Sunday Commentary: Overcoming the Lack of Trust

build-trust

In last week’s Sunday Commentary I noted that “Lack of Trust is Slowing Us Down,” where I cited the school board’s comment that “we move at the speed of trust.”  Here I write, “It is a phrase that suggests the pace of movement can only proceed at a rate that the public can absorb, understand the need for change — and trust the elected body to be operating in the best interests of the community.”

For a variety of, I think, mostly valid reasons, the community continues to have a deep distrust of the city council in general, and developers in particular, as to whether they operate in the best interest of the community.

While councilmembers have pointed out that they have taken steps to regain the trust of the community, I believe that many people, when faced with decisions either that they disagree with or, worse yet, that boggle the imagination, immediately seize upon nefarious motivations.

The culmination of the Mace Ranch Innovation Center (MRIC) project illustrates some of these concerns.  I think it is important for people to recognize that, just because there is a misstep, does not mean that there are nefarious motivations behind that misstep.

In this case, I believe that the developers of MRIC faced some tough questions and made some questionable decisions along the way.  Ultimately at the time, they made the decision to pause the project.  Had they immediately in February made the decision to reduce the size of the project in half, there would have been ample time to have proceeded toward a November vote.

However, instead, in April they paused their project.  Two months later they returned with the new proposal.  On Monday, I argued that we should not reject the project outright.  I felt at the time – and still believe – that the community is in need of space for economic development.

Unfortunately, as I listened on Tuesday, I realized there were problems with going forward in November.  First, the developer should have come forward with a fairly detailed proposal on Tuesday.  Yes, that would have required time and money, but it would have shown the council that they were serious.

Second, as city staff laid out the timeline, it became very apparent that it was too tight to get the project to come forward and be properly analyzed by the proper commissions, the community, staff, and council.  In short, the project would have been pushed forward in a manner that far exceeded the speed of trust.

We just witnessed what happened to Nishi – a far more complete project – when it had a number of loose ends.  MRIC would have been far more rushed and far less complete.

Nevertheless, the council was right to give the applicant another week.  Quickly, the applicant realized from the comments of council that the timeline was too compressed and that, if they couldn’t convince council, how could they get the backing of the community?

Robb Davis, a strong supporter of the project, was willing to give them additional time, but, at the same time, he understood that this was too much of a lift.  There are those who have criticized the council for even granting them the time – but to my mind, what was the harm?  It was better to let the developer come to the realization of the reality.

Robb Davis stated that “what’s most important is bringing forward a project that can pass.”

“It’s going to be difficult to nail down the level of detail that makes it possible to pass it on the ballot,” he said.  “I don’t think I’m going out on a limb to say this doesn’t have a prayer with the voters.”

He would add, “I have an optimism about this project.  I have a belief that it can pass.  But I know what it takes to pass…”

Davis is a community where we are not just going to be able to ram something through and get the voters to support it.  Again, Nishi had a far longer process and still had questions at the end that may have contributed to its narrow downfall.

The message from Robb Davis should be to the community – we hear you.  We are not going to simply put things on the ballot that have not been fully vetted or gained support in the community.

And, while the council has a long way to go to reestablish the trust, I was heartened to see the Cannery proposal come back where the developer was not merely giving an ask that would be presented by city staff and pushed through on a 3-2 vote, as the original development agreement and then CFD were.

Instead, while The New Home Company may get changes to the number of stacked flat condominiums and changes to the Market Center proposal, (the small builder modification proposal appears off the table), the city is actually getting something for the ask.

They are getting 24 new condominiums, but the city will get another quarter-million for transportation and park improvements out of it.  Moreover, the city is getting another half million for city council discretionary project and programs on top of the previous commitment of $1,653,000 for a bicycle/pedestrian connection to the Cannery.

And the city has a set timeline for beginning the crossing that has been long delayed.

The key to this agreement now is that Mayor Pro Tem Robb Davis and Councilmember Lucas Frerichs appear to have acquired additional benefits to the city in the form of “refinements to the bicycle connection provisions and potential additional funding for community enhancements as part of the Development Agreement Amendment proposal.”

This is the first time that we have really felt like the city has gotten something of great value for the ask from the Cannery.  When the city council voted 3-2 to implement the CFD, we felt like the developer was getting a huge value, which was going to harm the city in a lot of ways without it gaining much in return.

For those who believe that the developers would have simply passed on the costs in the initial purchase price – in retrospect, that would have been preferred because the cost would have been upfront to the homeowner, rather than exacted in annual taxes that will appear to compete with parcel taxes and other school and city needs.

The Vanguard was told that the council subcommittee pushed to get this done now, as the council will put this project to rest at least, and these will be the final changes – period.

