Planning Commission Makes Comments ahead of Final Subsequent EIR

In advance of the end of the comment period to the Draft Subsequent EIR for the Aggie Research Campus, the Planning Commission listened to 29 public comments and then many of its members made critical remarks themselves.

In total, 29 people spoke during public comment but only about 10 of them, most of them UC Davis students, were in clear support of the project with the rest having varying levels of concern.

Several of the comments focused on the timing of the project, given the economic collapse amid the shutdown of the economy during the COVID-19 crisis, concern over the ability of the developers to actually ensure that 60 percent of the units are filled with people working at the park, and the use of 6.8 acres of the mitigation from the city’s 25-acre property as well as the utilization of the top soil from an adjacent property.

Commissioner Herman Boschken argued that this was basically a traditional business park, noting that there are no provisions to restrict it to high tech or research and development use.

“We see a lot of enthusiasm especially by students, believing the notion that it’s actually going to be a research park,” he said. “I have great doubts about that.”

He believes that can be resolved if the city said “this park can only be used for research or research-related business activities.”  He said, “That doesn’t seem to be forthcoming.

“We have heard nothing from UC Davis in support of this project,” he said.  “I wonder, where are those folks?”

Later he expressed concern that a lot of the businesses that move to the park will be moving in from elsewhere, a process he referred to as cannibalizing the rest of the city.

David Robertson points out that they predict 850 of the housing units to support this project will come from the project, 1200 from the city, and 1700 from the region.

“What reality is there that 1200 will come from the city, when we already have low levels of vacancy?” Robertson said.  He added, “I could easily see those 850 units going to non-employees simply because there’s no mechanism (that’s) been identified in the EIR… so we’re going to have additional trips generated by the 850 residents who are working in Sacramento or somewhere else than the project itself.”

He argues the DSEIR understates the trips because it assumes that some percentage of them will be working at the project “because people live and work inside the project.”

Robertson wondered where even the 1200 is coming from given the lack of housing for students.  He said, “I’m really skeptical of the determination.”

Nick Pappani, a representative from Raney Management, explained that this “is trying to determine what the project’s fair share of housing should be.  How many units should be included on site.  How many units do we think can be accommodated elsewhere in the city based on the housing element.”

He said, “The traffic analysis is actually based on mixed use data from several hundred mixed use sites similarly situated, similar type uses.”  He added, “It wasn’t tied specifically to the math used to determine the project’s fair share.”

David Robertson said that “the 60 percent of the residents living at the project… that doesn’t really inform environmental analysis.”

Greg Behrens from Fehr & Peers agreed, saying “that really isn’t included in part of this analysis.”

David Robertson asked, “Has a mechanism been identified that would allow the project applicant to actually allocate any percentage of the units to people who actually work there?”

Sherri Metzker said, “So far all the discussion has indicated that it would be in violation of the fair housing laws and so we don’t believe we have that ability.”

Commission Darryl Rutherford asked them if the applicant meets the spirit of the open space requirement by utilizing the 6.8 acres from the city’s 25-acre property.  Nick Pappani indicated this was not an issue for the EIR.

But Rutherford said, “To me the way it is being proposed does not meet the spirit of the open space requirement that the city has put into policy in that the project should find an additional 6.8 acres to mitigate.”

Rutherford did take issue with the notion that there needs to be some sort of pause here due to COVID-19.

“All of this was laid out prior to COVID-19,” he said.  “I’m really getting tired of this whole excuse that the COVID-19 response should be something that stops city business.  We’ve all had to adapt to it.  We as commissioners, we’ve taken an oath to uphold a duty as volunteers and if we are not able to uphold that duty then we as commissioners… should recuse ourselves from that position and let someone else who is in a better position take care of it.”

Finally, Rutherford indicated his strong preference to have affordable housing onsite.  He said there is no place offsite anyway.

Greg Rowe noted the proposal to excavate soil from the bypass isn’t necessarily to raise the foundation level.

“The ARC site has some deficient soils,” he said, citing the 2015 Draft EIR.  “They need to correct that and the method they’re proposing is to import 130 cubic yards of soil from the Howatt Ranch to the ARC site to improve soil conditions.  It isn’t necessarily to raise it above flood.”

Rowe cited a number of deficiencies in the EIR.

“I’m also concerned in the urban decay category that if you look at the UC Davis website and the kinds of businesses they are trying to attract to Aggie Square,” he said.  “It’s all the very same business that this Tech Park is trying to attract.”

He is concerned along with Woodland, because “it seems to me with three tech parks trying to attract the same clientele we are looking at over-saturation of the market.”

Greg Rowe concluded, “I could not support this document at this point being accurate and complete.”  He added that the failure to take 60 percent into account at all—“that’s extremely disappointing and actually downright frightening.”

Comments are due by next Monday and this project will come back to the Planning Commission after those comments are incorporated, and the Planning Commission will determine whether to recommend to the city council that they certify this subsequent EIR.

—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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35 Comments

  1. Matt Williams

    Herman Boschken’s comments are so good they are worth repeating … with a little emphasis added by myself.

    Commissioner Herman Boschken argued that this was basically a traditional business park noting that there are no provisions to restrict it to high tech or research and development use.

    “We see a lot of enthusiasm especially by students, believing the notion that it’s actually going to be a research park,” he said. “I have great doubts about that.”

    He believes that can be resolved if the city said “this park can only be used for research or research-related business activities.”  He said, “That doesn’t seem to be forthcoming.”

    “We have heard nothing from UC Davis in support of this project,” he said.  “I wonder, where are those folks.”

    Later he expressed concern that a lot of the businesses that move to the park will be moving in from elsewhere, a process he referred to as cannibalizing the rest of the city.

  2. Keith Echols

    Why is there so much insistence that homes be designated for workers at the business park?  I’ve maintained that both elements should be developed independent of each other.  That would better insure that each component has the possibility of success and not be dragged down by the other.  What difference does it make if workers live there or somewhere else in town?  What difference does it make if people that work in Sacramento live in new housing development?  If the worker housing requirements are intended to control traffic (lure more workers to closer housing); than to me it’s obvious there’s something wrong with the housing product you’re offering.

     

    I too like Commissioner Boschken wonder about UCD’s conspicuous absence from this project.  I’ve asked before if there’s anything special about this business park.  Will there be a special laboratory and other equipment that is important to certain kinds of businesses that will be made available to various start up tech companies?  Is there anything about this business park that makes it special? Or is the project simply as Commissioner Boschken fears a simple business park?  And here’s the thing if it is just another business park….that’s fine.  But if so then it doesn’t need to be tied down with so much extra stuff that could bog it down….like (what appears) to be an integrated housing element (some here have told me that it’s no longer integrated….but from the picture…it still looks physically integrated), worker housing…etc….  If the project is just another business park…then it needs to be lean and mean.

    1. Matt Williams

      Keith, my personal answer to your question is that the CEOs and financial investors in the kinds of companies that the City and the developer have described as the likely tenants, are going to want to know where their employees are going to live, and what kind of a daily commute those employees are going to face.  Given the incredibly tight Davis housing market, with all the excess housing demand from students, those CEOs and financial investors will quickly deduce that their employees won’t be living in Davis, and will face significantly longer commute times than if they lived on the project site.

      I believe those burdensome commute times will cause many of the CEOs and financial investors to decide an ARC location is not for them.

      I personally believe the solution to the problem is for the developer to tie the housing leases together with the employment space leases … effectively live-work terms for both.  That way the CEOs and financial investors will know that their employees will have both local housing and short commute times (using their feet rather than a car).  JMO

    2. Don Shor

      Why is there so much insistence that homes be designated for workers at the business park? I’ve maintained that both elements should be developed independent of each other. That would better insure that each component has the possibility of success and not be dragged down by the other.

