Council Rejects Hearing Appeal on University Mall

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

Davis, CA – During public comment, a divided community was split between the need for more housing in Davis and upholding the decision of the Planning Commission to move forward with a commercial-only property.

But for the council it came down, as Vice Mayor Josh Chapman and Mayor Will Arnold put it, to strange technicalities in the city ordinance with respect to appeals.

“If the person filing the appeal was not a city council member, this meeting would not have happened,” Vice Mayor Chapman said.  “The appeal would’ve gone to the city, the city would’ve processed the appeal, and in 30 to 45 days or whatever it was, we would be hearing the appeal.”

He continued, “But because our ordinance lays out that as a sitting City council member, if you file an appeal, it has to come to us in order to hear it. So if Councilmember Vaitla was not on city council and filed this appeal, we would not be having this discussion.”

Even more quirks of the process include that Councilmember Bapu Vaitla, who filed the request for the appeal, then had to recuse himself and not take part in the council discussion or decision.

Further still, with a three-member council deciding the issue, all three had to vote in the affirmative to grant the hearing on the appeal.

That became important when Councilmember Gloria Partida indicated that she would not be supporting the hearing for an appeal.

Bapu Vaitla was able to speak for his two minutes as a member of the public.

“I’m requesting a public hearing on this issue for two reasons,” he said.  “First, the proposed project does not conform to the visions of the general plan.”

He explained, “In short, a commercial mall doesn’t meet Davis’ principles of compact design, environmental innovation, and the prioritization of pedestrians and cyclists. California case law makes clear the design review is about more than just meeting a zoning designation. It’s about whether the design is consistent with both the letter and the intent of our general plan and our municipal code.”

He noted that Brixmor Property Group made $354 million in net income in profit last year, “They can do much better in this present design.”

Vaitla further argued that “this parcel is critical to the city’s long-term growth plans.”

He continued, “It is in many ways the ideal parcel for mixed-use commercial residential development given its location on a key corridor as well as its proximity to the university.

“Regardless of the outcome of this process, I believe that Davis would greatly benefit from city council hearing the arguments for and against the current designs, consistency with our community’s vision for both affordable housing and economic development.”

But while members of the community made powerful arguments on both sides of the issue for and against housing on the site, the council discussion could only focus on whether or not to hear the appeal.

Josh Chapman noted that they’ve received a lot of emails and messages about what people want the site to be, and many said they wanted housing on the site.

He said, “I think if anyone who’s watched city council meetings have followed us when we, when we’ve run campaigns, um, know and understand that we’ve all sat up here and beat the drum of needing more housing. So it’s not a question of whether we need more housing. What we’re looking at here right, is whether or not what was brought forward in an appeal if, if we should hear that, have that hearing.”

He also pointed out that no matter what the council did, no housing gets built tonight or tomorrow or whatever.

Chapman said, “I think this site is a key project location and we all know that as reference to many folks, it made reference by many folks here this evening.”

He also noted, “This conversation was quite contentious. I was not on council when this happened, but I followed it closely and know that this was not an easy process for our community to go through the developer, to go through our staff, to go through council, colleagues … to go through at that time.”

That being said, “I would expect that our community would have the turnout that they had this evening on both sides, and want us to hear what’s going on with this, with this project.”

Gloria Partida added, “I think people understand that we are for housing and we are, especially for affordable housing, and trying to get every place in Davis, that can put housing that we can take those opportunities.”

She said that “it’s very difficult and disappointing that this is, is coming forward this way. So, I sympathize, I sympathize with the community, and I hear what people are saying, that we should have a conversation.”

She agreed with the notion that we should have a conversation around housing.

But this is a discussion, she said, of “whether or not we want to push or have this appeal going forward.”

She noted that the Planning Commission decision “that they went through was correct.”

She added, “I don’t see that hearing this appeal is going to move us further.  It’s not going to give us housing.”  She noted that instead of giving the city more housing, “appealing the project that is before us, if that’s upheld, then no project goes forward.”

Mayor Will Arnold noted that he is inclined to revisit the issue of the process because he agrees with Josh Chapman about the fairness of the issue with respect to a councilmember appealing a project.

“If it were anyone else, anyone here in the audience submitting that appeal, this step in the process wouldn’t be happening and it would just be coming in front of us on appeal.”

He said, “I find that interesting that, that we have this added layer here just because the member of the public who filed the appeal is a council member.”

Arnold added, “All three of us need to vote in the affirmative to hear the appeal.”

That led to further discussion back and forth.

But at the end, Gloria Partida said, “I’m still a no” even as she acknowledged the technicality around the appeal.

The vote went forward 2-1 to hear the appeal, but failed because it needed all three of the voting members of the council.

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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1 Comment

  1. Keith Y Echols

    He noted that Brixmor Property Group made $354 million in net income in profit last year, “They can do much better in this present design.”

    WTF is this comment?  Does Bapu believe he/the city is entitled to some of Brixmor’s profit?  Brixmor is a FOR PROFIT company.  Their goal is to make as much profit for their owner/investors…same as any other for profit developer.  Would it be better if the developer had negative profit….had a bunch of unsuccessful projects?  Then would it be okay for the developer to put forth the current proposed project?  “Hey…you suck as a developer… it’s cool…we don’t feel entitled to force you to put more stuff in the project that we want”.

    Citing the current General Plan is stupid.  The current General Plan has a vision of a pastural podunk college town next to the back water city of Sacramentucky… opposed to a town in a region of major economic growth due to the influx of technology and bio-life sciences…most of which are passing Davis by.

    Look, I agree that the UMall proposed project is a wasted opportunity.  But that’s not the fault of the developer.  That’s the city’s fault for not updating the General Plan or putting in a UCD Specific Plan on areas near UCD.  The developer is just trying to get something approved.  You can’t keep holding things up because the city and the community can’t get their act together.  Pretty soon all those other many developers with those great mixed use infill projects in Davis will start to avoid doing projects in Davis.….(wait a minute!)….because Davis will continue to be perceived as a bunch of granola, tree hugging social justice fighting communists…. a reputation where developers and outside businesses aren’t too keen on working with (unless they’re targeting students).

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