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Saturday, July 14, 2007

Commentary: Trader Joe's Pronouncement of "Opening in 2008" Ups the Ante

There is "squandered" and then there is "SQUANDERED." But I'm not sure I've ever seen someone this side of John McCain squander anything as badly as Trader Joe's has squandered their opportunity and the support of the Davis public.

Last fall, Trader Joe's was the one issue in this rancorous little politically minded town that everyone agreed on. At one point someone claimed that 98% of the public supported Trader Joe's. I'm not sure exactly where that number came from precisely, but if it wasn't actually 98%, it was close enough that we knew there was a strong consensus.

(also please vote in our new poll to the right)

The question wasn't if but when, Trader Joe's would come to town and then they would have instant success. However, in a move I can only chalk up to corporate greed, from one of those companies you just don't expect corporate greed from, Trader Joe's has frittered this advantage away.

I would still guess a majority of Davisites probably favor Trader Joe's coming, but there are now some deep-seated questions.

Their fall from grace began with the proposal in October that they would move into the corner location of University Mall on the corner of Sycamore and Russell.

There was just one problem with that plan--that spot was already occupied by Radiological Associates of Sacramento--a clinic that does radiological imaging, with a huge base of clients, many of them not very mobile, who had just sunk in a large amount of money to upgrade their on-site facilities and who had just renewed their lease, and therefore had no desire to leave.

Trader Joe's it was said would only move into that spot and not into the vacant Westlake Shopping Center or Davis Manor locations.

Not to be deterred from their ambitions, the Davis City Council decided to change the zoning on the corner that would facilitate Trader Joe's coming, even though a zoning change was not completely necessary, nevertheless the council was holding out the welcome mat. Then they stepped back to let the landlords finish their deal with RAS, which at that time was said to be just a formality.

The next we hear about this deal however is that the landlord is suing RAS.

At that point, I personally became alarmed, but was assured by one of the members on the council that it won't matter to the community, they simply want a Trader Joe's. The councilmember was flat wrong. What they forgot is that people have a particular adhorrence to lawsuits. They view them as unkempt and unnecessary. Moreover, the sympathetic partner is usually the smaller company who is being uprooted by the larger corporation. You have to have an open and shut case of being fundamentally wronged for people to be supportive of lawsuits.

What was the beginning of the shift. Suddenly 98% approval had been turned on its head. Large numbers of people began to openly question why this spot when we have open spots in Davis.

Still I think many people blamed the Santa Monica based landlord Centro Watt, who was the party that filed the lawsuit against RAS rather than Trader Joe's for this mess. No doubt, Trader Joe's insistence on this spot and only this spot was driving people to question their intentions.

And frankly I have always questioned this spot. First, Trader Joe's could put their store in the middle of Oeste Ranch, and people from Davis would come in the same numbers. Second, you have severe parking issues at University Mall. Third, you have the Alford Hitchcock-esque problem with The Crows. And fourth, you are adding a huge draw to that mall which is right in the middle of the most heavily congested traffic spots in Davis between Sycamore and Anderson on Russell Blvd. Now you are going to add a store that will bring in a ton of customers without an infrastructure upgrade.

West Lake or Davis Manor just makes much more sense than University Mall. Nevertheless a lease was signed in March, even without RAS agreeing to a move.

As I said, all of these issues aside, I think most people still supported Trader Joe's, but may have questioned their insistence on that particular location.

However, on Thursday came out the story from Claire St. John in the Davis Enterprise that Trader Joe's has sent out press releases announcing:
“Trader Joe's is coming to Davis! We are scheduled to open on the North East Corner of Russell/Sycamore. The store is scheduled to open in 2008.”
Now that is very interesting. For as the paper goes on to report, nothing has changed with regards to the lawsuit.
The e-mail comes at a time when a lawsuit filed by Centro Watt against RAS has yet to be resolved and nothing indicates that anything has changed between the two parties.

Attorneys for RAS said they were surprised that Trader Joe's would jump into the mix, especially since its information seemed to be incorrect.

