In my Saturday “My View” column, I presented the idea of the need for the Core Area Specific Plan (CASP) update process to lead us to downtown renewal. I see the plan as a way to have a community visioning process for how the downtown and core area will look 20 to 50 years from now, and I see a great need to modernize and upgrade our downtown or risk it to fall by the wayside.
However, in response, Tia Will responded, “I honestly do not see why the update of the Core Area Specific Plan is important at all except as a waste of time, energy, money and as window dressing. If a vote of three of the CC is going to be able to override the CASP as has been done repetitively with Trackside merely being the most recent, then as has previously been pointed out, why have a CASP at all?”
As I pointed out at the time, I see the importance of the CASP going well beyond a few guidelines and zoning regulations. The current CASP deals with everything from affordable housing and building densities to circulation, transit, bicycling, parking and much more.
As the current policy, now over 20 years old, lays out: “The purpose of the Core Area Specific Plan is to provide a comprehensive set of policies, guidelines and implementation strategies for promoting, guiding and regulating growth in the Core Area. Adopting and implementing the Core Area Specific Plan will allow the area to continue to function as the City’s social, cultural, retail center, and professional and administrative office district in a manner that enhances pedestrian activity. The Core Area Specific Plan establishes the strategies which are required for the
systematic execution of the City’s General Plan for the area covered by the Core Area Specific Plan.”
This isn’t just a set of regulations – it’s a vision for a key area of the downtown.
Nevertheless, coming off the contentious Trackside issue, I understand why Dr. Will would react as she did. In her comment on my “Sunday Commentary” column about the downtown, she would add, “I typically am not a single issue voter, I personally will not support any candidate who is unwilling to clearly state their position on the adherence to CASP vs planning by exception and on collaborative vs competitive processes.”
Again, given the context of the Trackside discussion and debate, I understand the points that Dr. Will is trying to make. The problem as I see it is that the city effectively has two out of date primary planning documents – the General Plan and the Core Area Specific Plan. That requires, for almost any project, some sort of amendment and that becomes the basis for the planning by exception complaint – which is quite valid.
My preference, as I have stated many times before, would have been to have updated the planning documents first and then evaluate the proposals within the context of 2018 documents, rather than 1996 documents.
Even as far back as 1996, the city was looking at going upward in the core area. On page 35 of the CASP, we see, “The Core Area will grow as Davis grows. It can grow upward (intensify in place) or outward (displacing residential uses on its fringes) or both. The Task Force recommends infill as it results in a more lively (because activity is concentrated) and pedestrian-oriented downtown and maintains valued older housing stock within its edges.”
At that time, the city was focused on single-story buildings and finding ones that were “suited for second and third story additions.” Of course, the city had financing back then from the Redevelopment Agency.
The world of 1996 was starting to understand the need for density and height, but it was still a very different world from the one we live in today.
In our view, while the concept of growing up was correct, we should now be looking at four- to six-story buildings in the core area, not two- to three-story buildings and still, in too many cases, single-story buildings.
I therefore believe that we can solve Tia Will’s concerns about planning by exception simply by having current and updated planning documents. The good thing about the Core Area Specific Plan process is that there will be ample opportunity for appropriate debate and discussion about what the future should look like.
Once we have current planning documents in place, I think the argument about design guidelines and current zoning becomes much more relevant.
At the same time we have to be mindful of the lesson from Mission Residence, where the neighbors near the B Street location had engaged in a lengthy visioning process – only to see the developer propose a project outside the scope that was agreed to and the council on a 4-1 vote approve it.
The reality then is that there are no guarantees that a future council will not use its discretionary power to overturn the planning documents approved today. However, I believe with up-to-date documents, at least we can lessen that possibility.
Therefore, while many can and will hold the next candidates to answer for their views on planning by exception, I happen to believe that the best way to deal with this issue is to have current and workable planning documents that can help guide us in the 21st century world of infill in Davis.
—David M. Greenwald reporting