Interfaith Feast of Fellowship in Central Park on October 14
League of Women Voters/Civ Energy meeting. Topic: Housing

Aggie Research Campus (ARC) Planning Considerations

ARC-map-Oct2019The 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.[1]  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. 

 

[1] 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

 

Comments

Roberta L. Millstein

Thank you, Greg, for this important analysis.

On the history of Ramco (the developer) and Mace Ranch that Greg refers to, Davisites might find the following useful:

https://www.cityofdavis.org/about-davis/history-symbols/davis-history-books/growing-pains-chapter-6

I know you've been calling for a cumulative effects analysis for awhile now. Davis has approved a number of large projects recently, some of which are not yet online. This one-at-a-time approach is not healthy. Time to take stock.

Rik Keller

Thanks for the in-depth analysis, Greg!

I would like to add a few notes about one of of the issues that an adequate review of the project would entail in regards to parking.

This MRIC/ARC proposal is auto-oriented peripheral development that represents the worst of decades-old stale and failed economic development strategies,

While the site diagram shown lists 15.0 acres of "parks/greenways" and it prominently shows those areas shaded in green, but it just shows 3 relatively small areas designated "P" for parking and doesn't state the site area for these.

The parking area for the listed 4,340 spaces would be 29 to 39 acres (1.25 to 1.72 million sq. ft.) if it is all contained in surface lots (based on 288 to 396 sf per parking space estimate [https://usa.streetsblog.org/2016/07/05/parking-takes-up-more-space-than-you-think/].

This means parking lots would be 15 to 20% of the total site area. (The proposed housing would take up another 27.4 acres with interior site roadways directly serving that housing about half of the listed total, for another 14 acres or so. This is another 14% of the site area.)

While this is a massive amount of parking, I would actually question whether the number of parking spaces needed is accurate and reflects the employment and residential density that the project is promising and the typical parking ratios needed. For example, the table showing proposed parking by use states that a ratio of 1 space per 600 sf of office/R&D/retail is proposed. However. typical ratios for suburban office parks range 1 parking space for every 140 to 200 sq. ft. of floor area (or, as usually formulated: 5 parking spaces/1,000sf to 7/1,000sf).

[see https://www.naiop.org/en/Magazine/2016/Fall-2016/Development-Ownership/The-Suburban-Office-Parking-Conundrum.aspx "For a master-planned development called Centennial Valley in the Denver suburb of Louisville, “we parked the buildings at 4.25/1,000 square feet when they were built in the early 2000s. Now we are seeing traditional office users ask for ratios of 5/1,000 and some asking for upwards of 6 to 7/1,000. A tenant with a number of engineers and tech employees that was looking to expand was asking for 10 spaces/1,000 square feet rather than its existing 4.5/1,000. “We could not do that,” Koelbel said, “but we have been putting in flex office space parked at 5:1,000"]

At a ratio of 5:1,000, ARC would require 8,050 parking spaces for the office/R&D/retail uses alone, an increase of about 5,400 above the 2,683 figure that the developer is showing.

It should be noted, that the developer is trying to get away with this using language such as the following:

- “ARC’s residential units are proposed to be parked at a standard less than the City average and in a manner that reflects the walkability of the site and trending shifts in personal transit preferences.”

- “The Project applicant proposes creation of a parking reservoir to allow the allotted 3,490 nonresidential parking stalls to be distributed throughout the Project site as needed, rather than strict parking ratios being applied at the issuance of each building permit based upon use type.”

- "...utilize transit and shuttles with a proposed transit center, along with car share and carpooling spaces and bike path connectivity.

- "The tenant companies will retain a Transportation Manager who will be charged with coordination of all modes of transportation to and from the site."

Despite these attempts at "greenwashing" the project by the developer, presumably an adequate updated EIR would examine the real-world feasibility of such a vague pie-in-the-sky transportation plan that does not bear resemblance to the reality the massively auto-dependent nature of this type of peripheral freeway-oriented development model.

Rik Keller

The City of Davis has inventoried 124.5 acres of vacant commercially-zoned land within city limits. Back-of-the envelope calculations for the development capacity of this land show this could 9,600 employees and 2.17 million sf floor area with standard industry assumptions for this type if development. And this doesn’t even address the issue of development opportunities on existing occupied lower-density sites that could be redeveloped for higher-value uses.

Despite the arguments made time and again by the Davis Vanguard--which has also been putting out a steady stream of advance information about the project in the past few months on the developer's behest (but that's another topic)--that the reason that this current land inventory is insufficient is that there aren't enough larger sites, ironically, the just-released site diagram for the ARC proposal shows very small sites.

For example, there are 20 structures shown for office/R&D uses which (at 44.7 total acres for those uses) works out to about 2.2 acres site per building, including parking. These types of uses--if there is actually a market demand--could easily be accommodated on available vacant land designated for those uses within city limits.

Ron O

Well-thought-out memo from Greg.

However, I'd suggest not proceeding with this process/development in the first place. Thereby saving everyone (including the developer) a lot of time, money, and energy.

I like it the way it is, fail to see a "problem" with that, and don't wish to add additional traffic and pressure to develop other peripheral land, nearby.

At some point, hoping to see this site permanently preserved as farmland (and a logical boundary for the city), perhaps as "mitigation" for Nishi and WDAAC.

There's still a relatively large, undeveloped site within the Mace Curve (adjacent to the new Nugget Headquarters and Harper Junior High) that should "satisfy" those who feel a need to annex yet another parcel of undeveloped farmland, in addition to those recently approved. (Note that the other two peripheral sites were also originally intended for "innovation centers", but were converted to housing. Three sites, if you include the Cannery.)

Todd Edelman

We really need to figure out a legal and robust way to kill stuff like this before it wastes everyone's time.

Eileen Samitz

Great analysis and questions raised by Greg's excellent letter.

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