Analysis: Will Cannery Face a de facto Measure J Vote?

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Cannery-Park-Land-Plan-Feb-2013

The Cannery property is the last major parcel of land in the city of Davis that would not have to face a Measure J vote to convert it into a housing development.  That fact has made it an inviting target for ConAgra, the owner of the parcel and a major agricultural corporation.  However, a number of citizens have told the Vanguard that if the council does not put the matter to the people for a vote, they will do so themselves.

In the past week alone, the Vanguard has had a surprising number of different people from a variety of different sectors in the community express concerns about the current plans for development of the site.

The first problem is that, at the same time that Davis is looking for land to keep companies like Bayer CropScience in town rather than moving across the causeway to places like West Sacramento, the city is about to convert its largest currently undeveloped parcel of land, currently zoned for industrial uses, into housing.

City officials have been adamant that major investors, startups and businesses deem the site to be unsuitable for a business park due, for the most part, to its distance from reliable highway transportation and its lack of visibility.

However, others continue to believe that the lack of interest in a business park here is due largely to the city’s inability to enforce current zoning on the site.  They believe that if the parcel were properly marketed, it would be enticing to those seeking business startups from the university.

What is clear from the discussion yesterday and at other points in time is that the city will have a difficult sell to make to the public that they have no land for business and economic development, if they swap the 100 acres of land on Cannery for housing.

This problem might be insurmountable for ConAgra and the city, but the other two major objections are more project-specific.

The first of these problems is that the development is very ordinary.  It is a 100-acre property that would see a project that consists of 547 residential units and 45 accessory dwelling units.

As one developer told us this past week, the city of Davis still holds up Village Homes as its iconic residential development, even though the development itself is now 35 years old.  That means that for the last 35 years, the city of Davis has failed to develop any new innovative neighborhoods – and Cannery is no different from anything else developed in the past 35 years.

The cite fails to live up to the sustainability features of West Village or the innovation of Village Homes.

Along similar lines is the concern that the site itself is problematic, nestled against the railroad tracks on the western boundary, with the only vehicular access on the already heavily-congested Covell Blvd.

“The bad nature of the site means that the developer should expect to mitigate the air quality, greenhouse gas, transportation adverse impacts,” Mont Hubbard told the Planning Commission this spring, speaking for the board of Davis Bicycles!  “An obvious way to do that is to provide a way for people to use bicycles and pedestrian transportation more.”

“We’re only going to meet our greenhouse gas reduction standards if we increase non-motorized transportation,” Mont Hubbard said.  “Right now, 45% of our greenhouse gasses come from that and we have to increase the non-motorized transportation rather than decrease it, as we believe this project would do as presently planned.”

He added, “It simply isn’t going to happen if they have to cross Covell Blvd. on foot or by bicycle.   The way to get people to use non-motorized transportation is to provide them a safe avenue to do that.”

As Robb Davis, who serves on the Bicycle Advisory Commission, noted, the current plan is fraught with danger.

“The problem that I’m seeing with the project as it’s laid out now is basically we have one grade-separated crossing on the southwest side of the project,” he told the commission.

The result of that configuration, he said, is that it will lead people to the H Street tunnel, which many consider a dangerous piece of bicycle infrastructure.

“Whatever happens with that grade-separated crossing it’s going to require people to use an existing piece of bicycle infrastructure that is arguably the worst in the city, which is the H Street Tunnel,” he said.  “Any connection between the east and the west parts of Davis, bicycle wise, will use that tunnel.”

This issue of accessibility is a huge factor in people’s concern for the site design.

ConAgra, if they are committed to building housing on this site, cannot do much about those in the community that question housing, but they can change the design to counter other criticisms.

In the past few weeks, a number of developers have shown the Vanguard some interesting new, and even exciting, ideas for various sites around town that break from the current stale thinking about housing developments jammed into tight quarters with limited access points.

Right now we believe that if the matter were placed before the voters, it would be defeated.  There are some in the community that believe all housing will be defeated, but we are not so sure.  Housing that incorporates concerns about site design, accessibility and sustainability has a chance if presented to the community in the right way.

It was not that long ago that the Wildhorse development itself was placed on the ballot and, though it was a bitter and contentious campaign, it prevailed in the end.

We would urge both the council and ConAgra to re-think the site design before it is too late.  A vote here would not be friendly toward building new high-density housing on this site.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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33 thoughts on “Analysis: Will Cannery Face a de facto Measure J Vote?”

  1. SouthofDavis

    Michael wrote:

    > ConAgra must be on the ballot.

    We can call it “Measure CA”.

    A yes vote on Measure CA will prohibit ConAgra (a firm based in a red state that is a big Republican donor) from replacing the pristine native animal habitat north of Covell with new homes and reducing the value of existing older homes in Davis.

    A no vote on Measure CA will allow ConAgra to make millions selling expensive tract homes in Davis and give even more money to Republicans. Voting no on Measure CA will result in streets clogged with the with SUVs driven by the new homeowners and current Davis homeowners having to reduce the price of their homes to sell them.

  2. Ryan Kelly

    How can there be a vote? It is within City limits and not subject to a Measure A vote?

    If there is going to be a vote, then maybe we should look at Covell Village again and incorporate a larger business park within the plan and use the larger scale to solve some of the problems you state, i.e. pedestrian and bike access and safety, multiple avenues to enter and exit, etc.

  3. Neutral

    [i]The Fremont Trestle is the first domino. If it falls, literally or figuratively, it could set off a chain of events that would lead to [b]permanent relocation of the freight railroad tracks that slice through Davis[/b].[Davis Enterprise, 6/18/2013][/i]

    ‘First domino’ indeed. The City, Cannery and Covell developers and their supporters should work hard to get the tracks moved. At least (properly designed) that would mitigate the traffic problems.

  4. Robb Davis

    I wanted to provide some further information on the access issues referred to in the quotes from Mont Hubbard and me to the Planning Commission. After that meeting the BAC and SPAC met in a joint session and passed the following motions:

    [quote]In order to achieve the City objective related to connectivity to adjacent neighborhoods the following are necessary if this project is to go forward. Without them the project should not be approved:
    • The applicant must mitigate the impact of increased bike and pedestrian traffic through the H Street tunnel by upgrading the tunnel to increase its width, improve sight lines on the western side of the tunnel, remove the 90 degree turn required to enter and exit the tunnel from the west end, and improve its lighting. Motion passed 7 – 4.
    • The applicant must work with the City to develop a plan for a grade separated crossing on the east side of the project– preferably a tunnel under Covell similar to the tunnel under Covell to the east of Wildhorse (just east of Monarch drive). A potential location for this tunnel (assuming feasibility with utilities) would be at Covell and L Streets. Motion passed 9 – 2
    • If the above actions are taken, the project meets the objective of connectivity to adjacent neighborhoods and City core. Motion passed 10 – 1[/quote]

    BUT! There is one large caveat here. The first motion was made under the assumption that a grade separated crossing on the west side was feasible. This crossing would go under Covell (alongside the railroad tracks and closely paralleling them from the southwest edge of the site to the H Street tunnel. However, it is now clear that this crossing is, in fact, not feasible because the property owners of at least one of the two apartment complexes who would have to provide an easement to the city to create the bike path are refusing to provide it and promise a costly legal battle with the city. It is my understanding (others can correct me) that this refusal is related to the fact that these property owners include people with an interest in Covell Village who are unhappy that infrastructure for the Cannery project is being done without reference to the Covell property (connectivity issues).

    Further, there are, apparently critical engineering challenges related to creating a grade separated crossing to the east. Frankly, unless the rail line is relocated (who knows for sure if/when that will happen) this property poses huge access problems if we are to be serious about moving large numbers of people of all ages in and out of there without increasing reliance on automobiles.

    The current single grade separated crossing to the west (I won’t try to describe it except to say it goes under then parallels Covell on the south side) is a very mediocre option that will NOT encourage cycling out of the property in my view.

    I have made my views on direct democracy known several times here (I generally do not favor it for several reasons). However, in this case I will do what I can to stop this project unless we find a way to adequately incentivize bicycling and walking of residents in this development. Such incentives do not currently exist in my opinion.

    FYI–the foregoing is my opinion only and, besides the quoted motions, does NOT represent the position of the BAC of which I am a member.

  5. Mr.Toad

    “from replacing the pristine native animal habitat north of Covell with new homes and reducing the value of existing older homes in Davis.”

    Pristine? It was a tomato cannery for 30 years not Yosemite.

    But so many have argued that supply and demand don’t apply to Davis housing prices I’m surprised that this argument is being made so gracelessly. Its more likely that building out that site will keep a cap on housing prices instead of making them decline.

  6. Mr.Toad

    “It was not that long ago that the Wildhorse development itself was placed on the ballot …”

    Actually its getting close to almost 20 years ago.

  7. Don Shor

    [quote]City officials have been adamant that major investors, startups and businesses deem the site to be unsuitable for a business park due, for the most part, to its distance from reliable highway transportation and its lack of visibility.[/quote]
    City officials? Mostly we’ve heard this from people who post anonymously on the Vanguard.
    The issue is what the property owners are willing to do. It has been said here that they won’t build anything on that site except housing. That they’d rather hold onto an empty parcel than develop it for business. In fact, it seems that our problem in getting business development in Davis largely comes down to willingness of the property owners — that is the reason Bayer AgroScience ended up in West Sac.

  8. Don Shor

    We need 5,000 beds in town and on campus in the next 7 – 8 years. That is 2000 or so units. If the university provides 40% of those (unlikely) we still need 1200 units. Those units need to be rentals or inexpensive enough for students, young adults, young families, and lower-income residents. We have one large parcel left in the city limits.
    If it isn’t going to be higher density and lower-cost housing than the current iteration, then the rezoning should be rejected.

  9. Robb Davis

    I concur with you on this Don (“Those units need to be rentals or inexpensive enough for students, young adults, young families, and lower-income residents”) and I would only add that we need to [i][b]strongly[/b][/i] incentivize biking, walking and use of transit to move people from this site to other parts of town.

  10. Mike Hart

    Before we get all sympathetic for the property owner, recall we are talking about ConAgra, who acquired then closed this plant tossing a lot of people out of work.

    This really comes down to money- the property was sold to Lewis Homes for a reported $10M back in 2004. They sold two things, the 99-acre main site which included substantial infrastructure, buildings etc. on the 20.59 acre plant site. In addition, they sold a 320-acre waste disposal field on Road 104 and Road 28H. Lewis Homes paid a significant deposit and tried to do their thing…

    I was part of a group of business owners and green energy executives (including former heads of the PUC and the CEC) who wanted to buy the property and turn it into a clean-energy park back in 2004. We were particularly attracted to the infrastructure and buildings, tanks etc. on the site. Lewis homes promptly bulldozed all the infrastructure (valued by the county assessor at over $20M at the time) in what we saw as a move to make the property less attractive for business.

    They ended up making their proposal to the city and it didn’t work out and ConAgra got the property back. I don’t know how much of Lewis’s money they got to keep, but its reasonable to assume that ConAgra was very comfortable.

    In June, Yolo County purchased the 320-acre parcel for $2.4M.

    ConAgra would appear to now have a relatively cheap piece of land that they can sit on for as long as the believe there are suckers on the city council who will eventualy give them what they want…

    In my opinion, the only solution is to make ANY zoning change on the property subject to Meaure R forever…

    And please- stop with the random references to “They” who have said that the land cannot be used for business, that is complete nonsense. I have mentioned in other posts many other cities that have amazing facilities developed far away from the highway (Palo Alto, Cupertino, Harvard to name three)…

    In ANYONE reading this doubts what I have said is true- ask yourself this. How long has this property listed for sale at any price to find out if business wants it? We just hear hired guns assure our city council that it wouldn’t sell… yeah right.

  11. Stephen Souza

    This proposed federal legislation ( SAVE Act, S. 1737 ) would allow for energy efficiency features to be used in the evaluation of loan-to-value ratio of mortgages. Cannery Park if approved should be a net zero energy development.
    [url]http://www.ase.org/resources/save-act[/url]

    .

  12. David M. Greenwald

    “How can there be a vote? It is within City limits and not subject to a Measure A vote?”

    Referendum or initiative – the residents can put anything on the ballot, just as they did with Wildhorse.

