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Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Council Goes with Equal Weight Alternative EIR on Cannery Site by 4-1 Vote

The Davis City Council eventually agreed by a 4-1 vote to go with City Manager Bill Emlen's recommendation for the Lewis-Cannery Project.
a. Evaluation, refinement and processing of the mixed use project concept proposed by Lewis or some variation thereof
b. Request Lewis to also prepare a full business park alternative plan for the site
c. Initiate City sponsored public outreach efforts with focus on the immediate neighborhood; and discussions with UCD and representatives in the tech sector regarding future business park land needs
d. Conduct an equal weight EIR analysis that evaluates the impacts of both the Cannery Park mixed use and Business Park Use concepts
e. Direct staff to conduct a more detailed analysis of options and strategies for meeting future business park land needs in light of current build out rates, including but not limited to, retaining the current zoning and the potential use of the Lewis site for other purposes
f. Direct staff to prepare a detailed timeline for completing this work; return to Council to adopt the timeline; make a strong commitment that the city will adhere to the timeline
The council eventually agreed to this well-crafted compromise with two modifications. First, they put a one-year time-frame on the EIR. Second, at the behest of Councilmember Sue Greenwald, the city with possible outside expert help will develop the full business park alternative in order to prevent a possible conflict of interest with the Lewis Planned Communities expressed desire to create a mixed-use project.

The centerpiece of this compromise was Bill Emlen's belief that there has not been a full study of the business park alternative. That the city has not fully considered the impact of a change in zoning from the current usage. Emlen argued the full-weight alternative EIR was needed to fully consider the business park alternative. In addition, having a full weight EIR would allow the council in a year's time to adopt this alternative and put it into place if that is the route they decide to go. Emlen did not believe that the city had enough information to make a decision on the form of the mixed use or even whether to go with a mixed-use approach exclusive to the site.

The eventual 4-1 vote with Mayor Pro Tem Don Saylor the lone dissenter, however belies quite a bit of difference in the council's general belief of what should be done on this site.

Councilmember Sue Greenwald was adamant that the current owners of the site have been strongly opposed to a business park alternative that would feature high-tech and possibly green technology industry. She made an alternative motion to deny the zoning change and direct the owners to find suitable business ventures for the site. Councilmember Lamar Heystek joined her on the motion, but the substitute motion was defeated 3-2.

Councilmember Don Saylor largely supported the current proposal and believes that it was the proper approach. However, it was clear from the beginning that he was outnumbered 4-1 in terms of his view of proceeding with the main project. He tried to argue for a substitute motion which would make the Lewis-Cannery proposal as the main EIR and the business park alternative as an alternative, but not an equal weight alternative. The Mayor Pro Tem was turned down by both the City Manager and Councilmember Souza on that approach, both of whom argued that such an EIR would not fully explore the business park alternative and if the council adopted that approach in a year, it would be required to do a new EIR with the business park option as the main project. This would slow things down. As it is, the cost to the developer according to the city manager will run from between $50,000 to $100,000 in additional money to do the equal weight EIR versus the more traditional main plan and then alternative project EIR.

The swing votes on the council ended up being Stephen Souza and Mayor Ruth Asmundson. The Mayor wanted some sort of mixed-use project. However, the definition of mixed-use to her was unclear in her own mind. She could foresee something that was anywhere from 50-50 to 80-20. Moreover, she could also mixed-use not as project-specific but rather area specific, where a large area of residential neighborhoods surrounds the business park.

Councilmember Stephen Souza was quite eloquent. He passionately argued for the need for Davis to take advantage of the green-technology revolution that is sweeping the country. He also argued that this project does not have the "wow factor" that he is looking for, and thus is not a project he is inclined to approve. However, he also stopped short of calling for the business park alternative. He wants 100 acres of dedicate business park, but said he is not convinced that this is the location for it. In fact, he believes it is not. He also wants the area studied with the adjacent Covell Village to determine the best usage.

While I do not fully agree with Stephen Souza, I think he did a very good job of articulating the need for the city to be on the edge of innovation in terms of its land use both in terms of green technology and also in terms of sustainable development. In the end, we probably do not see eye-to-eye on the issue of masterplanning the entire area of Lewis plus Covell, but I think he made a strong point on his concerns about completing the bike loop and road access to the east.

Lamar Heystek argued passionately that we need jobs and have good high-tech, green technology jobs was a strong way to go. Sue Greenwald continued her strong advocacy of high-tech, arguing that we have missed out on a number of these start-ups because we did not have the land available for high-tech. The period of build out is not prohibitive because the land is already zoned and in place. We need to however forcefully and strongly pursue these start-ups. She also made a good point about the proximity of the university. There are many university towns looking for high-tech jobs that are close in proximity to the university. People argue that our cost of housing is prohibitive, but places like Berkeley and Stanford for example actually have higher costs for housing. Davis has a lower cost of housing than many competing university towns.

In the end, I would argue that Bill Emlen and his staff did a commendable job laying out the issues and crafting a compromise that keeps the alternative of a business park and a high tech build out on the table. Lewis Planned Communities argued that they would accept business suitors for the property, but the problem is that they have not made a concerted effort to publicize that desire. They believe that the housing option would be more lucrative. But the city in fact has a number of housing options on the table already. For instance Grande has 41 units if approved, Verona another 83 and is already approved, Simmons 90-110, Wild Horse Ranch could feature another 191 if the voters approve that project following council approval. Right there is over 400 units that could be built if the market allows. That does not include the rather large West Village Development. Does the city really need an additional 600 units at this time, in this market? That's questionable.

For those arguing that we need more affordable housing, ask yourself, does Lewis provide that? And should we settle for what appears to be a mediocre housing proposal because we are desperate for housing? I agree with Stephen Souza, we need a wow factor. Don Saylor argued last night that we'll never find a wow project. I disagree. I saw a wow project just last week and I will be discussing that project in the future. I think there are wow projects that could come forward and can be on the cutting edge of innovation. We just need to raise our standards.

At the end of the day, Kevin Wolf, former chair of the Housing Element Steering Committee made a vital point, Lewis Planned Communities bought this property knowing its current zoning. We do not owe them anything. We need to do this process right. Bill Emlen, who I often disagree with, gave us a plan by which we can do exactly that.

---David M. Greenwald reporting