By David M. Greenwald
Davis, CA – It seems like with every project the first line of attack is something along the lines of—this project is being rushed.
During public comment on Tuesday, for example, Roberta Millstein noted that two years ago many complained about a rushed timeline, and she said “unfortunately I’m seeing that same mistake made.”
She said, “Again, there’s only time for each commission to see the project once. There’s no time for them to review the EIR, and I think that’s a problem. And again, this was a problem last time and commissions ended up having to rush through and have multiple meetings — extra meetings — in order to do it.”
She noted that there are “substantial changes to look at,” arguing that it’s not just a smaller version of the previous proposal.
Colin Walsh later added, “In order for us to do a thoughtful analysis, we’re going to need to get the information from the developer. We’re going to need to have a subcommittee that meets on it, analyzes it, and then brings it back to the commission as a whole.”
In short, he didn’t think the timeline provided sufficient time to do that.
Pretty much every proposal that ultimately became a Measure J vote has generated the criticism of the timeline being rushed.
Councilmember Will Arnold had one response to that claim. He pointed out that the planning for Innovation Parks in Davis began in October of 2010 when the City Council established the Innovation Park Task Force.
We have been talking specifically about this site since about 2013. We have had four or five different proposals for that site, maybe more.
“I suppose you could argue that five months from right now to when the city council will need to have a public hearing is compressed,” Arnold said. “I would disagree with that. I think by any reasonable measure of time, that five months is perfectly adequate for us to get what we need for this proposal.”
I am not going to argue that the timeline here is not compressed. I will argue, however, that we are probably going to be okay and we always have the fallback, as Lucas Frerichs pointed out, of delaying the decision to the fall if need be.
But I would argue it is actually better to proceed now as though June is the goal, rather than delay it at the start.
First, I would point out that Measure J is part of the problem here. It creates artificial deadlines. If there were no vote, you could simply schedule your hearings, get to the Planning Commission and, when ready, the council votes on it.
That’s how things work with non-Measure J projects.
So I think that one of the bargains with having Measure J is that the other side has to acknowledge that a public vote requirement creates a timeline.
One member of the public pressed the point, that this adheres to developer timelines not community needs.
Ultimately I think that’s probably true. The developers need to be able to raise money and finance a project in order to build it. This is already a long and drawn out process. I don’t think it’s too much to ask to allow them to determine when the project goes to a vote.
The public has recourse here—if they think they don’t have enough information, they can always vote no.
A third point I will make here is that having a tight timeline forces the city to schedule the commission meetings and move the project forward. My experience is that if you started out with a project going to ballot in November, we would still be up against the deadlines with the layout of the plans.
I think we are actually better off proceeding as though a decision needs to be made in February and March, and then if we don’t make it, we can schedule a second round of hearings for the spring and early summer.
It always feels like we are studying for an exam—you push the exam off a week, and you think you’re going to have more time, but by the time you catch your breath, the new deadline is on you.
But finally, and perhaps my biggest point, is that I think we know this project very well. Not only did we have a public vote on a larger version of this project and fully analyzed the traffic impacts, but we have been discussing this location since 2013. There have been at least four, maybe more, versions of this project.
Do we really need as much study by the commissions for a smaller version of this project?
One thing pointed out by some is that this is not just a smaller version of the previous proposal, there are “substantial changes to look at.”
There is something to be said for that point, but still, it’s smaller and there are more peripheral issues.
For example, Matt Williams pointed out, “The reason I think Bicycling, Transportation and Street Safety Commission (BTSSC) will find the one meeting limit challenging is that the Half DISC project description appears to no longer have the bicycle/pedestrian tunnel underneath Mace. “
Not to be overly flippant here, but long does it really take to note that there is no crossing and there probably should be one? If we needed the crossing the first time, I fail to see how a smaller version obviates the need for it again.
In the end, I think most people are going to make up their minds by weighing the negative impacts—traffic, loss of agricultural land and open space, and size—against the perceived benefits—city revenue—and make a choice.
While we don’t have a full analysis of that trade off yet, it probably won’t take more than a few months to get a reasonable approximation.
One point I think the critics of this project miss is that really they are not the ones with the burden of proof in Davis. The opposition doesn’t really have to convince the voters, the applicant does. They have the much taller burden.
There are already 30 to 35 percent of the voters who pretty much are always going to vote no on these projects, with another 10 to 15 percent often or perhaps even almost always going to vote no. That doesn’t leave the developer with much margin for error.
Will the smaller size and impacts, along with perhaps more students being around town and less pandemic uncertainty, be enough to push the project through? That remains to be seen and is by no means certain.
Personally I don’t think another six months is going to make much difference in the amount of information most people need to know to make an informed decision.