Editorials

UC Davis World Food Center still deserves a place in Sacramento

Developer Larry Kelley, left, and U.S. Rep. Doris Matsui, center, join City Council members in cutting the ribbon in August for a bridge into the downtown Sacramento railyard. Plans for a World Food Center as part of the project have fallen through.
Developer Larry Kelley, left, and U.S. Rep. Doris Matsui, center, join City Council members in cutting the ribbon in August for a bridge into the downtown Sacramento railyard. Plans for a World Food Center as part of the project have fallen through. rpench@sacbee.com

It is disappointing, though hardly surprising, that the forced resignation of former UC Davis Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi has stalled talk of a UC Davis World Food Center in Sacramento’s downtown.

As The Bee’s Diana Lambert reported last week, the once-promising proposal appears to have died with a whimper in the wake of Katehi’s professional travails and UC Davis’ search for a new chancellor. Before fallout from the 2011 pepper-spray incident fatally compromised her ability to lead at UC Davis, Katehi and regional leaders had spoken of the food center in increasingly elaborate iterations as a way to diversify Sacramento’s government-centric image and economy and link it with agricultural policy and university research.

Instead, some three years after Katehi announced its formation, the center remains a work in progress. Housed at the Davis campus, it has just six employees. Meanwhile, the downtown railyard, which Katehi had floated as a potential site, has moved on without it, anchored by plans for a soccer stadium and a Kaiser Permanente medical campus. The final environmental impact report and development agreement were approved by the Sacramento City Council this month.

That’s too bad. Katehi’s sprawling vision – labs, greenhouses, classrooms, lecture halls, industrial spaces – might ultimately have been incongruous with the layout of downtown Sacramento, but marketing the region’s agricultural role is a smart move, both for the city and UC Davis.

Both want stronger regional ties, and would benefit from them. And there’s no reason why, for example, a scaled-down center couldn’t still flourish in the railyard or elsewhere in downtown Sacramento, which, by the way, also would be an ideal spot for the university’s professional schools or other satellite classrooms.

As the university proceeds with its search for Katehi’s successor, we hope the search committee will encourage candidates to also consider UC Davis’ untapped potential as a regional player.

The recession is over, but UC Davis’ food policy, academic and agricultural influence have only deepened. So has Sacramento’s potential as a hub for all of the interests who, with or without an architectural symbol of their importance, remain engaged in the daily California business of feeding the world.

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