Comstock's magazine 0219 - February 2019 - Page 54

n DEVELOPMENT A fter graduating from UC Davis last June, Carson city sought additional tax revenue in 2014. It invited propos- Wittler, a 23-year-old computer engineering major als for projects focused on innovation and technology-facil- from Oregon, scoured the Capital Region for a job in ity development and received several options based on its his desired field of software development. He had a close proximity to the university. According to David Gre- few mediocre offers from companies in Sacramento enwald, editor of the Davis Vanguard, a community-watch- and Folsom, but they couldn’t compete with the money he dog publication, the City saw the idea of innovation centers could make at a tech company in the Bay Area. After inter- as tech transfer — taking university research and transfer- viewing with several, he took a job as a software engineer at ring it to the private sector — as the best way to stay true Apple’s Cupertino facility in September. to Davis’ identity as a community, while allowing it to eco- “Davis was home for me during college, but I couldn’t nomically develop. find anything that was compelling enough jobwise for me But one of the biggest obstacles in getting projects ap- to stay in the area,” Wittler says. proved in Davis is Measure R, a referendum that requires As host to a world-class university in UC Davis, the op- Davis voters to approve any plans to rezone agricultural portunity for the region to preserve important research and land for other uses. The measure has been a major sticking technology coming from campus is considered vital. Broad- point; however, support for the legislation (which passed as ening the footprint of the university in these sectors could Measure J in 2000 and was renewed as Measure R in 2010) is help retain talent (32 percent of UC Davis’ California alumni high and in keeping with the town’s slow-growth mindset. call the greater Sacramento area home; 38 percent live in the (The measure is scheduled to sunset in 2020.) Bay Area) and drive econom- “The train is moving on ic development in areas that without Davis on board be- need it. The Davis campus cause Davis has very strin- has one of the highest under- gent land use policies that graduate STEM enrollments other neighboring cities don’t in the University of Califor- have,” Greenwald says. “I be- nia system at 54 percent. Last lieve we could have built a lot year, the university landed at of things that wouldn’t have No. 24 on U.S. News & World really changed this commu- Report ’s Best Colleges Rank- nity, but would have helped ings for the most innovative with our businesses and cre- schools, yet, the university’s ating jobs — and given uni- emphasis on technology and versity people the chance innovation is not translating to stay in Davis and create to approval of major develop- private ventures, get jobs at - Carson Wittler, ment projects in Davis. In the startups or even create their computer engineering alum, UC Davis last five years, three different own companies. I think it’s technology centers proposed been an opportunity lost.” here — the Davis Innovation Nishi Gateway received a Center, Nishi Gateway and green light — but only after the Mace Ranch Innovation significant transformation. It Center — were either shot down by voters, moved to more was originally proposed in 2014 and approved by the Davis developer-friendly cities or stalled. City Council in February 2016 as a mixed-use project with City representatives say focusing on right-sized op- 325,000 square feet of research and development space and portunities that are appropriate for Davis is the key to fu- 1,500 homes on a parcel sandwiched between Putah Creek, ture development. Meanwhile, with projects such as Aggie I-80 and the Union Pacific Railroad. Voters ultimately reject- Square in Sacramento and Davis Innovation Center now ed the project in June 2016. When it came back as Nishi 2.0 in moving to Woodland, Davis’ aversion to development could 2018, it was approved — with student housing for 2,200 and no be a potential gain for surrounding cities. R&D space. Wittler says that many of his fellow students opposed BARRIERS TO BUILDING the original proposal due to its lack of affordable housing, To pay for the many amenities that Davis residents enjoy — but he thinks those peers missed the bigger picture. “I voted parks, trails, top-rated schools and youth programs — the for the project and urged others to do the same,” he says. “I voted for [Nishi Gateway] and urged others to do the same. We definitely needed extra housing, but we needed research and development space even more.” 54 | February 2019