Neighbors Remain Opposed to Latest Proposal For Paso Fino

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Latest proposal keeps the greenbelts, keeps eight units, and keeps the canary pines on public land - will the neighbors and council be able to support it?
Latest proposal keeps the greenbelts, keeps eight units, and keeps the Canary pines on public land – will the neighbors and council be able to support it?

Earlier this week, the Vanguard reported that the developers of Paso Fino have a new proposal that would leave in place eight units while preserving the greenbelt and keeping the Canary Island pine trees on public land.

However, despite efforts by the developers to leave all the Canary pines in place on public lands, neighbors and at least one expert on trees object to the proposal.

Claudia Morain, a resident of Sargent Court, writes in a letter, “The proposal now before the council calls for a land swap, in which public land is traded for private land needed to create a bike path along Covell and bring a grove of towering, 60-year-old pines into public ownership.”

“But it is a poor exchange that gives up too much public land for too little private land. It does not afford the heritage trees the space that arborists say is needed to safeguard their long-term survival,” she writes.

Instead, she asks that the developers return to the “drawing board one last time to draft a plan more consistent with the city staff ‘s recommendation.” She states, “That recommendation, endorsed by the Planning Commission, fully protects the pines by respecting their drip lines and safeguarding their sensitive root zones.”

But the developers have already said that Plan D, which was put forward by city staff and the commission in October by a 3-2 vote, to ask the developers to consider the option that would allow for six homes, “was unworkable.”

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 told the planning commission, as he told the Vanguard, that Plan D was unworkable. He told the planning commission, “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.”

In the meantime on January 23, Don Shor drafted a letter that was originally written as background for a meeting of Brett Lee and Rochelle Swanson with the homeowners and interested parties on January 6.

“My understanding from the proceedings of the Planning Commission was that the pines are to be protected on public land. I have been asked if the current design layout, which has eight houses on the site, gives adequate protection to the trees,” he writes. “My opinion is that the current layout has the homes too close to the trees and provides inadequate protection for their long-term health.”

Don Shor, owner of Redwood Barn Nursery, writes, “When development occurs around mature trees, specific measures are taken to protect the trees during construction.”

He continues, “Arborist reports make reference to the ‘drip line’ of the trees. The drip line is literally that: the canopy of the tree, measured in diameter. The term refers to the area where water would drip from the leaves or needles. An area called the ‘critical root radius’ must be protected during construction. This calculated area, called the ‘protected root zone,’ extends past the drip line and should be left as unchanged as possible. For mature trees in a new development, it is best to leave that zone undeveloped.”

Mr. Shor writes, “We never know exactly where a tree’s roots are, but we do know that generally they grow out well past the drip line into nearby soil. When you cover the soil where the roots are with concrete, or compact it, or heap soil on it, or take soil away, you can harm the roots. You render them less able to take up water, you kill the roots by cutting through them, and in some instances you make the trees unsafe by removing important anchoring roots.”

In his opinion, based on the plans, “it appears that the protected root zone of some trees would be in private property, and that branches of the trees would actually hang over into back yards.”

He further adds, “A rule that arborists use is to protect a radius of soil 1.5 [feet] times the inches in diameter of the trunk. Thus a tree with a ten-inch trunk diameter should have a protected root zone of 15 feet out, or 30 feet diameter.” He argues, “It does not appear to me that the current layout provides a sufficient protected root zone for the trees.”

“One of the great threats to trees is the reaction of neighbors to the nuisance that they can create. Litigation about trees overhanging fences, about roots underlying patios, and other perceived nuisances is common. People often take unwise action against trees that bother them. Pines simply should not be pruned, for the most part, and certainly not by amateurs,” he further adds.

The new plan by the developers sought to address the concern expressed at the October 8 planning commission meeting by shrinking the size of Lot 8 to allow the pines to be on the other side of the property line.

Commissioner George Hague in October said he was 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.”

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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.”

However, for Cheryl Essex, another member of the planning commission, the 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.”

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.

At that time, Dave Taormino, one of the developers, said he was willing to compromise. He said, “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 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.”

By now it is clear that some remain opposed to this plan and it is the opinion of Don Shor that the current plan does not do enough to protect the trees.

How that will impact the council’s decision remains to be seen.

—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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52 thoughts on “Neighbors Remain Opposed to Latest Proposal For Paso Fino”

  1. Rich RifkinWDE 73

    (Don Shor) further adds, “A rule that arborists use is to protect a radius of soil 1.5 times the inches in diameter of the trunk. Thus a tree with a ten-inch trunk diameter should have a protected root zone of 15 feet out, or 30 feet diameter.” 

    Is that math right? It sure looks wrong by a factor of 12.

    1.5 x 10 inches = 15 inches, not 15 feet; and 2 x 15″ = 30 inches, not 30 feet.

    Maybe the owner of Redwood Barn can clear that up.

  2. Rich RifkinWDE 73

    Claudia Morain, a resident of Sargent Court, wrote this in her recent letter to The Enterprise: 

    Planning Commissioner Marilee Hanson recently identified half a dozen comparable stretches of public open space. She found small parks and unusual greenbelts that might be attractive to a developer in five neighborhoods around Davis, including the downtown area, Covell Gardens, Hacienda Park, West Davis and Northstar.

    I think, quite rightly, Ms. Morain is concerned about precedent. Yet I think it would be bad precedent to reject the Taormino plan and institute a blanket policy to never consider any development proposals which encroach on public greens so that these spaces will indefinitely be protected.

    My view is the City needs to take a balanced approach, one which causes the least harm possible to the neighbors and to the City as a whole, and makes sure that whatever costs a project creates are more than paid for (perhaps with land swaps, perhaps with cash, or perhaps with some combination of these) by the developer. I don’t think we, as a City, need to worry so much one way or the other about the benefits going to the developer from his project. But we should, in every case, look at the potential benefits to the City from every proposed project, even if one of the costs is a new land use for what had been public open space.

  3. Anon

    “By now it is clear that some remain opposed to this plan…”

    You have competing interests here: saving trees vs densification vs developer profit.  The City Council will have to decide which of these competing interests is more important, or if further compromise is necessary.

  4. hpierce

    What I find amusing is that there was a viable plan approved years ago that the developer could have proceeded with.  They would not have paid all the staff costs involved with the new proposal.  New issues could not have been raised.  Perhaps the ‘planners’ for the City encouraged them to abandon that plan, to get more density.  Might have been a good idea, to avoid “sprawl”, meet the goals of the “regional blueprint” (to encourage density for its own sake?), and make sure that revenue was coming in to pay for planning staff.

    That prior approval is probably “dead” at this time, due to legal time limits.  The developers “rolled the dice” and appear to lose.

    1. Davis Progressive

      but the developers always claimed it wasn’t a viable plan and why are we encouraging mcmansions when everyone is demanding smaller family and workforce style housing.

      1. Frankly

        why are we encouraging mcmansions when everyone is demanding smaller family and workforce style housing.

        Everyone?  I think not.  Maybe everyone you listen to.

      2. Tia Will

        DP

        Who do you see as demanding McMansions here ?  I see this as a conflict over open space, preservation of trees, an attempt to alter a previously agreed upon plan, vs developer profit. Perhaps I am missing a piece of this ?

  5. DurantFan

    The difficult and contentious negotiations involved with this project set a bad example for future negotiations with the proponents of the far more complex innovation parks.

      1. Davis Progressive

        you can take that a variety of different ways, but with what will likely be multibillion dollar projects, i would assume the intensity will be amped up ten fold if not more.

        1. Mark West

          I have heard it referred to as the City’s ‘developer spanking machine.’  It is a big part of why Davis has such a poor reputation as a place for business.

  6. Miwok

    “One of the great threats to trees is the reaction of neighbors to the nuisance that they can create. Litigation about trees overhanging fences, about roots underlying patios, and other perceived nuisances is common. People often take unwise action against trees that bother them. Pines simply should not be pruned, for the most part, and certainly not by amateurs,” he further adds.

    Since a small bunch of trees is such an issue, and pruning or cutting them back is more important than people, then when will the City start tearing down houses when the trees get too big?

    I lived on Arthur a while back, and a tree was taken out by the City because of some disease. They planted whatever they wanted (gave us a list), and right beside the sidewalk and street. The roots of the old tree extended at least 50 feet into the back yard, and I assume under the street and definitely under the sidewalk, because it raised the concrete.

     

    1. Don Shor

      Arthur was originally planted with California white alder. That was a disastrous choice! Very popular in the 1970’s and early 80’s, very aggressive roots. Then a clearwing borer arrived and decimated them. The whole of Arthur used to have a canopy of alders. They were removed long ago and replaced with, I think, plane trees.
      Proper tree selection is really important. The city maintains an ongoing list of approved street trees, based on feedback from the tree commission. As problems are recognized or arrive as invasive pests, species are removed from the list.
      California white alder is a good example of a California native tree that is unsuitable here.

