Last week it seemed that DISC (Davis Innovation & Sustainability Campus) would probably face a lot stronger opposition than other recent projects. Now that’s not at all clear. Of the 67 people who spoke at public comment, just nine—that’s single digits—rose to oppose the project. While the council did not vote, it seems very likely that the project will go on the ballot with a 5-0 vote.
The council still has some work to do even after the staff and developer have worked to address a number of issues.
For example, the Open Space and Habitat Commission remains opposed to the project as currently proposed, arguing that “it will result in the substantial net loss of the following noteworthy combination of open space values.”
- Prime agricultural land (96.6% classified as Farmland of Local Importance, including approximately 141 acres of Prime Farmland),
- Open space on the City’s perimeter (“Urban Fringe”),
- Potential habitat for sensitive species such as Swainson’s hawk (California Threatened), burrowing owl (Species of Special Concern), and white-tailed kite (Fully Protected) (“Biological Resources”),
- Views of significant landmarks, namely the Sierra Nevada and the Sacramento skyline (“Scenic Resources”) and aesthetic qualities more generally,
- Open space and habitat opportunities on seven of the entire City-owned twenty-five acres in the Northwest corner of the site (“Mace 25”), and
- Open space and habitat opportunities on the Howatt-Clayton Ranch, proposed as water runoff storage.
However, it is worth noting that the last two are off the table at this point.
The city has clarified, “There is no agreement to use the Mace 25 property.” Moreover, “The city is not obligated to give the Easement to the developer.” And “in the future, the city will study the use of the Mace 25 property” and decide what to do with it separate from this development.
“Approving DISC does not result in granting an easement,” they stated.
The Natural Resources Commission (NRC) has also pushed for stronger language, with a memo approved by the commission last Friday that the Vanguard reported on earlier this week.
Richard McCann from the NRC, during the meeting, said that while not endorsing the project, “I found that the staff report that was revised and released… went a long ways towards achieving what the NRC has requested for the council to adopt.”
He expressed two elements of concern still—wanting natural gas to be only be provided at the specific request of tenants, to avoid the use of natural gas throughout the project. Second, he wanted stronger language than “the developer commits,” to make the language truly enforceable.
McCann then clarified in a comment on the Vanguard, “Unfortunately, while the Staff Report appeared to incorporate many of the NRC recommendations, the lack of language to enforce those provisions led to the developer essentially dismissing most of these recommendations as ‘infeasible.’
“Without legally enforceable language, the Staff additions as ‘commitments’ are meaningless. I can’t support moving the project forward without the City being able to force the developer to include these elements.”
However, that might not be an intractable problem. Council is still getting guidance on the language “developer commits” versus the developer “shall” which would seem to be a legal requirement. It would seem to behoove the developers and the city to nail down the language to compel the developers to comply with those requirements.
One issue I strongly disagree with is the notion that somehow this process has been rushed. I think that’s largely the nature of Measure R votes because, to get measures on the ballot, they require timelines.
At the end of the timeline, it always feels rushed, kind of like you always want one more day to write a term paper or study for an exam.
But arguing against that is the fact that the proposal came back a year ago. The subcommittee worked on it for eight months. The Planning Commission noted that this was a project they were well familiar with. There were a lot of changes and improvements along the way and the public is ultimately going to weigh the project based on its merits, not the inside baseball players’ complaint about process.
Traffic is a problem that will not go away. I believe that it contributed to the narrow defeat of Nishi 1.0 despite the strong proposal to circumvent it—and in this case, the city along with the developers have put forth a number of mitigation measures that can help.
In its favor is a relatively strong transit plan, a shuttle from the bus station, and mitigations to help alleviate traffic congestion. In addition, the project benefits from a slow down of traffic concerns in conjunction with the pandemic that will help it, because the public will not be constantly reminded about traffic issues.
Further, there may be shifts in the way companies do business in the future—more telecommuting and less overall traffic.
Greg Rowe pointed out at the Planning Commission: “I still have questions about the 24,000 trips per day, but the thing is that’s 20 to 25 years from now. To me there is time for the city, council, Caltrans and the Developer to figure that out.”
That is a key point that a lot of people forget—with the long build out, we have time to adjust on the fly. There are not going to suddenly be 24,000 trips added to the corridor tomorrow or even ten years from now.
Is this enough to pass the project? Like the last two projects that passed, I do not sense a huge amount of opposition to the project. Will that ramp up with a new campaign the next four months? It could. They certainly have better issues than they did with either project in 2018.
But ultimately the community may feel the need for more revenue, and housing trumps concerns about traffic and greenhouse gas emissions. We shall see.
—David M. Greenwald reporting