Some have suggested that perhaps the council could have reopened the CFD, but, at least for now and for me, I feel like council has heard the concerns of the community.  We are not opposed to changing the terms of the deal, what we are opposed to is giving away city and community assets without getting fair compensation in return.

Ultimately this is a small thing and will not restore trust.  The council needs to be mindful, however, moving forward to be open and transparent.  That has been a concern of the community on Cannery – there seems to have been too many things done under the table.  And I believe there were legitimate concerns on the Nishi agreement for affordable housing that the city gave away too much and got too little in a last-second concession.

The bottom line that the city council needs to understand – they move at the speed of trust.  It is better to delay projects rather than appear to rush them through.  It is better to be open and transparent about community assets.

Hopefully this is a start of rebuilding that trust so that we can move forward in addressing two huge community problems – $655 million in unmet needs and a low vacancy rate that has led to a student housing crisis.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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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43 Comments

  1. SODA

    I agree with your premise of trust and like the concept of ‘speed of trust’. For me, Nishi came down to trust that the developers and UCD would honor their promises…and the trust that the city would hold them to it. Not trust of the CC but rather the other players.

    And in another, hopefully related, vein, what trust can we place in developers’ description of pricing for unbuilt homes? In a conversaton with a friend this week we talked about how the Planing commission and then the CC are told the range of pricing that a new development will have….and decisions are made not dependent on but influenced by those statements. Who if anyone follows up when the model homes are built and the sales begin? Is it the responsibility of the builder to honor those, do they have leeway if they have cost overruns, etc? I have not visited Cannery and not paid a lot of attention but the last quote of pricing seemed much higher than I remember?

    Somewhat similarly, I remember the Target debate and vote and I believe it was the PC who negotiated a percentage of floor space which could be used to sell food products so as not to unfairly compete with neighborhood markets. As I have watched Target evolve, it appears that this percentage has expanded beyond the initial ceiling. If so, is anyone watching that and holding Target accountable. To me that is another issue of trust.

    Happy Father’s Day to all you fathers, grandfathers and uncles!

  2. Misanthrop

    Yesterday David wrote: “A more skeptical read might have noted that they would time their return for after the election but before Dan Wolk left the council, given that he had received more than $20,000 in campaign contribution from The New Home Company in his two failed Assembly bids.”

    Then today he writes: “I believe that many people, when faced with decisions either that they disagree with or, worse yet, that boggle the imagination, immediately seize upon nefarious motivations.”

    Perhaps today you are describing your own paranoia and your desire to feed it to the unsuspecting public.

     

    1. Tia Will

      Misanthrop

      your desire to feed it to the unsuspecting public”

      You just won my first Vanguard induced “smile of the day”award. At this point in time, just how many readers of or participants in the Vanguard do you believe are “unsuspecting”?

      1. Misanthrop

        I think there are a lot of people who read this blog who are sophisticated enough but there are others that miss things. I think if you weren’t reading my calling out of David for his constant bashing of Dan Wolk you might have missed things. People who aren’t regular readers might not know that David harbors animosity towards Dan for his less than perfect support of David’s position on the Davis Firefighters. As an example people were miffed as to why David wrote that hit piece on the young guy who left New Homes to work for the city not realizing that he was just a pawn David was using to write another story hitting Dan.

        There are many other things casual readings might miss. For one, I think many people don’t realize that David takes positions on things but stops just short of endorsing because of the Vanguard’s tax status. For another example I think that there are many things David fails to disclose like when the Vanguard covered candidate Robb Davis without a disclaimer that Robb had served on the Vanguard editorial board or that Aguiar-Curry advertised on the Vanguard and Dan Wolk didn’t while he regularly attacked Dan Wolk.  David also regularly conflates his role as reporter and opinion maker.

        Most recently David’s gratuitous attack on Dan yesterday that was completely without merit and uncalled for since Dan is about to leave office and had nothing to do with the negotiations that made the deal on the bike route and the housing amendment. This attack was particularly mean spirited especially considering that David should have been praising Lucas and Robb for getting a good deal done. Then for David to lament the lack of trust in our public officials and institutions after he does so much to undermine those officials and institutions, with much of it unjustified, I can’t help but feel that his crocodile tears are simply so disingenuous as to have absolutely no credibility.

  3. Matt Williams

    David Greenwald said . . . “I think it is important for people to recognize that just because there is a misstep, does not mean that there are nefarious motivations behind that misstep.”

    For myself personally, there is a fatal flaw in the premise David puts forward.  Specifically, he is looking at each event in isolation, while in reality each event is part of a long running series.  It is not unreasonable to imagine that the MRIC development team has a similar perspective . . . events in isolation.  Given the nature of the development business looking backward is not natural.  No reason to cry over spilt milk. Just get back in gear moving forward, ever forward.

    Said another way, missteps don’t accumulate for developers, but they definitely do accumulate for citizens . . . and the citizens don’t discriminate between developer missteps and staff missteps.

  4. Tia Will

    Matt

    missteps don’t accumulate for developers, but they definitely do accumulate for citizens”

    Wow ! Do you really believe that developers are so naive that they cannot discern when they have made not one but a series of errors and that maybe they would be better off going back not only to the project drawing board, but also back to the process drawing board ?

    1. Matt Williams

      Yes Tia, that is what I am saying.  It is not that they are naive and cannot discern.  It rather is that their discernment is in a very limited context.  It is very much like a football game. Unless the referee calls a penalty you don’t get a play back.  All you can do is come up to the line of scrimmage, snap the ball, and execute the next play.  There is some (relatively minor) accumulation within a set of downs, but if you are successful in gaining 10 yards, the accumulation counter is reset . . . and becomes archived history.  It is onward and upward toward successfully achieving that next 10-yard increment.

      1. Tia Will

        Thanks Matt.

        Once again you have demonstrated a large part of why I participate on and support the Vanguard. Seeing something from someone else’s perspective is a real gift.

  5. Fred

    I think the vote on Jun 7th (at least as it stands now with 6,000 ballots left to count) adds to this story. More people voted no on Measure A, than voted for 3 out of 4 of the Council Candidates. The fact that all of the Candidates endorsed Measure A seems a little out of touch with the Davis voters. Only Brett Lee was voted for on more than 50% of the ballots cast. Considering ever voter could vote for 3 people and there were only 4 candidates, a lot of voters most have voted for less than 3. Some probably didn’t vote for any.

    here are the numbers:
    Candidate                 votes    %of ballots
    Brett Lee                   9,007    57.2%
    No on A                     7,693   51.0%
    Lucas Frerichs          7,674     48.7%
    Will Arnold                7,620    48.4%
    Matt Williams, Jr.     4,789    30.4%

     

    1. Matt Williams

      Fred, there were 15,759 voters whose votes were counted on Election Day, which means 47,277 possible votes.  Only 29,090 votes were cast, which is 61.5% of the total.  That means that more than half of the voters did not vote for 3 Council candidates . . . possibly a whole lot more then half.

  6. Ron

    For me (and probably some others), the recent MRIC proposal had nothing to do with “trust”.  In fact, I fully “trusted the developers”, when they stated that they eventually intended to pursue housing on the site.

    There seems to be an automatic assumption that most voters want to expand the size of the city outside of borders, far from downtown and the University.  And, if it’s subsequently rejected, there’s a weird “search” for the reason (e.g., “blame the no-growthers and their underhanded tactics, blame the developers and/or the city for leaving large loopholes, blame the actual features of the proposed development”).

    Of course, in the case of the MRIC, citizens weren’t given a chance to vote on the proposal, regardless.

    On a related note, I sort of liked (Mike Hart’s?) comments yesterday, stating that the city’s financial challenges (regarding unfunded retirement pensions/health plans) is “self-inflicted”, and that the city should not expect “innovation centers” to “solve” the problem.  (And this apparently coming from one of the companies that might occupy an innovation center.)  Again, this argument is not coming from me!

    1. David Greenwald

      But you raised issues such as the connectivity to UC Davis and the Richards Corridor plan timing which are in fact issues of trust as they were in the project baseline features.

      1. Ron

        David:

        Are you referring to Nishi?  (I was referring to MRIC, above.)  The proposed MRIC site is far from the University and downtown (and jumps over the Mace curve).

        Regarding Nishi, it’s a tough spot to access. (But, I agree that I didn’t trust the developers’ assurances that it would “improve” traffic flow.)

  7. nameless

    This is the first time that we have really felt like the city has gotten something of great value for the ask from the Cannery.  When the city council voted 3-2 to implement the CFD, we felt like the developer was getting a huge value, which was going to harm the city in a lot of ways without it gaining much in return.
    For those who believe that the developers would have simply passed on the costs in the initial purchase price – in retrospect, that would have been preferred because the cost would have been upfront to the homeowner, rather than exacted in annual taxes that will appear to compete with parcel taxes and other school and city needs.

    I and other citizens are puzzled why the CFD issue is still causing so much angst and anger towards the Cannery developer – the logic escapes us.  The reality is the Cannery developer made clear if they were not permitted to implement a CFD, the price of the homes would have been increased (making homes less affordable) and certain amenities in the parks would have been taken away.  Why should the city get anything in the way of extra $$$ just because the Cannery implemented a CFD, something the DA always contemplated by the way?  Implementation of a CFD in no way caused harm to the city.  The implementation of the CFD was between the individual homeowner and the developer.  Homeowners knew exactly what they were getting into when purchasing a home in the Cannery with a CFD.

    In the case of adding more homes, at least the city can argue it does harm to the city with extra traffic, and therefore demands some sort of mitigation, which is precisely what the Cannery did by forking over some $$$.  The city gets some more affordable housing (big A and little a) as well as some more $$$ for the grade separated crossing fund.

    I think you will find the “mistrust” about the Cannery is coming from folks who were against the project in the first place.

    1. David Greenwald

      Nameless: The market dictates the cost they can get from a home. Just because they ask for it, doesn’t mean they get it. And as BP showed a few weeks ago, he holds the Melo Roos and CFDs on his property as reason not to support additional parcel taxes. The mistrust is that they got a huge benefit for themselves, that was not included in the initial DA, and the city got very little in return. That’s a matter that the council did not look out for the best interest of the community.

      1. Misanthrop

        The CFD was included in the initial DA it just wasn’t spelled out or guaranteed.

        David is correct about one thing that without the CFD New Homes might of had smaller profit margins on the prices of the homes, but maybe not, since much of the bond money went to the bonding professionals.

        1. nameless

          How much profit the developer makes is none of the city’s business.  The city is supposed to be extracting concessions from the developer when there is harm to the city – then the developer should mitigate in some way.

        2. Misanthrop

          It turns out that how much profit The New Homes Co. makes is easy to find in their financials that are published quarterly. At the time the CFD was issued New Homes boasted to their share holders that they had $140MM in untapped credit lines negating any pressing need they claimed to have for the CFD. While how much New Homes is making is not the business of the city determining the size and need for a CFD is very much the business of the city. The size of the CFD was the real question. Once they put the possibility of a CFD in the DA it was reasonable to assume there would be one. If the city didn’t intend to have one they would have not put it in the DA as a possibility. The problem was it was too big. Even though the city negotiated it down by half it was still too big. In my opinion it should have been half again as large. Some of the real outrages were removed in the end, the CFD didn’t become a cash cow for the city placed upon the backs of the home buyers, the 40 year term was reduced to 30 years and the amounts to be paid by the owners of smaller homes was also reduced considerably.

          The most interesting thing about the CFD and its aftermath was when New Homes decided not to pursue a CFD at its development in Irvine. The worst thing about the CFD is the process where the owners of a development vote it in before selling any homes encumbering their customers while making themselves the beneficiaries of the CFD. Its an outrageous loophole in the fundamental American concept of taxation without representation. As such it can easily undermine the publics confidence in the legitimacy of a government that recklessly enacts a CFD without good cause or good reason.

        3. Matt Williams

          Misanthrop said . . . “The CFD was included in the initial DA it just wasn’t spelled out or guaranteed.”

          Misanthrop, you just gave me my daily chuckle.  If something is not spelled out or guaranteed, what is it?

          Your statement falls into the category of “If a tree falls in the woods and nobody is there to hear it, does it make any noise?”

        4. Matt Williams

          Its a statement of possible intent.

          As I have said many, many times New Home did nothing wrong in asking for the CFD. It was the City that screwed the pooch, the taxpayers, and the local Davis businesses in the Davis economy.

    2. Matt Williams

      nameless said . . . “The reality is the Cannery developer made clear if they were not permitted to implement a CFD, the price of the homes would have been increased (making homes less affordable) and certain amenities in the parks would have been taken away.” 

      Never, never, never was there any discussion by New Home of taking away any amenities in the parks.  Never, never, never.  New Home signed the November 2013 Development Agreement in which they explicitly committed to building and funding the amenities.  In fact $6 million of the $8 million scheduled to be paid to New Home was for amenities that New Home had already built at the time the CFD was approved by the Council.  Please explain how New Home could have “taken away” amenities that had already been built?  Were they going to come in with a bulldozer and rip out those amenities?

      The remaining $2 million was also for amenities that were included as New Home obligations/requirements in the November 2013 Development Agreement.  Rochelle Swanson argued that the legally committed timeline for delivery of those $2 million of amenities was not aggressive enough, and she wanted them moved forward in time so they were actually constructed earlier.

      Now, in case I wasn’t crystal clear, let me repeat, never, never, never was there any discussion by New Home of taking away any amenities in the parks.  Never, never, never.

       

      1. Miwok

        n fact $6 million of the $8 million scheduled to be paid to New Home

        In fact I am ignorant as to why the City was “paying” anything to developers… But you explain things very well, Matt

    3. Matt Williams

      nameless said . . . “Implementation of a CFD in no way caused harm to the city.  The implementation of the CFD was between the individual homeowner and the developer.”

      The fact that you can say that shows how little knowledge of macroeconomics you have.  The annual CFD payments ABSOLUTELY cause harm to the city’s economy by diverting $1 million a year of disposable income away from the local economy each year for 30 years.  If the Cannery homeowners didn’t have to pay that $1 million a year in taxes, the local economy would reap the benefit of the expenditure of that $1 million at local businesses.  That would support the jobs needed to support the $1 million per year of goods and services delivered.

      Further, you are 100% wrong when you say that “the implementation of the CFD was between the individual homeowner and the developer”  The developer has nothing to do with the implementation of the CFD on the homeowner.  That implementation is 100% handled by the taxing authority at the time of the closing of the sale of the home.

  8. Tia Will

    Nameless

    Implementation of a CFD in no way caused harm to the city.”

    We actually do not yet know how this will play out in the long run. If enough purchasers end up feeling the same way that BP feels about additional taxes, it may well cause harm to the city. No way of knowing one way or the other at this point in time.

    1. Matt Williams

      Tia, what you have described is incremental harm to the city/community over and above the $1 million that is being siphoned out of the local economy, thereby compromising the sustainability of businesses all across the city.

      Bottom-line, we know the CFD is a harm that keeps on taking and taking year after year. We just don’t know what the full magnitude of the taking is as yet.

  9. Misanthrop

    “There seems to be an automatic assumption that most voters want to expand the size of the city outside of borders, far from downtown and the University.”

    Where do you get that idea? Besides myself, I don’t see many people arguing for expanded borders. On the other hand I think the arguments for infill are even more tenuous. In my mind Infill has always been used as an excuse so people who don’t want any growth can seem reasonable just like that stupid Davis should grow as slowly as legal nonsense. Where the wheels come off the infill argument is when the neighbors to every infill project go ballistic in their opposition laying bare the shallowness of support for infill.

    My support for peripheral development is based on three things. First that people find single family homes as good places to raise a family. Second, if it wasn’t for Measure R, building on the periphery would be easier than disrupting existing neighborhoods with infill that makes them too dense. Third, I think that the extreme Yolo County ethos about preserving every inch of farmland is overdone and that there are other considerations like the need for housing that also must be considered.

      1. Ron

        nameless:

        Not only would MRIC increase pressure for more residential development, the “sprawl” would likely occur ON the MRIC site (within the “urban preserve”, as described in the latest proposal).  Again, I believe what the developers told us, regarding this.

        If you’d like to make the argument that a reduced commercial component, combined with the increased costs of servicing new households at MRIC is a worthwhile “goal” – have at it!  Yeap – I’m sure that this “new city” will function so well that it will “bail out” the old, dysfunctional city.  (What a great plan. We should probably approve a hundred of them! The city would be so wealthy! Everyone could then get big, fat pensions and benefits.)

    1. Ron

      Misanthrop:  Where do you get that idea? Besides myself, I don’t see many people arguing for expanded borders.

      I got the idea from observing the constant effort by developers, city council and staff, and the various city commissions (that study the proposals) to do just that.  (Not to mention other groups, such as the Chamber of Commerce.) Seems like they’re making the assumption that if the “right” development comes along (beyond our borders), voters will approve it.  (I’m not including Nishi is that argument, due to its unique location.  However, Nishi has other concerns.)

      It does seem strange to be arguing for more single-family homes (outside of our borders) at this time, especially when the Cannery, Chiles Ranch, and other planned developments have not been completed.

      It seems like your support for residential development beyond our borders is based exclusively on market demand.  I’d suggest that maintaining our current borders (size) is for the most part, also a legitimate goal.  (I realize that others may disagree.)  Otherwise, at what point is the city “large enough”?  Is there any limit, at all?  (Development is not in “short supply” in the region – or even in Davis itself.)

      Regarding large-scale infill – I agree that this is also something that can’t go on forever, and has significant impacts on surrounding neighborhoods (and the city, as a whole).

      My vision (at this point in time):  some infill (that mostly fits in with surrounding neighborhoods / zoning), encouraging the University to do even more (than the 90% increased enrollment that they’ve already agreed to house), and possibly a commercial development that would not fit within the city’s current footprint.

       

  10. nameless

    David Greenwald: “Nameless: The market dictates the cost they can get from a home. Just because they ask for it, doesn’t mean they get it. And as BP showed a few weeks ago, he holds the Melo Roos and CFDs on his property as reason not to support additional parcel taxes. The mistrust is that they got a huge benefit for themselves, that was not included in the initial DA, and the city got very little in return. That’s a matter that the council did not look out for the best interest of the community.”

    1. “The market dictates the cost they can get from a home. Just because they ask for it, doesn’t mean they get it.”  Exactly – it is none of the city’s business how much the Cannery charges for a home, the free market will determine that.  The Cannery may or may not get top dollar for their homes.  As I was touring the Cannery, I heard a lot of people complaining about the lack of yard space.  Tight infill is not going to be to everyone’s liking.  However, with the lack of new homes in Davis because of its slow growth policies, it is entirely possible the Cannery could charge high prices and get them.  Who knows?  The city sure doesn’t and neither do anyone else.

    2. “And as BP showed a few weeks ago, he holds the Melo Roos and CFDs on his property as reason not to support additional parcel taxes.”

    High home prices could also be a reason someone in the Cannery might not support higher taxes.  Or someone may be a libertarian and believe in small gov’t, so for political reasons will not support higher taxes.  Or someone lost their job and cannot afford higher taxes.  There are as many reasons not to support higher taxes as there are people.

    3.  “The mistrust is that they got a huge benefit for themselves, that was not included in the initial DA, and the city got very little in return.”

    Contemplation of a CFD was very much included in the DA.  But a CFD is between the homeowner and the developer – the city has no part in it.  Why should the city get a bigger piece of the pie, when implementation of a CFD has nothing to do with the city?  To say that implementation of a CFD MIGHT result in a greater chance a parcel tax MAY not pass is HIGHLY SPECULATIVE (and may not even be in any way correlative) and quite a stretch, since an increase in the price of homes and/or reducing amenities might do exactly the same thing.

    4. “That’s a matter that the council did not look out for the best interest of the community.”  That is entirely your opinion with no foundation to back it up.  You have no idea what was in the collective council’s mind as to what was in the best interests of the community.  It could easily be argued that three on the City Council felt not instituting a CFD would have resulted in higher housing prices and less amenities, which would have been a greater detriment to the community as a whole than having a CFD.

    People can agree to disagree as to whether a CFD should have been implemented.  There are rational arguments to be made either way.  But to continue to vilify the developer and the 3 City Council members, who favored the CFD with accusations of windfall profits to the developer and not acting in the best interests of the community, is IMO completely unfair, illogical and uncalled for.

  11. Eileen Samitz

    David,

    Starting with the title of this article “Overcoming the Lack of Trust” it is clear that there is a problem which is historical to some extent, but simply got resurrected when the Ramos developers made clear their lack of following through with an upfront proposal for a commercial-only innovation center that the City asked for and the community was interested in without housing. That was spelled out early on in the RFEI (Request of expression of interests). But look at where that process started and where it lead and it is not hard to understand why the community has lost a sense of trust in the MRIC project “process” and its associated developers.
    History of MRIC “process”

        1) First, The City sent out an RFEI (Request for expression of interests) asked specifically for innovation park only without housing.

    2) MRIC as a commercial-only innovation park becomes one of the applications the City receives.

       3) Ramos publicly affirms a number of times that the Ramos group is promising to pursue just and only a “commercial-only” innovation park, and they profess that they are NOT interested in residential. This is where the community is interested since the main reason is to help bring more needed revenue to the City. In contrast, residential would bring with its long term costs, so it negates the main the purpose of bringing in an innovation park.

    4) However at some point an “equal weight” mixed-use alternative including 850 housing units was added to the MRIC which most community members did know was being studied, unless they had read the enormous (four volume) MRIC EIR.

    5) Then, later Ramos asks for an “exemption from Measure J/R” which was pretty brazen to start off with. The other applicants say, well if Ramos gets an exemption, we want an exemption. To their credit the City Council say no. This was one of the first signals where there was a community concern about “trust” of the Ramos group.

      6) As the MRIC wraps up the “mixed-used alternative “with 850 high density units magically becomes “preferred”, so now it is becoming evident Ramos is really tipping his hand that the residential is really what he is pursuing.

       7) Ramos then tries to convince the community that the mixed-use alternative with 850-high density units is the “better” project since the EIR makes the (ridiculous) assumption that 85% of the MRIC workers will occupy these units. Since there is no way too legally mandate this to happen, it is clearly a pathetic attempt to “greenwash” the mixed-use alternative since Ramos has always been primarily motivated to build the 850 residential units, not the innovation park.

    8) Even more evidence of Ramos’ real goal becomes more evident due to the EIR clarifying that there will be no affordable housing since it will be exempted (just like Nishi) via “vertical mixed use”.

    9)     Ramos is then publicly asked at the Vanguard MRIC forum (which was taped) “Would you build the commercial-only MRIC project’? Just to be clear the Ramos application to the City is specifically for a commercial-only innovation park project, NOT a mixed-use project. Ramos answers “yes” if that’s what the community and the Council give him direction to do. He “just needs direction.”

    10)  Ramos then gets direction from Council, to “stay the course” with the commercial-only project application before them, however since Ramos keeps reiterating that the mixed-use with the residential is really what he wants, the mixed-use not officially off the table as an alternative.  To the City Councils credit, they did not allow Ramos to push them into his very apparent pressure for the mixed-use. After all he was just asking for direction and had publicly promised to build a commercial-only innovation park.

    11)  However, instead of keeping his word, Ramos withdraws his commercial-only innovation park application in April, clearly because his attempt to pressure the City into accepting the mixed-use alternative with 850 units was not successful.

    12)  Then, two months later trying, Ramos returns with a new project proposal with even audacity. This time reducing the size of the 228-acre park by more than half, and making the remaining 126 acres “urban reserve”. Urban reserve is a land use designation which makes not commitment as to what will be developers and is basically a “wild card” guaranteeing that the land will be developed, bit not defining it until sometime in the future. How could the Davis resident be expected to approve an enormous project not knowing what they are approving? One of the main purpose of Measure J/R is to define what the project is being voted on. Not circumventing the process of letting them know what they are being asked to approved “to be defined later”. At least, this time the Ramos developers admitted that they would bring residential in “later”. Since it has been made clear many times that residential was not acceptable for many Davis residents due to the impacts, particularly the long term cost impacts, it seems astonishing that the Ramos developers came back with yet another attempted “shell game” to try to bring in residential yet again. Plus, according to Ramos, this new mostly undefined “proposal” with the 126-acre urban reserve “wild card” component needed to be placed coming November ballot…take it or leave it.  This entire episode was simply astonishing.

    13)  So the new problem presented with this latest stunt by the Ramos developers was dropping a last minute sketch of their new proposal offering half as much innovation park and not defining the other half “to be determined later”. but that it would including housing. Well what if all of the remaining 126 acres came back as residential without any innovation park later on? Maybe the other 102 acres of innovation park just doesn’t get built? How would the long-term revenue picture for the City look then?

    14)   On top of the mostly undefined new MRIC proposal was the ridiculously compressed timeline. All of the processing had to be done within a week or two to be able to get it submitted by late July for a November ballot. If this is such a good project for Davis, then why the rush for the November ballot? Rushing MEIC to the ballot with such drastic changes was simply a very bad idea. So much for a “good process”. But much to the credit of Council members Lee, Davis, and Frerichs (in that order of their comments made) the process issue was raised and impracticality of what was being asked of them by the Ramos group.

    15)  Finally, there is NO excuse why the Ramos developers could not have put the 228 acre commercial-only project on the November ballot which they have promised all along.

    In the end, it became clear that what the Ramos group was asking for was completely unreasonable and they withdrew their latest “colored in sketch” which was termed a “new proposal”. So in the end it was a long-shot for a premature and rushed proposal which that the Ramos group tried for, but they apparently finally realized this and withdrew the proposal.
    But, I find this Vanguard article appearing to be somewhat of a “whitewashing” of what really happened here if you just look at the MRIC history. This whole MRIC “charade” is why the community has a serious lack of trust in the Ramos developers.

    1. Don Shor

      4) However at some point an “equal weight” mixed-use alternative including 850 housing units was added to the MRIC which most community members did know was being studied, unless they had read the enormous (four volume) MRIC EIR.

      Presumably you meant “which most community members did NOT know was being studied…”
      In my opinion, this is where the whole project basically went off the rails. In the interest of avoiding this kind of debacle in the future, it would be useful to know how the ‘equal weight’ alternative got into the system. Staff? Developer? It was never clear to me why they added the analysis of the housing component or at whose behest. As Eileen notes, it then became the ‘preferred’ alternative and a fair bit of pressure was applied to bring housing into consideration.

      1. Robb Davis

        I think I addressed the issue of the EIR alternative before but let me sketch out what happened here.  One of the first (the first?) motions I put before the CC when I came on in 2014 was to meet with commissions and Cool Davis to derive a set of guiding principles that would enable us to evaluate the proposals.  As we began the process of talking to the various commissions in three cases (that I recall), the question of adding housing to the proposals came up.  These commissions felt that housing may be a good idea and should be explored (at least).

        When it came time to articulate a final set of principles for CC approval, staff was uneasy about adding housing because the original RFEI explicitly excluded it.  However, given the interest in housing (especially from a GHG reduction perspective), staff did recommend including it as an alternative.  This alternative was discussed in a public meeting and approved by the CC (I believe that was in December 2014 but could confirm that).  Much like we debated the Sterling project EIR alternatives last week, we did the same for MRIC and we agreed to include a mixed use housing alternative among the alternatives.  The proponents requested (and paid for) a “full weight” EIR which took it from a qualitative analysis to a quantitive one in terms of looking at GHG reductions.  It was found to be the superior option in terms of environmental impact (but not in any other sense).

        As folks here who are more expert in CEQA than I am can attest, stating it was superior in NO WAY placed an onus on the CC to move towards that option.  However, the proponents made it clear that they wanted the CC to allow the project to go that way.  We refused to allow that and told them to continue with the proposal in hand.  Within weeks of that decision they put the project on hold.

        This is the process as I recall it and if you look at the record of meetings you will find that it is materially correct I believe.  I could never understand why doing these things in this way would lead to a charge of malfeasance or lack of transparency.  These things were done in public meetings.

         

  12. Eileen Samitz

    Thank you Don, and yes, I accidentally left out the word “not” in this paragraph so it should have read:

    4) However at some point an “equal weight” mixed-use alternative including 850 housing units was added to the MRIC which most community members did not know was being studied, unless they had read the enormous (four volume) MRIC EIR.

    Also, I noted that I left out a few words in the 12th point. It should have read:

    12)  Then, two months later trying again for housing, Ramos returns with a new project proposal with even more audacity.

     

    My apologies. This took a while to write and trying to import it from a “Word” document is a challenge sometimes for some strange reason.

  13. nameless

    To Eileen Samitz: I think your memory is faulty and viewpoint hopelessly biased, to wit:

    1. “4) However at some point an “equal weight” mixed-use alternative including 850 housing units was added to the MRIC which most community members did know was being studied, unless they had read the enormous (four volume) MRIC EIR.

    CITY STAFF/CITY COUNCIL demanded a housing option be included in the EIR, as noted by Robb Davis above.  You can’t fault the MRIC developer for that.

    2. “5) Then, later Ramos asks for an “exemption from Measure J/R” which was pretty brazen to start off with. The other applicants say, well if Ramos gets an exemption, we want an exemption. To their credit the City Council say no. This was one of the first signals where there was a community concern about “trust” of the Ramos group.”

    I don’t remember Ramos ever asking for an EXEMPTION to Measure J/R – what he did ask for was an early vote on an incomplete proposal (I was at the City Council meeting where he asked for such a thing, and spoke out against it vehemently.  Ramos withdrew the request).  The two are not the same thing.  Let’s not try and revise history.

    3. “7) Ramos then tries to convince the community that the mixed-use alternative with 850-high density units is the “better” project since the EIR makes the (ridiculous) assumption that 85% of the MRIC workers will occupy these units. Since there is no way too legally mandate this to happen, it is clearly a pathetic attempt to “greenwash” the mixed-use alternative since Ramos has always been primarily motivated to build the 850 residential units, not the innovation park.

    Many in the community feel housing should be included in MRIC and that it would make a better project, not just Ramos.  If the housing sits right above the work units, it is much more likely to be purchased by employees.  Secondly, companies seeking to locate in a business park want workforce housing included as part of the amenities.  If MRIC had housing on site, it is likely it would build out that much faster than as an all business park.  Thirdly, the inclusion of housing very well may get the expected rate of return where it needs to be for this project to be economically viable.  There are pros and cons on both sides of the housing issue at MRIC (I personally am on the fence), but to paint housing there as all bad without any justifiable reasons for it is blatantly unfair.

    4. “11)  However, instead of keeping his word, Ramos withdraws his commercial-only innovation park application in April, clearly because his attempt to pressure the City into accepting the mixed-use alternative with 850 units was not successful.

    This is hogwash.  Ramos put his project on hold when EPS showed the expected rate of return for the MRIC project would only be 3-4%, instead of a healthier 12% required to make MRIC economically viable.  There was absolutely no attempt to pressure the city into doing anything it didn’t want to do.  In fact Ramos came back with a pared down proposal that included no housing (any housing proposed on that site would be subject to its own Measure R vote), which completely undercuts your extortion claim.

    I’ll stop there, as IMO the rest of your diatribe is just indefensible… I see no justifiable reason to vilify the developer here in light of city actions…

  14. nameless

    Don Shor: “Presumably you meant “which most community members did NOT know was being studied…”

    In my opinion, this is where the whole project basically went off the rails. In the interest of avoiding this kind of debacle in the future, it would be useful to know how the ‘equal weight’ alternative got into the system. Staff? Developer? It was never clear to me why they added the analysis of the housing component or at whose behest. As Eileen notes, it then became the ‘preferred’ alternative and a fair bit of pressure was applied to bring housing into consideration.

    Housing included in the EIR was the CITY’s idea, not the developer’s. It is part of the entire debacle on the city’s part in mishandling innovation parks, e.g. firing CIO Robb White, then insisting the city’s budget was “balanced”, etc. The city insisting housing be included sent mixed messages to both the developer and public. But in defense of the city (which I hate to do on the issue of innovation parks since I am not happy with how they have handled things), it certainly seems reasonable to me to explore housing as a possible option, just to see what the results might be.

     

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