      1. Miwok

        thank you, Don Shor

        I am sure it was explained to me then, and it was a big/old tree.

        I am glad to see qualified people who know arborists or are one. What mystifies me is the maybe NEW idea the trees have priority over housing, when trees can be planted or relocated? So can houses.As these Valuable tress grow, will the houses but cut back or demolished?

        Did the streets and sidewalks over the roots on the Arthur trees contribute to their demise?

        1. Don Shor

          Did the streets and sidewalks over the roots on the Arthur trees contribute to their demise?

          No, they were planted when the homes were built. It’s the process of building around existing mature trees that is the problem.
          Some species, especially riparian trees, are notable for their aggressive surface roots. Alders, willows, poplars — all unsuitable for residential situations for that reason, among other reasons.
          White alder should not be planted in dry-summer areas as the borer attacks trees that are stressed by heat and drought. That borer, fortunately, only attacks the white alder. So nobody plants them any more in the Valley.
          Relocating mature trees is expensive and risky. It can be done, but it’s usually a last resort and has no guarantee of success. Pines would be unlikely to move successfully.
          Here is an extreme case. I have no idea what it cost: http://www.inquisitr.com/1506097/university-of-michigan-to-move-centuries-old-oak-tree-for-building-expansion/
          If the new homes are sited with sufficient room for the roots of the existing trees, there should not be a problem in the future as the trees grow. That’s the point of providing a sufficient protected root zone.

  7. Tia Will

    I think the reference is to the four unit proposal that was approved which would be very large units.”

    Oh, got it. But I don’t think that anyone including the immediate neighbors are arguing for this, are they ?

  8. Tia Will

    I have a question for  either developers or perhaps some of you more business oriented folks. It seems to me that one source of conflict here is the perceived ability of the developer to achieve what they consider adequate profit from the project. At least on this thread, I have not seen any information about the actual amounts that we are talking about. In the interests of transparency, would it not be in everyone’s best interest for the developer to be open about their projected costs and anticipated profits and let the city leadership make an informed decision regarding their claim that Plan D would not be feasible ?

    1. Mark West

      Why do you feel that you deserve to know the developer’s financials?  That is private information, just as are your own compensation, bank balances and investment portfolio.  Transparency is something that is appropriate to demand of government, since it is our money they are working with.  Not so a private person or company (unless it is a publicly traded entity).  It is none of your business how much money the developer stands to earn on the project, just as it is none of the developer’s business how much you stand to earn from your endeavors.

      1. Rich RifkinWDE 73

        I largely agree with you, Mark. However, there is something to keep in mind with the specifics of public policies: They can and do affect whether a private developer’s decision pencils out or not. If you have a marginal proposal which makes economic sense under a certain public policy decision, but makes no sense (because it becomes unprofitable) under a different public policy, those making policy decisions for the public ought to have some idea if what they are doing is effectively destroying economic opportunity.

        If you think about what Tia asks specifically, and the answer is that the developer stands to make a huge gain, then those making public policy have a lot more wiggle room to restrict a development without killing it. And here, insofar as there are public concerns–notably the trees and the impact on the existing neighbors and perhaps public access–certain restrictions may be in order.

        Further, what the developers are doing is not an ordinary private business transaction, but what Tia Will “stands to earn from her endeavors” is. The difference is that the developer bought this land with a given set of planning codes and zoning restrictions in place and with public lands there. Instead of just privately operating within the rules as written, the developer hopes to change public policy for this property for his own benefit. That effort to change the rules does make it more the public’s business to know how much leeway the given rules allow (for a profitable development) and how much of a change may be necessary to reach that end.

        1. Mark West

          Rich:  To the extent that policy makers ‘need to know,’ there may indeed be some value in understanding the developer’s financial situation, but that is a very different situation than saying what the general public ‘needs to know.’  There is a great deal of financial information that all businesses are required to ‘share’ with policy makers  (e.g. the amount of sales tax generated by a company) that is not, and should not be, made available to the general public.  As a private citizen, Tia has no right to know the financials of the developer in this, or any other, project.

          A far better way of determining if local policies are indeed stifling business is to look at the rate of business growth for the City.  If business growth is stagnant or declining, then policies are too restrictive, and at the other extreme if it is booming uncontrollably, you know that your policies are too relaxed. Even the casual observer should be able to determine which end of that spectrum Davis currently resides in.

        2. Anon

          Spot on Mark West.  Also, densification is what the City Council said was its policy.  The developer is only giving the City Council supposedly what it wants!

        3. Barack Palin

          Mark West, since as you say the developer doesn’t owe the public any accounting of his finances and how much he stands to make on any project I think in turn the city shouldn’t be basing any development decisions on whether the developer’s plans pencil out or not.  All decisions should be based on policy only and does the project fit in with the neighborhood.

        4. Barack Palin

          Anon, the City planners have already put a plan forward calling for six houses.  That’s the compromise the neighbors are happiest with.  Maybe the new plan might be considered the city’s policy for this track of land?  And if we’re going to cite policy since when is it city policy to let builders have parts of greenbelts?

        5. Mark West

          BP:  “City planners have already put a plan forward calling for six houses.  Maybe the new plan might be considered the city’s policy for this track of land?”

          The City Council sets policy; staff carry it out.  The City Planners only make recommendations on how the policy should be set.  The way that development works is the developer proposes a project that may or may not fit within current policy, depending of the desired financial outcome.  The Planners review that proposal and when it is outside the boundaries of current policy will frequently turn to the City Council to make a final determination.  That is what is happening here.  It is worth noting that both the six unit and the eight unit proposals are outside the boundaries of ‘current policy’ which is the four unit project previously approved.

          BP: “since as you say the developer doesn’t owe the public any accounting of his finances and how much he stands to make on any project I think in turn the city shouldn’t be basing any development decisions on whether the developer’s plans pencil out or not.  All decisions should be based on policy only and does the project fit in with the neighborhood.”

          I said that the developer doesn’t owe the public any accounting of his financials.  That doesn’t say anything at all about the City’s right to demand such.  Be that as it may, the City would be foolish to ignore the financial needs/desires of developers, unless of course you are suggesting that it is in the best interests of the City to shut down all development.

          The City has a policy of infill and increased density of housing.  Whether or not that is appropriate in this location is something that the City Council will need to determine.  Their decision however, should be based on what is in the best interests of the City as a whole, and not simply the demands or expectations of the neighbors.  The neighbors should obviously have a ‘place at the table,’ perhaps even an out-sized one, but they should not have veto power over what is best for the entire City with regards to this, or any other project.

          Considering that we remain in a fiscal crisis, with a paucity of business and housing development, it is my opinion that maximizing City revenues and available housing should take precedence at this time over either the justified desires of the neighbors, or the noble desire to save all of the Canary Island Pines.

           

        6. Frankly

          The financial metric that matters is expected ROI and also the risk of revenue / expense volatility.   Most voters won’t understand these concept and can be flamed over “million dollar profits” to go off in protest.  But it really comes down to the feasibility of capital investment.   If the city pushes too hard for new features that add to the costs of the project that cannot be offset by increases in the value of the completed project, then at some point the ROI combined with the risks dips below a line that justify alternatives to the use of the capital that would otherwise be invested in the development.

          The challenge with developing a static opinion of acceptable ROI is that there are economic factors that cause it to flux.  For example, interest rates and equities and other areas where real estate values set to increase at a greater rate.

          But one idea is for the company to provide audited reports of historical ROI and a current estimate for the subject project.   Any projected ROI would also need to include a list of assumptions and some risk assessment.   But this information could become a target for working with the city… when the city demands changes to the project, the impact to the ROI, assumptions and risk factors could be redrawn.   The developer should be able to make the case for what his acceptable levels are and to reject demands that put the project below that line.

        7. Jim Frame

          it is my opinion that maximizing City revenues and available housing should take precedence

          If that’s the sole metric, then we should deny all housing applications, because they all go net negative for the city at some point, typically 10-20 years after construction.

        8. Mark West

          JF:  “we should deny all housing applications, because they all go net negative for the city at some point”

          As has been pointed out several times, but I guess some refuse to accept, this is only true if we refuse to control our unsustainable payroll costs. But don’t ever let the facts get in the way of a pithy comment.

          1. Don Shor

            I think that the last time this came up somebody said the threshold was $500,000. How much are these units likely to sell for?

        9. South of Davis

          Jim wrote:

          > because they all go net negative for the city at some

          > point, typically 10-20 years after construction.

          Are you assuming that real estate values stay basically the same over the next 10 years and we more than double public safety pay and benefits again?

          It “could” “go net negative” (like everyone else I have no idea) but before you say “they ALL” go net negative over 10-20 years it is important to show your assumptions (Do we increase government worker pay and benefits faster or slower than income)?

  9. Tia Will

    Thanks Frankly, that last paragraph helps. And it would seem that the city would also have the right to reject the plans if they felt that the developer was not making reasonable accommodations for features felt of benefit to the entire community, yes ?

  10. Barack Palin

    What if a developer over paid for a property and in order to turn a profit he had to way overbuild and densify even though it didn’t fit with the neighborhood?  Should the City then go to all extremes to make sure that developer’s project pencils out?

    1. Mark West

      When has “go to all extremes” ever been a good policy?  Sounds like a nonsense comment to me.  

      What is the current state of home construction in Davis?  Is there a large excess of houses being built to the extent that local home prices are dropping?  Are there a number of unoccupied, new homes, sitting on the market for 90 days or more?  Yeah, I didn’t think so.

      You don’t want these homes in your neighborhood.  I understand.  Doesn’t mean your opinion should be the deciding one, or that your straw man arguments should win the day.

      1. Barack Palin

        No, I’m reading on here how the city should consider the that the developer’s project should pencil out.  If a  developer way overpaid for his site should the city also bend over backwards to make sure his project still pencils out?

        I’m fine with the six house project that the city planners themselves put forward as a great compromise and solution to the greenbelt being sold.  I never said my opinion should be the deciding one, but neither should yours.  Is it okay with you for me to have an opinion?

        1. Mark West

          Is it okay with you for me to have an opinion?

          What have I ever said that suggests otherwise?

          I may criticize an opinion (I might even say it was inane) but never the right for someone to have it.

  11. Anon

    I’m fine with the six house project that the city planners themselves put forward as a great compromise and solution to the greenbelt being sold.

    What if the six house project truly does not pencil out for the developer, but the 8 house project would?  Then the question for the City Council becomes whether it should stand pat on 6 homes, to save the Canary pines and pacify the neighbors, and allow the project to fall through, the developer building nothing plus the City Council going against its own policy of densification where possible; or find a way to have 8 homes in the project, and take a chance of losing the Canary pines and angering some neighbors.

    1. Don Shor

      What if the six house project truly does not pencil out for the developer, but the 8 house project would?

      How would we know?

      plus the City Council going against its own policy of densification

      It’s zoned for 2 units, how is 6 units not densification?

      1. Don Shor

        The problem isn’t the number of units, it’s the size of the units. If the houses on Lots 6 & 7 were the size of the house on Lot 8, the trees would probably have enough room. If the house on Lot 5 was that size, they might even be able to squeeze another house in. For an example of what I mean, look at the south end of Amapola Drive.
        If they went to zero-lot-line townhouses, they could probably add another unit or two.
        But I suspect that any real estate expert will tell you that you can get more dollars per square foot for a larger home.
        Amapola Drive

      2. hpierce

        Reality check.  If the property is zoned for 2 units, how is it possible that the current approved tentative map for the project, 5 years old +/- now, provided for 4 units?

        1. Don Shor

          If I recall: original zoning would have been 2 units. Tentative map to 4 units was never finalized. Zoning hasn’t been changed yet — or has it? In any event, 6 units is denser than anything before.

      3. Anon

        Don Shor: “It’s zoned for 2 units, how is 6 units not densification?

        To Don Shor: From a city staff report:

        In addition to entitled and pending sites, there are underutilized sites with residential development potential in the City. Government Code Section 65583.2(a) states that land suitable for residential development includes underutilized residentially zoned sites that are capable of being developed at a higher density. In the City of Davis, the following types of underutilized zoned sites have the potential to contribute housing units toward the City’s RHNA:

        B and 3rd Streets Corridor (Planned Development #2-86B) including Mission Residences site
        Residential One and Two Family (R-2) districts
        Residential Garden Apartment (R-3) districts
        Downtown Mixed Use (M-U) and Central Commercial (C-C) districts
        Commercial Neighborhood (C-N) districts
        Accessory Dwelling Units (ADU) in residential districts
        The Cannery site approved in November 2013 on PD-1-00

    2. Tia Will

      Anon

      the developer building nothing plus the City Council going against its own policy of densification where possible; or find a way to have 8 homes in the project, and take a chance of losing the Canary pines and angering some neighbors.”

      You have left out another possibility. It is conceivable that the current developer does not feel it will “pencil out” for him. Then he has another alternative. He could choose to sell the property giving another developer the ability to come up with a plan that will meet both his own financial needs and the conditions desired by the neighbors, tree conservationists and the city leadership.

       

  12. hpierce

    Don.  The tentative map was approved.  A tentative map is a legislative/discretionary act, and such a map cannot be approved unless it complies with zoning.  Period.  End of statement.  That map has expired, by statutory time limits, as a final map (a ministerial action) was not filed in a timely manner.  My point is, unless the zoning also had a time limit, it HAS to provide for 4 units, at least.

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