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Thursday, February 07, 2008

Davis Growth Discussions To Continue Tonight

Tonight at 7 PM at the school district conference room the General Plan Housing Element Steering Committee will meet in part to discuss the results from the workshop two weeks ago.

It is not altogether clear what the results of the workshop were and how much they will affect the final decisions made by the panel. It seems that there were only nine ranking changes on six different sites that were suggested by 15 or more people. Three of these dealt with Covell Village and two Nishi.

Only two of the suggestions were to raise the ranking. That included the Lewis Cannery project which was recommended from Medium to High. And the full Covell Village property which was also recommended from Medium to High.

(see all eight summary charts of the workshop).

A few quick thoughts on these changes and then some more general comments.

First, the recommended move of PG&E makes some sense. I know it is a convenient area to consider since it is infill and not all that useful at this point in time. However, from what I understand the city would have to pay the moving costs for PG&E to relocate their property and that would run around $60 million. I know the Mayor has been a strong advocate for this project and location, and perhaps there is some aspect of this I am missing, however right now I tend to agree with the comment: "Not realistic for development."

Two of the Nishi proposals were lowered one from high to low and one from medium to low. I agree with that. Access is a huge concern. Right now realistically it looks like you would only have access from Olive Drive by car. That is a highly congested area as it is and adding more vehicle traffic would just be problematic. The bicycle access plans are a good idea, but this is just not realistic until you fix the traffic.

Many suggested that Signature be reduced from medium to low. In general, sprawl is opposed by the public. This is really something that our city leaders need to take into consideration. I do not believe that the sports park development is a sufficient reason to develop inside the Mace Curve at this time.

Then the 800 pound gorilla--Covell Village. There were significant recommendations moving the development in both directions. The traffic congestion issue is the big one that led voters to reject it in the first place but a close second would be the sprawl factor, the agricultural land factor and the very fact that the voters just rejected this a little over two years ago.

On the plus side, you have people citing it as a unique infill location (it is not infill), a great location for senior community, and close to shopping and schools.

The bottom line, is that you can argue that it is close to downtown relatively speaking, but overall it is a bad place to grow the way that Davis is currently configured. You simply lack the infrastructure and access to put more people in that location. There is no freeway access. All traffic would have to dump onto Covell, and Woodland is developing down Road 102, which means that traffic is going to be going from Davis to Woodland.

At the end of the day, I'm not completely unhappy with the way the HESC process has played out. But there are a number of concerns that I will go into briefly.

First, if Covell is the 800 gorilla, the 1% growth rate is the brontosaurus. Everything that was done by this committee now depends upon how much we should grow. At the last council meeting, the council majority, specifically Councilmember Don Saylor and Mayor Pro Tem Ruth Asmundson, talked about the need for housing. I just couldn't disagree more at this point in time given the housing market, given the strains on city budget and infrastructure. People think of housing as a means to raise city revenue but you basically get a modest one-time development fee, and we do not get enough for that to begin with, but that is far trumped by the cost for service.

Bottom line here is there seems little or no need to surpass RHNA guidelines which adds just under 500 units in the next six years.

Second, I think we need to take a more holistic approach here. And I'll divide these comments two-fold.

The council has recently heard from the Simmons property folks and the Horse Ranch development. These two projects are moving along at this time along with the Lewis Property. That's three developments that are moving forward outside somewhat of the confines of the HESC. That does not make a lot of sense from the perspective of the work done by this committee and planning for the future.

Along the same lines we have multiple factors moving at the same time. We just spoke about the sphere of influence from LAFCO which will be discussed in February and March. The council is discussing the 1% growth rate next week. You have new RHNA numbers about growth allocation and fair share of growth. You still have the Yolo County general plan with the fact that those study areas are apparently not dead. Along with that you have the pass-through agreement. You have the HESC. None of this is being discussed in totem. How do all of these factors contribute to the overall growth picture?

In some ways I feel that this process is almost ad hoc. And that decisions are being made on each of these steps independently. There are different maps and different processes. And the result will be what exactly? Does the public or even our leaders on council know?

By the end of March we should have a good idea of the answers to some of those things--but on April first will our leaders be able to tell us what the future of Davis looks like?

Add one more point--is the council majority going to continue to support Measure J as we currently know it? A lot of these decisions are being made suggesting that Measure J will protect us from growth. It permeates each issue. But will they keep it in place in the current form?

These next few weeks of discussions should tell us a tale. We'll have to find out where we stand after that.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting