Opponents of ARC Demand More Public Meetings; City Explains Process Will Be One of Zoning First, Design Later

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A group of citizens led by Pam Gunnell on Tuesday expressed concern about the lack of public hearings on the Aggie Research Campus.  The group of five came up during public comment.

“In September 2017, the council certified the final EIR for the Mace Ranch Innovation Center,” she said.  “At that time, the proposed project was business park only – although the addition of housing has been studied as an EIR alternative.”

She continued, “Subsequently the project was put on hold and it’s important to note that when it was put on hold, several commissions were still in the process of analyzing the proposal including the Natural Resources Commission.

“In June, 2019, the applicant requested that they begin processing their application again.  This time as a business park with 850 units of housing,” she continued.  “The applicant also changed the name of the business park to the Aggie Research Campus.”

Ms. Gunnell continued, “In November 2019, the city determined that a supplemental EIR was necessary citing changes in circumstances since the EIR was certified in 2017 – most notably potentially new traffic impacts. Or increases in the severity of identified traffic impacts.”

Based on this, she made the request that council have certain “key commissions” analyze the ARC project.  These commissions, she said, “have been omitted from the city’s proposed set of public meetings.”

She said, “We recently learned that the ARC proposal will now be going to the NRC – and that’s great.”

However, she added, “We think that more needs to be done.”

In addition, she said they were “recommending that the ARC proposal go before the Rec and Park Commission, the Tree Commission, and the Unitrans Advisory Committee.  This is not a new request.  In October of 2019, and again in December 2019, citizens requested to the council that the proposal go before all of the relevant bodies.

“Omission of the commissions is troubling – the ARC proposal is different from the MRIC proposal.  The Rec and Park Commission needs to take up how the 15 acres of proposed private park will be maintained – if it will be available for city use.  And how it would integrate into existing city needs.”

She continued, “The tree commission needs to determine whether trees will be planted correctly in parking lots and built up areas and discuss the funding and annual review by a city hired arborist for  tree care.”

She added, “Certainly the Unitrans advisory committee will discuss how we’ll handle significant new ridership of the ARC employees and residents.”

Furthermore, Ms. Gunnell continued, “We think it’s important the project should go back to the NRC and the Open Space Commission after the supplemental EIR is released.  As it will address new and significant new impacts relating to air quality, water supply, global warming and protected species.”

She said, “The city’s calendar for ARC shows it going for a vote in November of this year – that means the council’s deadline for final action for the ARC is July 7.  There is urgency there for the ARC for these omitted commissions because of the July 7 date.”

As a result they asked staff to place the ARC, within the next two weeks, on the agenda of the Rec and Parks Commission, the Tree Commission, and the Unitrans Advisory Commission.  After the completion of the EIR, they want to see it go back to the NRC and Open Space Commission.

They asked that these changes be announced at the next council meeting, stating that “five months is such a short time for such a large project that needs so much review.”

Based on those comments, Assistant City Manager Ashley Feeney responded to these stated concerns.

The MRIC (Mace Race Innovation Center) was proposed as part of a search by the city for an Innovation Center in 2014.  However, following questions about whether it could incorporate mixed-use housing and a rejection by the council at that time to pursue a mixed-use project, it was place on hiatus.

Nevertheless, in September 2017 the council certified the completed Final EIR.  In June of last year, the city received a letter from the applicants “requesting the City recommence with processing of their innovation center application, which has been renamed as the Aggie Research Campus (‘ARC’).”

Due to concerns about increased traffic along Mace and other potentially changed conditions, the city has asked for a supplemental EIR.

At build out, the project would include up to 2.6 million square feet of innovation space and other commercial uses along with 850 residential units.

On Tuesday, Mr. Feeney explained in response to the public comments that there is a schedule of commission hearings listed on the city’s web page (see here).  That includes: Open Space and Social Service which has already taken place, and Finance and Budget (FBC), Transportation, Planning which are scheduled for the future.  Not listed on there is a date for the NRC.

However, Mr. Feeney indicated that the NRC would meet to discuss the project next month.

“As far as the Tree Commission and Rec and Park Commission specifically go,” he explained that the project is a bit different from other projects that have come before council, in that “it’s a zoning of land” with a lot of “implementing of entitlements that would come at a later date should the Aggie Research Campus proposal be approved.”

He said it would be at that time that there would be specifics relative to tree locations and other specifics.

“Right now we’re talking about zoning of land, not necessarily specific designs where you would typically review those details,” he said.

He added, “Absolutely the project will be going to those commissions – it’s a matter of what time does it make the most sense.”  He suggested, “it will be post this pre-zoning entitlements.”

