One of the lines I hear all the time – and, quite frankly, I have grown tired of – is the notion that projects are being “rushed” forward. The reality is that it is almost never the case that projects have materialized out of nowhere, have been put on the front-burner immediately, and will be rammed through by the city council. That does not happen.
The biggest problem here is that most people are not paying sufficient attention to what is happening in their community and so, when they finally take notice, projects tend to be in their implementation rather than planning phase.
I will give you two examples from this week. The Mace Ranch Innovation Center. You can go back to many points in time – I’m going to choose 2010 because it is simple and concrete. The city established a variety of different bodies to look into economic development, but it was the Studio 30 report that identified two potential locations and described the need for a peripheral research, tech, or innovation park.
But of course, in 2010, the proposal was virtually dead on arrival. It was not until spring of 2013, when the council considered Mace 391 and ultimately rejected it twice, that things started moving. The city would revive the Innovation Park Task Force in late 2013. In spring of 2014, Rob White, as CIO, instituted the RFEI (Request for Expressions of Interest) process and the applicants came back with proposals that moved forward in July of 2014, with Mace Ranch Innovation Center being one of the proposals.
But, even with the current process being relatively fast-tracked, you are still looking at a minimum of two years between the council accepting the application and a Measure R vote where the voters will get the ultimate choice. That is certainly fast by city standards, but hardly the making of a rush job.
Critics and opponents on Tuesday also complained about the council rushing through the application for the Hotel-Conference Center. As Michael Bisch noted during his public comments, he first learned of this proposal four years ago.
But, once again, the process can be by no means rushed. The application was finally filled out back in March of 2014. It was revised in April of 2015. It went to the Planning Commission in May of 2015 and council is now approving it in August. Again, it is a little faster than perhaps some projects, but we are still looking at a full year and a half process from submittal to approval, and there are still details that the council will iron out.
The Vanguard advertised to start public outreach for the project in the summer of 2014 – resulting in a meeting that was reportedly well-attended by the public and neighbors.
That is not to say and not to suggest that there are not ways we can do things better or that there aren’t legitimate critiques.
First, as we noted in our column on Friday, there is a reasonable request for an extended review of the Mace Ranch Innovation Center EIR. It is a hefty document, to be sure. More importantly, community members who might otherwise be willing to support such a project are among those making the requests.
Some have argued that the people who need to the read the EIR have already done so, and those doing the complaining “will never support the project.” While that is perhaps a fair point, it is not unequivocally true.
We identified a few people in our column that may well support the project – but are requesting more time to review it. There are people who have specific concerns about the environment, sustainability, transportation, circulation and the like who would like a chance to make sure all of their concerns are addressed. For Mace, we have yet to see how the project pencils out.
From my perspective, while I have been supportive of the innovations parks in concept, I want to see details on key issues before deciding that I support the project.
As I have pointed out previously, while there are those citizens who will for the most part support any project or oppose any project, I believe the majority of residents actually are in the middle two groups – those leaning toward support and those more critical of the proposal. Everyone will come about their ultimate decision in their own way, and attempting to compress all groups into a dichotomous classification is not only inaccurate, it is also not good public policy.
For me, I still need to see that the project is going to pencil out fiscally. I need to see a commitment to reduce GHG (greenhouse gases) and VMT (vehicle miles traveled) through an alternative transportation plan. I need to see a project that is sufficiently sustainable and looks toward alternative energy sources.
And finally, the project really needs to fit into the community. I view tech park campuses that look like extensions of the university as a true asset. A project that looks out of place to our community is going to have a lot more difficult time getting my vote.
But back to the main point of this column – we have spent a lot of time pressing the city to do outreach better. We have at times helped in that regard by having critical community discussions and forums. And I think the city is slowly – very slowly – starting to look at social media as an asset and starting to do better outreach to the public.
By the same token, the public needs to pay more attention to what is going on in City Hall. Councilmembers are particularly sensitive to people they have never seen before in their chambers coming forward to complain that something is being thrust on them at the last minute, when council has been discussing it for years.
As Katherine Hess noted during her presentation on Tuesday, both the Enterprise and Vanguard have had multiple stories on the Hotel-Conference Center. The city has held forums, as has the applicants. At some point people, need to pay attention or stop complaining.
That said, I think it would serve everyone’s purpose to have a set policy on how to do outreach. To some extent this occurs – but we need a set number of public outreaches and the timing requirements for those, and to identify the commissions that hear them and provide input.
A checklist with who needs to hear and by when could assist in this.
But at the end of the day, we should have a system in place that allows for the timely processing of applications and allows the applicant to have more certainty in the timing from application to approval.
All of those considerations are fair, but the one thing that is not fair is this notion that the absence of some of these processes means the projects are rushed through. I have never seen a major project that goes from conception to application to approval in less than several years.
—David M. Greenwald reporting