By David M. Greenwald
Davis may have mastered the art of the circular firing squad, but it is not alone in this regard. The lawsuit was filed by someone familiar to those paying close attention in Davis—Patrick Soluri of Soluri Meserve in Sacramento. The firm represented the failed lawsuits against Lincoln40 and Nishi in Davis in recent years.
The firm is representing a group called Sacramento Investment Without Displacement (SIWD), a group of neighborhood residents.
The issues should also seem somewhat familiar—inadequacy of the EIR, about which in this case the attorneys claim the project disregarded issues that the project will boost population because it only includes a few hundred housing units.
“While the Project could be an opportunity to benefit UC Davis, the City, and immediately surrounding neighborhoods alike, appropriate measures must be taken to ensure that existing residents of these surrounding communities equitably benefit from the planned improvements,” the suit states. “Unless the deficiencies in the UC’s EIR are corrected, the UC’s actions will exacerbate existing housing inequities and drive displacement in some of Sacramento’s most historically underserved communities.”
The suit also alleges that Aggie Square’s EIR fails to address impacts from vehicle miles traveled and greenhouse gas emissions. It demands the EIR and project approvals be set aside and actions toward development be suspended until a more thorough EIR and analysis can be made.
In response, Mayor Darrell Steinberg and Councilmembers Jay Schenirer and Eric Guerra Monday fired back at a suit that could derail a massive economic investment in Sacramento that could bring 5000 people in on high paying construction times at a time of economic downturn.
When complete, the center would generate a half-million square feet of public and privately-run labs and some 3500 to 5000 permanent jobs.
In a letter on Monday, the city leaders accused the group of taking a path of “confrontation rather than cooperation.”
They called the lawsuit “both unfortunate and, ultimately, unproductive.
“There is no community benefits agreement without a project,” the statement says. “There is no new inclusive economic development for the neighborhoods without a project. Five thousand union construction jobs and 3,500-5,000 ongoing jobs, many of which will be reserved for local residents, will be lost without a project.”
Kevin Ferreira, Executive Director of the Sacramento-Sierra’s Building and Construction Trades Council, called the lawsuit “the pinnacle of irresponsibility.
“This lawsuit sends a direct message to thousands of would-be workers that it is better for them to receive unemployment checks than to have a job that pays living wages and benefits,” Ferreira said.
In the letter, the city leaders noted that the city and SIWD members had held community talks but the suit now means those talks can no longer proceed.
“Despite the fact that our discussions with SIWD for a CBA has only begun, and despite the fact that the city has already committed to investing tens of millions of dollars of housing resources to construct affordable housing on the Stockton Boulevard corridor, SIWD has chosen to file a CEQA lawsuit against the university, potentially delaying the project indefinitely,” the letter states.
This should all be familiar to Davis residents. Twice Soluri pressed lawsuits against Davis-area projects—Lincoln40 and Nishi. Both times the vast complaints about EIR inadequacies were shot down by Yolo County judges. What they succeeded in doing, however, was to delay the construction of projects and increase the expenses for those projects.
Now they are doing the same in Sacramento for Aggie Square. They won’t kill the project. They probably won’t win. But it will cause delays. Right now people are out of work, the economy is reeling, and this was going to break ground in a month.
In a way this lawsuit can reassure Davis leaders. It is not just Davis that faces these hurdles for major projects. Issues like housing and transportation are vitally important and projects must take these things into account when they plan projects of this sort.
At the same time, while we need to take steps to ensure adequate housing and transportation for projects, we are harming out own prospects. The people who will be harmed by delays in this project are blue collar construction workers—they are the many young workers that Aggie Square would serve.
Companies are finding the cost to do business in California has skyrocketed. That has led to some very notable high tech companies to move out of state. California faces a housing crisis in part because of the sky high cost of construction—which is compounded by suits of this sort, which delay construction and raise the cost of doing business.
This lawsuit may show that this problem is not limited to Davis, but Davis has become subjected to masters of delay, masters of increasing the cost of housing and masters at finding ways to block projects that would bring jobs and vitally needed city revenue to the community. That will harm this community in the long run and lawsuits of these sort will hurt our region now and into the future.
—David M. Greenwald reporting
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