Commentary: City Needs to Change Planning Staff Dynamics – and Fast

External view with privacy screen/ rendering by HRGA
External view with privacy screen/ rendering by HR Group Architects (HRGA)

Wednesday night brought another avoidable debacle from the city’s planning staff.  We will get into some of the dynamics of that exchange shortly, but what I found interesting, first and foremost, was the similarity between the discussion of Field & Pond at the county level and the Hyatt House at the city level.

Field & Pond, a special events facility out on County Rd. 29 near Winters, was ultimately approved by the County Board of Supervisors on a 4 to 1 vote, despite being voted down at the County Planning Commission level a few months ago.  Basically, in that case, we saw the applicants going out of their way to attempt to compromise and accommodate the concerns of the neighbors, and, at the end of the day, the neighbors were unwilling to budge from their position that the event center was inappropriate for that location.

We have seen something similar in the Hyatt House discussion.  The neighbors of the proposed hotel along Cowell Boulevard in South Davis have come up with a litany of issues, many of them very legit (just as the neighbors of Field & Pond had legitimate concerns), mostly about privacy.  What we have seen in the last iterations is the developers working hard to address those concerns.  First, they came up with the partial privacy screen that should make it very difficult to see into the neighbors’ homes and yards.

But they didn’t stop there, they have added some trees on their own property line to give additional space and cover to the neighbors.

Between that additional space, the privacy screens and the evergreen trees, the neighbors will have a good measure of protection.  Last week, the Vanguard was able to view the scene from the perspective of one of the most impacted neighbors – and, yes, we could see the balloons put up as markers, but I think what is missing is that someone would still have to strain to see between tree branches – it’s not an unobstructed view.

Having addressed those issues, the argument by the neighbors seemed to shift a little, and the sense was – they just didn’t want the hotel there.  It didn’t really matter what the developers did, they didn’t want the hotel there. The argument was incompatibility to the site.

I think, at the end of the day, I come down with where Commissioner George Hague was.  Do I think there are better sites in town for a hotel?  Yes.  Do I think that the problems on this site are surmountable?  Probably.

This was always going to go to council, and I think there is a strong chance that this project will get approved, with some modifications.

One dynamic which people should pay attention to is that the argument seemed to be that the Marriott site was better – that it should be either one or the other.  This is backed somewhat by the HVS Consulting & Valuation report.  The one caveat is that, at least at this point, it is not clear that the Embassy Suites – which is in litigation but also according to some reports has financing issues – will go forward at this point.

People were downplaying the fiscal needs of the city, but you may be talking about $1 million annually.  Ironically, that neighborhood is extremely reliant on the city being able to maintain its greenbelts and parks, not to mention the bike paths and city streets – all of which are imperiled without an influx of revenue.

The Finance and Budget Commission met on Monday and, while they did not take a side in the recommendations on land-use applications – which are the purview of the Planning Commission and City Council, they did find that, if approved, the Hyatt House “would likely result in a net fiscal benefit to the City of Davis in the hundreds of thousands of dollars annually.”

While that may be a small number in terms of the overall needs of the city, which are in the tens of millions of annual funding, in terms of the city’s ability to be able to maintain parks and greenbelts, that money could be critical in the coming years.

Concerns with Planning Staff

To be fair, I think there is plenty of blame to go around here, just as there was on Nishi.  I think Herman Boschken’s comments on the General Plan, which we will analyze in much greater detail in a subsequent piece, are spot on.  When he said that “this problem speaks to the usability of a badly outdated General Plan,” I think he nails it on the head.

Those who are opposed to this project but skeptical of a General Plan revision should be aware of the irony – one of the reasons that Mr. Boschken cited for opposing the staff recommendation is that the General Plan is basically unusable at this point.  This result, therefore, makes it more and not less likely that the city will push forward with changes to the General Plan.

Along the same lines, staff has been heavily criticized for attempting broader General Plan amendments and South Davis Specific Plan Amendments, and they have now narrowed the focus.  This is problematic as well, as Mr. Boschken noted this comes dangerously close to spot zoning, something he called illegal.

The General Plan Amendment proposed is: “Hotel uses are conditionally allowable on Cowell Blvd. between Research Park Drive and Drummond Avenue.”

The South Davis Specific Plan Amendment:  “Twenty percent of the site area shall be landscaped, or as otherwise established within a Planned Development on Cowell Boulevard between Research Park Drive and Drummond Avenue.”

So, instead of simply granting an exception to the General Plan like other projects have done, the city has gone from suggesting a more general amendment to the General Plan to a very specific amendment, that does come close to spot zoning.

At some point the council is going to have to take leadership here, but this seems very problematic to be proposing this stuff on the fly.

Making matters worse was confusion about council direction.  A key issue, cited specifically by Chair Rob Hofmann, among others, was the resolution passed by the City Council regarding establishing criteria for evaluation of hotel proposals.  This issue was first pointed out by Marilee Hanson, and he indicated that this gives clear direction from the council about what criteria they should be basing their analysis upon.

Without this direction, Mr. Hofmann indicated he would probably have gone ahead and supported the project.

City Planner Katherine Hess said that these were intended to “supplement the customary planning entitlement review consideration” and, “so as we see it, the criteria on page 166 are things that the council’s going to look at when both of the planning applications are presented together…”

One councilmember told the Vanguard that those principles were set forth by council as their own guide to evaluate the two sites on a one to one basis, but they were not supposed to be used by the Planning Commission.  That was never made clear by Ms. Hess, and at least one vote went away from the project because of it.

Another clear problem with the discussion was the focus by Herman Boschken and Rob Hoffman on the viability of the site.  Several commissioners here got into issues of this sort that had nothing to do with planning or their purview.

From the city’s perspective, this was a debacle.  You had clear confusion on the part of the Planning Commission as to what their role was in this, and no clear direction from city staff.

It should be pointed out that you did not have the Planning Department’s director in attendance at this meeting.  The city manager has provided no direction or leadership here.

While I don’t think this is fair to put this all on the shoulders of planning staff or the staff, from the city’s perspective at least, you have put a hugely contentious issue on the shoulders of a planner who was demoted from being the department head a few years ago due to problems with communication to the public, and she was put into the very position where she was set up to fail once again.

What was the last major project headed up by Katherine Hess that got approved?  At some point, the city needs to look inward and suggest that this stuff isn’t working.

The neighbors were always going to complain about a four-story hotel in their backyard, but the rest of the issues and, in particular, the confusion on the part of the commissioners was completely avoidable.

Council doesn’t want to get into personnel issues.  That makes sense, but at the same time, the city needs to change the way they do business and that starts where they can control things – at the city manager level.  There is no hands-on leadership that I can see coming from the city manager.

Next month, this whole mess is going to be dumped into the hands of the council.  The neighbors are angry and frustrated.  The council has to weigh the concerns and desires of the neighborhood against the needs of the community, and they have gotten remarkably little assistance on all of this.

—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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55 Comments

          1. Don Shor

            I don’t think the council should give up on economic development. But at this point they probably need to turn their attention to the parcel tax. The public needs to know what everything costs and what it will take to pay for it all.

        1. Mark West

          “But at this point they probably need to turn their attention to the parcel tax. The public needs to know what everything costs and what it will take to pay for it all.”

          I think this is a great idea, but the first thing that has to happen is for the CC to admit that we have a huge deficit.  If they continue to act like the budget is nearly balanced and we only need a small parcel tax to get by, then the effort will be worthless. If, on the other hand, they are honest about the breadth and depth of the problem, and the need for a multi-thousand dollar annual tax to cover, then we will start seeing some real demand develop for economic development. An honest discussion coming from the CC about the tax needs will effectively ‘grease the wheels’ for development projects and result in a real step forward towards solving the problem.

        2. Ron

          Don:  “But at this point they probably need to turn their attention to the parcel tax.”

          Not necessarily a “parcel” tax, but perhaps a (stratified) “unit” tax, at least to maintain roads and bike paths.   Apartment dwellers/complexes need to pay their fair share of any proposed tax.  I recall that Matt said that this was a possibility (per the city attorney).

          Apparently, the law that allows apartment complexes (regardless of the number of units) to pay the same amount of tax toward schools (as a single-family dwelling) may not apply to all proposed taxes.

          On a somewhat related note, I don’t think that the proposed Residence Inn will generate as much resistance as the Hyatt (due to its less-impactful location).  (Perhaps none at all?) If not, do the pro-development types still get to call someone derogatory names? 🙂

          I’m not sure if there’s a market to support three new extended-stay hotels, without driving some existing hotels out of business (thereby offsetting any gain for the city).

        3. Robb Davis

          Mark – though brief, I thought laid out the deficit challenges clearly in the SWOT analysis. Given the word limits, what, essentially was lacking?  I felt I had to keep it brief but the basics were there?  Do I need to write another article focusing only on this issue only?  Open to ideas.

