UC Davis drops big plan for Sacramento with Katehi’s departure

The resignation of Linda P.B. Katehi as chancellor of UC Davis effectively ended efforts to make the university’s World Food Center the centerpiece of a third campus, possibly in Sacramento’s downtown railyard.

World Food Center spokesman Brad Hooker confirmed that the university was not pursuing such a plan, announced by Katehi in 2014. “No one is working on it,” he said.

In fact, Hooker said, the World Food Center is planning to move to another space on the existing UC Davis campus.

The World Food Center at UC Davis was established in 2013 to increase the economic benefit from campus research, influence national and international policy and to convene teams of scientists and innovators from industry, academic, government and nongovernmental organizations to tackle food-related challenges around the world, according to the university’s website.

“The railyard was an idea floated by Chancellor Katehi,” Hooker said. He said the six employees of the center were not involved in making the decision to move to Sacramento.

“I’m not sure what her whole vision was,” Hooker said.

The former chancellor had laid out plans to build a campus in Sacramento that would have included a school focusing on population and a global health and public policy institute, as well as clinics to treat people dealing with nutrition and other food-related issues. She said the plan would include moving the World Food Center to Sacramento, with the railyard being one of the contenders to house it.

The campus was part of the “University of the 21st Century” plan, laid out by Katehi in September 2015, which was to include an estimated $2 billion in construction projects on and off the UC Davis campus. The plan was to have been presented to the UC regents earlier this year and started immediately after its approval, according to Katehi. She said the first building on the Sacramento campus was to be completed within three years.

The University of California regents never received the plan for consideration, said Dianne Klein, spokeswoman for the University of California.

About the time Katehi predicted the plan was to go to the UC regents, she began battling allegations related to nepotism and misspending of university funds. While she was cleared of the most serious allegations, an investigation by outside counsel found that she had violated university policies for filing travel expenses and serving on corporate boards. The investigation also found that Katehi had repeatedly sought ways to enhance her online reputation by hiring outside consultants, despite claims to the contrary.

Katehi was placed on paid administrative leave in April and resigned in August. She will return as a full-time faculty member after a yearlong paid sabbatical. The university’s provost Ralph Hexter is the acting chancellor while the University of California searches for Katehi’s replacement.

Denton Kelley, of LDK Capital LLC, the developer of the downtown railyard, and Sacramento city staff confirmed that plans to build a UC Davis campus on the site have stalled.

“Everything is on hold in light of the leadership transition that has gone on at UC Davis over the last year,” Kelley said.

The final environmental impact report and development agreement for the 244-acre railyard north of downtown were approved by the Sacramento City Council earlier this month. The highlights of the plan include a Major League Soccer stadium seating 19,621, up to 10,000 homes and a Kaiser Permanente medical campus of up to 1.2 million square feet. The approval also sets the stage for up to 3.8 million square feet of office space, museums, shops, 1,100 hotel rooms and 34 acres of parks and open space.

Kelley said he is still interested in working with the next UC Davis chancellor to see if the school is interested in the railyard, a piece of property so large it could essentially double the size of Sacramento’s downtown core over the next 20 years.

“There is plenty of room for users like UC Davis or other large corporate users,” Kelley said.

Fran Halbakken, the city’s railyard project manager, said Katehi’s plan to build a third campus downtown never really got off the ground. Katehi told city staff that she had to shop the idea of a third campus around internally with faculty and staff before working on it externally, Halbakken said.

“We weren’t even able to get on her calendar,” she said.

Inquiries to the chancellor’s office about the status of the proposed project were answered with a statement from spokeswoman Dana Topousis: “UC Davis is still exploring the possibility of developing an additional presence in Sacramento. There will be further discussion about how UC Davis moves forward in Sacramento once a permanent chancellor is on board.”

Sacramento Mayor-elect Darrell Steinberg expressed hope that the next UC Davis chancellor will embrace the idea of establishing a major presence in Sacramento beyond the UC Davis Medical Center.

“It’s my understanding that nothing will be decided until UC Davis has a permanent chancellor on board,” he said in a prepared statement. “We’re continuing to build a great relationship with the team at UC Davis and have been very open in our desire to help them have a stronger presence here in Sacramento. That presence and relationship shouldn't be defined or limited by one program; we want to go big and really help our region grow together.”

Diana Lambert: 916-321-1090, @dianalambert

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