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Sunday, May 11, 2008

Commentary: Pro-Development Candidates Not Forthcoming on their Growth Positions

Sacramento Bee Coverage of the Davis City Council Race

The Sacramento Bee had a pretty interesting spread on Monday laying out various positions by the Davis City Council candidates on growth

Given that the Sacramento Bee had limited space and that this will be their only article on the race, they did a good job of getting to the core of the issues and the differences between the candidates in a campaign where many of the candidates sound the same even though they have pretty divergent policy goals.

To start, the happenstance of alphabetical order served to dramatize this point. The first three candidates in the alphabet opposed Covell Village. The last three supported it. That happenstance creates an appearance of stark differences between the candidates.

Measure J and the one percent growth guideline have been covered here. You can see more clearly here that Stephen Souza diverges from his colleagues on his side of the matrix on Measure J, but you can also see that that is the only place that he really diverges from them on.

The point also needs to be made again that Measure J is indeed a lengthy document, but it is really straight-forward and not complex. A non-lawyer or even a non-planner can easily pick it up and understand it. On the other hand, one of the reasons that it is so lengthy is that the drafters of the Measure J went to great lengths to define their terms and define explicit exemptions to avoid loopholes. Any attempt to streamline it will re-open some of those loopholes and thereby weaken the measure.

Question 2 is one that really has not been asked or addressed in forums to do that. So I am going to go through those answers, since they are brief.

The question is would they support a renewed effort to develop the Covell site?

The first three candidates Cecilia (my wife), Sue Greenwald, and Rob Roy give various versions of "no."

Cecilia Escamilla-Greenwald:
"I do not support developing beyond the borders of the city. We have enough land available within the city's boundaries."
Sue Greenwald:
"I just think it's way too soon to consider that."
Rob Roy:
"We have to focus on infill development. Building out is the wrong direction. Davis will sprawl and lose its character."
The next two candidates Don Saylor and Stephen Souza do a nice job of dancing on the issue.

Don Saylor:
"I haven't seen a revised Covell Village plan. I'm not going to say never, and I'm not going to say I'm all for it."
Is the first part of that answer honest? John Whitcombe's group has been meeting through out the city. I know quite a few people that they have met with to outline their plan for Covell Village. They even met with Cecilia. Are you telling me that they have not met with one of their biggest allies on the council but they met with Cecilia? I kind of seriously doubt that. The honest answer here would be "yeah, I'd consider it." Instead he tries to dance on it.

Stephen Souza:
"If a proposal at Covell Village came forward, I would be interested in looking at it and discussing it."
That's at least a better answer than Saylor's.

Sydney Vergis:
"If the neighboring Hunt-Wesson property is developed, we might want to look at mater-planning that whole area and do it right."
Either Vergis is more pro-growth than Souza and Saylor or she's less shrewd politically, but I think she puts on the table the view that the pro-development side of the ledger sees--a way to develop Covell alongside the Lewis Properties.

For a table that has four very brief answers, in many ways this tells people all they need to know about growth. And then it depends on which side you come down on the issue.

LAFCO Draws Out Differences On Growth--Souza and Saylor Abstain

I take this time to draw on Tuesday's vote yet again, because it seemed to get lost in the complexity once again.

There are two elements to the City Council's Sphere of Influence vote.

First, the need to revisit it was fundamentally due to City Planning Director Katherine Hess' misinformation to council about the meaning of the sphere of influence.

LAFCO lays it out very clearly that the sphere of influence intends to define all the lands to be developed for urban uses. Katherine Hess tried to argue that the city simply would control the land in the SOI whether it was developed or not. That clearly was not true last year when the county tried to study development of land inside the SOI on the edge of Davis. Stephen Souza at the LAFCO meeting tried to argue that there are multiple types of urban uses for land, but he quickly recognized after discussions at LAFCO that this was not the conventional view and that having an overly large SOI might open the process down the line to inclusion in the General Plan and thereby do the opposite of what was intended.

The second intrigue in the meeting is Lamar Heystek's motion removed all of the large peripheral parcels from the Sphere of Influence. Mayor Sue Greenwald seconded this motion.

The argument here is that there is no compelling reason to add more land that could become targeted for growth when there is no protection afforded to the land by being placed in the SOI. It simply signals LAFCO that there is an intent to develop these lands for Urban uses.

Ruth Asmundson opposed the removal of the peripheral parcels, as we would expect.

What no one expected is that Councilmembers Don Saylor and Stephen Souza abstained from the vote. This demonstrates their fear of on the one-hand offending their developer friends, some of whom were in the audience asking to be included in the SOI. Obviously they felt that there was some benefit to being in the SOI.

On the other hand, they did not outright vote against the measure to belie their pro-development colors. They have tried to walk this fence for a long time. They supported Covell but argue that it's good smart growth planning. They support the 1% growth guideline, arguing that this represents a low growth rate and that we are not growing at one percent anyway.

Because of the two abstentions, for the first time ever, Sue Greenwald and Lamar Heystek's two votes carried the day by a 2-1 margin. In order to not expose their true intentions on growth prior to the election, Souza and Saylor were completely silent on one of the most important growth issues for the LAFCO SOI for Davis.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting