On Sunday, Vanguard Board Member Tia Will put forth a very thought-provoking piece, offering a different perspective on development. I find her piece interesting because, while I don’t agree with the core of her arguments or their practicality, she’s actually not that far off conceptually speaking. Allow me to explain.
Dr. Will is critical of the process on Hyatt House, noting that while the neighbors were criticized by Will Arnold and others for failing to come forward with “workable compromise” – as Tia Will puts it, neither did the developers. She argues, “There was no initial discussion with the neighbors about what use might be preferable to them.”
She continues, “An alternative would be to develop a project that from its conceptual onset has the backing of the neighbors.”
What is striking to me is that she later acknowledges, “I truly do believe that we should view every resident of Davis as our ‘neighbor.’ When seen in this light, we should all be concerned when our more geographically separated neighbors are being expected to ‘take a hit’ for the team that we are not being expected to take.”
As she explains in her piece, “I am not opposed to the concept of sacrifice for the greater good of the community. However, I am opposed to the concept of disproportionate sacrifice which is what I believe that we are seeing when we trivialize the concerns of those most directly affected. They are being asked to not only accept any overall adverse consequences such as decreases in service, congestion, more taxes, worse roads, but are also being asked to absorb the direct adverse consequences on their neighborhood.”
There are a couple of points I wish to make in response.
First, if we conceptualize neighbors not as people adjacent to the project, but as the community, we actually have a fix for this dilemma – the general plan process which would allow the community to decide priorities and determine the locations where those priorities would be addressed.
Given that we do not have a current or updated general plan, we are actually moving forward with a proxy for that process. The proxy is that the elected representatives of the community – the city council – have come up with a list of goals, and at the top of the list is fiscal resiliency.
My second reaction is related to the first, as Matt Williams pointed out in a response, “The thing about being ‘neighbors’ is that it is a two way street. You have described the neighbors in close proximity to the Hyatt as ‘taking a hit’ for the team if they agree to let the project go forward (against their better judgment). What you haven’t described are how the ‘neighbors’ who are not in close proximity to the Hyatt will be ‘taking a hit’ for the team if they agree to not let the project go forward. “
Indeed, without revenue sources, the entire community would be asked to accept “adverse consequences such as decreases in service, congestion, more taxes, worse roads.” The answer that the neighbors have to that is not to deny the impacts of no hotel, but to suggest that the hotel go somewhere else and become someone else’s problem.
So the neighbors’ response in the face of these arguments is, in effect, put the burden on someone else.
Given the urgency of the situation, while I would prefer probably a more systematic approach to land use and development that could be offered by a general plan, I am willing to allow our elected officials to serve as proxies for that process.
This is the problem I have with planning by litigation. You would have to go back to 2008 to find the last elected official on the city council that opposed either Nishi or the water project. And while John Munn ran in 2014 and came very close, he is actually the only major candidate again since 2008 that ran from the slow growth position of opposition to major projects.
For reasons that are probably complex, the huge numbers of people who voted against Nishi did not have a single candidate this time who supported their position. In my view, this is not only a tactical mistake, but a policy mistake. If the council does not represent the community, as one person pointed out during public comment last Tuesday, they have no one to blame but themselves.
As a final point to note, Tia Will cites Will Arnold’s comment regarding what some called a “workable compromise” that suggested that the hotel go to three stories and underground parking.
Councilmember Arnold stated, “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.”
Tia Will points to my comment that we do not know the expected margins, and responds, “This for me is the crux of the issue. We don’t ever really know ‘the expected margins.’ We are provided with the statement ‘we can’t do it.’ This would seem to me to be the classic ‘doesn’t pencil out argument.'”
While Dr. Will makes a good point about us having to take their word on all of this, I would point out that this issue came up at the beginning of the year when MRIC (Mace Ranch Innovation Center) asked the council to consider a mixed use alternative for the innovation park.
The council quickly said no, but the result of that was MRIC ended up pulling their proposal. Some have argued that this was “bait and switch,” and others questioned why they did not know the financing would be a problem without housing from the start – but the bottom line from my perspective is there is a case where the developer said it would not pencil out without housing and, when the bluff was called, they pulled their project.
I get it that Tia Will and others would like some showing of proof that an added cost (in the millions) would make the project unviable, but, as we saw with MRIC, it does happen.
—David M. Greenwald