Letter: Planning Commission Being Played by Staff on DISC

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THE PLANNING COMMISSION IS BEING “PLAYED” BY STAFF IN ORDER TO RAM THROUGH THE DISC PROJECT UNDER ARTIFICIALLY IMPOSED DEADLINES

By Alan Pryor

Tonight you have before you a 1,000 page Final EIR for which you are being asked to recommend certification but you have had only a little over a week to review it. You have had a 600 page Staff Report before you for less than a week but you are being asked to approve Baseline Features for a project that is 4 times larger than anything the City has ever seen before.

So if you feel like you are being railroaded by the Staff to bum rush this project through without being given the time to carefully deliberate and properly consider the huge implications of this massive undertaking, you’re exactly right!

But this is not accidental or due to the pandemic as Staff would have you believe. Staff and the Developer have intentionally planned (a less polite term to use would be “schemed”) to get this matter to you at the last possible date to give you as little time as possible to review this project.

Indeed, they have created an artificial deadline to get this before Council because they know that the less time you have to do a careful review of the project, the more likely it is that you will hustle it on to Council without any substantive changes…and this clearly benefits the Developer.

But you are not alone here. Every single other Commission that was asked to review this project (or demanded to review it in the case of the NRC and Tree Commissions) was also delivered huge packages with very little time to sufficiently weigh the information or properly prepare before their respective meetings.

In fact, almost every single document that has come from the Developer and Staff was delivered to the respective Commission at the last possible moment to avoid Brown Act violations…just as Staff has done here with the Final EIR and their Staff Report to you.

In the case of the F&B Commission, they were even given a key lengthy response by the City’s financial consultant literally two hours before the meeting in which they were asked to opine that the project would be profitable to the City.
In the cases of the NRC, BT&SSC, Open Space, and Tree Commission meetings, they were told that if they did not submit their recommended Baseline Features of the project that very night of their meetings, that there would not otherwise be enough time for Staff to include it in their reports to you.

So every single one of these Commissions scheduled a special meeting on which the main agenda item was a review of the Baseline Features. Yet their work products before you tonight making suggestions to improve these Baseline Features have been summarily rejected by Staff – often with no more of an excuse that the project “would not be feasible” if these suggested improvements were implemented but otherwise not providing any proof to substantiate their claims.

So why did Staff even bother with this charade of getting Commission input if they had no intention of recommending to the Planning Commission that any of the suggested improvements forward be adopted. Well, it’s because then Staff can otherwise tell the Council before their upcoming meetings and the Developer can tell the public during the subsequent election that the project was “thoroughly reviewed by the Commissions” – never mind the fact that almost every Commission’s input was almost universally rejected by Staff and the Developer.

Now Staff will tell you,”Oh but we really, really wanted to get all of this to you in a more timely manner. But there was this once-in-a-lifetime pandemic so a lot of Commissions missed a meeting in March that would have allowed a have allowed a more measured response”. IT’S NOT OUR FAULT!”

But that would be complete and total BS. The reality is that many people (including myself) started pleading with Council last October to please, please start the Commission review of this project as soon as possible to allow for a thorough and complete review. But it was to to no avail and nothing at all really happened until March in the dead middle of the pandemic.

For one example, the Developer has had years to get the EIR out for review by everybody. They even already had a previous EIR certified for MRIC almost 4 years ago!. But the latest Draft SEIR was held back from release until absolutely the last possible moment to ensure there could be only the statutory minimum required review period of 45 days for people and the Commissions to give their comments.

So then why is Staff now asking the Planning Commission to wade through 1,000 pages on an EIR and a 600 page Staff Report in a little over a week to try to not only certify the SEIR tonight but also to agree to a set of Baseline Features that are the very backbone of this massive project.

Well the answer is obvious…Staff really does NOT want your considered review and deliberative input! Staff wants you to rubber-stamp this project immediately to get it to the Council so it can be put on the ballot at the last possible date for the November election.

Long time Commission members know that this is the exact same playbook Staff has used for the past two Measure J/R votes. And I’ll bet any amount of money that there is a spreadsheet sitting somewhere on the Developer’s and Staff’s desks that shows a detailed time-line of exactly the last possible dates to get this information before you and the other Commissions so that Council can ultimately approve it on July 7 – the very last possible date to get it on the ballot in November.

But the thing is, this November election deadline itself is entirely an artificially constructed deadline set by the Developer. There is no reason to rush this forward because, as the Developer claims, the opportunity to grab a major tenant is shrinking fast. In fact, virtually all planning for all new major office building construction projects (even if already fully entitled) have stopped dead in their tracks because the world has changed so dramatically due to “new normal” in telecommuting brought on by the pandemic.

And even before this pandemic the demand for these types of major sprawling business parks was decreasing fast. Indeed, the Woodland Innovation Center has been trying for years to line up their first major tenant for their multi-hundred acre project that is even closer to UCD than DISC – and they have come up with goose eggs for all their efforts.

Even the Developer is saying this project is going to be a 30-year+ build-out so there is going to be lots of time to work out the details later – but only after he is given the blanket zoning entitlements now!. Ash Feeney himself has publicly acknowledged to the Finance and Budget Commission on direct questioning that that the current economic environment probably means no building will occur anytime soon and the property could just lay fallow for years until the financial crisis passes and conditions improve. So there is no need to rush to get this project before the voters now as the Developer and Staff otherwise claim. It is much more important to get it right before it is sent on to the Council and the voters.

Careful pre-planning now is even more important with this project because it has such little specificity. This is because the Developer and Staff are asking for zoning change entitlements for land use with very few actual details given for the subsequent projects. So it is imperative that we get the right markers set in the field NOW on how the project should look in the future to ensure that we have some assurances that future specific proposals brought back will be reasonably close to what we were promised.

So please do not be rushed into hasty approvals or recommendations asked by Staff unless you have had all of your questions answered in detail and the project has the appropriate safeguards in place to truly make it a beneficial project for the City and one of which we can be proud.

The letter was initially submitted to the Planning Commission by Alan Pryor, a longtime resident of Davis and a member of the Natural Resources Commission.


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36 thoughts on “Letter: Planning Commission Being Played by Staff on DISC”

  1. Jim Frame

    the Woodland Innovation Center has been trying for years to line up their first major tenant for their multi-hundred acre project that is even closer to UCD than DISC

    Closer in administrative relationships, perhaps?  Certainly not closer in distance (over 6 miles versus 3 miles for DISC).

     

    1. Ron Oertel

      The proposal in Woodland is not physically closer to UCD, but is much easier to access (via Highway 113). It’s the same proposal (and part of the same development team) that previously proposed the Davis Innovation Center (whose site was subsequently approved as a senior housing development, instead).

      It’s advertised as 7 miles away, versus approximately 5 for DISC.  (As noted in the article below for the new Nugget Headquarters, which is physically closer than DISC.)

      I haven’t seen any evidence that either proposal has close administrative relationships with UCD.  However, it appears that development interests for DISC may have closer relationships with some students.

      Personally, I don’t support either proposal.  But, “anything goes” in Woodland – if it’s viable.

      1. Ron Oertel

        And, it does state that it is approximately 5 miles through town to the new Nugget Headquarters and DISC.

        (Wow – no “editing” period whatsoever, lately.  My apologies that this contributes to the tally of my comments, when clarifying.)

    2. David Greenwald

      One of the points that is lost in this discussion – meant generically not singling people out – is that (A) Davis itself has value, this is a point that Ashley Feeney made last night and (B) there is value to the Davis community locating a facility here rather than in Solano County or Woodland or West Sacramento.

      1. Ron Oertel

        You are correct, in that it has significant value to developers for housing. That’s the only reason you’re seeing DISC come forward at this time.

        Are you planning to look into possible development interest involvement, with students?  This would not be the first time that this has occurred.

        1. Ron Oertel

          You’ve got that completely backwards, and there’s direct evidence to prove it (e.g., in the form of failure of the MRIC).

          Other evidence includes the phasing of the housing (during the first two phases), the refusal to accept residential master leases (to reserve space for employees of all the imaginary companies, etc.).

    3. Matt Williams

      Closer in administrative relationships, perhaps?  Certainly not closer in distance (over 6 miles versus 3 miles for DISC).

      I can’t quibble with Jim’s mileage; however, according to Google Maps the travel time from the southwest corner of Woodland Innovation Center at the corner of County Road 25A and CA 113 to Memorial Union is 12 minutes, while the travel time from Ikeda’s to Memorial Union is 15 minutes.

  2. Bill Marshall

    Kinda’ reminds me of a successful movie series, full of fantasy creatures, and other allusions… think it was called “Dreck”, or something like that.

      1. Ron Oertel

        “Commercial” does not specifically limit it to a “tomato canning plant”. Nor does it preclude the possibility of making slight changes in zoning, if needed. I believe that there’s also “conditional use” permits, as another tool. (That’s probably why Families First was allowed on an industrial site.)

        Another commenter (Don) noted (more than once) that the owners of the site flat-out refused to consider anything other than a rezone to allow another housing development.  To the point of keeping the site undeveloped, if they didn’t get their way. It was, in fact, discussed as a possibility for an innovation center, as well. With no agreement from the owner.

        1. David Greenwald

          They did not seriously look at it for commercial. And that was more than one development group. The problem was that it wasn’t a good site for this type of development – it was too small, only 100 acres, the Studio 30 report identified 200 as a need. It was too far from the highway. They had just watched the Covell Village project which was killed in part over concerns about traffic. I opposed the Cannery Project. I had pushed back in 2008 to 2010 for business park there. I still think what they built was the wrong kind of development. And we could have looked maybe at smaller scale commercial, but it wasn’t going to replace this. THe more I learned about innovation centers, the more that point became clear. But it didn’t matter – the developers of that site were never going to go this direction. Council tried in 2009 to force it and the developer quit.

        2. Ron Oertel

          The “problem” (from the owner’s point of view) is that they could make a lot more money from housing.

          The other problem is that it is not a freeway-oriented site (which is desirable from a developer’s point of view), to attract commuters.

          The difference in size is irrelevant.  There’s either commercial demand, or there isn’t.

          1. David Greenwald

            You don’t have benefit of the context. In 2005, Covell Village was defeated by the voters 60-40 and the biggest issue was traffic. So now you would be talking about putting even more traffic next door. Does that make sense?

        3. Ron Oertel

          You are bringing up a different point.  I was addressing what the market will bear.

          There’s overwhelming evidence (from a variety of sources and examples) that commercial development is not as profitable for developers (and is often simply not feasible), compared to housing.

          Especially in a community like Davis.

          That’s why we’re seeing repeated failures of “innovation centers” (subsequently converted to housing, instead), conversions of existing commercial sites for housing, etc.

          It’s also the reason that DISC has morphed, from its original “purpose”.

          1. David Greenwald

            The reason that DISC has added housing is that housing in 2014 was seen as killing the project and now in 2020, no housing is seen as being a hindrance to the project. One of the points that you are clearly missing here is that they have to put in commercial infrastructure and buildings before they can build housing. THat actually negates the advantage of putting housing in there.

            This will be in the baseline features: “Commercial development shall precede housing construction; there must be 200,000 square feet of job space before any homes.”

            That means they have to build something the size larger than Mori Seiki before they can build housing. Normally the advantage of housing is that it faster to build and fill and you use that to finance the commercial. By going this route, they are actually negating the advantage they would have had with housing. The reason they have housing is that you can’t get companies to come in here without. That’s why URP is doing their mixed use site as well.

        4. Ron Oertel

           The reason they have housing is that you can’t get companies to come in here without. 

          I believe that this is a flat-out lie.  If it were true, the developer would agree to master leases (to house employees, as they’re doing in the Bay Area).

          Even if it were true, then this would be a problem after the first two phases, since that’s when the housing will be primarily built. At that point, where are the 1,200 additional units needed for this development (in Davis alone) going to be built? And, what would be the fiscal cost to the city?

          The truth is that there’s lots of relatively inexpensive housing within a 10-mile radius of the site.  Tons of it, in fact.  With lots more to come. That’s where many of your employees are going to live, adding to traffic congestion, greenhouse gasses, etc.

          On a related note, you recently published an article from a company which claimed that they would “move” to Davis, if there was space to do so. Reportedly owned by someone who already lives in Davis.

          Another commenter pointed out that this company is likely getting cheaper rent in Sacramento, compared to what they’d get at DISC.

          1. David Greenwald

            “I believe that this is a flat-out lie. ”

            Instead of calling it a lie, why don’t you say, I think you’re wrong or I disagree. Then we can have a discussion.

        5. Ron Oertel

          The reason that I used that language is because I think that the claim is being used to deceive. I don’t see any reason to discuss it, further.

          1. David Greenwald

            I have been told it directly by people in the field. Housing is a huge concern for companies because they are afraid without it will be harder to land employees.

            The point post is that is that a shift happened since 2013 that changed the thinking. Even as late as 2017, there was a huge reluctance for the council to consider the inclusion of housing. Now I think to a person they support it and it would be hard for them to support a project of this size without it. Understanding the dynamics of the situation explain the changes here.

        6. Ron Oertel

          Again, I’ve already provided evidence of the real reason that housing is proposed.  I didn’t make it up, as it’s documented elsewhere (in addition to all of the direct evidence, in the form of failed proposals).  I can post links to articles, etc. which show the real reason (in regard to this specific proposal), if you’d like.

          And again, I’d suggest that the developer accept a master lease requirement, if the supposed reason is to house employees. (Actually, that came from the NRC.)

          But, you are partly correct, in that the developer and boosters of this proposal are hoping that the electorate’s approval of two other proposals (both of which are “failed” innovation centers, converted entirely to housing) indicate a possibility of approval.

          But – don’t contribute to the lie, that housing is needed to attract companies. That is not the reason for its inclusion.

        7. Richard McCann

           I’ve already provided evidence of the real reason that housing is proposed.

          Ron O

          I see lots of assertions, but not much in the way of “evidence.”

          Housing was added to MRIC at the behest of the NRC which found that it was environmentally beneficial to co locate housing with the commercial development. This is universally true when looking at urban development–separated zoning is part of what is leading to our environmental degradation. (You can look for research by Chris Jones, a Davis resident, done at UCB showing relative emissions across the US.) The Council then adopted the requirement that 60% of housing be set aside for onsite employees. The NRC recommended enforcing this through a master lease, which the staff rejected with no basis other than an unsubstantiated assertion.

        8. Ron Oertel

          Richard:  In addition to all of the failed innovation centers (including MRIC, itself), here’s some evidence for you:

          However, in 2016, an economic analysis by Economic & Planning Systems Inc. estimated the project would generate less than half the revenue of similar innovation centers.

          What would make a difference for the developers, Ramos said at the time, would be adding housing — specifically, 850 units of workforce housing . . .

          https://www.davisenterprise.com/local-news/proposed-mace-ranch-innovation-center-returns/

          As you know, the justification for arriving at a conclusion that a proposal with housing was “environmentally superior” was entirely based upon a minimum percentage of that housing being occupied by workers.  Without any mechanism to enforce it (such as the one proposed by the commission that you’re a member of), one cannot conclude that the proposal with housing is environmentally superior. It may, in fact, be environmentally “inferior”, as some will commute elsewhere. (Perhaps even to campus – which might be related to students’ apparent support of this proposal. Well, that, plus any possible development interest involvement in that effort.)

          As a side note, the inclusion of housing compromises the amount of, and use of, the commercial property. That alone may ultimately preclude some companies from locating there.

           

        9. Ron Oertel

          Housing was added to MRIC at the behest of the NRC

          Actually, I doubt that’s true, as well.  Perhaps it was suggested by the NRC, and embraced by staff and the developer. The proposal wasn’t financially appealing for the developer, without housing.

          It’s unfortunate that staff and the development team is not “embracing” the NRC’s recent suggestions (e.g., regarding residential master leases for companies, and spreading-out the phasing of housing).

          I think you’re witnessing exactly how much “authority” (or lack thereof) the NRC has, right now. It’s nothing more than an advisory committee, which can (and will) be ignored, at will.

        10. Richard McCann

          It may, in fact, be environmentally “inferior”, as some will commute elsewhere.

          Ron O

          The Council adopted a requirement that 60% of the housing be occupied by employees. The environmental analysis showed that was environmentally superior.

          The NRC then voted to propose the inclusion of housing at the development. This is on the record. (My wife was an NRC member at the time.) Please don’t speculate when you don’t have the facts.

        11. Ron Oertel

          The Council adopted a requirement that 60% of the housing be occupied by employees. The environmental analysis showed that was environmentally superior.

          Again, no way to ensure that.  Hence, the subsequent recommendation (regarding phasing of housing, and master leases for employers) which is being ignored – among other recommendations.

          And if there’s no way to ensure that, then there’s no way to ensure that the inclusion of housing is “environmentally superior”.

          The NRC then voted to propose the inclusion of housing at the development. This is on the record. (My wife was an NRC member at the time.) Please don’t speculate when you don’t have the facts.

          Where are you seeing that I disputed that?

          Regardless, the commission that you’re on has NO AUTHORITY, regarding the decisions that are ultimately made.

        12. Ron Oertel

          I assume that the “environmentally superior” option is actually (as usual), “no project”.

          And, that’s what I’m working toward. Sure would be a lot easier, if that was the “option” pursued in the first place. The same “option” that’s existed since the land was “created”.

          And somehow, Davis itself has managed to survive this long, by leaving it as is.

        13. Richard McCann

          Ron O

          The housing was added at the recommendation of the NRC by the City Council. That’s documented in the City Council minutes.

          You don’t know if the 60% requirement is unenforceable. That direction came from the EIR which legally cannot include the measures necessary to achieve that goal. The baseline features then specify HOW to meet that goal. The NRC made a recommendation on that point. Have you read the NRC recommendations and my comments on the Staff report?

          When presented with facts that contradict what you’ve said, why can’t you simply admit your error?

        14. Ron Oertel

          Have you read the NRC recommendations and my comments on the Staff report?

          Yes, it was a great article.  Did those recommendations come from you, or someone else on the commission?  Or, was it a group effort?

          When presented with facts that contradict what you’ve said, why can’t you simply admit your error?

          What “error” are you referring to?  I did say that I “doubted” that the NRC recommendation was ultimately the reason that housing was added, based upon statements from the developer (noted above). I acknowledged that the NRC may have made that recommendation, and have no reason to doubt that claim.

          Post the minutes, if you’re claiming that the NRC was “responsible” for this decision.

          By the way, does it seem at least somewhat “unusual” to you, that there’s only one long-time “environmentalist” on that commission? (I’ve forgotten the wording you used, in the other article.)

          Might this be similar to having non-bicyclists on the bicycle commission?

           

           

        15. Ron Oertel

          In fact, the developer was provided with an opportunity BY THE COUNCIL to pursue a commercial development, but the developer soon DECLINED and WITHDREW their proposal. And, the reason for that is documented in the article I posted, above.

          It had NOTHING to do with “companies demanding space for their workers”.

          One of the commenters (last night) provided an excellent overview of all the twists and turns this proposal has undergone. There’s been significant changes in size (over time), as well.

          I think it’s well-past time that you started “admitting your errors”, and perhaps start approaching this blog in a more polite manner.

          1. David Greenwald

            Ron – I think one problem here is that you are attempting to attribute one factor to something that is multifaceted.

            I will point out a few things here and then beg off for another meeting.

            First, as I pointed out earlier today, the structure of this development negates the financial advantage of the housing. They have to build 200,000 square feet before they can break ground on housing. I also found your comment last night interesting – you mentioned the 6000 parking spaces of which 850 are for residential, which comes to 14 percent, and from that you conclude that this project is really residential. Financing is tricky as several people with first hand have attested. This is probably a billion dollar plus project. Housing is a piece of that, but as far as size, percentage, land use, etc., it’s a relatively small piece.

            Second, “One of the commenters (last night) provided an excellent overview of all the twists and turns this proposal has undergone.” As someone who is pretty familiar with the twists and turns of this project, Pam’s analysis was actually flawed and at times outright false.

            Third, you’re arguing with a lot of certainty on things that you don’t have first hand knowledge of. And that’s not only irresponsible, but a bit dangerous. I think you stick to your opinions and leave it there. Richard McCann has a good deal of first hand knowledge of what happened as he related last night talking with the developers over a period of a year. To my knowledge, you’ve never even met with the developers personally and are not part of a commission.

        16. Ron Oertel

          Oh, and be sure to let us know when the council adopts the “recommendations” of the all-powerful NRC (or any other commission), regarding the baseline agreement.  Especially since you’re claiming that the NRC was responsible for earlier council decisions.

          But again, if you’re going to continue challenging me (over a number of articles/topics), you really need to change your initial condescending and rather aggressive tone. There’s already way too much of that, on this blog.

  3. Ron Oertel

    First, as I pointed out earlier today, the structure of this development negates the financial advantage of the housing. They have to build 200,000 square feet before they can break ground on housing.

    There’s at least two commission so far, which have a “problem” with the phasing of the housing.  (The FBC, and the NRC.)  Ezra Beeman (on the FBC) summarized it best, when he pointed out that the last two phases of the proposal essentially may not be feasible, as proposed.  He was quite “animated”, regarding his concern. Ezra was one of the three who could not even agree with the “restrained” statement that was ultimately issued via a 4-3 vote, by the FBC.

    Hence, the recommendation to change the phasing of the proposed housing. (Which, I believe is in the FBC’s recomendation, as well.)  

    Second, “One of the commenters (last night) provided an excellent overview of all the twists and turns this proposal has undergone.” As someone who is pretty familiar with the twists and turns of this project, Pam’s analysis was actually flawed and at times outright false.

    Do tell.  Otherwise, you’re just engaging in character assassination.

    Third, you’re arguing with a lot of certainty on things that you don’t have first hand knowledge of. And that’s not only irresponsible, but a bit dangerous. I think you stick to your opinions and leave it there.

    Arrogant and condescending comment.  You must know Richard.

    Richard McCann has a good deal of first hand knowledge of what happened as he related last night talking with the developers over a period of a year. To my knowledge, you’ve never even met with the developers personally and are not part of a commission.

    Are those requirements for knowledgeable comments?  (I know that you’ve repeatedly “met” with developers, but are not part of a commission.)  I have participated in commission meetings, and have observed what goes on there.

     

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