Monday Morning Thoughts: Breeding Bad Process, Lack of Outreach, Lack of Engagement

The slow growth side of the fence in Davis has become the little boys that cry wolf.  I actually believe that the parable is widely misunderstood.

You see, in fable, the shepherd is charged with watching the sheep and grows bored, so he repeatedly cries to the villagers that there is a wolf, which sounds the alarm and then they arrive to find no wolf.  Until one day, when he really does encounter the wolf, but by now the alarm no longer works and the boy and his flock are eaten.

We are taught this means that we should not tell lies lest people not believe you when you tell the truth.  I would argue there is an extended lesson – false alarms, exaggerations repeated over time are likely to bring about indifference when the true crisis comes.  I worry about this lesson broadly in politics these days – but I digress.

On Measure R, I hold a number of simultaneously seemingly contradictory thoughts.  On the one hand, I think it was necessary to pass Measure J in 2000 and renew it in 2010 and I will likely support the renewal in 2020 as well.

I think having a community brake on growth and have a referendum on projects is in general a solid tool.

On the other hand, I worry that we have in the process created a political process that has replaced the planning process, which actually works detrimentally to the community.

Last year, for the first time, we had not one but two Measure R projects pass.  While the similarities largely end there, it becomes clear that the community – at least 55 to 60 percent of the community – clearly saw that the pendulum on growth had gone too far in one direction and they acted to approve two housing projects.

Nishi was the second version of a project from 2016 that narrowly failed.  It was a student-housing-only project.  They learned from their losses in 2016 and cut out access to Richards Blvd., removed the for-sale housing, added an affordable component, and removed the R&D space.

The result was that was a 51-49 defeat turned into about a 60-40 win.

Critics, though, complained about the truncated process, lack of public engagement, and had concerns about air quality impacts, among the more legitimate complaints; and then there was a much broader kitchen sink approach of complaints that seemed less valid and more sensational.

The scare tactics failed and the project sailed to an easy victory.

In contrast, the WDAAC (West Davis Active Adult Community) in the fall was very different.  The developers went out of their way to engage the public, they doubled up on commission hearings, attempted to meet with as many stakeholders as possible, and hoped to address most of the community concerns.

For the most part they succeeded.  While there was a pocket of people opposing the project, the project sailed to victory despite complaints about land use policies and process.

WDAAC attempted to head off as much concern and complaints about process by going above and beyond the requirements for public outreach.  But, while they largely succeeded, in the end they still faced pretty fierce opposition, brutal attacks from their opponents, and all sorts of charges.

In the end, it really didn’t make much of a difference whether the public was engaged or not.  The more rushed Nishi project – granted, the second go around – did slightly better than the more methodical and engaged WDAAC project.

The public ended up voting for both projects, primarily it seems, because they thought we needed the housing and they lacked major objections to the project and neither project posed substantial localized impacts.

The lessons we can take away from that and apply to the ARC (Aggie Research Campus) are as follows.

Already we are seeing a complaint about a lack of public process.  In general, I agree with that complaint.  That is why we have already held one public event and will likely host at least one more.

At the same time, in a way, the ARC project is similar to Nishi – we have had dozens of public outreach hearings on the previous iteration, MRIC (Mace Ranch Innovation Center).  Going back to 2010, we have seen commissions, task forces, and we have ourselves held several public outreach sessions.

So, while I think the opposition is right to argue we need more public engagement, we have also already had a lot.  As the public showed with Nishi, if they believe the project is solid, they are willing to take less in the way of public process – much of which most people don’t engage in to begin with (which is a point that the opposition seems to lose track of).

Second, there are those who will argue that the city has failed to back up the proposal with professional studies about the need for commercially zoned property, the advantages of innovation center, the need for additional land, etc.

There is a point to that criticism as well.  The city did engage with Studio 30 for a study that is now nearly a decade old.  They have the original EPS report that reported modest but significant fiscal benefits.

Will that be enough?  Will the public heed the call that we need more rigorous analysis or will they simply have their eyes glaze over?

My own belief here is that the case for more innovation space is fairly straightforward and can be made by pointing out the benefits of UC Davis, the fact that UC Davis was willing to invest hundreds of millions into Aggie Square, the need for technology transfer – and the benefits of Mori Seiki on the one hand, along with companies like HM Klaus, Engage3, and now Mars and ADM.

But there is a downside here and it comes down to simple complaints like those about traffic impacts on Mace.

In a lot of ways, I think the opposition to these projects are their own worst enemies.  They keep complaining about process, process, process until the public, not really inclined toward those arguments, ignore those complaints even when they have a point.

In an ideal world, we would have studies, public engagement and good public process.  But election timelines make that more difficult to achieve.  While we continue to want to vote on our projects, we have to understand that in a way that produces a suboptimal process at times.

Furthermore, the average public is not going to engage on those issues.  The complaints about the compressed timeline of Nishi fell on deaf ears.

The fate of ARC may come down to something as simple and mundane as their ability to handle traffic impacts.

A word of caution there as well – for those who consider traffic to be the death blow here, recall that Nishi barely went down and likely they lost as much due to lack of affordable housing as traffic.

—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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29 Comments

  1. Ron Glick

    “In an ideal world, we would have studies, public engagement and good public process.  But election timelines make that more difficult to achieve.  While we continue to want to vote on our projects, we have to understand that in a way that produces a suboptimal process at times.”

    Another point I raised years ago. Solution, get rid of Measure R, end ballot box planning.

    1. Rik Keller

      Ron G.: this is confusing. Recently one of the big issues you raised was that Measure R wasn’t inclusive enough in terms of non-residents being allowed to participate.  And now you want to scrap direct citizen involvement entirely.

      Also, if you honestly have the kinds of process concerns that you mention here, it is an easy fix: a few simple amendments to Measure R could build in timelines. Certain milestones would have to be reached in terms of planning documents and studies for a project to be placed in the ballot on a given date. The developers and the citizens would have more predictability in the process: a win-win.

       

      1. Ron Glick

        I prefer a representative process. Measure R isn’t true democracy because many renters are not citizens. Measure R might be fixable but I doubt the changes required will be forth coming. As for timelines Measure R is an additional step in a Byzantine process that has made California the state with the worst housing shortage and highest prices in the nation. If you want to streamline the process trying to fix Measure R isn’t going to help much because the process is already too convoluted with obstructions.

        1. Rik Keller

          Ron G.: have you ever looked at the housing prices in areas with essentially unfettered growth? The free market lovingly bestows the highest housing price increase rates to these.

        2. Rik Keller

          Ron G.:, in order to determine whether Elk Grove is an “exception” or not, here’s a fun game. Fill in the blanks with your best guesses and then I’ll provide the actual data.

          From January 2012 to January 2019, the annual average (compound housing price growth rate in Davis was ____%, while in Elk Grove it was  ____%

          Bonus round: in Woodland it was _____%

          Bonus round #2: in Phoenix it was ______%

          Bonus round #3: in Henderson NV it was _____%

        3. Richard McCann

          Rik

          Where are these many places with “unfettered growth” and high housing prices? Certainly not the Bay Area where growth controls are as a manifest as here. And in this region, Davis prices have outpaced the rest of the region since the early 1990s (and prices didn’t drop as much in 2008, so that’s not a valid starting point.)

          You’re starting point of 2012 is invalid because most of those places had much worse impacts from the 2008 Great Recession so they have had a much greater space to rebound from. Use data from since the 1991 recession, which more evenly impacted real estate prices across the U.S. (even California because the aerospace industry was decimated.)

        4. Ron Glick

          I think median price/square foot is a better measure for comparison. Davis with limited growth around 4o0/sq ft ElkGrove with maximum growth 200/sq ft.

          My policy preference would be a system that produced something in the middle. More housing at more modest prices.

        5. Rik Keller

          McCann: Your notion of the “starting point” being “invalid” is funny. By your definition there is always going to be some economic circumstance that makes any starting point “invalid.”

          If we really want to get at whether growth management leads to higher rates of housing price increase, I would suggest that starting at a recessionary trough is the exact right starting point. That way we are examining what happens with prices when there is actually growth pressure and when we would see the effects of controls on growth most clearly.

          Go ahead and play the game and guess the figures. Are you scared you won’t like the actual answers?

        6. Rik Keller

          Ron G: housing prices per square foot vary widely all over the state and the country. You can look at that old real estate maxim of “location, location, location” if you want to know why consumers desire to live on one place more than another.

          We are discussing how housing costs change over time in response to different policies regarding growth. Go ahead and provide  some estimates to fill in the blanks and we will see if your theories in this thread about the rates of housing price increases in fast growth areas like Elk Grove hold up.

        7. Ron Glick

          Rik we have had this conversation before about time frame. How about you run the numbers for both 2012 and 1992 as starting points.

          Or how about 2006 peak to peak.

        8. Rik Keller

          Ron G.: would you prefer if we went back to the Great Depression? How much do you want to try to put your thumb on the scale until you get the results you want?

