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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Hard Work Behind the Scenes by Heystek and Provenza Helped Save the Pass-Through Agreement

Most people have probably seen the blow-by-blow via the Vanguard commentary on the Board of Supervisors as it happened. It was a difficult, tense, but ultimately fun and fulfilling process to sit in the back of the room and blog. What was perhaps most amazing is that I was getting instant feedback from my comments not just on the blog itself, but from people in the room and by text message. Everyone in that room knew what was going on and being there in that room, along with 50 plus residents of Davis, most of whom were united in their conviction on this one issue, at least in my view had a profound impact over the final verdict.

What people however did not see was the hard work that happened from Sunday until the meeting convened on Tuesday morning. Much of that work, set the stage for what was ultimately a huge victory for those in Davis who have fought hard over the decades for the preservation of agricultural land and open space and at the same time for self-determination. This was first and foremost a debate over who should determine how we grow. (We will have a long conversation at a future date about stem cell research and social services--both of which I very strongly support and will work in the future to address).

On Sunday night, Davis City Councilmember Lamar Heystek and Davis School Board President Jim Provenza met with Yolo County Supervisor Mariko Yamada for approximately two hours.

As Heystek told the Davis City Council on Tuesday night:
"I was able to convene a meeting late Sunday night with School Board President Jim Provenza and Board of Supervisors Chair Mariko Yamada. The meeting was held in a public place and there were piping-hot mugs of coffee at the table. We weren’t there only as three elected officials from three of the involved jurisdictions. We were there as three Davisites discussing the issue jointly and rationally. After talking the issue through for over two hours, President Provenza and I were emboldened by a window of opportunity we were able to crack open. We were emboldened by the prospect that Chair Yamada would support a delay in Tuesday’s vote in order to join the City in a rational discussion – and this is very important – within the framework of the current pass-through agreement."
Both Councilmember Heystek and School Board President Provenza believed that the only way to save the pass-through agreement was somehow to get the Board of Supervisors to pause and not make a final decision. Instead, they suggested that they engage the city in a discussion over a variety of things. However, both Mr. Heystek and Mr. Provenza made it clear that the pass-through agreement was not on the table.

As Councilmember Heystek put it, "The City of Davis has never opposed engaging in the right discussion, on the right terms, under the right conditions." What they did object to, was a joint study area, where there would be direct talks about changes to land-use designations.

From the beginning on Tuesday, it appeared that the worst case scenario would not be on the table. Supervisor McGowan asked early on directly what "special study area" meant, and the answer was that it would be studied for possible future use but it would not be placed into the general plan EIR or cleared for development, nor would there be CEQA clearance. This was a key point, for the triggering mechanism for recall was placement of these areas in the county's EIR, where it presumably could be entitled and become a development area with a single vote. That appeared early on to be off the table.

There was a clear conciliatory tone coming from the Davis City Council at this meeting. Mayor Sue Greenwald asked for a removal of the study areas from the EIR. But then asked to work cooperatively, as the city and county have in the past and suggested both a willingness to compromise and cooperate.

Like the Mayor, Mayor Pro Tem Asmundson was very conciliatory in her approach. She suggested that the city and county sit down and have joint rational discussion of city and county issues. Before putting this in a study, we sit down and have a rational discussion and civil discourse toward a mutually beneficial outcome.

During the course of board discussion there seemed to be almost two mindsets. First, there was the acknowledgment by the Board of Supervisors, that what they were doing was generating a lot of fear and angst amongst citizens and their leaders from the city of Davis. There was a simple reason for that--no one from Davis understood exactly what the County's intentions were and there was limited communication. When the two bodies communicated formally or informally there was much dissension and a tone of arrogance especially coming from our own Davis Supervisors Helen Thomson and Mariko Yamada.

During yesterday's meeting Supervisor Yamada suggested at one point that there was a discrepancy between what was written and how people feel. That there was a lack of trust for the process. This was entirely correct.

And yet in the next breath both Supervisor Yamada and Thomson began lecturing the city of Davis--its residents and its elected officials in an arrogant and condescending tone. At one moment, they seemed to understand it, the next they were lashing out against it. They claimed that the recall for instance had no impact on their viewpoints, and yet they were the ones who raised it over and over again. No one from the public raised the issue of recall, but the Supervisors did, they were aware of it, and it clearly affected them, despite their pronunciations to the contrary.

Moreover Supervisor Helen Thomson remarked that no one had threatened the pass-through agreement. She pointed out that she signed the original pass-through agreement. However, any implementation of the plans that appeared to be on the table, would do exactly that--jeopardize the pass-through agreement between the city and county. I hope that was never the intent of Supervisor Thomson, but I think it was a legitimate fear that was shared not just by progressives to her left, but also her allies in Councilmember Don Saylor among others.

Supervisor Rexroad moved that the Northwest Quadrant and Covell Property be removed from the joint study area. Supervisor Chamberlain seconded the motion.

Supervisor Rexroad told me later, that based on statements from the meeting, he thought he had a third vote in Supervisor Yamada and was stunned when she not only voted against it but lectured him for even bringing it up for a vote. That motion failed by a 3-2 margin with Mike McGowan, Helen Thomson and Mariko Yamada voting no.

As Rexroad later wrote on his blog:
"My views on the hearing today were shaped by two primary considerations.

The first was that I think one of the most important services the county provides is protection prime agriculture land and developing appropriately. In fact, I would argue that may be the single most important service the county provides. To me it is more important than lots of other things. I mean it. Instead of viewing this as something that completes with more social services I view it as complimenting them for every resident of Yolo County.

The piece that mostly shaped my view on the Davis proposals is that I am a former Mayor. In fact, I am probably better suited in background and interest to be on a City Council than a Board of Supervisors. The key here is that I believe that the Davis City Council, as crazy and wrong as they may be sometimes, have the right to be wrong."
Some on this blog have disparaged Supervisor Rexroad either as not caring about county services or as being duplicitous on this issue. From my vantage point, Supervisor Rexroad has been for the most part very consistent on the issue of agricultural preservation. I disagree on his votes on social services and social issues, but I can respect his commitment at the same time to agricultural preservation, a value I share with him.

Following that vote, there is another bitter round of lectures from the dais mainly from Supervisors Thomson and Yamada. County Staff however requests a recess for 15 minutes. It appears that the efforts of Councilmember Heystek and Board President Provenza were futile and that this was going forward. Let there be no mistake here, at that moment, recall as an option was alive and well and there was a very strong unity in the ranks on that point.

However as the Supervisors came back something drastically changed. Another motion was taken and it passed 4-1. In this motion the concept of "study areas" was removed and no areas were identified or called out for potential development. The motion set aside all of the "red lines" (on the general plan maps) around Davis and hold discussions with the city of Davis. Basically this removes the proposed study areas from the general plan and authorizes some form of discussion in the future. The supervisors, based upon this vote, reversed their previous vote and have now removed all study area designations from the general plan update discussion. It did not completely remove discussion in the future of what were once the three study areas from General Plan consideration as the Rexroad-Chamberlain motion would have. In fact, Chamberlain ended up voting against the motion because it did not go far enough--he opposed development at those spots or any area around Davis as well as even discussing the subject, period.

Again, what it does do is first remove the specific areas from consideration--as they put it, "take the red lines off the map of Davis" (a reference to the county maps which had red lines to designate where the study areas' boundaries lay). And it did much of what Councilmember Heystek and Board President Provenza had asked--to engage the two governing bodies in fruitful discussion.

The process could have been much smoother. The tone from our Davis county supervisors should have been better. We could have been spared the lectures. But at the end of the day, we had prevailed, somehow, some way. The efforts of Mr. Heystek and Mr. Provenza will likely not be reported in the local papers, but they were instrumental in helping to move this process to the point where in the end, the considerations for development on Davis' periphery were removed from the General Plan.

My final thought on this is as follows. There is no one more committed to social services and the hope of stem cell research than many of the same progressives who fought against this proposal. However, this is not the way to achieve those ends. I hope, that when the heat diminished, the city and county can come together and find an appropriate location for a stem cell research facility and can work together to help the county provide vital social services to the elderly, the poor, and the disenfranchised. I do not believe that these values should be in conflict with the value of protection for the environment, agricultural preservation, and open space. We need to much as our leaders suggested yesterday, work together on a joint and mutually beneficial solution to this problem. And thanks in part to the work of our leaders Lamar Heystek and Jim Provenza, we will have a chance to do just that.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting