Greenbelt Issue at Paso Fino Remains a Touchy Subject


Paso-FinoLater this week, residents will be meeting with Mayor Dan Wolk to discuss their concerns with the proposed Paso Fino development in Wildhorse. According to organizers, “Soon to come before the City Council, this plan calls for the sale of 0.75 acres of public greenbelt to a private developer to accommodate his plan to put 8 to 12 units on a property zoned for 2. We do not believe the city should be selling public open space for the gain of a private developer.”

A petition has emerged with 319 supporters and goal of 500 signatures overall.

It reads, “Help us prevent the first sale of public greenbelt by the city of Davis, Calif., to a private developer. Our 60 miles of tree-lined greenbelt make Davis one of the nation’s most liveable cities. Tell Davis city officials that greenbelt must not be sold in the absence of a clear policy, one that carefully balances the public good with the needs of private developers — and ensures that any greenbelt sale takes place in the open. Sound public policy will help preserve our greenbelts now — and for future generations.”

The petition states, “To: City of Davis, Calif., City Council

“Save Davis greenbelts. Develop a clear policy governing when a city greenbelt may be sold to a private developer. This policy must carefully balance the public good with the needs of private developers — and ensure that any greenbelt sale takes place in the open.”

However, as we reported in early July, this is not a typical greenbelt arrangement.

Mike Webb, the city’s Director of Community Development, told the Vanguard that the greenbelt here is “not the typical greenbelt configuration” that the public would ordinarily envision as a long, city maintained stretch of grass and vegetation that people can walk or bike through.

Rather, it is a stretch of trees and brown ground that was specifically designed to buffer the Haussler home from the surrounding neighborhood.

As developer Jason Taormino explained to the Vanguard, from his perspective, “the 2009 Staff report defines the land as a private buffer to benefit the Haussler property and protect them from the new homes that were built in Wildhorse in approximately 1998.  The sale of this private buffer in order to promote infill development is reasonable as it is no longer needed to protect the Haussler property from the encroachment from the new neighbors in Wildhorse.”

“The greenbelt on the east side… that was created for the Haussler family, it wasn’t created for the Wildhorse subdivision,” Dave Taormino explained to the Planning Commission.

In the staff report, it noted, “The City does not have any specific guidelines regarding elimination of greenbelt parcels, or what to do when an infill densification project involves the potential to remove an existing greenbelt space. Therefore, this becomes a policy issue to be weighed by the City Council.”

Cheryl Essex, a member of the Planning Commission, noted, “We don’t have policies in the city for selling greenbelts because we don’t sell greenbelts. If the city is going to sell a portion of the greenbelt then there must be a clear public benefit and I don’t believe that increasing housing units is a clear public benefit in this case.”

Marilee Hanson, also a Planning Commissioner, told the Vanguard that because the issue might come back to the Planning Commission, they were advised not to make comments in the press. She directed the Vanguard back to comments she made at the Planning Commission meeting.

“No one ever envisioned that the city would start selling off the Greenbelt,” Ms. Hanson stated. She added, “80 percent of the neighbors here tonight bought their homes never envisioning that that land would be sold off for development except for the four houses which people acknowledged that they knew about and that they support.”

Mike Webb told the Vanguard he believes that the concerns of the neighbors and others in this regard are overstated.

He said, “The reports of the City putting greenbelts on the market or entering into a new trend of selling parks and greenbelts for private development I think are a bit far-fetched as this is the only property that I can think of that has ever had any such discussions, either current or past (e.g. 2009 where an agreement was reached but not executed). It is also not the typical greenbelt configuration.”

The Paso Fino subdivision is located at 2627 E. Covell Boulevard on a 0.79-acre private property, and 2675 Moore Boulevard (a 0.75-acre public property). It is surrounded to the south by Covell Boulevard and to the north, east and west by an improved Neighborhood Greenbelt parcel.

The Hausslers built a single family home in 1966, but the home is now unoccupied. When Wildhorse was build in 1998, land was created as a private buffer to benefit the Haussler property both the city and developers claim, and protect them from the homes built in Wildhorse. That land is currently designated as greenbelt.

The plan calls for the existing residence to be demolished and the reconfigured property would result in eight units.

