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Report from the Open Space & Habitat meeting re: DiSC 2022

Comments to the Open Space & Habitat Commission concerning DiSC 2022

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The following was emailed to members of the Open Space and Habitat Commission (OSHC) on Sunday.  The OSHC is scheduled to discuss the revised MRIC/ARC/DISC project, now dubbed DiSC 2022, at its Monday Oct 4 meeting.  If you wish to comment on the project yourself, see instructions on the agenda for the meeting, located here.

Dear members of the Open Space and Habitat Commission,

I am writing to you as a former commissioner (10+ years) and Chair of the OSHC, having completed my term last December. I was involved in analyzing what is now being called the DiSC 2022 project in all of iterations, so I hope you find my comments helpful in your discussions.

To begin, I am pleased to see in the minutes from your last meeting the following: "[Ms. Reynolds] said the Commission also had the option of agendizing the Addendum to the project's Environmental Impact Report ("EIR") later this year if the Commission wanted to provide comments on the Addendum to the EIR. That meeting would have to happen before December when the project is scheduled to go before the Planning Commission, she said." I strongly urge you to do this. The OSHC has a history of productively discussing and giving comments on EIRs, as it did with earlier versions of DISC as well as Nishi and other projects, with the comments thoughtfully crafted from the Commission carrying more weight than comments from individual members. For example, you might wish to ensure that the biological surveys have been properly updated and that greater awareness of approaches to climate change are being taken into account, such as the lost opportunity for regenerative agriculture on the property if the project is built.

Another important piece of background: in the last iteration of the project, the developer kept insisting that Mace 25 was not part of project, even though it clearly was. This led to mistrust in the community. Because of that mistrust, people are now concerned that this smaller project without Mace 25 is just a foot in the door for the already rejected larger project to come later. I urge you to recommend that the developer state, as a sign of good faith, that this is not their intention — designating the ~100 acres to the north of the project as ag mitigation would be the clearest way to do that.

The rest of my remarks will focus on the Staff Report and related attachments, located online here.

Recall that only stated baseline features of the project are guaranteed parts of the project — the development agreement can be changed. In my time on the commission I heard too many promises on projects that failed to materialize (e.g., native plantings at the Cannery). So I urge you to recommend explicit statements of essential features as baseline features. Some of the language in the developer's documents seems vague to me. For example, in responding to previous OSHC recommendations, the developer uses language like "remains committed" and is "currently contemplating" riparian enhancements along the Mace Drainage Channel (see DiSC Response to OSH2). I urge you to recommend these enhancements as a baseline feature.

On a related note, the developer asks the commission about the prevalence of native trees on the project, suggesting that there is a tradeoff between providing sufficient shade within 15 years, as the Tree Commission has asked for, and what the OSHC recommended in the past (see p. 4 of the Staff Report document). If the OSHC feels strongly about a certain percentage of native trees (and plantings), or that they be "predominantly" native, then I urge you to say so explicitly and to recommend as a baseline feature. There is also the language that we used for WDAAC to consider: "Maximize the use of native plants and plants that benefit native animals, including pollinators and invertebrates, throughout the project including on internal greenbelts."

The developer suggests that because Mace 25 is no longer part of the project, that the OSHC's former recommendation for a wider ag buffer (OSH8) is no longer relevant. This is incorrect. The adequacy of the 150-wide agriculture buffer in the project was challenged in a SEIR scoping comment letter from the Director of the County of Yolo Department of Community Services ("County Director Letter"). The letter encouraged the City to "...refer to policies in the Countywide General Plan that seek to protect existing farm operations from impacts related to the encroachment of urban uses through use of an increased minimum buffer, as opposed to the City's minimum standard..." Policy LU-2.1 in the County's Land Use and Community Character Element "...recommends a minimum 300-foot setback for ensuring the proposed development will not adversely affect the economic viability or constrain the farming practices of agricultural operations" (emphasis in County Director Letter). Further, "County staff concur with Yolo County Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCo) that provision of a ‘minimum' agricultural buffer as prescribed by the City's Municipal Code "...may be insufficient for the significance of the proposed project." Even the City's Code states, "Optimally, to achieve a maximum separation and to comply with the five-hundred-foot aerial spray setback established by the counties of Yolo and Solano, a buffer wider than one hundred fifty feet is encouraged" (Davis Municipal Code 40A.01.050 Agricultural buffer requirement). In light of these remarks, the Commission may wish to retain its former recommendation in favor of a wider ag buffer, which would increase the open space values of the project.

