On Tuesday night, the council received an update on the status of the Mace Ranch Innovation Center and Nishi. Both projects await the EIR and other studies before proceeding. What was not discussed on Tuesday was the city’s overall status on economic development, in light of major shakeups with the CIO (chief innovation officer) position.
The council also received an update from subcommittee members Robb Davis and Rochelle Swanson on their listening tour. The city also received several public comments, including from Elaine Roberts Musser who expressed concerns about the tone and tenor of the listening tour, and from Chris Granger of Cool Davis who urged the council to press for more innovative and sustainable design.
Dan Ramos, representing the Mace Ranch Innovation Center, briefly assured the council, “We remain fully committed” to going forward with the project.
Elaine Roberts Musser attended the May 27 Innovation Park forum at Emerson Junior High. She described that, while the conversation began politely enough, “it soon devolved into a more mean-spirited exchange against innovation parks.”
An audience member who spoke in favor of innovation parks was “cut off by an opponent – the opponent loudly flung a false accusation claiming the speaker was a shill for the developer.”
Mayor Pro Tem Robb Davis had to intercede and “the offender left.” Ms. Musser continued, “This type of disreputable behavior was rampant throughout the surface water campaign. Apparently some believe that all’s fair in love and politics, no matter how reprehensible their actions.”
“Unfortunately this kind of unsportsmanlike conduct keeps good citizens away from community gatherings. No one wants to be shouted down or disrespected for speaking their mind at a public venue,” she said. In her experience on the water issues, “this sort of negative dialogue has to be controlled. The closer the city gets to goal line, the more strident the opposition to the innovation parks will become.”
She recommended against having informal townhall meetings. “It provides a venue where opponents to an issue unfairly spew venom in a free-for-all that feeds on itself and ramps up more intense bad behavior.”
Ms. Musser said that the innovation park campaign will be “a tough slog.” “But it can be won with determination, perseverance and strong leadership.”
Elaine Roberts Musser noted that the city made tough calls on the budget and insisted that the sunset of the sales tax be included in budget projects. However, at the innovation park forum, “an individual who identified himself as a representative of the Binning Tract, urged the city to de-emphasize its budget problems when explaining the need for innovation parks.”
She added, “How convenient when this homeowner doesn’t have to pay city taxes because he lives outside of the city limits. Yet he very likely enjoys those city amenities he doesn’t pay for. We cannot allow disingenuous people like this to control the message.”
People living outside the city cannot vote in a Measure R election and she argued that city meetings need to be more formalized, giving everyone a chance to more freely speak without being ostracized or criticized for their views.
Chris Granger of Cool Davis said, “The biggest change coming at us is climate change.” Cool Davis has been encouraging “long-lasting, sustainable innovation.”
“How innovative can we get with the new buildings and the new systems and the new neighborhoods that we’re talking about designing,” she said. “I want to lay that challenge out there for you again that we really hold these projects to very high standards for the future – for the future of the young people in our community and the future for the people who don’t yet live in our community, we can truly live sustainable lives in the future.”
Robb Davis explained that their purpose for doing the listening tour “was to have open forums where people could come and basically raise questions, share concerns and quite frankly when we went into it, we didn’t know what the nature of it might be.”
He explained that there were three things that stuck out for him with the three forums. “There was clearly people raising concerns about the impacts of these projects,” he said. Impacts including everything from vehicles to heights of buildings to use of land. The folks on the northwest side expressed a lot more concern.
“For the most part, we did what we set out to do, which was listen to those concerns,” the mayor pro tem said.
He said they didn’t go into the meetings with formalized ground rules as you might have in other settings. “I don’t want it to be overstated that they were sort of like a free-for-all, a screaming match or something like that. They were not at all.” He added, “For the most part people abided by typical community rules.”
“In one case passions ran a little bit over the top,” he said. “That’s understandable.”
Robb Davis said he draws the line where “people stand up and accuse members of the community of malfeasance or misrepresentation, or they accuse members of council or the staff or the same, I’m not going to sit up there and say that’s okay.”
Second, he said, they got a lot of factual questions about timing and how Measure R actually works. As he pointed out, we have not done Measure R very often. There were questions about annexation.
There were a lot of questions about the studies.
Finally, he said, “there were interestingly a lot of questions about the concept of innovation itself.” Robb Davis said, “Does innovation mean anything or is it merely a marketing concept and the way I would think about it is that innovation represents an intentionality about creating a certain type of space. A space where it actually becomes a place where people want to come together to develop things together.”
Mayor Pro Tem Davis continued, “So I think there is an intentionality about the word – it don’t think it’s merely a marketing tool. I think it’s actually something that we would like to achieve. It means also innovative design. The way we think about the design of those spaces is not just putting buildings up on a plot of earth but we think about creating sustainable place.”
Councilmember Rochelle Swanson made some key points as well. She said that what she and Robb Davis wanted “is specifically a listening tour to take feedback and to hear what people had to say.” There will be more when the EIRs come forward “to really try and engage the public.”
She said the meetings weren’t so much disorderly, because they tried to be fair with the input and prioritized people who hadn’t spoken at previous meetings. Councilmember Swanson said, “I will say that yes, the tone has at times gotten disrespectful when it gets between community members and that’s not what we want to see.”
She said, “We want to foster that opportunity to really come and share their viewpoints – that was the whole point. I know that’s a little bit different from the way we’ve done outreach in the past where it’s been less give and take. It’s a lot of information from city pushed out.”
“We’re really trying to change that,” she said.
Councilmember Swanson pointed out, “We need to get better as a city with our messaging.” There is the budget piece and look at our review. She said, “It’s really about a commitment to being a host community with a university.”
Finally she said, “We do want to encourage getting a wider swatch of the community there.” She expressed concern that people will worry about coming to these meetings because of the tone.
The council would then move the staff recommendations and approve them unanimously. These included: approving a resolution adopting Development Agreement negotiation protocols for the Innovation Centers and Nishi Gateway; Approve the Budget Adjustment for allocating private planning application fees of $195,773 (for Mace Ranch Innovation Center), $23,143 (for Davis Innovation Center), and $92,765 (for Nishi Gateway) to cover 100% of contract amounts; and approving the Resolution authorizing the City Manager to execute amended contracts with Raney Planning and Management, Ponticello Enterprises Consulting Engineers, and Ascent Environmental for services for the Mace Ranch Innovation Center and Nishi Gateway applications, as outlined in this staff report.
—David M. Greenwald reporting