  13. David M. Greenwald

    “City officials? Mostly we’ve heard this from people who post anonymously on the Vanguard.”

    The people on the Vanguard are echoing the previous discussions on cannery and what city officials are saying.

  14. David M. Greenwald

    “We need 5,000 beds in town and on campus in the next 7 – 8 years. “

    You’re foreshadowing what will be an interesting upcoming conversation here.

  15. Mr.Toad

    South of Davis wrote:”current Davis homeowners having to reduce the price of their homes to sell them.”

    Now I recall SOD writing that he owned two houses in the area so it seems that beyond his principal residence he is worried about the effects of Conagra’s land speculation having a negative impact on his own land speculation. i think the same can be said about Mike Harrington who has speculated on Davis real estate for years.

    I also find it ironic that some who live on multi-acre parcels believe that our future housing stock should be high density.

  16. Davis Progressive

    [quote]I also find it ironic that some who live on multi-acre parcels believe that our future housing stock should be high density. [/quote]

    i don’t see it as ironic.

    i’m an ex-smoker, that doesn’t mean i let my kids smoke.

    california used to be owned by mexico, meaning my home’s property used to be in mexico, that doesn’t mean i am going to return my house to mexico just because i thought past policy was wrongheaded.

  17. SouthofDavis

    I wrote (trying to make a joke about what I expect to see on the ballot):

    > from replacing the pristine native animal habitat
    > north of Covell with new homes and reducing the
    > value of existing older homes in Davis.”

    Mr. Toad (who didn’t get the joke) wrote:

    > Pristine? It was a tomato cannery for
    > 30 years not Yosemite.

    I know the previous use of the ugly covered with cement site (my brother in law spent a summer driving trucks full of tomatoes to the plant), but you won’t hear that from the “environmentalists” that try and stop the development of the cannery.

    > But so many have argued that supply and
    > demand don’t apply to Davis housing prices

    People that say that “supply and demand don’t apply to Davis housing prices” are as wrong as the people saying that if we pay the firefighters a penny under $175K a year that they will all quit (to get higher paying jobs working less hours in the private sector)…

    > I’m surprised that this argument is being made so
    > gracelessly. Its more likely that building out that
    > site will keep a cap on housing prices instead of
    > making them decline.

    It is important not to confuse “average housing prices” with the price/value of individual homes. If you build ~300 new $500K homes it may increase “average housing price” while at the same time dropping the price of every older home in central Davis (that need work) since the people that don’t want to buy a fixer upper and have to deal with fixing it can buy a new home with a warranty.

    > Now I recall SOD writing that he owned two houses
    > in the area so it seems that beyond his principal
    > residence he is worried about the effects of Conagra’s
    > land speculation having a negative impact on his
    > own land speculation.

    I’m not in any hurry to sell my (cash flow positive) Central Davis home (that we bought to live in, not “on spec.”) and I’m actually in favor of not only building out the Con Agra site but the one next to it across from Nugget and the little site east of Wildhorse (that got voted down not so long ago).

    > I also find it ironic that some who live on multi-acre
    > parcels believe that our future housing stock should be
    > high density.

    Most owners of multi-acre parcels near freeways in the region hope to cash in down the road and make millions selling out to a developer. They tend to fight against any development that will slow the chance of their parcel getting re-zoned and sold and to hide their true intentions will often support development of projects like medical office near a hospital, or student housing near a university since that will not reduce the chance of them selling out to a single family, retail, office or industrial developer…

  18. Mr.Toad

    SOD, sorry i didn’t see the humor in your joke. I’m just so used to dealing with nimby’s and this article is another nimbycentric rant I just went off!

  19. Mr.Toad

    By the way, Cannery doesn’t need to be on the ballot and won’t be on the ballot unless the same old people who oppose everything put it on there.

  20. Don Shor

    [quote]I also find it ironic that some who live on multi-acre parcels believe that our future housing stock should be high density.[/quote]
    I have children and employees who are adversely affected by the rental market situation in Davis.

  21. Mr.Toad

    As a fellow teacher always reminded us “Leadership by example is the finest form of teaching.” I guess with that in my mind is why I find it ironic.

