Commentary: Why Are We Rushing Aggie Research Campus?

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Answer: I don’t believe that we are.

Opponents of the Aggie Research Campus have found some fellow travelers among people who are more inclined to support the project—concerned that the ability of the city to process a large and complex project is compromised during the COVID-19 crisis.

From the start, the opposition to the Aggie Research Campus has been fighting the battle on process grounds. It actually seemed a little strange to me since I think they probably have a fairly potent argument with traffic impacts on Mace—that everyone acknowledges and clearly the city and applicants will have to resolve before the project goes forward to the voters.

The process issue is a more tricky.  It is not clear that process issues matter to the average voter, who seems to weigh the downsides and inconveniences of a project against its need.

Nevertheless, at each step the opposition has attempted to argue that this process is rushed, they need more time, they need more input. This was all before COVID-19. Now they have an actual reason to make this comment, and I don’t believe that we should dismiss it flat out.

In Sunday’s Enterprise is an article that the review of ARC will continue during COVID-19.

“I wouldn’t support a delay in the EIR deadline that would compromise the opportunity for us to consider putting this project on the November ballot,” said Councilman Dan Carson. “And the reason why is when this crisis is over, we’re going to need housing and jobs and city revenue more than ever.

“We need to keep things in motion that could help with that. That’s without prejudicing the process that we need to have, the deliberative process,” Councilmember Carson added.

I agree largely with the councilmember.  For those who argue that we can only do essential business, I  wonder why future housing and jobs are not considered essential0—especially in the midst of a housing crisis and especially as we sit on the edge of a potentially devastating economic downturn.

In the comments, Colin Walsh, one of the leaders of the opposition, takes issue with the councilmember’s point.

“The question that Dan Carson does not answer, is why it is imperative to him to put this massive business park on the November ballot?” he asks. “There is no rush here.”

Colin Walsh is right, there is no rush here. But what he fails to explain is why putting a measure on for November—or at least moving forward toward that option—is rushing things.

Consider this: Aggie Research Campus re-emerged in early June of 2019. That means a November vote will be nearly 18 months later.

That also fails to appreciate that there has been a long process of discussion already. After all, the project initially came forward in June of 2014, as Mace Ranch Innovation Center. That is six years ago already.

It feels like we have been talking about an innovation project on that side of town for a long time—oh yeah, we are.  The Studio 30 report came out in 2012 and, even before then, the site to the east of Mace was viewed a likely location for such a project.

We understand that there are complex traffic issues—we are well-versed already on Mace Blvd., having had this discussion now for over a year about traffic impacts there.

It has already had an EIR process. It will have effectively a second one. It will go through the full commission process.

Going through a normal EIR process is not rushing it. You might have argued as some did that Nishi in 2018 rushed through the process—though it too was a second run.

The voters, by the way, disregarded that complaint in 2018 and approved the Nishi project by a 60-40 margin.

So why November? Probably because we have a Measure R process that requires a project go on the ballot. As some have pointed out, Measure R gives us the right to vote and be the final say on projects—but that also imposes artificial timelines.

That means we have to finish the planning process by July in order to get it on for November—that’s still one year since the project came back forward.

Timelines for Measure R projects are always compressed by the necessity of the election timeline. Opponents of projects are always complaining that projects are rushed, but fail to recognize that the reason for that is the artificial timeline.

I don’t feel you can have it both ways—if you want a Measure R process, which I support strongly, then you have to accept that financing and others issues combined with the election timeline force the question to be called in a more compressed manner than you might prefer.

There are people who will be distracted during this time due to health concerns, child care issues and family illness.  The city itself is focused heavily on the COVID-19 response.  That might be a reason not to do things at this time.

On the other hand, a lot of people are simply sitting around in their homes, binge watching Netflix.  The video conferencing alternatives make it easier to engage and follow at home.  People can call in to do public comment and email their comments to the council and other commissions.

In a way, this has the potential for better engagement than before.

Frankly, I see no reason to determine that we can’t do this at this time. If we get to June and the world is still shut down, and things are looking grim to re-open the economy in time for the November election, I think that it is the appropriate time to re-consider a November ballot on this issue.

But we don’t have to make that decision today. If the world goes back to relative normal this summer, then I see no reason not to have an election on ARC. We will have plenty of time—based on past elections—to debate this project inside and out.

I think we should try to go through the process and see where we are in July.  If at that point it looks ominous, then perhaps waiting a little longer is in everyone best interests.  In the meantime, proceeding with the process is not rushing things.

—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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24 thoughts on “Commentary: Why Are We Rushing Aggie Research Campus?”

  1. Alan Pryor

     

    Consider this: Aggie Research Campus re-emerged in early June of 2019. That means a November vote will be nearly 18 months later.

    David -You are conveniently forgetting the fact that Colin Walsh (among others) were before Council as early as last October actually pleading with them to start the process to get this issue before the Commissions so the deliberative process could begin. But nothing at all really happened until February and even then there were only a few fluff presentations with pretty pictures but important details were almost completely lacking.

    Indeed, a month ago there was not even a draft SEIR and no EPS financial study for anyone to even look at. And there still was not a draft EPS study for the the Finance and Budget Commission to look when they met last night.

    Ramos and Co has had 4 years to get these documents together yet the SEIR was released so as to allow only the statutory minimum amount of time for review and  comments (45 days ending April 27). This means the final 500-page plus EIR plus hundreds of pages of appendices will not come out until immediately before the Planning Commission has to make their final decision in June whether or not to recommend certification of the EIR to Council and whether or not to recommend to Council to approve certification and approval of the project in July for placement on the November ballot.

    It is obvious and apparent that Staff and Council in collaboration with Ramos and Co have made the conscious decisions to delay release of the draft and final EIR and EPS studies and other documents to prevent the item from being objectively considered by the Commissions until the last possible moment when they will have to make their recommendations to Council for their early July meeting.

    This intentionally and unavoidably minimizes the amount of scrutiny and quantitative investigations that can be done by the various Commissions. Further, many of the critically important documents that are submitted for Commission review are still withheld from the Commissions and the public until the last possible moment before their consideration by the various Commissions.

    For instance, the Bicycling, Transportation, and Street Safety Commission (BT&SSC) did not get the 30-page draft Transportation Demand Management Plan until the day before their last meeting and it was not posted onto the City’s website for review until the VERY DAY of review by the BT&SSC – a clear violation of the Brown Act.

    Consideration of the draft SEIR by the NRC will be on April 27, the very day that the NRC has to submit their final comments to the SEIR. It is an impossible task but it was not by accident. Like I said, this plan of withholding information until the last possible moment from all Commissions was clearly and intentionally orchestrated by Staff and Ramos.

    So it is clear that when there was time for a considered due process to begin last Fall,  Ramos and Co were nowhere to be found. Now that there are deadlines to be met to get it on the November ballot, all of a sudden there are literally a thousand or more pages that materialize that HAVE to get reviewed by certain looming deadlines. This rushed process minimizes critical review by the Commission and plays right into the hands of the developers who want all of the tough environment and financial questions to remain unanswered or only partially answered.

    C’mon, David, it is simply disingenuous and intellectually dishonest for you to claim otherwise.

    1. David Greenwald

      “ It is obvious and apparent that Staff and Council in collaboration with Ramos and Co have made the conscious decisions to delay release of the draft and final EIR and EPS studies and other documents to prevent the item from being objectively considered by the Commissions until the last possible moment when they will have to make their recommendations to Council for their early July meeting.”

      I don’t think it’s obvious or apparent.  And doing it that way may actually work against the project, rather than for it.

  2. Bill Marshall

    Alan M asserts…

    It is obvious and apparent that Staff and Council in collaboration with Ramos and Co have made the conscious decisions to delay release of the draft and final EIR and EPS studies and other documents to prevent the item from being objectively considered by the Commissions until the last possible moment when they will have to make their recommendations to Council for their early July meeting.   and,

    This intentionally and unavoidably minimizes the amount of scrutiny and quantitative investigations that can be done by the various Commissions. Further, many of the critically important documents that are submitted for Commission review are still withheld from the Commissions and the public until the last possible moment before their consideration by the various Commissions.

    There were two folk who asserted those types (similar, not same)… of allegations against me and my staff, and the consultants many years ago… re:  Fifth Street ‘road diet’… I knew, factually that was incorrect… so, I say to you, as I did to the ‘audience’, (DDBA, parking/transportation subgroup)[Jennifer Anderson can confirm]…

    “If you honestly believe that to be true, it is your duty, as a citizen, to go to CM and/or CC and demand that those involved in a conspiracy, which you alledge, and demand those folk be dismissed, or at least disciplined, as that would be unprofessional for the employees, and against the concept of public service.”  Silence followed… nothing was pursued…

     

     

     

    1. Bill Marshall

      So, Alan, I say to you… if you believe your statements to be true, as written, it is your duty, as a resident/citizen, to demand the same things (dismissal/punishment)… and, if you think it (conspiracy) goes up to CM and/or CC, you should demand/encourage removal of CM, and/or a recall of CC…

      Put up, or…

      Yours were ‘fighting words’, to a professional public employee…

      1. Alan Pryor

        Yours were ‘fighting words’, to a professional public employee…

        Alrighty, then. Show up if you dare -> Noon tomorrow at the City Hall Parking lot.

        My choice of weapons…sanitized water balloons at a socially-responsible 6 ft distance!

    2. David Greenwald

      Bill – I don’t think you do yourself any favors by being so reflexively defensive about any criticism of city staff.  You don’t work there anymore.  It’s not personal.

  3. Alan Pryor

    If you honestly believe that to be true, it is your duty, as a citizen, to go to CM and/or CC and demand that those involved in a conspiracy…

    Don’t you think it’s kind of a waste of time to complain to the City Manager and the Council about actions in which they are complicit?

    1. David Greenwald

      I think in general, it’s a waste of time to get so caught up in these process issues.  You’re distracting from substantive discussions that could be had about the project – positive and negative ones.  Most people don’t care about the process stuff, they want to know if it’s a good project.  I think you have ample material both ways at this point.

      1. Alan Pryor

        I think in general, it’s a waste of time to get so caught up in these process issues.  You’re distracting from substantive discussions that could be had about the project

        But it is the rushed process that prevents substantive discussions

        1. David Greenwald Post author

          It’s always that way. This is no different than any other Measure R process that I can remember except maybe West Davis. Regardless, you know what you need to know – there will be substantial and unavoidable impacts, we’ll see what they come up with in terms of mitigation measures and then there will be four months from July to November for a campaign. I don’t see that any discussion is going to be prevented – indeed in some quarters there has already been nine months of discussion.

      2. Matt Williams

        David Greenwald said . . . “You’re distracting from substantive discussions that could be had about the project – positive and negative ones.  Most people don’t care about the process stuff, they want to know if it’s a good project.  I think you have ample material both ways at this point.”

        David, what ample material?

        (1) There isn’t any information about any of the jobs or employers that will kick start the project if approved.  The one employer we knew about, FMC Schilling, has abandoned the project.

        (2) The developer has not provided a legal description of the mechanism they are going to use to ensure that the proportional occupancy of the housing complies with the Certified FEIR.

        (3) The developer has told us that they will not be building the housing, but rather “builders” will be, but no such builder has been identified,

        (4) There is no affordable housing plan.

        (5) The Agricultural Mitigation required for the project has not been identified/disclosed.

        (6) As discussed at last night’s FBC meeting, the financial component of the developer’s plan to use the City-owned Mace 25 parcel for Agricultural mitigation is nowhere to be found.  Also not to be found is any legal justification for why the use of the publicly-owned Mace 25 land is legally permissable

        (7) As discussed at last night’s FBC meeting, the financial component of the developer’s plan to use the City-owned Howatt Ranch as a one-time soil supply, and as ongoing drainage retention is nowhere to be found.

        I will stop at seven, and ask you, what “ample material” is there to review?

         

    2. Tia Will

      Alan,

      Respectfully, I do not see it as a waste of time.  That assumes everyone involved is willfully involved in something they would agree with you is wrong. This is often a false assumption for several reasons. First, they may genuinely not have seen the matter from your perspective previously. Frequently expressing that directly either one on one or to a small group will have better results than a public comment or emails. Secondly, it may be that they have knowledge that you do not possess which would be mitigating, but back and forth does not occur in the CC or other formal meeting. Finally, both sides may be acting in good faith, and simply disagree.

      That latter possibility seems to me to be frequently neglected when people start assuming they know the motives of others which, like any other assumption, may or may not correspond to the reality of another person’s beliefs and motives.

    3. Bill Marshall

      Mr P… you forgot,

      and, if you think it (conspiracy) goes up to CM and/or CC, you should demand/encourage removal of CM, and/or a recall of CC…

      Convenient omission of yours…

      I covered your ‘conspiracy theory’ scenario… do something if you think that is going on…

  4. Ron Glick

    “I don’t feel you can have it both ways—if you want a Measure R process, which I support strongly, then you have to accept that financing and others issues combined with the election timeline force the question to be called in a more compressed manner than you might prefer.”

    Exactly, but I think the solution is to get rid of Measure R. Then you have no need to rush anything.

    1. David Greenwald

      Clearly was aiming this to those who support Measure R.

      It’s not completely true that eliminating Measure R relieves one of the timeline – there are time sensitive factors involved.  But it would be far easier to push this off to next spring if they didn’t have to adhere to the electoral timeline.  I think those who support Measure R need to keep that in mind.

