Late on Monday evening, Michael Harrington along with co-counsel Don Mooney announced that they had reached a settlement agreement with Royal Ganesh and the City of Davis, resolving their lawsuit over the Embassy Suites/Hotel Conference Center project.
The lawsuit had effectively blocked the development of a hotel conference center that the city had pushed through a year ago, hoping to bring in high-tech and university-related conferences, as well as to expand the base of available hotel space in the city in hopes of generating more TOT (Transient Occupancy Tax) revenue.
The project is slated to be built at the northwest corner of the intersection of Richards Boulevard and the westbound Interstate 80 on-ramp. “The settlement resolves the lawsuit in very specific terms that enhances the Project, improves traffic conditions and provides alternative transportation options for hotel and conference visitors,” they announced in the press release.
The release adds, “This project will meet existing needs for hotel rooms to serve the City, UC Davis and local businesses and residents. The Project will also provide a range of employment opportunities for Davis residents and the City will benefit from increased property taxes, sales taxes, and transient occupancy taxes.”
Michael Harrington stated that “… the Settlement Agreement reflects that the lawsuit caused Embassy Suites to reduce the visual massing of the buildings, push the buildings to the southern boundary of the property along the freeway so the public’s view from Richards provides for a modified site plan and building design that will be much improved and opened up, and ensures that the project footprint and design will not interfere with or compromise the City and Cal Trans’ ability to re-work the Richards area, including Olive Drive intersection and the I-80/Richards tight diamond.”
He continued, “Basically, as a result of the Settlement Agreement, we believe that the project, as modified, now meets many of the classic Davis infill goals, strategies and requirements.
“In addition to enhanced good planning, the Settlement Agreement also establishes the first of its kind privately funded alternative transportation program in the City of Davis. The Settlement Agreement ensures that the Project will include an effective program for free loaner bicycles and shuttle service at the Project for hotel guests and conference attendees. The Transportation Management Plan must be reviewed and approved by the City and the public on a periodic basis,” Mr. Harrington stated.
“Our group hopes that this new Embassy Suites program will serve as the start of additional similar programs in local hotels that will encourage hotel guests and conference attendees to use the free bikes and shuttle service to move around the downtown and campus, sparing the air and road congestion for the public benefit, and serve as a model for other hotels in the City,” he concluded.
On October 20, 2015, Mr. Harrington and Mr. Mooney filed a lawsuit against the project applicant and the city. They alleged the “IS/MND” (Initial Study/Mitigated Negative Declaration) for the project was approved in violation of CEQA because of unmitigated traffic impacts to the Richards Boulevard and Olive Drive intersection.
The press release adds that Royal Ganesh intends to submit the revisions to the city in the near future. The project revisions will be subject to review and consideration by the city in the coming months.
The settlement agreement now paves the way for Royal Ganesh to demolish both the existing 43-room University Park Inn and the adjacent Caffé Italia restaurant in order to build a new six-story 132-room hotel, including a +/-4,000 sf restaurant and 18,400 sf conference center.
The council unanimously approved the project in August 2015 despite objections from a variety of different sources.
Former City Councilmember Michael Harrington raised the issue of planning process, stating, “I think we have a situation here where the city staff is recommending the use of a ‘neg dec’ to avoid a full CEQA analysis and I think that the facts and law are against that process.”
He added, “I think that the weaknesses in the traffic report and the fact that the historic resources were not really evaluated, I think that that places you out of the ‘neg dec’ status and I believe that if you continue this and look at it some more, you’d have a good project.”
Alan Pryor, continuing on his line from his guest column in the Vanguard, stated, “I think there are many problems with this project that we really have to work through.”
He said, “For one, the traffic analysis was deficient in that it relied on unjustifiably low pre-existing baseline traffic counts taken by humans only over a two-hour period last year. I certainly don’t think you can say that’s representative.”
He further stated that this is compounded by under-counting or underestimating the number of vehicles that would come to the facility during maximum occupancy events. He argued that they did not have near enough parking to handle that.
In the settlement agreement, it states, “Royal Ganesh shall submit an application to the City of Davis to amend the Project” to include “3,130 square feet of solar panels to generate power for its premises, in a location that is suitable for maximum efficiency.”
The hotel will also be reduced by one floor, although the height of the building will remain at 74 feet, six inches.
The hotel also agrees to “valet parking to an on-site lot, and as necessary, to an off-site lot located in the immediate area of the Project, south of the Richards Undercrossing,” no less than 15 loaner bikes, shuttle service to and from the airport, charges for overnight parking to discourage guests from arriving by vehicle, among other changes.
In exchange, “Petitioner and its members shall not challenge the project design changes discussed in paragraph 5 during any required administrative review by the City or by way of subsequent litigation.”
However, “[N]o buildings or structures relating to the Project, as approved or modified, shall create an impediment to the City’s proposed right-of-way modifications to Richards Boulevard…”
There is also a modest settlement fee of $75,000 paid to the Law Offices of Donald Mooney.
—David M. Greenwald reporting