The discussion over Mace 391 has much larger ramifications than simply what the city does on that site. In a very real way, it frames the way the city handles land use policies going forward.
One of the key variables in the Mace 391 deal was the idea that the city would be able to develop a parcel of land, Mace 391, as a business park, while at the same time being able to secure other key areas of land such as the Shriner’s Property as a permanent easement.
For a number of years, the city of Davis has used three primary land use policies to protect its borders from peripheral development. The most recognized have been Measure J and Measure R, requiring a vote of the people any time that land zoned for agricultural uses is converted to urban usage.
We have also gained some understanding of Measure O, which has been under-utilized as an effort to capture farmland and protect that farmland as open space.
Finally, there is the pass-through agreement. The pass-through agreement was first agreed to in November 1987 following the debacle at Mace Ranch in which the city was forced into a compromise position when the county agreed to allow a developer to develop land just outside of the city.
The pass-through agreement allowed the city of Davis to pass-through roughly $2 million a year in redevelopment money in exchange for the county not approving urban development over the objections of the city.
The loss of redevelopment money for the city means that the city will no longer be able to continue the $2 million per year pass-through payments to the county.
In the short-term, this is not going to be a huge problem for the city. Back in 2007, Yolo County made the mistake of attempting to study key lands outside of Davis, including areas along the I-80 corridor, Covell Village, and the Northwest Quadrant.
The effort at that time was led by Supervisors Helen Thomson and Mariko Yamada. However, the discussion itself triggered hundreds of Davis residents showing up at the County Board of Supervisors meetings in protest to putting areas of the Davis sphere of influence into study areas.
Ultimately, the county backed off. The Davis area supervisors were replaced by Supervisors Jim Provenza and Don Saylor, who were much less inclined to develop areas outside of Davis – at least from a county perspective.
In the near term, there seems little danger that the county is going to propose housing near Davis. Moreover, as the county looks for revenue, they are more likely to favor economic development projects which can produce revenue, while housing projects are generally seen as revenue-neutral, if not a net revenue loss.
At the same time, while the loss of the pass-through agreement will not result in short-term development on Davis’ borders, there is no guarantee into the future that this will continue.
While many clamored for the city to re-examine Mace 391 as a spot for a business park, the current arrangement is not necessarily the worst situation in the world, from a land use perspective.
As the city’s land use map shows, the city has an improved position in the critical area along I-80. The Mace 391-Leland Ranch property is moving toward permanent ag easement status. If the effort for a business park moves to the west, to the Bruner and Ramos/Oates tracts, the city would already have an easement to the east in Mace 391, and it owns the Howatt Ranch property along I-80 and holds properties north of Bruner.
In addition, while the Mace 391 property would have swapped an easement at Mace 391 for one at Shriner’s, there is word that ownership of Shriner’s may change hands to a landowner interested in keeping that area undeveloped.
While the pass-through agreement became an effective tool to allow the city of Davis to control land use around its own periphery, as we move forward, the loss of the pass-through agreement may be less catastrophic than many have feared for the last decade.
What the city needs to do is as we have been suggesting. One approach is, as we have suggested, a new General Plan that can identify potential places where the city can build new housing and open up lands for business parks, while at the same time work to get more agricultural land either into agricultural easements or under city control.
As we look forward, revisiting, at least, the concept that was proposed by David Morris is useful. Here his vision, which will go unrealized as far as Mace 391, helps us gain an understanding, moving forward.
Here we see that his Mace 391 proposal actually leveraged a good deal of open space protection. As we now look toward Bruner-Ramos/Oates as a potential site, a site that would require a Measure R vote, we should not only look in terms of making Schilling and Marrone the face of that project, but also in terms of utilizing that project to add considerably to the land under the control of the city.
There is also the plan that Matt Williams put forward in October.
As we look at his conception of the urban fringe, we may see a path forward to help protect farmland from urban encroachment.
Right now our view is that there is no immediate threat to county-based development of housing in the Davis sphere of influence. While that may change going forward, we do not have to do a rush job here to protect agricultural land.
What we do need to do is continue to have the conversations that we have been having for the last three months and even the last six months.
We need to determine where and how much land needs to be developed as a business park. We need to make decisions about where to place additional housing. And then we need to utilize our resources to put as much agricultural land into easements and under city control as we can.
We should use the development processes to add additional land into protected status.
—David M. Greenwald reporting