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Saturday, July 21, 2007

Tsakopoulos Signals the End of His Proposed Development Along the I-80 Corridor

In a July 12, 2007 Sacramento Bee article Yolo County Supervisor Mariko Yamada was quoted as saying:
"I would like everyone to take a deep breath. Calm down... There will be no decisions on specific projects that will be entertained in terms of action on Tuesday."
As developer Angelo Tsakopoulos firmly understood however, the stakes were very high. A "yes" vote, might not have begun construction on the project. But as Tsakopoulos suggested:
"If they decide not to study it, it's all over."
Toward that end, Tsakopoulos and his supporters brought in a large number of activists, researchers, and representatives to the Yolo County Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday.

In the end, the County voted by a 4-1 vote not to include the proposed study areas, including the Tsakopoulos proposal along I-80, in the general plan update.

One of the people that Tsakopoulos hired to promote his proposal was Bob Waste, a professor of public policy at California State University Sacramento.

The first Tsakopous article appeared in the Sacramento Bee on June 28, 2007. The next day, the Vanguard ran the article: "Commentary: Who is left to defend Yolo County Farmland?"

Like many other entities before it such as UC Davis, Tsakopoulos had his people, including Bob Waste, monitoring the Vanguard. Now that this fight was over, Tsakopoulos and Bob Waste will undoubtedly move on to his next fight, trying to woo the next community to approve his housing development by holding out the carrot of promise.

As the Sacramento Bee wrote on June 28, the recent plan was:
"similar in approach to efforts Tsakopoulos has made in Sacramento and Placer counties, where he offered to fund an NBA arena and a university, respectively, with the proceeds from new development on agricultural land that is now off limits to building."
Yolo County joins now a growing list of communities that said, "no" to the carrot for fear of the stick that inevitably would follow--massive housing developments of faceless, tract homes. Davis did not need to become the next Natomas in exchange for the potential promise of a stem cell research facility--should the project have generated enough money to fund it.

This was not a realistic way to produce either more affordable housing or a stem cell research facility. I understand the frustration of those for whom this research holds out a beacon of hope. But there are other issues at stake. Building housing developments on agricultural land is in the long run not a sustainable practice. If California is truly going to reach 60 million people in the next 40 years, we not only need to provide housing for them, but we need to feed them. It is difficult to do that when you are paving over prime agricultural land. It is also unrealistic to continue to develop in flood plains.

At the end of the day, the people of Davis dodged a bullet, while Tsakopoulos will move on, hoping the next community is a bit more amenable to his plans. I feel bad for those like Ami Daly who sat next to me at the meeting and Bob Klein who I met after the meeting, people who have a genuine passion for stem cell research. For them, hope was in the air, but for Tsakopoulos, the stem cell research center was simply a carrot to dangle in hopes of getting his urban sprawl development along the I-80 corridor. If he was genuinely interested in stem cell research he could have funded it without the requisite massive housing development on prime agricultural land. I hope that the necessary funding can be obtained to produce a research facility in a more appropriate location. If Tsakopoulos were to fund such a center at UC Davis, or at a more appropriate location it would leave an amazing legacy and hope for many.

I also believe that there are other and better solutions to housing costs other than the perpetuation of the same policies that drove up housing costs to begin with. More on that in the coming weeks.

In the meantime, Bob Waste and Angelo Tsakopoulos' proposal for a massive housing development exit from the Vanguard's community, and in the end, Davis and Yolo County are better for it.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting