On Tuesday night, the city council heard staff’s presentation on available vacant commercially zoned properties in the city, making it clear that not all properties in the inventory are necessarily going to end up being marketed for economic development.
Community Development Director Ashley Feeney noted that the 27 sites, totaling about 124.22 acres, are “relatively fragmented” and there would be challenges to using those properties for larger uses.
Mr. Feeney suggested that the next step would be to do a deeper dive into the existing land inventory and allow for a more informed decision-making process. They would build on existing economic development studies as well.
The council each took a somewhat different view, with Mayor Brett Lee stating, “This map helps me with the context. To my way of thinking, this amount of space really allows us to make a sizable dent into the city’s ongoing deficit.”
On the other hand, Gloria Partida stated, ““That’s a lot less than what I thought what was out there.”
During public comment Ronald Oertel said, “What I’m hearing tonight is kind of what I feared with the elephant in the room being the Mace Ranch Innovation Center.”
Reading from EPS (Economic Planning Systems, Inc.) analysis of 3820 Chiles Road, “There is an abundance of land already zoned for and better located for a business park.” He noted that on a stretch, “there are already 20 acres of office/ R&D land. Without counting the land for this project, EPS estimates that there is a 40 to 65 year supply of vacant land in the city suitable for R&D and flexspace use. 12 to 20 years of that is regarded as shovel-ready.”
He said, “What I’m seeing happening is that the city is converting their existing commercial sites to residential and then they’re going to say, we need this peripheral site as a result.” He said that two innovation center proposals have failed and instead housing was built. “What this shows is developers want to build housing,” he said.
Mayor Brett Lee noted, “I was heartened in that I feel we can make a very sizable dent in that $8 million deficit with these parcels that have been identified within the city limits.” He added, “I see this as encouraging.”
Mayor Lee said, “It’s helped put into perspective, how much land we do have versus don’t have. Prior to this we had piecemeal proposals coming forward and each one understandably was trying to show why that proposal was the highest and best use of that land. As I look at this, it provides some actual factual context.”
He said, “As I look at this map, converting (some parcels) from commercial to some other use that would not provide a steady ongoing revenue stream to the city, to me seems rather problematic.”
But other councilmembers had different views.
Dan Carson argued that “there are opportunities here” and urged his colleagues to be “opportunistic.” For instance, he noted that “PG&E is literally about to have a fire sale” and sell assets in order to perhaps pay off lawsuits resulting from the Camp Fire and other destructive wildfires in the state. He also urged the city to look more into the Frontier Fertilizer site, which with a combination of parcels could amount to as much as 25 acres.
With that said, he felt a compelling case was made, in the various studies from Studio 30 to EPS, “that doing a larger scale center that could create that critical mass for innovation, it may be hard to put together on (these small parcels). There will be many opportunities, I want to turn over every rock and look every opportunity.”
Mayor Pro Tem Gloria Partida said that she asked for this because “I wanted to start having thoughts around what are the opportunities.” She said, “Let’s create a vision and see what is feasible.
“We do need to create a steady revenue stream,” she said. “I find it irresponsible for us not to make it a priority.
“That’s a lot less than what I thought what was out there,” she said.
Mayor Pro Tem Partida added, “I realize there’s some space that’s already built that may supplement this.
“Find a vision that fits our values and fits where we want to go,” she said saying it “makes sense that we invest in technology transfer.”
Will Arnold noted that it is important to “understand what opportunities we have.”
He did say, “124.5 is not your real number for what’s available.”
Diane Parro in responding to Councilmember Arnold said, “What’s critical is that we do more outreach now. We have a general idea that that’s what will remain.”
Will Arnold pointed out that sites like John Jones Road and the Kaiser site on the map, for example, are less likely to be other forms of economic development and more likely to be expansions of the medical facilities.
“Just (knowing) the nature of the medical needs in the world, those are probably going to increase going forward. That’s an example to me of the ones that don’t really fit for the purposes of why we want to have this inventory of land in front of us,” he said. “Those are more or less off the table as far as I’m concerned.
“What we’re left with is some amount of (land)… that’s going to be a smaller number than what we’re seeing right now,” he said. “Some of these frankly, I don’t think a commercial use is really going fit.”
Lucas Frerichs said it’s good to see an updated map – he noted about five separate parcels that have been developed in the last four or five years for commercial use.
“The one area that I’m most interested in is the Frontier Fertilizer sites,” he said. “That’s where the bulk of the land is.”
Those parcels, he pointed out, are roughly 25 acres, one of which is owned by Mori Seiki. The rest are on a superfund site which has been transferred from the EPA to state agencies. “It’s not going to be a housing site,” he said. “It needs to be cleaned up.”
As far as MRIC (Mace Ranch Innovation Center), “that’s still an open question,” he said. “There’s no actual application in front of us at the moment. There is no live option so to speak. That’s something that’s certainly a potential if they even come forward with something.”
He added, “We have the ability to really focus on a couple of key sites.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting