YOLO SUN OPINION :

If Woodland City Council was a dog, it should attend training and obedience school, for it fails to fetch what its community tosses, while piddling away its frazzled credibility.

Most City Hall poobahs and commissars likely believe they have slyly wriggled away from a potential fiasco, related to tree removal within the City Dog Park.

Nothing could be further from the truth, as we shall see.  In an amazing and distressing spectacle of civic irresponsibility, Woodland City Council has politely stifled popular concern about its failure to protect the City Dog Park.

As the wise saying goes, “the devil is often in the details;” in this case, pertinent details were overlooked or even suppressed, in a worryingly persistent style of municipal rushing to best please outside developmental interests, of whatever stripe, in this case the enormous Korean conglomerate, Hanwha Corp.

The city’s new solar-energy facility has six locations, one of which is so close to the city Dog Park, that this developer’s agents and arborists have suddenly determined that eight (8) trees within it had to be immediately removed, in order to properly abide “insolation” provisions of its agreement with the city.  In other words, nothing at all, at any time, could ever be allowed to get between the sun and this developer’s solar arrays.

Two Year Process

The city’s consultant, TerraVerde Renewable Partners LLC, describes a more than two-year long process of designing this solar-energy collection facility, “exploring just about every possible configuration” of the facility, indicates Doug Stecker of TerraVerde.

Well then, wasn’t there — ample time — to responsibly contact the many folk who frequent the Dog Park, informing them and collecting relevant concerns?

Apparently not.  Collecting solar rays totally blinded the city and its consultant  (paid almost a million dollars) against collecting views of Dog Park users, who were quite lucky to even have discovered this city plan and its dire impacts, at all, with many of their so recently (tardily) expressed concerns and proposals being meaningfully ignored.

Some citizens suggest the city should rename itself: Sunland.

It seems that, alongside displaying reckless civic behavior, ‘wagons are circled,’ and durable questions sloughed off and rebuffed.  Vice-mayor Bill Marble declared that these Dog Park folk “have been heard;” but let’s consider the actual details.

The real bottom line was, to his credit, accurately spelled out by city manager Paul Navazio.  “Given the nature of these trees, at some point they are going to be incompatible with the design of the current project.”

Dog Park Testimony

Very interesting and compelling citizen testimony was presented to the city council at this meeting (May 19).

Dana Schuyler got the ball rolling.  “We were very surprised when we got to the Dog Park last week, with the red Xs on our beautiful trees that give us shade now.

“Woodland is known for the City of Trees, [  ] there’s a sign right behind you guys.  I’m sure you’ve noticed that.”

Schuyler continued, explaining that she is disabled and she and her eleven (11) year old dog visit the Dog Park almost daily.  “The atmosphere is just really nice,” reports Schuyler, who believes key mental health values exist at the Dog Park, adding that such “outings for me” coincide with a very important socializing element, since she feels like she and others at the Dog Park are like “a family.”

Christine Shewmaker, a locally prominent “climate change activist,” emphasized that (among other things) Governor Brown has set new targets to reduce greenhouse gases by 40% over 1990 levels, by 2030.

“So, I’m going to advocate that you go forward and not hit the pause button on this project,” Shewmaker exclaimed, while also supporting at least a tree be planted for each tree being removed.

Claudia Barba brought vital arguments to this topic, including her view that, although she supported recent (2015) city bond measures for parks — there was no information provided about Dog Park impacts from this city solar project.

Barba is “all in favor of protecting the environment,” as well as addressing greenhouse gas issues noted by Shewmaker.

“We oppose,” however, “the specific siting of the solar panels in and around the Dog Park, when there are other areas that are available.”

Barba then described the Dog Park as an — “all-day use facility” — contrasted with the other five locations of solar arrays.

She recounted “urban heat-island” research indicating that solar panels increase nearby ambient air temperature by sixty (60) degrees; [so,] “we’re heating the area where we actually have human beings, pretty much all day, and these are people who have no other chance to go out off-leash at a park.  Some of them don’t even own dogs, but are driven to the Dog Park by [social service] agencies because they are disabled and they use this as an emotional and mental health break.”

It seems that none of this key information about the city Dog Park and impacts of this solar-energy facility played any role in city / consultant decision making.

Barba proposed shifting the solar array intended for installation next to the Dog Park, in an easterly direction, toward vacant land adjacent to some playing fields (a basketball court, in particular).

Shelly Duto testified to the city council that a one-to one (1 to 1) mitigation of planting new trees for adolescent or mature trees, is not equivalent mitigation, for purposes of either shade (cooling) or greenhouse-gas reduction.

“While the [city’s] plan is tree for tree, it definitely doesn’t catch up for many years,” expressed Duto.

Paul Hanes testified that: “Most of those trees out there are more like ornamental trees, not native trees to this area.  I don’t see any oak trees or any elm trees, or any big shade trees.  All I see are small ornamental trees.

“I live [by] Crawford Park and there are trees there that have been there for forty (40) years and aren’t even twenty-five (25) feet tall.  40 years and 25 feet, is not a tree.

“So, if we’re gonna plant new trees, I’d like to see shade trees planted, not ornamental bushes!”

Ann Winship’s testimony provided very useful insight into the stark level of inattention by the city toward its Dog Park.

“As it is, there are no trees planted to shade the areas where people sit.  We’ve had to take to bringing our own lawn chairs to find shade.  And it’s been an eight (8) year period waiting for the trees to give adequate shade, so we can enjoy them.”

Wendy Hildebrand testified that trees should be planted on the southern side of the Dog Park, relating concerns about tree-planting within the middle of the Park, regularly used for games of fetch.

City Staff: “Surprised,” But Not Contrite

City manager Paul Navazio stated: “I will tell you honestly, that city staff was surprised about the inclusion of trees [being removed] at the Dog Park.”

This surprise was, of course, completely due to the obvious fact that no attention was provided regarding the city Dog Park, in midst of the (two-year) preparation of this solar-energy facility – despite having such extremely close proximity — that 8 trees within the Dog Park were immediately deemed to be in violation of the city’s contract with Hanwha Corp.

City councilmember Jim Hilliard certainly was not contrite.

“We were kind of blindsided by that issue.  [  ]  I think this [all] can be accomplished without a tremendous amount of discussion or concern,” stated Hilliard.

Rather, councilmember: It was the city Dog Park which was truly “blindsided” — by the city.

Navazio offered that: “Efficacy of design, cost considerations and relative benefit of redesigning it, at this point,” all “strongly” argue toward retaining the current project alongside the impacted city Dog Park.

Other relevant city staff maintained, absent any form of evidence or detail, that there were perceived problems with locating solar arrays — “close to playing fields, because of possible damage that could occur.”

No city councilmember questioned this relatively odd assessment.

Thus, locating this facility in such a way as to prevent some slight (yet clearly avoidable) hazard was a — top priority — while obvious hazards to the city Dog Park were entirely ignored.

Dog Park users literally had to stumble over this situation, to even become aware of it.

City staff and council members demonstrated no semblance of actual responsibility or remorse about this egregious circumstance.

Remorse or acceptance of responsibility by the city, for failing to recognize and consider environmental impacts to the Dog Park from its solar-energy project, would have inclined this matter toward its doing as Park proponents requested, properly evaluating a shift of the problematic solar array.

Thus, no one related to the city would apologize for its egregious foul up.  Trust of the city is thereby injured, since process and factual material to properly satisfy Dog Park concerns was made unavailable; non-transparency was essentially invoked by the city, to avoid meaningful review of its various premises for this decision.

Just prior to council vote on this item, a voice could be heard from the rear of the chamber, presumably Claudia Barba, somewhat (justifiably) indignant about such non-transparency.  Marble told her that public comment was done.

Woodland Tree Foundation

Both city councilmembers and staff make a great deal of Woodland Tree Foundation’s involvement with this project.

Of course, this organization does much good.  However, two items regarding this matter should be illuminated.  Firstly, the one-to-one replacement of trees seems to have been endorsed by it, when such a course is plainly not equivalent.

Secondly, city staff and councilmembers rely to a substantial degree, on the fact that many trees, within the parking lot adjacent to the Dog Park, are “ornamental pear,” a variety susceptible to “fire-blight.”  Thus, removal of such trees is inevitable, as they become increasingly unhealthy.

Reliable sources indicate, however, that Woodland Tree Foundation was planting such “ornamental pear” trees, until only a few years ago.

There was a loud call in this council meeting, for skyline type trees (Sycamore, Walnut, Oak, etc.) to be planted – and “ornamental bushes” to be eschewed — unless required by planting context.

It will be interesting to discover how Woodland Tree Foundation responds to such challenges.

Only Barajas Displayed Real Concern, To No Avail

Only city councilmember Angel Barajas displayed some diligence on this political occasion, several times attempting to somehow discover a more proper outcome.

Initially, Barajas exclaimed his desire that the city council “revisit” this matter, at the later point of these 8 trees within the Dog Park being eventually extracted, per statements by Navazio.

Barajas was plainly (laudably) concerned about the civic texture of these affairs; however — in reality — there is nothing of significance to be done in the future — if the city’s contract with Hanwha Corp. is not presently amended to provide any recourse except such tree removal.

One day in a few years, Hanwha Corp. will simply demand that its “insolation” provision of the city contract be abided, and these trees will be eliminated, as Navazio described.

Barajas asked: “Do we need more time, perhaps, to think this out?”

Also, Barajas challenged vice-mayor Marble to request testimony be provided from the city’s consultant, TerraVerde, regarding: “Whether or not the project can sustain effectively a redesign at this stage,” in words of its consultant (Doug Stecker).