          If you really think that the growth policies are affecting housing prices, let’s look at what happens during periods of growth.

    1. Ron Oertel

      Rik:  I probably have a very different take regarding the following quote, vs. what was intended by the article:

      “We are taught this means that we should not tell lies lest people not believe you when you tell the truth.   I would argue there is an extended lesson – false alarms, exaggerations repeated over time are likely to bring about indifference when the true crisis comes.”

      1. Rik Keller

        Ron O.: yes very interesting considering the sky-is-falling headline the Vanguard used yesterday to try to sell the need for this project: “Davis Teeters with an Unsustainable Economic and Fiscal Situation.”

  2. Mark West

    “Already we are seeing a complaint about a lack of public process.”

    How can anyone reasonably complain about a ‘lack of public process’ when the project has an approved EIR, which was the result of the State mandated public process and outreach?

    “we have had dozens of public outreach hearings on the previous iteration, MRIC (Mace Ranch Innovation Center).  Going back to 2010, we have seen commissions, task forces, and we have ourselves held several public outreach sessions.”

    At what point, David, do you believe that there will be sufficient outreach? Why can we not simply accept that the outreach on a project has occurred and it is time to move on to the next issue? What you seem to be arguing for is a ‘perpetual process’ that never reaches a conclusion. As long as ARC stays within the confines of the approved EIR, there really is nothing else that needs to be discussed or determined. Those who believe the EIR is insufficient, have a legal remedy they may pursue, two in fact with Measure R.

  3. Rik Keller

    It is interesting that the Vanguard chose to use a pretty picture of a sunflower field to illustrate this article. This agricultural use will be destroyed by the proposed project—a project that includes 4,340 parking spaces. This parking area would take up 29 to 39 acres on the site if it is all surface lots (based on 288 to 396 sf per parking space estimate, including driving lanes. See: https://usa.streetsblog.org/2016/07/05/parking-takes-up-more-space-than-you-think/)

    Does the “parable” of paving paradise and putting up a parking lot come to mind?

      1. David Greenwald

        What I find ironic is the sunflower scene is not only “man-made” but it’s fleeting.  Literally a week or two.  And they only plant the sunflowers there every other year.  And if you drive up the Capay Valley, the valley is full of similar scenes.  None of it is nature or prestine, it’s all artificial.  It’s farmland.  It’s a brief snap shot in time.  I don’t find it ironic at all other than you believe apparently we should trade the advantages of small scale economic development for a fleeting artificial moment in time.

  4. Rik Keller

    This article starts with the thesis that the parable of “the boy who cried wolf” is “widely misunderstood”. It then offers two explanations of the parable that amount to the same thing. As it turns out, the common perception of the parable is correct.

    1. Ron Oertel

      From article:  “The slow growth side of the fence in Davis has become the little boys that cry wolf.”

      Seems to me that there’s some “girls” on that side, as well.  Including some key leaders.

      But, they no longer comment on here, for the most part.

      Also seems to me that the Vanguard has pretty-clearly chosen sides, at this point. And, is no longer concerned about purposefully alienating a large segment of the population, regardless of gender.

  5. Bill Marshall

    It is my opinion that there are those who will vote NO on a measure R vote, despite the vetting, despite the public input… they are against development.

    Why not put the Measure R vote (if it is to be retained) at the front of the process?…  will save folk a lot of time and $$$.

    As it stands, anti-development folk have lots of venues and opportunities to shoot down development, then get “a second bite of the apple” if they do not prevail in the process.  And the measure R campaigns require no study, no informed logic, just sound bites, innuendo, trash-talking, posts to ‘letters’ to the editor’, etc. to sway folk who chose not to participate in any process what-so-ever.

    Yeah… good government/planning…. right.

    Another argument that the VG has not made… with Measure R in place, CC gets a “get out of jail card” as a freebie… instead of making an informed decision, they can punt to “we’ll let the people decide”… a form of political cowardice?

    1. Ron Oertel

      Why not put the Measure R vote (if it is to be retained) at the front of the process?…  will save folk a lot of time and $$$.

      What makes you think that putting Measure R at the front of the process would prevent an expensive and disruptive campaign, by the owners/developers of a site that’s outside of city limits? Even if they decline to provide any details, at that time?

      As it stands, anti-development folk have lots of venues and opportunities to shoot down development, then get “a second bite of the apple” if they do not prevail in the process.

      As it stands, pro-development folk have lots of venues and opportunities to promote a development, then get a “second bite of the apple”, when they decline a planned opportunity that was already provided – and change a commercial proposal into a semi-residential proposal, for example.

       

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