Majority Concerned with Labor Agreement, Housing and City-Owned Property
Mayor Pro Tem Brett Lee was concerned with the process, but his colleagues disagreed and voted 4-1 to support the certification of the Mace Ranch Innovation Center EIR. However, as Mayor Robb Davis noted, the three members who will remain on the council for at least the next three years – Brett Lee, Lucas Frerichs and Will Arnold – all made their voices heard on side issues of labor and housing for the project.
There were also enough questions about the 25 acres of city-owned property that it seems unlikely that those acres would be included in the final site.
The vote allows the project to move forward even though many have expressed concern that there is no project at this time after the development team in spring of 2016 put the project on hold.
Brett Lee expressed concern that “we’re being asked to certify the EIR without having a live active project proposal.” He is concerned that the applicant could replace the current project which is on hold with a different project “and this EIR may be deemed to be adequate to satisfy that even though it’s different.
“I really don’t feel this idea of a project without a project attached to it is acceptable. I don’t think the scrutiny is really taking place,” he said. “I really don’t believe this is an appropriate way to go.”
He explained this was “mainly for the process reasons. It doesn’t have anything to do with the project – because there is no project.”
Mayor Pro Tem Lee added that “the inclusion of the 25 acres of open space to me is problematic. I don’t really see the need.”
The mayor pro tem also added that, while this project is expected to bring good paying jobs, he also believes “there should be good paying jobs for the construction workers.”
Will Arnold came to a different conclusion, saying “if we had a project in front of us (that) would compare to the EIR as described” we would evaluate it in the same way will do so at this time. “That process in my mind doesn’t change if we wait to certify this EIR,” he explained.
“I really am getting hung up on this idea that because we don’t have a project at a certain point in the process…we have to hold this up. And I just don’t see it that way,” he said. He said that “I was the most vocal proponent for this project. I remain consistently a very strong supporter of this process. I believe this one of the key definitions of citizen based planning in our community.”
He pointed out that the community came together under a citizen engagement process, the RFEI (Request for Expressions of Interest) and three proposals came forward and “this has always been in my mind the superior location for an innovation center in our community.
“I think it’s incredibly important for our community that we diversify our revenue portfolio and this is the best opportunity that we have to do it, period,” he said.
Councilmember Arnold added that he is concerned about the use of the 25 acres because of the use of the Measure O funds, and thus he is not in favor of utilizing the 25 acres – though he did agree that it was important to include it in the EIR, as it cast a wider net with regard to impacts.
He said he was supportive of a labor agreement and wanted to see that happen before approving the project proposal.
Finally he said he does not support the mixed-use alternative on this site.
Councilmember Lucas Frerichs put forward the motion to certify the EIR. It was seconded by Will Arnold.
Councilmember Frerichs said, “The certification of the EIR provides whether the EIR has adequate analysis under CEQA – no more, no less. I believe it does provide adequate analysis under CEQA.”
He argued, “An additional reason to certify the EIR is that it can be used as a tool to help market the site to possible potential tenants.
“There are numerous steps ahead for this site,” he said. “I would like to suggest…to applicant and the project team to sit down and engage in a meaningful way (a labor agreement). There have been previous attempts to have dialogue and it has not been a two-way street.”
Councilmember Frerichs also added about the 25-acre city-owned portion, “I definitely have concerns about its inclusion – the use of Measure O funds and certainly moving forward.” He further noted that he is not sure those 25 acres are the best location for an open public site.
Lucas Frerichs did not state it at the meeting but he told the Vanguard, “I’ve previously said I don’t support housing there. That still stands.”
Councilmember Rochelle Swanson expressed hope that the applicant would engage with the entire community including labor so that we “can have a project that can truly address the concerns that we might have.
“This isn’t the approval of a project,” she said. “But the certifying of an EIR does allow us to say that not only are we open to consideration on this project which is consistent – people forget that we sent out an RFEI – we asked for proposals – these weren’t brought in without being invited.”
She also pointed out that this will be subject to a Measure R vote, which she called “a very high bar” and it will be “vetted and approved by this community.
“At this point I don’t even care about this project, what I care about is that our commissions put themselves out there to question this project,” said Mayor Robb Davis, noting the slew of public meetings focused on the Draft EIR.
He called this “a normal process” and said “this is the way it works.
“That is what is driving my desire to see it certified,” he said. “I don’t think this project will happen. I’m not sure what size project will happen.” He said, “It’s a tough sell fiscally, financially, we’re probably going to need mitigation on city land, we’re probably going to need some sort of community financing district and we’re probably going to need housing to make this project work.
“I don’t see this project going forward unless it’s substantially changed,” he said.
He mentioned the issue about the adequacy of the environmental analysis and said “that’s why in a very narrow sense I’m going to support it.”
He observed that the three members of this council who are going to be on the council for the next three years “have said to the developers, we’re not real happy with what we see with labor.” They have also said that “we need to talk more about that 25 acres.”
He added, “I don’t see anything in the three members who are going to be here for the next three years that suggests that they’re going to embrace housing on that site. And I don’t see anything that the community is going to vote for it in Measure R – which I think is a little bit sad.”
The council voted 4-1 to support certification, with Brett Lee dissenting.
—David M. Greenwald reporting