      1. Ron Glick

        Perhaps the counter argument should be considered that it isn’t the advocates that are rushing to the ballot. I think its fair to assume that they moved forward on a timeline that got them to the ballot in November 2020.

        In this counterfactual the question becomes are the opponents trying to stall past the filing date for the fall election knowing that doing so buys them two years until the next election?

        I think we should let the timeline play out but I also think we should get rid of Measure R then there is no electoral rush to judgement.

        1. David Greenwald Post author

          “Perhaps the counter argument should be considered that it isn’t the advocates that are rushing to the ballot. I think its fair to assume that they moved forward on a timeline that got them to the ballot in November 2020.”

          That’s precisely my point. At some point it might be time to say this is not the best time to continue – but I don’t see why that has to be now.

  5. Doby Fleeman

    “Perhaps the counter argument should be considered that it isn’t the advocates that are rushing to the ballot. I think its fair to assume that they moved forward on a timeline that got them to the ballot in November 2020.”

    That’s precisely my point. At some point it might be time to say this is not the best time to continue – but I don’t see why that has to be now.

    Responding to both Ron and David, I might add an observation that our relevant commissions – including Planning, Transportation and Finance have had the better part of the past decade to contemplate the necessity of significantly diversifying the City’s revenue model and housing alternatives, together with the options for getting there.   The concept and location for a major innovation cluster at this site is not a new concept.  Implications for traffic management and need for viable public transit alternatives are not new concepts.

    Neither is the fact that the City has now reached the limits of its urban limit lines last seriously reviewed in the 1980s.  We’re bursting at the seams.

    Why does it appear there is little sense of urgency, anticipation or ownership of community level challenges – following a century of continuous growth – which are now standing in the way of our future development and evolution as a community?

    1. Matt Williams

      Doby Fleeman said . . . “our relevant commissions – including Planning, Transportation and Finance have had the better part of the past decade to contemplate the necessity of significantly diversifying the City’s revenue model and housing alternatives, together with the options for getting there.”

      With the exception of Planning, the Commissions serve at the pleasure of the City Council, and under the restrictions of the “charge” that the City Council gives them.  I know for a first-hand fact that the FBC charge specifically omits any reference to Economic Development, and when the FBC worked with the Council and staff to update that charge during the time Jeff Miller was FBC Chair, they were explicitly told “don’t go there … Economic Development is determined by Council with the support of staff.  We will not approve a revised FBC charge that includes any reference to Economic Development”

      That constraint was confirmed/reinforced when the first set of Council Goals came out the first of the seven Goal Areas was Fiscal Stability and the second was Economic Development.  FBC was expressly told to give feed back only on the first Goal, Fiscal Stability.  NOTE: the other five Goals were Downtown Davis …  Sustainability  … Community Strength and Effectiveness  …  Infrastructure … Public Safety

      So my question to you Doby is, should the Commissions ignore their Council-provided charge, and simply do whatever they want to do?

       

      1. Bill Marshall

        Planning Commission members serve @ pleasure of CC… but you are close… PC is the only commission specifically recognized by State law… and that is a tweener, as to ‘required’…

        Commissions, other than PC do not need to exist at all… perhaps a way to save GF $$$ (staff time, agendas, staff reports, etc.)…  just saying…

      2. Doby Fleeman

        Simply put, as I have attempted during multiple instances of public comment before the Finance and Budget Commission –  I don’t see it as a discussion of “Economic Development”.

        Very clearly, I have submitted request after request for an in-depth discussion of the “Income Side” of the City’s Financial Statements.   An exploration of the characteristics and drivers underlying discrete revenue elements – specifically Sales Tax Revenues and Commercial Property Tax revenues.   A comparative exploration of how our revenues derive – expressed on a per capita basis – when compared with other comparable communities.

        Using this approach we can easily identify if we are doing averge, better than average or worse than average.   The next step in that exploration and analysis is intended to further our understanding of the essential drivers which underly taxable per capita retail purchases and per capita Commercial Property Taxes generated by local real estate deployed in service to non-exempt Commercial Business enterprises (this category would exclude apartment and residential uses).

        One would hope that an economic consulting firms like EPS or BAE, both of whom have worked extensively with the city, might be in a position to assist with identifying comparable communities and then subsequently help with explaining the basis for differing levels of revenue generation in each community.   The goal here would be get a clear picture as to the overal level of per capita revenues generated and their corresponding impacts on the  operating budgets and programmed spending in each community.

        Hopefully this is a clear explanation.   It does not remotely begin to resemble the topic of Economic Development.

        1. Matt Williams

          That explanation is clear Doby.  Stay tuned.  Engaging that concept should be an interesting discussion topic that with luck will result in action steps.

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