  22. wesley506

    [quote]We need 5,000 beds in town and on campus in the next 7 – 8 years. That is 2000 or so units. If the university provides 40% of those (unlikely) we still need 1200 units.[/quote]

    When West Village on campus is built out it will consist of 662 apartments and 343 single family homes that will house approx. 3,000 people. Not long ago I remember reading where the city had already approved permits for approx 600 homes. The permits were being sat on by builders because the economy was not yet on firm ground. If you assume each home will have 4 beds, that will will be a total of a little over 5,000 beds when added to the West Village project. Are you saying we will need an additional 5,000 beds in addition to this 5,000 already in the pipeline??

  23. Don Shor

    West Village barely covers the deficit in UCD housing that had developed prior to the chancellor’s announcement of a 5000-student enrollment increase by 2020. So I don’t count that, though it certainly helps. UCD has a long way to go in providing housing. If that gets all built out, and enrollment increases as they plan, I’m guessing the rental vacancy rate will still be well below 5%. If somebody here has better info, I’d love to see it. Bottom line: they aren’t covering their projected population increase, much less making up for past deficiencies.

    I’d be very surprised if there are actually 600 homes approved and ready to be built. But it would be really useful to know if that is actually the case. It would strengthen the argument for not re-zoning ConAgra.

  24. SouthofDavis

    Mr.Toad wrote:

    > As a fellow teacher always reminded us “Leadership by
    > example is the finest form of teaching.” I guess with
    > that in my mind is why I find it ironic.

    It is sad to say but “do as I say” is much more common than “do as I do” today. I am not always on the same page as Mr. Toad, but it important for all of us to admit that our current system of government/public education is set up to need constant growth.

    If Davis does not grow (like it has been growing for the past 100 years) the city will be in trouble (take a look at Detroit that is shrinking).

    Some cities (like Palo Alto) are doing fine without growth, but it is because many homes are selling for a million MORE than they sold for ten years ago (and many for two million more than 20 years ago). I just got a postcard about a home sale in Davis (Oakshade) that despite the hot real estate market and low rates sold for over $100K less than it sold for ten years ago.

    As Toad knows I’m not a give the teachers and firefighters a big raise every year kind of guy but I want the city to work and the schools to be good and admit that we need to give people raises (since even if Davis homes are not going up in value the cost of just about everything else is) so we either need growth or other taxes to make the city and schools work.

  25. JustSaying

    “In June, Yolo County purchased the 320-acre parcel for $2.4M.”

    Mike, for what purpose? Guess I haven’t been reading the Enterprise enough in the last few weeks and missed this transaction. Seems like this would be a big story. Maybe the county will be developing a big business park.

  26. scooter

    what’s interesting about the above discussion is the lack of any alarm about the impact on the City if the Cannery project is defeated. Such an outcome – after the Covell Village debacle – would demonstrate that development is not possible here. No growth is not an option; it is a death sentence for the town. The core business area is hanging on by a thread. You can’t even buy a shirt & tie here. The City is in dire need of expanding its tax base and must bring new business and housing in or face ever increasing fees for service and concurrent service decline. Comparing Davis to places like Palo Alto is a joke. The average income in Palo Alto is many time that in Davis. They have a lot of high end shops and a vibrant business community. We have a mattress store downtown and half the population lives on a students income. We develop or die.

  27. Growth Izzue

    [quote]The core business area is hanging on by a thread. [/quote]

    Not by the crowds and filled parking spaces I see everyday and night in the core business area. If there’s a problem, and I doubt that there is, then it’s got to be a matter of having the wrong types of stores or store owners not knowing how to run a business.

  28. Mike Hart

    “We develop or die” an odd mantra- particularly given how well Davis fared compared to all of its growth obsessed neighbors during the recent correction.

    I am also curious how you see the Covell Village vote as a “debacle”? Seemed to have worked pretty well from the vast majority of the citizen’s perspective.

    The proposed rezoning of the ConAgra site is a bad idea, it doesn’t even merit being considered a project at this point. I wish Scooter was right and defeating this notion would prevent further growth inducing projects, but it won’t. But its defeat could open the door to more business development and that is something that I think all citizens can support.

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