The Vanguard has a new home, please update your bookmarks to

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Wildhorse Ranch: The Next Big Development Controversy

Just when you thought it was safe to watch your city council meetings... A few days after the voters have apparently narrowly passed the Second Street Crossing Project--better known as Measure K and Target, we have a new controversy developing.

On Tuesday night, the City Council will have on the agenda an item to approve an EIR Consultant Contract for the Wildhorse Ranch Project.

This is the early stages of the Wildhorse Ranch project. It is approximately a 25.8-acre parcel that will be developed into around 192 single-family homes.

The key thing here is that this will involve an amendment to the General Plan land use designation of the site from Agriculture to Residential and also a rezoning.

Anytime you make a general plan amendment it is subject to Measure J voter approval.

In other words, it would have to go before the voters for approval. The city since 2005 has gone through two bitterly divisive campaigns on growth. The first, Covell Village in November of 2005 was soundly and thoroughly defeated. The second, just this week, was approved by the narrowest of margins in the form of the construction of a Target.

The City Council figures to try to push this one through as well, leaving city residents once again divided on the issue of growth. Moreover at the pace of these enactments, you can figure that the city council is trying to wear down the opposition. The developers largely will front the money for these campaigns, just as Target did this fall, and it is up to the grassroots citizen groups to organize against. While the Target people put up a valiant fight against Measure K, it was somewhat smaller than the effort against Covell Village and this time the council was able to eek out a narrow victory.

Right now the applicant has requested that this project be placed on the ballot in November of 2007. If this ends up on the ballot in November of 2007, figure that the progressive community will be suffering from exhaustion. Fortunately, city staff does not believe that's enough time to deal with the legal and practical constraints of the Environmental Impact report. Thus a 2008 ballot measure would be more feasible. However, we need to remember that since 2008 is a Presidential election, that means there is a March primary rather than a June one. That extends the time period only by four months at the most.

Regardless of whatever machinations come forth on Tuesday, it's obvious that this item will pass 3-2 and that eventually the Davis voters will once again have to weigh in on a development project that is likely to bitterly divide the city. While Measure J provides us with a bit of a firewall against growth, the only real defense is a 3-2 majority on the City Council so that these projects will not go forward to begin with. We have less than one year and a half before the next council elections and that is where we really need to find a way to pick up a third vote on the council.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting