Why Not Negotiate?


569fa70c48cd3Soon, voters will be asked to decide the fate of two developer-driven proposals (MRIC, and Nishi).

Why doesn’t the city take a more pro-active approach, regarding developments beyond our city limits? The current process seems to consist of waiting for a proposal, reviewing it, and presenting it to voters.

Voters are in a position of power, in Davis. Why wouldn’t our leaders ask developers to put their “best offer” on the table, to make the proposal more appealing to voters? For example, developers could offer to mitigate the negative effects of development proposals via increased financial contributions to the city, agricultural/open space preservation, or direct construction of desired projects (bike paths, etc.).

This approach might make the process easier for developers, as well. Such an approach may reduce resistance from voters, and increase the chances of approval for any given proposal. Voters would also feel more empowered by the process, and would no longer feel that they are at the “whim” of the latest proposal.


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25 thoughts on “Why Not Negotiate?”

  1. Frankly

    Voters are in a position of power, in Davis.

    Not really.

    Voters are really only in the position to accept or reject proposals from developers.  Developers own the land, and they have certain legal rights as owners of the land.   The city has rights to demand things from the developer up to a point.

    But if you want to fume about this, just go back to when the city owned the Mace 391 parcel and gave it away to the Yolo Land Trust to turn into a permanent agriculture easement for a $500k loss so that we could get another big piece of that farmland moat around the city.   I was on the warpath then, and will never let it slide that we lost the opportunity to control the development of that parcel.  We could have developed half of it and put the other half into ag easement, and had 100% control over how it was developed.  But we pissed it away.

    And now we have the difficulty of having to negotiate with developers that own this other adjacent land.

    And the developers are always going to push to maximize their returns over the wishes and desires of the city to leverage the developer profits for amenities.   We play a cat and mouse game where the developer is the cat.  And no matter how much we would like to see the city as being in the position of negotiating power, it is still the mouse.

    If you want to fume about this, fume about Mace 391.

  2. Ron Post author

    Just a quick reply at the moment:

    My point is that developers might gain more support if they voluntarily offered something “above and beyond” what’s required.  It might even be less expensive (and less risky) for them to do this up front.  And, it would probably reduce conflict.

    Voters in Davis do have power, regarding whether or not to approve a development / zoning change, beyond city limits.

    1. Frankly

      Ron, unfortunately the voting population is not as rational as your comment indicates you think they are.  There is something about human nature to always value their negotiating position as being stronger than it is.  That is why negotiations are necessary.  Otherwise two rational people would just settle on a rational division of value.

      If the developer offers up a bunch of goodies, then that will set a benchmark that the voters will then use to demand more.  Everyone always wants more and think they deserve more.  This is especially true in the city of all things right and relevant.  We think we are sumpin’ special!

      If I were a developer I would always offer the minimum I thought would suffice, and then expect to negotiate up a bit from there.  Remember, we already had one innovation park proposal pull out.  There isn’t an endless tolerance for demands and objections from the voters.  At some point all we can get is all we can get and we need to just vote to approve or reject.

      1. hpierce

        Can’t, frankly, believe you are saying this…  property owner, looking to improve their property, under current entitlements, should not be in a position where they have to negotiate with the neighborhood to put in a “granny flat” if it is consistent with zoning.  Yet, some folk in town insist on exactly that.

        Property owner seeking to’up-zone’ their property to develop, should have to mitigate any increased impacts on the existing community and/or environment, and provide their own infrastructure (called “nexus”).  If it is a discretionary approval, and they want to be fast-tracked (or fast-tracted) over other development, yeah, they should provide “goodies” for that ‘consideration’.

        Property owner seeking to up-zone/develop, should not have go beyond the standards/policies for development ‘in place’.

        The concept I’m seeing espoused, is a property owner being faced with an “I’m thinking of a number between 1-100, and you have to correctly guess it” situation.  And, whatever you guess, we reserve the right to ask more, and if you agree to that (sensing weakness) the City figures, oh, and since you’ve agreed to that, we obviously underestimated “what we can get from you”, and add more demands, and if those are agreed to, we should ask even more.

        Kinda’ like an analogy to what you have espoused, where you (as a business person) should drive your employee compensation down as far as you can until someone is ready to “walk”, whether they are a high-performing or average employee.  Maybe that’s where you come to agreement of others along the lines of how much blood can you extract, and then ask for “fries to go with that”.

        If we need to develop more stringent standards for development, fine.  I find it dishonest and corrupt to change the rules along the way, multiple times.

        Is that how your business operates?  Where you charge the client 200% of your “cost” (including profit/ROR), figuring that you might have to settle for 150% of your costs (in negotiation)? If so, I sincerely hope that I will never require the services your company provides, and will find another.

        BTW, I’m talking philosophy… not sure Nishi has met the thresholds…



        1. Frankly

          Think freedom.

          Freedom for any employee to walk.

          Freedom for any employee to not accept my offer and go work somewhere else.

          Freedom for my clients to drop me and go buy from my competitors.

          Freedom for a land owner to develop or not develop his land.

          Freedom helps keep the other side honest enough, well-performing enough and generous enough… to attract and retain the business relationship with the other party.

          But I am nowhere near as free to do the things as you suggest.  I have big brutha’ gubment telling me a lot of what I can and cannot do in my business.

          But the one thing that big brutha gubment cannot yet tell me to do, is to stay in business.

          That is the point here.  Davis can keep laying on the requirements for the developer, but ultimately Davis cannot force the developer to develop.   All we can do is negotiate.  Sure the land owner cannot develop unless the city says so.  But I would be careful with that feeling of power because the county should be looking to break the pass-through agreement at some point to approve a Davis peripheral development.

        2. hpierce

          “I have big brutha’ gubment telling me a lot of what I can and cannot do in my business.I have big brutha’ gubment telling me a lot of what I can and cannot do in my business.”  But that’s perfectly OK regarding your property, or any modifications you want to do with it?… because, if you ‘enhance it’ you are, in reality, a “developer”… so, you are now “on record” as saying  that is any modification needed to change any aspect of the business property you occupy, should be fully ready to “negotiate” with the public, without any standards or rules?  After all, you have the freedom to move on, abandon the project, etc.  

          OK… I don’t think that’s good government, but have to respect your right to like that.

        3. Frankly

          You are missing the point here.  I am not arguing that gubment should not be able to restrict what I can do.  The point is that they cannot compel me to develop if they impose so many restrictions or demands that it no longer works for me.

          And there are limits to what they can compel me to do to keep my property maintained.  I can make it an ugly eyesore within the planning and zoning codes and everyone has to live with it.

          There are cities throughout the country that have pretty much banned zoning regs because of their support of property owner rights.  Davis is over the top in what the residents think they have the right to demand.  Davis is the opposite of those other cities… and we have a great lack of creative and valuable development projects to show for it.

          Again, the West Davis Innovation Center developer pulled out after hearing the roar of the entitled activists in this city.  How are all those amenities looking now?

        4. Jim Frame

          I have big brutha’ gubment telling me a lot of what I can and cannot do in my business.

          What follows is unrelated to the discussion of development policy or even my thoughts about government in general, but the situation has always seemed so bizarre to me that I thought I’d toss it into the mix just for fun:

          I’m a sole proprietor, and as such not an employee — I don’t have an employer, and I don’t receive a paycheck; I get whatever’s left after the bills are paid.  However, when I contract to provide my services on a project subject to prevailing wage laws, I’m not allowed to earn less than the prevailing wage.  It’s literally against the law — and I could be heavily fined — for me not to earn the equivalent of the statutory prevailing wage.

          I understand and support the concept of prevailing wage laws — there’s a public benefit to preventing a “race to the bottom” for employee wages on public works projects.  But I can’t for the life of me imagine a circumstance in which a sole proprietor would willingly impoverish himself in order to drive down the labor costs of others, so I’m puzzled by the strict application of prevailing wage reporting requirements on sole proprietors.

          I’m *not* puzzled by the reporting I have to do for my employee, that makes sense.  It’s the fact that I have to certify that I’ve received certain wages and benefits when I don’t actually receive any of those.  In complying with the law a sole proprietor may not exactly have to commit fraud, but it comes perilously close.

    2. Mark West

      “My point is that developers might gain more support if they voluntarily offered something “above and beyond” what’s required.”

      I think you position is naive or at least, not pertinent to the world we live in.  No matter what a Developer proposes, the ‘noisy’ of Davis will always complain that it is ‘not good enough.’  Look at the discussions around Nishi and MRIC, and how much of it is focused on people’s expectations of the Developer’s profits, and how much the City ‘deserves’ to get.

      The current environment in Davis is functionally a war zone between the ‘evil’ developers trying to pillage our scarce resources, and the ‘good’ slow-growth progressives of Davis striving to protect the environment and our ‘way of life.’  What you are proposing requires an environment of trust, cooperation and collaboration, something that is not possible in the current climate of confrontation espoused by the noisy.

      1. Ron Post author

        I understand your point.  However, I do believe that if developers offered (or were at least willing) to offer something of value, many voters would consider it.  Perhaps a greater level of trust would result, as well.

        1. Ron Post author

          For example, I’d like to see the developers of MRIC (without housing) offer something more than the tax revenue that would be generated and the agricultural mitigation (that’s already required).  I recall that Mr. Harrington mentioned something like this.

          Just something I’d like to see.

        2. Mark West

          If we want a better level of trust, then we need to stop attacking every project on the assumption that it is ‘bad.’  We live in a town focused on the conflict of protecting ‘what is mine’ at the exclusion of all else. The level of selfishness being expressed in these discussions should be shocking to all, instead, it is viewed as ‘the Davis way.’  We should be focused on how we can make our community stronger, fiscally healthier and more resilient, not just entitling and enabling the noisy.

          An environment of trust will be created by putting the needs of the community ahead of the wants of the individual. Davis has that backwards.

          1. David Greenwald

            I think you are part right here – we have to understand that the first draft of a development proposal is a work in progress. On the other hand, without criticism, I wonder how much these designs would move and evolve. There are also people who disagree with developing a given property – I know you don’t agree with them, but they have the right to their opinion and we have a public process to handle it.

        3. Mark West

          “I think that developers share responsibility, regarding the level of trust.”

          To which I agree, but look at the numbers.  There are far more activists attacking projects than developers trying to create them.  Which side has the greater responsibility for creating an environment of cooperation and collaboration?  If each individual has an equal responsibility to the community, then the majority has a larger share of the combined responsibility.

        4. Mark West

          “On the other hand, without criticism, I wonder how much these designs would move and evolve.”

          You cannot claim to be making a project better by attacking the reputation of a developer using anonymous blog postings. Nor can you do so by calling out project changes as a ‘bait and switch’ or some similarly loaded terminology. Some criticisms are intended to make the project better, others have no purpose other than to block it.

          We can indeed learn from each other and together create a better community (and better projects), but to do so we first have to decide to look beyond our own narrow self-interests and be willing to learn.  

  3. Barack Palin

    We should be focused on how we can make our community stronger, fiscally healthier and more resilient, not just entitling and enabling the noisy.

    I think that’s what I and a few others are trying to get at, we want a fiscally healthier community.

  4. hpierce

    Why settle for ‘negotiation’?  Wouldn’t it be in the community’s best interest to move more towards ‘extortion’?  The concept in the laws, requiring “nexus” is SO limiting… yet staff and CC are shackled by those laws… but voters aren’t… the joys and wisdom of the Measure J/R process!

    Municipal “Let’s Make a Deal”!

    1. Jim Frame

      The concept in the laws, requiring “nexus” is SO limiting… yet staff and CC are shackled by those laws

      Staff and CC are bound to demonstrate nexus when addressing property that’s already subject to their jurisdiction — they have to treat the developer just like all the other citizens.  But when the request is for annexation, isn’t the situation entirely different?  Here’s someone who’s “outside the gate” asking to be let in.  Are there any statutory requirements that a property be annexed simply because the owner requests it, or is the CC allowed to set whatever price of entry it chooses?

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