By David M. Greenwald
Davis, CA – By Davis standards, it was an easy night. The staff recommendations for DiSC were supported on a 7-0 by the Planning Commission, *just* 41 public commenters called in, and the meeting wrapped up seven minutes short of midnight. The project now heads for the City Council in February and inevitably to a citizens’ vote in June.
A number of commissioners expressed strong support for the concept of the project.
“I will admit to a prejudice right off the bat,” Commissioner Michelle Weiss stated. “I’m very much in favor of the city’s vision for the notion of sustainable economic development. We’re a highly amenitized city that doesn’t want to pay for anything.”
Attorney Matt Keasling, responding to questions, noted that employers could subsidize housing to attract employees to come to DiSC.
“(A) lot of the companies that locate at the center may choose to, say, rent out a block of 10 units so that they can use that to attract employees to come. That’s a common practice throughout larger metropolitan areas, but we’re not going to mandate that,” he explained.
He added, “I think you will see that naturally occur because of the market and how constrained the Davis housing market is already,” he said. “But again our objective would be to let that play out.”
Responding to criticism however, Keasling pointed out, “I think there’s a misnomer out there that the only way those are beneficial environmentally is if DiSC employees live in them, but there are a whole slew of people that work in Davis right now that do not live in Davis. And if they buy a house or move to these homes, that is a VMT improvement as well.”
Georgina Valencia noted, “Communities don’t decide to do developments because they make money for them. They decide to do developments because there is a community benefit involved.”
She said, “From my point of view, I think there is a real benefit.” Housing is a real need she said. And one of the concerns that people brought up during public comments, was how do we achieve our RHNA numbers? That is a real issue for our city, and this is one of the projects that will help us get to the place that we need to get to.”
Valencia added, “That is not only market rate housing, but affordable housing.”
Another community benefit will be jobs, she said.
“Generally high paying jobs you’re talking about—research and lab type positions,” she said. “I see those as a real community benefit.”
Emily Shandy said, “I believe that this project has benefits to offer to our community. I struggle though with how this project interfaces with our existing community, particularly around transportation, and particularly around transportation other than driving their own vehicles.”
She added, “I’m struggling to really have a clear understanding of what the transportation improvements around this project are going to look like because they’re contradictory to each other, the way that they’re currently laid out, we cannot increase capacity enough to accommodate all of the vehicle traffic currently projected to be generated by this project.”
Darryl Rutherford expressed overall support for the project, but expressed disappointment that the undercrossing for bicycling was removed.
“The DiSC project is transformational,” Commissioner Greg Rowe stated. “We need more high wage job opportunities. We need more green industry. We need more life science.”
He said, quoting Mayor Steinberg in Sacramento, “We’ve talked for a decade now about diversifying our economy. This is the single biggest opportunity we have to not only continue, but to elevate that direction. And it’s a multi-billion dollar investment.”
“I’m in favor of the project, but I do have some concerns,” Rowe said. “I think one of the things to realize, especially for those commenters who bring up the VMT thing is the secret document makes it very clear. The traffic on I-80 is going get worse with or without the project, just looking at the regional projections from SACOG from MTC.”
David Robertson said, “My biggest concern about this project is the amount of studies and further evaluations that have to come down the road. I’m not convinced that what I’ve heard tonight is in fact what’s going to happen.”
He added, “I have a very low confidence level that this project as built will in any way look like what I heard tonight.”
“Do we need it? I think we do,” he said. “Do we need it right now? I don’t think we do.”
He said, “I hope that when this goes to the council, that they will at every turn possible, put more objective enforceable standards in place so that this project bears some resemblance to what is leaving this commission tonight.”
Chair Cheryl Essex pointed out that some commenters pointed out that several proposed baseline features from the NRC were not included.
Matt Keasling noted that there were two different types of concerns.
He said, “The first was concern that things had been removed from the baseline features that had been there previously, and then secondarily concerned that things that had been requested to be added to baseline features were not added.”
He responded, “We made a decision to remove certain level of detail from baseline features and that it was very intentional.”
There is a belief that if things are not in the baseline features, it’s not going to happen. He felt like some of the baseline features were too specific and got too fine in terms of the level of detail.
“We had serious concerns that that level of detail was resulting in very long and over-encumbering baseline features that were confusing people,” Keasling explained.
What they need to do is have enough specificity to say “if you say, we’re going to build an innovation center, you’re going to build an innovation center and not then get subsequently annexed into the city and immediately request to change the general plan designation to a hundred percent residential, right?”
He said, “It ensures that that cannot happen and the council does not have the ability to grant a general plan amendment or a rezone that is inconsistent with what you told the voters you were going to build.”
At the same time, he noted that “we’re still the longest set of baseline features that have ever been presented to this city.”
He added that “the commitments were not removed, they’re still here. They’re still in the DAQ with respect to the NRC recommendations for things to add to the baseline features.”
Michelle Weiss, among others, expressed strong support for “[s]omething more substantial in here around bike and pedestrian safety,” she said, “Specifically around on the undercrossing.”
She said, “We’d like to either have that be in the baseline features” or, she said, spelled out somewhere. “It says that the developer will give the land for the crossing, but not build it, but something like the city and the developer will work together to actually build the darn thing.”
Emily Shandy added, “I would be very interested to see not only the undercrossing be put back in the baseline features, but that east-west connection in addition to the inside of the curve.”
Michelle Weiss also pushed for affordable housing to be built in phase one and phase two, “not just the for sale affordable.”
The commission supported staff recommendations and then added the several additional recommendations which included: bike and ped undercrossing in the baselines features, among other changes.
The motion passed 7-0 and the project will now go to the council in February.