by Patrick Huber
Sprawl. If “sprawl” is simply defined as any development on the city’s periphery, then the term is applicable to DISC. However, it is more typically and usefully used to describe growth on a city’s periphery that makes further growth more likely. The DISC site is probably the least likely site on the city’s edge that would lead to further growth because all the adjacent farmland is already protected in perpetuity through conservation easements. These easements provide a hard edge to further growth either north or east of the DISC site. DISC is certainly peripheral development but it is not sprawl.
Native habitat. The Central Valley has lost approximately 90% of its native habitat since the Gold Rush. Valley oak woodlands, riparian forests, and wetlands have been largely eliminated from the region. Future viability of the region’s ecosystems requires the restoration or creation of additional native habitat. DISC will provide 22.6 acres of new natural habitat in the agricultural buffer in areas that are currently farmed. This will be a mosaic of ecosystems including valley oak woodland, prairie, and seasonal wetland swales. Additionally, portions of the buffer will be managed for nesting burrowing owls, a substantial expansion of their current nesting areas in the vicinity. While the foraging potential of the current agricultural fields for several raptor species will be lost, this will be more than offset by the habitat gained for numerous native species, including potential nesting sites for the raptors. Additionally, the drainage ditch that runs through the middle of the site will be enhanced with riparian plant species.
Plantings on site. Native plant species, such as valley oak, are critical for supporting native birds and insects and other animals that support the full food chain. The landscaping plan for the non-open space portions of DISC will include many valley oaks and native pollinator plants. This will provide a substantial biodiversity benefit over the current farm field.
Off-site features. While there will be inevitable loss of agricultural land and raptor foraging habitat through the construction of DISC, there are measures in place to help offset these losses. The current mitigation plan calls for a 1:1 ratio of foraging habitat and roughly 2:1 ratio of agricultural land to be protected in the Davis area. These will not create new land, but they will serve to protect more than five hundred acres of nearby land in perpetuity.
Public access. When the Davis open space program went through the public process of developing a strategic plan several years ago, one of the major goals expressed by many Davis residents was expansion of public access to open space. DISC will provide public trails through the entire agricultural buffer as well as through the riparian area that will be developed along the drainage ditch. Further, the on-site public access will activate a public access easement across the property to the east of the DISC site. This will provide a future opportunity to create public access all the way to the city-owned Howatt/Clayton Ranch and the Yolo Bypass.
Overall. DISC will have unavoidable impacts to open space features important to Davis residents. However, these will be more than outweighed by the open space and habitat benefits that it will provide. DISC will be a net benefit to open space and habitat in the Davis area.
Patrick Huber is a member of the Habitat and Open Space Commission; he is writing on his own behalf.
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