      Exactly.

      1. Ron Oertel

        The housing element is the only component that would be successful, on its own accord.

        Housing also has nothing to do with “recruitment” – especially when there’s cheap housing within 10-15 minutes of the site.

        The “recruitment” argument might be believable, in a place like the Bay Area. But, Davis (and its surroundings) don’t “qualify” for this type of claim.

        There’s also no way to “time” the opening of the housing, with the opening (or closing) of businesses, to ensure that on-site workers are the ones who would be attracted to it. (It’s an easy commute to Sacramento, as well.)

        Nor do we know if workers can afford it, or are willing to do so. (Again, see “cheap housing”, nearby.)

        For that matter, Davis is “cheap housing”, compared to the locations that are supposedly being recruited from.

        1. Keith Olsen

          Ron, it’s interesting that this all started out as a business park only, then it spawned into adding workforce housing to provide onsite housing for the new employees as the justification and now there are people talking that the housing element should be independent of the business park. So what’s next, do away with the business park and just have a huge new housing development?

          1. Don Shor

            So what’s next, do away with the business park and just have a huge new housing development?

            Not on that site. The planning process that led to the RFP’s was for a business park. The housing component was added later. I don’t think anybody believes that a pure housing proposal for that site would pass a Measure R vote.

          2. David Greenwald

            To change it, they would have to go to a vote. Given that we have needed a research park there for a long time, I would certainly not support a housing project there.

          3. David Greenwald

            When this started out it was 2010 – still in the middle of the real estate collapse. By the time a proposal got to council it was 2014 – the thinking then was, if you do it without housing, it might have a chance. Then the housing crisis hit and thinking changed. I don’t understand why that’s so difficult a concept? No one is going to support a huge new housing development there. We need the revenue. We’ve needed it for ten years. We are going to probably need it even more over the next ten years.

        2. Ron Oertel

          Yeap.

          It’s not just this one.  2-3 other “innovation center” sites were converted entirely to housing.

          The part that I find amusing (from housing advocates) is that they are somehow willing to “overlook” the additional 1,200 units (in Davis) that would be needed (in addition to the 850 onsite units).

          In other words, they’re advocating for a “housing shortage”. I wonder if those students (assuming they have no connection/contact with the developer) understand this. And if not, how were they smart enough to get into UCD?

          (Of course, this also assumes that businesses would occupy the site.)

          1. David Greenwald

            So you think that the developers are betting tens to hundreds of millions without having done a market analysis?

        3. Keith Olsen

          So you think that the developers are betting tens to hundreds of millions without having done a market analysis?

          Most likely, but don’t you think they also did a market analysis when they were promoting a business park only?

          1. David Greenwald

            You mean six years ago? The problem six years ago is no one thought a housing project could pass in Davis. Things have dramatically changed. Now people are worried about where people are going to live. You have to understand that things are dynamic.

        4. Ron Oertel

          So you think that the developers are betting tens to hundreds of millions without having done a market analysis?

          The only thing they’re committed to is a campaign, at this point.  Which would make their land a lot more valuable, if successful.

          Their market analysis showed that there isn’t enough commercial demand to proceed, on its own.  The commercial component appears to be a “loss leader”, to get approval for housing.

          Now people are worried about where people are going to live. 

          Apparently, some aren’t “worried” about the need for an additional 1,200 units (above and beyond the 850 units, on-site).

          Not to mention the units that will be needed in nearby towns, to support it.

          Davis will forever be chasing its own tail, if follows your preference.

          1. David Greenwald

            You’re a bit off with this. They have committed to a full planning process – EIR, fiscal analysis, consultants, consultants time, etc. All of that is very costly. That’s a multi-million dollar commitment.

