The following memo was sent yesterday to the newly-formed City Council Aggie Research Campus (ARC) subcommittee, composed of Mayor Pro Tem Gloria Partida and Councilmember Dan Carson, with cc's to City Manager Mike Webb, Assistant City Manager Ash Feeney, and Principal Planner Sherri Metzker.
By Greg Rowe
The following comments and suggestions are respectfully offered for your consideration, in the spirit of facilitating a comprehensive evaluation of the proposed ARC project. The subjects are not arranged in order of priority or importance. I full acknowledge and recognize, as stated on page 2 of the October 8 City Council report (agenda item 5E), that the project will be scheduled for future commission meetings. I also concur that, as noted on page 9 of the same report, “In sum, there will be a series of subsequent entitlements at which time more definitive detail will be proposed,” and there is “…the potential for building locations or other features to shift during the final planned development process.”
EIR Revision/Addendum: As noted in the resolution approving the updated EPS market demand study, an update to the certified EIR is warranted. Based on this statement, it is my assumption that an EIR scoping process will likewise be warranted. I therefore respectfully request that a CEQA Scoping notice be sent to members of all commissions anticipated to conduct review of the project. This will enhance the ability of commission members (especially Planning Commission) to be proactive participants from the inception of the planning and environmental review process, rather than simply reviewing the draft document after the environmental analysis has been completed.
Cumulative Effects Analysis: Heretofore there has not been a truly comprehensive and robust analysis of the various large projects approved by the City in recent years. Conducting such an analysis now is of critical importance, and consideration should be given to perhaps carrying out such an analysis as a separate exercise from an updated EIR for the ARC project. Such an analysis should account for the full range of long-range, multi-decade impacts likely to result from implementation of the ARC in combination with other projects such as Sterling 5th Street Apartments, Lincoln40, Nishi Student Apartments, Davis Live, Bretton Woods, 3820 Chiles Road Apartments, the iteration of Plaza 2555 in play when the analysis is conducted, University Commons redevelopment, Mace/Alhambra R&D (Nugget headquarters) project, etc.
Traffic Impacts: the EIR must consider the impacts of WAZE. All one needs to do is look at the WAZE-induced traffic on Covell Blvd. and Mace Boulevard near its intersection with I-80 on most workday afternoons to realize that the traffic analyses conducted for recently approved projects in Davis have been woefully inadequate. Based on my involvement in developing and reviewing CEQA and NEPA documents for many years, it has been my observation that there is often a disconnect between the results of traffic studies and the actual conditions encountered by drivers and cyclists. The traffic analysis for ARC must therefore be especially robust and realistic, and not just based on generic computer models.
Housing: ARC rental housing units should primarily be comprised of traditional 1-and 2-bedroom rental units. They should not emulate the format of recently approved large, student-oriented housing projects that emphasize 3 – 5 bedrooms/unit, with each bedroom having a separate bathroom. This is especially important relative to the recent determination by the State Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) that such apartment units, regardless of the number of bedrooms and beds, only count as one unit for purposes of meeting RHNA requirements.
A similar concern is the ascent of “co-living” rental projects. A number of such “adult dormitory” rental housing projects are being built in major cities such as San Francisco. These projects provide an opportunity for younger workers in high housing cost areas to obtain affordable housing through the “rent-by-the-room” concept. While this model may have merit in high-cost employment centers such as San Francisco, it is not warranted in Davis, where in all likelihood the housing would end up being occupied by UC Davis students seeking off-campus housing in the face of a continued inadequate supply of affordable on-campus housing (a situation exacerbated by UCD’s refusal to house any more than 48% of future enrollment on campus).
Targeted Housing Population: The “Phasing” section of the project summary (page 15, October 8 City Council agenda item 5E), states that “…housing at the ARC will not be restricted to employees only but will, consistent with Fair Housing requirements, be available to the community at large.” Perhaps this aspect of the project warrants consideration of alternative housing models, such as employer-provided housing. For example, some high-tech firms in the Bay Area are building and operating large apartment complexes solely for their employees. The City may want to consider obtaining a legal determination as to whether multi-family rental housing constructed at the ARC can, in a similar fashion, be restricted solely to people employed at ARC facilities. Ideally, at least one person in each household should be employed within the ARC.
Housing Affordability: The original iteration of this project, Mace Ranch Innovation Center (MRIC) attempted to avoid compliance with the City’s affordable housing requirements by utilizing the “Vertical Mixed Use” exemption then in place. Although the City Council thankfully last year abolished this loophole at the recommendation of the Planning Commission, it will be important for the City to ensure that affordable housing that meets RHNA requirements is in fact built in a timely fashion at the ARC.
Dealing with Ramco Enterprises (Ramco): During the late 1980s a development partnership headed by the Ramos family sought to develop a significant area within Davis and adjacent County lands for housing and a business/industrial/innovation center. In an effort to obtain the most favorable possible conditions for what was to eventually become Mace Ranch, the developer initially sought County approval to build in an area adjacent to the City, but at that time outside the City’s official “Sphere of influence.” This resulted in protracted, difficult negotiations among the City, County and the developer, ultimately resulting in the City’s annexation of the Mace Ranch property for residential development. Although the developer at that time differs from the current applicant team, several vitally important questions are relevant in consideration of the tactics used in the late 1980s by the earlier iteration of Ramco. Those questions include:
- Will the developer attempt to again use similar confrontational tactics to influence land use decisions by the City of Davis?
- If the project is approved by Davis voters, will the developer subsequently use “bait-and-switch” tactics in an effort to convince the City of the need to reduce the R&D and manufacturing portions of the project in exchange for increasing the number of housing units? (This would be similar to what some observers have cited as the “bait-and-switch” activities of The Cannery developer.) To preclude this from happening, it is vitally important that the election ballot baseline features document be carefully constructed to precisely define and limit the location, type and format of the housing component. Merely addressing this potential scenario through provisions in the development agreement is unlikely to provide the City with the protections and assurances that will be necessary going forward.
Thank you for your consideration. I look forward to continued discussions regarding this important project as it is further refined.
 This chronology of events is described in Chapter 6 of a report on the City’s website, titled “Growing Pains: Thirty Years in the History of Davis,” by Mike Fitch. ed