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Thursday, July 19, 2007

Commentary: Stem Cell Issue a "Trojan Horse" For Massive Development Along I-80

Perhaps the low point in the proceedings on Tuesday was when Miss Disabled California came to speak before the Yolo County Board of Supervisors, wearing her sash and spoke about how one day, she hoped that she would give up her crown because her condition would be cured.

Indeed, there was a full parade of individuals, many of whom either suffered from horrendous maladies or who had family members who had, that came up to speak about the need for stem cell research and specifically for the Tsakapoulos project that proposed developing 1500 acres of housing development and using the proceeds to fund a stem cell research facility in the area along the I-80 corridor.

The worst part about watching this, is that during breaks, I got to meet a number of people who had come here for the promise of the possibility of a world-class research facility promised by Mr. Tsakapoulos. 364 days out of the year, I would have been on the side of these people, fighting for funding for this new technology that promises to make for a better life for so many people.

Unfortunately, on this day, I was on the other side from them. For in my view, Supervisor Matt Rexroad was correct, "This was not a stem cell issue. It is a land use issue."

I would stop somewhat short however of requesting that their testimony be ruled out of order--"The testimony from these people should have been ruled out of order. It had no bearing on the issue at hand."

Had I been chair, I would have ruled that they could speak, but would probably direct them to tie back to the land use question, even if it was a mechanical statement at the end, "for that reason, please allow the joint study area to go forward" or something like that...

Supervisor Rexroad also complained about the use of official UC Davis letterhead for the purpose of political lobbying which implied that these positions represented the position of the university.
"The one remaining procedural issue I had from the meeting involves all the letters being passed around on UC Davis letterhead. Several went around the room yesterday. They were written on official looking letterhead by people with important titles that worked for UCD."
Supervisor Rexroad is sending a letter to Chancellor Vanderhoef asking for a clarification of the University's position on this issue.

In the meantime, last night, Elisabeth Sherwin of the Davis Enterprise reported that Chancellor Larry Vanderhoef had in fact released a statement.
“On behalf of the university, I support the research and the development of the kind of research park that would house such research,” he said through spokesman Mitchel Benson.

“As to where such a research park might be located, there would be obvious advantages to having it in proximity to the university, but communities in which the siting is proposed to occur would have to first deal with its pros and cons,” Vanderhoef said. “The decision, then, rests most appropriately with those communities and their elected officials.”
For me, this was a land-use issue, not a stem cell issue. Supervisor Helen Thomson suggested that she would "like to see Yolo County have a stem-cell research center somewhere." Supervisor Rexroad suggested that UC Davis would be a better location for such a research facility.

In the end, I would suggest that the Board of Supervisors work with the city of Davis and UC Davis to help bring a stem-cell research facility to this county, however, it needs to be in an appropriate location.

As I suggested 364 out of 365 days in the year, I support stem-cell research and would have been fighting right next to these people. But this was not the location to put it. Moreover, as I suggested to one of the advocates sitting next to me, why was there no discussion with the City of Davis about this? This went completely through the county. That was inappropriate.

Jim Provenza who is running for the Board of Supervisors to replace Supervisor Yamada was exactly right with several of his points. He called the Stem-Cell Research center a Trojan horse that is being used to sneak development in a location along Interstate 80 that is inappropriate for a number of reasons.

First, it would represent tremendous sprawl out to the east of Davis. It would abut the levy, which would place it into a flood zone and also a sensitive wild life area.

Moreover, it would bring in thousands of new residents onto a highway that is already congested to capacity. His description of it as the "congestion corridor" was very accurate.

We need to be clear on this point--the county in my opinion, ceded land use authority on the Davis periphery when it signed the pass-through agreement and took the city's money. But regardless of who controls land-use authority, this location is inappropriate for development.

When the point was raised that this location was inappropriate, one of the individuals there to lobby for stem cell research mentioned that without the capital investment, the research facility was not feasible. They also described in what ways the Proposition 71 was insufficient--one example was that state money could not be bundled with foreign investment.

These are all serious concerns. However, at the end of the day, I think it is inappropriate for people to come into this community and start demanding that we have huge developments in order for them to get their research facility. They do not live here and have to deal with many of the consequences. I would not go into someone else's community with such demands and then mock and dismiss the concerns of the community.

At the end of the day, I still firmly believe that there is not an inherent conflict between good land-use policy and good social policy. It is easy to dismiss such concerns---as many have--as being part and parcel to NIMBYism. NIMBYism implies that it is okay for other communities to take up these projects or other neighborhoods, but not ours. In fact, I do not believe that it is. What I believe, is no community should have sprawl forced upon it. That all communities need to look at their growth policies. That all communities need to value the environment, open space, and prime agricultural land. If we continue to pave ag land, how are we expecting to eat? I would question our reliance on constructing cheap tract homes that all look the same while constructing big-box retail that makes all cities look and taste the same. We need to retain our local flavor, our uniqueness, and our pride. These are not just values for Davis, they are values for all communities across the state and the country.

I am very saddened by what I saw on Tuesday, where I think people with legitimate issues, legitimate concerns, and who are committed to improving the lives of many individuals in a good and true manner, were used by developers in order change our land use policies. To me that was just not right and not fair. And so I say that the developers need to step up and find a way to fund this facility using good and smart land use policies that the citizens of Davis and Yolo County can tolerate.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting