12 Days of Elk Grove Mayor Gary Davis; Day 5 - Fool me once, shame on, shame on you. Fool me - you can't get fooled again' - Jobs, SOI, SEPA!

Gary Davis Elk Grove Mayor promised 25,000 jobs

December 10, 2016 | 

In four days from today, Elk Grove Mayor Gary Davis will leave office. In honor of his last 12 days in office, we will take a look back at some of the most memorable aspects of Davis' tenure. 

One of Elk Grove's defining characteristic is that is a bedroom community designed, as it turns out, to house lots of State of California employees commuting into Sacramento. The die was cast for this in the 1980s and 1990s by the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors and continued between 2000 and 2008 by the Elk Grove City Council.

The housing collapse that started in 2007 and the ensuing Great Recession killed new housing construction in Elk Grove for several years. It was only in this post-housing crash when the push for more jobs in Elk Grove became Mayor Gary Davis' and the City Council's unified clarion call, but not for the reasons you might think.

The real reason many in the community believe that the Davis and the City Council became "laser focused" on job development, other than low-paying retail and fast food jobs, was because of their defeat in battle to annex over 8,000 acres through the Sphere of Influence (SOI) application with the Sacramento Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCo). 

Curiously one of the City's justifications for the SOI expansion was that it would help correct Elk Grove's severe imbalance - among the worst in the region - between jobs and homes. The Sacramento LAFCo Commissioners did not buy the argument, and the SOI was temporarily scuttled.

While the Mayor and City Council genuinely want to recruit jobs that are not low-paying retail and fast food that we seem to have plenty of, do not discount the fact they need these jobs if they ever want to have a realistic chance of securing the 8,000-acres.

Davis and the City Council did manage to convince a state agency, the California Prison Healthcare Authority, to relocate their offices here. Of course in a precedent-setting move, Elk Grove taxpayers opened up their wallets and forked over $3 million.  

Although the SOI was a short-term defeat, the city did have a backup plan to bring those jobs or the appearance they were trying, and that was with the Southeast Policy area, or SEPA. As the last significant tract of undeveloped land in Elk Grove, a portion of SEPA's 1,200 acres could be zoned for business purposes. 

Last March Davis made a major announcement at his State of the City Address that he had recruited a Silicon Valley firm to move to Elk Grove, and eventually SEPA as it developed. The company, Fremont Calif.-based NRC Manufacturing would start with 620 workers and at full operation, have 2,500 employees.

While the announcement was made with fanfare, not much has happened since then. In an interview this past September, NRC Chief Executive Officer Ratha Chea said his company made an offer to buy a 46,000 sq. ft. facility at an undisclosed non-SEPA location and expected to hear if it had been accepted within two weeks of that time.

Since that interview it is not known if the offer was accepted and neither Elk Grove nor NRC has made any public announcement. At the time of the interview, Chea said it would take six months from the time they took ownership to move in and start up production of circuit boards with 50 to 60 employees.

Once the facility becomes fully operational, Chea said he expects employment to top out at 500 employees.

As a cornerstone to the SEPA's role as a jobs center, the City initially said a new facility in the area would be available for NRC by the end of 2017. Chea said that while the company still intends to locate in Elk Grove, the process for building from the ground-up is time-consuming.

"We thought about starting with raw land, but raw land will take forever," Chea said during that interview. "We are also in a rush, so we put an offer for the building there, and now we are just waiting for the answer."

Obviously what was announced by Davis and statements from Chea point to several inconsistencies and given Davis did not respond to questions at the time, it is hard to determine where the truth lies. Nonetheless, there will be far fewer jobs that promised if we believe what the business owner states.

All of this leads to comment made by Davis from the dais in August 2015 about how many jobs he has promised to bring to Elk Grove as SEPA develops. The plan, Davis said, will bring 25,000 jobs to the City.

About a quarter of the 1,200 SEPA acres is currently zoned for non-retail type business. For the sake of argument, if NRC located there with the 2,500 jobs as promised (sorry, possible casino jobs are located outside of SEPA), that would leave about 22,500 to be located on 300-acres, or about 75 employees per acre, which is aggressive accord to one study.

Typically, employment centers with around 75 employees per acre would, in a densely populated California counties like Los Angeles or Orange, would be high-rise office buildings. In a comparatively less dense county like Riverside, the highest density is about 16 employees per-acre in a high rise office, their densest category.

Notwithstanding the traffic it would cause, it is possible that SEPA's 300-acres could house 25,000 employees, if it has all employers like NRC who, according to their proposed full employment could have about 1,000 workers in their 46,000 sq. ft. facility, which is slightly more than one-acre in size. It would be tight - think about the parking required - about 1,000 employees on one acre, but not impossible.

Now the Mayor may like and believe what the SEPA plan reads, but as we have seen with just about every major plan this City the conceived, much of it is nothing more than words on a page. Just think of it - 83 workers per acre in the SEPA. 

By the way, apologies to Elk Grove Regional Park - the circle on the Whitelock Parkway and Highway 99 interchange map just grew to accommodate all the additional traffic.

Lest we are called negative and not in love with Elk Grove, which has happened on several occasions, we certainly hope Davis, even though he is leaving office, and the City Council deliver on their promise, otherwise we are in for more of the same old sprawl. But to quote former President George W. Bush, “There's an old saying in Tennessee - I know it's in Texas, probably in Tennessee - that says, fool me once, shame on, shame on you. Fool me - you can't get fooled again.”

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