“In prior correspondence, the landlord's attorney said the landlord would like to relocate RAS in either ‘spring or summer of 2009' or ‘upon expiration of the term' of RAS' current lease, which is on April 30, 2010,” attorney Michael Chase wrote in an e-mail. “It is our position that Davis Imaging will be staying at its current site and servicing the Davis community.”
First of all, I think RAS has a pretty good chance of prevailing in this lawsuit. But that is almost secondary to the second point and that has to do with the speed of the legal system. It's already July of 2007. If the lawsuit proceeds, we will be lucky if it is resolved by the end of 2008. It certainly would not be resolved in time for Trader Joe's to do all of the massive changes that they are proposing and be able to open in 2008.

All of that leads me once again to question what Trader Joe's is trying to do. Are they trying to brow-beat or intimidate RAS into moving? Do they expect the public in Davis that is at times very fickle is going to be supportive of this.

Frankly this move strikes as sheer arrogance on the part of Trader Joe's. Now this is Trader Joe's acting, not just some out of area landlord. They don't have Centro Watt running interference for them now, they are naked and exposed and many are not liking what they are seeing.

This entire ordeal is changing my view on whether or not I want Trader Joe's at all.

Meanwhile the Davis City Council is continuing to allow West Lake Shopping Center rot and hanging all of the other businesses out to dry with no anchor. It has been over a year since Food Fair left and amazingly all of the other entities have survived, but for how long? I'm sure people on the east side of town are saying the same about the Davis Manor.

I think the city council made a colossal mistake by signing off on a zoning change before a deal was struck, they now have no leverage at all. Davis was the perfect market for Trader Joe's. We didn't have to attract them, they had to sell us. And we blew it. Now this is a mess and Trader Joe's tactics are going to backfire big time.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Friday, July 13, 2007

Commentary: War Brewing with the County on Peripheral Growth Can End with a Simple "No" Vote on Tuesday

One week ago today, I got a call on my cell from one of the County Supervisors forewarning me that the county general plan staff report was coming out that afternoon, that it included in it recommendations to create special study areas that included Oeste, Covell, and I-80. These study areas looked and smelled much more like development proposals than concepts for changing land use designations. In any case, I was warned that Davis would go berserk over this and that there would be recalls. Whatever one thinks of Supervisor Matt Rexroad, his assessment last Friday, was exactly right and then some.

This week has been chaotic ever since that point in time. The reaction to this proposal has been justifiably angry, although I stop short of my friend Former Mayor Bill Kopper and current Mayor Sue Greenwald's call for recall, I remain very concerned about what these proposals will do to the city of Davis.

However, this is not set in stone yet. As Supervisor Rexroad pointed out in his blog,
"We have not even voted on it yet."
The County Board of Supervisors will meet on Tuesday, July 17, 2007 starting around 9 am. This figures to be another very long day. However, everyone with concerns about this proposal and this process are strongly encouraged to come and voice those concerns.

My fear is that Davis' County Supervisors are unsympathetic to the concerns about large peripheral developments on the borders of Davis. After all, they are bringing forth another version of Covell Village which was defeated by a 60-40 margin just a year and a half ago. And the Covell Village property is the SMALLEST of the proposals by the county. People are angry because they feel that their own elected supervisors do not respect their vote or their desires.

Supervisor Mike McGowan who represents West Sacramento (not Davis) was quoted in yesterday's outstanding Sacramento Bee article as saying:
"We need to improve our revenue side so we can continue to provide the same level of services."
This continues to be a poor argument.

County staff, as I pointed out last Saturday, dispelled this myth:
"On the residential side, staff is recommending against the addition of 2,100 residences within the unincorporated area near the northwest quadrant of Davis, as these units are not likely to have fiscal benefits for the county that would justify the growth given concerns regarding inconsistency with long-standing growth policies, provision of infrastructure and services, and effects on the city/county pass-through agreement."
The county is due roughly $72 million in the pass-through agreement over the course of the next 18 years. Developments may yield some in the way of one-time development fees, but the key phrase there is "one-time." It is not a consistent stream of money. As the county of Sacramento and the city of Fresno have both learned you cannot develop yourself into prosperity, even if you create development policies that rely on repeated one-time development fees as the main source of revenues.

Moreover if Supervisor McGowan is so concerned about county revenues, perhaps he ought to propose massive new developments on the periphery of West Sacramento, I understand they like sprawl there.

The Bee yesterday quotes Supervisor Mariko Yamada 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."
But as Tsakopoulos understands, Yamada's statement is simply untrue.
"If they decide not to study it, it's all over."
That is exactly right. Right now, as far as I can tell there are two firm no votes against the study areas. That means a no vote by either Supervisor Yamada or Supervisor Thomson can kill the plan. One must ask why certain Republican Supervisors who do not live here are more protective of Davis' borders than Davis' own supervisors.

At Tuesday's Davis City Council meeting, the council unanimously supported taking a strong stance against these proposals. City staff drafted a letter by all five council members that will strongly oppose any plans by the county to study growth on Davis' borders.

Despite the claims of one of Davis' supervisors, the prognosis of this is clear--if the county votes against studying these three areas on Davis' periphery, the proposal dies. If however, the county votes to study these three areas on Davis' periphery, the fighting and war of words that we have seen this past week is just the beginning.

The Vanguard strongly urges Supervisors Yamada and Thomson to leave growth on Davis' city edges to Davis. Moreover, all Davis residents with concerns about this process should go to the meeting on July 17, 2007 to voice those concerns.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Plan to Preserve Ag Buffer Around the City Contains a Key Loophole

Those who read the Davis Enterprise’s coverage of the agricultural mitigation item missed a great deal of several key aspects of the council’s actions. First there was the work of Councilmember Lamar Heystek to bring both Mayor Pro Tem Ruth Asmundson and Councilmember Stephen Souza on board in supporting a 2:1 mitigation for all projects under all circumstances. There was also the key fight for adjacent mitigation whereby the council voted to support an adjacent buffer of one-quarter mile next to all developments regardless of whether that adjacent mitigation would exceed the 2:1 prescribed ratio. However, the council majority also exempted agricultural projects of less than 40 acres from adjacent mitigation.

For the sake of simplicity, there were two separate concepts introduced in this item. The idea behind mitigation is that any development along the periphery of Davis would require the developer to concurrently set aside twice as many acres to be protected and preserved as agricultural land. Crucial to the agricultural protection is the notion of adjacent mitigation, which means that there would be a quarter mile designated buffer zone along any development that would be designated as a protected land that would have a permanent designated land-use of agricultural. The idea here is that with that buffer zone, you reduce the possibility of developing the next parcel of land and therefore prevent leap frog development and urban sprawl.

In addition to the adjacent mitigation there would be another strip of land protected somewhere else that along with the adjacent strip would account for twice the acreage of that developed. So if you had a 100 acre parcel for development, you would have to mitigate for a total of 200 acres, part of that would be a quarter mile strip adjacent to your developed property and the rest could be wherever you could secure such mitigation within the planning zone.

The idea here is that as you develop outwards, you create a permanent urban limit line. Now Councilmember Saylor recommended that there be a sunset to this proposal. He argued that this would protect against any unforeseen consequences from this policy. However, that proposal died for lack of a second. The majority in this case argued that the council already would be able to change the ordinance if so needed, and that there was no need to sunset the law.

Councilmember Saylor accused Councilmember Heystek of making an 11th hour change here:
“I’m concerned that our ordinance should be targeting preserving of agricultural land in specific location where the quality is the best land possible, to secure it forever, I’m really interested in doing that, and overemphasizing the adjacency without a 20 or 50 year plan I think is not good. I was willing to balance that with the proposal that was here before us, because it was weighed carefully, through a deliberative process that included voice from all the stakeholders. I’m willing to vote for the ordinance as it has been presented to us in most respects, but this deviation is an 11th hour change that I’m troubled by. So I can’t vote for this.”
Councilmember Heystek strongly rebutted Mr. Saylor’s charge that this is an 11th hour change by reading the motion that was unanimously approved by Open Space Commission “not at the 11th hour but on March 7, 2005.”

They passed the following,
“in the rare instance that more than the 2:1 mitigation acreage is required to create the adjacent mitigation area, the project shall be required to require more than the required 2:1 mitigation acreage to satisfy the adjacent mitigation requirement of this chapter.”
Councilmember Heystek went on to explain that the “notion of 2:1 is not an 11th hour revelation,” instead it is something that has been in the process for a number of years. The delay of bringing this forward was due to the overlap of issues due to Covell Village.

As discussion proceeded, the rest of the council became more steadfast in their support for minimum 2:1 mitigation under any and all circumstances while continuing to support the priority of adjacency of the remaining mitigation. Finding Saylor voted against the project and was on the short end of a 4-1 vote. However, in the aftermath of the vote, a secondary discussion developed Councilmember Saylor backed off, switched his vote, and eventually joined the majority.

The irony about the 11th hour charge by Councilmember Saylor is that staff in the middle of the meeting passed out a handout with key amendments to the proposal—not at the 11th hour but rather at the 13th hour. Davis Open Space Coordinator, Mitch Sears, introduced the idea of exempting projects from adjacent mitigation that were less than 40 acres without any sort of notice to the council. This last-minute maneuver incensed Councilmember Heystek.

When pressed on the issue by Councilmember Heystek, Mr. Sears admitted,
"It's not a staff proposal.... We heard from several different councilmembers... that there was a possible interest in looking at... addressing smaller projects"
Several was actually two—Councilmembers Souza and Saylor.

One of the key small projects that was exempted was the Wildhorse Horse Ranch project. What this means is that with the exemption, the Horse Ranch would not be required to have adjacent mitigation—a one-quarter mile agricultural buffer around it--that would have effectively prevented the development of the adjacent property.

This brings up the question as to why you would need to exempt small projects from having a buffer?

Councilmember Saylor reintroduced discussion of the exemption for small projects a few hours after Mr. Sears initially presented the staff recommendation for an exemption. Then Councilmember Souza moved to exempt small projects. The motion eventually passed by a 3-2 vote, with Mayor Pro Tem Asmundson, of course, joining her allies Councilmembers Souza and Saylor on this vote.

By exempting the Wildhorse Ranch Horse Ranch project from the requirement for adjacent mitigation, the Council majority supported the creation of a more substantial easterly city limit in this quadrant, starting from the northeast corner of the existing Wildhorse development all the way down to the southeast corner of the Wildhorse ranch project at Covell Blvd. By allowing this lengthened border absent any adjacent mitigation, it seems that the Council majority wants to facilitate future urban development on the agricultural land adjacent to the non-urbanized edge of the Wildhorse Ranch project, which is owned by Steve Gidaro.

It appears then that agriculture preservation won a key battle with the council voting to maintain a minimum of a 2:1 mitigation ratio and an adjacent mitigation buffer zone regardless of whether or not that buffer zone exceeded the 2:1 ratio. However, it was a mixed victory as it appears that the exemption, which was passed by the Council majority of Souza, Saylor, and Asmundson, was done so for the specific purposes of protecting key supporters and leaving the door open for them but not others to have future peripheral development.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Commentary: A Recall is the Wrong Response to Threat of County Development on Davis Periphery

The Vanguard has learned that in response to the county's push to create three study areas for development on the periphery of Davis, that papers for recall have been taken out on the two Yolo County Supervisors from Davis, Helen Thomson and Mariko Yamada. On Saturday, we reported that the county staff was recommending that three areas on the Davis periphery be placed in "study areas" and studied for possible development. These areas include the Oeste Ranch on the Northwest Quadrant, the Covell Village Property, and the largest of the three a 1500 acre tract along I-80 east of Mace Blvd.

While the Vanguard shares a deep concern about these proposals, which seem to be tantamount to pressure from the county to develop on Davis' periphery in violation of the pass-through agreement, the Vanguard believes that a recall is the wrong response to this threat, for a number of reasons.

A recall will take up valuable resources, time, and energy from the progressive movement. Progressives ought to focus their energy primarily on winning the seat that Supervisor Mariko Yamada is vacating in 2008 and gaining the majority on the Davis City Council. As we learned in 2005, it was an expensive and exhausting endeavor to have to fight Covell Village. And, even though No on X prevailed, it ended up costing much in the way of energy and time in organizing for Lamar Heystek and Stan Forbes. In other words, if progressives were to succeed in recalling both Supervisors, but were to ultimately lose the seat and the council majority, they would ultimately be far worse off in terms of local land use policies.

The best way to insure good land use policies at both the city and county level will be to work hard in the spring of 2008 to win the fourth district county supervisor seat and defeat Councilmembers Stephen Souza and Don Saylor. Diverting resources toward a recall effort would severely jeopardize that. Moreover, it would introduce a great deal of uncertainty into races that have enough uncertainty to begin with.

