Davis Diamonds owners Hilde Aune and James Major write in a letter published in the local paper that, on January 15, “Davis Diamonds Gymnastics was granted a temporary permit to occupy our new gymnasium at 2800 Cowell Blvd. from the city of Davis and, shortly afterward, more than 30 girls practiced bars, beam, vault and floor exercise there. The first day of regularly scheduled classes in the new gym was last Monday.”
They are, of course, thankful to the city who helped guide this process that first began three years ago. In January 2012, the Davis City Council voted 3-2 to overturn a 5-1 decision by the planning commission opposing a relocation of Davis Diamonds on Chiles Road, to a spot formerly occupied by a Ford auto dealership that has since vacated.
According to the staff report, “The majority of the Planning Commission felt that there was a decision to put an auto center in place, and there are significant economic factors to consider regarding non-auto uses in the A-C district.”
On January 25, 2012, Dan Wolk, Sue Greenwald, and Stephen Souza voted to direct staff to come back with conditions and findings for a Conditional Use Permit.
Mayor Joe Krovoza was pointed in his dissent, “It actually bothers me that the choice here is between sending a great institution like Davis Diamonds out into the auto mall areas in a dilapidated building because it’s cheap, and putting [it] on the edge of town.”
“I’m bothered that we’re going through this choice where we’re choosing Davis Diamonds or auto malls,” he continued. “Because I think that’s a false choice.”
“I will be frank here,” he continued, “I don’t think that this issue has played itself out to the degree that it should in this community… I don’t think it has had a chance to do that because the best financial opportunity for Davis Diamonds is this deal that they have before them.”
He argued that so long as this deal is before Davis Diamonds, that blocks us from getting to a better solution for the community, which is a more central facility.
Mayor Krovoza was joined by then-Mayor Pro Tem Rochelle Swanson in dissent. The council was pressured into supporting the vote or risk the possibility of losing the treasured Davis Diamond Gymnastics facility.
The Vanguard at the time quickly discovered that there were other possibilities, but the real estate agent, Xavier Santana, was the agent for both the buyer and the seller on this deal. In the real estate world, such an arrangement is perfectly legal and commonplace.
Councilmember Sue Greenwald put it this way: “I don’t understand why the issue of the real estate broker is relevant, unless there were other sites available and he misinformed the owners of Davis Diamonds concerning the availability and cost of the other sites.”
She added, “I talked with the owners of Davis Diamonds about alternative sites, and they believe that they have explored them and that there are none that are viable.”
Six months later the deal fell apart when the current tenant at the site exercised its option to rent the facility for five more years, precluding the move by Davis Diamonds.
At that point, working with city staff, Davis Diamonds found the property along Cowell Blvd. The city had to change the zoning to commercial, initial financing fell through, and ultimately twelve investors stepped forward, made primarily of parents of kids from the program, and they got it.
“The community really made this gym possible,” Mr. Major said back in 2012. “We’ve grown to be a very big part of this community. The kids know that this is a safe haven for them.”
The story of Davis Diamonds ends well. But it also serves as an object lesson.
First, the easy move was to put Davis Diamonds in the auto mall. That was not a good option. The city relies on auto sales for a good portion of its sales tax revenue. Moreover, the facility itself and location were far from ideal for a gym.
Second, we discovered pretty quickly that the real estate agent who handled the original agreement had a perceived conflict of interest – now, it is completely legal in the real estate world, but from a political standpoint the question was whether or not Davis Diamonds had exhausted its possibilities and the answer given at the time was yes, but six months later they actually got a far better arrangement.
Third, the three councilmembers who supported Davis Diamonds were all up for reelection that year, but two of them lost. As we noted at the time, there is no doubt that Dan Wolk would have supported the conditional use permit because of his support for Davis Diamonds and, in fact, in the letter they thank “Mayor Dan Wolk and Community Development Director Mike Webb for their tenacious efforts to get us into our new gymnasium.”
However, sometimes supporting an organization and a cause means not taking the easy vote and instead looking for the right solution.
As we think about and celebrate the success of Davis Diamonds and Davis’ ability to retain it, we need to keep these lessons in mind. We should not succumb to the notion that there is just one option. What we discover is that if the community is committed to preserving valued institutions like Davis Diamonds, we should strive to preserve them in the right way.
One thing that comes to mind in all of this is Schilling Robotics. We have been told that Schilling Robotics wants space to grow and the city council has clearly expressed the desire to keep Schilling Robotics. However, it is our hope that, in that desire, the council keeps in mind that we should not just retain that company, but rather do it in the right way that benefits all involved.
Are we going to try to push through a sub-par project in the Mace Ranch Innovation Center just to preserve Schilling? I am only speculating here, not disparaging the project which is still in early planning stages. My only point is to make sure that we approve a project and put one to the voters that can pass a Measure R vote, rather than settle in a vain hope of preserving Schilling.
We need to remember that we have other options. One option is, of course, the Mace Ranch Innovation Center. But we could also consider the city-owned 25 acres on Mace, which we may find out more about in February. We could also consider the Davis Innovation Park. It is even possible that the Panattoni spot on Cowell might be able to accommodate the needed size of a larger Schilling Robotics. Or perhaps, in a pinch, Schilling could have two separate spots until we can find a larger parcel for them to put their new facility.
The bottom line from this is the lesson that we should not simply settle for the first option, the easiest option. Things look limited at times, but it is amazing how, when push comes to shove, we can find a way to have our Davis Diamonds and put it in the right spot.
—David M. Greenwald reporting