As I write this, the Vanguard has learned that Mace Ranch Innovation Center has withdrawn its proposal. The Vanguard will have more on this development as information becomes available.
Here I want to draw on some thoughts about how Nishi worked and now about the MRIC process. There are those who have argued that Measure R has worked as it was supposed to here. I disagree. If you believe that Measure R is simply in place to stop projects, particularly bad ones, then you might have a point that it has worked as intended. But from a community planning process I think it is a failure.
First of all, unlike some, I come at this from the perspective of someone who believes in small “d” democracy and who supports in concept the idea of community-based planning and Measure R in specific.
My first problem here is that, despite the fact that Measure R is supposed to make for a community-based process, it actually brings the community in too late in the process. This leads to the odd dynamic where the community opponents ask why this was rushed to the ballot and the developers say, what the heck are you talking about, we’ve been working on this for eight years.
The reality is that both sides are actually correct here. Nishi is a good example – I remember attending planning sessions along the way where the developers sought input from the community and only a small number of engaged citizens attended. By the time the public really gets involved in the process it is fairly late, and suddenly the developer, city and council are under the gun to get a project on the ballot.
That brings us to the second problem – the need to get a measure on the ballot creates an artificially compressed timeline. The reality is that the election cycle is not friendly to these type of projects because there are hard deadlines that must be hit, and there is no flexibility to get the project to go through another round or two of changes.
Pushing a project that is 70, 80 or 90 percent done to the next election might be problematic from the standpoint of the developers and their investors.
A non-Measure R project would have allowed for more refining than Nishi got. But we can look at the Cannery, as well, to see the upside to the Measure R process. Cannery had no such need to get voter approval – that left the developers in the position where they could hold out for their preferred path, they only needed and received three votes, and the process allowed them multiple bites at the apple to try to change their project.
So we are left at a conundrum here – the answer to what is the rush is a combination of factors from the inattentiveness of citizens early in the process, the need to adhere to electoral timetables but the need for the community to have a strong say in the process.
Nishi’s apparent narrow defeat (depending on the results of counting the additional ballots), illustrates the strengths and the weaknesses of the Measure R project. There was a lot of late community input, the developers were responsive to many of the criticisms, they refined their project but ultimately ran into a hard deadline and hoped for the best.
As councilmembers noted on Tuesday, the process for Nishi was actually fairly strong but, in the end, there were some mistakes that got magnified during the Measure R process and it narrowly lost.
From the developers’ perspective, Nishi represents a problem – a fairly strong project, but in the end it was a crap shoot at the polls and it lost.
Leery of these lessons, the council set up to at least consider MRIC on its merits. I think we can point to a number of problems along the way for MRIC. Some have attributed nefarious intent to the developers, but here I think the maxim applies: do not assign to malice what can be explained by error.
As I understand it, the RFEI (Request for Expressions of Interest) process pushed for a commercial-only project but, as the EIR process came down, the city insisted that an alternative scenario examine a mixed-use proposal. This was a mistake because it pushed the developer and its investors to believe that the best alternative was mixed-use.
The council, reading the tea leaves in February, tried to put an end this push by insisting on going forward with the commercial-only project. At this point, the investors, wary already about their prospects of electoral victory, balked and caused the project to pause.
Why did it come back? We didn’t get a complete answer to that on Tuesday. I continue to suspect this was driven by Schilling Robotics’ needs.
The problem faced by the council was clear – they could kill the project and I believe they ultimately would have had to. However, they felt obligated to at least give the developer a week, or until July 12, to see about making it work.
Robb Davis clearly believed that this process would tear apart the community – I can’t really argue with that. I believe him when he said that he wanted to see a project that could win, and he was skeptical about this process.
As noted on Tuesday in my column – I did not want the first answer from the city to be no. However, I expected we would have gotten to no and, probably, the developers figured this out and killed it themselves.
There are some who want to blame this process on the council for even pushing it to this point – they were in a tough spot. I firmly believe we need an innovation park, and I think most on the council agree. However this wasn’t ever the way to get there.
My concern going forward is that the process is problematic from everyone’s standpoint. The community is really involved late in the process. It is still a developer-driven process with a vote at the end. From the developers’ standpoint, they are laying time and a huge investment of money on the line for a process that could well be outside of their control.
If we re-visit Measure R, it should be to put the process up front in the community and figure out a way to reduce the risk to investors and developers, so that we can sit down and produce the type of project and process that we need.
In the end, the community still has the right to say no, but we need to make it possible for them to have something to say yes to.
—David M. Greenwald reporting