The questions are already starting to occur as the drought situation increases from urgent to crisis – where is the water going to come from to supply large developments in Davis?
Water was the subject of a recent letter to the editor with an individual unhappy at the prospect that she may have to allow her stressed trees to die.
She writes, “We don’t have enough water to support our current population but new development continues, not all of which could have been approved more than three or four years ago but is now being built.”
She concludes, “Why has there not been a building moratorium issued at any level of government until this drought ends?”
While water figures to an issue that emerges in opposition to the innovation parks – logic tells us it probably should not be. About 80 percent of water use in California, we learned last week is from agricultural uses.
Given that the two innovation park proposals – Mace Ranch Innovation Center and Davis Innovation Center are being proposed on land currently cultivated and therefore irrigated as well as Nishi – it is unclear that converting to urban usage would increase the water usage on the land.
The city has commissioned environmental impact reports (EIR) that will analogy the impact of the conversion of agricultural land to urban usage. The draft of those reports will come up in June or July. At that time we will have a better means to assess this issue – it could be that urban usage will actually reduce the amount of water used on those properties.
One thing that is clear is that the pace of information these days is very rapid. Without authoritative ability to quickly address concerns, small issues can snowball and misinformation can take on a life of its own.
In an editorial the local paper says today, “Listening’s great, but keep eyes on the goal.”
Writes the Enterprise, “members of the Davis City Council have set out among the populace to find what enthusiasm (if any) there is for a trio of proposed “innovation centers” in Davis. In theory, anyway, this should allow city leaders to get a sense of what the community wants, and how to tailor the proposals to fit with popular desires.”
They argue there are two “potential pitfalls” with this approach. First, “The first is that it may give a small group of motivated citizens an outsized voice in the process. The recent controversy over the city’s use of the Davis :: Engage tool to measure interest in yard-waste pickup is instructive; if 300 people are too small of a sample size, what about the dozen or so who show up at a meeting?”
While that grossly mischaracterizes the concern which was not about the size of the sample, but rather its self-selection, clearly the major point that they make is accurate – the people who are engaged are those who are most interested in the process. That has been the problem for some time as we struggle to engage.
Second the paper points out, describing “the messy nature of an open, democratic forum (especially in a political environment as engaged as ours)” that “everyone has an idea. In this case, people have ideas about traffic, housing, water, building size and sustainability.”
They write, “Input is pouring in from all sides, even though all three projects are in their embryonic stages, and quite different from one another. The sheer volume of input threatens to derail the whole process well before the City Council takes it (never mind it getting to the voters).”
They add, “the specter of growth, that great bogeyman of Davis politics, haunts proceedings.”
However, this is how land use works in Davis – even when there is no vote. The Cannery project had a series of meetings over the years where information was disseminated and public input was meticulously collected. The EIR process has public input.
The only thing likely to derail these projects at this stage are huge and glaring errors. Everything else ends up being adjusted or tweaked as needed.
The paper continues, “The sad fact is that Davis is facing a long-term financial crunch. Dealing with a structural budget deficit, the city has gotten by on service cuts and parcel taxes, but we need a new source of revenue.”
They continue, “Obviously, this community won’t accept the sort of sales-tax-generating shopping centers we see up and down Interstate 80. Walmart is out. Housing space will be exhausted once The Cannery is finished. What’s left? Davis’ last resource is intellectual; to leverage the brainpower coming out of the university to create high-tech industry. Schilling Robotics has become the talisman, a home-grown success story that needs room to grow — and which will go elsewhere if it can’t get it here.”
While the Enterprise is basically correct, adding the housing space point is irrelevant to the issue of revenue as housing is largely revenue neutral at best.
The bottom line for the paper, “So, as we move forward, we hope the council keeps its eyes on the goal. By all means, listen; everyone deserves to have their say.”
That said, the paper misses a lot of critical points here. As someone who has observed the last several issue oriented elections from Wildhorse Ranch in 2009 to some of the schools parcel taxes to the citys’ sales tax and two of the water issues – my observation is that the city and developers and campaigners are not adept a navigating the minefield of modern politics in a town with highly engaged people who take advantage of blogs, social media, letters to the editor, and just word of mouth.
The water issue is instructive in a lot of ways – they were able to get the project approved but not without a lot of heartache. The public was able to put the matter on the ballot twice. While the city was able to get the water project approved in 2013, the rates were thrown out in 2014. Some of that was avoidable had the city (and project proponents) taken the time to address concerns about the water rates.
Likewise last year we saw a sitting school board member essentially forced to resign after a minor scandal snow-balled and the new media world prevented that elected official from controlling the message.
So it is easy to say – keep your eyes on the prize. However, when issues rise up that could divert the discussion, the city and project proponents need to have the ability to course correct and address concerns.
Right now, the water issue is fairly minor and in the background, but it is has a potential to resonate – so why not nip it in the bud now rather than in three months when it has had a chance to take root?
—David M. Greenwald reporting