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