Furthermore, such efforts would threaten to divide the progressive movement between those who are supportive of the recall and those who are not. As we have seen from the discussions on this blog, progressives are split on Supervisor Yamada to begin with. A recall will cut more deeply since many will view a recall as an illegitimate approach.

A recall is also a very risky strategy. In order to get a recall on the ballot, it requires a relatively small number of signatures, somewhere on the order of 10 percent. However, that is the beginning and not the end of the process. It does no good to merely place a recall on the ballot. You have to actually vote to remove the targeted individuals from office.

Several people, speaking from experience, have suggested that that is a dangerous strategy, because if you do not succeed in your removal, you actually strengthen the hand of the targeted individual(s). This happens because an unsuccessful recall means you have failed to sell the public on the idea that the elected official deserves to have their term cut short. The effort may be seen as petty and vindictive and that could lead to sympathy and a strengthened hand. For example, history tell us that San Francisco Mayor Dianne Feinstein faced a recall back in the 1980s. When the recall failed, her hand was strengthened to the point where she became the Democratic nominee for Governor in 1990 and when she narrowly lost to Pete Wilson that time, two years later she became Senator.

Many of the big players that progressives rely on to help mobilize and organize the community are not supportive of a recall action either. This effort appears to be done in haste and without sufficient discussion within the movement or the broader community. In order to be successful, there needed to be sufficient organization and action prior to this step to ensure that structure was in place and that there was a broad commitment made to take on such a weighty task. The failure of those who took out papers to have proper discussion within the community, will doom this effort from the start.

We remain very concerned about the land use policies coming down from the county, but do not believe that this is the correct remedy to such actions. In the end, it is our hope that cooler heads will prevail. Davis progressives need to unite against the threats to this community from the outside as well as the inside. This, is the only way we can prevent land use policies that threaten our periphery. The recall effort will actually take away focus from these policies and turn attention and scrutiny on the recall effort itself.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Examining City Council Goals and Objectives

The Davis City Council will have another public workshop this Friday. First they will conclude their workshop on "Improving Transactional Effectiveness" and then they will have a staff presentation on the status of council goals and objectives.

The council has eight goals and objective for 2007-08:
  • Maintain and improve the infrastructure
  • Achieve long-term financial stability
  • Enhance the vitality of downtown
  • Provide a mix of high-quality housing to meet community needs
  • Conserve natural resources and protect the environment
  • Ensure top quality fire, police and emergency services
  • Ensure organizational strength
  • Promote economic development
This article will look at some of the specific policy objectives under each heading to see where the council has succeeded at least in their own goals and also discuss things that should have been included but were not.

The big objectives under "Maintain and Improve the Infrastructure," deal with the water supply and the wastewater treatment plant upgrade. In both cases, the city has moved along about at the rate that they wanted to. Both of these projects are massive and will end up greatly increasing Davis residents' water rates. The key question right now is whether this is what the city should be doing.

Last year, the city council agreed to spend $50,000 to $75,000 upgrading the parks and facilities master plan. It took a reconsideration of an agenda item after the initial item was defeated, due to the absence of Councilmember Asmundson. Mayor Greenwald and Councilmember Heystek would have preferred to have spent that money on unfinished projects from the previous plan rather than updating the current plan with an expensive survey.

Missing from the list is any upgrade in the quality of the roads, the workability of some of the traffic intersections and traffic lights.

In terms of the next goal, "Achieving Long-term Financial Stability," the council had a workshop where they look at various revenue enhancements, mainly in terms of new taxes.

The big thing that they did not do was seek to look at areas where spending has greatly increased that will end up costing the city. One such area has to do with upper level employees pensions and health benefits. These current practices for people in upper management may end up either bankrupting the city in future years, or at the very least leading to a large cutback in other sorts of spending as the city needs to get on top of a wave of retirements.

The third goal, is to "Enhance the Vitality of Downtown." Here it does not seem that they have proceeded on a number of their goals. Moreover, the big one that they did proceed on was the 3rd and B Visioning Process. My concern with their direction on this and other projects is that they are looking for ways to revitalize the downtown that are threatening the character of the city and the downtown. Tearing down some of the more historic buildings in the 3rd and B district is going to do far more to destroy the character of the city than it is to help downtown. Moreover, they have enacted projects such as Target that threaten the vitality of downtown.

The fourth goal, is to "Provide a Mix of High Quality Housing to Meet Community Needs." This is an area where I do not think the city has done enough. They have appointed a Housing Element Steering committee. We shall see what that process yields. What this city needs in my view, is a commitment to developing housing that families and younger and new home owners can afford. Not just an allotment of "affordable" housing for low income people that are really limited equity homes. We're talking about moving away from the model that has produced $500,000 to $600,000 homes. That means producing smaller houses on smaller lots and greater density of that housing. However, this is nowhere to be found on the city's goals.

The fifth goal, is to "Conserve Natural Resources and Protect the Environment." They have a list of items, most of which I have not heard of and most of which I do not believe have been acted upon. They do talk about recycling and composting. But I think the city needs to go further here. They mention the Davis Greenway Concept that includes locally based sustainability farms at the city's edge, but there needs to be, in light of county proposals, an all-out commitment to ag land preservation. Second, there needs to be a push for more electric vehicles for in-town use rather than internal combustion engines. Third, there needs to be a stronger commitment to solar power in new housing and perhaps even incentives for existing homeowners to purchase solar panels. Fourth, as they do in the north, they should convert all city road signs to solar energy.

The sixth goal, is to "Ensure Top Quality Fire, Police and Emergency Services." Here they have achieved a good number of their goals. It took them much longer than anticipated but they got the cameras and computers fully operational and for the most part reliable. They hired a police chief. For my purposes the top needs of the city are that we need more police officers hired and on the streets. I would like the city to look into higher standards for training in exchange for higher salary. The city is looking into a fourth fire station, and while I understand some of the concerns of a fourth fire station, particularly with regards to money, the suggestion has been made that the taxpayers could vote on it. I think that's a reasonable proposal from my observations. I can also see the need for a city-owned ladder truck, especially as the city continues to build taller and taller buildings.

The seventh goal, is to "Ensure Organizational Strength." This deals primarily with city staff. As I have suggested previously, I just do not like the city manager driven model of city government. I think it leaves elected council members, especially those who are in the minority, without the resources they need to do a good job of representing their constituency. Reliance on city staff has proven problematic at times. So one of the things I would like to see are reforms and changes to the overall structure.

A goal that is listed on their list of goals is to have in place by 2008 a living wage ordinance for City contracts and contract workers. This was a suggestion made by Councilmember Lamar Heystek that I strongly support. Will the current council majority support this goal? We shall see.

Finally, and this all appears to be future oriented, "Promote Economic Development." So far, I think this has not been an area of success. The first item listed there, is continue to work to ensure sustainability of Westlake Shopping Center. It has been over a year since Food Fair left this shopping center, and amazingly the existing businesses have primarily survived. But I do not think the city has acted aggressively enough to maintain this shopping center.

Second, they mention Trader Joe's. Here I think the city has really squandered opportunities by allowing the situation at University Mall with RAS. I talked to councilmembers after the lawsuit was announced and they felt that people just wanted Trader Joe's and did not care how it got here. Since that time, I have spoken to many people on the street and on the blog and I do not sense that type of attitude. Most do not understand why it has to be where RAS is currently located and most sympathize with RAS. The city lost a lot of their leverage by providing a zoning change prior to an agreement between University Mall and RAS.

Third, is the pursuit of the business and high tech research park. This is the issue that was postponed from last meeting's agenda. It figures to be an interesting battle on the slow growth side as to whether it is better to develop that as a residential development or a high tech research park. The latter has gained more prominence since the Tsakaopoulos proposal has emerged, although that is mainly a proposal for housing developments in exchange for the Stem Cell Research facility, it is unlikely to be available without the housing development.

Finally, we can put the Davis Manor in the same position as Westlake Shopping Center. Both of these locations would make far more sense for Trader Joe's and other additions than the University Mall. The council is seeming to allow two key neighborhood shopping areas lie underutilized for a substantial period of time.

