Davisites may recall the large proposed business park, the Mace Ranch Innovation Center (MRIC), which would be sited on the farmland outside of the Mace curve to the east of Davis, subject to a Measure R vote. The project proposal was withdrawn in 2016, but the commission on which I serve, the Open Space and Habitat Commission, has been told informally that the project may be re-proposed again in some form. In its original form, the proposal included 25 acres of land purchased with funds from the City’s Open Space program, widely referred to as the “Mace 25.” (See my op-ed in the Davis Enterprise, “How 25 acres of open space got into the MRIC proposal” for the history of how that occurred).
In response to the widespread belief that the MRIC proposal will back in front of the City, two local environmental groups have raised concerns about the presence of burrowing owls on the Mace 25: the local chapters of the Sierra Club and the Audubon Society. Note that burrowing owls have been designated as a “species of special concern” in California, and their numbers have been declining precipitously in recent years.
According to Catherine Portman, president of the Burrowing Owl Preservation Society, on Thursday, April 4, the Sierra Club Yolano Group passed the following resolution supporting the City retaining Mace 25 for habitat and open space purposes:
Whereas, the Institute for Bird Populations state wide breeding burrowing owl censuses have revealed an estimated decline of 8% from 1980s to 1990-1993 and another 8% decline in 2006-2007
Whereas, the IBP and Burrowing Owl Preservation Society Yolo County census revealed a 76% decline from 2007 to 2014
Whereas, the California Department of Fish and wildlife has no burrowing owl conservation plan
Whereas, the burrowing owl has minimal protections as a “species of special concern”
Whereas, the citizens of Davis elected to tax themselves via Measure O to provide revenue to purchase open space and wildlife habitat at the edges of the City limits
Whereas, the City of Davis used Measure O funds to obtain 25 acres on CR 104 (Mace-25)
Whereas, the area of CRs 104 and 30B and including Mace-25 have hosted a breeding colony of burrowing owls since, at least, 2007 and therefore represents a unique and potentially irreplaceable habitat
Therefore be it now resolved that the Yolano Group of the Sierra Club, urges the City of Davis to maintain ownership of Mace-25 and remove it from the FEIR of Mace Ranch Innovation Center and manage it as open space and wildlife habitat in perpetuity.
Similarly, an article on the Yolo Audubon Society website, “Burrowing Owls at Risk on the Urban Fringe,” states that “Yolo Audubon and other conservation groups are contacting the City Council with our concerns about losing yet more owl habitat.” I understand that a more formal response is in the works.
As I suggested above, it is not yet known what form the new MRIC proposal will take, and thus, it’s not yet known for certain whether Mace 25 will be part of that proposal. But if it is, I think we can expect the project proposal to be controversial, both because of the presence of burrowing owls and because Mace 25 was purchased with open space funds. (Of course, the project proposal may be controversial regardless).
Many Davisites, myself included, feel that open space monies are for open space, not for acquiring properties for developer’s later use. The presence of burrowing owls on the site makes preserving that open space that much more important.