On Sunday, we reported on an op-ed from Michael Bisch, Robb Davis, and Brett Lee, which noted, “What useful lessons about how development decisions should be made in Davis can we derive from our experience with The Cannery?”
While they acknowledge that “it is unlikely that Davis will have another development of its size and type (500-plus housing units with a commercial component) in the near future, we are likely to have other types of development proposals before us.”
The authors put forth five ideas, which I’m not going to get into in this space. More critically, in response to their op-ed, was a letter from Elaine Roberts Musser. She writes, “In an ideal world, these five ideas sound great, but they don’t mesh with reality.”
While I do not necessarily agree with her, I think her next point is spot on: “What the city lacks is a clear vision of what it wants to be. This is because there are many differing views of what the city should look like in the future — varying perspectives between successive City Councils, among sitting City Council members, and by the community as a whole. But that is as it should be in this multifaceted world.”
Then she goes on to argue, “Development is about compromise.”
She makes a good point because, had ConAgra and New Homes not compromised on the Cannery to put in a second grade-separated crossing and compromised even with CHA, they may still have gotten their project approved but it would have most likely gone to a vote. The compromises took a lot of steam out of an initiative drive.
But the main point of this column is not about Cannery at all, but about the next big project. Those of you who are regulars might want to skip this part.
In June of this year, David Morris came forward with a project suggestion that we take land on Mace 391, that is being processed for a grant to put it into permanent ag easement, and he proposed we swap that easement with the Shriner’s property and put a large business park on it.
At the time, there were a variety of process issues on it and the council voted 3-2 to oppose the pausing of the grant process and allowed the parcel to continue to move toward an ag easement.
But Mr. Morris was not easily deterred and continued to press for council to at least consider his idea on its merits and after he published a piece in the Vanguard and numerous Tech-industry Leaders came forward to speak to the Council, the city briefly considered even, at the late date, stopping the grant process.
There will be some who will consider Mr. Morris’ effort a failure, but actually, without Mr. Morris, I think it is difficult to conceive how the idea of a peripheral business park would have any viability at all.
For me, as a slow growther who has opposed most development, the city of Davis is at a critical moment where the current model of fiscal sustainability has become strained to the point of breaking. Here we are not more than five years since the collapse of the US economy, and we are facing what is likely our biggest budget deficit.
As the city manager noted this week: Davis faces a new economic crisis.
“Difficult decisions are ahead concerning how to balance funding ongoing programs vis-à-vis service-level expectations in the community,” he writes. “Davis is justly proud of the amenities it offers to residents. However, expenditures continue to grow faster than revenues, despite all the changes the City has made to date.”
He argues, “Largely these increases are outside the City’s control. This funding gap makes it difficult to continue to provide the current level of services to residents.”
“The bottom line is that, absent some new revenue or one-time funds, the City will be making reductions again and efforts to maintain critical infrastructure will result in difficult choices,” the city manager writes. “This is a matter which needs to be addressed, since the overall trend is that the City has been drawing down on its carryover balances to make ends meet and those funds are projected to be depleted within the next several of years.”
The short-term options are very limited and we are likely to see a tax measure on the ballot.
The longer-term option is that we grow our economy through new revenue opportunities.
The combination of the efforts of David Morris and the realization of the state of our economy has given the idea of a peripheral business park a new lease on life.
With Mace 391 out of the picture, there are three areas that we are likely looking at: First is the Nishi Property which is next to the university but is a relatively small parcel.
Second, there are the lands that reside between Mace 391 and Mace Curve. These are the Bruner Trust and Ramos-Oates tract. While these too would be subject to a Measure R vote, they have some advantages. To the east would be the Ag Buffer that will be preserved permanently through an agricultural easement on Mace 391. That means that there is no chance of sprawl or development to the east or the north of these tracts.
If the face of that project were the expansion of Schilling Robotics and Marrone Bio Innovations and this were sold to the public as a means to keep these businesses in town, it might stand a chance on a vote.
The Vanguard has learned that a developer is moving forward quickly on a proposal that could place a citizen’s initiative on the ballot perhaps as soon as November 2014.
But we have concerns and these go back to the concerns laid out by Elaine Roberts Musser – we do not have consensus as to what this city should look like and we do not agree on how to move forward.
My fear is that this project will go by the wayside and go down to defeat at the ballot unless the people who run the campaign can speak to both sides of Davis. I hearken back to the public Innovation Parks meeting from October – it was a good meeting, but the notable absence in the room was obvious and palpable.
The progressives were missing from the discussion. The progressives may not have the power and influence that they did a few decades ago, but they still have sizable numbers.
If the developer community hires consultants who speak largely to one side of Davis’ room, this project will go down to massive defeat.
It needs to bring in substantial representation from the progressive community, and the progressives need to have a role in shaping the project, highlighting immediate concerns about leaping over Mace Blvd on the north side of the highway and developing a large business park.
A failure at these early stages will mean a dog fight and a likely defeat. The early stages will define the issues and frame the discussion. It is a delicate matter.
We saw in June just how fragile these discussions are – one mistake doomed any possibility of re-casting Mace 391 – forever. We are going to get one shot at this and so the developer involved needs to seriously think about how best to move forward or they will likely lose what window of opportunity they have to get this approved by the voters.
—David M. Greenwald reporting