A number of the goals on this list are laudable if overly ambitious. However, my sense over the last two months is that much of these are taking place at the expense of the existing character of the city. I do not oppose housing development, vitalization of downtown, or economic development, but I would like to see plans that integrate these projects into the existing character, rather than what I think is a rapid destruction of existing character. Make no mistake, Davis is under siege in a lot of ways. The question for Davis residents, is "Do you want a city that continues to look and feel like Davis? Or, "Do you want a city that looks more like Fairfield, Vacaville, or even worse some of the more rapid growing Central Valley Communities like Elk Grove and Natomas?" These are the key questions we must ask ourselves as we try to go forward with many of these laudable and necessary goals.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Monday, July 09, 2007

Is Davis Ready for Taller and More Box-like Downtown Buildings?

While the county continues its assault on the borders of the city of Davis from the outside, Davis' own city council continues its assault on the core character of the city from the inside. Last month, the city approved the destruction of a number of older bungalows in the 3rd and B Street project in favor of three and four story condominiums.

Meanwhile, the council will be deciding on a 4 story, 65 foot building on 403 G Street that contains no setbacks and no stepbacks from the street. The ground floor will contain retail and restaurants and the upper floor offices and condominiums.

The specifics of this project include a giant box shaped building that will rise immediately off the street. It is designed to be a 21,910 four-story building. The project would either demolish or relocate the existing 2500 square-foot single-family residence.

However one feels about the project proposal itself, my own preference would be for a development that is more fitting with the character of downtown, that would include more setbacks and stepbacks from the sidewalk in addition to less of a box-like shape that will really destroy the character of downtown itself, there are actually much bigger consequences in the form of two zoning changes to all of downtown.

City staff has delayed any action taken on this item until a future date. The city council will hold an initial policy discussion on Tuesday and take any public comment. However, they will not vote on any proposal.

The following information is from the planning commission that met on June 27, 2007 to approve this project.

That staff report argues that the relative small size of this particular property, 6,030 square feet, creates a constraint on potential development of the site. Several nearby properties that have been redeveloped are two or three times larger than this property. Thus, in order to develop this site, the applicant is proposing a building that would exceed the allowable floor area ration (FAR) of 3.0. This projected would have a FAR of 3.6.

Instead of simply amending the FAR for this site, the city staff is looking much broader.
"In recognizing the potential development constraints on downtown lots that may prevent effective redevelopment consistent with City policies and objectives, the project also includes an amendment to the zoning ordinance for the C-C (Central Commerical) district."
The amendment to the zoning ordinance would allow for projects to reach a FAR of 4.0 "based on a project's ability to achieve additional downtown objectives."

The amendment would change the FAR which currently reads "the total floor area of a building shall not exceed three times the lot area" and will add:
"except that through Design Review approved by the Planning Commission the allowable floor area ration may be increased up to a maximum of four times the lot area on sites within the Core Expansion North Subarea..."
There would be three "bonuses" one for incorporating design and layout for ground floor retail and restaurant use, one for public plazas and spaces, provision of underground parking, or proximity to a parking structure, and one for saving trees.

This current space would not have a public plaza, so the maximum FAR would 3.75.

In addition to changing the FAR, it also changes the two-story Conditional Use permit (CUP) requirement. This would eliminate a CUP requirement for all structures over two stories. And it would enable the erection of buildings of up to five or six stories without a CUP.

The staff is arguing that the Design Review process,
"which is required for all new buildings or new additions provides an adequate and more appropriate mechanism for reviewing new projects and addressing any issues related to height or design."
So this proposal in essence does three things, first it building a huge box-like building at 403 G Street, second it enables future buildings to have an FAR of up to 4.0, and third, it will enable the building of much taller building without a CUP.

As with all of these changes, the key question is what do we want our downtown to look like. Drive to the corner of 5th and G, look at the new Chuck Roe Building that is being constructed there and decide whether that is the vision that you have for downtown. Perhaps it is and these kind of projects are fine.

Personally, I have seen some more innovative designs that can utilize more density and mixed uses of retail, office, and residential space in the Downtown Core Area. I think taller buildings that can incorporate plazas, open space, setbacks, and other devices will create a much better visual ambiance that fits with our existing Downtown Core Area. I have concerns about the vertical nature of this project that comes forth immediately from the sidewalk, that will act to close off and inhibit foot and bicycle traffic.

