Guest Commentary: We, the Residents, Are the Deciders for Our Neighborhoods

By Alan C. Miller

This is the big one: Trackside Center. Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the City Council Chambers. The one that determines who determines the direction of infill Davis.

The agreement

There is nothing more sacred in human interaction than the agreement. The Design Guidelines are the traditional neighborhoods’ agreement with the city of Davis. When we the residents helped craft the Design Guidelines, we believed that future councils would respect that agreement.

Instead, a past council conducted a B Street “visioning” process to alter the agreement. Another proposal on B Street didn’t fit the new vision. Rather than conduct another process, that council simply voted by majority for the noncompliant project.

A destructive precedent was set by this decision: spot zoning by council majority. It’s a wrongly accepted specter that says at its core, zoning doesn’t matter, neighborhoods don’t matter and agreements don’t matter.

Gambling isn’t legal in our neighborhood

On Nov. 3, The Enterprise ran an article profiling Trackside investors. It characterized them as locals investing to better their community. It then told us about their lives, as if these
individuals with $50,000 to $100,000 to spare needed to be made to look human.

Trackside Partners, LLC, insists anything smaller than the proposal before the council won’t “pencil out.” (I don’t believe that for a moment — the Paso Fino developers made the same initial claim.) So if we take Trackside LLC at their word, these locals invested knowing that the project would fail if they couldn’t convince the council to break the Design Guidelines and change the zoning.

That makes them speculators, not investors.

The real investors

We, the residents, are the real investors in Old East Davis. We don’t need to be made to look human, we are Davis neighborhood residents, just like you.

For decades, all residents who invested in the neighborhood were required to follow the Design Guidelines, and did so willingly. We believed in investing in a neighborhood vision that we, along with our partners in downtown and the city, cooperatively agreed on.

It rarely goes well for those being told what’s best for them

In an Enterprise submission on Nov. 5, Nicole Bourne, Dan Wolk and Dan Fuchs made the incredibly patronizing statement, “All of these things (re: a larger Trackside) enrich our community — including the Old East Davis neighborhood.”

Who defines what is good for a group of people living in a place? Is it those who live there, or those with the power to change that place? Ask most indigenous peoples how that dynamic went down for them. It rarely goes well for those being told what is best for them.

Whose neighborhood? Our neighborhood!

Were Old East a no-growth group trying to stop Trackside, I’d be calling for our own heads. But that’s not the case. The Old East Neighbors agree that a large, mixed-use building should be built on that site. We are only asking that the Trackside Partners follow the same rules as those citizens who invested in the neighborhood did.

We are the reasonable middle ground

There has been a lot of criticism of the philosophy of extreme no-growth and the harm it brings to Davis. There also has been criticism of the philosophy of extreme development and the harm it brings to Davis. We believe most Davis residents are reasonable people and that we speak for those who don’t favor either extreme.

The changes that will occur in zoning and policy haven’t happened yet and may play out quite differently than the speculators hope. The utopians and the speculators want you to believe a vastly denser zoning obviously will occur, so they want their vision built now, to shoehorn in a towering physical precedent before the rules are written.

There are places in our neighborhood that are suitable for more densification and that won’t destroy our neighborhood character. Let’s have those conversations.

In a healthy community, zoning will lead, not follow, specific proposals. If you agree, fellow citizen, we ask for your attendance and support on Tuesday evening.

To the City Council

City Council, the Old East Davis Neighborhood Association is ready and willing to avoid what otherwise may come next, and meet somewhere about halfway between Trackside 2.0 and Trackside 3.0. We ask that you send a clear message to the developers to go back and negotiate in good faith so that we all can truly move on.

My vision is giving a thumbs-up to a mutually agreeable building. It can be done!

— Alan C. Miller is a 30-year resident of Old East Davis. He has served on the board of the Old East Davis Neighborhood Association periodically since the late 1980s.



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Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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14 thoughts on “Guest Commentary: We, the Residents, Are the Deciders for Our Neighborhoods”

  1. John Hobbs

    “…as if these individuals with $50,000 to $100,000 to spare needed to be made to look human.That makes them speculators, not investors.We, the residents, are the real investors in Old East Davis. We don’t need to be made to look human, we are Davis neighborhood residents, just like you.”

    Lol, the retort has a familiar hollow timbre.

    “Not In My Back Yard”

     

    1. Alan Miller

      Lol, the retort has a familiar hollow timbre:  “Not In My Back Yard”

      A poem*:

      First they came for the University Neighborhood, and I did not speak out—
      Because I was not a resident of the University Neighborhood.

      Then they came for the Old East Davis Neighborhood, and I did not speak out—
      Because I was not a resident of the Old East Davis Neighborhood.

      Then they came for the Old North Davis Neighborhood, and I did not speak out—
      Because I was not a resident of the Old North Davis Neighborhood.

      Then they came for my neighborhood —and there was no one left to speak for us.

      [moderator: edited

  2. David Greenwald

    My personal opinion is that I think you did yourself more harm than good with this piece.  Neighborhoods aren’t the decider.  In fact, it is worth noting that if Larry ends up running for council, he would have had to have recused himself from voting on this should he be elected.

