By David M. Greenwald
At some point if the city wants to lay its cards on the table, it might consider having a consultant or perhaps even staff assess what went wrong with the Cannery. Because, as it stands now, the project is its own warning label. Want to consider removing Measure J—the Cannery is the best counter-argument. Want to put forward somewhat vague features into a Project Baseline Agreement—remember the Cannery.
The Cannery has become the boogie man for Davis growth policies—and even people who are not anti-growth acknowledge it. To put this into perspective: the Vanguard started in 2006, 14 years ago, that already the Cannery—then the vacated Hunt-Wesson Cannery site—was an issue.
At that time the debate was a 100-acre business park (my preference) or housing. Lewis Planned Communities backed out of the project when the council in 2009 insisted on an equal weight assessment of the two options.
But it got restarted after the housing collapse when the New Home Company took over the project, and eventually passed on a contentious 3-2 vote in 2013. You would think that would be that—but no.
There was the CFD (Community Facilities District) in 2015 that passed on a 3-2 vote. There have been the on and off problems with the grade-separated crossing. And then there have been the repeated attempts to come back to council with revisions to the development agreement.
One of the reasons this has been so damaging to the city’s efforts at other developments is that the developer has come back time after time to get revisions to the agreement—although much of the time, push back has forced them to back down.
As I noted back in April 2016: The week started with The New Home Company having three requested changes to the Cannery on the agenda for the Planning Commission. First, there was the proposal to increase the number of stacked flats by 24. Second, there was a proposal to reduce the number of small builder units. Third, there was a proposal to modify the Cannery Mixed Use Center.
But before the Planning Commission met, they were off the table. Bonnie Chiu told the Vanguard, “The New Home Company (has) withdrawn its proposal.” She noted that they “decided to put our proposal regarding the Stacked Flats Condominiums on hold at this time to allow additional outreach time.”
No big deal, except this keeps happening over and over again.
Concerns about connectivity issues have dogged the project throughout.
Writing in 2015 in the wake of a new controversy involving the Cannery, Joe Krovoza would say: “In all of this, my biggest issue was no secret. I wanted firm, firm guarantees of high-quality, grade-separated bike and pedestrian crossings at the SE and SW corners of the project.”
The SE crossing would never occur, of course, but he wrote, “A SW crossing would connect to Community Park, the library and schools, and all points southwest. I raised this issue at every Council meeting that addressed Cannery.”
He added, “When the DA [Development Agreement] came out in the November 19, 2013 staff report, the guarantees for two good, grade-separated bike and pedestrian crossings seemed very weak.”
He argued that the “staff report and DA didn’t guarantee good crossings. I saw this as backpedaling. Even with at least $11 million in transportation dollars from the DA and traffic impact funds, fingers were still being crossed that we’d have quality grade-separated crossings for bikes and peds across Covell.”
I bring all of this up as history. On Tuesday, the Cannery proposed a FOURTH amendment to the Cannery Village Market Project.
According to the staff report: “The proposed request is to amend the Development Agreement whereby a prior condition would be removed that tied occupancy of multifamily residential units to the construction or permitting of a minimum of 50% of the commercial buildings on the West Block of The Cannery mixed-use area.”
Now of course this has run so long, as the applicant had been pursuing building permits when the COVID-19 pandemic forced an economic downturn.
According to the staff report, “Since that time, the financing commitments previously acquired by the applicant for the commercial portion of the project have been rescinded. The applicant desires to move forward with the construction of 72 multifamily units and has requested relief from the condition that ties occupancy to commercial construction given that the issues related to the pandemic are out of their control and not foreseeable when the condition was originally agreed to.”
My favorite part is “not foreseeable when the condition was originally agreed to”—given how long it has taken to complete this portion of the project, that should not be that surprising.
The Planning Commission met on this issue on June 24, 2020, and recommended denial of the applicant’s request on a 5-2 vote.
However, staff does note that the Applicant has “removed an earlier request” that the Planning Commission found objectionable—it would have delayed a $150,000 payment to the Housing Trust Fund for affordable housing purposes.
Staff naturally “recommends that the City Council approve the proposed request to amend the Development Agreement as the City is still in need of housing, the applicant had been working towards meeting the condition providing a permit-ready commercial site prior to the pandemic, and it may help hasten the permit-ready future commercial buildings being constructed versus continued inactivity.”
I think at this point the council can make whatever decision they want about this particular proposal, but there needs to be a full audit of the Cannery process where an objective third party issues a report about what the city did wrong in this process in hopes of avoiding it in future projects.
Cannery has become a cautionary tale that has been used against the city time and again in opposing projects. The problem here is that there really are problems here, and pretending there haven’t been does no one any good.
The fact that we need housing not withstanding, this project has been a huge problem for 14 years and shows no sign of abating.
—David M. Greenwald reporting
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