Mr. Feeney stated, “There’s a number of commissions this project will be going to.  We’ll update the list.”

He added, “It’s really about when is it most meaningful for the project to go to those commissions.”

This response did not satisfy the group.  Rik Keller, speaking subsequently at public comment, called the explanation “rather weak from my perspective there.”  He noted a lack of firm commitment that the project would be heard by the “relevant” commissions and instead there was a general comment, in his view, that it might be heard at some point by the commissions.

He further complained, “Communication from staff has been very lacking” in terms of response to scoping comments.  “We’re getting no sort of updated schedule.  No sort of indication as to whether our comments are being taken into account at all in this EIR process.”

—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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33 thoughts on “Opponents of ARC Demand More Public Meetings; City Explains Process Will Be One of Zoning First, Design Later”

  1. Alan Pryor

    …it’s a zoning of land” with a lot of “implementing of entitlements that would come at a later date should the Aggie Research Campus proposal be approved.

    Wow! So Staff is essentially saying, “Approve the Business Park and we’ll give you the details later…Trust us!

    Well gosh, golly, dang! Whatever they put on the ballot they got my vote because I sure trust Staff and our Council to hold the line on developer give-aways and fairly work out the details later. I’m already feeling well-protected and warm and furry all over.

    1. David Greenwald

      This is going to be interesting to watch, because you don’t build an innovation center the way you build a housing development. It is built out over a period of time – as businesses come in, they are going to design buildings for those businesses and have to go through the planning process.  Whereas a housing development you plan the houses, and build them relatively quickly.

    2. Don Shor

      Seems to me that basic things like how many trees, percent of surface shading, where they’re going to go, adherence to recommended tree lists, and followup care should probably be reviewed prior to approval. So at least with respect to the tree commission, I see reasons for prior review.

      1. Alan Pryor

        And it seems to me that other impacts of such a massive undertaking such as 1) vehicle miles traveled and transportation greenhouse gas emissions on our declared climate emergency, 2) impacts on our water and sewage system,  and 3) use of alternative energy and  demands on our Valley Clean Energy provider should be studied by our NRC – which it will not be.

        And it seems to me that the impacts of 15,000 trips a day occasioned by the project on Mace Blvd traffic and proposed traffic and bicycling management should be studied by the Bicycling, Transportation, and Street Safety Commission – which it will not be

        And it seems to me that the exact type of proposed housing and the specifics of the proposed affordable/low income housing program should be studied by both the Planning Commission and the Social Services Commission  – which it will not be.

        And it seems to me that whether or not the City will functionally gift the developer part of our 25-acre open space preserve on the corner of the project bought with tax payer monies and the impact on the resident Burrowing Owl and visiting bat populations should be studied by the Open Space Commission  – which it will not be.

        But gosh, golly, dang! I’ll still trust the City Council and Staff to look out for me on this project.

        1. David Greenwald Post author

          As one example. We are probably not going to get the exact type of housing because some of that housing isn’t going to be planned or built for years. We will get a number – a paramater for what the project looks like. But this isn’t going to be like Nishi or WDAAC where we have the exact layout. It’s no different really than empty parcels in the city right now. We have them zoned a certain way. We don’t know what is going to go there. We actually will have more on ARC because they won’t be able to re-zone it again without another vote – that’s not true for current parcels in the city.

        2. Ron Oertel

          David:  The Affordable housing component hasn’t even been defined (e.g., amount, onsite, offsite, etc.).

          That would impact the EIR, as well as the fiscal analysis.

          At this point, I think the developer is damaging his own chances of approval. (As if the 4,340 parking spaces didn’t do so, by itself.)

          By the way, if there’s off-site Affordable housing, wouldn’t this likely result in an increase in the number of total parking spaces and traffic – beyond estimates in any existing EIR?

          1. David Greenwald Post author

            Nothing has really been defined yet, it hasn’t gone to planning commission or the council. We’ll have a better idea after that what those will look like. Social Services was willing to allow the affordable housing to be defined at the time of approvals. I think they need more than that, but I’m not sure how much more we will get in this type of project.

            Like I said before – this type of project is never going to have the level of specificity some people are going to demand.

        3. Ron Oertel

          Like I said before – this type of project is never going to have the level of specificity some people are going to demand.

          Seems to me that the location of the Affordable housing (on-site, vs. off-site) is more than a matter of “detail”.

          I understand that an off-site location means that the Affordable units would push the number of total units from the development well-above the amount listed in any of the EIR alternatives.

          In such a scenario, the Affordable units would apparently be in addition to the 850 market-rate units on the site, itself.

        4. David Greenwald

          And they can probably lock some of that in – depending on whether they want to go to land dedication.  Otherwise you may have to settle for knowing number of units and a few other details.

        5. Ron Oertel

          Again, that scenario apparently hasn’t even been addressed in any of the EIR alternatives, or in the supplemental EIR.  The total number of housing units may exceed 850.

        6. Ron Oertel

          I don’t understand how an EIR can proceed, without including the possible maximum size of the development as one of the alternatives – including the Affordable housing component.

          Nor do I know how the impacts can be analyzed, in such a scenario.

          Nor do I understand how baseline features can be subsequently established which exceed what’s in the EIR (let alone what the council and voters think they’re being asked to approve).

        7. Ron Oertel

          There was an article regarding that possibility on another blog.

          Are you denying that this is a possibility (especially in regard to an off-site Affordable housing component)?

          Or, are you claiming that they’d have to reduce the number of market-rate housing units, to ensure that the 850 unit-limit in the EIR is not breached (to account for the Affordable units – regardless of their location)?

  2. Richard McCann

    The NRC on Monday looked at the question of how and when to review the ARC proposal. The staff scheduled a review for February 24, but we asked our chair and vice chair to find out what the staff would present and what decisions they are asking from the NRC. We want to have meaningful input, not just a show and tell and that was clear to the City staff assigned to the NRC.

    The NRC also discussed what is the best way to have input into these types of projects, and we questioned whether seeing the EIR was too late. Instead, we will explore creating a formal sustainability plan “checklist” of some type that guides developers and lays down a path for a multistage project like ARC. We made a similar proposal in our comments to the DPAC approved at our January 13 meeting. (Alan P had input into both of these decisions.)

    Approval of the ARC likely will require meeting a narrower set of requirements for each stage than what has happened in the past. Preparing a sustainability plan similar to Nishi’s would be a good step forward on that point. The ARC developers also have some important suggestions on attributes that they can incorporate that go a long way towards fulfilling those types of requirements. We haven’t yet seen if those are added.

  3. Bill Marshall

    we asked our chair and vice chair to find out what the staff would present and what decisions they are asking from the NRC.

    Point of order… staff will not (or, at least shouldn’t) ask for any “decisions” from the NRC…  except as to input, concerns, recommendations… this is a problem with all our commissions… the only thing (hopefully) they can decide to do is provide input, concerns, and recommendations… decisions are reserved to CC and voters.

    “Thus far, but no farther”…

  4. Barbara King

    For what it’s worth, if this goes on the ballot without lots of clear details not watered down with a bunch of “if feasible”s  etc., I will not vote for a pig in a poke.

  5. Ron Oertel

    “Omission of the commissions is troubling – the ARC proposal is different from the MRIC proposal.  The Rec and Park Commission needs to take up how the 15 acres of proposed private park will be maintained – if it will be available for city use.  And how it would integrate into existing city needs.”

    How does this (size and type) of park compare with the city’s existing requirements for a development of this type and size?

    Is this something that the Rec and Park, Open Space (or any other) commission would normally review before it reaches council for a decision?

    Also, would an off-site Affordable housing component impact the requirements (e.g., due to the resulting increased overall size of the proposal)?

  6. Matt Williams

    Ash Feeney said . . . “As far as the Tree Commission and Rec and Park Commission specifically go,” he explained that the project is a bit different from other projects that have come before council, in that “it’s a zoning of land” with a lot of “implementing of entitlements that would come at a later date should the Aggie Research Campus proposal be approved.”

    When I read Ash Feeney’s statement above, I’m very unclear how Staff intends to construct a Baseline Features document for such a “zoning of land.”  Does that mean there will be an additional Measure R vote each time the Baseline Features are amended to include the specific details of the “later date” buildings/components?

    1. Rick Entrikin

      Matt, I assume you’re being facetious.  It is so obvious that the developers’ new strategy to circumvent Measure R is to provide as few specifics as possible in the “Baseline Features” required by Measure R.  Then, once the Council approves the project for a Measure R vote, the developers can falsely claim that the project will meet all sorts of needs for all sorts of voters, knowing that, once passed, they can do just about anything they want, within the skeletal boundaries of the baseline features.  Ash Feeney’s gabelygook about “later” (after-vote), piecemeal entitlements is a ruse.  ARC should be rejected outright by the City Council unless, and until, all major baseline features, including affordable housing, are specified in the baseline features for voter consideration.

       

      1. David Greenwald Post author

        I don’t understand your claim here that this is circumventing Measure R. They are required to put certain features into the project baseline features – but there is no requirement as to what those are or how specific they need to be. The question of course is if they provide less specific features will that gain a vote of the people – but that is a political not a legal question.

  7. Ron Glick

    “We are probably not going to get the exact type of housing because some of that housing isn’t going to be planned or built for years. We will get a number – a paramater for what the project looks like.”

    I’m in favor of more housing but I don’t believe that for one second. If the market is right for the housing it will get built rapidly or as they say the rate will be what the market will bear.

      1. Ron Glick

        Yawn. You want to buy a bridge over the golden gate. I think it was Wildhorse. It was supposed to be built over ten years but got built out in much less time. While past performance is no guarantee of future returns history doesn’t repeat itself but it does rhyme.

        1. Bill Marshall

          Ron G… you are correct that market forces (and interest rates) pretty much have dictated build-outs… then there was the “housing allocation” era in Davis (SF)… a ‘cap’ on permits issued… drove up the pricing of SF housing… just as the proponents desired.  Long-time resident home owners, and actually, “developers”, strongly supported the “housing allocation” system… the “developers” @ that time were largely a part of the ‘guild system’… driven by “small-builders” (who were joined at the hip with the main ‘developers’)… a lot of wink-nod things going on then… may still be…

          And the public loved it… ‘small growth’, and their property values went up big time (protected by Prop 13, so they didn’t have to pay to protect/increase their ‘investments’)…

          A similar group (already invested, no risk on higher property values) are still very vocal today… there are some (methinks a large minority) who oppose new development based on practical or philosophical grounds… and some the “I want mine” folk hide behind such grounds… chalmelions (sp?) as it were…

          Follow the $$$… as to the strong opponents… you’ll find ‘true believers’, and ‘opportunists’ who masquerade as such…

        2. Ron Oertel

          Follow the $$$… as to the strong opponents… you’ll find ‘true believers’, and ‘opportunists’ who masquerade as such…

          I doubt that ARC would have much (or any) impact on housing prices.  In fact, it would create a slightly increased demand for housing (beyond what’s provided by the development itself), as acknowledged in the EIR.

          Opposition to ARC is in no way, shape, or form related to “protection” of housing prices.

          It’s likely to create pressure to approve additional sprawl, however.

        3. Bill Marshall

          Opposition to ARC is in no way, shape, or form related to “protection” of housing prices.

          Right… nor is opposition to any project including housing, right?  Part of the masquerade?

          “I wonder…”

        4. Ron Oertel

          Please explain how (in your mind) opposition to ARC is related to “protection” of housing prices.

          As noted in the EIR, ARC increases demand for existing housing, in excess of what the development would provide.

          One might think that those concerned about rising housing prices would oppose ARC.

  8. Ron Glick

    “We are probably not going to get the exact type of housing because some of that housing isn’t going to be planned or built for years. We will get a number – a paramater for what the project looks like.”

    I’m in favor of more housing but I don’t believe that for one second. If the market is right for the housing it will get built rapidly or as they say the rate will be what the market will bear.

  9. Rick Entrikin

    This whole MRIC/ARC charade seems rooted in family tradition.  Ron G is right about the false Wildhorse promises, but it began with Frank Ramos (of Ramco), the father of today’s, face of ARC, Dan Ramos.  In the mid ’90s, father Frank agreed to build Mace Ranch housing in phases, at a pace to meet the needs of Davis residents.  The City Council helped assured concerned citizens that the developers would be held to their promises by the first-ever Development Agreement in Davis history.  So what happened?  Within weeks after voters approved the project (this was before Measure J/R), Ramco went to the Council and began a series of requests to “amend” the Development Agreement. (Last time I checked, there had been somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 amendments.)  So, even though, a “protective” development agreement was in place, it could be amended at any time by a simple majority vote of  any Council, present or future.  And the first amendments?  To front-load the massive development with housing.  In fact, the rate of housing construction by Ramco in Mace far exceeded the needs of the Davis community at the time, resulting in a tradition of extensive advertising in the Bay Area  for “inexpensive housing in DAVIS.”  And the promised amenities for new residents. such as a school?  Turns out that was only a “land dedication,” and new residents went without a nearby school for years.  And promised protection for burrowing owls on the property?  After burying alive numerous colonies by bulldozing them during breeding season, the promised protections are now a tiny area, surrounded by development and devoid of owls.  What the residents DID get, though, was a special assessment (Mello-Roos tax), which allowed the developers to sell the houses as “inexpensive,” but saddled new residents with extra fees for the promised “amenities.”  That, folks, is the heritage that is framing the current scheme by Ramco to make even more money by paving the land and further degrading our environment and quality of life.

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