By Roberta Millstein
As I and others had requested, at Tuesday’s meeting the Council pulled the items concerning the Mace Ranch Innovation Center (MRIC)/Aggie Research Center (ARC) from the Consent Calendar, meaning that there could be a brief presentation, public comment, and discussion and vote from the Council. Unfortunately, it got personal and unpleasant at times (more on that below). But there were a number of good outcomes from the meeting.
My main reasons for wanting the items pulled was to let more Davisites know that the City was moving forward with the ARC, to inform people that there was a project description available on the City’s website, and to get more information about what was going to happen moving forward. Those goals were achieved on Tuesday.
- The City admitted that the ARC proposal is different from the older MRIC proposal, albeit similar in some respects (still a massive business park on ~200 acres of prime farmland). That’s good, because it is different. For example, the proposal now includes 850 units of housing, each with its own parking space, with a total of 4,340 parking spaces in the proposal altogether. Also, the city-owned 25 acres, purchased with open space funds, is now being used in a different way.
- In fact, the City admitted that the new proposal is sufficiently different that updates to the previous Environmental Impact Report (EIR) will be needed. How extensive they will need to be and what form they will need to take remains to be seen, but certainly traffic will be a major issue that needs re-analysis, given the Mace Mess and new construction in the area, such as the new hotel and the new Nugget facility.
- More generally, the City stated explicitly what the two items were about, so that there could be no confusion – that there would be a financial study that the developer (not the City) would pay for, and that a subcommittee would be formed to oversee the project proposal.
- The Council gave assurances that all of the relevant commissions would be consulted: Finance and Budget; Open Space and Habitat; Natural Resources; Bicycling, Transportation, and Safety; Social Services, etc. If this is to be a process where the developer is genuinely taking input and making changes in light of that input (and not just going through the motions of consultation), then it seems highly unlikely that the Council could be deciding to place the item on the ballot in December (as was reported in the Vanguard).
- The City also promised community hearings and public outreach on the proposal.
- The developer, despite only having given the Project Description to the City last week, has already produced glossy materials promoting the project (I saw some at the meeting), and there was a seemingly-coordinated group of people already promoting the project, despite the fact it has yet to receive comment from the commissions or from Davisites at large.
- Councilmember Dan Carson expressed his expectation that this project would be going to the voters, suggesting that he has already made up his mind on the project. Note that on Tuesday, the Council voted to make Councilmember Carson one of the two subcommittee members (the other being Mayor Pro Tem Gloria Partida) for the project.
And again, it’s important that these things were all done fully publicly (most people do not look at the Consent Calendar, so it is public only in a technical, legal sense) and are now in the public record (City meeting videos can be found here). I was gratified to receive a number of supportive emails and in-person remarks, thanking me and Colin Walsh (who, like me, spoke at the meeting itself) for drawing citizens’ attention to the new proposal.
The re-initiation of a project this large should never have been on the Consent Calendar in the first place. Even if the first steps seem like baby steps, they are (like baby steps) still very notable.
Unfortunately, however, two Councilmembers, particularly Councilmember Will Arnold, took umbrage that the suggestion that the City erred in placing this item on the Consent Calendar and made some angry personal attacks. He claimed, without evidence, that those who objected to process had already made up their minds against the project, yet he had no criticisms for those who stated they had already made up their minds in favor of the project. He has since partially apologized for those remarks, or at least, for making them in anger, but he still does not seem to understand the very real concerns that were raised.
There is, as I pointed out at the meeting, bad history here – almost literally in the same location. In June 2013, the City placed an item on the Consent Calendar entitled, “Options for First State Bank of NW Arkansas Property – Mace Curve 391.” It would have rejected a Natural Resources Conservation Service grant that the City had already obtained with the Yolo Land Trust, and instead pursued a business park outside of Mace Curve. I guess those were “baby steps” too. Sound familiar?
Once burned, twice shy. Actually many times burned, because there have been a number of instances of controversial items being placed on the Consent Calendar over the years. If Councilmember Arnold and other councilmembers don’t like the criticisms about process, I suggest that they stop doing that.