A lot of people played a hand at bringing this process back from the precipice. Messing with Measure R would have been disastrous to this process, and so, when Dan Ramos came forward on Tuesday night indicating that they had “listened carefully to the community response to our proposal to modify the Measure R voting process” and recognized that “Davis residents treasure Measure R and do not wish to entertain changing it,” they saved their own process from doom.
Had they insisted, I think the threat of Schilling Robotics leaving would have pushed the measure through on a 3-2 vote, but it would have changed the conversation from the merits of their project and the need for a business park, to a referendum on Measure R. Despite the comments from two prominent Vanguard posters, that is a losing fight.
The advisory measure is a way forward, of sorts. It’s not a great option but perhaps is the least bad of the options. Without the looming presence of Tyler Schilling, I think that proposal would have been DOA as well. The vote on it was illustrative, I think, that while the vote read 5-0 at the end of the evening, it was really 1-3-1 and maybe even 1-2-2.
Councilmember Rochelle Swanson was clearly for it, Councilmember Brett Lee was clearly against it. The other three, Dan Wolk, Lucas Frerichs and Robb Davis, were all very reluctant on it, with both Dan Wolk and Lucas Frerichs expressing the feeling of having their backs against the wall – and frankly no one, particularly an elected official, likes that feeling.
Robb Davis was very outspoken – perhaps, some thought, too outspoken – arguing, “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.”
I think Mr. Davis is essentially correct, although the idea that they didn’t need advice was probably a bit misplaced and if the tone came across slightly preachy, we can perhaps chalk that up to the fact that this was essentially his first meeting, compressed into a 48-hour period with probably little sleep in the intervening time.
Councilmember Rochelle Swanson lamented that we have talked our way, processed our way, and delayed our way into the prospect of losing a critical company. “I understand all of the different projects and we want parity and parity is important. But we don’t want to lose the forest through the trees,” she said. “We’re talking about a major employer… and if we lose, do we lose.”
“I just challenge everyone in this room… to really stop and think about the big picture here about what we’re looking at,” she said, reflecting back to Mace 391, and “here we are 13 months later with a business owner begging us to get our act back together. Now sounding like maybe, from a regulatory standpoint, we truly might be up against the wall.”
“This isn’t about picking a project,” she said. “This is about retaining a business. The number one rule in economic development is you retain the businesses you have, then you go to get more.”
A lot of people questioned the thirteen month comment and wondered what the delay was. It is quite simply that the applicant did not come forward with the project back in January or February.
But there is a cautionary tale that Ms. Swanson, I think, understands intellectually. In my conversations with Joe Krovoza recently, one of the points he made to me was that his error on water in September 2011 was based on the fact that he had been through the JPA hearings, he understood the issue, it was clear as day to him – but what he didn’t understand (other than the fact that the experts for the city put forward a bad rate structure without a rate study) was how far he was out in front of the public on the water issue.
He was ready to go, but the public really needed to go through the WAC process, the Measure I process, and apparently even the Measure P process before they were on board. His failure to understand that led to the referendum and, at that point, wiser heads prevailed.
In some ways Rochelle Swanson is in danger of being in the same position on economic development as Joe Krovoza was on water. To some extent, I think she gets that – she made the point the other night that Sue Greenwald for years was pointing out the problems with the budget and it took years before others started taking notice.
Ramming this stuff through ahead of public opinion is not going to serve anyone’s interest. This is the same problem we have with the polling on the parcel tax. The solution here is to do a very strong public outreach, which unfortunately is not the strength of the city. The city budget meetings and outreach meetings tend to draw the usual suspects and the general public does not attend and, therefore, they really do not understand the crisis the city faces.
What people need to understand is that, at my core, I’m a slow growth guy. I live in Davis because I like the small college town environment of the city and I’m not interested in seeing a lot of residential development.
But I’m also a realist at times. The reality that we face is not a good one. The city has promised more than it can deliver in terms of employee compensation and breadth of city services.
So we have choices. We can run the city on a series of five-year incremental tax increases. We can cut services or employee compensation in lean years. But in most ways, those too will cause us to lose what is great about Davis.
So I see Nishi, the Hotel Conference Center, Mace, Northwest Quadrant, and even Davis Ranch through a different light than I did even six months ago. If we can bring in good development, exciting business parks that fit the Davis model: innovative, environmentally sustainable, and cool, then we can increase revenue without disrupting what attracts people like me to Davis.
I used the PayPal example, but there are countless examples of high-tech business parks that look like extensions of college campuses which will make the researchers and graduate students spinning off their research into startups feel right at home and it will feel to the Davis residents like we have simply extended our college campus.
But this is going to take work to educate the public as to the perils we face fiscally and why we need to move forward with these projects as a way to preserve the small town, compact city qualities that we all have come to enjoy.
The Vanguard is pledging right now to step up and help the community outreach process. We will hopefully be coming forward with a proposal in the next few weeks.
For me, however, the key is that we do this within the Measure R process. I think Measure R has gotten a bad rap. We know that Measure R can be used to stop either bad projects or poorly-timed projects. What need to be able to show is that Measure R can also be used to help us get good projects that the community will support at the ballot box.
There is no reason it can’t. We have had quasi-Measure R votes on housing developments and business development (Target). These weren’t technically Measure R votes but, really, what was the functional difference?
I have seen a lot of lament on Measure R as a barrier to development, but the opponents miss an essential point – if you get too far out in front of the public on development, they can always do a referendum and put it to a vote anyway.
I believe we can have our Measure R and we can have good projects that the voters will approve, but we have to come forward with good projects and we have to have good public outreach.
Finally, I want to make it clear, I am not handing anyone a blank check on this. If the Mace Developers or the Northwest Quadrant Developers come forward with a bad project proposal, I will oppose it.
I want to make this point really clear: we need a great project (not just passable or even good, but great) for me to support it and I think that goes for the public, as well.
I also agree with Robb Davis – the developers really need to come forward with a good proposal with meat and substance on it this fall or the advisory vote will either not pass or not give them the information they need to go forward. Either way, while the advisory vote is a compromise and a way forward, it has the potential, if used improperly, to compromise our efforts at a sustainable economy.
—David M. Greenwald reporting