They are not residents of the city of Davis, but some have lived in this community since the 1960s. The residents of the 54-unit neighborhood of the Binning Tract, which rests just south of Road 29, west of Highway 113 and north of both the Sutter-Davis Hospital and the proposed Davis Innovation Center, believe that a proposed development of an innovation park could threaten their quality of life and are vowing to use what limited influence they have to fight against the proposal that could make a March 2016 ballot.
The Vanguard met on Thursday with four members of about an eight-person group selected to represent the neighborhood ‒ Sherrie Venezia, David Howitt, Michael Shearer, and Morrie Barr ‒ to hear their concerns. The development will come to within about 150 feet of the backyards of the southern-most residents of the development that was built way back in the late 1950s/early 1960s.
“We have lived in this neighborhood, some of us for over 45, 47 years and we have studied all of these proposals and went to the various meetings of the city council chambers and the scoping meeting at Emerson (Junior High School) and from what we see we have some grave concerns about the way this proposal is being shown to us in terms of size, its scope, and the way in which it will impact us,” Sherrie Venezia explained.
Concerns by the neighbors covered a large variety of issues, from flooding and impacts on the existing vernal pools and flood drainage system in an area that floods frequently now — even during periods of relatively low rainfall. They are concerned with the size of the project, the impact of traffic on a roadway system that is narrow and poorly designed, in their view, as it is now.
“The frontage road, 99D/John Jones is undersized already, per CalTrans,” she continued. “Concessions were made when this intersection was put in.”
The whole neighborhood is also concerned about the potential plan to put in a hotel that would rise 150 feet. Ms. Venezia explained that this hotel would look down upon the neighbors “who have lived in relative rural tranquility looking at an empty field.”
A survey was conducted by the neighbors. There are 54 properties in the neighborhood. Of those, 40 of the properties responded to the survey, with 55 responses recorded, indicating that some households had more than one response based on the adults in that household responding.
Some of the key findings included in the survey showed that 49 of the 55 respondents said they were “very concerned” about the “planned innovation park south of Binning Tract” with three saying they were “concerned” and two saying they were “somewhat concerned.”
Forty-nine of 55 respondents were opposed to the planned innovation park, with only three in support. Fifty of 55 opposed a Measure R vote to annex the land in the Binning Tract into the city.
David Howitt is a 35-year resident. “We don’t think an industrial area like this really belongs so close to a residential neighborhood,” he said. He cited problems associated with the building of the hospital years ago and noted that promises were made and were not kept by the city and developers.
“This is our home,” he said. “It’s sort of peculiar that someone wants to come within 200 feet of your home and build a thirteen story hotel and a large industrial park.”
Mr. Howitt didn’t dispute the need for an innovation park in Davis. He said, “It’s good to take advantage of the expertise of the university and some of the development seems quite sensible. It seems odd that they would want to build it here.”
He acknowledged that the soil is not that good in this area, so it is not great for farming. However, he said, “The original plan for the Binning Tract area was just to provide a little residential area within the school district, but not actually within the city.”
A big problem that several of them cited is that, because they do not live in the city, “we’re not really represented as a group,” as Mr. Howitt pointed out. “When it comes to us talking to the Davis City Council, we’re not actually within the city, so we’re not covered.”
“It’s not that we’re nimby’s,” he said. He noted that current zoning allows houses to be built on 20 acres. “I don’t think anyone has given any thought to the impact that it’s going to have on our neighborhood. Or maybe they have and they just don’t care. But we certainly care. I don’t think anyone in the neighborhood is keen on the impact that will happen from this.”
Flooding issues are a problem. The problem is not the low-lying land but the impact of runoff. The neighbors fear that, with new development, it could push the water into their homes. One concern is that, while the developers may mitigate flooding to make sure the park does not have an issue, “but if it runs off to us, what do we do?”
Mr. Howitt said, “They come up with all sorts of clever ideas (to deal with flood issues) that would seem to work,” but in their experience, a lot of these solutions haven’t worked or generate new problems. For instance, there have been drainage ponds where the water never really gets to the ponds and ends up backing up into the development.
“Perhaps these are small issues for people living around town,” David Howitt continued. “But for us this dramatically impacts our lifestyle.”
Michael Shearer has been a periodic commenter at Davis City Council meetings. He called it “an inappropriate development in a residential area. I think that innovation is fine, perhaps a good concept, it needs to be thought out carefully.”
He said he believes it would be better for such a facility to have its own on-ramp or be along the I-80 corridor.
“The flooding issue is huge, not just in our neighborhood but all over,” he said. “Even in years with little rainfall, a good storm or two can cause a lot of damage.”
He is concerned where the water from 200 acres is going to go. “Eventually there is going to be more water than they can get rid of,” he said.
He said there are vernal pools that supply habitat. The open field houses burrowing owls and Swainson’s Hawks. “It’s a sensitive habitat zone with burrowing owls and vernal pools,” Mr. Shearer stated.
There are safety concerns as well.
“A poor traffic plan already, that’s going to be very difficult to correct, and now you’re going to have far more traffic trying to get in and out of the area,” Michael Shearer said. He noted there is a bike route and it is already hazardous to kids due to the narrowness of the road combined with the high speed of traffic.
Sherrie Venezia said that they are facing at least 10,000 additional car trips a day to this location. She noted that Covell narrows right at the hospital. “You’re going to have congestion and inconvenience to everybody who lives in the West Davis corridor,” she said.
Michael Shearer also questioned the ability of the city or developers to fill the park. He argued that rents in Davis average 25-30 percent more than surrounding communities like Woodland, West Sacramento and Dixon.
“What they’re suggesting is to provide all of this commercial space, at a cost that’s 25 to 30 percent higher, so what is that going to look like down the road? Are businesses going to stay in these parks if eight miles away they can save 25 percent on rent? Who’s to say these are actually going to rent if there’s that competition and other cities are also doing the same thing?” he asked. “I’m not convinced that businesses are going to stay here.”
He thinks the Ramos innovation park may be a more viable park.
Sherrie Venezia said that she has researched Innovation Centers around the country and argued, “The ones that have been most successful have been the ones that have been closest to downtown.” These have been able to reduce the carbon footprint by enabling people to take their bicycles and go to lunch downtown. She cited Boulder, CO, as a good example.
“Innovation Parks are good idea, we need the business, we need to maintain the parks and infrastructure of Davis, there’s no question, but to have this town start looking like San Jose,” she said. She considers herself part of the community and greatly supports the city’s growth control policies. “This I see as an outlier, a business park thrust right in West Davis.”
One of the key questions the Vanguard posed to the neighbors was whether they are against the idea of any innovation park in this location, or just the specific proposal of this park.
Morrie Barr said, “You could argue that an innovation park makes sense if we didn’t have homes, now, in Binning. The fact is, Binning Tract is there, it’s been there.”
“Would some kind of an innovation park work?” he said. “I would think so if you didn’t have a large hotel, 150 feet high, setting right on (road) 99D as a main access. That doesn’t make sense to me.”
“If you are going to have an innovation park, does it have to be 200-something acres?” he continued. “You could have a nice greenbelt buffer area more than 150 feet (buffer) that they’re suggesting.”
“From what I’ve seen now it doesn’t make sense,” he said. “Is it the best use of the land? I don’t think so.”
Michael Shearer argued that this impacts not only Binning, but the residents along Covell, in West Davis and in North Davis Meadows across the highway. “So it impacts three neighborhoods,” he said. “I think innovation parks would be more appropriate along the I-80 corridor where they have a dedicated on-ramp. It’s going to be a commuter situation with 10,000 trips a day.”
How is that going to play out? he asked. “It’s going to be a disaster,” he said, adding especially since the existing infrastructure is sub-standard to be begin with.
Sherrie Venezia said that she could see a smaller profiled park, clustered up close to the hospital with a dedicated greenbelt, loft-housing and cafes. “Something that would make it more like an innovation district which is a very powerful concept that’s sweeping the world, where people can walk to work and having community so that not everyone will be coming in at 8 am in the morning and going home at five.”
Interestingly enough, the neighbors seem to have been more comfortable with the idea of some mixed housing in the innovation center.
David Howitt acknowledged the right of the owners to develop the land in some way but simply argued, “It’s necessary that it fits in with the existing infrastructure.” He added, “Surely if someone is going to do a development in that area, they ought to do it in a way that doesn’t cause more of an inconvenience (to existing residents).”
“It would be 10,000 cars a day, that’s a lot of development for a two-lane road running near a residential area,” he added.
What they all were opposed to was the hotel and its proposed 150-foot height.
“There’s a real danger having that hotel there,” Sherrie Venezia said, not just in terms of aesthetics and zoning, “but the fact that the left turn going north into the hotel, there’s no possibility of having a dedicated left-turn lane. So cars would simply back up. It’s one narrow undersized lane going north and one narrow undersized lane going south with barriers on both sides.”
“It isn’t even a workable pragmatic concept,” Ms. Venezia concluded.
At this point, while the developers have submitted a formal application to the city, they are still running all sorts of studies – some in conjunction with the EIR that would look at environmental and neighborhood impacts as well as traffic circulation. In the coming months, we should get a clearer picture of the impacts and potential mitigation of those impacts.
Council is looking to make some determinations by the fall with the potential of a Measure R by Davis residents next spring. However, it should be pointed out that Binning residents, who reside outside of the city, would not get a say in that vote.
—David M. Greenwald reporting