            On the housing issue, again, I’ll point out the original project would have left a 2000 unit local shortage in addition to 1700 out of town. This will leave a 1200 shortage. The 2000 shortage was your preferred alternative. The 1200 shortage doesn’t materialize on day one but rather over the next 25 to 50 years upon build out. Hard to know where trends are going that far out. Would I prefer more housing on site? Yes. But many others think 850 is too much, and there are electoral considerations here.

        5. Keith Echols

          David,

          Things being “dynamic” is why I advocate for a modular and independent plans for the housing and commercial components.  This would allow for adjustments along the way.

          1. David Greenwald

            In general I prefer mixed use, but that said, one problem with the Measure R process is it locks everyone into a course of action. I support Measure R, but it is one thing we have to live with.

        6. Ron Oertel

          On the housing issue, again, I’ll point out the original project would have left a 2000 unit local shortage in addition to 1700 out of town. This will leave a 1200 shortage. The 2000 shortage was your preferred alternative.

          I did previously state that I wouldn’t actively fight a commercial-only proposal.  (However, I was not a “supporter” of it, as I like the site the way it is.)

          However, given what I’ve since learned on here (regarding the existing net inflow of commuters, as well as witnessing the advocacy of development activists), I no longer believe the argument that a peripheral business park is wise or needed at all (or “in demand”, for that matter – regarding the commercial component).

          I view your advocacy as something very similar to what the Chamber of Commerce constantly advocates, focusing on one “shortage-after-another”.  (While ignoring the fact that your type of advocacy is exactly what’s creating the “shortage” that you claim to care about.)

          It’s only a matter of time, before folks like you start advocating for another peripheral development, as a result of the “shortage” that you’re advocating now.  In fact, some have already started doing so.

          I’m not going to comment on this again, today.

           

        7. David Greenwald

          For the most part I think the housing needs are going to have to be addressed through infill.  I see limited opportunities for additional peripheral housing in the near future (at best).

        8. Alan Miller

          it’s interesting that this all started out as a business park only

          Actually it started out as an innovation park.  Because that sounds nice to dumb people.

        9. Alan Miller

          (assuming they have no connection/contact with the developer)

          Why would you assume that?  The history of  ‘student activism’ on developments in town paints quite a different picture.

          [of course I know you weren’t actually assuming that]

        10. Keith Echols

          David,

          There’s no reason that mixed use retail commercial won’t work.  But just physically and financially carve it out and put it adjacent to the business park instead of integrating it.  Plan it to build out in phases and incrementally…independent of the business park.  The business park in turn can grow incrementally and independently of the housing component. That’s how I see it.

  3. Matt Williams

    I was tied up in a Utilities Commission meeting, where the Commission voted 5-2 to recommend to Council that Council “Rescind the BrightNight contract.”  So I missed the Planning Commission in its entirety.  The Vanguard article mentions how the City staff reacted/responded to the Planning Commission comments.  How did the developer react/respond?

    1. Todd Edelman

      Matt, for some reason the video is not yet uploaded. I can’t comment to the developer reaction but I was told that “…planning commissioner comments were almost entirely negative. It was a virtual bloodbath. The Vanguard’s article does not do it justice.

  4. Bill Marshall

    … it’s interesting that this all started out as a business park only, then it spawned into adding workforce housing to provide onsite housing for the new employees as the justification mitigation and now there are people talking that the housing element should be independent of the business park. So what’s next, do away with the business park and just have a huge new housing development?

    I understand those words in others, Keith, but not you…

    Because the detractors of ANY development would raise the traffic issues (which are valid, to an extent, but not as much as some folk would like to portray… an ‘end of the world, as we know it’ scenario)… based on a number of experiences, at a 55% confidence level, I suspect that between staff, consultant, applicant, work-force housing was proposed as a “mitigation”… will share with David who I believe was the proponent of that, from staff…

    As to the last bolded sentence… I am still ‘on the fence’ as to whether I’d support the proposed project, as currently defined… an all housing proposal (you went a bit over the top there, in my opinion) is ‘facts not in evidence’… I still oppose renewal of Measure R, without major revisions, but assuming it is still in play when it comes down to it, I’d vote against an all (or primarily) housing project.

