On Tuesday night the Davis City Council did not take any votes, but it is clear that the council will be moving forward with both hotel projects – the only real question is what the projects will look like in the end.
I have a bunch of different thoughts here to express.
The first is how similar this process turned out to be the Field & Pond approval by the County Board of Supervisors. The two kind of came on our radar at similar times, they were disapproved by their respective planning commissions, but the key factor for both is that the project applicants always seemed sincere in trying to find a compromise – or a win-win – while the opposition, neighbors in both cases, never seemed to accept that an approval could occur.
There might be additional compromises that come down the road, but it was remarkable how willing to attempt to mitigate the impact on privacy the applicants were willing to go. Yet it never seemed enough for the neighbors and I don’t think that went unnoticed by the council.
Robb Davis said on Tuesday that he tried to get the developers to meet with the neighbors with the help of a professional facilitator at city expense. “I went around the table that day,” he said. “The answer I received was no.”
The neighbors simply did not want a hotel there, just as the neighbors in the county did not want the event center. But, most often, governing bodies are looking for the compromise. They don’t want to impose harm on residents if they can avoid it, but when residents are not willing to work with their neighbors, it makes it hard.
There was a late idea thrown out, interestingly enough on the Vanguard – which definitely once again was the place where these discussions took place – and that was going down to three stories AND having underground parking.
Will Arnold was also critical of the neighbors, in that “there is a lack of options being given from the neighborhood as to what might satisfy you. The two that were mentioned specifically were going down to the three stories and underground parking.”
“My understanding is that underground parking is a no go and that going down to three stories would result in sacrificing a lot of the things that we find very beneficial about this project, including many of its environmental attributes,” he explained.
He noted that he read this as a package deal that, if the developers did both of those things, “it might be acceptable.” Mr. Arnold said, “I think those things are a poison pill for this project.”
The idea was thrown out on the Vanguard that, if the Palm Court Hotel could have underground parking, certainly the Hyatt House could. We were not able to find out specifics of the Palm Court financing, but we do know later on when the Chen Building came about, there was a push for underground parking there and it proved too expensive.
Some research indicates that putting in the parking underground may increase the costs by up to 15 percent and, on top of that, critics wanted to decrease the number of rooms by 25 percent. Without knowing the expected margins, those two numbers alone would seem to argue against such a change.
On a second note, if you had asked me a week ago what was going to happen, I would have said there would be one approval, Marriott Residence Inn. No one was opposed to the Residence Inn, but the neighbors were opposed to Hyatt House.
That begs the question: how much did the Fulcrum Property announcement regarding the University Research Park change the calculations? It is hard to assess – but clearly the applicants jumped on board. Some of the councilmembers, including Will Arnold and Lucas Frerichs, cited it.
You’re adding in at least $100 million investment at the start between Fulcrum and Sierra Energy. All of a sudden you have a demand generator that wasn’t there before. There were similar arguments offered for the Residence Inn – the fact that some big business entities were down the road (and probably further than half a mile, given the expanse of Second Street).
In the end, this came down, I believe, to money for the city and Fulcrum simply made that money more certain.
Here, I think, Robb Davis eloquently but probably provocatively made the case.
“People have said to me what you’re engaged in around the fiscal issue, especially in relation to this project, is fear mongering,” he stated. He said that fear mongering is raising fear that isn’t merited. “The reality is our fiscal situation is dire and it’s not getting any better.”
He noted that the city is not going to have to be looking for a couple hundred thousand every year, “we’re going to have to be looking for millions of additional dollars every year.”
“In that context, is it too much for me to ask a neighborhood, many neighborhoods in our entire city, to make sacrifices? I don’t think so,” he stated. “We’re in a situation where we have to try to find more revenue for the city. I am unapologetic in trying to find ways to find revenue. And I’m unapologetic in trying to find ways to cut costs.”
The mayor talked on Tuesday night about being frustrated, but this is my frustration – we are staring at a huge chasm between the revenue that we are producing and our needs, whether it is for city services or infrastructure.
We had revenue potential at Nishi, but it got voted down without any alternative offered. The innovation centers went away due to financing concerns and opposition to mixed use. People opposed the hotel because of its proximity to neighbors.
So, at the end of the day, we had a series of projects killed, none of them perfect, but all of them revenue-producing, and no viable alternatives were offered.
Robb Davis made the argument that people are going to have to sacrifice. And it will not just be these neighbors – all of us will be asked to do so, whether it is more traffic, more taxes, worse roads, fewer services, etc.
That said, I have always believed the actual impact on the neighbors will be far less than they are currently fearing. There were two big takeaways I saw when I walked through the neighborhood. One is the ambient noise from the freeway. The other is that few will actually physically see the hotel.
There are a few homes and I visited one that clearly will see the hotel. I’m not sure how big an impact that ends up being at the end of the day. You adjust your tree line, pull a few shades, and with the privacy screens the worst concerns are mitigated. For the most part, their view is the empty field, a frontage road and a highway.
I think Robb Davis put it well.
“Will this harm you?” he asked the neighbors. “You feel it will. I feel it could inconvenience you, I feel it could change your life.”
For most people it probably ends there.
But if the city cannot find ways to generate revenue – the impacts on your neighborhood could be a lot greater. Lack of upkeep on roads. Lack of maintenance on the greenbelt. Lack of maintenance on the parks. The city is facing a crisis and the council believes that adding a few hotels is a way to generate more revenue.
It is not going to solve the problem, but it is a start.
Lucas Frerichs put it well when he noted that the overwhelming sentiment seemed to be a great project, but the wrong place and time. To that, Councilmember Frerichs responded, “If not now, when? If not here, where?”
That is the bigger problem we face – we object to the imperfect solution while offering nothing to solve the overall problem. The council saw through that. And yet, if there is another compromise to make that make sense, they will be there too.
—David M. Greenwald reporting