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Saturday, December 06, 2008

Reconciling Fifth Street with Our Vision for Downtown

I was reading a letter published in yesterday's Davis Enterprise from the owner's of Fleet Feet Sports in Davis about the potential road diet for Fifth Street.

The gist of the letter is:
"While the safety of all who travel Fifth Street - be they pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists or skateboarders - is a concern for us all, the line must be drawn somewhere. Whatever the city decides to do, we can live with it only if further restriction of auto traffic is not part of the solution."
They argue that reducing the number of lanes on 5th Street to one in each direction:
"It will strangle the economic vitality of the downtown."
"Downtown businesses depend on customers who drive from all parts of Davis, as well as Woodland, Dixon, Winters and points beyond. We already have a major bottleneck to downtown access for motorists on our south side with the Richards undercrossing. Adding a bottleneck to the north side will be devastating."
I am always interested in understanding other people's viewpoints on these things, especially when I do not have a hard and fast idea myself of how to fix a particular problem.

I understand the general view of downtown that they do not want anything that is going to prevent the public from coming into the downtown.

One of the things we were looking at during the election was the idea of having parking access before you get under the Richard's underpass. If you could create a multilevel parking structure off of Olive Drive that goes over the railroad tracks, people could park in that facility and walk to the downtown. That would bypass the bottleneck of the Richards underpass.

People have often suggested that we simply expand the underpass to two lanes in each direction, but to many that simply shifts the bottle neck from Richards Blvd to First Street and you end up dumping multi-lanes right into downtown.

I was actually thinking the same thing with regards to Fifth Street. Why not dump a huge amount of traffic onto B Street and use that as your east bound access to downtown. You can do the same thing West bound onto G Street or even before. In terms of traffic flow we could be a little innovative in terms of how to get the traffic that is actually coming into the downtown and get them into the downtown rather than continuing on Fifth Street.

Just a thought there, I am not going to pretend to have an answer there. While I can see the concerns of Downtown business, I have concerns about safety and there is also I think a move to get people out of their cars anyway. All of these points are somewhat in conflict. The real question is how do we resolve these conflicts.

One of the problems I see is what is our overall vision for the downtown. We have talked about walkability. We have talked about alternative fuel. We have talked about putting higher density near the core so that we can get people out of their cars. We have talked about bike paths and sidewalks. We have talked about expanding the basic function of downtown and having multilevel buildings.

But do we have one vision for the downtown and how would the Fifth Street plan gibe with that vision. The problem I am starting to see is that we may in the end solve those two issues independently of each other and thus produce a plan for Fifth Street that is not compatible with the overall downtown plan.

I think the letter suggests some this problem as it closes:
"Everyone who runs for City Council in this town claims to support our unique downtown, and declares that it must be preserved and protected. They now have the opportunity to follow through by keeping Fifth Street open with four lanes for auto traffic. If the council wants the downtown to continue to thrive as a retail center, it won't throw another obstacle to downtown access in front of the thousands of our customers who drive."
However, it does doesn't provide us with any resolution to this problem. Obviously downtown would love to have unencumbered traffic into it. Obviously. But they do not have that now and probably will have less of that in the future. So how can we protect the safety of people traveling on Fifth Street, work our vision for downtown, and achieve our goals of getting people out of their cars in order to protect the environment.

Again, I do not have the answers to all of these questions, but when we finally decide on the solution to Fifth Street, I hope these questions are very strongly considered.

---David M. Greenwald reporting

Friday, December 05, 2008

Paradigm Shift: A Bold New Plan for Davis

During the course of the last Davis City Council campaign, one of the big debates was the extent to which Davis needs more housing. The argument from the pro-development candidates was always that we do not have enough housing to fill our internal needs. For them, we needed more student housing because of a large number of students who do not reside in Davis, we need more faculty and workforce housing, we need more senior housing. To them this means we need developments like Nishi and Covell Village.

I do not necessarily disagree with some of this. I have always said that if you give me a housing development I can support, I would be happy to do so. The problem I have is that most of the current proposals for new housing, especially those outside of the city, are not especially appealing. I'm not a fan of the newer subdivisions in town which have predominantly large houses and neighborhoods that could really be part of any city in this state and really this country. I want to see new and innovative urban design. And frankly I have not seen that. I want to see as Stephen Souza would say, the wow factor.

During the campaign, one of the things we talked about as slower growth advocates, was the need for UC Davis to provide its fair share of housing. West Village in some ways is a good start, but not really all that innovative, and not really what I was primarily getting at. UC Davis has the lowest percentage of on-campus student housing in the UC system. Think about that. That means that the city of Davis is responsible for finding housing for up to and exceeding three-quarters of the thirty thousand or so students who attend the university. A town of 64,000 people has to provide for nearly 50% of its population. If UC Davis could just provide a larger percentage of housing on campus, in an environmentally friendly and sustainable manner it could be a huge pressure release for growth on Davis.

Keep this in mind as I share the next portion of this story. As many regular readers know, I grew up in San Luis Obispo. San Luis Obispo is a similar city to Davis in some respects. It is a college town, in fact, a very similar college to UC Davis with a large degree of cross-applicants because of similar programs. Cal Poly has about 18,000 students and the city of San Luis Obispo is also somewhat smaller at 44,000 people in population. I attended Cal Poly for undergraduate school.

This past week over Thanksgiving, my wife and I went down to San Luis Obispo to visit my family who still lives there. During the course of the week, Cecilia and I drove to Cal Poly and around the campus. I guess I have not been on campus in a while because I was startled to see a huge new student housing development. We drove through it, and let me tell you, talk about WOW factor. The housing development blew us away.

It is called Poly Canyon Village, named after Poly Canyon a popular hiking and jogging area that extends from the Cal Poly campus up into the foothills of the local mountain range. Very scenic.

Poly Canyon Village from what we could see at night was a very dense development, but it was huge, with four story buildings, and in the center of them, a good array of amenities--coffee shops, eateries, a mini-grocery store, a bank, another store. There is a good sized parking garage. A gym with a swimming pool. It was really impressive.

Our thoughts as we drove through Poly Canyon Village: this is what UC Davis needs. We want to believe we are innovative and on the cutting edge, but we quite simply are not.

I have since done some research on the project. It has 2700 units on 30 acres of land. Talk about density. And yet, despite that density, it is well-done and very appealing and attractive. It is the largest on-campus housing development in the nation. It is the first LEED-certified student housing in the CSU system. The project contains nine four and five-story buildings. And these are apartment-style units, usually four bedrooms with a common kitchen. The size is from 900 to 1100 square feet, so these are good sized units.

It is a fully sustainable project. I am not going to sit here and advocate for an identical project for Davis or UC Davis. What I am going to argue for is that we take this as a model, a goal, and then we improve upon it and adapt to make it work here. This is what we need. Imagine an innovative, environmentally sustainable, carbon neutral, energy neutral development on the edge of the UC Davis campus that could provide housing, on-campus, for 3000 students just for starters. These students do not need to drive because they can bike and walk everywhere. There are amenities right there. It's a mixed-used housing development right on campus. But they will have access to parking and roads for when they want to drive. That would free up a large number of housing units in the city. Those housing units could then supply housing to faculty and staff.
One of the big advantages of on-campus housing is that the university can subsidize it and make it more affordable for the students. In addition, it would free up West Village to become a staff and faculty housing development. We often complain about the price of housing in Davis, but Davis is really neither unique in that respect nor is it worse than other university towns. I've often discussed on this blog and shared others what they do at Stanford to attract young assistant professors. UC Davis could develop their own system by which young professors can get housing near the campus and build equity with that housing. There are models out there, we simply can look at these models and adapt them to our own unique situation.

My biggest problem is not the development but the kind of development we want to create. We need to change the way we do things if we want to have a future. I am not just talking about this community. I am talking about on a national and global scale. Poly Canyon Village has almost 50 percent more housing units on less than one tenth the land that Covell Village proposed. That is what we need to do and the great thing is that you don't feel like it is overwhelmingly dense. It is attractive, it is nice, it is a place I would have loved to have lived in as a student.

It is time that UC Davis and Davis make a paradigm shift with a bold new plan.

---David M. Greenwald

Thursday, December 04, 2008

The Trader Joe's Conundrum for Davis

Over the weekend the Davis Enterprise reported that the deal between Trader Joe's and Radiological Associates of Sacramento (RAS) had fallen apart. The deal was in place whereby RAS would vacate their current premises in the University Mall so that Trader Joe's could occupy that spot.

Now those negotiations have fallen apart.

According to the Enterprise:
'It's not going to happen,' said RAS attorney Steve Boutin. 'We've been working hard to make this a win-win for the city. There's not much for us to respond to, because they've (Centro) just said no. What we're going to do is urge them to give this another thought, sign the agreement we've all negotiated.'

Boutin said that he, RAS representatives, Centro representatives and Davis Mayor Ruth Asmundson sat down together in October and hammered out a deal that everyone agreed on.

But last week, Boutin received an e-mail from Centro that said the deal was off.

'We got a letter out of the blue in which we got cold-cocked by Centro,' Boutin said. 'They very simply said the deal was no longer feasible. They didn't provide reasons or specifics, other than to say they were afraid of overriding market conditions.'
Part of the problem according to the article is that Centro may be having difficulty getting financing given the economy.

But this is only the beginning of the story.

The excerpt from the article quoted above indicates that RAS representatives, Centro representatives, and the Davis Mayor Ruth Asmundson met together in October to hammer out a deal. However, according to the Vanguard's sources, the city council never authorized the Mayor do this or even was informed that the Mayor would be doing this. The issue was never discussed at the council and the council never authorized any sort of negotiations.

Meanwhile the organization, DANG! (Davis Advocates for Neighborhood Groceries) is not happy either.

On November 19, 2008, they sent a letter to the Davis City Council and City Manager Bill Emlen.
"We have watched with great interest the reports that Trader Joe’s may locate at University Mall, provided that Radiological Associates of Sacramento (RAS) relocates to a location in West Davis. Further, we hear that the City of Davis is playing a role in facilitating this transaction possibly through providing various financial incentives to any or all of the four parties.

This alarming turn of events, if true, causes us great concern because it would mean that the city is assisting a very successful international corporation to locate in a part of town that is not in need of economic assistance. On the other hand, our distressed
shopping center in West Davis –which is in dire need of help from the city –continues to be ignored.

If incentives are being provided, we request that you state specifically what assistance, if any, the city is providing to facilitate the Trader Joe’s / University Mall / RAS transaction. And if the city is indeed helping, we further state that the city should provide a comparable level of support to DANG’s efforts to secure a market tenant in West Davis. As we are striving to find a neighborhood market tenant we'd like to add those possible city actions to our list of incentives for them to open up in Westlake Plaza."
Community Development Director Katherine Hess told the Vanguard that there is no financial arrangement with Trader Joe's. However, she later clarified that point understanding that the incentives that DANG refers to in their letter are a reduction in parking requirements. She suggested that the city would be open to doing the same at Westlake if that would make a difference.

However, this misses the point. According to the traffic and parking analysis, the building of Trader Joe's would require a larger number of parking spaces at the University Mall in order to accommodate the increased amount of customers using the facility. However, the expansion of the facility to accommodate Trader Joe's will actually result in a reduced number of parking spaces available. The city is not requiring Trader Joe's or the University Mall to provide for those additional spaces. Instead they are arguing that the parking lot is under utilized at it stands now and that they would simply increase the enforcement against people using the lot who live in adjacent apartment buildings.

My experience in that lot has been that they do enforce those laws. At various points in time when I used the RAK on campus and tried to park at the University Mall parking lot I found a notice on my car warning me that I could be towed if I did similarly in the future.

Moreover, parking is not an issue at Westlake. The parking lot there is underutilized. A new grocery store moving into that location would not need additional parking nor face that parking requirement. Therefore, DANG! has a point that Trader Joe's has gotten a financial incentive to move into the only location in town in which they were willing to move. The University Mall is currently occupied and bustling. The same is not true for either Westlake which has been without a grocery store anchor since May of 2006. East Davis Manor has similarly been without an anchor. The city has bent over backwards to accommodate Trader Joe's and get them to come into an already occupied location. Meanwhile, what has the city done to help Westlake?

Contrary to suggestions, Westlake right now stands a very good chance of finding a grocery store that would be willing to come into that location. The city needs to, especially given the current economic climate, prioritize bringing in businesses to existing vacant spots. Yet the city has to this point done very little to induce new grocers to occupy this empty spot that threatens the rest of the shopping center.

As I have mentioned many times, I have never believed the University Mall is a good fit for Trader Joe's, even without the issue of RAS. The lot there is too small to accommodate the number of cars. During the winter months, the birds are problematic with their excessive numbers and droppings. Finally, the area of Russell Blvd between Anderson and Sycamore is one of the most congested in Davis. You have one of the two major east-west arterials linking up with a major north-south connector. You have the university traffic coming into town and going onto the west side of campus. You have the major bike traffic from Sycamore. Now you want to put a market that is going to attract a huge number of customers from across the city to a location that is already congested? It doesn't make a lot of sense.

Trader Joe's has taken an arrogant position that they will only move into that location. That also doesn't make a lot of sense. They seem not to understand that Davis residents would go to wherever the Trader Joe's was located. In fact, given traffic congestion at that location, it may do better in other places.

Despite the bleak tone of the article in the Enterprise, it still seems likely that some deal will eventually be reached, but the economic situation is one well worth watching as Davis looks to find other business and commercial suitors in the next few years.

---David M. Greenwald reporting

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

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Lewis-Cannery: Wrong Place, Wrong Time For Housing

The issue of what should be done on the long-vacant Lewis-Cannery Property has been discussed at great length in this community and on this blog. I invite everyone to hear the radio show where the Vanguard interviewed Lewis Planned Communities representatives Ken Topper and Jeanne Jones. In addition, Sue Greenwald yesterday had guest commentary in support of keeping the current high-tech zoning in place. Up until the last few days I have remained neutral on the issue of whether to keep Lewis-Cannery as currently zoned, high-tech, and create a 100-acre business park, or whether to change the zoning to mixed-use, and build up to 600 units of housing with a 20-acre business park.

There are indeed good reasons to change the zoning of this property. As we look for locations with which to accommodate new housing needs from within the city, this is an area that is already within the boundaries of Davis and more importantly already paved over. with infrastructure and many city services already in place The ideal of preserving farmland and agriculture is a strong priority for me as well as others in this community.

Additionally, some have argued that development on the 100-acre Cannery property would relieve pressure to build on the larger adjacent Covell Village site. Unfortunately, two recent developments belie that belief. First, the circulation of the map of the property which contains two rather telling arrows, one of which points north from the Cannery site towards Covell Village and the other points east from the Cannery site again towards Covell Village. The consultants for Lewis-Cannery argue that they are designing the site independently of Covell Village. Covell Village rests outside of the current city boundaries and would require a Measure J vote. Therefore different issues underlie the two properties including a 60-40 vote from just three years ago against the development of Covell Village. The goal of Lewis-Cannery is to enable a decision to made independent of their site.

However, by accommodating potential future growth at Covell, Cannery unwittingly perhaps is facilitating future development. A more sinister development occurred with the city's staff report on the site for tonight's city council meeting which includes a memo from City Manager Bill Emlen. The Davis Enterprise yesterday excerpted from the memo, but buried the lead on the key portion. The last two paragraphs of the big-headlined front page article: "City manager: Cannery site needs more study."
Emlen also would like the City Council to consider the cannery's neighboring property, an 800-acre parcel that is technically outside of city limits. The parcel was proposed as a large housing development, Covell Village, but Davis voters rejected it in 2005.