    Rowe was ‘wrong’ saying fill was not needed for 1% flood protection (100 year)… sort of… a tweener… but the reality is the State and Feds are pushing for at least a 0.5% (200-year) criteria… which they can make ‘retro-active’… has been discussed for over 10 years… if enacted, the site would very likely not pass that ‘test’… he was correct in saying that if the applicant/developer “bought” the fill needed, Howitt Ranch would be logical for several reasons… short ‘haul’, and the soil removed would be a ‘storage buffer’ for major rainfall events, particularly when the Yolo Bypass is full enough to prevent gravity flow from that watershed… a form of ‘insurance’… and the City could get one-time revenue from the dirt, but might lose long-term revenue to the extent that they have it leased to farmers… topsoil is more valuable than subsoils…. Don S can verify…

     

  5. Alan Miller

    the soil removed would be a ‘storage buffer’ for major rainfall events, particularly when the Yolo Bypass is full enough to prevent gravity flow from that watershed…

    um . . . what do you mean by this?  You mean the hole in the ground left after the soil is removed can take in the water if  the Causeway levee breeches?  I don’t think so, as it would only postpone the inevitable in such an event, as the water in such a flood would keep on comin’.

    1. Bill Marshall

      No… (why I distrust liberal arts majors)…

      It can store the water from the upstream system(s) until the levels in the YB go down enough for gravity discharge from the upstream side (Davis side), without backing the ‘stored water’ upstream.

      The area between Wildhorse, Mace Ranch, etc. are at the top end of a ‘bathtub’.  With no outlets, except by gravity, to the Bypass… they all have ‘one-way valves’… when the valves function, water from the bypass cannot go west.  When the bypass is low, they can go east.

      Next you should point out that all the levees are loaded with high explosives, set to detonate to destroy Davis, El Macero, to protect Sacramento… same  L.A. logic/supposition as:

      You mean the hole in the ground left after the soil is removed can take in the water if  the Causeway levee breeches?  I don’t think so, as it would only postpone the inevitable in such an event, as the water in such a flood would keep on comin’.

      And equally untrue…

      The current FEMA Flood Zone maps assume there is no levee… “worst case” reality, as best as science can figure…

      They came out after ‘Katrina’… Matt W has had this explained to him, years ago…

       

      1. Alan Miller

        Look WM, don’t go ragging on what I said.  Your first comment I’m sure meant something to you, but it was hardly a full explanation of the hydrologic dynamics of the east-of-Davis water drainage system.  My first career involved an understanding of hydrologic systems, so I offered my equally nonsensical response in an attempt to get you to explain better, which you did.

        And who told you that all the causeway levees are loaded with high explosives, set to detonate to destroy Davis and El Macero, and set to protect Sacramento?  That is top secret stuff, and you’ve really blown it for Sacramento.

        1. Bill Marshall

          We had many citizens calling in to PW with the “explosives theory”… most got forwarded to me… years ago… along with a few of “the levee is failing, the levee is failing” calls… went out ~ midnight on New Years Eve, several years back, based on a phone call from the then Fire Chief… who had received a few 911 calls… so, yeah, a bit personal… turns out it was minor erosion, due to high water levels in the bypass, plus high winds/wave action… no structural damage… no real risk…

          but it was hardly a full explanation of the hydrologic dynamics of the east-of-Davis water drainage system.  My first career involved an understanding of hydrologic systems, so I offered my equally nonsensical response in an attempt to get you to explain better, which you did.

          My apologies, and wish you had prompted me for a better explanation without the terms you used (on you)… I reacted, in a not so purely explanative manner… that was on me… pax… I’m good…

           

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