As the first full year of the People’s Vanguard of Davis comes to completion, we will countdown the top 10 stories from year. This is the second year we have done this.
Last year we counted down the 10 Biggest Stories in Davis.
This year we countdown the 10 biggest stories that we followed on the People’s Vanguard of Davis.
We conclude with the top story of 2007: The County General Plan Process. In late January, residents of Davis and indeed members of the Davis city council were blindsided with proposals that would throw the city-county pass-through agreement and land use policies on their heads. The county was proposing studying development on the Davis periphery, despite long-standing and lucrative agreements in place that gave the city of Davis landuse authority on the city edges.
Three places in particular were at stake. First a large area in NW Davis where senior housing was being examined–the Northwest Quadrant on the Bidding property. They were looking at perhaps a 2000 unit senior housing development. They were also looking at possible developments at Covell, where Davis voters had recently overwhelmingly voted against development. Finally, late in the process there was suggestion of a large housing development along the I-80 corridor abutting the Yolo Causeway.
The process began in early February, where the County Staff recommended against developing on the Northwest Quadrant.
The County is doing its update to the County General Plan. Only in the last week has there begun to be attention to this very important process. Talking to a few of the County Supervisors they have expressed alarm and dismay that the public is not more involved in this process. However, Tuesday February 6, 2007 the County Supervisors will meet and receive the General Plan recommendations from their steering committee (much as in a year and a half, the Davis City Council will likewise receive their recommendations).
There are two key issues of concern to Davis residents. First there is a proposal by the committee for a development of 2100 units, for senior housing, over 20 years to the Northwest Quadrant of Davis. This is the area west of Highway 113 and North of Sutter Hospital.
A summary of the report reads:
“The urban limit lines for each of the existing cities are respected as providing for a fair share of future growth, with the exception of the “northwest” quadrant at the edge of Davis where the Planning Commission felt additional growth would be appropriate if it could be shown to be to the county’s benefit.”
There is a perception that this is going to be approved by the Board of Supervisors. This seems highly unlikely.
The staff report strongly recommends against this development:
“For the most part the staff is in agreement with and fully supports the recommendations of the Planning Commission. However, the staff has made a few supplemental land use recommendations that differ from the actions of the Planning Commission.
On the residential side, staff is recommending against the addition of 2,100 residences within the unincorporated area near the northwest quadrant of Davis, as these units are not likely to have fiscal benefits for the county that would justify the growth given concerns regarding inconsistency with long-standing growth policies, provision of infrastructure and services, and effects on the city/county pass-through agreement.”
However, despite staff recommendations that recommended against this project, the board of supervisors continued to push for study areas.
The February 6, 2007 meeting was packed and the city of Davis presented a united front against county proposals.
The Yolo County staff’s recommendation was to oppose the Northwest Quadrant development proposal as they did not see it as a source of revenue for the county. Instead they recommended a joint special study area with city and county for this development.
The City of Davis came and delivered a united front.
First, Mayor Sue Greenwald spoke. She strongly favored a continuation of the pass-through agreement giving Davis and Davis’ City Council control over edge development. She considered a joint study session a violation of this pass-through agreement and this trust. The joint study group was not appropriate.
Greenwald did not oppose senior housing or special needs housing, however, she believes that the best plan should be determined by the City Council. She appreciated that county had financial problems as county services outpaces development proceeds, but argued that housing is not a good source of revenue (something that the staff recommendation by the county agreed) and argued that even retail development has diminishing returns.
Davis City Staffer Katherine Hess delivered a letter from City Manager Bill Emlen. She simply stated that development on the Davis periphery should be made by the city through a city process and she asked that the Board of Supervisors would concur with that.
Councilmember Don Saylor was in full agreement with Mayor Greenwald. He said that he appreciated that the county has real issues that need to be addressed and that the destinies of the county and city are intertwined. Davis has a process for dealing with its development and will be undergoing its own general plan update. He saw that as the appropriate agency and forum to address development issues. Moreover, while Davis does have a history of peripheral development it does not have a process for the Northwest Quadrant. He believes there are issues with housing for seniors and this may not be the most appropriate location or the best use of site given the distance from the core downtown area. Moreover he suggested that commercial development at Mace and I-80 are not “obvious” for us and mentioned that there are several commercial projects already in the works and does not want a new development area outside of the Mace Curve that could be detrimental to this development.
In general, the two members of the Davis City Council and one city staffer were united on this issue that the city and not the county should be the agency involved in determining where, when, and how peripheral development occurs. There were concerns about process and also specifics in this development.
However, the meeting was marked with contentiousness and tensions rose between the city and county.
Statements made by Supervisor Mike McGowan should have raised a red flag:
“I don’t care where (Davis) puts their additional units, but from any standpoint they have to absorb their fair share. I’m not telling them where to grow.”
“One of the reasons we are embarking on the General Plan update is that we can’t maintain the old way of doing business; we aren’t generating the revenues we need.”
More concerning to Davis residents should have been the statements made by their own representative, Supervisor Helen Thomson:
The Davis Enterprise writes:
“But Thomson later suggested there was much to talk to Davis about in addition to new housing.
In exchange for the county’s policy of directing commercial and residential projects to the cities instead of building them on agricultural land, the cities pay the county a fee in what’s called a pass-through agreement.
In 2005-06, Davis paid nearly $2 million to the county in its pass-through agreement, Thomson said. But that agreement is nearly 15 years old and there are other issues to discuss. Thomson cited her own example of “poor planning” by the city of Davis — allowing homes to be built on seven 20-acre parcels at Binning Ranch north of Davis.”
By late March, discussions continued between city and county, without much common ground sought.
On Monday, the City of Davis-County of Yolo two-by-two committee met. This body is composed of two members from each body–Sue Greenwald and Don Saylor from the city council and the two Davis County Supervisors–Helen Thomson and Mariko Yamada.
There were moments of relief such as when both Thomson and Yamada indicated their support for the current pass-through agreement indicating that there would not be any move to renegotiate it.
The pass-through agreement is an agreement by the county not to develop within the sphere of influence of the city of Davis, in exchange, the city agrees to give the county a share of the redevelopment money they would have been entitled to had they developed. In this case, Davis gives the county roughly $2.7 million (the figure was somewhat in contention with the county suggesting it might be $2.1 million).
This is a much larger number than the county likely would get if they tried to develop the land. Moreover, it is considerably larger than the pass-through agreements between the county and Woodland and West Sacramento. So when the county talks about not having enough revenue, it seems like Davis ought to be the last place that the county is looking towards.
The City of Davis made clear their position.
Councilmember Saylor was very clear that the City of Davis through the pass-through agreement, maintained the land-use authority on the periphery. He also strongly maintained his opposition to the specific projects mentioned. The county was adamant however that this has not been a project-based plan so far but rather that they are looking at concepts and philosophies. However, specific sites have been identified as possible study areas by the county.
The issue of the joint study sessions at this point seems to be the sticking point. The county is looking at the change of designations of very land areas. This seemed strongly opposed by both Greenwald and Saylor. Greenwald viewed this as the first step toward development process.
Greenwald in speaking of lands on the Davis city-edge: “I would expect the county to keep its agricultural designation… It would be a somewhat hostile act that would impede cooperation.”
Yamada took exception to the use of the term hostile, but Greenwald’s point here was dead-on: the county should not be changing the land-use designation here. At this point, the joint study session is viewed by Davis council as a means by which to try to force a change and that is not supported, at least from what I have seen, by the council. In the end, I think this proposal will be dropped, but as of now it is THE point on contention.
The county continued to press for joint study areas despite the concerns of the city of Davis.
On Tuesday, the Yolo County Board of Supervisors voted to approve three areas in the Davis sphere of influence as “Joint Study Areas.” These areas include the Oeste Ranch area in the Northwest Quadrant and an area in the Covell Village west of Poleline both of which would be designated for residential housing developments, and an antiquated property east of Mace Road along I-80 which would be designated for commercial development. Ostensibly these Joint Study sessions would be used to determined changes in land use designations for the County General Plan Update.
The City of Davis and the City Council remains at least in public adamantly against such developments. As Katherine Hess, Davis Community Development Director wrote in a hand-delivered letter to the board, “we continue to be concerned that the current recommendations being considered could set in motion potential significant land use inconsistent with the long-standing policies embraced by the City and County on urbanization within the City’s Planning Area.”
By late June, this tension was threatening to turn into all out war. The proposed 2800 development along I-80 served as a flashpoint that threatened to spin this out of control.
As reported yesterday in the local press, Sacramento developer Angelo Tskaopoulos is proposing developing a 2,800 acre parcel of prime agricultural land along the I-80 between Davis and the Yolo Causeway.
>Supervisor Mike McGowan, who represents West Sacramento, in both the Sacramento Bee and Davis Enterprise was non-committal but sympathetic.
Supervisor McGowan told the Bee:
“It’s still very much at the conceptual level, and I need to get much more information about it before I can form any serious conclusions.”
“The idea of this region being at the forefront of stem cell research is certainly an exciting one, but the rest of it has yet to be fleshed out.”
Meanwhile he told the Davis Enterprise:
“I’m very intrigued with the idea of a research park… We need to look constructively at the Interstate 80 corridor between West Sacramento and Davis. Does it make sense for the county, Davis, UC Davis and West Sacramento to place something of legitimate scientific endeavor out there? If the answer is ‘maybe,’ then we should look at it at least in the broad concept.”
It was Supervisor Mariko Yamada’s words that stung the community and brought this process to a head.
“We are in the 21st century, and we need to keep an open mind about how we are going to approach land use and the I-80 corridor from the Bay Area to Sacramento.”
She added in Enterprise:
“It’s part of the new direction the county is going in.”<
In response to the Vanguard’s pointed criticism of her policies, Supervisor Yamada penned a response in the Vanguard.
The commentary, “Who Is Left to Defend Yolo County Farmland?” questions my record concerning land use decisions. My record, both public and private, is clear and consistent on the issues of protecting agriculture and open space, and fostering a safe and sustainable environment.
She then listed out a long list of policies she had supported or opposed.
The crux of her statement was here:
On March 27, 2007, I joined in a unanimous vote of the Board of Supervisors in choosing a general plan preferred land use alternative that balances rural sustainability with strategic joint study areas to be considered for potential economic development. The County remains hopeful that joint discussions will occur.
The idea of a stem cell research facility in Yolo County is conceptual; there is no specific proposal to be considered at this time. At present, I am keeping an open mind about the research, educational, and life-saving potential such a facility might bring to the region.
Consistent with my deliberative style, I do not make a decision on an issue until I have all the facts before me and have taken input from all sides. I am not a “one-size-fits-all” representative, nor do I place the threat of political liability above the soundness of good public policy.
This triggered a lengthy debate on the Vanguard, however, it did little to address the question at hand: why even consider such a massive proposal and little to satisfy her growing number of critics, many of whom had been her strongest supporters just a few months before.
In response, Holly Bishop and Pam Nieberg, published their own guest commentary on the Vanguard.
“Mariko Yamada’s spin-meisters have really been hard at work. In her submittal to the Davis Vanguard, she is now claiming that her “open mind” on a 2800 acre project proposed by Angelo Tsakopoulos is really about a stem cell research center. She makes no mention of the actual development proposal brought forth by Tsakopoulos. She states only that “the idea of a stem cell research facility in Yolo County is conceptual”, and that she is “keeping an open mind about the research, educational and life-saving potential such a facility might bring to the region.” Nowhere in her article does she reveal the actual full proposal or her apparent support for it as published in the Bee and the Enterprise last week.”
The bombshell came out on July 6, as the county released the staff that proposed all three areas as special study areas.
This was a trigger point for a public call for recall by former Mayor Bill Kopper and current Mayor Sue Greenwald. The Vanguard came out quickly against such as effort.
While the Vanguard shares a deep concern about these proposals, which seem to be tantamount to pressure from the county to develop on Davis’ periphery in violation of the pass-through agreement, the Vanguard believes that a recall is the wrong response to this threat, for a number of reasons.
However, despite the concerns about a recall, the threat of the recall changed some of the dynamics on the ground and may have led to cooler heads prevailing at the county level.
This would be one of the finest moments for the Vanguard as the the Vanguard would report live from directly inside the Supervisor’s chambers. Thousands were logged on to the running commentary. Best of all, the Supervisors knew it.
At one point in the process, Supervisor Rexroad proposed the elimination of the study areas and was voted down 3-2. There was an adjournment. Suddenly when the Supervisors reemerged, they put the proposal to rest.
The Vanguard would issue a long description of the process which led to the pass-through agreement being preserved and cooler heads prevailing.
There were times during this process that war between the city of Davis and Yolo County seemed inevitable. There were times during the Board of Supervisors meeting that recall as an option was very much alive and may have come to fruition however at a crucial point, the county seemed to at least temporarily blink. Things calmed down. However, the scene was tense and serious. For all of that, the County General Plan process and the proposed special studies areas was the top story in 2007.
—Doug Paul Davis reporting