Analysis: Paso Fino Will Be More Tricky To Resolve Than You Think

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Plan D
Plan D

Something has to give. Developer Jason Taormino told the Vanguard last week that Plan D is a non-starter but they are willing to preserve the greenbelt and trees with Plan C-2, a plan that the neighbors reject.

“Neither Plan C nor Plan C-2 permanently protects the majestic Canary Island pines and the habitat they provide by bringing them into public ownership. Plan D proposed by City Staff does this, as did the 2009 plan,” a letter stated.

Laura Westrop, Chair of Davis Tree Commission, wrote, “This plan fails to bring the grove of heritage Canary Island pines into public ownership where they can be protected.

Meanwhile, the Davis Enterprise editorial weighs in, calling Plan D, “enough of a compromise from the public.” They are right when they state, “The Davis Planning Commission will have a hot potato tossed back into its lap Wednesday night as the latest proposals for the Paso Fino development take center stage.”

The Enterprise notes, “A plan approved in 2009 called for building four houses; now Taormino seeks to build eight homes, while neighbors fear the loss of open space behind their own property and fret over the future of the surrounding Canary Island pine trees.”

“Taormino and the neighbors were tasked with coming up with a plan acceptable to both, but the neighbors rightly complained: How can they negotiate a plan for land that the developer does not own?” the editorial continues.

“Sensing an impasse, city staff, led by Community Development Director Mike Webb, drafted a compromise, known as Plan D. This plan features six homes, uses some of the greenbelt space, preserves a natural walking path and moves the property line so that the pines will be on public land. Neighbors support this proposal,” they write. “Naturally, the developer does not. Taormino’s own Plan C2 still calls for eight houses and takes a half-acre from the buffer. The trees would end up on private property, with deed restrictions to protect them.”

They add, “The developer says this project is all about infill, which is ideal when done properly. But Taormino does not own all of the land for this design. The public owns a fair chunk, and in its purest sense, infill development is supposed to protect open space, not gobble it up.”

“An essential problem is that Taormino is using the 2009 agreement as the starting point for negotiations. We’re going to compromise on a compromise,” they write. “The Planning Commission won‘t be the last word on the subject. Because both plans call for development on land the developer does not own, the City Council will have to make the final decision.”

They add, “At some point, the council will have to set a clear policy for the sale [of] open space. For now, they can sidestep the ‘sale’ issue and do a trade — some of the open space to Taormino in return for moving the pines to public land — but this saga has shown the need for strict guidelines.”

The Enterprise concludes, “In the meantime, Plan D already represents a substantial give-back by the public. The 2009 project called for 0.47 acres of open space to be left over, and Plan D saves only 0.39 acre. That should be the end of negotiations, not the beginning.”

Vanguard Analysis

There are three pretty tricky elements in this controversy. The first falls to tonight’s planning commission meeting. The developers are not willing to go beyond Plan C-2; the question is whether they will go to no project if the planning commission and council will only approve D.

We start with the planning commission, which approved the much more controversial original plan back in the spring. But they were operating with two commissioners absent and it was a 3-2 vote.

Predicting the planning commission vote will be difficult because so many dynamics have changed since the original vote. The public is rightly concerned with the prospect of converting city-owned greenbelt space into private uses. But the biggest change is where the planning staff itself sits.

When the Vanguard originally talked to Mike Webb, Director of Community Development, he seemed very much in favor of the project and rejecting of the neighbors’ concerns. 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.

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Mike Webb told the Vanguard he believed 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.”

But the Enterprise editorial is quite right, as Mr. Webb is the one who helped direct and craft Plan D. When the Vanguard spoke with him last week, he was more dismissive of the developers’ concerns than those of the neighbors, noting that even at 6 units, they are getting a 50% increase.

So yes, the planning commission pushed through the project 3-2 in the spring, but they did so backed by the planning staff who has now clearly shifted.

There is a final complication that no one is talking about. Everyone sees this as going to council, but that adds in complication. While Dave and Jason Taormino have taken the lead on this project, Steve Boschken is a partner, as well.

That adds in a complication because Mr. Boschken was the treasurer for both Dan Wolk, during his 2012 city council campaign and his 2014 state assembly campaign, as well as for Rochelle Swanson in her 2014 city council campaign.

Does that mean that both Mr. Wolk and Ms. Swanson would have to recuse themselves? While we don’t have the answer to that, it definitely will raise questions as this goes forward.

So yes, the council will ultimately have to weigh in on this issue, but what will that council look like?

The final point is worth reiterating – will the developers even accept Plan D, because right now with the pressure from the neighbors and planning staff, that may be the best deal they can get. Will they take it or walk away?

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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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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48 thoughts on “Analysis: Paso Fino Will Be More Tricky To Resolve Than You Think”

  1. dlemongello

    Right now they still don’t think they have to take it. That needs to settle in, that they should not be calling the shots. I’d love to see the profit numbers for 6 homes. To expect to buy a property and then add to it later with what is not yours to take is rather pushy. Of course trying might have gotten them 8 or even 12, but hopefully that’s over.

    And please stop phrasing it as if just the neighbors care about what happens here. I assure you, many more people than that think this should be done in a balanced way with protection for the trees and infill on the property the developer owns, not public land.

  2. Tia Will

    “many more people than that think this should be done in a balanced way with protection for the trees and infill on the property the developer owns, not public land.”

    From Old East Davis, with no financial stake at all in the matter, I could not agree more. A private developer should not believe that the community has any obligation at all to weigh its priorities based on what will secure him the most income.

  3. Barack Palin

    “While Dave and Jason Taormino have taken the lead on this project, Steve Boschken is a partner as well.
    That adds in a complication because Mr. Boschken was the treasurer for both Dan Wolk during his 2012 City Council campaign and his 2014 State Assembly Campaign as well as Rochelle Swanson for her 2014 City Council Campaign.”

    Very interesting.

  4. Barack Palin

    Some questions:

    Did the developer initially buy the land thinking they could make a profit off of just that?

    Did the developer at a later time decide that they would try and buy the greenbelt or was there some kind of agreement in place before the purchase where the developer thought when they bought the land that they would be able to buy some of the greenbelt?

  5. Davis Progressive

    i don’t think the developers are going to have a choice – they either reduce it to six or walk away. given what they’ve already spent, i doubt they walk away.

  6. Anon

    I see this as a clash of conflicting policies. Infill versus open space. The developers were only following city policy – for tight infill to avoid urban sprawl. Perhaps the City Council will have to clarify/revise their “infill” policy?

    1. Don Shor

      No it isn’t. The original plan increased density. The staff proposal increases density. There is no conflict with city policy. You keep trying to frame this as an either/or, when it is, in fact, an increase in density regardless of which plan is selected by the commission and the council.

  7. Tia Will

    “it is, in fact, an increase in density regardless of which plan is selected by the commission and the council.”

    Agreed. And even if it were not, there is balancing of city priorities which is appropriate. This is not about “open space vs infill” in a meaningful sense since in this instance we are talking about selling a city owned area in order to gain two to four houses. Does anyone believe that this will have a significant impact on overall city density ?

    1. Anon

      It depends on what the City Council comes up with. Just for the record, I don’t have a problem with urban sprawl, and am not a particular proponent of infill. Close living is not particularly to my liking. I love lots of open space. However, the tighter the infill, the less the open space. Doesn’t mean you can’t have open space with infill, there is just less of it. It would seem to me it is time for the City Council to revisit the issue of “infill” and perhaps put some caveats on it.

      1. Frankly

        I agree with Anon. Frankly (because I am) I think some people are plagued with cognitive dissonance on the debate between infill versus outfill, and open space versus high density. The seem to both oppose and support things that are direct contradictions.

        For the record, I like more open space. I like more space between my place and my neighbor’s place. I don’t support a farmland moat or urban boundary. I think smart development covers what we need so that it is not sprawl.

        1. Don Shor

          It’s not a cognitive dissonance. Why do you insist on “diagnosing” people, and labeling people in demeaning ways, and ascribing stuff to us that is nonsense? Can’t you just discuss issues?

          Every proposal for that site increases the density. So how is that dissonance and contradictory? It isn’t.
          What it seems to boil down to is that you and certain others here think that developers should be able to do whatever they want.

          1. Matt Williams

            Every proposal for that site increases the density.

