Monday Morning Thoughts: Fixing the CASP Would Help Here

In my Saturday “My View” column, I presented the idea of the need for the Core Area Specific Plan (CASP) update process to lead us to downtown renewal.  I see the plan as a way to have a community visioning process for how the downtown and core area will look 20 to 50 years from now, and I see a great need to modernize and upgrade our downtown or risk it to fall by the wayside.

However, in response, Tia Will responded, “I honestly do not see why the update of the Core Area Specific Plan is important at all except as a waste of time, energy, money and as window dressing. If a vote of three of the CC is going to be able to override the CASP as has been done repetitively with Trackside merely being the most recent, then as has previously been pointed out, why have a CASP at all?”

As I pointed out at the time, I see the importance of the CASP going well beyond a few guidelines and zoning regulations.  The current CASP deals with everything from affordable housing and building densities to circulation, transit, bicycling, parking and much more.

As the current policy, now over 20 years old, lays out: “The purpose of the Core Area Specific Plan is to provide a comprehensive set of policies, guidelines and implementation strategies for promoting, guiding and regulating growth in the Core Area. Adopting and implementing the Core Area Specific Plan will allow the area to continue to function as the City’s social, cultural, retail center, and professional and administrative office district in a manner that enhances pedestrian activity. The Core Area Specific Plan establishes the strategies which are required for the
systematic execution of the City’s General Plan for the area covered by the Core Area Specific Plan.”

This isn’t just a set of regulations – it’s a vision for a key area of the downtown.

Nevertheless, coming off the contentious Trackside issue, I understand why Dr. Will would react as she did.  In her comment on my “Sunday Commentary” column about the downtown, she would add, “I typically am not a single issue voter, I personally will not support any candidate who is unwilling to clearly state their position on the adherence to CASP vs planning by exception and on collaborative vs competitive processes.”

Again, given the context of the Trackside discussion and debate, I understand the points that Dr. Will is trying to make.  The problem as I see it is that the city effectively has two out of date primary planning documents – the General Plan and the Core Area Specific Plan.  That requires, for almost any project, some sort of amendment and that becomes the basis for the planning by exception complaint – which is quite valid.

My preference, as I have stated many times before, would have been to have updated the planning documents first and then evaluate the proposals within the context of 2018 documents, rather than 1996 documents.

Even as far back as 1996, the city was looking at going upward in the core area.  On page 35 of the CASP, we see, “The Core Area will grow as Davis grows. It can grow upward (intensify in place) or outward (displacing residential uses on its fringes) or both. The Task Force recommends infill as it results in a more lively (because activity is concentrated) and pedestrian-oriented downtown and maintains valued older housing stock within its edges.”

At that time, the city was focused on single-story buildings and finding ones that were “suited for second and third story additions.”  Of course, the city had financing back then from the Redevelopment Agency.

The world of 1996 was starting to understand the need for density and height, but it was still a very different world from the one we live in today.

In our view, while the concept of growing up was correct, we should now be looking at four- to six-story buildings in the core area, not two- to three-story buildings and still, in too many cases, single-story buildings.

I therefore believe that we can solve Tia Will’s concerns about planning by exception simply by having current and updated planning documents.  The good thing about the Core Area Specific Plan process is that there will be ample opportunity for appropriate debate and discussion about what the future should look like.

Once we have current planning documents in place, I think the argument about design guidelines and current zoning becomes much more relevant.

At the same time we have to be mindful of the lesson from Mission Residence, where the neighbors near the B Street location had engaged in a lengthy visioning process – only to see the developer propose a project outside the scope that was agreed to and the council on a 4-1 vote approve it.

The reality then is that there are no guarantees that a future council will not use its discretionary power to overturn the planning documents approved today.  However, I believe with up-to-date documents, at least we can lessen that possibility.

Therefore, while many can and will hold the next candidates to answer for their views on planning by exception, I happen to believe that the best way to deal with this issue is to have current and workable planning documents that can help guide us in the 21st century world of infill in Davis.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. Tia Will


    “The purpose of the Core Area Specific Plan is to provide a comprehensive set of policies, guidelines and implementation strategies for promoting, guiding and regulating growth in the Core Area.”

    This is a lovely statement. However, as you then proceed to point out :

    The reality then is that there are no guarantees that a future council will not use its discretionary power to overturn the planning documents approved today”

    Exactly. We can envision and plan all we like. But if three members of the CC decide to overrule those plans, there is nothing to stop them from honoring those portions they like while disregarding those they do not. Or in another poster’s words on another thread, “raw political power”.This is not limited to building size and scale, it could actually affect any number of issues.  You have stated that you believe that I am viewing this narrowly in terms of Trackside. That is demonstrably not true. I started becoming involved with local development issues as soon as my children were out of the home. For me, it started with opposition to the Cannery, to support for Nishi, to opposition to the developers version of Paso Fino, opposition to the B street proposal, and now on to neutrality for Sterling, and promotion of Lincoln 40. I believe that if one wanted to assess the accuracy of this statement, the proof is here on the Vanguard, in my presence at outreach meetings, commissions and before the CC.

    I have been consistent in my belief that projects should either be within collaboratively established  ( city wide – not one neighborhood) recommendations, or meet an agreed upon urgent community ( city – not one neighborhood) need.


    1. David Greenwald

      So my point is you want to be consistent in your belief that projects should be within those guidelines, then you need to have updated guidelines.

      The only point that bears discussion is whether the development violated the CASP. You argue that it has – but Robb Davis for example argues it did not. He also makes the point that the project was broadly consistent with the goals of the design guideline and the only issue that was changed was height, and there it was height as expressed by stories rather than in feet (which is about a 50 foot differential between what a three story could be at 45 feet and what the four story building actually was in terms of height – 50 feet). I don’t know if that helps any, but it does suggest that perhaps this is the wrong way to go about all of this.