In 2009, the city approved a four-unit development on the subject site, which requires a land transaction between the city and the property owners for the westerly greenbelt land. That plan would have retained the greenbelt to the east. However, the land transaction was never executed and therefore the approval was never effectuated, according to the staff report.

Staff notes, “The current proposal would change the easterly greenbelt to Residential Low Density designation in order to allow the proposed eight-lot residential subdivision. This land use designation change to accommodate the proposed project does not include the land transaction negotiation. However, approval of this land use change request is subject to the City Council approval of the land transaction, a separate action.”

“(This) was meant to be an innovative experiment,” Developer Dave Taormino said. “We should embrace all of the policy and debates about neighborhoods, aging in place in particular. So we have four single story houses.”

You can read more about Paso Fino here.

—David M. Greenwald reporting


About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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41 thoughts on “Greenbelt Issue at Paso Fino Remains a Touchy Subject”

  1. SODA

    “(This) was meant to be an innovative experiment,” Developer Dave Taormino said. “We should embrace all of the policy and debates about neighborhoods, aging in place in particular. So we have four single story houses.”

    Sorry, but don’t understand this quote….4 homes was original plan, now being renegotiated to 8?
    And the canary pine trees are also a large issue to many residents….
    Again, I have expressed this in the past. Once a proposal is approved (2009-4 houses) a change in developer or change of heart should have to start the approval process over again. It seems these kind of addenda (?) later in the game happen frequently and there appears to be an entitlement mentality that they should be approved because they were initially.

          1. Davis Progressive

            i’m fairly sure this is the only one that was set up to buffer a specific property and isn’t the standard green grass elongated configuration

          2. Barack Palin

            But if the city sells off these I’m sure they can come up with reasons to sell off others.

    1. Tia Will


      I don’t think that the concern is that we will sell off all of the greenbelts. One concern as I am understanding it is that a project is agreed upon between the city and a developer following negotiations with nearby stakeholders. Then if the developer changes his mind, or the project changes hands to another developer the city will proceed with new plans as put forth by the developer without reopening negotiations with all stake holders.
      I see this as a legitimate concern.

  2. Mr. Toad

    “(This) was meant to be an innovative experiment,” Developer Dave Taormino said. “We should embrace all of the policy and debates about neighborhoods, aging in place in particular. So we have four single story houses.”

    This raises a serious policy issue and challenges our commitment to infill and densification versus peripheral housing development. It also pits our anti-development rhetoric against our nimby proclivities. I’m fine with either outcome. Fewer Mcmansions that the neighbors are comfortable with or higher density smaller houses that align with the rhetoric that got every member of the city council elected. All I ask for is consistency. If the CC goes with the wishes of the neighbors then we should admit that densification is opposed by neighbors everywhere and stop forcing it on people and open our borders to some housing development. If the CC can stand the heat and say densification is what we ran on and we are doing it then I will admit that its more than a rhetorical shibboleth for being anti-growth and support infill as a path forward.

    1. Don Shor

      “Consistency” would certainly include having houses on 0.2-acre lots when they were scheduled for 0.4-acre. That is density in a neighborhood that is mostly 0.4-acre+. The neighbors accepted densification, but you seem unwilling to acknowledge that. Apparently, in your world view, densification only includes what the developer proposes. For some reason you want to turn this into a test of council consistency? The density is doubled from the zoning. This is not some litmus test of council resolve about infill, and it certainly doesn’t give any credence to your notion about “nimby proclivities” and neighborhood opposition when the neighbors have accepted higher density than the original zoning.
      And if these are “McMansions” then every house is a “McMansion.” The term has completely lost any meaning at this point.

      1. Mr. Toad

        By the way, I’m not the one making the argument. Taormino is the one calling the city’s bluff. I’m just laying it out for those who claim they don’t understand the issue. As I said I’m okay with either outcome.

    1. Don Shor

      Apartments are the answer to our rental housing shortage, yes. You think the lots in the original development agreement are “oversized?” Please define your terms. I’m beginning to think you haven’t looked at the plans.

  3. Mr. Toad

    I haven’t looked at the plans in a while. But I will say that if you look at the lot sizes of today they are much smaller then they were even when Wildhorse was built. What are the lot sizes at Cannery? What are they by that new subdivision out at Mace Ranch Park. Just because we did it a certain way in the past doesn’t mean we can’t change how we do it now. In the old days we simply annexed more land so we could have any lot size we wanted. We don’t annex land for houses anymore or at least we haven’t since the 90’s and have argued that smaller lot sizes and denser housing is the alternative. Taormino wants to test our commitment to our rhetoric. I applaud his moxy.

