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Thursday, April 03, 2008

Commentary: A Tale of Two Reconsiderations

Ordinarily in a given term you can count the number of reconsiderations on one hand. In fact, before Tuesday night, I can only remember one reconsideration the entire City Council term, that was a vote on a park survey, when Ruth Asmundson was absent and the vote would have been deadlocked on a $70,000 park survey until Councilmember Don Saylor strategically voted against it in order to be able to move for reconsideration. The parliamentary rule is that only a member who voted for the winning side can move for reconsideration.

However, on Tuesday night, the council voted not once but twice to reconsider votes--for very different reasons.


The first reconsideration was on the Sphere of Influence recommendation to LAFCO. As we reported on Tuesday, it became clear to us watching the meeting that the Davis City Council approach was indeed off. The City Council had voted to expand the Sphere of Influence (SOI) area mainly because they believed that the larger the area that they controlled, the better they would be able to prevent growth.

During the course of the LAFCO meeting it became obvious to all that expanding the size of the SOI would not grant Davis any added protection. Indeed Robert Ramming pointed out that the county's proposed study areas all occurred within the current SOI. At the same time, Supervisor Matt Rexroad pointed out that on the map these did not look like greenbelts and bike paths as Councilmember Souza hoped but rather like a development map.

From a legal standpoint the SOI is a map of urban usage and while Councilmember tried to argue that Greenbelts and bikepaths were urban usages for Davis, it was unconvincing. LAFCO has not operated as such. The SOI is an area for urban develop not a means to prevent growth traditionally.

The bottom line was and Councilmember Souza realized it during the course of the discussion on Monday, the ultimate impact of placement in the SOI might be the inclusion of a property in the general plan, that leads to speculative valuation of the property, and growth pressure. We may have no intention of growing today, five years from now, or even ten years from now, but we also have little control over the process down the line. In essence we may be starting a process that will actually lead to the opposite of what we intend.

As I spoke with members of the community and councilmembers after the Monday meeting, it was obvious to me that no one knew the consequences of placement in the SOI nor did they know exactly which way would offer more protection. Indeed I asked that very question at the LAFCO meeting and no one could answer it.

It became obvious that Davis' City Staff had done a poor job yet again of preparing the Davis City Council and it turned the process into almost a farce.

As Supervisor Matt Rexroad wrote on his blog following the meeting:
"The Davis City Council has requested to dramatically increase the area within their sphere of influence (SOI). They are doing this in an attempt to have greater control over development on their edge.

I actually want the City of Davis to have control of development on their urban edge. It makes sense to me. As a former Mayor I don't want (or need) the county telling me what I need to do. That is up to the City Council.

Here is the problem. If you increase the area within the SOI you are signaling that development is the desire for this area.

The reality os that Davis does not really want development in the area. They want to control any development in the area -- and probably kill development. That is their choice.

I want to let Davis have control of their boundary. I am just not sure that the request to LAFCO is sincere.

My deal is this -- If a city in Yolo County wants to annex land or increase their control of their edge I will work to make the deal happen. This request does not really appear to be that at all."
Throughout the meeting there were references to Davis doing things differently. For members of the Davis City Council, I believe that was a point of pride. For others it is a point of mockery. But at the end of the day it was former Davis Mayor Jerry Adler who made the essential point that Davis was trying to use the SOI as a growth-control device and it was never intended to be such. In fact, just the opposite. And while Davis can be Davis, from a legal standpoint, what Davis was hoping to do would not have worked.

Davis City Councilmember Stephen Souza was correct to urge his colleagues to reconsider, he argued that point well, and they did by a 5-0 vote. It will come back for new consideration in early May right before the LAFCO meeting. I think that may be too long and it does not give them much room for error, but it was the right thing to do.

Davis Korean Church

I cannot say the same for the other move for reconsideration. This has to do with the remodel of the Korean Church in Davis. At a meeting just two weeks ago, the council had during the course of granting their conditional use permit, imposed a required of solar panels on the church--under the condition that if it was too burdensome to the church they could remove that imposition.

What followed was a political football that developed when a member of the church forwarded an email from the Mayor to Davis Enterprise Columnist Bob Dunning who picked up the football and ran with it as far as he could, fanning the flames on this issue and carrying the water of Councilmembers Souza and Saylor.

So Councilmember Don Saylor pulled the item off the consent calendar on Tuesday, moved to approve the second reading for remodel but at the same time moved for reconsideration on the solar panel requirement. The expressed reason was for clarification of what had been passed unanimously at the previous meeting.

As Councilmember Heystek pointed out, he knew full well what he was voting for at the time and saw no reason to reconsider it. Mayor Greenwald decried the fact that the council was reconsidering based on a newspaper columnist's opinion and also the fact that a councilmember had taken the issue to the newspaper columnist to begin with.

Indeed at the council meeting this Tuesday, Mayor Greenwald argued that the church had looked into the issue and the cost of the photovoltaics were less than the church members had originally feared. But the other point is that the cost consideration was actually placed into the original motion--and yet if you read the Bob Dunning columns, you would never have known that.

The observant reader would notice that in fact Bob Dunning had taken up the church's cause well before the meeting in mid-March--writing five columns about the church from mid-February up until the vote. Dunning's March 20, 2008 column tries to paint Sue Greenwald as the extremist and Don Saylor and Stephen Souza as the voices of reason.

But as Crilly Butler writes to the Davis Enterprise, Bob Dunning does not get all of his facts right nor does he paint a full and accurate picture in his March 20, 2008 column.

Writes Mr. Butler:
"First, considering the scope of this huge expansion project, the cost of solar panels will be tiny. The price he mentioned — $40,000 to $80,000 for 2 to 4 kW — is ridiculous. I'm considering a 3 kW installation for my own home and have been quoted about $17,000 after rebates.

And considering that the expansion was already going to be wired and framed for solar on its nicely pitched, unshaded, south-facing roof, it should be a slam dunk. Not to mention that the panels will pay for themselves within a few years, and after that, it'll be pure profit for the church ! Not bad for a modest investment in a green future, and certainly not the onerous "blindsided by city's solar experiment" that Dunning 's column suggests.

Secondly, Dunning implied that the church would be the city's "guinea pig" for solar requirements. The truth is, the City Council has included solar panels as a condition of several recent projects requiring zoning and General Plan amendments (just as in the case of the church project). I hope it will continue to do so in the future.

Thirdly, Greenwald mentioned that if the cost was impossible for the church to bear, she would be willing to consider modifying or even eliminating this requirement. Interesting that Dunning forgot to mention this.

If Greenwald's request was so inappropriate and unreasonable, why is it that her motion was passed unanimously by the entire council?"
Don Saylor suggests in Dunning's April 1, 2008 column:
"In short, I will need three votes to place this on a future agenda for discussion. I will make the case that it is a bad idea to impose this requirement at the last minute with no policy in place and no rational assessment of the need or benefit for this requirement for the specific project."
I am not opposed to having a universal requirement here, however, this is hardly the first time the council has made last minutes requirements for projects--it is within their power to do so, and there is a precedent for it with regards to solar panels. Both Mr. Saylor and Mr. Dunning would have a point here if the council had not placed into the requirement a provision that would allow reconsideration if the cost was prohibitive. The voice for reason angle is interesting but again distorts the fact that the original discussion and decision were not unreasonable.

I am sympathetic to the view that if costs are prohibitive to a non-profit such as a church, it should not be imposed on them--but then again, was that not already addressed in the original motion? The objection seemed to be that this was done last minute, but it was also clear that council not only had the right put this requirement in but had in fact done so in the past.

I do agree that the council needs to address the issue of energy efficiency and alternative energy sources overall. I think the model that Berkeley has set up--looking at subsidies for the use of solar--that could be paid off over time with energy savings is the way to go.

The city has set up a climate action team to look at such things, but we really do not need to reinvent as many wheels as we think we do. We ought to look at what is being done, adapt it to Davis and improve upon it first and then look toward new things.

Reconsideration in this case is a dangerous precedence and demonstrates how some of the avowed environmentalists can nevertheless be subject to heavy political pressure when an issue is taken up by political columnists.

At the original meeting, Councilmember Souza suggested that we ought not try to "out-green" each other, but at the same time, it seems clear that some members on this council will cave on issues under political pressure.

I see no reason that we needed to revisit this vote. The council had already put in a provision to reconsider if the photovoltaics proved to be too expensive. This was completely a political calculation rather than a policy move.

In the end, the council reconsidered two votes, the first one was a good move made by the council as a whole, the second one smacked of politics.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting