up THERE to access Davis talent.. then maybe you should move OUT of Davis…

        Context is everything…

        A) you’re that someone

        B) and C) then become moot, and off Tim’s point, as I understand it…

        Tim can correct one or both of us…

         

  3. Ron Oertel

    Davis, CA – If I had to list what I think are the biggest problems facing Davis they would be in some order: lack of affordable housing, declining enrollment of K-12 due to lack of housing opportunities for family, unsustainable revenue for the cities, and lack of job opportunities outside of university employment.  Where those actually fall in rank order perhaps depends on when you ask me.

    Almost none of these are “problems” for current Davis residents (at least, for non-students).  I recall that even Westley Sagewalker noted something similar in one of his recent comments.

    As for “internal job needs”, what’s the unemployment rate in Davis?  Lots of people sitting around paying rent or a mortgage, waiting for an “innovation center” to be built?

    Regarding “internal needs”, the school district long-ago abandoned any pretense that their focus was “internal needs”.  That’s why they’re poaching students from other districts – to avoid downsizing.

    But yeah, I find it offensive that some advocate for adding 2,500 jobs, without addressing where these folks would live.  Especially since these are the SAME FOLKS who constantly harp about “housing shortages”. And as far as what David notes (from the EIR), don’t these same housing advocates normally have a “problem” with these workers commuting from surrounding cities?

    If they were honest, they wouldn’t be trying to “hide” the peripheral housing developments that they would subsequently push for, had something like DiSC been approved.  And in fact, SACOG would probably load-up Davis with additional RHNA housing requirements, under that scenario.

    There’s another issue I want to bring up, as well.  Isn’t it more “fair” to new graduates to encourage them to live/work elsewhere, given Davis “oh-so-high” housing prices?  Given the claim, why saddle them with this type of challenge?

     

    1. Ron Oertel

      And the other issue that I find “offensive” (given “who” is making the argument) is the claim that pre-existing housing plans can/should be used to fulfill the additional housing demand resulting from adding 2,500 jobs.

      In other words, they were willing to sacrifice that previously-planned housing for DiSC, itself.  Ignoring any pre-existing demand that those plans were supposedly based upon.

      The EIR itself advocates this same approach.  In other words, they looked at the additional housing that was planned (based upon pre-existing “need”), and said “there ya go”, in regard to meeting part of the additional demand from DiSC.

      Well, let’s just hope that this issue is dead, at this point. But if not, the opponents were pretty successful last time – despite being outspent 10-1.

      Seems to me that the opponents would probably have an even easier path, if they attempt it a third time.

      In any case, let’s all just enjoy seeing that nice farmland, outside of a logical boundary for the city.

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