  4. Mr. Toad

    in the old days lots of 5000 sq. ft. or more were common today detached single family homes are in the 3000-4500 square ft range. At the Cannery the houses have this size footprint. .2 acres is 8000 sq. ft. So these lots are going to be twice the state of the art size if the project isn’t modified. The other big issue is the access. Current trends in land use on lightly used residential streets is now 20 foot instead of the old 28 ft or 36 ft standard.

    So really what Taormino is proposing is state of the art with a narrow road as a kicker for even a smaller footprint. It is compliant with what the members of the city council ran on, smaller homes on smaller lots and infill that increases density. It will be interesting to see if the CC has the courage of their convictions.

  5. dlemongello

    0.4 acres is a huge lot, 0.2 acres is not a small lot. I live in your typical 1 story Davis 1950s house, my lot is just under 0.14 acres. The front yard is essentially just a lot of wasted space unless I wanted to grow my own food. For a nice decorative landscape much less space is needed. As far as living space, what was acceptable then is considered too small for anything now, but much of that is achieved in 2 stories. And if it needs to be done in 1 story, as I said, much of my 0.14 acre lot is not built on, to be specific, a 2000 square foot 1 story house could be built and cover only 1/3 of the lot. What more does one need?

  6. Mr. Toad

    Also while the old plan is consistent with the oversized million dollar homes to the west the new proposal is consistent with the smaller lots to the east the only difference being the small street which reduces the footprint even more. Finally the additional four homes are single story built with seniors who want to age in place in mind.

  7. dlemongello

    Looking at the map, I’d say first of all it is bad precedent to sell off any greenbelt, but if an exception is made 1) Do what it takes to keep the trees, mature trees are not expendable 2) Keep enough greenbelt that there is a path connecting Moore with Covell
    And if the greenbelt stays about as it is, seems like a good amount of space for 6 homes without going super dense or 8 with small lots (that’s under 0.1 acres per lot once the street takes up some space).

    1. Don Shor

      And if the greenbelt stays about as it is, seems like a good amount of space for 6 homes

      The homeowners are meeting with the council members, and I’m guessing there will be some additional compromise like what you’re describing.

  8. Mr. Toad

    One other point. What is this obsession with the Canary Island Pines? They are not native. The Swainson’s Hawk doesn’t live there year round. I wouldn’t take down the tree while there is a active nest but if the birds are not present its not some huge loss of habitat. The mitigation seems more than sufficient. In fact it seems the city is getting a pretty good deal on the mitigation. This idea that there is some intangible value to a non-native tree is simply nonsense. The trees value can be easily ascertained. If there is a complaint it should be that Canary Island Pines should not be part of the mitigation and that we should use native trees instead, native oaks, digger pines, ponderosa pines. incense cedars, junipers, tan oaks, redbuds, ceanothus, dogwoods or even redwoods although redwoods use lots of water.

    1. Don Shor

      I hardly know where to begin with this spectacular display of misinformed opinion. I’ll just settle for this: most of the “native trees” you listed aren’t native to our plant community. The only thing they have in common is that they reside somewhere in the geographical map of California. Why didn’t you throw in Joshua trees while you were at it?
      So I hope you won’t be advising any commissions on the value of mature trees — native species or otherwise — or the use of native plants. You don’t know what you’re talking about. But you sure do have strong opinions.

  9. Mr. Toad

    Well they certainly come from places a lot closer than the Canary Islands. What would you prefer Tules? Of course you don’t even bother with any of the intrinsic value issues so why don’t you start there. If you go around the parts of town with mature urban landscapes or the UC Davis Arboretum you can see many of these species with greater size and height than the trees in question so while they might be nice trees there isn’t much there. If you read some of the comments about these trees you would think they are writing about Ladybird Johnson Grove or something. I’m sure they have an intrinsic value but I’m sure it can be quantified. Most of the trees in question were planted around the time of the subdivision which makes them less than twenty years old. Certainly those trees intrinsic value can be quantified so its only the few trees from the original home that have a mature structure that might be of high value. The problem though is as soon as you say you can’t define something’s value you place its value at infinity. Economists know this trick. Economists will figure out the value of anything. Perhaps the neighbors believe these trees are invaluable but its not true. In fact I bet if you look at the appraisal that was done it includes a value for the trees. How else did they determine the mitigation? My guess is the mitigation cost is somewhere up to 3 times the value of the trees. That is the traditional standard for tree mitigation. As for the neighbors the value can also be quantified if there is a loss in value to their properties. But the problem there is that this landscape was planted for the benefit of the previous owner of the parcel being developed. The neighbors damages are actually an opportunity cost to the owner of property being developed instead of an intrinsic value of the neighbors properties.