I simply do not believe that we are being creative enough in our usages with this project and am alarmed that the city is making changes that will seemingly make this sort of project more commonplace. Davis needs a discussion about what the future of the Downtown should look like. Densification is a good goal for saving land. But it should be done in a way that enhances rather than detracts from the visual and aesthetic nature of downtown and I simply believe based on the construction of the Roe Building, that this will not serve that sort of purpose.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Commentary: Looking Closer at Public Statements on the Tsakopoulos Development

County Supervisor Mariko Yamada is finding herself in some hot water for her role in holding discussions with Developer Angelo Tsakopoulos on a project that would create a stem cell facility but also build on roughly 2800 acres of land between Davis and the Vic Fazio Yolo Wildlife Area. This would include a commercial development and also somewhere in the order of 7500 units of housing.

In addition to Supervisor Yamada's response in the Vanguard last week, she has now appeared in three separate publications--the Sacramento Bee, the Davis Enterprise, and most recently the Sacramento News and Review.

Here she is in her own quoted words.

Sacramento Bee, June 28, 2007:
"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."

"There are already so many research organizations along the I-80 corridor. That's why it's called the Innovation Corridor. Yolo County should not be the only county that's not in the conversation."
Davis Enterprise, June 28, 2007:
"I've been approached; it's in my district."

"We're looking at all aspects of this proposal... And the university is in discussions too. It's all part of the county's General Plan update process."

"It's part of the new direction the county is going in."
Sacramento News and Review, July 5, 2007:
Attending one of the Tsakopoulos-hosted private dinners were Yolo County supervisors Mike McGowan and Mariko Yamada, both of whom were quoted in the Bee article as positively inclined toward considering some type of research center in a stretch of the I-80 corridor. But Yamada told SN&R that there was no mention made of any housing development. “No, I heard nothing proposed about housing development at that dinner,” Yamada says.

Yamada told SN&R that she would not support any housing development there, as the land sits unprotected in the Yolo Basin flood plain.

Yamada, who is chairwoman of the county board, already has emerged as the target of criticism on a community Web site, with accusations that she has moved from being a “slow-growther” to a politician more accommodating to development. While passionately defending her commitment to preserving Yolo County’s farmland and open space as top priority, Yamada is running for the state Assembly seat being vacated next year by Lois Wolk. Campaign professionals suggest she will have to raise at least $500,000 to be competitive with primary opponent Christopher Cabaldon, the mayor of West Sacramento. But, Yamada firmly asserts, “I don’t practice checkbook politics.”
Note that Supervisor Yamada told the News and Review that she would not support a housing development in that location.

As our article on June 29, 2007 made clear, the objection to the project was the idea of building homes on the property (not to mention the location of the stem cell facility on agricultural land).

As I wrote:
"The issue here is not about a stem-cell research center. If Mr. Tsakopoulos wants to build a research center, I would 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."
Supervisor Yamada on July 3, 2007, was given space to respond to the Vanguard's criticism. She chose to emphasize her record on land use while being a county supervisor.

Supervisor Yamada however at that time never came out against the housing development, instead she spoke only of the research facility:
"The idea of a stem cell research facility in Yolo County is conceptual; there is no specific proposal to be considered at this time. At present, I am keeping an open mind about the research, educational, and life-saving potential such a facility might bring to the region."
It might seem then that Supervisor Yamada is either clarifying her position or backtracking on this. It is hard to say at this point which. However, 1500 of those units is being studied in the general plan as part of the joint study area.

For my part, I will continue to argue that all aspects of this project are inappropriate for consideration by the county. The city of Davis should have land-use authority on the periphery of Davis as the pass-through agreement states. Remember that the pass-through agreement provides $2 million per year to the county in exchange for land-use authority in the city's "sphere of influence." The county may be able to generate more than $2 million on individual development agreements, but that is one-time money. There is no way, that over the course of the 25 year pass-through agreement, the county will surpass the revenue that Davis' Redevelopment Agency passes-through to them.

This discussion along with the County General plan is pushing the city and county on a collision course. If this is not halted, future cooperation is going to be severely altered. Davis elected both Supervisors Mariko Yamada and Helen Thomson to represent the issues, values, and principles of this community. These type of proposals are in conflict with the general hard-fought land use principles that Davis voters elected their representatives on the Board of Supervisors to protect. We can only hope that as this process moves on, that they remember who elected them and who they represent.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting