Planning Commission Recommends Developers Look At Option D

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It was a tricky situation for the Davis Planning Commission on Wednesday night. Officially, the only proposal that was on the table was consideration of Plan C-2, a developer-proposed compromise that would leave in place eight units and preserve the eastern greenbelt and the trees.

However, the community, the neighbors and planning commission members were uncomfortable with the plan’s ability to protect the trees by putting them into private hands. As a result, the commission voted 3-2 to ask the developers to consider Plan D which would allow for six homes, despite developer Jason Taormino’s statement that the plan did not work and would not allow the developer to build on three of the lots.

Plan D would preserve the greenbelt, reduce the number of lots from eight to six, and preserve all nine Canary Pine trees in public ownership.

Jason Taormino explained that, following the May 28 planning commission meeting, where Plan B was approved, they were asked if they could keep the fifty-foot buffer on the east side of the development in public ownership, and “C-2 takes care of that,” he explained.

“The question,” he said, “is why are we back here?” He explained that, following the previous commission vote, “we had quite a few unhappy people. I went right out there and said, I know you’re not happy with what happened tonight but I want to continue the conversation,” he added.

They had a series of meetings and showed them some plans that accommodated some of their concerns.

He called Plan D a “great BON (back of the napkin).” He said they had their engineer draw up the parameters to see what it would look like. He explained, “What we see is you can’t build on three lots and one lot would have a house with no yard. It doesn’t work.”

The commission heard roughly 40 minutes of public comment – just about all opposed, it seemed, to Plan C-2. The chair, Rob Hofmann, attempted to preclude the greenbelt issue as an issue that council would have to address, and most of the public comments addressed the trees.

Greg McPherson, a researcher with the U.S. Forest Service, addressed the issue of the Canary Island pines which, he argued, “do warrant being a heritage grove because of their stature, because of their age, and because of their health.”

“I have some concerns with C-2 which has those trees inside the property in the backyards,” he explained. He called it a “lose-lose” proposition in the long run. “I can imagine moving into those homes and waking up in the morning and seeing those pines and thinking I’m living in Lake Tahoe and not in Davis, because they’re so beautiful. But I think that someone, after having lived with those pines for awhile, their opinion may change.”

He argued, “Pines and people that close together don’t really mix well.” Both he and the next speaker expressed concerns that the mess from dripping sap would ultimately lead to people wanting to remove the trees.

A resident at Sergeant Court said she moved into Wildhorse about nine months ago, knew that a development was coming, and met with the developers. She said that, while she appreciated the chance to meet with the developers, “the compromise was not there.”

“It didn’t address the concerns that Plan D does,” she said. She said that, in her ideal world, the developers would take on the 2009 plan – saving all the trees and the greenbelts. “They want to build eight. City staff has put together this great plan that takes our concerns into account. It’s not a perfect plan, but it’s something that we can build on.”

She said that Mr. Taormino wrote an op-ed stating that “many trees were cut down to build our home.” She responded, “I get it. I understand. But here’s an opportunity where we don’t have to cut down any trees. Where we can still preserve the greenbelts, save the trees, and still develop.”

Ed Patrick from Whistler Court brought up a different perspective, noting that the western portion of the greenbelt runs along his backyard. He noted that current plans call for the elimination of the western greenbelt. “All plans put on the table have planned that the western greenbelt will not be saved.”

He said that the eastern portion of the greenbelt is currently dark and unkempt “and is not used as a public space at all.” The western portion is what is used more as a traditional greenbelt, “with its designated path and better lighting.” He said he has walked the eastern portion which he says is “intimidating” at night, even with his dog to accompany him.

He said, “If the eastern greenbelt is to be developed to be a more functional public space, it will require more maintenance including providing safer lighting and clean up of the trees.”

Mr. Patrick expressed concerns that, while the eastern buffer will remain in place, those on the west will have the infill right on top of them, with large homes blocking their view of the Canary Pines.

He noted that, while the 2009 proposal is purported to have the support of the neighbors, it did not have the support of the neighbors on Whistler Court, as it pushed all four houses toward them with a common driveway nearby their homes.

John Coyle on Calder Court stated, “I am not against development, I live in one,” and he supports smart infill projects over re-designating ag land and open space. “But I am also in favor of planned development that preserves to the maximum extent possible a quality of life that the city residents have benefited from with existing greenbelts within and around their developments.”

He said that the best protection of the existing greenbelt is to allow the developer to build on his own land – two homes on the Haussler Property.

Bob Hagedorn was one of the people involved in the negotiations in the 2009 compromise. “It was a compromise,” he said, with the original proposal being five homes and not preserving all of the trees.

The compromise preserved the pines, swapped and enhanced the greenbelt, and “made it a better area than it is currently, and that it was at the time.”

“The plans that we have seen put forward by the developers at this time do not address any of the concerns that we attempted to address in 2009,” he said. “The city staff, I commend them for the plan they put forward, Plan D. (It) addresses or attempts to address what we did in 2009.”

Eileen Samitz, another former planning commissioner, spoke about their creation of infill guidelines to create a process to help the public be involved so that their input can be used by the city.

However, she said, “What we see here is developers are not cooperating and not willing to compromise.” On the other hand, “The neighbors have clearly shown their willingness to compromise. The staff has come up with a perfect compromise and that is alternative D. It solves all the problems and yet the developers continue to demand eight units.”

Developer Dave Taormino responded to a lot of these comments. He stated that, under Plan C-2, “there would be no sale of that greenbelt, that buffer, it would be left exactly the way it is.” The plan also “saves all nine pines.”

On the issue of tree mitigation, he stated that they would leave to city staff to decide where they want trees planted on public property.

“All of these concerns that were raised by the planning commission,” he said, “have been addressed in plan C-2.”

He argued that they have compromised a lot, they eliminated four accessory dwelling units, but they are not willing and not able to compromise on the eight units.

He then addressed the issue of the trees. “You have heard a lot tonight about who is best able to preserve and protect the long term, the pine trees.” He continued, “We have heard from the tree advocates that the government is the best one to protect and preserve these trees.”

Mr. Taormino went into a lengthy presentation that, in three instances in the past, they had made agreements to plant trees, mainly along County Road 29, for mitigation purposes. In each instance, the government, whether it be Yolo County, the state of California or the city of Davis itself, failed to protect the trees and he argued that local groups, non-profits and developers themselves are far more effective at keeping their promises than the government.

Commissioner George Hague said he is sensitive to the concerns of the community about the buffer zone, as well as the nine pine trees. He said, “I learned something about the difficulty in doing business in Davis. But at the end of a very long discussion… the bottom line is that the residents wanted the buffer zone protected. It is protected. They wanted the trees preserved, they are preserved.”

He said eight homes plus a bunch of ADUs “might fit on the lot, but I don’t think that the lifestyle they generate would have been supported by the limitations of the lot.” He said, “I believe the developer has addressed those concerns. There are no more ADUs.”

Cheryl Essex stated that she is supportive of the concern, as long as the public good is retained. “The record of public input is remarkably consistent,” she stated.

She said that development “is supported in this area as long as the public good is retained. We’ve heard that over and over again.” About the public good in this instance, “the citizens are willing to give up some of the greenbelt in order to bring those majestic Canary Island Pine Trees into public ownership. That’s what we’ve been told.”   The city has heard this since 2008, and “it’s been consistent.”

She added, “The city council doesn’t own the greenbelt, the citizens own the greenbelt. The city council listens to you and makes the decision based on what’s best for you.”

Marilee Hanson flat out stated that she cannot support plan C-2, that the Canary Pines need to be on public land. She said, “I can’t support (C-2)… the public has been speaking for years that, in order for those canary pines to truly be saved, they need to be on public land.”

She made the motion that would be adopted on a 3-2 vote to support something like Plan D.  Chair Rob Hofmann joined Merilee Hanson and Cheryl Essex, with George Hague and David Inns in dissent.

Dave Taormino was willing to compromise, “What I’ve heard tonight, it sounds like overwhelmingly, is that you want the trees, or as many of the trees as possible, into public ownership. If that’s the direction you want to go, give me that instruction.”

He said they could go back to the drawing board and, prior to going to the city council, “we’ll come up with as much as possible with the trees on public land. I think I can do that for six trees and maintain the eight dwelling units with the eighth one being a senior cottage. I can live with that.”

“I never said that the plan that keeps the most trees as possible in the public ownership,” Merilee Hanson stated. “I said something like alternative D which keeps the Canary Pines in public ownership is preferable.”

The commission ultimately adopted this, with enough feedback to the city staff and applicant to allow them to see how to move forward before the Davis City Council takes up the matter.

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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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25 thoughts on “Planning Commission Recommends Developers Look At Option D”

  1. hpierce

    On the ‘process’ side… according to the City web site, the appointed terms for Hoffman, Braly, Hanson, and Inns (A) have expired as of the end of September. Is commissioner Boschken any relation to one member of the development group?

    Parts of the meeting I watched were almost devoid of rational application of planning concepts (and common sense), and more focused on posturing, emotional appeals, and pseudo-facts. Glad I don’t particularly care about the specifics of the proposal, but the process sucks.

    I have reason to believe that City planning staff originally kept pushing the developer to make the site as dense as possible (to conform to ‘smart-growth’), and now that there is blow-back, there’s some serious back-pedaling going on.

    1. SODA

      The part I watched seemed to suffer from the issue that was given to the PC Plan C-2. 2 of the commissioners were ‘ok’ with C-2 but also liked D which was not on the table, so I guess they ended up voting in the minority.
      In the end it was the tree ownership which persuaded the majority.
      Both developers but especially Dave T seemed condescending at the least and the chair allowed him to continue well beyond any time limit I could sense….tho streaming video volume was very low on my ipad. Wish that could be improved.

    2. Anon

      To hpierce: Thank you for this rational and insightful comment. How the heck is a developer supposed to know what will or won’t fly, with this sort of haphazard process in place, that does not follow city policy/planning concepts/common sense? It amazes me sometimes that developers hang in as long as they do and put up with this nonsense. Some sort of rationality needs to be brought to the process. What I see happening in this city is that normal city planning processes are being circumvented by small and vocal special interest groups who show up en masse to intimidate commissioners/City Council or threaten referendums or lawsuits, with the result that this technique is becoming very effective at circumventing city policies already in place and rational planning principles. It is not that I am opposed to public input, far from it, but at the same time we have policies in place that are supposed to be followed to give clear direction to developers. This is very much the reason this city has a reputation for being anti-business – the process is so difficult to navigate. And city staff are caught right in the middle. I saw this same idiocy play out in a number of situations over the last few years.

      1. Don Shor

        at the same time we have policies in place that are supposed to be followed to give clear direction to developers.

        Since you keep mentioning this, I am curious as to how you think that would have affected the process and outcome of the Paso Fino proposal.

    1. Anon

      How so? From what I could tell, he believes the public is concerned about the trees remaining on public land, so he is going to go back to the drawing board and try to accommodate that.

      1. Don Shor

        If you watched the proceedings, Dave went on a long discussion about how trees on private land are better cared for than those on public land. He was pretty derogatory about it. And his son echoed the attitude during the period of questioning by the commissioners. I have more respect for our public tree staff than they do, apparently. I don’t think it served him well in making his case.
        He’ll go back to the drawing board because he was told to. Even at the last hour he was trying to get a 6-tree decision, not put all 9 on public land.

        1. South of Davis

          Don wrote:

          > Dave went on a long discussion about how
          > trees on private land are better cared for

          Davis has had a LOT of street trees die in the last year due to lack of water and other reasons.

          I don’t want to give the city a hard time since they have a lot of trees and a small staff, but it is a fact that most (but not all) trees on private property get more care an attention than the city owned trees…

          1. Don Shor

            Most street trees are on private property. City staff, TREE Davis, and I (in my garden columns) are asking people to please water their street trees, even as they reduce their lawn watering. The city has an easement for their care, but isn’t responsible for their watering. I am watching as some species in both public and private areas are struggling, particularly the Calleryana pears.

            it is a fact that most (but not all) trees on private property get more care an attention than the city owned trees…

            I disagree with this opinion (it’s definitely not a fact). The city has street trees on a rotating maintenance schedule. Most homeowners do not systematically monitor their trees. Nobody’s perfect and resources are stretched to the breaking point in the Davis tree department now, but they at least have a program for regular maintenance.

        2. South of Davis

          Don wrote:

          > I disagree with this opinion (it’s definitely not a fact).

          I said “most” (51%+) people pay more attention to (and water) their own trees.  If you think that “most” people would not water and just watch trees in their back yard die I guess we just hang out with different people.

          I know a couple people in Davis that right now have dead trees in front of their houses that Rob Cain and his crew have certified dead, but have not had the time to get rid of yet.

          When you live in a house for 20+ years and have never had to water a street tree I think most (but not all)  people just figure the city will take care of it, while in a back yard “most” will do something.

          P.S. Any idea what happens if you water in Davis on a day your side of the street is not allowed to water or if you water in the day when it is not allowed (I wonder if it is OK to water street trees in the day)…

           

          1. Don Shor

            I said “most” (51%+) people pay more attention to (and water) their own trees. If you think that “most” people would not water and just watch trees in their back yard die I guess we just hang out with different people.

            Actually, you didn’t say “and water”. Maybe I’m feeling cynical after a long dry summer, but I’d say “most people” are watering their trees but have little idea exactly how they’re doing it.

            I’ll take this opportunity to say: many trees, this year, need long, slow, infrequent waterings. Most established trees are good with a soaking that penetrates to a depth of 12 to 18 inches, every 3 to 4 weeks. Some species (redwood, birch, magnolia, maple) need that every 10 – 14 days. Watering out to about the ‘drip line’ of the tree is best. A simple technique is to run a drip irrigation line or soaker hose along the drip line and run it for a few hours. Then check with a long screwdriver to see how you did: poke it into the soil and if it slides in easily, you got a good soaking.

            Here’s a link to a picture from my friend, Farmer Fred Hoffman (KFBK and KSTE’s Farmer Fred) does it, showing the ‘green halo’ from his drip line that is soaking the tree at the perimeter: http://davisgardenshow.com/images/treewateringfredhoffman.jpg

  2. Barack Palin

    Something I don’t understand about this whole process, how can a developer put in a plan to the city to build on land (greenbelts) that they don’t even own yet?

    1. Anon

      Barack Palin: “Something I don’t understand about this whole process, how can a developer put in a plan to the city to build on land (greenbelts) that they don’t even own yet?”

      A developer can ask for anything.  It is an entirely different matter whether the developer gets what is asked for.

      1. Tia Will

        Anon

        “A developer can ask for anything.  It is an entirely different matter whether the developer gets what is asked for.”

        While I agree that your comment is accurate, I have a very different perspective on it. Davis has, at least according to posts on the Vanguard, a reputation for being difficult to work with for developers. Perhaps what this really means is that they should re evaluate their own strategy with regard to projects in Davis.

        When a new project is being developed, it seems to me that there are four major stakeholders in the outcome.

        1. The developer who of course wants to make a profit and wants an attractive project that will add to his reputation.

        2. The prospective inhabitants of the project. Bad project, poor sales.

        3. The neighbors who will want a project that fits well with the existing environment and creates as few drawbacks as possible.

        4. The rest of the community in terms of whether the project meets over arching city goals while minimizing city costs and disruption.

        It seems to me is that in development proposals, too often the developer starts by looking at maximizing #1 and 2 while not considering #3 and 4 up front.  Then, when push back is encountered they label either the neighbors, or the city as “difficult to work with” or “selfish” or “interfering”. I am wondering if Mr. Taormino and company had discussions with the neighbors prior to making their proposal. If Davis has such a reputation for being difficult, would it not be wise to take all points of view into account before “asking for anything” ?

    2. Dave Hart

      It’s all about saving the trees.  Developer wants to put up as many houses as possible so the development pencils out.  Neighbors voice concern about the fate of some trees on the privately held parcel that are adjacent to public open space.  Developer offers to swap the private land with the trees for public land on the west side of the property even though it is not a totally even swap.  Developer just can’t figure out how to get as many units on the resultant parcel as he needs for the project to pencil out. He probably will. Anything is possible if you can make enough people happy.

  3. South of Davis

    BP wrote:

    > Something I don’t understand about this whole process, how can
    > a developer put in a plan to the city to build on land (greenbelts)
    > that they don’t even own yet?

    I wonder what the planning commission would do if I came in with a plan to build 100 homes in Central Park?

  4. Anon

    Don Shor: “The city has an easement for their care, but isn’t responsible for their watering.”

    Huh?  City has an easement for their care, but isn’t responsible for their care?  That makes little sense.  Can you please explain.  Does the city have the responsibility to maintain city trees or don’t they? And you are asking citizens to pay their own money to water city trees. Water will not be so cheap in the future. So clarification here would be helpful.

    1. Don Shor

      The easement for your street tree extends ten feet into your property from the curb. The city is responsible for pruning it if needed. Most trees need pruning every few years; some more often, some less. They maintain a system for monitoring the trees for pruning. You are actually not allowed to prune it.

      They also respond to citizen contacts about safety issues, dead limbs or trees, etc. In the past, that entailed having the city arborist come assess the situation, then assign a crew for the work. Now the city arborist contacts the contractor that takes care of the pruning or removal.

      City maintenance does not include watering the tree. Many of the species used in the street tree program can survive without summer watering when we receive average, or even somewhat below average winter rainfall. The extreme drought has led to stress conditions on species that would not normally show any problems without summer water. The list of trees in the street tree program changes, as they want to get a diversity of species to avoid significant losses when pests or diseases strike a particular type of tree. For example, the White alders on Arthur St. were all killed in the 1980’s when a new type of borer insect arrived in California. Anthracnose blight is a problem on Modesto ash. So they add tree species to the approved list, and remove others, to keep a prudent mix of types. Some of those have turned out to be higher maintenance or less drought tolerant than others. The Calleryana pears that were widely planted in the 1980’s and 90’s turned out to need a lot of pruning; some types got mistletoe, others got fireblight, and they all show pretty bad drought stress in unirrigated landscapes.

      There is no way for the city to water trees on private property. It’s the homeowner’s job, and keeping your trees healthy is one of the costs of homeownership. Since the trees confer considerable property value, it would be a wise investment to continue watering the trees, even if you’re killing your lawn. I am repeatedly telling people to give their trees some extra water this season.

      The covenant idea was simply unenforceable, in my opinion (and in the opinion of at least one of the commissioners last night). The only way things like that are enforced would be after the fact: the tree gets killed by some alteration to the landscape, and the city fines or sues the owner. It would be very challenging to establish a covenant for a tree on private property and provide the monitoring needed to make sure nothing was being done — change in grade, increase in irrigation, exposure of roots due to a remodel — that could harm the tree. It would just invite complicated litigation, most likely after the tree is beyond saving.

  5. Anon

    South of Davis: “I don’t want to give the city a hard time since they have a lot of trees and a small staff, but it is a fact that most (but not all) trees on private property get more care an attention than the city owned trees…”

    In my observations, I have noted that a lot of the city owned trees and shrubbery have really been suffering through the drought.  I know the city has to be very careful under the new mandates to limit water use.  And the city is short-staffed, although tree maintenance was outsourced to a private company, I believe.  Does that include watering, I wonder?  I’m not so sure the trees wouldn’t be better maintained on private property, especially if there were some sort of covenant/restriction requiring the trees to remain and be cared for.

  6. Tia Will

    “especially if there were some sort of covenant/restriction requiring the trees to remain and be cared for.”

    I don’t think that it is very productive to speculate about who might take the best care of the trees. How well a tree on private property is cared for is going to depend entirely on the intention of the property owner as Don was suggesting. Some will be very diligent in caring for these trees. Some will simply neglect them especially if at some point they are located on rental property. And some might meet the fate of the tree in my sister’s neighbors yard. A very old and very beautiful pine that he decided was in a bad location. So he cut it down despite the city prohibition against doing so. If we allow these to be transferred from public to private property, it is a crap shoot and we might as well be honest about that point.

     

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