'While not in the city, it is designated industrial in the county and clearly has future development potential,' Emlen wrote. 'It seems a lost planning opportunity to not address both properties in a master plan concept.'
City Manager Bill Emlen spells it out quite clearly--the city is looking to plan for the two projects concurrently and there is no way to escape the conclusion that Lewis-Cannery is in fact the gateway to Covell Village. For this reason I can no longer remain neutral with regards to Lewis-Cannery.

Today for the first time, I publicly oppose the mixed-use option, the current proposal, and any change to the high-tech zoning of the site.

In fact, there are a number of other key issues that have led me to this conclusion including my recent visit to San Luis Obispo over the Thanksgiving Holiday. As many know, I grew up in San Luis Obispo. There are many similarities between San Luis Obispo and Davis including a strong commitment to the preservation of open space, agricultural land, natural habitat, and toward the implementation of public policy designed to produce slow and controlled growth. However, there is a big difference between the two besides the obvious climatic and geographic differences. San Luis Obispo while having almost the same population of 44,000 that it had when I moved in 1996, has a much more strongly developed commercial base.

People have expressed concern about housing in Davis, but given the development of West Village by the university, and the smaller developments such as Grande and Simmons within town, and the other available infill options over the next ten years. I am not that concerned about housing. We will meet many of our internal housing needs as well as our state mandated growth targets over the next decade.

However, the housing market makes any new housing development precarious at best. The credit market is in dire straights, and the ability to finance such projects remains in serious doubt for the foreseeable future.

From a commercial perspective, the city of Davis is in dire need of additional sources of revenue. We are staring down a deficit, unmet needs, the collapse of the revenue from automobile sales, the possibility of new taxes to pay for basic city services, and the certainty of rate hikes for utilities. We know from past discussions, that housing is not a good source for on-going revenue. In fact, given the costs of provisions of city services, new development is as likely to lose revenue for the city as gain it.

Even without the housing situation, the Lewis-Cannery property falls short of what City Councilmember Stephen Souza called the "wow-factor." This project could quite simply be dropped into any city, any town, any neighborhood. There is no great innovation. There is nothing to lend itself to suggest, wow, this is a great project that we need in this city. At best, it fills a need for housing that could be better addressed in other parts of the city in more innovative and eco-friendly ways. In terms of green innovations, there are vague mentions but nothing specific in terms of carbon-neutrality, design-efficiency, alternative power, energy neutrality. By way of comparison, the proposed-Wild Horse Ranch project is well ahead of Lewis in these areas despite the fact that Lewis-Cannery is further along in the process at this point in time.

If we are going to development new housing, we need it to be cutting edge housing that moves us forward into the next era of urban land use. The current proposal from Lewis-Cannery quite simply does not do that at this point. The proposal is fine, but there is no "wow factor." (Later in the week, I will talk about a "wow" moment I experienced in San Luis Obispo that gave me great insight into the type of housing that we need in Davis.)

The other great problem with the Lewis-Cannery property is that of traffic mitigation. The preliminary estimates are that the current proposed development would produce something between 11,000 and 14,000 (at minimum) additional car trips a day spilling onto the already congested Covell Blvd. When asked about the traffic impacts, the consultants suggested that the traffic study would help them figure out how to mitigate. The problem is that we have been down this road once before with Covell Village. There was no answer then to the traffic impacts and the mitigation thereof. And it seems unlikely that the Lewis Planned Communities plan will have any better luck. One of the reasons that Covell Village went down to such a large defeat was the impact on traffic and the fact that there is no clear outlet. Bike paths and alternative transportation are great, but cannot be relied upon to reduce traffic impacts. There does not seem to be an easy answer here.

The current Lewis plan is for 46 acres to be developed for 610 homes however once they are built there is nothing to stop the developer from organizing the new residents into supporting Lewis Planned Communities from converting the additional 20 acres from commercial/ light industrial to residential and finish building another 300 homes, for a full build out of 900 homes. So on a total 98 acre lot Lewis Homes will have built half of the homes originally proposed by Covell Village, 1900 homes on a 484 acre lot. In other words, this is not a small proposal. This is a huge proposal that would go forth with no Measure J mandated vote.

Given the lack of innovative housing plan, given the likely unmitigated traffic impacts, given the state of the housing market, given our need for commerce, the answer for what to do with the Lewis-Cannery property becomes much simpler. I recommend the city place the property in urban reserve for the next ten years. In the meantime, the city should assign a staffer full-time with the responsibility of bringing in new business and developing the business park. The viability study suggested a protracted build out, but if done properly and aggressively, this would not be an impossibility. I want to see green, high tech companies come in that produce jobs and revenue for the area. Davis should become a leader in green technology and there is frankly no better location in the city to do this than the Lewis-Cannery property. It is the largest parcel of land zoned for high-tech.

Unfortunately, the city has not put the type of effort needed to attract that kind of business. So the city council is going to have to direct city staff to do this and make it a priority. This is our shot at creating a lasting legacy that can transform Davis into the center for new and sustainable green business that it ought to be based on both the proximity of the university and the commitment that this community has toward environmental sustainability. Moreover, it is time for this community to stop developing huge sprawling new and expensive subdivisions that could be located anywhere and to once again become the cutting-edge for environmental sustainability in terms of sustainable and energy efficient housing, housing that achieves carbon neutrality, housing that is designed specifically to protect farmland from urban development. This is not the time to compromise on these principles.

Tonight, our city council needs to stand up for green high-tech industry and for moving Davis forward into a new era of sustainable development.

---David M. Greenwald reporting

Monday, December 01, 2008

Guest Commentary: Keep The Old Cannery Site Zoned High-Tech

We are Running Out of Usable Parcels for High-Tech

by Sue Greenwald

On Tuesday, the City Council will be deciding the fate of the only significant remaining parcel of land within our City limits which is large enough to accommodate new medium-sized high-tech companies. If we don’t retain the existing business park zoning of the old cannery property, we are unlikely to attract substantial new high-technology industry to Davis, and Davis is likely to lose out on the green-energy research and development funding that is central to the incoming administration’s fast-tracked fiscal stimulus program.

The old Hunt-Wesson cannery site at Covell and F street is currently zoned for a high-tech oriented business park. Shortly after the old tomato cannery closed, the land was purchased by a southern California development corporation. The company, Lewis Planned Communities, bought high-tech industrially zoned land and has been lobbying to change the zoning from high-tech oriented business park to housing ever since they acquired it.

Lewis has presented their rezoning proposal as “mixed-use”, but in fact the parcel, at only about 66 usable acres, is not large enough to include a major residential component and still be a viable high-tech business park. I’ll be blunt: “Mixed-use” is, in the case of the Lewis proposal, a euphemism for a housing subdivision. If the council is serious about promoting economic development and serious about attracting high-technology companies to Davis, the council will turn down the Lewis proposal at our meeting this week.

A number of arguments have been raised by those who wish to turn our last significant business park parcel into housing. Let me dispense with a few key questions quite briefly. “Is this parcel viable as a business park?” According to industry realtors and to our city’s hired consultant, the answer is “yes”. “Would high-tech companies find the site attractive?” Again, the answer is “yes”. And, no, high-tech industry does not need, or necessarily prefer, to be near a freeway.

So why hasn’t this parcel already become a high-tech business park? As long as the council signals that we will entertain suggestions of rezoning, it is only natural that the parcel’s owners will hold out for more profitable housing. I have talked with mayors and planners from Cupertino to Seattle, and have found that they too struggle with the pressures from developers to rezone their scarce high-tech land to housing. At some point, the city has to give developers and land speculators a clear message that we will retain our industrial zoning. Only at that point will the owners decide to work cooperatively with the city to develop a business park or to sell the land priced realistically at its true business-park land value. In today’s financial climate, developers are unlikely to choose to tie up precious capital while paying property taxes if the council stands resolute.

