Monday Morning Thoughts II: Fifth Time the Charm on Paso Fino?


There is probably plenty of blame to go around on the Paso Fino Project, but in our view there has been entirely too much city and community time and resources spent on what was at most a 12-unit project with eight houses and four granny flats, which is now down to six units.

From the perspective of the neighbors and some community members, the idea of the city swapping or selling a greenbelt seemed like a bad idea from the start. Unusual or typical, using city assets for private development is an issue that has resonated with the population.

A secondary issue has been that of the non-native Canary Island Pines, where the city may go so far as designating them as landmark trees.

While some have portrayed the developers as bad guys in this scenario, they have certainly stuck this process out. Clearly, they have been frustrated at times. For instance, in February, the Davis City Council unanimously supported Plan D, created by the city as a compromise on Paso Fino. They did so despite a warning from the applicant that the plan was unworkable.

“The city’s Plan D you cannot build one house on any of those lots,” Dave Taormino, one of the applicants, told council following public comment. “Yes it’s very pretty, but no one measured the driveways, no one took into consideration the 40 foot worth of easements on the western side. So while it’s pretty, it’s not buildable.”

As staff noted at the time back in February, they appreciate the efforts of the applicant to respond to concerns about trees and preservation of greenbelts, but the latest proposal “does not go far enough to address the concerns raised.”

So here we are again, now four months later and for the first time it looks like we could have an agreement. The developers submitted three alternative Plan E’s. Staff says it recommends Option #1, “because it substantially reflects the February 3, 2015, City Council direction regarding approvable plan.”

According to staff, this option, which is similar to Options #2 and #3, “proposes to change approximately 0.43-acre of the existing 0.75-acre Neighborhood Greenbelt parcel to Residential Low Density land use designation. This is intended to facilitate the proposed six-lot residential subdivision while retaining the Canary Island Pine trees.”

However, staff notes, “Alternative Plan E Options #2 and #3 do not reflect the two main components of conceptual Alternative Plan D, which are 1) reduction of the number of units from eight to six and 2) retention of the Canary Island Pine trees within public owned land as envisioned in the 2009 approval.”

The issue of the greenbelt and the potential for the city to swap the greenbelt has been at the center of the policy dispute from the start.

At the February meeting, Councilmember Brett Lee raised the concern that, when people moved into Wildhorse, there was a city-owned buffer. “It’s reasonable to assume that a city-owned buffer will remain a city-owned buffer,” he said.

He said our first decision is, “We have land designated as a greenbelt, what is our policy for selling that?” He suggested we make a determination based not only on this parcel, but also in general terms. “I’m not really comfortable with this idea that we’re selling or swapping a greenbelt, that’s my sticking point,” he added.

On the other hand, other councilmembers seemed less concerned about this specific issue. “I’m really not worried about this becoming a precedent,” Mayor Pro Tem Robb Davis stated. “This is clearly a unique thing in our city.” He added, “You said it in your staff report, the city does not sell greenbelts.”

“We can acknowledge that this is a unique situation. It was a buffer designed for a very specific purpose, at a very specific point in time and that time has passed and we’re going to do something a little bit different, it’s out of the ordinary, it’s unique,” he said.

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Rochelle Swanson added, “This isn’t something that’s going to set precedent.” She said there is no comment on record that would suggest “that this council or anyone is in the business of selling greenbelts.”

We have not heard from the residents on this alternative yet – though on the surface it would appear to satisfy their concerns. We hope that this puts to rest the issue of Paso Fino.

In the future, we would hope the city could forge out more specific guidelines of the use of city land for private development, the role of trees, and the true goals of infill development.

As the city looks inward for new development, it has pushed for greater density. We already see neighbors raising objections to density in the Sterling Apartments. Right now the city seems to be adjudicating these kinds of disputes on a case-by-case basis, which is not only inefficient but produces inconsistent policies.

More consistency would help to establish rules for developers and expectations for neighbors and might make the process go smoother in the long run.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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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    1. hpierce

      No, actually the biggest mistake was the City accepting the land @ the time of the Wildhorse development.  The parcel was created by the Wildhorse developer to “buy off” the Hausslers.  But the retired Hausslers were afraid to accept the land in fee, as it could affect their property tax status.  Against the advice of Parks staff, the City accepted the parcel, without the normal improvements that would be required for a “greenbelt to nowhere”.  You can thank the Planning staff and CC for that call.

      When the original proposal for four lots on the Haussler property came forward, years ago, the Parks staff proposed and promoted the exchange for the “buffer” for more ‘greenstreet’ next to Covell, which Parks and PW had suggested with the original Wildhorse development, but originally (with Wildhorse) was shot down by the Hausslers, City ‘planners’, and CC.  That concept (to fix the error) was approved by the City.

      Fun to watch the revisionist history and the druid movement to protect the now iconic Canary Island pines play out.

      1. hpierce

        BTW, in my opinion, the older proposal for four lots, with a common access across from the existing street connection, was the ‘highest and best use’ for the property, with elimination of the stupid City parcel on the east end (and no maintenance requirements by the City), and improvements to the Covell Boulevard frontage like Parks and PW have long advocated for.

        1. Matt Williams

          For anyone who wants to see the old plan and the current plan side by side, here is a graphic.

          Current CVFPP Estimated Budget

          Looking at the 2009 plan, I’ve often wondered if the configuration of lots/houses on Koso Street in South Davis wouldn’t be the highest and best use.

          Current CVFPP Estimated Budget

        2. hpierce

          Matt.. thank you for pointing out an inadvertent error on my previous post (was missing the word “not” — typo)… what the CC approved years ago was NOT what Parks and PW recommended.  The CC caved on the “buffer”, originally designed for the Hausslers, but then co-opted by the Wildhorse non-native species, as “theirs”.

  1. Tia Will

     “This isn’t something that’s going to set precedent.”

    I fundamentally disagree with this idea expressed by Rob Davis and Rochelle Swanson. While I completely believe each when they say that it is not their intent to set “precedent”, I do not believe that they are accurate that it could not do so. Once an action is taken, it can by definition be seen as “precedent setting”. I think it is critically important to separate one’s own intent in taking an action from how others may use or interpret that action in the future.


    1. hpierce

      Putting this in terms that you might relate to… the creation of the parcel called a ‘City greenbelt’ by some, was a “product” of ‘mis-conception’, and never should have existed.

    2. Davis Progressive

      when most people think of a greenbelt in davis, they view an open expanse of sidewalk and green lawns.  the paso fino property has a shaded expanse of dirt, unimproved with trees.  so if you use that land which had a very specific purpose of buffering the haussler home for a new property because the haussler home is about to be demolished, are you really creating a precedent?

  2. Davis Progressive

    looks like the neighbors are supportive:


    At its Tuesday meeting, the City Council is scheduled to vote on Taormino & Associates’ latest proposal for the “Paso Fino” site in Wildhorse, a hard-fought compromise that neighbors and concerned citizens can support.

    This compromise (Alternative Plan E, Option 1) enhances the neighborhood greenbelt on the east side of the project, creates a pedestrian-bike path along Covell and brings into public ownership a grove of 60-foot-tall, 60-year-old Canary Island pines that provide habitat for Swainson’s hawks and other wildlife. Under this plan, six new homes will be built on the private property where one house now sits.

    The public loses about one-third of an acre of designated neighborhood greenbelt under this compromise, but after two years of negotiations we believe it is the best outcome we can reasonably expect. While smaller overall, the greenbelt would be consolidated into a more useable configuration for bikes, pedestrians, shade lovers and bird watchers. A companion request before the City Council on Tuesday asks for landmark designation for the grove of pines, to help ensure that they will survive to provide shade, beauty and raptor habitat for decades to come.

    We are grateful for all the support from the community over the past two years and ask for your continued support on Tuesday when this issue comes before the City Council. Please let the Council know that Alternative Plan E, Option 1, is a reasonable compromise that enhances the eastern greenbelt and brings a grove of irreplaceable trees into public ownership.

    Claudia Morain
    Friends of the Greenbelts

        1. Davis Progressive

          by who saying no?  the council?  unless people who don’t live in those areas come forward and speak out, the council is not going to say no to the neighbors.

        2. hpierce

          DP… why can’t the CC say no to BOTH the developer (who has the only issue on the table) and the ‘neighbors’… or do you believe neighbors should have veto power for all land use decisions?  And if you do, consider whether they should have veto power over ANY aspect of your life that potentially might affect them?

        3. hpierce

          DP… sad to think our CC members are so craven… I hope you are wrong, but am afraid you are correct… I remember where CC members (multiple Cities) actually were public servants, caring for the community, not ‘counting noses’.  Maybe too long in the tooth.  In a gig early in my career, worked for a City where employees, Dept Heads, CC members played tennis on sunny days, all committed to “community”… serving the community, and looking to ‘serve an ace’.  Pick up games, where “status” was not a criteria for teams, but yeah, we picked folk for skill.

          Guess I’m a dinosaur.

        4. hpierce

          BTW, DP, not just this council plays/played to the “audience”… reason I’ve always had mixed feelings about the live/recorded public meetings… on one hand, everyone can see the issues, and how they are ‘resolved’.  The dark side is everyone becomes a “performer” and can resemble the “games” put on in Rome ~ 2000 years ago.  Not good governance, in my opinion.

        5. Davis Progressive

          it may not be just this council, but this council is actually worse in that regard than most.  a previous council would make no apology about going against the crowd in the room – for better and for worse

        6. Robb Davis

          DP: “this council caters to the loudest voice in the room.”  and “…this council is actually worse in that regard than most.” 

          I let the first one go but after the second one…

          Quite simply, I reject this notion.  To what possible purpose could you be writing such blather?

          You clearly do not have a clue as to how CC members go about examining issues, reading staff reports, listening to community input, listening to commission input, and meeting with staff to go over issues, tradeoffs, potential precedent setting actions, and short and long-term costs.  The decision making process on this and other issues has nothing to do with “loudness” of opponents or proponents.  The process has to do with hard work, listening and considering various perspectives and tradeoffs and, ultimately, trying to do what is best for the city.

          Such accusations are not helpful.

          They are facile.

          They lack evidence.

          They presume, in a godlike way, to know the thoughts and intentions in the hearts and minds of CC members.

          They are missiles launched into the public discourse with no other goal than to create discord, distrust and enmity.

          They do not move any agenda item or any conversation forward.

        7. Davis Progressive

          really mr. mayor pro tem?  i have every faith that you are diligent and principled, but you can’t tell me that a certain mayor who has not read the staff report prior to the meeting isn’t figuring out which side of the bread his toast is buttered?  i have seen on more than one issue a council moved by the voices in the room.  don’t take personal affront, you were not the intended recipient of the charge.

        8. Robb Davis

          Yes, really, Mr/Ms DP: Bring the evidence.  Give me your proof.  Correlation does not equal causality.  Therefore, unless you can lay out causal evidence, lay off.

          Your (usually cheerful, but at times cranky) Mayor Pro Tem

        9. Davis Progressive

          you’re demanding a citizen prove an observation?  i have no proof.  i have watched council meetings for a long time and you can see it as its happening, but there is no proof.  you don’t think some of your colleagues are less prepared than you and stick their finger in the air to see which way the wind is blowing?  i would suggest – respectfully – you’re either being too polite or a bit naive.

        10. ryankelly

          I tend to lean toward Robb’s position.  I’d say that the Wagstaff/Harrington/Greenwald Council tended to respond to the loudest voices in the room.  The Boyd/Asmundson Council swung toward responding to the voices not in the room.  I think the current council is somewhere in the middle, which the community asked them to do – come prepared to the meeting, ask questions and get clarification before the meetings where feasible, address community concerns including both the soft and loud voices, and then vote responsibly.

  3. SODA

    The neighbors to the west of the project have been less vocal but concerned that the various plans would impact them. Anyone know what they think of this latest plan?

  4. Don Shor

    Staff has done a lot of hard work on this and this proposal is an excellent compromise. The property line as shown in the staff report and linked above provides maximum protection to the pines. The arborist’s recommendations have been incorporated into the recommendation for the development agreement. It is the firm hired by the developer and has an outstanding reputation. The configuration allows greater housing density than the original plans. Along with deed restrictions,  the Landmark status, if approved by the council, provides an additional layer of protection for the trees after construction and sale of the properties. The neighbors’ concerns have mostly been addressed and the builder stands to make a lot of money.

    City staff really should get kudos for this.

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