The ultimate 5-0 vote on Councilmember Rochelle Swanson’s motion belies the vast difference in viewpoints each councilmember has on the process. However, the council did vote 5-0 to bring back language on an advisory vote ahead of a Measure R process for each of the three business park proposals, plus a potential fourth proposal on the city’s 25 acres east of Mace.
Councilmember Swanson moved that “staff come back on July 15, working with applicants and those that want to do an advisory vote, have the language and the money to back up the advisory vote, and then we’ll make a final decision on the 15th.”
Lucas Frerichs would second it. It was clear throughout the discussion that one council member was very much opposed to the concept and three were apprehensive. In addition, while Dan Ramos pushed the idea as a way to provide assurance for Tyler Schilling, the other two potential project teams were opposed to the idea.
Dan Ramos presented language for a potential advisory measure: “Shall the City of Davis pursue a proposal for a 230 acre Innovation and Technology Center, to be located east of Mace Boulevard and north of Interstate 80, which will involve no housing, accommodate the growth needs of existing businesses, enhance employment opportunities and increase the local tax base? Said proposal will undergo environmental review as required by the California Environmental Quality Act and be subject to a Measure J/R vote by the electorate.”
“We are planning to file a formal application for our project, including a detailed project description by September 1, 2014. Our intent is that we will hold public workshops in August to secure public input for our project description,” Mr. Ramos told council. “Our commitment to you is that we will move expeditiously with this process.”
He suggested that the other projects “be allowed to proceed in an identical fashion to what we are doing.” They too would file an application and be allowed “to have their own advisory measure if they so choose.”
Mr. Ramos told council that they, the applicant, would pick up all costs for the advisory measure.
John Hodgson, speaking for the Northwest Quadrant Team, said, “We question the advisory vote, but if there’s going to be one, we’d like to be included and we appreciate Dan’s (Ramos) offer.”
“These things are all happening with 20 minutes’ notice to the other participants,” he told council. “These things are multimillion if not billion dollar decisions. It would be nice to have a process that is a little bit more orderly in following RFEI. Having said that, this is the real world and we’ll deal with it.”
He added, “We will, as aggressively as possible, work on getting a project through. We filed an application with the city today.”
George Phillips, representing the Davis Ranch project, told the council, “We as one of the applicants know that we have quite a bit of work to do in a compressed time period and we are committed to participating in whichever the council defines for the three proponents to follow.” However, he added, “We think advisory measures provide potential benefits and also potential risk.”
He was uncertain about whether the risks outweigh the benefits, “particularly if there’s not a sufficient amount of detail about these proposals available to the public about which they can make their decisions on a public vote. If there is to be an advisory measure we would probably urge that there’s more time allowed for those proposals to take shape.”
“If one proponent is allowed to have an advisory measure, we definitely want to be in that mix and participate,” he said.
Mayor Dan Wolk said while he has little doubt that the council and community would support peripheral economic development, he was concerned about this process.
“Despite this RFEI process,” he said, which he said was great and produced three excellent projects, “we have the council now getting backed into a corner because it’s got this advisory vote pressure coming.”
Dan Ramos said, “We want the advisory vote. It would send a strong signal to have the public weigh in. This is an advisory vote. We want to send a strong signal, to our user, Schilling Robotics, that this community (finds) that this site is acceptable.” He thinks they’ll have a full description by September 1.
Councilmember Brett Lee said “I think this is a bad public policy just to put something relatively unvetted on the November ballot.” He added, “We need to have some sort of vetting process before we just put something out to the voters, we should have confidence that it’s something good for the city of Davis. As it stands now, the wording is just so vague and open. It will be up to the developer in the fall to add specificity, but we don’t really have control over that.”
Rochelle Swanson said, “For me it’s all about retaining our business partner here.” She would add, “We’re going to sit here and decry process. This time it’s a process issue and we’re being told that the timing is bad. We have people who are willing to take the risk. Am I worried about an advisory vote? We don’t know how it’s going to go, but I think it’s the job of council, to set the starting line, the starting gate has to be the same. We have R and everyone needs to do that.”
“Am I thrilled with the process? No,” she said, but her bottom line is saving jobs.
Councilmember Lucas Frerichs indicated that he is not sure he would support the motion. “One thing that’s really quite frustrating… is this issue of being backed into a corner and the sense of urgency on this,” he said. “The RFEI process is working really well, it has been an excellent process so far… Three potential projects have come forward.”
Brett Lee noted, “It’s interesting that two of the respondents are not interested in having an advisory measure on their proposal, unless one goes, then me too.” He added, “To me that tells me that when all of the project details are spelled in their proposal then they will have strong community support and going to the public with a more general hey would you like to develop in the northwest area of Davis near the hospital, they feel like their proposal will be much stronger when all the details are filled in.”
Lucas Frerichs indicated he would be more comfortable with a spring vote rather than November. Rochelle Swanson stated, “They made it very clear last night that it was November.” She added that there was a good point about the advisory vote and the risk involved. “If you put the language that you just described on the ballot and you garner a sixty percent vote you would probably have investors come forward and get behind you.” She argued even if it was just on paper, “they are asking for a temperature read in the community that their investors would say yes we should go forward on this.”
Mayor Pro Tem Robb Davis made the point that typically a city council would do an advisory vote when they need advice, and “we’re not looking for advice. We don’t need any advice. We know what we want to do, we want to move forward.”
He spoke toward the developers, “I’m not sure you’re going to get what you want.” He added, “I don’t know what you do with a 51-49 either way.” He asked them to consider another route. He suggested a citizens’ initiative as a way to get the certainty that you want, “You won’t get this through this process.”
In the end, Robb Davis said he voted for this motion for one reason, that he questions the wisdom of this approach but he wants to keep Schilling Robotics here. That was really the message that four and possibly all five councilmembers sent.
Brett Lee ultimately voted for the motion with the understanding and a separate motion to allow the city to come forward with its own project potentially on the 25 acres of land that it received east of Mace.
—David M. Greenwald reporting