      What I would say is that regardless, those things were designed in 1996 and that was a different world.

  2. Michael Bisch

    “Overturn”? “Overrule”? “Raw political power”? This is more of the same hyperbole demagoguery that dominates our public conversations around land use.


    Demagoguery is an appeal to people that plays on their emotions and prejudices rather than on their rational side. Demagoguery is a manipulative approach — often associated with dictators and sleazy politicians — that appeals to the worst nature of people.


    It is quite clear that many public commentators simply do not understand the purpose of planning…which is to achieve desired goals (outcomes).


    Planning (also called forethought) is the process of thinking about and organizing the activities required to achieve a desired goal. It involves the creation and maintenance of a plan, such as psychological aspects that require conceptual skills. There are even a couple of tests to measure someone’s capability of planning well. As such, planning is a fundamental property of intelligent behavior.


    The purpose of a plan is not to protect the “sanctity” of the plan. That’s ass-backwards.

  3. Richard McCann

    General plans and subservient plans are more likely to be followed if they are current and developed with community consensus. If the Council deviates, they are much more likely to suffer the political consequences. The last GP was issued in 1996 in the midst of a building boom that divided the City. Most current residents have no idea what vision is in the current GP, and that vision most likely is badly outdated. The CASP is an opportunity to build community consensus, and avoid most of the “one-off” decisions we’re having now.

    1. Tia Will


      I have stated my agreement with this and David’s contention that the appropriate approach would have been to have updated the CASP prior to making a decision on the Trackside project. I state this even though the result of the re visioning might not have favored the OEDNA position, which by the way has never been identical with my own. It is the principle of having and adhering to a vision & set of enabling steps that are common knowledge to that apply to all equally that is of utmost importance to me. That is clearly not what happened here or with the B street project.

      1. Richard McCann

        Unfortunately, updating such plans are a multiyear process, and putting off a project simply because we as a community have failed to begin such an update in a timely manner isn’t a good justification for delaying a project. It’s our own fault for creating this problem and we need to own it and suffer the consequences. One of those is “one-off” decisions for now. Now that we’re on track, we might be able to put off decisions on Core Area projects until the CAAP is done.

        1. Roberta Millstein

          Because there was a huge urgency for 27 upscale units that simply couldn’t wait?  We can put off future decisions but not that really urgent past one?

        2. Howard P

          I would have gone farther Alan (as to pun)… I believe there were a number of folk [one or two, minimum] who sought to “side-track” Trackside for as long as possible by tying it to a CASP review/revision, which they could attempt to draw out for 2-5 years.  Hoping time would make it (specific project) go away.

  4. Michael Bisch


    Many, perhaps not all, of these contentious land use decisions have advanced the community plans. Unfortunately, these advancements have been all to rare, which explains the various crises the community is suffering from. Nowhere near enough action has been taken to advance community goals and the vision. How do we know this? We know this because we have fallen far, far short of our stated goals and we are nowhere near approaching the vision as stated in detail in virtually all community planning documents extending back to 1961.


    What happens over and over again is this individual or that stakeholder supplants the community’s goals and vision with their own. In fact, it is EXTREMELY rare for the community goals & vision to even be mentioned in these contentious debates. Why is that? Instead, the focus is on this policy detail or that policy detail with zero apparent interest in whether we are advancing agreed upon goals or moving forward toward the agreed upon vision. What we are witnessing is decades-long dysfunctional land use & urban design planning execution.

  5. Tia Will


    “Overturn”? “Overrule”? “Raw political power”?”

    First, I would note that none of these terms were initiated by me and my responses using them have been in response to other posters. Having said that, I believe that some are applicable.

    1. “over rule”. I do not think that anyone responding in good faith would assert that certain zoning and design guidelines were “over ruled” by the vote of 3. This is fact, not opinion whether one likes the wording or not and was stated to be such by at least one of the members of the CC.

    2. “Demagoguery is a manipulative approach “

    I think that demagoguery was clearly in play from both sides, but only called out on one. Appeals to emotions, homeless students, buildings that have existed on site many years ago, historical buildings and ad hominem attacks could be found on both sides of the issue, but only publicly denounced with regard to OEDNA.

    I find it very hard to believe that people do not see the decision of one investor CC member who chose not to recuse despite obviously being in favor of the six story building could be seen as “raw political power” since they had already through their actions approved the project before any discussion at all.

  6. Michael Bisch

    My comments are much broader than Trackside, Tia. You steadfastly prove my point in that you focus your comments exclusively on lower-tier policies in your comments while continuing to willfully ignore community goals and visions.  You seemingly take the position that goals and visions are irrelevant; policies are paramount.

    Which city actions have been taken to advance long-standing community goals and the vision for the Third Street Corridor and which, if any, of these actions have you supported?

  7. Tia Will


    continuing to willfully ignore community goals and visions.  You seemingly take the position that goals and visions are irrelevant; policies are paramount.”

    I am actually shocked that you would say that to me after our face to face conversations with regard to previous projects and my ongoing concern with process, as I am sure you are aware. The fact that I favored an updated and enforceable CASP regardless of whether or not that would be favorable to the Trackside project should provide evidence that I am much more concerned about vision and process than any one particular outcome. But, I believe that you already are aware of that.

  8. Michael Bisch

    Tia, no need to be shocked. I made no comment at all about your position on process. My comments were focused on goals and vision and the observation that much of the dialogue around land use and urban design are absent of references to goals and vision.


    I’m going to ask again:

    Which city actions have been taken to advance long-standing community goals and the vision for the Third Street Corridor and which, if any, of these actions have you supported?

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