     

  3. Rhonda Reed

    ”  In fact, it is worth noting that if Larry ends up running for council, he would have had to have recused himself from voting on this should he be elected”  

    Yes, very true.  This is to ensure that the Council can listen objectively without their personal interests getting in the way.  It is not to prevent the Council member from supportimg the neighborhood interests and basic agreements between the City and its citizens.

    I agree with Jim Leonard that in the case of changes in zoning, deference should be given to those most directly affected by those changes.  If the argument is that the City needs a project that is a radical change from the existing plans developed with the citizenry, then a new plan should be developed that truly engages the citizenry and adequately weighs all the issues. Spot zoning does not do this.

    And as much as each Council who has approved a “spot zoned” project has asserted that this radical change will only affect the project approved, in reality each has set a new bar for what now ought to be considered acceptable. Perception is reality.

    I don’t understand why the Trackside project needs apartments of 1500 square feet when they could configure the project in a less massive structure with more normal or smaller, more efficient sized units that would make a reasonable transition to the downtown.  I don’t understand why the current project can be granted allowances for providing public openspace that is only guaranteed for the next 8 years. If you want temporary parks, support this project.

     

    1. Eric Gelber

      It is not to prevent the Council member from supportimg the neighborhood interests …

      True. But, contrary to the article’s headline, while neighbors have legitimate interests, they don’t get to make decisions about the use of someone else’s property; they are not the deciders. They have a right to participate in the process–to present evidence and argue about the correct interpretation of land use regulations and policies–but not to dictate terms.

  4. Howard P

    A little clarity… the title says the neighborhood should be the ‘deciders’… yet you (Alan) seem to just want more impact/consideration, but acknowledge the CC as “deciders”… on another thread, a 3-2 vote by CC was considered unfair/unjust by some…

    Who should be the ones that approve/deny a project?  [a question I throw out to any and all… not trying to pick on Alan, OED or specific others…]  For me, by principle and law, I say 3/2 or better of the CC.

  5. Tia Will

    Who should be the ones that approve/deny a project?”

    I think that the decision should and could be made in a collaborative fashion thus avoiding the need to designate winners and losers by a 3/2 or better count. If we have engaged in a collaborative process to determine zoning and design guidelines, which was done, and will be updated, then that process should set the terms of what is approved or not. We should not be doing planning by exception. The outcome of this is virtually invariably divisiveness often with one set of citizens pitted against another. I do not believe that this process is either desirable or inevitable. The city council has the ability to set terms that would avoid this contentious approach and choose an alternative form of collaboration in which a win-win solution is sought.

    1. Howard P

      So, I understand collaborative process. If two (or more) sides cannot reach a collaborative agreement in X years, should it go on interminably (default being ‘denial’)?  Or is the one who digs in their heels, and saying thus far and no farther, the default ‘winner’, by staying with the status quo?

      I am more like Twain, than (how I perceive) Tia… I do not inherently trust human nature, or that all operate fairly/openly/honestly.

      Collaborative is good (initial phases) up to the point where one side realizes that, push come to shove, they have the power over the other.  A two edged sword.

      Back to Tia’s point… if collaboration fails, who gets to decide, or is it like baseball, tie base goes to “do nothing”?  [although it would be the fair point that if the applicant is considered the “runner”, it would be a 180 from baseball]

  6. Tia Will

    if collaboration fails, who gets to decide”

    My opinion on this is that if collaboration fails, the default is to the previously collaboratively decided upon zoning and guidelines. Perhaps the real problem here is the failure to agree upon a time line for when these should be updated thus avoiding the argument that because the previous guidelines are “outdated” they should be ignored.

    I know zero about baseball and thus cannot make any comment about the analogy. But what I do know is that Kaiser has been a very successful medical model which it has done with zero competition between doctors for patients, non competitive salaries, and a willingness to consider new ideas and procedures regardless of who within the group is making the suggestion. One does not have to believe that humans invariably operate “fairly/openly/honestly” to realize that people do have the ability to recognize that collaboration is more efficient, less time and money consuming, and builds better relationships in the long run than does a winner take all approach.

    1. Howard P

      Fair answer… have some disagreements in approach, but fair answer… thank you.

      I actually have more history and success in finding win-wins, in contentious situations, than I believe you could imagine. Also had a few abject failures.

      One of the reasons I go by a “semi” real name.

    2. Eric Gelber

      My opinion on this is that if collaboration fails, the default is to the previously collaboratively decided upon zoning and guidelines.

      That’s an open invitation to those who support the status quo to dig in and “collaborate” in bad faith. Ultimately, there has to be a final decision-maker–in this case the City Council. Land use and zoning regulations almost always have built-in mechanisms to allow for flexibility–or variances–in the face of changed or unique circumstances. What is derogatorily referred to as spot zoning is not always a bad thing.

  7. John Hobbs

    “That’s an open invitation to those who support the status quo to dig in and “collaborate” in bad faith.”

    Arguably, that’s “the Davis way!”

    It certainly gives those who prefer stasis like Tia a convenient “way out” of real collaboration while maintaining the facade of objectivity.

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