Finally, the developer states that the proposed uses of City-owned land were the "primary issues of concern" that led the OSHC not to recommend the previous issue of the project (Response to OSH 10). I do not recall that the OSHC ever stated that these were the primary issues of concern and I do not think this is a correct interpretation of the OSHC's past views as a body. Whatever recommendation the OSHC decides upon for DiSC 2022, I urge you to at least reiterate the importance of this property from the values that OSHC uses to evaluate property acquisitions, if for no other reason than to remind the community of these values. Here I repeat the other reasons the OSHC gave for not recommending the project previously –that it would "result in the substantial net loss of the following noteworthy combination of open space values:

  • Prime agricultural land (96.6% classified as Farmland of Local Importance, including approximately 141 acres of Prime Farmland)
  • Open space on the City's perimeter ("Urban Fringe")
  • Potential habitat for sensitive species such as Swainson's hawk (California Threatened), burrowing owl (Species of Special Concern), and white- tailed kite (Fully Protected) ("Biological Resources")
  • Views of significant landmarks, namely the Sierra Nevada and the Sacramento skyline ("Scenic Resources") and aesthetic qualities more generally."

Remembering that the purview of the OSHC does not include consideration some of the potential benefits that other commissions will consider, such as potential monetary benefits for the City, I urge you to recommend the project only if you think that the developer's proposed modifications will result in a net enhancement of open space and habitat values — including agricultural — of the property. I myself am doubtful that, in its current form, it does.

Sincerely,

Roberta Millstein

Comments

Todd Edelman

Why build in brown fields (e.g. PG&E yard) - or, especially in Davis, "blackfields" or "greyfields" (parking lots) - when greenfields are available? And if this development was in these, what would it do it improve the habitat of those places (tree dwellers and more)? Cheaper construction, no complicated mitigation of the fruits of earlier polluters...

How will people who live (and work) at DISC 2022 sustainably access habitat and open space to the south of I-80 if there is no pleasant and/or safe route over the freeway by bike or foot?

As far as prime ag land goes, I am so impressed that Dan Ramos is on the board of Yolo Food Bank. As YFB has a deep relationship with the City of Davis, perhaps Ramos should resign from the board during this campaign for development on Ramco Enterprises land. https://yolofoodbank.org/about-yolo-food-bank/

***

Last time around the support of five Council people and others wasn't enough for DISC I to win -- what are the developer's lobbyists doing now to smooth the sequel's victory with City officials, our Assembly member, key Davis staff and others?

Ron O

In regard to the Open Space and Habitat Commission meeting last night, here are some highlights:

The recommendation (from the article above) to request that the northern (approximately) 100 acres be established as agricultural mitigation was not discussed or considered by the commission. Two commenters reiterated this request. (The 100 acres was part of prior proposals.)

The commissioners proceeded to review and edit the recommendations made when the proposal included the northern portion of the site. The developer representative claimed that many of them no longer applied, since the northern site is not part of the current iteration. As a result, the commissioners edited and deleted large sections of the prior recommendations, on-the-spot.

As the meeting approached 9:00 p.m., the chair suggested that a second meeting be held, given the amount of work left to be done. However, several commission members were not able to attend an additional meeting prior to the October 18th deadline set by the council. The chairperson stated that the council put the commission in a "bad place", and stated that she was "very unhappy" about it. The chair stated that they had received the packet for review on the previous Friday afternoon (for this Monday meeting).

At the suggestion of the developer representative (and Sherri Metzger, the city's principal planner), the commission entirely skipped-over the previous recommendation to reject the proposal. The chair expressed "relief" at this suggestion. One commissioner seemed to mistakenly believe that commissions were not permitted to weigh-in regarding recommendations to approve or reject, despite the fact that they were reviewing the document in which that recommendation was made. (It was noted that five of the eight commission members were "new" to the commission.)

Ms. Metzger stated that recommending approval or rejection of a proposal is not the role of commissioners, though she did acknowledge that they can do so. There was some pushback at Ms. Metzger's description of the commission members' efforts during the meeting as "wordsmithing". (Not sure if she originated the use of that term during the meeting, but the commission members clearly had a different view of their efforts than Ms. Metzger did.) Ms. Metzger also stated/claimed that much of the commission's recommendations can be made after it's approved. (Assuming it's approved.) Ms. Metzger stated that the proposal is "not residential", and that open space requirements are therefore not the same. (It should be noted that the proposal includes residential.)

Due to the unavailability of commission members to attend further meetings and the October 18th deadline, the chair and the remainder of the commission agreed to push-through the recommendations last night, ultimately whittling-them down to seven (as I recall). I did not check the time, but I believe this occurred sometime after 10:00 p.m.

There was also some discussion regarding the inclusion of the concrete plaza as "open space", but no action became of it. There was also some discussion of building on prime farmland, but it was ultimately acknowledged that there's no viable way around that, if the proposal is approved.

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