By David M. Greenwald
Davis, CA -Part two of the long range growth discussion may not have gone until 2 in the morning, as part one did two weeks ago, but the discussion lasted until 11 pm on Tuesday, with council ultimately deciding against a special district approach in East Davis and decided to move forward with a process that will allow Village Farms to proceed to EIR with an aim of 2025, and Shriner’s proceeding with an EIR that would put it on pace to get on the ballot in 2026.
Mayor Will Arnold was able to get Vice Mayor Josh Chapman on board in a 4-1 vote, but ultimately Bapu Vaitla had concerns about the planning process that caused him to be the lone holdout.
Vaitla explained his thinking early on in the discussion, “I think if we don’t go through some sort of say, short visioning process planning process, we might be giving up hundreds, and when all five, seven projects are tallied maybe thousands of units, and I think possibly hundreds of affordable units, that to me is not a price worth paying if what we gain is a ballot measure that’s eight months earlier.”
He felt that by September, after going through a three- or four-month process, “We’ll say one project or two projects, but at least we’ll have that kind of visioning in hand and a more refined rubric.”
But for Mayor Arnold, “I believe we’re at the point now where where there is the urgency, there is the opportunity. We’ve seen improvement from these projects that have come forward.”
He added, “I do plan to support tonight undertaking the beginnings of an EIR process for at least one of the projects that’s in front of us.”
He also pushed back on the idea that they may be leaving some affordable units on the table.
“CEQA sees added density as being added impacts,” Arnold explain. “The same has also been the case for the voters of Davis.”
He explained, “If you’ve ever looked at a lawn sign that is no on whatever proposal is in front of us almost all of them have a picture of a car in gridlock. That’s almost always the number one argument. There’s what we can achieve in density in a perfect world. And there’s, what are the voters of Davis going to accept.”
The council discussed the idea of a specific plan.
City Manage Mike Webb explained, “To be a true specific plan, that it would be a plan that the city council would adopt and to adopt it and have general plan land of designations be effective. Those would be subject to first going to the voters.”
Councilmember Gloria Partida pointed out that “if we don’t do a full specific plan and have to do the EIR and have to go to Measure JRD vote, that’s a huge gamble because it may not pass. It more than likely won’t pass, because people won’t know what’s going to go there.”
She then added, “I think that people would be very skeptical about that. I don’t know that it would pass, we’d spend a lot of time and money and then still have to go through another JRD vote when the individual projects came in.”
That seemed to capture the concerns of the council on the Specific Plan.
Vaitla added, “Gloria, I mean, I agree with you that even as a standalone ballot measure, that’s a very tough thing to win for the reasons that you said it’s, people don’t know specifically what’s going there, et cetera.”
Will Arnold then brought back discussion of the previous motion that Partida made two weeks ago, directing staff to start processing the EIRs but come back to council prior to issuing a Notice of Preparation (NOP).
Councilmember Partida indicated that she would recommend that approach as well.
Councilmember Donna Neville stated, “I was just going to say that I’m supportive of that as well, and I would like to see us direct staff to start this work on not one, but two EIRs.”
Councilmember Vaitla again pushed back, “For me, the only reason we would vote to advance these EIRs tonight is to get them on the November 2024 ballot. There’s, there’s no other reason we would do that.”
He said, “I will oppose putting any development measure on a 2024 ballot. I think it endangers the revenue measure.” He added, “To me, there’s no harm in getting a rubric back, getting a better sense of what we want to see on the periphery, and then pushing it forward in September or October for an early 2025 ballot, which is, you know, the applicants have indicated they’re totally fine with that.”
Arnold responded that “it’s not about necessarily putting it on the November 2024 ballot. It’s about baking in some time to make sure March 2025 remains a reality rather than putting it off to sort of the last minute for that to even be an option.”
But he said, “It keeps the option of 2024 open.”
Chapman said, “I am not comfortable picking one project to move forward with an EIR tonight. I think both projects have a lot of merit.” He said, “I think ultimately for me, it rests on 2024, 100 percent being solely focused on a revenue measure.”
But he did say, “I’d pick both and say move them both forward.”
Will Arnold brought the discussion to a motion, noting that there are only two projects that are in discussion at this point—only two are interested in looking to be on the ballot in 2025 or 2026.
One project says “their project doesn’t count for this.” Another says they are in “pre-application and thinks it’s premature, and we haven’t heard anything from the fifth one.”
He said, “I think that’s the whole point of option B here, which is that we are able to start the beginning processes of an EIR before we’ve even done the NOP, and then we’ll have this bite at the apple when the NOP comes.”
He said not doing this tonight, would be “we’re just lowering the chances that March, 2025 for any of these projects is even a reality.”
He moved, “I am going to make a motion that we direct staff to undertake project review and EIR preparation for two proposals known as Village Farms and Shriner’s and direct staff to check in with council on project description status prior to issuing, issuing the EIR notice of preparation.”
Sherri Metzker, Community Development Director, noted, “I would’ve envisioned whether we had these projects pending or not, that one of the issues we should take up in our next general plan is the issue of growth. Where does the city project we should grow and how, and all the kinds of things that you’ve actually been talking about.”
In her view, “if you take these two proposed large projects and sort of take them out of the mix, it does reduce to some degree your level or your ability to do that sort of master planning because the decision in essence has already been directed.”
Vaitla responded, “I think you summarized my concerns.” He said that “it complicates planning for two very important parcels.”
But Arnold pushed the motion. The council supported the motion 4-1 with Vaitla in dissent. With the target being March 2025 for Village Farms and June 2026 for Shriner’s.