Some have suggested that we rezone the Hunt-Wesson for housing and annex new peripheral land for a business park. But annexation is a long and cumbersome process with an uncertain outcome, it entails less revenue for the city, and it would result in poorer land use planning.

Fiscally, any hypothetical annexation of new land for a business park would result in less revenue for the city than using the cannery site. Land like the cannery parcel which is already within our city’s boundaries has a tax formula that was set many years ago. When we annex new land today, we must negotiate a tax split with the county, and such terms are certain to be less favorable to the city than our existing formula. If we annex new county land, the city will receive a lesser share of the revenue.

In terms of timing, annexation would take too long. We have attracted some important high-tech companies recently, but we are now out of land for additional mid-sized companies.

Although the national economy and residential real-estate are currently at a stand-still (Davis has approved 160 ownership housing units which remain unbuilt, not even counting the Grande or Simmons sites), there is a likelihood that the incoming administration is going to fast-track funds for green technology research and development. President-elect Obama has already pledged $10 billion for green technology R&D, and green technology is a major component of his fiscal stimulus plan. Davis should be a beneficiary of this program, but without the land zoned and ready to go, we will have no chance of becoming a green technology center. This opportunity will come only once.

Finally, in terms of land-use planning, it is far better to have our clean, high-tech jobs within walking and biking distance of our neighborhoods, rather than further from town.

Some have suggested that we use the PG&E site between 2nd and 5th Streets at L Street near downtown for high-tech industry. From a smart-growth perspective, this would be the saddest decision of all, because the twenty-five acre P.G.&E. site is the only site available for a visionary, high-quality, transit-oriented townhouse and condominium development within walking distance to downtown and AMTRAK.

We stand at a fork in the road. It is time to break the old patterns of suburban sprawl by building our jobs near our existing housing, and our housing downtown near our existing jobs and mass transit hub. We can do conventional planning, or we can do smart growth. We can position ourselves to become a high-technology and green-technology center, or we can let the chance slip by. We have the chance of a generation to make the right planning decisions, starting Tuesday night.

Sue Greenwald has served on the Davis City Council since 2000. She was Mayor from 2006-2008.

Update on the Virtual Townhall Meeting


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Here is Davis Media Access' Press Release which also includes for the first time the first round of broadcasts on Cable Channel 15. In addition to some 30 questions that have been submitted directly on the blog, the Vanguard has received at least as many questions via email.

Press Release
For Immediate Release
Nov. 20, 2008

Virtual Town Hall Meeting Fields Public's Questions about DJUSD Davis Media Access (DMA) and the The People's Vanguard of Davis will host a Virtual Townhall Meeting with the Davis Joint Unified School District on Tuesday, Dec. 2, 2008.

The one-hour program features DJUSD Superintendent James Hammond, Chief Budget Officer Bruce Colby, and School Board President Sheila Allen. The panel is moderated by Vanguard Publisher and Founder David Greenwald. Greenwald said the intent of the program is "to help foster communication between the community and the school district."

Members of the public are invited to post questions for the panelists online at Questions will be selected by the moderator and asked of the panelists during the show. Questions may also be submitted to Greenwald via email.

Greenwald said the event will be a multimedia production. Audio of the program will air during The Vanguard's regular timeslot on KDRT-LP, 95.7 FM in Davis, from 6-7 p.m on Dec. 3. A podcast of the show will also be available at

The show will air on Davis Community Television, local channel 15 on the Comcast system, at the following dates:
Thursday, Dec 4 at 9 p.m.

Friday, Dec 5 at 7 p.m.

Sunday, Dec 7, 2008 at 4 p.m.

Tuesday, Dec 9, 2008 at 3 p.m.

Wednesday, Dec 10, 2008 at 5 p.m.
The Vanguard will post the streaming video of the broadcast on its blog, located at when it becomes available.

---David M. Greenwald reporting