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Friday, June 29, 2007

Commentary: Who is left to defend Yolo County Farmland?

As reported yesterday in the local press, Sacramento developer Angelo Tskaopoulos is proposing developing a 2,800 acre parcel of prime agricultural land along the I-80 between Davis and the Yolo Causeway.

Unfortunately the people who were supposed to be protecting Davis and Yolo County from exactly this sort of development are making statements that should make every single resident very nervous.

Supervisor Mike McGowan, who represents West Sacramento, in both the Sacramento Bee and Davis Enterprise was non-committal but sympathetic.

Supervisor McGowan told the Bee:
"It's still very much at the conceptual level, and I need to get much more information about it before I can form any serious conclusions."

"The idea of this region being at the forefront of stem cell research is certainly an exciting one, but the rest of it has yet to be fleshed out."
Meanwhile he told the Davis Enterprise:
“I'm very intrigued with the idea of a research park... We need to look constructively at the Interstate 80 corridor between West Sacramento and Davis. Does it make sense for the county, Davis, UC Davis and West Sacramento to place something of legitimate scientific endeavor out there? If the answer is ‘maybe,' then we should look at it at least in the broad concept.”
However, given his record on growth this is not a surprising position by Supervisor McGowan.

The surprising position is that of Supervisor Mariko Yamada--who up until this calendar year was widely regarded as a slow-growther. However, it appears that has begun to change sharply this year just as she announced a bid for the Assembly.

Earlier this year she alarmed supporters and Davis Progressives with a proposal to look into joint study-areas on the periphery of Davis as possible locations for future development and zoning changes to allow for that future development. The city of Davis has adamantly been opposed to any changes in the pass-through agreement and believes that the city has land-use authority on the periphery. Moreover, she seemed at times amenable to revising the pass-through agreement between the city of Davis and Yolo County.

Now, she appears open to this proposal.

Supervisor Yamada:
"We are in the 21st century, and we need to keep an open mind about how we are going to approach land use and the I-80 corridor from the Bay Area to Sacramento."
I have long been a supporter of Mariko Yamada and have known her personally since 1998 when she was the office manager at the Democratic Headquarters in Davis where I worked as a field director for Mark Desio who was running for State Senate. It pains me very much to say this, but her position is unacceptable.

She added in Enterprise:
“It's part of the new direction the county is going in."
This unfortunately dovetails with her position on a 2,000-unit senior development on Oeste Ranch in the Northwest Quadrant and her view on the pass-through agreement itself.

Yamada at that time was claiming that the county needed to find new ways to generate revenue sources. I cannot disagree with that nor can I disagree with her goal for increasing and improving social services including those to seniors. Counties are at the lowest end of the totem pole when it comes to revenue sources. However, tearing up the pass-through agreement will not solve the problem. The city gives the county far more in the pass-through agreement in order to not develop, than they would get by developing.

The issue here is not about a stem-cell research center. If Mr. Tsakopoulos wants to build a research center, I would be greatly be supportive of it on the UC Davis campus. However, this is basically a means by which to build homes and other development projects on prime agricultural land and that, I cannot support.

In contrast to both McGowan and Yamada, Matt Rexroad expresses my viewpoint:
"The place where the Tsakopoulos family owns land is pretty good farmland... Would it be great to have a research center like this in Yolo County? Yes. Does it have to be located on that parcel? No."
Mr. Rexroad is a Republican. Guess what? So is Duane Chamberlain. I challenge anyone to find a stronger advocate of protecting farmland on this Board of Supervisors than Mr. Chamberlain. Matt Rexroad may be a right-wing Republican, but he's far closer in his viewpoint of this issue to me, than I am to the three Democrats on this board.

It seems that the only protectors of land at the county level are Republicans. While the track record of McGowan and Thomson on development is consistent with this type of proposal, the shocker here has been the move by Supervisor Yamada. Prior to January of this year, Yamada along with Chamberlain had been strong defenders against development. Why the quick and huge turn? Is it a matter of running for the Assembly? It is a matter of lack of funding for social services?

At the end of the day, it probably does not matter why. Nevertheless, Yamada has basically cut herself off from her previous base of support and has left herself without a political base as she seeks election against West Sacramento Mayor Christopher Cabaldon.

Prior to writing this article, I gave Supervisor Yamada a heads-up that this was coming and offered her a chance to respond on the record. She did not take me up on that offer.

At this point, I cannot in good conscience defend the actions of someone who I strongly admired last year for being the only publicly elected official to publicly support and champion civilian police oversight, the Buzayans, and the Human Relations Commission. While she remains strong on civil rights and social services, her evolving positions on land-use are indefensible.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting