A statement from the Old East Davis Neighborhood Association (OEDNA)
Residents concerned about the unique feel of Davis should be troubled by this ruling. By overturning the trial court, the appeals court implies that the City does not have to keep its own commitments as implemented in the ordinances and planning documents. The appeals court grants the City license to take any provisions agreed upon by the community to protect neighborhoods or specific resources and then interpret them in a way that best serves the interests of developers or other special interests.
When the City decided not to create a historical district for the 2001 General Plan, they opted instead for a conservation overlay district, having protections codified in the Design Guidelines and enforced in the zoning codes. Many community members and businesses, including OEDNA, worked to complete these documents, trusting that future City Councils would honor their intent.
A Mixed-Use Mass and Scale guideline states: "A building shall appear to be in scale with traditional single-family houses along the street front." And a zoning code states: "Wherever the guidelines for the DTRN conflict with the existing zoning standards including planned development, the more restrictive standard shall prevail." The Trackside Project as approved by the City clearly does not follow this directive. However, the appeals court decision ruled that the City has almost complete discretion in how it interprets and/or reinterprets its planning documents.
This ruling serves as a cautionary tale and a wake-up call. Neighborhoods must understand, based on the appeals court ruling, that they need to look closely at the specific language in land use plans as they are modified in the coming years. Neighborhoods should require very precise, quantifiable and mandatory provisions in the upcoming plans and implementing codes. There should be no ambiguity in interpretation, otherwise future City Councils will interpret provisions in ways that disadvantage neighborhoods and go against the promises made to protect those neighborhoods. Even more vigilance is needed going forward.
Most unfortunately, the City never felt a need to work in good faith with the Old East Davis neighborhood, which in fact has been pro-densification from the beginning, to come to a mutually agreeable solution at the Trackside site. Successful examples of such good faith efforts include the Sterling Apartments and Lincoln 40 (now Ryder) Apartments. Community members should expect more from the City of Davis.
OEDNA will remain active to keep our historical neighborhood intact while welcoming change and reasonable densification. We are open to working with the City, developers and neighbors, and are always ready to work with other neighborhoods facing similar issues. Though we are disappointed in the appellate court ruling, our mission and our determination are unchanged.