Tag Archives: Davis

One CEQA reform


Yet another housing development in Davis is being threatened with a lawsuit under CEQA. Almost every project in town has been sued by a small cadre of citizens, with Susan Rainier the most recent stalking horse. This group was first encouraged by a suit in the 1990s that was settled for more than $100,000 that went to two individuals. (Part of those funds went to start the “Flatlander.”) That pattern has been the modus operandi ever since.

The problem is that these individuals and organizations have rarely been meaningful participants in the planning and permitting process for these projects. A valuable CEQA reform would be to require that any litigant to participate in a meaningful way in the preparation of the EIR, and that the litigant include any document or discussion in the suit that is filed. The intent of litigation in CEQA was to act on a check on failing to address any concerns raised during the deliberative process–let’s make that the case.

The legitimate environmental concerns are to be addressed during the deliberative process. The potential litigants need to develop a record during the deliberative process that fully raises their concerns. A suit should be limited to the issues raised during that process, and the required evidence clearly specified during the process. The litigants can then more fully develop counter evidence in a suit if that is the final outcome.

Bob Dunning gets choice on VCEA wrong


Electricity customers in Davis and Yolo County are in the midst of choosing between the current incumbent electricity utility Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) and the new community choice aggregator (CCA) Valley Clean Energy Alliance (VCE). VCE is a joint powers authority (JPA) of the governments of the Yolo County, and the Cities of Davis and Woodland. (The Cities of Winters and West Sacramento have expressed interest in joining VCE as well.) By state law, customers are initially defaulted to the CCA at the outset before being given multiple chances over a six month period to choose to stay with the incumbent investor-owned utility–PG&E in this case.

Bob Dunning in his Davis Enterprise column August 8 confuses a lack of choice with just changing the starting point of the choice. Regardless of whether VCE or PG&E is the default provider, local customers still have exactly the same choice. But by having VCE start as the default provider, we level the playing field with the long-time giant monopoly utility, PG&E. (And customers can return to PG&E after 12 months if they are dissatisfied.) Why should we continue to give the big guy a continued advantage at the outset?

PG&E has all sorts of shareholder money to spend on improving its image and retaining customers. The utility’s biggest problem is that it is spending an additional 3.3 cents per kilowatt-hour to mismanage risk in its portfolio based on calculations I made in the power cost indifference adjustment (PCIA) rulemaking proceedings. Why stay with a company that has such a poor management record?

Views on a sustainable Davis


Two board member of the Valley Climate Action Center, Gerry Braun and Richard Bourne wrote two articles on making building energy use in Davis sustainable and resilient. VCAC board members, including myself, had input into these articles. They reflect a vision of getting to a zero-net carbon (ZNC) footprint while being economically viable. Both were published in the Davis Enterprise.

Why Infill Development Is So Difficult to Achieve | Davis Vanguard

By Richard McCann 

A housing shortage? Develop infill projects. An economic development crisis? Infill development. Traffic congestion? Yep, more infill development. Infill development has become the go-to solution to our land-use ills. It seems so easy—just gather up those odd lots and abandoned properties and create a brand-new project with ready-made customers and retail businesses right next door. If only it was so easy.

Source: Why Infill Development Is So Difficult to Achieve | Davis Vanguard

Enlisting Davis’ Citizen-Analysts | Davis Vanguard

By Richard McCann

Why are we not using Davis’ wealth of human capital to our advantage? Why don’t we assign, and even hire or retain, these individuals to prepare these analyses for commission review?

Source: Enlisting Davis’ Citizen-Analysts | Davis Vanguard

Will ‘Independence’ from PG&E Bring Cleaner and Cheaper Electricity? | Davis Vanguard

cce-picThis summarizes expected advantages of the Yolo-Davis Community Choice Energy (CCE) and how it will proceed.

By Leanna Sweha City staff briefed the Council at its last meeting on the timeline for the Joint Davis and Yolo County Community Choice Energy (CCE) progra

Source: Will ‘Independence’ from PG&E Bring Cleaner and Cheaper Electricity? | Davis Vanguard

Economic Analysis of the 2016 California Drought for Agriculture | California WaterBlog

by Josué Medellín-Azuara, Duncan MacEwan, Richard E. Howitt, Daniel A. Sumner, and Jay R. Lund The drought continues for California’s agriculture in 2016, but with much less severe and widespread i…

Source: Economic Analysis of the 2016 California Drought for Agriculture | California WaterBlog

Why infill commercial development isn’t so common

mip1Davis has not been able to develop larger tracts of land to attract firms working on innovation and partnering with UC Davis. Opponents of several proposed projects have claimed that developers can instead assemble the numerous infill parcels that already exist within city limits to create the needed innovation parks. Now a new study in the leading journal, American Economics Review, finds that in Los Angeles, assembling a group of parcels for such projects faces sale prices 15% to 40% more than a single parcel project. And that doesn’t include the typical per parcel transaction costs that are compounded by multiple purchases. The bottom line is that infill development for larger projects face a high cost premium that must be acknowledged.

Nishi and Our Obligations to Other Californians

I wrote this column for the Davis Vanguard in a series about the future of economic development for Davis:


The University of California created what Davis is today. When UC Davis became a full-fledged campus in 1959, the State of California began the process of pouring resources into this city to develop a top notch university. UC Davis is now acknowledged as the top agricultural academic institution in the world.

We can see what the university has brought us all around. If you want to imagine what Davis would look like without UCD, go to Woodland or Dixon. We have a vibrant downtown with many community activities. We have one of the top rated school systems in the state. And our property values reflect the premium of those benefits. Davis is a very desirable place because of UCD. You have chosen to live here because of these amenities that cannot be readily found elsewhere in the Central Valley.

State taxpayers have contributed billions of dollars over the years to the campus, and students have brought resources from around the state, keeping the local economy vibrant. In return, the state has not asked Davis explicitly for any contributions or cooperation. Yet there are obligations that come with hosting UCD. Other state residents are counting on UCD, and its host city, to provide an educational gateway to both UC students and concomitant economic and cultural growth statewide.

How do we meet that obligation? By providing a fair share of housing to students, and affordable housing for faculty and staff. By incubating new businesses that spin off innovations developed on campus. And by cooperating with UCD in its long-range plans. Yes, we need to ask reasonable cooperation from the University in return (which does not always come readily. For example, I opposed the final configuration of West Village, and believe part of its difficulties arise from that configuration.) But that does not mean that we can oppose all UCD-related development.

So how does the Nishi Gateway Project relate to this obligation? UCD cannot and should not host all housing and spin offs on campus. Students need to learn how to live on their own outside of the protective UC womb. And UCD should not be directly involved in commercial activity because that puts the state directly in the role of promoting certain profit-making enterprises. Instead, the city needs to host housing and businesses. Other college towns successfully accomplish these tasks.

Davis is the only significant university town without a large research park; this puts UCD at a distinct disadvantage for attracting research dollars and researchers. And UCD is at a disadvantage recruiting faculty. Many assistant and associate professors have spouses working in technical fields, and universities usually help them find jobs as part of recruiting. Davis lags in offering these opportunities. Nishi will create jobs for this younger adult segment, both for incoming faculty’s families and for graduating students. Davis is already experiencing a hollowing out of our young adults population; we need to reverse this trend to keep the town vibrant.

Nishi offers a mix of research and development space and housing close to campus that meets most of our standards for sustainability and impacts. It may not offer the “perfect and optimal” configuration, but no one can ever achieve that standard, simply because that definition varies in the eye of the beholder.  Creating affordable housing is about much more than just designating a few units for lower income residents. A constrained housing market guarantees higher prices—just ask San Francisco and Manhattan. The best way to make housing more affordable in Davis is to offer more housing. Nishi does this in the context of a relationship with our biggest employer.

Some suggested that alternative locations exist for this development, that residents will be exposed to excessive pollution, or that we will be losing agricultural land. First, the process of assembling the parcels needed for this scale of project is much more difficult and expensive than opponents realize. Controlling the land is key to success. Second, I have not heard anyone objecting to the new housing developments along Olive Lane, yet they experience the same environmental exposures; the same can be said about much of South and West Davis. And third, farming is no longer economically viable on Nishi. Its isolation makes agricultural activities too expensive—it is time to move on.

Instead, we need to ask if this development is not approved, what will be built instead? We have already seen the type of developments popping up in West Sacramento, Roseville, Elk Grove and even “north North Davis”, i.e., Spring Lake in Woodland. As Davis suppresses growth here, less desirable developments pop up there. Are we really “thinking globally, acting locally” when we close down any new developments by demanding perfection? We cannot return to the bucolic days of the University Farm. Let’s keep real control of our future instead of pushing it off to someone else.

Richard McCann is a member of the City’s Utilities Rates Advisory Committee and Community Choice Energy Advisory Committee. He is a partner in M.Cubed, a small environmental and resources economic consulting firm. His opinions are solely his own and are not endorsed by URAC or CCEAC.

Davis to look at Community Choice Energy

After calling a halt to the deeper exploration of an electric publicly-owned utility, the city has turned to an easier mountain to climb in community choice energy aggregation (now remonikered to CCE). The original POU study briefly looked at the CCE option and moved past (and in my opinion used too generic of an approach to assess the POU path with some incorrect assumptions and didn’t consider the rapidly changing electricity market). Several direct access providers have approached the city and interested parties about helping implement a CCE. The citizen’s committee will look at whether a CCE opens up new value for the city and its citizens, and whether to go it alone or to join another CCE. Marin Clear Energy and Sonoma Clean Power both have participation rates over 90%. I will be sitting on that committee as an appointee via the Coalition for Local Power. (I also sit on the Utilities Rates Advisory Committee which has an appointee.)

Perhaps one of the most attractive features is that Davis can gain control of the energy efficiency funds available from the public good charge by preparing a plan specific to the city. Fortunately, the framework for that plan is already underway with a prompt from the Georgetown University Energy Prize.