My View: Stop Saying Projects Are Being Rushed Forward

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Rodney Robinson illustrates the volume of material in the EIR.
Rodney Robinson illustrates the volume of material in the EIR.

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

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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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18 thoughts on “My View: Stop Saying Projects Are Being Rushed Forward”

  1. hpierce

    To clarify for the folk who might be interested… the document being reviewed at this point is NOT the “EIR”… it is the DRAFT EIR.  Here’s the process (Readers’ Digest version)…
    A project is identified.  An Environmental Assessment is prepared by Staff.  It is reviewed by staff across department lines.  A ‘determination’ is made as to what environmental document is deemed needed.  This could result in a “Cat EX” (Categorical Exemption, defined by law), a “Stat EX” (Statutory Exemption, also defined by law), a focussed EIR (limited to areas of concern, based on EA), or a ‘full’ EIR. [can’t find form on City website, or I would cite].  This determination is publicly available, and is subject to challenge.

    IF either a focussed EIR or ‘full’ EIR is called for, there is a ‘scoping’ outreach, noticed and available to the public, either by attending meetings, or submitting comments in writing.

    Once the scoping is complete (usually a Consultant has been selected earlier, based on the EA, and staff’s judgement of ‘scope’), the consultant does their analysis, with input from staff as to basic information, including background on capacities of systems, etc.  They often collect their own data (ex. “traffic”).  It should be noted that the consultant is HIRED by the City, its ‘client’, but the applicant is charged for the full cost of the consultant and staff review.

    Then, an “Admin Draft” is prepared and reviewed by staff for completeness and accuracy… it is NOT a public document.  Traditionally, COD staff work to make sure it is “bullet proof”… unlikely to be questioned by ANYONE, whether proponents or opponents (or, at least “defensible”).  This timeline often has a lot of pressure on staff to “hurry up” (short timelines).

    After reviewing, consulting, etc., the staff is given a “screen check” EIR.  Remember the EIR is a City document.  An additional time to “get it right” before public release.

    Next is the “Draft EIR” where we are now on Mace.

    NOW the public can review, ask questions, make comments/challenges to technical info, etc.

    After the review period is complete, staff and consultant will address all questions, comments, etc., and issue a “Response to Comments”.  This may include changes, clarifications to the Draft EIR.  If substantial errors, changes, etc. are identified, the Draft must be ‘recirculated’, with a new public review period (limited to ‘changes’, no “late hits”, unless circumstances have actually changed).  And new “Response to Comments”.

    Once all this has taken place, the City Council (following a PH, as I recall) is asked to ‘certify’ the EIR [the “Final EIR” consists of the Draft, Comments, Response to comments, Mitigation Measures, and Mitigation Monitoring plan] as adequate disclosure to make a decision on the application.  That action is subject to legal challenge within a certain period of time.

    Yeah, sounds to me like “rushing things”.  NOT!

     

    1. Anon

      Thanks for the helpful primer on process for a project like this.  It is extremely helpful.  I heartily agree with you and the Vanguard that MRIC is not being “rushed”.  Anyone that thinks that is just making things up because they oppose the project, or has not been paying attention.

      I understand the wish to extend draft EIR discussions another 45 days, but I would not favor that approach if it would push the MRIC to a later ballot beyond June 2016.  Shilling will only have so much patience before they up and leave town, and momentum for innovation parks will be lost.  What most folks want to know, anyway, is just how much tax revenue is likely to be generated by MRIC.  That is the bigger concern for the majority of folks is my guess.

      1. hpierce

        Oh, and be aware that most of the city staff involved before the “public” release of the Draft EIR are Davis residents, and/or are very aware of the concerns of the general public, AND the “activists”.  That is a lens they look through when doing their professional work, but they also bring their own knowledge and judgement into play.

        Am glad my ‘synopsis’ was helpful to you, Anon.

      2. Tia Will

        Anon

        While I am in agreement with you and hpierce that these proposals are not being rushed through. I take exception to one point that you made.

        I understand the wish to extend draft EIR discussions another 45 days, but I would not favor that approach if it would push the MRIC to a later ballot beyond June 2016.  Shilling will only have so much patience before they up and leave town, and momentum for innovation parks will be lost. “

        I do not believe that the length of time for review, comment and deliberation prior to a vote should be limited by the time frame of any given business or business owner. If Schilling or any other business owner sees it as in his best interest to leave, that is the appropriate decision for him. We should not be tailoring public process to fit the perceived temporal needs of any given business.

        1. hpierce

          “We should not be tailoring public process to fit the perceived temporal needs of any given business.”  By the same token, we should not be tailoring the process to fit the perceived ‘needs’ of a few anti-project activists.

  2. Frankly

    In the dicsipline of project management we actively seek out all the project stakeholders and involve them early to gather all their needs, wants and criticisms.  We say “here is your chance to have some influence on the project design and outcomes.”  But at some milestone the investment in design and build takes place.  Delaying those milestones adds risks and costs to the project.

    Davis’s municiple development vetting process is rigorous enough. There is ample opportunity to influece the project and outcomes.  The people that care strungly about the project generally do pay attention and come to the meetings.

    Those that get involved as late critics are generally just people that are in opposition to the project.  Ideally we should feel good about ignorning their demands due to the rigors of our process.

    However, we have Measure R.   And because of Measure R any committed opponent can launch a FUD campaign and derail the project at that vote milestone.

    What does that mean for Davis and these types of project?  It means that we have to also add the cost of constant political wrangling.  And this is a cost of direct democracy.  Many of us treasure Measure R, but it favors the blockers of progress.

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      “What does that mean for Davis and these types of project? It means that we have to also add the cost of constant political wrangling. And this is a cost of direct democracy. Many of us treasure Measure R, but it favors the blockers of progress.”

      Since I don’t see anyway around that, but I do think we shouldn’t dismiss concerns of people who are critics and even opponents of projects – they may well have good suggestions for improving them and they may well be won over (or others like them) by the incorporation of those suggestions.

  3. Barack Palin

    Why do we even care if there are a few in the community who feel these projects are being rushed?  I’ll bet if a poll were taken asking if people felt that Davis was rushing projects through it would show that these people are by far in the minority.  Are we going to back these projects up because a few people are speaking out.  It’s always the same group, a few vocal activists who get their friends together and try to sway the council.  Our city council needs to start ignoring this group.

        1. David Greenwald Post author

          I support the ability of the citizens to work with the applicant to improve the project or have the ability to reject a project that the majority does not support.

  4. Michael Harrington

    Until the public sees the draft EIR and more on the project itself, it’s hard to know whether or how to react.

    An example:  back in about 2001, UCD had prepared its draft EIR for the campus expansion, and the CC had it to review.  It was —- massive.   On the eve of the CC agenda item, I got a call from Jean Jackman …. she asked if I knew what a “biolab” was, because the EIR had one listed as a project that UCD intended to build where the horse barns were.  I didn’t know, and am sure that not one of the CC members knew at that time that UCD was proposing to bring the world’s most dangerous pathogens to our community using anti-terrorism federal funding, but I promised to bring it up at the CC meeting.  The rest is history, and the CC ended up voting 5/0 to oppose the biolab.  In the face of enormous city and campus wide opposition, UCD ended up pulling the billion dollar project.  The point is that until the public sees those basic summary documents, it’s difficult to engage with any specificity.

     

    The present proposal for the Hotel Conference Center was much different even a couple of years ago, and so it’s not fair to say that THIS project as we saw it the other night at CC had been around for public comment for four years, like Michael Bisch said during public comments.

     

    How many years has Nishi development been kicked around?  20 or 30?  Now, finally, the public has a solid, detailed planning document to look at.  The draft EIR review process of 45 days is way too short, and should be extended at least 45 days.

     

    People like to live in Davis.  Nearly everything you see here was at one time the subject of citizen input into the planning process, sometimes quite contentious both politically and legally.  The point is, that at the end of the day,  these projects need to meet community needs and while minimizing the impacts.

     

    The Davis Hotel and Conference Center would meet several needs of the community, but at what cost to traffic and historical resources?  We don’t really know, because the City chose to attempt to use the neg decl environmental short cut, and chose to avoid most of the usual commission review process.

     

    I and many believe that these two shortcuts are not appropriate given the size of the project and its location at such an impacted location.

     

    T

    1. Davis Progressive

      “The Davis Hotel and Conference Center would meet several needs of the community, but at what cost to traffic and historical resources? ”

      so you disbelieve the traffic analysis?  all you have to do is drive out there at key parts of the day and you can figure out that a hotel is probably not going to add traffic during peak hours and therefore will not impact the road which is fine to drive on except during those peak hours.

  5. Tia Will

    hpierce

    By the same token, we should not be tailoring the process to fit the perceived ‘needs’ of a few anti-project activists.”

    Agreed. And that is the value of a city wide vote.

    1. hpierce

      It’s late, but you gave me a big smile, Alan… have always reacted negatively to people who tell me how I should believe and/or feel.  Or act on those beliefs/feelings.  Best to you.

       

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