It was a show of force during the public comment period and some of the top business and tech leaders in this community asked the council to at least further examine their decision to put the parcel east of Mace known as Mace 391 into permanent conservation easement.
While steadfastly maintaining they were not asking for a reconsideration – which was not possible anyway – Councilmembers Brett Lee and Lucas Frerichs pushed the council to put an information-only item on Mace 391 on the October 15 city council meeting agenda. While they would not be able to act on any information, it does crack the door open slightly.
Davis Chamber of Commerce Chair Gregg Herrington reported that on September 26, the Davis Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors voted to “request that the City Council reconsider the June 11, 2013 vote regarding the city-owned Mace 391 property on the basis that the community has not had an adequate opportunity to fully explore and understand the full implications of the decision.”
They ask that the results of the June 11 vote be vacated and returned to staff for an “expedited but more complete presentation of the options and long term ramifications of this decision as regards to the planning for the long term agricultural easements together with the long-term needs to accommodate viable locations for desirable technology and employers within the community.”
The final date for the NRCS (Natural Resources Conservation Service) Grant Funding is March 2014, at which point the land would go into permanent agricultural easement and any opportunity to reconsider the use of the parcel would be permanently lost.
David Morris, who made the original proposal for a business park on Mace 391 and a land swap to put the conservation easement on the Shriner’s property, told council, as the managing director of TechDavis, “There is broad consensus among our group that the city’s on the wrong path on the Mace 391 conservation easement.”
“I would encourage the city council to re-agendize this item so that we can have a broad community debate, informed by the appropriate staff work about what’s best for the entire community, not simply what’s best for one segment of the community,” Mr. Morris told the council.
Tyler Schilling of Schilling Robotics spoke to council, as well. “We’re going to approach 300 employees here shortly and we’re going to need a bigger facility probably within two years,” said Mr. Schilling.
He moved here at four years old in 1963 and said, “I really enjoy the quality of life here and it helps us attract and retain the kinds of employees that we really want in our business. I must say that customers that visit us mainly from oversees really always comment on what a wonderful community it is that we have here.”
He wants to see Davis have options so that his company can stay in Davis and build a new and larger facility.
Robert Medearis told the council, “You all know what to do on this east side, you know that we badly need business parks to develop ideas that are generated with this fine university that we’ve had and allow incubators but more than just incubators, business to develop over in those areas.”
Mr. Medearis founded the $4 billion Silicon Valley Bank where he served as Chairman from 1983 to 1989, and is now Director Emeritus. He is a retired Consulting Professor for Stanford University’s School of Engineering and, at the University of California Davis, the School of Management.
“We have a unique opportunity, you know the details, you know the facts behind it, I encourage you to connect all of the dots and make the right decision,” Mr. Medearis added.
Kemble Pope, Executive Director of the Davis Chamber of Commerce, noted that “this community has not had a good conversation about the tradeoffs we are going to be making between protecting our ag heritage and preparing for a future that is economically sustainable.”
He noted he has a unique perspective as the past chair of the Open Space and Habitat Commission, he said he understands “the tradeoffs and importance that we have there.”
“No one likes how the decision went down at Mace 391, in retrospect,” he said. “I think we can do better now.”
As Dennis Lindsey, Chief Financial Officer of the Nugget Market, noted, the council has not followed its own guidelines with respect to the east edge of the community in terms of reviewing “existing land use zoning and tax structure of objectives of supporting growth and retention of innovation businesses and maximizing revenue opportunities.”
“I think taking the east edge off the table, I can’t give you guys a very good grade with respect to how you’re performing with respect to the resolution there,” he said. “In my opinion it is poor stewardship of our assets to agree to dispose of what is arguably one of our most valuable assets without considering alternative scenarios.”
Doby Fleeman, a board member of the Chamber and owner of Davis Ace, noted his concern that we have cut the city’s budget to the bone but argued, “What we have not done is talk about revenue generating opportunities.”
He spoke of “the value and significance of vibrant technology employment sector whether it be manufacturing, research and development, biotechnology, engineering in this community.” He continued, “The loss of Bayer is an example from a company standpoint.”
Mr. Fleeman noted that the impact of that loss will be felt across the community. Bayer was one of their largest customers. “It has cost us the loss of a large employer like that and conversely the ability to attract – which we can – and bring in world class employers into the community.”
“The area on the Mace corridor is one of the most valuable pieces of property in the community that’s been reflected in findings by Studio 30 at UCD and also the business park study group,” he said urging the council “to reconsider or somehow take a pause on the decision regarding an ag easement which is irreversible. I don’t know how many people appreciate that, but because of the nature of the funding, we would not have flexibility in future if it turned out we wished that we had an opportunity to have a larger business park.”
One entrepreneur, Ken Ouimet, Founder of Engage3, told the council that he started a Venture Capital backed company in the 1990s, and they had trouble getting funding in Sacramento County. Ultimately, they went to Arizona and became successful with one of the fastest growing companies.
“We decided to come back and headquarter our company here in Davis – we see a lot of opportunity for growth. We have already acquired a company in Sacramento and moved it here. We’re going through explosive growth,” he said, but they are already crowded in their facilities.
To move forward, he said they need additional space. “That’s one of the concerns we have,” he said. “As I talk to Venture Capitalists, I’m seeing a lot of excitement about Davis being the Silicon Valley of Agriculture. Looking forward, we’re going to need a lot of room for that growth and the technology companies that come out of that.”
David Chan, an 11-year resident of Davis who came from the Silicon Valley, told the council that after seeing the growth of the Silicon Valley, he sees similar opportunity in Davis “because I work with a lot of entrepreneurs, startups, UC Davis, and I’ve noticed how great the technology is, how great the people are here and I feel that this area of Davis has the same opportunity as the Silicon Valley has.”
Mr. Chan told council that the decision on Mace 391 was not taking Davis in the right direction. He asked that the issue be put back on the agenda for everyone to consider.
Jeff Boone is the executive director of a 25-year-old company which works with the Small Business Administration to create jobs. He said that they have created a lot of jobs in California over that time, however, at this time they are growing in size. “I am having difficulty finding suitable real estate, commercial real estate in this town,” he said. “There is a risk we might have to move. We don’t want to move.”
“I urge the council to consider the supply of commercial real estate for existing businesses, to keep them here is really important,” he stated.
With regard to the Mace 391 project, he said, “It’s a good idea to pause and really look at this. The other reason to consider it, for our city budget problems, and if we’re to generate revenue, there’s really only one way to do it other than raising taxes, and that’s business and economic development.”
Council will receive an update on the process; however, at this time, the item is not agendized to change policy, only to provide a chance for additional information to come out.
(Editor’s note, due to a technical problem with the city’s recording equipment, I was unable to go back and get some of the names of the speakers. If anyone has a recording that they can get us of the full meeting, please email us).
—David M. Greenwald