    By the way I don’t think Joshua Trees aren’t a good fit although there are some other types of beautiful yuccas that were planted by the new Food Sciences building that are quite nice. California Fan Palms are native to Joshua Tree National Park. You can see them around town they work well here.

  10. Mr. Toad

    You did say one thing that I agree with I am not an appraiser of trees or property but I have no doubt that it is easy to find people who can do this work. In fact I am pretty sure it has already been done as part of the appraisal done before Taormino and the city made a deal.

  11. Tia Will

    Mr. Toad

    “Economists will figure out the value of anything.”

    I would like to modify your statement slightly. I would read this as economists will figure out the monetary value of anything. And if money is your highest value in all circumstances, then I would agree with your premise. However, I am sure that most of us can identify something that is so meaningful in our lives that we simply cannot measure it monetarily. That might be the love of a spouse or child, it might be an experience of nature such as a sunset, or it might be something in our immediate environment.

    In medicine the epidemiologists calculate the value of life all the time. They can quote you how many mammograms it takes, at what cost to save a single woman’s life and make recommendations based on dollars spent or saved or how many other people’s lives could be saved with the money spent on one individuals organ transplant.
    I doubt that many of us would want those recommendations determining how our loved ones medical care should be decided.

    In life, everything does not come with a dollar sign attached to it. We all determine our own “value” for everything in our lives. I don’t believe that the final determination should always be based on the most dollars generated.

  12. Mr. Toad

    I get that Tia but then how do we make these decisions? On emotion or using monetary values. Now if you are talking about the life or death of a loved one it would be one thing but we are talking about a non native tree. I remember when they cut down a huge native Valley Oak to build Borders, now Whole Goods. I really didn’t like it I really put a much higher sentimental or environmental value on that tree but it wasn’t my property and there wasn’t much I could do about it.

    1. Barack Palin

      Well the Canary pines are on our property, greenbelts, owned by the taxpayer citizens of Davis and we feel there is something we can do about it.

  13. Mr. Toad

    Great go for it but i think, although I’m not sure, the big ones are on private property. Just don’t say that their intrinsic value can’t be calculated because it can.

  14. Frankly

    The “logic” from Don Shor and Tia Will seems to value trees over human shelter. So let’s take these arguments to their fullest extent and apply them to history for the land that both Don and Tia own residential buildings on and also the commercial buildings of their workplaces. I can’t prove it, but I suspect that many full-grown native trees were cut down to make room for their homes and places of business.

    Does the term “progressive” when applied to political leaning mean “do as I say, but not as I do”? Apparently so. Good thing for Don and Tia that we did not have this same kind of progressive back in the day. Otherwise they would be homeless and without a job.

    1. Barack Palin

      I would tend to agree Frankly, but the difference here is it’s not just about the trees, but the fact that the trees are on greenbelts that are possibly going to be sold off to appease a developer. Frankly, if your house butted up to a greenbelt and the City was thinking of selling it off to let a developer put in dense housing I’d bet you would have have something to say about that.

      1. Mr. Toad

        If that happened to me I would probably ask him how much it would cost for him to leave a buffer and see if I could make a deal. If no deal could be reached I would probably try to live happily in my million dollar home. It would be tough but I’d manage.

    2. Don Shor

      The “logic” from Don Shor and Tia Will seems to value trees over human shelter.

      Classic example of rhetorical hyperbole.

      I can’t prove it, but I suspect that many full-grown native trees were cut down to make room for their homes and places of business.

      In my case, completely not true. None. Zero. Next straw man please?
      You can build houses and protect trees at the same time. It’s amazing. People do it all the time. Care to have a real discussion, or do you want to just take cheap personal shots at people you disagree with?

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