Staff’s and Council’s Current Scheme to Limit Analysis and Input from the Commissions include Artificial, Arbitrary Deadlines Imposed on Citizen Advisory Commissions.
by Alan Pryor
Readers will remember one of the primary complaints surrounding DISC 1.0 on the November 2020 ballot as Measure B was that the Commissions were intentionally and systematically excluded from fully participating in the review of the project through scheduling manipulations imposed by City Staff with Council approval. It appears that history is repeating itself which is the subject of this series of articles. Part 1 of the series (see https://www.davisvanguard.org/2021/09/deja-vu-council-and-staff-collude-to-limit-review-of-the-disc-2022-project-by-the-citys-advisory-commissions-again/#comment-454903) discussed the history of City Staff and Council ignoring input by both the Advisory Commissions and the public in many other important City matters.
This Part 2 in the series discusses the recent Council decision that greatly limits Citizen Advisory Commission input and recommendations for Baseline Features for the newly proposed DISC 2022 project now heading for the June 2022 ballot in Davis. The article is a detailed examination of the means by which the City Council and Staff are intending to again limit analysis and input from the Commissions by hamstringing the Commissions’ ability to hold multiple meetings to review the DISC 2022 project.
The Staff Report to Council last Tuesday (see http://documents.cityofdavis.org/Media/Default/Documents/PDF/CityCouncil/CouncilMeetings/Agendas/2021/2021-09-07/05-Davis-Innovation-and-Sustainability-Campus-(DiSC%202022)-Processing.pdf) stated that Staff and the Developer have considered all of the input from Commissions on the previously proposed DISC project and that they will incorporate this input into the new DISC 2022 proposal. Oh really? Well, how would one know because there are so few project details actually given about the new proposed DISC 2022 project through the website link.
For instance, the amount of information currently provided in the Applicant/Developer submittals (which can be seen at https://www.cityofdavis.org/city-hall/community-development-and-sustainability/disc-2022) is woefully and embarrassingly inadequate for any kind of detailed consideration by either the Commissioners or the public. Most of the submittals are simply 20,000 ft. land use renderings with little detail while the “Application” package itself had pages 2-6 and pages 16-21 entirely missing from the purported 21-page document. And page 7 was overwritten with an “X” through the entire page leaving readers wondering what materials were or were not left out of the application.
This process is reminiscent of Staff and Council behavior in withholding important information from the Commissions in the processing of DISC 1.0 information until the very last possible moment. This forced most Commissions to hold special unscheduled meetings to prepare their input and recommended Baseline Features for the project.
In the presentations initially given to most Commissions by the Applicant-Developer for DISC 1.0, they brought lots of 20,000-foot level full color renderings of the project while pushing the alleged benefits the project would bring to the City. But there was precious little detailed information. For example, no detail on how the huge increase in traffic was going to be managed, or what the final environmental features of the project were going to be.
Instead, the message from the Developer was that it was “going to be the most environmentally superior development Davis has ever seen” and any potential problems would be irrelevant because the project would be brought back to the Commissions for final details after entitlements were granted. It was all going to be “wonderful…trust us!“.
But when the Traffic Study, the Draft Development Agreement, and the final Supplemental EIR were released, many of the Commissions realized there was substantial amounts of information on which they wished to provide input – particularly in terms of the Baseline Features they felt needed to be incorporated into the project in light of new understanding of the impending catastrophic dangers facing us from Climate Change. The problem was that the time frame in which the Commission meetings could be held to make these contributions had become so compressed – literally less than a month in some cases.
The Commissions did their part by jumping through hoops with extraordinary efforts, and turned in their own (sometimes voluminous) recommended Baseline Feature into Staff, only to have them not forwarded to the Planning Commission in time for their deliberations. In the case of the Natural Resources Commission, which shouldered the most significant Climate Change issues, this required convening two separate subcommittees, and holding two special meetings in the waning days before the matter went to the Planning Commission.
All of the above-described problems could have been avoided if the DISC 1.0 project team and Staff had allowed sufficient room in the timetable for the release and consideration of such extensive amounts of information on DISC 1.0. Instead Staff and the Applicant dropped all of the thousands of pages of information in the Staff Report and Final Environmental Impact Report on the Commissions in the final month before the Yolo County Elections Office deadline hat must be met for the project to go onto the November, 2020 ballot. This was either due to Staff incompetence or intentionally designed to limit the time available for Commission review of the thousands of pages of information dropped in the Commissions’ laps
The Current Council-Approved Timeline for Commission Input in the DISC 2022 Project
Judging from last Tuesday’s Staff Report where Staff presented their proposed deadlines for processing the DISC 2022 application, it appears that Staff and the applicant are trying to pull the same kind of processing timeline limitations as were used in the DISC 1.0 process. The result is a timeline that precludes any critical Commission input as the DISC 2022 review process unfolds.
For the DISC 2022 processing, Staff specifically recommended in their report:
- That the city’s citizen Advisory Commissions be allowed only a single meeting in which to both study the project material and render their Commission’s final opinion on the merits and drawbacks of the project, and
- At that same single meeting Staff requires the Commission to finalize their recommendations for the terms of the Baseline Features, which will be part of the Measure J/R/D ballot, and
- That no Commission could create any subcommittee to make the work leading up to the single Commission meeting more efficient and effective, without first getting approval from the City Council. In my 12 years of serving as an NRC Commissioner before I and others were summarily purged for opposing DISC 1.0 (see https://www.davisvanguard.org/2020/12/guest-commentary-biased-behavior-and-retribution-in-the-davis-citizen-advisory-commission-appointment-process/), I have never seen such restrictive behavior by Staff and Council.
Given the differences in subject matter focus of the Commissions, some of the City’s Commissions MIGHT be able to complete their assigned tasks within those three limitations. However, they will need a substantial amount of detailed project information made available by Staff and the applicant well in advance of the recommended single meeting date.
What Staff Needs to Provide for the Commissions to do their Work
In DISC 2020, even though much of it came at a very late date, the Commissions had access to a wealth of information to perform their superhuman efforts to complete and submit their findings and recommendations. To date, far, far less information is being provided to the Commissions for DISC 2022. Amazingly, Staff and Council seem to recognize this glaring shortcoming, but instead of requiring the Applicant/Developer to provide updated information on the current project, Staff and Council instead simply stated that if the Commissions wanted any further information, they could go look at the submittals for DISC 2020 and recognize that the impacts would not be as severe.
This is an almost incomprehensible request to make of the Commissions and evidences the total lack of respect given to the Commissions and the value that Staff and Council and the Applicant/Developer places on their input. For the Commissions to properly do their jobs, at minimum the following materials need to be provided to them well in advance of their scheduled meeting dates.
1) For all Commissions – A comprehensive side-by-side comparison of all the Baseline Features and other aspects of Disc 2022 that were either added or deleted compared to DISC 1.0 so the Commissions can see at a glance which are materially changed to warrant their further review.
2) For the Bicycling, Transportation, and Street Safety Commission – An updated traffic study and plans to reduce VMT plus information on local roadway and bike path impacts and proposed additions or deletions including info on the public safety consideration created by the elimination of the Mace Under-crossing from the project.
3) For the Natural Resources Commission – Estimates of new project water and energy usage and an updated calculation of total GHG emissions resulting from the project and mitigation measures proposed. Update on any design features of the buildings that impact energy and water usage. More detailed response from Staff as to why the previously recommended Baseline features were not incorporated into the final Baseline Features for the previous projects besides just responding “Not Feasible”.
4) For the Finance and Budget Commission – An updated EPS Study with scenarios for both a 75% Marginal Cost assumption and a 100% Marginal Cost assumption as specifically requested by the Commission.
5) For the Recreation and Parks Commission and Tree Commission – Details on changes in tree plantings and landscaping plans including numbers and types of trees including mandated use of structured soils in parking lots and adjacent to bike paths and roadways.
6) For the Open Space and Habitat Commission – Information on development of open space and habitat on the project site and plans for impounding and holding surface runoff water on site.
7) For the Social Services Commission – Details on onsite affordable housing and proposed compliance with affordable housing ordinance.