        4. Mark West

          My apologies Robb, I was referring to the behavior of past Councils, who clearly were not interested in having an open and honest discussion about the fiscal situation. I do recall your SWOT analysis and as I recall it was comprehensive. I don’t recall, however, seeing your estimate for the parcel tax necessary to balance the deficit considering we have so far failed at both economic development and cost containment. If I missed that, I may have to apologize again.

        5. Ron

          Robb:

          I realize that you didn’t ask me – but here’s my general input again, regardless.

          If you want to get a tax passed:

          1)  Make it “fair”.  (That is, apartment complexes/residents must pay their “fair share”, which is of course open to interpretation.)

          2)  Make is “specific”.  Start with something that everyone uses, such as roads and (hopefully) bike paths.

          3)  Make it “reasonable”.  (Don’t try to solve everything at once.)

          4)  Don’t put it on the same ballot as the school tax.

          5)  Once you’ve done the above, put it on the ballot, and give voters a chance to consider it without prejudging its chances.

           

           

          1. Don Shor

            I think it would be fundamentally dishonest for the council to go to the public with a parcel tax that doesn’t address all of the unmet needs that have built up.

        6. Ron

          Don:  “I think it would be fundamentally dishonest for the council to go to the public with a parcel tax that doesn’t address all of the unmet needs that have built up.”

          There is absolutely nothing “dishonest” about proposing a tax for a specific purpose.  Not all “purposes” have the same level of urgency, importance, or need. To pretend otherwise is “dishonest”.

          And again, parcels that house apartment complexes must pay more than single-family dwellings.  (I’m not proposing a specific breakdown.)

           

          1. Don Shor

            Dear Davis voters. We need about $3000 a year from you for all of our unfunded liabilities. But for now, we just want $600 or so a year to fix the roads. Meanwhile, your parks will deteriorate, we’ll start closing pools and tennis courts, the buildings will deteriorate, and we won’t make any progress on the longterm liabilities for pensions. We’ll get back to you when we need the rest.
            Sincerely, your council.

            Should go well.

        7. Ron

          That’s the spirit, Don.  Don’t try to solve any problems at all.  Glad that you’re not on the council.

          Things change, over time.  Finances improve based on new commercial development (e.g., hotels), and increased property taxes over time, etc. Houses and commercial buildings are reassessed as they are sold/purchased. (Example – the recent purchase of a large block of buildings downtown.) Pensions get reformed (hopefully).  Perhaps fees are implemented for end-users of specific amenities (such as pools).

          Identify and take care of the urgent/important problems, first.  (Or not.)

        8. Ron

          I believe that the $600 figure you cited came from Matt, based on limited maintenance of roads and bike paths.  Not sure if he calculated that equally, for all parcels (e.g., with no differentiation between apartment complexes and single family homes).

          Perhaps he’ll chime in, at some point.

           

        9. Robb Davis

          No apologies needed Mark.  I have not laid out the specifics of a parcel tax. However at last week’s goal setting I asked that we start discussing the specifics of a parcel tax early next year.  The last CC could not agree to the parameters of the tax–either in priority or scale.  I was in favor of a larger, longer, tax that focused first on streets and second on buildings and parks (in a “pay as you go” versus bonding approach).  Hopefully this Council can lay out a plan and a rationale if we decide to move in this direction (I am assuming we will).

          As for the $3000 figure that keeps popping up, could someone break that down for me again?  I simply don’t see it, but that number has somehow become the “truth” about what we need per year.

        10. Mark West

          I was in favor of a larger, longer, tax that focused first on streets and second on buildings and parks,,,

          FBC put the unfunded obligations at something north of $600 million over 20 years, or roughly $30+ million per year. In my opinion, the only honest approach is to create a comprehensive plan that addresses all of that amount. My preference is to use a combination of cost containment, new taxes, and significant economic development. Unfortunately, to date, the CC has refused to implement cost containment, and the community has refused to implement economic development. Consequently, Robb, you now need a tax plan that covers the entire $600+ million. Anything less is just pushing the problem down the road for someone else to deal with (Or in other words, a dishonest approach).

          I don’t think we can pass a tax package that large, but once the reality is placed before the community I believe you will find greater support for both cost containment and economic development, making a comprehensive approach possible. If you go with the partial solution, the smallish tax that many prefer as being politically possible, I believe the vote will fail and you will end up with nothing. Even if it passes, though, you will just be pushing the bulk of the problem on to future generations to clean up.

