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Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Strange Vote Leads to Drastically Reduced Sphere of Influence

It seems likely that when Lamar Heystek made his motion to exclude a large number of properties from the city's sphere of influence, that he never expected to prevail.

In light of discussion at the LAFCO meeting at the end of March, the City Council agreed to have new discussions on a proposal by the city to dramatically expand the city's sphere of influence (SOI).

My question at the time of the LAFCO meeting was whether a larger or a smaller sphere of influence provided more protection of agricultural land and gave the city more control over its future growth. Originally, the city felt that having a larger sphere of influence would maximize the city's ability to grow. However, points made at the LAFCO meeting undermined that philosophy, particularly two points. One that a larger SOI might contribute to the need for an expanded provision of services. Second, that an expanded SOI might contribute to greater pressure to grow from those developers who owned the lands now included in the SOI. The thinking was that this would facilitate a move down the line that would include these properties in a future General Plan for development considerations.

Finally, there is the fact that the lands considered for development by the county last year were in the SOI, and the SOI did not appear to grant the city any additional growth protect. A point reiterated later in the evening by City Manager Bill Emlen.
"In other areas, a sphere of influence has not stopped counties from approving development right next to a city."
In a good discussion that ensued, City Planner Katherine Hess suggested that growth pressure would probably occur regardless of the size of the SOI. The main tools that the city of Davis has as protection are the pass-through agreement and Measure J.

Even after this discussion, it was not entirely clear what the city would gain either way by changing their SOI.

City Councilmember Don Saylor said:
"I don't hear us having an overwhelming case one way or another to change it frankly, and I think the value of our other land use tools is far in excess of whatever happens on this decision. I'm fairly neutral on which way we end up coming down on individual cites in the list or not in the list because I think the real issues are going to be ongoing in discussions between the city and the county on the pass-through agreement and with the voters on Measure J. And the next general plan with the city and the county. I don't see this as a make or break decision."
Now this is what we were told by City Staff and by Stephen Souza. However, during public comment--and we are talking about public comment at midnight--representatives from developers of Oeste Ranch, requested their property be including in the SOI.

Councilmember Don Saylor moved that that the city request LAFCO to add Mace-Covell Gateway to the SOI, the staff recommendation.

"We ought not to apply too much emphasis or importance to this. As I understand from the discussion tonight this is not something that we can achieve many objectives doing."

Then Lamar Heystek spoke:
"I don't see this as merely a ministerial action of the council, because personally I will speak very frankly, I don't feel that I received enough information from city staff to be able to make a decision. I understand that LAFCO has made a recommendation that certain sites be excluded, but I have not received information for our staff as to why certain sites should be included."
He continued:
"I don't understand and I haven't heard from city staff, why we have to include other areas such as the northwest quadrant, such as covell village, such as the Nishi site, when we know we already have Measure J, when we know we already have the pass-through agreement, and we know that those are really the strongest protections from unwarranted or undesirable development on our borders."
LAFCO's report warns that adding such areas would lead to land speculation on those sites for the purpose of development.

As Councilmember Heystek pointed out, it appears in the next five years we neither intend to expand city services into these areas nor develop in these areas--so why include them in the SOI?

He then made a substitute motion to exclude Covell, the Northwest Quadrant, and the Nishi site from the recommended sphere of influence. It was seconded by Mayor Sue Greenwald.

As Mayor Sue Greenwald pointed out, we have reduced our growth from a 1% growth guideline to a 1% growth cap.
"These should be areas that we are realistically considering for growth in the next five years."
When Councilmember Heystek made this motion, it is unlikely that he believed it would pass. However when both Councilmembers Souza and Saylor abstained, the motion passed 2-1 with Ruth Asmundson the dissenting vote.

The reason this motion was made and considered important by Councilmember Heystek is that inclusion of areas within the SOI could lead to their inclusion in the 2010 General Plan. These are sites that were ranked relatively low by the Housing Element Steering Committee and thus the inclusion in the SOI could lead to the owners of the properties (such as the Northwest Quadrant) to push for inclusion in the General Plan. As mentioned during the LAFCO meeting, this may not directly lead to development but could potentially be the first step along a path that leads down the road to development of these sites.

Why both Councilmembers Souza and Saylor decided to abstain is an open question. What the vote means, is also unclear, however, council is now recommending that the Covell Property, the Northwest Quadrant and Nishi Propety all be excluded from the SOI.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting