The Mace Ranch Innovation Center (MRIC) proposal coming back to council has lit up a normally low period in the news cycle. MRIC has come back on the table with a stripped down 102-acre proposal but a stepped up timeline, hoping to get it on the November ballot.
Yesterday I got a call to action asking for people to come to the council meeting “to speak against the fast tracking of the Mace Ranch Innovation Center.” The concerns laid out are legitimate – “Once again, this will be a violation of process, one of the same problems with Nishi. There is insufficient time for a full public process if council is to get this proposal on the November ballot. That gives the city, the council and the public a little over a month to work out all the details, present to various commissions, do a complete fiscal analysis on pluses and minuses for the city, among other issues.”
These are legitimate concerns for sure, in fact not one person I have talked to – councilmember or city manager – was unaware that this would be a very tight timeline. Maybe even too tight.
My concern is this – the initial response to challenges always seems to be the word “no.” It is not, “Hey, we know we have a tight timeline, let’s see if we can’t make something work before saying no.” It is simply no.
So let us start with this – is the answer always going to be no, no matter what? In other words, if you are against a project on Mace or any peripheral area, just say it up front. You are entitled to that view, but let us not go into false pretenses about a project if you are always going to oppose new development there.
I will put my cards on the table here. I support in concept the idea of an innovation center on the full 218 acres of the Mace Ranch Innovation Center proposal.
First, as the budget analysis demonstrates, we are in desperate need of additional revenue in this community.
Second, Mace is a good location in that it has immediate freeway access. It has proximity to county access roads. And it has proximity to the rail tracks.
Third, some have called this sprawl, but this is a property that is effectively walled off. To the east and to the north, Mace 391 has been put into a conservation easement, therefore, the project does not open us up to more development toward the east.
That does not mean I will automatically support any project there – but I support the idea in concept. And as a non-profit, the Vanguard will remain neutral on any Measure R vote.
Everyone involved knows that this is going to be an extremely heavy lift to get it on the ballot for November. I have heard various deadlines for doing so, but one date I have heard is that everything must be worked out by July 26. That effectively means early July for the council to act.
While some point out the development agreement will not be done in time for the deadline, the development agreement was not done for Measure P – Wildhorse Ranch – before the deadline either. Of course, that proved a problem for the ballot measure.
The EIR would have to be somehow reworked to account for the scaled-down proposal. There would have to be sufficient economic analysis – as an innovation center, one could argue that the amount of expected revenue is perhaps the most important measurement.
We would have to figure out the sustainability features. We would have to figure out traffic impacts.
Can we get all of this done in four to six weeks? Probably not. But we don’t have to say no tonight. We could spend tonight trying to figure out the art of the possible, while still adhering to the proper process.
A short time frame doesn’t necessarily mean a bad process. Expediting a matter doesn’t necessarily mean we should doom it.
People kept asking during the Measure A campaign for Nishi – what is the rush? The answer was in part that it really wasn’t rushed because the process had played out over a period of years. The other answer is that part of the rush was the artificial time barriers that a vote creates. In other words, Nishi wanted to go on the ballot in June in part because, otherwise, it would have to wait until November and that would generate questions and uncertainties about what else would be up for a vote.
For MRIC, there are three reasons to push for a quicker vote. First, there are concerns about Schilling Robotics. I know people want to downplay it, but that is tax revenue for the city and jobs that are on the line. We knew previously that they had a tight timeline for looking elsewhere – what we don’t know today is what that timeline is.
Second, read the economic analysis in the budget. We have a huge backlog of projects and needs, and insufficient revenue to address them long-term. MRIC is a long-term project, but crucial for our long-term strategy.
Third, this November election figures to have 80-percent voter participation. A special election in March will cost more money for the applicant and have a much smaller universe of voters. If you have millions on the line, you want to go in November if at all possible. If you want community-based decisions, do you want elections determined by 35 percent of the voters or 80 percent of the voters? I hope the answer here is clear.
In the end, I suspect the answer will end up being that this is too tight for council’s comfort. I believe we should push ahead so that the fallback position is for a March 2017 vote – whatever we do now is stuff that doesn’t have to happen later.
I just don’t think we have to say no tonight – we can wait to see what is possible and even try to work to make it possible, if we believe in concept that there should be some sort of project there as opposed to no project.
—David M. Greenwald reporting