A few years ago, I was sitting in a meeting of the Innovation Parks Task Force, and, while there was a good-sized audience in the room for this type of meeting, it was glaringly obvious that the room was missing a good part of our community. Indeed, I would wager to guess there was no one in that room who voted No on Nishi (this was probably in 2013, two and a half years or so before the vote).
It was not a monolithic group. There was definitely a group of hard core development supporters, but also another group that I would call moderates – people that would support some projects but not others.
At the time, I noted that, in order for this effort to be successful, we needed to broaden the discussion. While I don’t believe anyone disagreed, no one seemed able to bridge that gap. Some have suggested that some of the critics of growth were invited to attend, but did not do so for a variety of reasons.
We never got to see what a project without housing, either north of Sutter-Davis Hospital or out at Mace, could do. There is a long list of reasons for that, but I think toward the top of the list are the high costs of development in Davis, coupled with high risk. There are some whom I have talked to who believe that the very model of an innovation park without anchor housing is doomed.
But the bottom line, I felt at the time, is that any effort that did not reach across the room to capture the opposition to development – the people who voted against Covell Village and voted for Measure J – was doomed to failure.
Nishi came very close to passing as it was. In the end, a core of people who had actively opposed Covell Village ended up voting for Nishi. But, in a narrow verdict, it was not quite enough.
So I want to make it clear where I stand, because there was some confusion on Saturday with my column. First, I believe that a Measure R project can pass in Davis. Second, I support the concept of citizen-based planning and the ability for citizens to weigh in on the future of their community, with a vote on projects outside of our current city boundaries.
Within the current system, I do believe there is room for some reforms that can help to mitigate costs and uncertainty for investors, while at the same time providing the kind of safeguards our citizens need.
But the first step needs to be to create a process that brings everyone in the community into the room, and right now that process does not exist. As much as I believe that the council vote on Measure A was less important than some believe, the fact remains that the council voted 5-0 to support Measure A, there were no candidates that opposed Measure A, and yet 52 percent of the community opposed Measure A.
That means we will start out with a disconnect between the views of the incoming council on Nishi and the views of the community on Nishi.
What makes this process difficult is that there is no uniform agreement, even among the leaders of the No on A campaign, of what it might take to gain passage.
For instance, for Michael Harrington a critical issue is mitigation land. For those who believe he is blowing smoke, he has been very consistent with me on this issue over a very long period of time. I had conversations with him on this dating back to 2007 in explaining his opposition to Covell Village. He ended up supporting Wild Horse Ranch because of the mitigation land issue.
And he has a point when he noted that, in the case of the owners of Nishi, they own valuable land on the city borders “that would make any new project even more interesting. But they refused to disclose it. So our conclusion was, right or wrong, that they planned to use the usual junk land out in the county that city staff lets these exterior developers use.”
While I take some issue with some of his rhetoric during the campaign, I know, at least for Michael Harrington, disclosing the location of the mitigation land up front would make a difference.
We know for some that the issue of sustainability would have been a deal maker. In a more inclusive and public planning process, we could identify key issues such as sustainability features. While I am sympathetic to the developer on the issue of LEED certification, I do believe that we can lock in framework that would require a development to meet minimum thresholds for sustainability – those could be defined during a public planning process.
Traffic impacts definitely (and rightly) sunk Covell Village and probably sunk Nishi as well. I think the plan that the developers had in terms of the corridor upgrades and a new route to campus were good. The voters probably needed the city to do more upfront to fix Richards Boulevard – even now, with the students out of town and traffic a good deal lighter, driving from Montgomery to A Street has extensive delays due to poor light sequencing. Re-routing traffic should have been done early on.
The affordable housing deal was an unexpected issue – it certainly caused some of the housing and social justice advocates to balk at support they might have otherwise given. The optics looked bad, that you had a project that was exempted from affordable housing, and then a relatively small giveback ($1 million as opposed to $11 million under the ordinance) – that didn’t help.
There is a lot of frustration, animosity and outright anger on both sides. Distrust is high. Filing lawsuits is a good way to increase tensions and a poor way to conduct public business, unless the suits are completely necessary.
My personal belief is that, on the issue of housing, we cannot afford to wait to see if the university will fulfill its promises and obligations. That can be part of the strategy, but not the entire strategy. We should have a process to identify locations and types of housing to accommodate student needs.
Second, we need a reasonable strategy for economic development. Whether that involves figuring out a way to bring back proposals for the two peripheral sites, or an alternative, remains to be seen.
Those are my personal beliefs. I know some will criticize this to say that I am presupposing an outcome – the community and process has to come up with the outcome, and it may not be aligned with the one I personally support.
My suggested path forward would be to create a broad community panel that could act like the Housing Element Steering Committee back in 2007 – workshops, outreach, facilitation. My suggestion would be that each councilmember get to name up to five people for that panel with a mindset that they should be picking from across the community and making sure that a sizable percentage of people who opposed Measure A be on that panel.
The idea would be to get community buy-in from all sectors on a path forward.
Will it work? I don’t know. But what I do know is what we are doing right now is not working. So let’s find a better way. The Vanguard stands ready to assist in this process.
—David M. Greenwald reporting