           

        11. Ron

          Mark West:  “Anything less is just pushing the problem down the road for someone else to deal with (Or in other words, a dishonest approach).”

          “I don’t think we can pass a tax package that large, but once the reality is placed before the community I believe you will find greater support for both cost containment and economic development, making a comprehensive approach possible.”

          So, Mark and Don are suggesting an approach that will “fail”, in order to “prove a point”.

          And – they both called my suggestion for a more limited approach “dishonest”.

          I hope that Robb Davis isn’t taking advice from those two.

        12. Matt Williams

          Robb, the $655 million over 20 years means $32 million plus, divided by approximately 16,000 parcels equals $2,000 per year.

          That $655 million does not include the impact of the reality that CalPERS realized a return of 2.4 percent on its investment for the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2015, and a return of 0.6 percent on its investments for the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2016.

          An adjustment of the CalPERS expected return rate to 5.5% from its current level of 7.5% will add more than $100 million to the $655 million, and could possibly double the current amount the City has to pay for Pensions and Retiree Healthcare (OPEB).  Those CalPERS realities combine to increase the $2,000 per year per parcel to $3,000 per year per parcel.

        13. Ron

          Matt:

          Are you counting all parcels the same?  In other words, apartments get charged the same amount as a single-family dwelling, regardless of the number of units in an apartment complex?

          If the council proposes something like that, it probably will fail (as some seem to be hoping for).

           

          1. Don Shor

            (as some seem to be hoping for).

            I don’t know anybody who is hoping that a revenue measure will be proposed for the purpose of having it fail. That’s a canard. You might wish to stop asserting it now, rather than have it become part of your ongoing repertoire.
            I am hoping that the voters of Davis will develop a coherent philosophy with respect to financial stability. That would include budget cuts, tax measures, and economic development. So far they have voted down or scared off all forms of economic development. Basically the economic development strategy that was developed by task forces and the previous councils is in complete tatters. I don’t sense any stomach for more budget cuts. So that leaves taxes. I want the council members to be honest about what is needed. I want them to explain that economic development can reduce the amount of taxes needed. And then I wish for them to propose measures that will stabilize the city’s finances and not put things off.
            That’s not going to be easy. Particularly when people say things like

            Finances improve based on new commercial development (e.g., hotels), and increased property taxes over time, etc. Houses and commercial buildings are reassessed as they are sold/purchased. (Example – the recent purchase of a large block of buildings downtown.) Pensions get reformed (hopefully). Perhaps fees are implemented for end-users of specific amenities (such as pools).

            I assume when I read this that you are simply unaware of the magnitude of the city’s long-term financial problems.

        14. Robb Davis

          Matt – A staff report on the parks portion of the unfunded maintenance need made it clear that over 200 million of the unfunded portion of parks is due to full turf replacement 30 years out.  Staff made it clear that that is not how we maintain turf but that turf maintenance is covered in current O/M budgets.  Further, staff is set to release 5 year ful analysis of maintenance backlogs and distinguish projects/needs that is, in fact covered in current budgets and which is not.  The final numbers simply are not out yet and the FBC is committed as one of its goals to nailing down the most appropriate number.  I believe it will be far less than 600 million and am frustrated that this number is still being used.

        15. Robb Davis

          I guess I should be clear that I believe that the CC MUST lay out the most accurate estimate of revenue shortfall if we are to go to the public with a tax measure.  There is no disagreement with anyone posting here on that point.  Even if we not end up asking for the entire amount we must be honest about what the need is.

          I want to also point out, because neither the Enterprise nor the Vanguard reported on it, at last Saturday morning’s goal setting exercise we reworked our “Fiscal Reslience” goal to have three objective areas: revenue enhancement, cost containment, and fiscal transparency.  We now have the potential to explore a full array of cost containment strategies including cutting programs we can no longer afford to provide.  In my view the door is open now to also going to the community and talking about what we need to cut.

           

        16. South of Davis

          Don wrote:

          > I assume when I read this that you are simply unaware of

          > the magnitude of the city’s long-term financial problems.

          I think it is great that former Davis fire chief Rose Conroy and her Davis firefighter husband get pensions that total over $200K a year (I just looked them up at transparentcalifornia dot com/ ).  My best friend is a (soon to retire) firefighter making over $180K a year and over Labor Day we were at the lakefront home of another firefighter friend that is currently getting a $150K/year “pension” from one department while working as a fire chief of another department (where he will get a second pension when he retires “again”).  I know most California public “servants” make a lot less (and work more than 10 days a month) but fact remains that unless the California population keeps doubling (it won’t) like it has in the past it will be reveled that the entire pension system is a ponzi scheme doomed to fail (we will need BOTH massive property tax increases AND massive income tax increases to save it).

          http://www.pensiontsunami.com/

        17. Mark West

          Robb: “We now have the potential to explore a full array of cost containment strategies including cutting programs we can no longer afford to provide.  In my view the door is open now to also going to the community and talking about what we need to cut.”

          The only meaningful form of cost containment will be from capping or reducing total compensation, not from cutting programs. If you are unable or unwilling to address the problem directly through negotiations with employees, then the only option remaining is to start outsourcing jobs. We simply cannot afford to continue with the same absurd level of benefits that we are currently providing. The last round of MOU’s made the situation worse, not better.

        18. DTDavisite

          How about a parking space tax specifically designed to pay for transportation infrastructure. Every house and every apartment complex would pay by number of parking spaces.

        19. Ron

          Don:  “I don’t know anybody who is hoping that a revenue measure will be proposed for the purpose of having it fail.”

          And then, there’s this from Mark West:

          Mark:  “Consequently, Robb, you now need a tax plan that covers the entire $600+ million. Anything less is just pushing the problem down the road for someone else to deal with (Or in other words, a dishonest approach).

          “I don’t think we can pass a tax package that large . . .”

           

        20. Robb Davis

          Mark wrote:

          The only meaningful form of cost containment will be from capping or reducing total compensation, not from cutting programs.

          I  disagree.  Every option should be explored. None ruled out. I do agree that containing compensation (including post employment benefits) must be included.

        21. Mark West

          Robb: “Every option should be explored. None ruled out.”

          I completely agree, but if you look at what makes up the largest percentage of our controllable costs, it is total compensation.  If we want significant reductions in costs it will need to come through decreases in total comp.  Remember, a few years back we cut 100 FTE’s and our compensation costs went up. Outsourcing services and cutting benefits are where we will gain the greatest long-term benefit.

        22. Ron

          Mark:  “Ron – Predicting an outcome is not the same as advocating for it.”

          And yet, you say this in which you seem to advocate an “all or nothing” approach (while acknowledging above that the “all” will probably fail):

          Mark:  “Anything less is just pushing the problem down the road for someone else to deal with (Or in other words, a dishonest approach).”

           

        23. Matt Williams

          Robb said . . . “Matt – A staff report on the parks portion of the unfunded maintenance need made it clear that over 200 million of the unfunded portion of parks is due to full turf replacement 30 years out.  Staff made it clear that that is not how we maintain turf but that turf maintenance is covered in current O/M budgets.” 

          Robb, the FBC looks forward to receiving the revised Parks Maintenance number.  When Parks staff made precentations to the FBC two times in 2016.  They presented the Kitchell report information and provided the FBC with some minor changes, ratifying the $315 million number in the Staff Report.

          Parks staff began to have second thoughts when the pain of combining the Parks $315 million with the pavement $200 million and the Pensions/OPEB $114 million illustrated the aggregate $655 million Unfunded Liabilities total.  They may have made their thoughts “clear” internally, but to date they have done nothing to update the $315 million presented to the FBC.

          Robb said . . . “Further, staff is set to release 5 year full analysis of maintenance backlogs and distinguish projects/needs that are, in fact covered in current budgets and which are not.”

          The problem with 5 year time horizons for Capital maintenance is that it is really easy to push needed maintenance out beyond the 5-year window.  Decisions to defer maintenance by the Council (often contrary to Staff recommendations) is one of the major factors that got us into this fiscal mess.

          Robb said . . . “The final numbers simply are not out yet and the FBC is committed as one of its goals to nailing down the most appropriate number.  I believe it will be far less than 600 million and am frustrated that this number is still being used.”

          You are 100% correct, and the obvious question your statement poses is which is the “most appropriate number” at this point, (A) the one that was formally presented by Parks staff to the FBC in two separate public hearings, or (B) the revised one that is a work-in-process that hasn’t yet been presented anywhere.  Until and unless (B) becomes real enough for Parks staff to present to the FBC or Council, then it isn’t real enough to supplant the now-current $315 million 20-year number.

        24. Matt Williams

          Barack Palin said . . . “Thank you for that Robb Davis, I’ve felt that the number was grossly inflated too.  It’s good to hear a more level voice on the figures.”

          BP, why would you feel the $315 million number presented by Parks and Recreation staff to the FBC, City Council and the Parks and Recreation Commission in at least four different meetings “was grossly inflated”?

        25. Mark West

          We have a debt, Ron, also known as our unfunded obligations. We have a choice of paying off that debt or making someone else do it for us.  I am advocating we pay the entire amount and not put the expense on our children. You are advocating only paying a portion, leaving the rest of the mess for someone else.

          Your advocacy against development limits the tools we have for paying off the obligations, leaving tax increases as our only option. I don’t believe we will be successful with a tax only approach. Your response seems to be ‘Don’t worry, be happy’ someone else will foot the bill.  I find that approach to be dishonest and unworthy of a City such as Davis.

          We have the option of approaching the problem by increasing our economic vitality, creating jobs and housing for our residents and increasing the wealth of our community, or we can simply raise taxes and make everyone poorer. The third option, of course, is to punt, which seems to be your choice.

        26. South of Davis

          Matt wrote:

          > BP, why would you feel the $315 million number presented

          > by Parks and Recreation staff to the FBC, City Council and the

          > Parks and Recreation Commission in at least four different

          > meetings “was grossly inflated”?

          BP might be thinking back to the days when Little League dads maintained the fields and Rainbow City was built by volunteers forgetting that today highly paid gardeners maintain the parks using expensive specialized machinery towed to the parks by expensive trucks and that the initial bid to rebuild Rainbow city was over $600K.

          P.S. Any idea where we can find the total cost to date for Rainbow City (I can’t think of the last government project that came in “under” budget)…

        27. DTDavisite

          Does anyone else find it odd that the Mayor is posting comments relating to taxes on an article that “expresses concerns” to put it as politely as possible with city staff, but has commented in no way about the accusations being made against city staff?

        28. Ron

          Mark:

          Not what I said.  I’m for cost containment and economic development.

          However, I was focusing on what you’re advocating, which would likely ensure that taxes are not part of the solution in any manner.  You’ve acknowledged that your suggestion would likely fail, essentially “forcing” the citizenry and council to focus on costs and development only.  I don’t think that approach will work.

          If the council tries to do what you’re suggesting (present a massive tax proposal that essentially has zero chance of succeeding), they will lose credibility to do anything.

           

           

           

           

           

           

           

        29. Mark West

          Ron – you frequently misstate or misinterpret what I say, and I frankly don’t know why. I have continually advocated for an approach that uses all of the tools available, cost cutting, tax increases and economic development. You and many others have opposed nearly every development project that has been proposed, thanks to the community’s ‘no first’ mindset, effectively taking that approach off the table.  I don’t want a tax only approach, that is what your advocacy has left us with.

        30. Ron

          Mark:

          I’ve cited direct quotes from you, above (in which you call anything less than a full/complete tax “dishonest”).  Don Shor also said this.  You then went on to say that this will essentially force the citizenry and council to focus on cost containment and economic development.  (Again, please refer to the direct quotes, above.)

          In any case, I think your approach will backfire.  I guess we’ll see, if the council pursues it.

          On a related note, I’m glad to see Robb Davis questioning the cost/need for turf replacement.

          I don’t think you’ll find anything from me, in which I’ve said that I’m against economic development or cost containment.  (In fact, I hope to hear more from you and others regarding cost containment.  I’m interested in learning more about pension reform, etc.  Especially for new employees.)

           

        31. Robb Davis

          Someone posting anonymously wrote:

          Does anyone else find it odd that the Mayor is posting comments relating to taxes on an article that “expresses concerns” to put it as politely as possible with city staff, but has commented in no way about the accusations being made against city staff?

          I was addressing a specific issue in response to other posters in order provide my personal views on it.  If you feel it is inappropriate for me to write about the City’s fiscal issues and potential solutions (in response to what others have written here), then you are free to hold that opinion.

          If I have concerns about personnel issues I will not air them in public. We have a City Manager whose job it is to deal with staff.  I communicate with him on a weekly (or even more frequent) basis and have the opportunity to discuss such concerns at those times.  I will not engage in a public conversation about staffing here or anywhere.  Do not expect it from me–ever.  If you have concerns about this practice you may contact me at rdavis@cityofdavis.org.

  1. Jim Gray

    Dear Vanguard.  I am moved to say that “you have ventured way out of bounds” with your comments and criticism of Planning Staff.  To imply that the problems and contentious nature of the debate is related to the Planning Department Staff is just not accurate or fair.

    I am a real estate developer, a former Planning Commissioner, and have been in the middle of contentious debates about land use and neighborhood concerns many times in Davis. I also have experience and  involvement in working on projects in a number of Communities. That said I have no direct involvement in the hotel application or the pros and cons of that application. And my thoughts about the desirability of a proposed hotel at that location I will keep private.  But I have a few thoughts to offer.

    Davis has numerous conflicting public policies — we “want revenue”- we want “great projects” and we want them to not generate any concerns from neighbors or special interests.  Efforts to mitigate and to make compromise to address concerns are frequently greeted with — “no project and no change” is the only acceptable outcome.  We have very few sites to bring quality development or redevelopment and our general plan and zoning and neighborhood land use standards are antiquated and full of conflicts.

    Davis has a professional  staff who work very hard to try and answer questions — to coach improvements to projects that will mitigate concerns and  reduce environmental and neighborhood impacts. The staff are  knowledgeable and they work collaboratively to not only to improve the projects and recommend and document standards and conditions but also to frame the potential decisions for the Commission and Council including neighborhood and interest group objections. The Staff has a very tough job, a thankless one, and they perform it with grace and professionalism.

    I am not sure what benefit is served by blaming the public servants and city staff who work hard to treat property owners and neighbors with respect. Amongst the worst public behavior is the sport of “staff bashing”.

    Vanguard, I usually find your insights and reporting to be spot on — but this post feels more like “bashing and flaming” and not good journalism or constructive. It also got incredibly snarky and personal.  You can and should do better.

    You owe the City Staff an apology!

     

  2. Chamber Fan

    I wonder Jim, as much as I respect your opinion, how closely you watched the meeting.

    There seemed to be mass confusion on the role of the commission and that is on staff.

    There seemed to be an unnecessary leap on the GPA with a partial rollback at the last moment and that is on staff.

    There seemed to be a lack of clarity on how the PC should view the resolution and that is on staff.

    The city didn’t have the department head at a crucial meeting – that is not on the staff at the meeting, but is one city manager and planning director.

    Is this all on staff?  No, I think Jim, you hit the nail on the head on conflicting public policies and the on-the-fly nature of council rules, but if the same thing isn’t working, why are there not changes to this process?

  3. Frankly

    We have very few sites to bring quality development or redevelopment and our general plan and zoning and neighborhood land use standards are antiquated and full of conflicts.

    This is key point from Jim Gray and one that demands repeating to all those steadfast in their opposition to peripheral development.

    This is one reason that sprawl happens.

    Uptight, change-averse, selfish, emotional, me-myself-and-I, don’t-care-about-the-rest-of-the-community, NIMBYs and BANANAs… they are plentiful in Davis.   And they have Measure R.  And Davis has weak leadership that gravitates towards kumbaya and good feelings rather than accepting that no good deed will go unpunished making the correct but tough decisions for the community.

    Sprawl generally happens because there are fewer neighbors around to contest the development.

    But here in Davis we have a general plan and policy that outlaws sprawl.  We have actually inducted that word into the Bad-Things Hall of Fame right next to words like Nazi, Racism and Trump.   Just repeating the word “sprawl” will cause audible gasps and booing in Davis coffee shops and pizza restaurants (which means most of our food service establishments).

    But then we apparently reject all infill too.

    “Development” is another word being considered for induction to the Davis Hall of Bad Things… and its derivative “Economic Development” is also teed up.

    We even fired the city employees with that role… and hired new senior city employees that don’t do math… but know how to ban things.

    Typically at least a community will do some trade-off analysis and accept some development.  And if not peripheral growth then the trade-off acceptance should be to allow development of those few infill lots we have scattered around.

    But Davis residents will have none of that either.

    And then “Davis Voter” is a phrase that should be inducted into the Foolish Things Hall of Fame.

    Yes we are fools… a sinking ship of fools.

  4. Mark West

    David makes an interesting observation in one of his digressions that I think deserves some attention, though it is not directly ‘on topic.’

    “today it is not clear that the Embassy Suites – which is in litigation but also according to some reports has financing issues – will go forward at this point.” [emphasis added]

    On page 8 of the HVS analysis on the Davis Hotel market, the authors report the following with regards to the Embassy Suites project.

