It appears there will not be a November advisory vote after all, as the group heading up the Mace Ranch Innovation Center led by Dan Ramos sent a letter on Wednesday to the city, pulling back.
The letter indicates that the proposed advisory measure generated “a great deal of discussion by the Council” and that they have “carefully rethought our request and have concluded not to proceed with an advisory measure at this time.”
The letter did not shut the door on a future effort to “seek an advisory measure early next year when the project is further defined” and also indicated that Tyler Schilling of Schilling Robotics “participated in this decision and concurs with it.”
In a phone conversation with Dan Ramos, the developer emphasized that this still remains a very tight schedule and they will be aggressively moving forward.
In the letter they added, “Critical to our decision to withdraw our advisory measure request, at least for now, is a determination to devote our full time and energy to processing an official application for our proposal. Our intent is to move forward as expeditiously as reasonable with that application, with the anticipation that we will be ready, pending Council approval, for a Measure R vote in November 2015.”
Sources familiar with the city situation told the Vanguard on Wednesday that city staff worked hard with the development team to come up with a more realistic timeline that will enable the public outreach and development of the project to proceed in a timely but thorough matter.
Councilmember Rochelle Swanson has been the strongest advocate for pushing the process forward. She told the Vanguard early Thursday morning, “I am appreciative of the level of engagement on the innovation centers and am optimistic we will see some good applications and an engaged outreach. The activity and responsiveness of Ramco over the last few iterations on an advisory measure, including the decision to rescind, bode well for applications and the process moving forward.”
She added, “I am glad the measure R process will move forward. While it is imperative any application have rigorous outreach it is equally imperative Davis citizens proactively engage — early and often. Waiting until the eleventh hour produces poor results and hampers a “good faith” process. I am eager to see a “Davis DNA” innovation center that does the community proud and provides a sustained and reliable revenue source to bolster our quality of life.”
John Hodgson and the Northwest Quadrant Team did not return a request for a comment. However, last week they laid out their position quite clearly when Mr. Hodgson told Council, “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.
At last week’s meeting, several council members supported the advisory vote as a means to show support in particular for Schilling Robotics remaining in Davis, but they questioned the process.
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.”
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.”
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.
Dan Ramos emphasized to the Vanguard that, while they are pulling back from a November conclusion, this remains a very tight timeline in which to get a project approved to meet the needs of Tyler Schilling in addition to the rest of the community.
He wrote, “We remain committed, as indicated to you last week, to having a full and complete application filed in early September, 2014, at which time we would like processing to begin in earnest.”
He continued, “We thus are requesting that by September 1, 2014 the City have selected an EIR consultant and otherwise have put in place the necessary resources for us to move forward immediately following the filing of our application.”
Mr. Ramos added, “Although not his preferred course, Tyler Schilling supports this course of action since he believes that the our expeditiously moving forward on an application presents his best opportunity for securing the expansion space which he needs – in Davis – on a timely basis.”
“The Council should also be aware that, prior to submitting an application in September, our team intends, in July and August, to hold public workshops to receive community input on our proposal,” Mr. Ramos added. He would conclude: “That input will then be utilized to help shape our application. Our objective through these public workshops, and the community input process which will follow, is to craft a project which meets the desires of the citizenry while meeting our objective – which we know the Council shares – of creating a first class Twenty-first Century Innovation Park.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting