Guest Commentary: There Must Be a Better Way

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by Greg House

Although I am gratified that CLBL [Center for Land-Based Learning] has now agreed to use organic practices from the beginning of the proposed Cannery urban farm lease, I remain appalled at the process which got us here, and the amount of energy it took.

Back-room deals

In short, this Davis/CLBL lease developed as a back-room deal. There was no opportunity for any other party than CLBL to apply for leasing this property. Please see my Vanguard article of 2017-Jan-22 for details on the what and why this happened.

I am not saying the public notification of this opportunity to lease the Cannery urban farm was poorly advertised. I am saying there was NO OPPORTUNITY for any other party to make a proposal to lease the property.

This bothers me, and it is not the first time I have seen this happen in Davis government. In the end, it probably doesn’t matter if this was done for the expediency of the city staff, or it was a simple case of cronyism. What does matter is that the City of Davis has a chronic, flawed system of making important decisions about certain issues. To wit, there is a lack of openness and a furtive approach to inserting important public decisions into the “Consent Calendar” of the City Council.

It also has to do with how the staff brings issues before the various City commissions. After ten years I have “termed out” on the Open Space and Habitat Commission (OSH) but during those ten years I observed that OSH would frequently get items placed on its agenda by staff, items that were framed in a way that limited the way the item could be handled by OSH. Framed, you might say, such that OSH could either rubber stamp the staff recommendation, or give limited input on modification, but never to offer advice on whether the framework offered was appropriate or fitting for the issues and circumstances.

This is exactly what I experienced with the CLBL lease. One year ago or so the lease was first brought to the attention of the OSH. I brought up at the time there were problems with the use of the herbicide glyphosate, and equally importantly, this was a sweetheart deal, with CLBL getting $300,000 from the Cannery developer to farm the property and paying only $1 rent per year to the City. Since then I have learned that the subtenants who actually are doing the farming may be paying something like $1,200 per acre per year for the farming privileges, and there are either 3.3 or 5.5 acres of farmland there depending on which source you go to find out the facts. (See this July 2016 Comstock Magazine article for details).

Don’t forget too that CLBL gets to use that magnificent barn at the corner of Cowell Boulevard and Cannery Avenue, together at no extra price above that bargain price of $1 per year.

Open It Up

I said a year ago then and I say now that this lease should be put out to competitive bidding. I am confident that there are many farmers and entities that would like the opportunity to make a proposal to lease the Cannery urban farm. Why not let the current subtenant, Fiery Ginger Farm, step up and lease it directly if they choose?

Through this miasma I have lost confidence in CLBL as the tenant on this property. CLBL is the tail wagging the dog here, and CLBL has shown little restraint until forced by public outrage to reduce its demands. I do not advise the City Council to go forward with this lease which gives possession of the urban farm property to CLBL for up to ten years, during which time there will be the need several times to negotiate terms. I no longer have the confidence that CLBL places openness and the public interests above its own interests in operating this property.

CLBL can return with a new proposal or let the current one stand, but the City Council should open it up to others in an RFP process.

We need this kind of competitive process in Davis to remain above the board, and so that the citizens of Davis get the best deal possible.

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Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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5 thoughts on “Guest Commentary: There Must Be a Better Way”

  1. Ron

    I like the “urban farm” at the Cannery (although I’m wondering if it might be better if it was accessible as a community farm/garden, where anyone can enter and grow their own produce without having to “purchase” it).

    Regarding the CLBL, I’m growing more and more uncomfortable with them, regarding their relationship with developers.  (I recall that there was some preliminary discussions between the potential MRIC developers and the CLBL.)  At least, that’s my understanding.

    At the Cannery, it does seem like a “sweetheart deal”, for reasons discussed in the article above. (Not sure if that’s the right term for it.)

    Also – really?  There’s no way to avoid pesticides at this small “organic” farm, bordering a residential development?

    1. Ron

      Correction – according to the article, they’ve “now” agreed to use organic farming practices, from the start. I guess that “congratulations” are in order (sarcasm intended).

      Overall, there does appear to be a problem, regarding the city’s processes (as discussed in the article).

    2. Don Shor

      Pesticides are used on organic farms, including those that border residential development. They just use pesticides that are certified for organic production. One issue is that there are no certified organic herbicides that have the systemic killing action of glyphosate. Organic herbicides are top-kill and require repeat applications. I’d be curious what the weeds are on the site that might be causing them to want to use glyphosate, given that it would delay their organic certification.

      1. Roberta Millstein

        to want to use glyphosate, given that it would delay their organic certification.

        This comment seems to assume that they were seeking organic certification.  But the now-withdrawn lease, the lease that the CLBL pushed for, did not contain a path to organic certification.

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