On Tuesday night, the council took a step forward by directing staff to initiate the EIR certification process for the Mace Ranch Innovation Center (MRIC) location, which will require additional public hearings of the planning commission and city council. The motion by Lucas Frerichs, seconded by Rochelle Swanson, passed 4-1.
Mayor Robb Davis warned the applicants that this project “can’t jump the queue.” The city, he said, has already committed to timelines on other projects and this cannot just jump ahead. They will need to figure out when and where this can fit in.
“Is it flawed? Maybe, but we’d have to go through the process to say as a council, yes,” the mayor explained.
John Taylor on behalf of MRIC said in this response to the letter from Don Mooney that they made four points in addition to the fact that the “Mooney Letter offers no legal reason why your Council should reject the MRIC’s request that its EIR be certified. Instead it makes a series of public policy arguments asserting that certification ‘is not in the public interest.’ The Council is accordingly completely free to weigh these contentions in its overall decision making as it sees fit, deciding as it does so whether they are or are not meritorious.”
The four points he raised are that, first, “certification will not result in project approval.” Second, “Additional environmental review will be required, consistent with CEQA, if circumstances or the project itself change before approval is sought.”
Third, “Certification will likely serve to assist the MRIC proponents’ efforts to secure investors and/or tenants, all of which would be useful for achieving the City’s stated goal of fostering economic development and securing a first class innovation center within its boundaries.”
Fourth, “Certification will preserve and conserve the valuable work product contained in the EIR produced by City staff and its team of extensive consultants.”
Councilmember Rochelle Swanson said, “I disagree about it being precedent setting. This is unusual. This is an investment in our community that I am confident beyond confident that no one else would have stuck it out as long as this.”
She said she met with an investor who wants to invest in our community and “they’re nervous, they’re wondering what we’re going to do. So this is real.”
In response to a concern about “future fighting,” she said, “I don’t believe there will be future fighting if we don’t move forward. Because there won’t be anything to fight about anymore.”
She said we lack research space to do anything we want to do at this point.
“Are we open for business?” she asked. “I don’t think so. That breaks my heart because I’ve invested seven years in this.” She added, “This is an inflection point to decide whether or not we’re really moving forward.”
Mayor Pro Tem Brett Lee, who ended up being the only dissenting vote, asked whether the non-certified EIR has a shelf-life.
Mike Webb, the Director of Community Development, responded, “No.”
He also explained that “the city’s consideration of any given project proposal under CEQA, if it’s within the bounds of what was analyzed in the environmental document, then that’s fair game.” If the project goes out of those bounds “it would probably necessitate additional CEQA analysis in some form.”
City Attorney Harriet Steiner explained, “It’s unlikely that it would be a full new EIR but it could potentially be an addendum.” The city could decide that “we don’t need to do any additional environmental review because we already looked at the mitigation measures for this.” On the other hand, the city could decide “it needs to do more, it could do a supplemental EIR to look at things that weren’t analyzed in the original document because it was a different project.”
She said this is exactly the analysis that the council would go through if something new comes forward.
Brett Lee said, about other proposals coming forward, “it seems in fairness (if they’re) actively pursuing their proposal, it would seem a shame for them to have to wait while we sort of just for form’s sake certify an EIR where there may or may not be a project proposal before us.” He said that “someone with an active live project probably deserves to go more toward the front of the line.”
Later, Will Arnold did point out that, while he had a similar concern, the project applicant that Brett Lee was referring to came to speak in support of this item.
Lucas Frerichs said, “We have every right as a city to be selective as to which projects we choose to encourage. But the viability of those potential projects depends largely on the ability of financing and/or anchor tenants.” He said if a certified EIR “moves the needle on either of those, I think it’s an advantage to the city.”
He said, “I can’t say with a straight face that I’m supportive of economic development in Davis if we’re going to continue to not be supportive of economic development in Davis.”
He said, while it “doesn’t mean at all costs,” he “really disagrees with the notion that certifying the EIR poses a risk to the city.”
He added that the EIR is a disclosure document, not a project approval document.
Councilmember Will Arnold was straight and to the point, “This commits us to nothing and this costs us nothing.” He said, “I’ve seen attempts to change that narrative but frankly my mind hasn’t been changed.”
Mr. Arnold did add, “My desire to see something happen with this project has remained consistent since I ran for city council. I believe this project could bring a tremendous benefit to our community. Not just fiscal.”
He also added that he is opposed to housing on the site.
Once again, Robb Davis pointed out that we are losing a lot of our commercial spaces to housing. He said, “I think I understand why this project is not going forward.” There were big issues that were addressed by the commissions during the EIR process – open space, traffic, natural resources, etc.
He said, “An EIR might enable us to move more quickly.”
Mike Webb responded that it certainly wouldn’t hurt to have a document or analysis that one can go to.
Robb Davis said in response to the public comments saying the EIR is flawed, “We can’t conclude the EIR is flawed without going through the certification process of the EIR.”
In the end, the council voted 4-1 to move forward with the certification process, with Brett Lee dissenting.
—David M. Greenwald reporting