    “Interviews with project representatives revealed that the project is fully funded by the EB-5 program, which is an immigration program that allows foreign investors to obtain permanent residency through investing money in the United States. [emphasis added]

    The financing marketplace is one of the best routes we have for determining the potential viability of a proposed development project. Those putting up the money to finance a project are the ones with the best information and the experience necessary to be able to analyze and determine if a project is likely to succeed. Embassy Suites apparently was bypassing the regular financing market and looking to fund the project through the EB-5 program. If what David reports is true, that the Embassy Suites project is now having difficulty securing financing even from this secondary avenue, there seems little reason for the City (or anyone else for that matter) to believe that the project will move forward.

     

     

  5. Edison

    Like some other readers, I have also been impressed overall with the performance of City staff.  Our city probably has more ongoing citizen participation and intense scrutiny than most jurisdictions, which makes staff work more difficult; i.e., you can’t please anybody let alone everybody.  What I have noticed, however, is that some City of Davis boards and commissions seem to be unsure how to conduct business. In fact, the City Council itself seems to exhibit the same tendencies.  This is most notable in terms of understanding how to get business done (i.e., Roberts’ Rules of Order). There is often a long discussion but either no conclusion or resolution because no one seems to know how to make a succinct and understandable motion that gives staff clear guidance. Again, the Council itself is sometimes the most prominent example of this. Many years ago I managed non-profit trade associations, which typically have a group of new board members every year.  I made it a practice to conduct an orientation for the entire board every year, and would visit new board members at their workplace to provide a one-on-one overview of their new roles and responsibilities.   I wonder if any similar training and orientation program occurs in Davis for new board, commission and City Council members.

  6. SODA

    I watched some of the meeting today and tend to agree with the article. There was confusion as to whether the PC should follow the CC’s guidelines for hotels and that staff had not informed them of such. My question is who is the CC liaison to the PC and apparently he/she was not there Wednesday night. That would have been very helpful IMO.

    1. Mark West

      “My question is who is the CC liaison to the PC”

      From the City’s website re: Planning Commission
      City Council Liaison
      Lucas Frerichs (Regular), Rochelle Swanson (Alternate)
      Staff Liaison
      Ash Feeney, Assistant Community Development/Sustainability Director

      1. SODA

        We’re either Lucas or Rochelle there Wed night? Hard to tell from the replay…..but doubt it as their clarification of the guidelines would have been very useful to the PC. Agree?

        1. Adam Smith

          Rochelle can not participate in the discussion about this hotel…she lives in the Rose Creek neighborhood is conflicted out.   The confusion about these guidelines was a huge issue for the PC.    If the PC misunderstood about guidelines were intended to be used, then it changed the vote. Rob Hoffman was clearly prepared to vote for the project, but was not convinced by Katherine Hess that the guidelines were for the CC, not the PC.

        2. South of Davis

          Adam Smith wrote:

          > Rochelle can not participate in the discussion about this hotel…

          > she lives in the Rose Creek neighborhood is conflicted out.   

          Was this an opinion of the city attorney?  Would a council member that lived downtown be “conflicted out” of voting on anything to do with downtown?

          1. David Greenwald

            500 feet is the general rule, although they seem to be hedging here because her house may be just outside of the 500 foot zone.

  7. SODA

    Agreed Adam after watching and the other two in favor of denying used the guidelines as part of their basis also. So to my point, why wasn’t CC liaison available for clarification and why haven’t we seen clarification since the meeting from the CC. In other words was Katherine Hess accurate or not? It was not a clearly stated answer to the PC questions of how they should use the guidelines and David’s article speaks to that. In my opinion if the guidelines are accurate and current, they are just what the PC should have used, within their purview.

  8. Frankly

    Meanwhile on yet another strange planet:

    http://www.wsj.com/articles/in-the-heart-of-silicon-valley-they-dont-want-new-jobs-1474064487

    The capital of Silicon Valley is ready to abdicate. A few weeks ago, bizarre as it might seem, Palo Alto Mayor Patrick Burt came out against jobs. “We’re looking to increase the rate of housing growth,” he told Curbed San Francisco, “but decrease the rate of job growth.”

    Think about that. Almost every mayor in the U.S. is wracking his brain trying to entice jobs into town. Yet Palo Alto—3.8% unemployment, a magnet for the geek class, the place that nurtured Facebook —is telling everyone else to get lost.

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