            Don, help me understand your statement above. Davis has approximately 25,300 housing units spread over 6,327 acres for a density of 4 units per acre. If you guestimate that 50% of Davis’ 6,237 acres is covered by streets, parks, schools and businesses, that yeilds a city-wide approximate density of 8 units per acre. Paso Fino is proposing 6 units on approximately 1.29 acres (the 0.79 acre Hausler site parcel plus 0.5 acres of the 0.75 acre City parcel). That is a significantly less dense configuration that the rest of the city.

          2. Don Shor

            As you know, I won’t debate you on the Vanguard. You have just, once again, illustrated why.

          3. Matt Williams

            It wasn’t a debate Don. Rather it is a simple math exercise. 1.29 acres divided by 6 units is 0.215 acres per unit. That is a lower density than the City-wide density of 1 acre divided by 8 units per acre which computes to 0.125 acres per unit.

        2. Mark West

          I don’t see it so much as cognitive dissonance, but rather that some posters here don’t believe we need any more houses in town. If we accept that we need to add more houses, then we only have the options of expanding the area we use to build upon, or building more houses within the existing boundary. Some here are fine with doing neither.

          I haven’t looked at the typical area for the surrounding plots, but what it is worth, this proposal only increases the density of housing if the proposed new parcels are smaller than the ones in the neighborhood around them.

          1. Don Shor

            Of course it is not a dichotomy. Of course it isn’t. If they were proposing a 12-story apartment building on the site, my guess is it wouldn’t be approved, even if it achieved the city’s goal of greater density. The Cannery project has lot and house sizes ranging from large (a few at one end) to very tight. They could have made them all very tight. They could have built nothing but apartments on the Cannery site. That would have achieved the city’s goal of greater density. Every project has context and the context determines, to some extent, the density. So you and Anon and others are repeatedly presenting a false dichotomy. I wonder why? Maybe you could enlighten us as to why this either/or thinking?

          2. Don Shor

            See, in debate, this kind of informal fallacy is called a False Dilemma. The usual purpose of presenting a false dilemma is to portray your opponent(s) as being unreasonable (wedded only to one side) or to assert their hypocrisy with regard to one position or the other.
            But there almost never exist only two choices. Hence the ‘false’ part of the dilemma.

          3. David Greenwald Post author

            I disagree. You can support both. You can support neither. You can support no growth at all. I’m suggesting someone do so, but there is nothing inherently contradictory about that. Or, and this is probably closest to where I come down, look at each project on a project by project basis and weigh on its merits.

        3. Frankly

          What it seems to boil down to is that you and certain others here think that developers should be able to do whatever they want.

          Why do you insist on “diagnosing” people, and labeling people in demeaning ways, and ascribing stuff to us that is nonsense? Can’t you just discuss issues?

        4. Tia Will

          Frankly

          “I think smart development covers what we need so that it is not sprawl.”

          Who are you including in the word “we”. You and I certainly perceive what “we need” very differently.
          So whose version gets to determine what “we need” ?

  8. Barack Palin

    The cityofdavis website lists a Herman Boschken as a planning commission member. Is he any relationship to the Steve Boschken that’s named in the article as being a partner in the deal?

          1. David Greenwald Post author

            It’s a different ad, but he’s been an advertiser for nearly three years.

    1. Matt Williams

      From my experience serving on a Commission and a Committee, the answer is “yes there are recusal policies for commissions and committees.”

        1. Barack Palin

          I think it’s going to be a very interesting and possibly feisty meeting tonight. There are flyers posted all over Wildhorse on greenbelt light posts and on mailboxes. It’s great to see all these new revelations coming to light.

          1. Matt Williams

            I don’t know, but it makes no difference. An absence for the item is the equivalent of a recusal.

  9. SODA

    I am out of town and trying to listen via streaming on ipad and at least Ike is very low in volume. If anyone is there could you try to increase volume? Thanks!

  10. Tia Will

    Frankly

    “Listen – either support density or support peripheral development. You can’t have it both ways… or no ways.”

    Of course you can. That is just plain ridiculous. Why could one not support greater density in some areas because of a good fit with the existing surrounding properties and less density in others. To say this has to be all one way or all the other is just absurd.

    1. Anon

      I understand where you are coming from Tia, but try and understand my viewpoint, notwithstanding Don Shor’s dismissive comments in regard to my posts. In general, the City Council’s policy is to encourage infill, to avoid urban sprawl. This is the infill policy that developers are trying to follow. However, encouraging infill has inherent problems, because it limits open space, makes universal design much more difficult, and is not necessarily where everyone would want to live – right on top of each other.

      The Cannery is a perfect example of that. It is in general a more dense development than previously done in Davis, supposedly mimicking a more “urban environment”. As a result, a lot of trees were lost. In many parts of it, the lots are extremely small and do not allow for total universal design. Parking could be a problem. I am a strong supporter of the Cannery because we need more housing in Davis and it is the next logical place to build, but would not care to live there myself. Many will like it, and hopefully it will offer some additional lower cost housing for young families.

      The desire for more infill is a competing policy with both more open space and universal design. And yes, as you noted, there does need to be compromise, which is precisely my point. I think it is quite reasonable to revisit the issue of the city’s policy of “encouraging infill”, and put some caveats on it. I don’t really understand why such a suggestion is all that controversial.

      Having said that, I don’t think it is reasonable to expect the city’s planning to be done on a case by case basis as is suggested by DG. It gives almost no guidance to a developer, and ends up causing a lot of angst among citizens every time new housing comes up for consideration. A clearer and more consistent policy would seem to me to be a desirable thing, although I would agree there still has to be wiggle room for creativity and flexibility.

      1. Don Shor

        This is a much more nuanced comment. Previously you have said things like “you can’t have it both ways,” and Frankly has said “either support density or support peripheral development. You can’t have it both ways… or no ways.”

        The city encourages infill. Every project has unique constraints, so it will be case by case to a point. The community could certainly clarify or amplify the infill goal in a review of the General Plan, which is overdue.

        Trees on the Cannery site were lost, perhaps in some cases needlessly. There is a protection plan in place for the remainder, and the construction is being vigilantly monitored by an ad hoc group of concerned citizens (I know, I get all the emails).

        I considered the Cannery project to be a missed opportunity for higher-density housing. That would have been an excellent site for more apartments. But the demographic I’m concerned about simply isn’t on the radar of the city council. I think it is going to be a rather odd development, with high turnover on the homes and pretty quick transition to rental housing. I’m sure the initial home buyers will be happy with the Davis-centric amenities, but it does little to solve our much more pressing housing problems. And it used up the one remaining large site available for that.

        1. Tia Will

          Don

          “I considered the Cannery project to be a missed opportunity for higher-density housing.”

          On this point, we are in complete agreement. From my point of view the Cannery was a “missed opportunity” in a number of ways:

          1. Missed opportunity to provide more rentals and truly low cost housing, which are the real needs in our community as illustrated by the controversy over single family to “dorm” conversions.

          2. Missed opportunity for an alternative use of this space originally zoned for other purposes

          3. Missed opportunity for a truly innovative project instead of one with “nice features”

      2. Tia Will

        Anon

        Thanks for the very thoughtful reply.
        With this post, I think that you have made it clear that our positions are much closer than one would have thought previously.
        Once we get past our initial and fundamental disagreement that we “need more population growth” ( than the minimum legal obligation) we seem to agree that it would be good for the city to have a basic guideline for developers so that they are not essentially working in the dark and that retaining the ability to have some flexibility is desirable.
        Posts like yours allow for a thoughtful review of our positions on both sides and I truly appreciate it.

        1. Anon

          “we seem to agree that it would be good for the city to have a basic guideline for developers so that they are not essentially working in the dark and that retaining the ability to have some flexibility is desirable.”

          Well said!

  11. Dave Hart

    I don’t get why “we” are entertaining giving up any publicly owned space at all. The parcel that is currently privately owned with one residence is not by definition an infill candidate. It’s occupied. If the owner wants to develop the site and split the parcel, there is a process for that, but it shouldn’t include taking the adjacent publicly owned open space. By that kind of thinking, all of our public parks should be candidates for infill development. When I think of “infill” I think of the empty lots around town covered in gravel or weeds that sit unoccupied. Why are these lots not “nuisance taxed” to send the owners a message that sitting on an undeveloped, ugly parcel for years and years is not a good use of the land? I am against Option D as well. Let the owners figure out how to split the parcel legally and mind their own business.

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