The school board has a saying, we move at the speed of trust. It is a phrase that suggests that the pace of movement and change can only proceed at a rate that the public can absorb and can understand the need for that change – and trust the elected body to be operating in the best interests of the community.
It is a phrase perhaps the city council should also adopt, although at times it seems like the speed of trust is stopped for many in this community.
As we noted this week, trust issues clearly played a huge role in the apparent downfall of Measure A. Indeed, there are legitimate trust issues at play here – some of them go back decades, but others played themselves out in the failures of the council to enforce agreements on the Cannery project, and their willingness to give The New Home Company $10 million in CFD funding for very little in return.
We can see the trust issue playing itself out on the affordable housing deal, where many saw the city giving away millions in city and community benefits in allowing for the exemption to the affordable housing policies of the city. Lack of trust also played a role in that there are segments of the community who clearly never trusted the process to play out as advertised on the Richards corridor improvements or the promised grade-separated crossing onto the university.
The baseline features supposedly locked in the timing, but there were those who clearly saw the lack of commitment by the university as a reason to proceed more slowly. The developers wanted to proceed for a variety of reasons in June, while some believe that they should have waited until November.
There are times when it is hard to separate legitimate reasons for delay from excuses to oppose a given project, but in retrospect one of the failures of Measure A was that we proceeded faster than the speed of trust and left too many things to the opposition to exploit. In a narrow election, it appears there was just enough uncertainty and legitimate lack of trust to make the project fail.
Moving forward, no sooner had the dust settled on Nishi but MRIC came back with a new project proposal, a stripped down 102-acre version of their previous 218-acre project. They are next in line for the Davis spanking machine – and that machine is already warmed up with skepticism and cynicism.
The timeline here to get it on the ballot is very tight. City Manager Dirk Brazil told me that he was skeptical that they could get everything together fast enough to put it on the ballot by early July – just a month away. To do so would certainly hand potential opposition the issue of rushing it onto the ballot. And, really, they would have a legitimate argument here.
For the council to act this quickly – and, to be fair to the council as we have yet to see them weigh in on this issue, they might express the same concerns as those from some of the commenters in the last two days – would take a huge leap of faith.
Clearly, a November vote on Mace might proceed far faster than the speed of trust. And yet, I see legitimate reasons why MRIC might want to proceed quickly here.
First, this really isn’t a new project. They have already had an EIR process that was completed. They have already had an economic analysis. Yes, this is a different project, but if anything it is smaller and therefore less impactful. They are not asking for housing here.
Second, no one has said this, but I think the clear driver here is Schilling Robotics. Schilling has not been coy that they need more space than their current facility offers. They will move if they do not get that space. They are a Davis-grown company. They provide jobs for employees and revenue for the city. They want to stay but, if we lose them, we lose those jobs and revenue.
The urban reserve issue is curious – and probably a point that they ought to consider dropping, unless they have a clear and simple rationale for it.
As they describe in their press release, “The updated project would seek annexation of the entire 228 acres, including the Mace Triangle and the MRIC project site,” but “now seeks approval of innovation center uses on only the southern 102 acres. The northern half of the property, including the City’s 25 acres, is requested to be brought into the City with an urban reserve land use designation and will be subject to a future planning effort and subsequent Measure R vote before any development may occur.”
On the surface of it, anything that would be built on the northern part of the project would need a Measure R vote anyway. So, why this has become a red flag for some – I don’t know.
But Eileen Samitz makes the point, “While I think it is good that the Mace Ranch Innovation Center is back on the table, it was originally proposed to be an innovation park, that is the land use designation it needs to be – innovation park, not urban reserve which is a total ‘wild card’ for any type of development there.”
She argues, “There is absolutely no excuse for the developers to change the land use designation at this point, and it is a ‘red flag’ for the community to notice. Do not expect to get an innovation park at all with an urban reserve land use designation.”
Don Shor added, “I have tried to figure out any reason they would put an undeveloped portion of the property through a Measure R vote when it would require another Measure R vote to then change the designation again. The only thing I can think of is that it would possibly increase the value of the undeveloped land, and perhaps they intend to sell it. Other than that, why would they bother?”
Honestly, I don’t get the thinking on this either, by the developers or the public. From the developers’ standpoint – what advantage does an urban reserve designation give them if they have to do go to the public anyway to get a project approved for that spot?
On the other hand, from the public’s perspective, what disadvantage does an urban reserve give us, given that we retain full rights to vote down an unacceptable project?
Clearly, we need to move at the speed of trust. I would like to believe that, given the discussion about the need for innovation centers since early 2014 and culminating in the RFEI (Request for Expressions of Interest), the project proposal and then a series of public discussions, we could move on MRIC quickly.
On the other hand, I fear that the public is not ready to proceed at this speed and we will have a ton of questions – so why the rush, even if the rush may be justified, based on the Schilling timeline and needs?
I don’t get the flap over the urban reserve, but if it becomes an issue, remove it from the table.
—David M. Greenwald reporting