by Tia Will
I am a 30-year resident of Davis, first during my time at UCDMC and subsequently as a resident of North Davis, and for the past six years a downsized resident of Old East Davis. I consider myself to be a progressive liberal (ok, a very far left liberal). The views that I am going to express about the deliberations and vote on Trackside are mine alone. They do not reflect the opinions of any other members of OEDNA nor its board.
The format I have chosen to use to express my views is primary source. I am going to quote members of the City Council and then provide my interpretation of what this meant to me and how I believe it affects our community. Some will accuse me of “cherry picking” comments. Guilty as charged. This article is a reflection of how these particular comments affected me with no pretense at all of objectivity. I was not at all surprised, but deeply disappointed, and in one instance personally hurt, by the comments of our City Council. Despite my deep disappointment, it is my hope that I will live up to some of our council members’ impression that I am civil in my comments.
Brett’s was the only vote in favor of the position of OEDNA and so I naturally have much less to say about his comments, except one.
“…so now we are in a subjective area.”
Brett is correct in one way, we have moved outside the objective area (since the zoning and guidelines were clearly not objectively met). What is not subjective will be the outcome for the opposing
groups. The Trackside developers and investors will objectively be gaining whatever profit is generated from this project. The adjacent neighbors will not share in these gains, but will live 24/7 with the adverse consequences of this decision. Now some may think theses adverse consequences are trivial. I disagree and will attempt to demonstrate why with subsequent comments.
At 4:44:45 Will inquires about the financial viability of Trackside 2.0 vs 3.0 and asks specifically about whether Trackside and the OEDNA have conducted formal assessments of the viability of their proposal. I would have liked to see this as an even-handed question, but am unable to for two reasons.
1. Mr. Greenfield responds in part with the accurate observation that construction costs have increased over the intervening year. What he does not share is that at the very first OEDNA/Trackside meeting, I had requested that a model and estimate of feasibility for a three-story, guideline compliant project be provided. The Trackside partners refused to do so. The reason given was not that they had already assessed feasibility but that the neighbors would like a three-story proposal “even less “ than the four-story presented. No further discussion ensued and they remained steadfast in declining to even consider a compliant project.
3. I do not believe that it is the responsibility of the neighbors to complete the work of the developer. I am also dismayed by Will’s willingness to accept at face value the statement of Mr. Greenfield regarding financing, when he so clearly stands to benefit from acceptance. Further, Will did not apparently understand that the delay was a choice of the developer, not of OEDNA, which would have been ready to proceed at any time with a compliant project. Thus the “wound” of the increased costs on the developers was entirely self inflicted.
At 4:51 Will states that he appreciates the genuine efforts of both sides to negotiate in good faith.
This was true only after the neighbors pushed back very hard on the developers to do so. Further, it lasted only as long as the developers were willing to sit at the table. OEDNA made it clear that we felt there were other areas in which consensus could have been achieved. I had specifically requested that we be given more time to attempt to reach consensus. From Rochelle’s comments, I can only conclude that it was the developers/investors who were unwilling to participate further. More on this under comments by Rochelle Swanson.
4:51:55 Will states that he wants to flatly reject some of the ad hominem attacks against individuals, against investors as a whole, against staff, and against at least one of his colleagues.
While I agree with Will that ad hominem attacks are never appropriate, I believe that his bias is showing. He said not a word about the frequent use of the words Nimby, self centered, greedy, regressive and, in one case directed at me personally, “immoral” which were leveled at members of the OEDNA on the Vanguard and other media. It would seem that Will either was unaware of these attacks (unlikely) or that they did not matter enough to him to be worthy of inclusion in his comments.
4:52:14 Will states “there is a rhetorical gap here” and proceeds to outline some admittedly dramatic statements from a single individual member of OED.
I happen to agree with Will that there was a “rhetorical gap.” However, I believe that he then used that gap to trivialize the very real adverse effects that this project will have on the neighborhood. He seems to have focused on the hyperbole to the exclusion of an objective assessment.
I will preface my comments about Rochelle’s deliberation by stating that I admire her consistency and adherence to her stated world view. She has been hard working as a representative of the view that, in her own words, “Davis should grow as fast as we can.” I believe in her complete sincerity in her vision. I just do not share it and do not believe that we can simply grow our way out of our problems by accepting whatever project is put before us.
4:59 Rochelle clarifies that rather than “subjective” she believes that what we have is a “discretionary” issue and states “that is just the way it works.”
While I agree with her that this is the way it usually works, I have clearly stated on multiple occasions, to greater and lesser effect, that I do not believe that a win–lose scenario with winner take all is either necessary or best policy. I see this approach as costly both in time and money (as Mr. Greenfield clearly agreed), but is also needlessly divisive pitting neighbor against neighbor, eroding trust both in our neighbors and our city processes. I have offered on multiple occasions an alternative collaborative approach which has indeed been used by several developers with whom I have worked at their request.
4:59:45 Rochelle asserts that the Trackside project is “next to the parking garage and the railroad tracks.” This is only ½ correct and ordinarily I would not nit pick, but while Trackside is next to the tracks, it is over a block removed from the parking garage. Lest you think “so what,” I have heard this inaccurate statement used by many as a reason that four stories is reasonable in this location.
5:00:11 Rochelle states that she is concerned that no one is looking at the “haves and have nots.” What she neglects to mention is that there has been a great deal of conversation regarding the haves and have nots. The first time I spoke against Trackside at public comment, I stated that I would not be speaking if this project had been geared to the “have nots” in our community, the students, individuals or families in need of affordable housing, special needs populations including the homeless, or families in transition. Addressing the needs of the have nots has been one of my primary points when tabling at Farmer’s Market. Unfortunately, it does not address any real “needs.” Instead it represents three groups which I see only as “haves.” The developers and investors who stand to benefit financially, the businesses who will make a profit from increased people in the downtown area, and those who are already affluent enough to be able to afford luxury apartments. This project does not meet the needs of any of the groups that she accurately notes need the “stewardship” of the city council.
5:02 Rochelle comments on the environmental aspects of the project, emphasizing that we need more people living downtown in order to lessen the impact of more automobile trips. While this may hold true for the few residents of the Trackside project itself, the deleterious impacts of more car trips from those attracted to the businesses if that aspect of the project is successful as hoped, from other areas of town and/or outside town and from visitors to the residents of Trackside, does not seem to have played a role in her considerations.
She then expresses her lack of confidence that a further collaborative approach would be productive.
What I hear when she says that is the following. She is clearly sending a message that she does intend this to be precedent setting. She does not believe that further collaboration will be useful, and yet OEDNA has repetitively stated that we are willing to continue. So it seems what she is actually saying is that, because the Trackside Partners are unwilling to negotiate further, she is in favor of deferring to the wishes of those who are unwilling to hold further discussions.
My take home from her comments are the following:
- Message to developers. Bring us your projects. They can be outside the zoning and guidelines. They do not have to address any critical city needs. They can be of benefit only to the “haves” of our community. We will approve them if we can demonstrate that they increase the population of the core area even by an admittedly insignificant number. I believe that this message will achieve the desired goal of increased infill projects.
- Message to the neighborhoods. You can spend as much time as you like researching, discussing, collaborating, presenting you views and alternatives as you like. In the end, we are likely to discount everything that you have said and accept the developer’s proposals even if they are refusing further offered negotiations. I believe that this also sends a perhaps unintended and chilling message to the neighborhoods. If OEDNA, with all their organization, willingness to collaborate over a two-year period – spending hundreds of hours of their own time for no financial gain, and willingness to present an alternative was unsuccessful, what chance would there be for us to have an impact? I believe that this decision will have effectively silenced many in our community.
At 5:07:44 Lucas comments that the housing crisis is real, as though there were anyone disputing this point.
There is not a single member of OEDNA that does not recognize a housing shortage crisis in Davis. There is not a single member that does not favor densification and infill, and this has been stated publically repeatedly.
He illustrates by citing the instance of an individual living out of their car near city hall. What he does not stress is that the Trackside proposal will do absolutely nothing to address this individual’s needs nor those of anyone who cannot afford luxury accommodations.
5:12:43 Having laid out his significant experience with regard to infill development, Lucas notes that he believes that he walks the talk with regard to infill. I agree, he both lives in an infill project and has been a strong promoter of infill and could therefore be seen as “walking the talk.”
However, I believe that Lucas had a special responsibility to walk the talk not only as a proponent of infill but also as an impartial representative of all members of our community while sitting on the council. I think it is fair to say that, as an initial investor in the Trackside project, even in its initial six-story configuration, Lucas had already formed a favorable opinion regarding this project. Although he long ago divested his financial interest and therefor was not legally bound to recuse himself, I do not see him as an impartial judge of the merits of the project. It is my opinion that, even though it would not have affected the outcome, he had a responsibility that he chose not to fulfill. That of walking the talk as an impartial councilmember.
I am only going to make one comment regarding Mayor Davis’ presentation. I preface my comments by stating my ongoing belief that Mayor Davis is very meticulous in his evaluation of every issue that comes before him. He attempts to evaluate all views and weigh them carefully prior to arriving at a decision. That is part of the reason that I found one of his statements so surprising and deeply hurtful.
5:34:27 After a very well articulated thought process with examples, Robb asks, “How is it harming the neighborhood ?” He proceeds to state that, because of the existing diversity, which I consider one of the biggest strengths of the neighborhood, he does not believe that the project will hurt it.
While Robb had correctly stated that Trackside will not hurt the historic buildings, and will not hurt the diversity of the neighborhood, I have a different perspective. Neighborhoods are not just the physical structures that are present. First and foremost, neighborhoods are the people that live there. This is what has been overlooked in the council’s deliberations. I would challenge anyone to tell me in good faith that there will not be any harm to the members of our neighborhood who live immediately adjacent to the project or in close proximity. Can you honestly say that the 86-year-old gentleman who lives in the “little yellow house” will not be harmed by the conversion of Trackside from a daytime-only single-story business building, with activity confined to the 8-5 time frame, to a four-story mixed-use project with the potential for 24/7 comings and goings ? Can you assert that the immediate neighbors will not experience a dramatic change in environment, both within and outside their homes? For the past two years we have, as members of OEDNA, attempted to work collaboratively with the Trackside partners and the city staff, and have tried to explain multiple times to City Council members just exactly how our neighborhood, not as an abstract concept, but as real people will be adversely affected. In a way, all concerned have admitted through the use of the word “mitigations” that these adverse affects (aka harms) will occur, and yet somehow it would seem that we were either not heard, not understood, or those concerns were not felt to be significant enough to have bearing on these deliberations.
A neighbor had recently expressed the opinion that he did not “feel safe” in Davis and was considering moving. He made it clear that he did not mean physically safe, but rather that he did not feel that his interests were being represented. At the time, I discounted his statement. I had never felt that way as a citizen of Davis. Not prior to Tuesday night. For the first time ever, I am giving serious thought to the possibility of moving from a town I have loved because of a decision that, while not meeting any of the “crisis” needs of our community, signals clearly that the “needs” of the wealthy who can afford luxury accommodations, investors who can afford tens of thousands of dollars to invest, and developers who are clearly, based on their willingness to delay and then walk away from negotiations, interested only in their own profit regardless of where they happen to live.
At one point, Robb expressed his belief that no one would be moving out of OED based on this decision. Robb, I am not so sure.