By Gregg Herrington, Rose Cholewinski, Jeremy Brooks, Jeff Adamski, Dennis Lindsay, Chuck Roe, Dick Luna, Michael Bisch and Kemble Pope
The city of Davis owns several hundred acres of land along Interstate 80 at Mace Boulevard. This land, north of I-80 and east of Mace, is arguably the most valuable asset in our city’s portfolio. Yet, in this time of extended economic uncertainty, it probably would surprise most Davis residents that this asset has not been subjected to a wide-ranging community discussion and has gone virtually unexamined for the highest and best community benefit.
To be fair, two city commissions have discussed Howatt Ranch as a sports park and Leland Ranch as an open space preserve. City staff also has processed a federal grant application with our longtime partners in open space preservation, the Yolo Land Trust, on the 391-acre Leland Ranch.
What has failed to materialize to date is a full listing and analysis of all the possible opportunities to utilize Leland Ranch (and Howatt Ranch) in a way that maximizes the interests of the entire Davis community. Regrettably, there are no more deadline extensions for the federal grant and it is not possible to complete a full analysis of these opportunities without turning away the $1.25 million grant. However, these lands are worth far more, as an open space mitigation bank, productive farming, research agriculture or as an innovation/business park. Since the city purchased Leland Ranch, almost exactly three years ago, many more opportunities have arisen and the city can no longer afford not to fully engage the community in the process of determining the best use of city-owned property.
Time does, however, permit the council to schedule a community workshop in the next few weeks to explore the full range of options, albeit without fully fleshing out the details. With the understanding gained from such a preliminary exploration, the council would then be in a position to determine whether the benefits gained from fully vetting all the opportunities are worth the cost of forgoing the federal grant.
This workshop should focus on balancing three community objectives: maximum open space preservation (agricultural and habitat); creating an opportunity for a flexible, successful innovation park; and creating an ongoing revenue stream for the community. At minimum, the workshop should investigate the costs, benefits, challenges and opportunities of the following scenarios to best utilize Leland Ranch and Howatt Ranch. It should be noted that none of these scenarios involve the construction of housing.
* Create an urban limit line by selling the northern halves of one or both of the properties with a conservation easement and sell the southern acreage, adjacent to I-80, “as is.” If an innovation business park successfully passed a Measure J/R vote, the developer would be required to put two acres under permanent conservation for every one acre developed.
* The city leads a successful Measure J/R vote for the entitlement of an innovation business park on the southern acreage adjacent to I-80 while selling the northern acreage with a conservation easement. Once entitled, the city then could sell the newly entitled land to the highest bidder for development of the innovation business park.
Davis tech-zoned land is currently selling for $300,000 to $400,000 per acre for a finished parcel. The developer would be required to put two acres under permanent conservation for every one acre developed.
* As a variant to Option 2, the city could lease the recently entitled, southern I-80 acreage while selling the northern acreage with a conservation easement. UC Davis is currently leasing the 36-acre West Village property to Carmel Partners with a 65-year ground lease agreement with annual payments that started at $550,000 per year and will reach $700,000 per year in year 10.
The city would regain control of the land at the end of the lease agreement and the developer would be required to put two acres under permanent conservation for every one acre developed.
* Do nothing and retain all options on the land. The city could continue to lease the 391 acres for farming or agricultural research, all the while retaining maximum flexibility to pursue opportunities as market conditions evolve. Leland Ranch has increased significantly in value since the city’s negotiated purchase price in 2010, with the parcel currently being marketed at 33 percent more than the city’s acquisition price with the easement.
Trends in supply and demand for agricultural acreage and commodities indicate that the parcel will continue to significantly appreciate in value.
This list is just a starting point; many other alternatives could be considered and one can clearly see that the profit potential for the community could be tremendous. Surely, our partners with the Yolo Land Trust and in the federal government will understand that these actions are intended to benefit our shared objectives, even at the cost of short-term losses.
We believe there is a higher and better use for these city-owned properties that could provide much more protected open space around our community, create an opportunity for growing businesses like Marrone Bio Innovations, Schilling Robotics and HM-Clause to expand in Davis and, most importantly, put the city on more sound financial footing so we can continue to enjoy the community amenities and superior schools that we have all come to expect.
Join us in encouraging our City Council to weigh all the options for our city’s valuable assets.
— Herrington (2013), Cholewinski (2012), Brooks (2009), Adamski (2006), Lindsay (2002), Roe (1999) and Luna (1989) are former chairmen of the Davis Chamber of Commerce board of directors; Bisch is chairman of Chamber PAC committee and Pope is the Chamber’s executive director