The Schedule Approved by Council for Commission Review
Following discussion between Council and Staff, it was eventually agreed that Commissions could form subcommittees to investigate DISC 2022 but only if they did so in their September meeting – some of which are occurring within a week. The Council also agreed that the Commissions must have their input into the Staff within 2 weeks of the one single scheduled meeting at which Council will allow each Commission to consider the project, as follows;
|July 7, 2021||Application Submitted|
|August 7, 2021||Application Deemed Complete|
|August 13, 2021||Contract for CEQA Document Preparation Approved|
|October 4, 2021||Open Space and Habitat Commission|
|October 20, 2021||Recreation and Parks Commission|
|October 21, 2021||Tree Commission|
|October 25, 2021||Natural Resources Commission|
|December 1, 2021||CEQA Document (Estimated Completion Date)|
|December 9, 2021||Bicycling, Transportation and Street Safety Committee|
|December 13, 2021||Finance and Budget Commission|
|December 20, 2021||Social Services Commission|
|January 2022||Planning Commission (public hearing)|
|February 2022||City Council (public hearing)|
Allowing each Commission only a single meeting at which to provide feedback to Council on the recommended Baseline Features and other projects details is ridiculous especially since so few projects details are now available for review. This will be even more difficult if the bulk of that one single meeting is taken up by the planned Applicant-Developer presentation. As mentioned, in DISC 1.0, these presentations consisted almost entirely of “fluff” sales and marketing presentations by Dan Ramos and Matt Kiesling, the project manager and lawyer engaged by the project developer.
That notwithstanding, Staff’s excuse for attempting to limit Commission input to the single meeting was that they needed time to assemble all of the Commission input into a report for the Planning Commission and they currently have many so other responsibilities. But this excuse is suspect because the Staff Report to the Planing Commission does not need to be finalized until very early in January. Yet, for example, they are requiring the Natural Resources Commission to have their final recommendations submitted by November 8 – two weeks after their planned October 25 meeting date. This is almost two full months before the Staff Report to the Planning Commission needs to be finalized.
This dystopian behavior by Staff and Council to minimize Commission input into the DISC 2022 project follows the playbook they established for DISC 1.0 in 2020 and flies in the face on Davis’ long history of civic engagement and citizen activism.
One of the most telling and insightful comments about the expectations of citizens toward their engagement in Davis civic activities was recently made by one of the presenters at a recent Cool Davis webinar on Local Solutions for Climate Action & Resilience,
If we have one shared value in this city, it is that we have a right to participate in all things.
– Mark Lakeman (August 18, 2021)
In that simple sentence, he encompassed the aspirations of so many of the citizens of Davis as to how we view our right to participate in our City government, and the responsibilities of our government to listen its citizens. This makes Staff’s and Council’s behavior in attempting to limit Commission input into the DISC 2022 project processing even more egregious.
All of the above-described problems could have been avoided in DISC 1.0 if the project team and Staff had allowed sufficient room in the timetable for the release and consideration of such extensive amounts of information on the project. Instead Staff and the Applicant dropped all of the thousands of pages of final information in the final month or two before the Yolo County Elections Office deadline that must be met for the project to go onto the November, 2020 ballot.
One has to ask if that massive dump of documents with precious little time for review was not intentionally planned for the exact purpose of minimizing Commission input under the guise of there just not being enough time to have the Commissions give the project their full measure of attention…and if the same playbook is being used in DISC 2022.
The Commissions did their part by jumping through hoops with extraordinary efforts, and turned in their own (sometimes voluminous) recommended Baseline Feature into Staff, only to have them buried by Staff in their reports to the Planning Commission in time for their deliberations. In the case of the Natural Resources Commission, which shouldered the most significant Climate Change issues, this required convening two separate subcommittees, and holding two special meetings in the waning days before the matter went to the Planning Commission. Apparently Staff and Council are intent in NOT allowing that to happen again so they have actually arbitrarily and capriciously limited the number of meetings that Commissions can devote to analyzing the new project.
Such attempts backfired in DISC 1.0, however, when opponents were galvanized by the sheer audacity of Staff and Council’s actions which translated into a formidable opposition coalition to defeat the measure last November. It is likely that many in the community will view Staff’s and Council’s current efforts to secretly usher this project through with a minimum of information and Commission input will be similarly viewed with alarm and distrust with the same electoral outcome likely – and the Staff, Council, and the Developer will have only themselves to blame.
Alan Pryor is a Davis Resident and former NRC Commissioner