“We actually went through I don’t know how many iterations, but many, many iterations. [  ]  We’re faced with a whole host of tradeoffs around – how do get the best value, [  ] how do we sacrifice the least and still put a project together that [  ] is financially viable [  ] and do that in a way that meets the critical prerequisites of the project,” related Stecker.

Stecker explained that some configurations were “disqualif[ied], because we have challenges that can’t be overcome.”

Stecker anticipated that the city council would want to keep this discussion “out of the technical weeds,” while also stating that he is “happy to dive into all of the technical reasons and their financial counterparts.

“We did everything we could,” declared Stecker, “to meet the high level of challenges that existed at this site and still have a viable project with the current configuration, and the other configurations we explored simply didn’t give us that possibility.”

Solar Facility Project Would Collapse Over Minor Redesign?

On the face of it, TerraVerde’s assertion — that there was only one feasible option, upon which to predicate a viable project — appears absurd.

And let’s be clear —  at root, TerraVerde (the city’s environmental expert) is obviously to blame for not realizing (early on) that an issue existed regarding Dog Park trees (and more), then providing some reasonable process to best address / eliminate / avoid such issues,  After all, it is the expert consultant, paid a million dollars.

TerraVerde very likely, simply picked the easiest configuration to optimize, but with how much actual comparative advantage?  Where is relevant transparency?  TerraVerde seems to depend on councilmembers not wanting to “get into the technical weeds,” on this matter.  For a million bucks, it needed to better perform.

City council could have held TerraVerde to account, responding to the – blindsided – Dog Park folk — but it failed.  City staff is caught in the middle of this mess.

Regarding playing-field concerns: From the relevant diagram, the only proximate subject is a basketball court (which could easily be shielded with a net, from causing damage).  Wayward Frisbees, thrown for dogs to fetch, would also present a potentially similar hazard, correct?

TerraVerde should have recognized these Dog Park issues and established with the city a process of considering them, alongside its evaluation of various solar array configurations.

Clearly, both the city and TerraVerde would rather avoid even a minor redesign, despite their statements about such iterations being preliminarily considered and, presumably, relatively accessible for pertinent analysis.

Getting to the utter details of these circumstances would be the only way to evaluate the potential for this minor adjustment to the city’s huge facility, to best protect the Dog Park.

This effort would have meant a delay – as Barajas earlier proposed – yet could find no help creating, from his fellow councilmembers.

Marble Mishandles Testimony Situation

Seemingly, Marble was anxious to swiftly proceed.

Instead of properly asking Barajas, whether he was satisfied with this wholly vague, specifically unresponsive comment by Stecker, Marble abruptly dismissed Stecker from further testimony.

Barajas had to gently demand such testimony — to begin with — over Marble’s initial attitude of dismissal about any likely councilmember interest with quizzing TerraVerde (paid about a million dollars for this project).

Marble’s move, here, halted all relevant inquiries.

Barajas needed to ask specific follow-up questions, going to the heart of these affairs, but he seemingly wasn’t inclined to further buck Marble’s conduct of the meeting.  This is not a healthy and respectful political atmosphere, to our civic distress.

Apparently, Marble wanted to get to other, favorable, less contentious councilmember comment.

“There’s ways to do things without having to start over with the design part of it,” believes city councilmember Sean Denny.

Waiting a little while (with pruning) to remove these 8 trees, replacing them and erecting an artificial shade structure, says Denny, “will take care of all the issues.”

Really?

Despite abundant public testimony about the inadequacy of older tree replacement by new trees, as well as the likely time-period involved (much less than the 8 or more years needed for equivalent tree growth), Denny and the city council seem to believe that all is now fixed.

This view is plainly nonsense.  Trees planted later this year will take 8 years or more to become mature; while the trees to be extracted will be gone in only a few short years.  City councilmembers must think that our citizens cannot figure this out.

Artificial shade structures in the Dog Park did not arise as an option, let alone such a primary course, until this civic calamity.  Certainly, such structures are much more expensive and much less desirable than trees, in the City of Trees.

Somehow, though, the city solar-facility project (its consultant: TerraVerde), city staff and councilmembers failed to recognize or investigate these crucial Dog Park issues, during the entire two-year period of project development.

Now they claim, in Hilliard’s words, to have been “blindsided.”

YOLO SUN NEWS REPORT :

Walking their dog about a week ago, at Woodland’s Dog (walking) Park next to its Community and Senior Center, a local resident noticed someone spraying X on many trees in and nearby the Park.

Informed that all of these marked trees were soon being removed, they contacted other Woodlanders who soon contacted City staff, which was unaware that 8 trees inside the Dog Park were being scheduled for removal.

Although, trees within its adjacent parking lot and outside of the Dog Park, were long planned for removal, to make way for one of six sites for the city’s new solar energy program.

A public uproar subsequently arose last week, clamoring over significant loss of mature trees (40 – 50 trees) adjacent to and within our community Dog Park, resulting from planned installation of a rather (extremely) smallish section of the city’s huge new solar project with (giant) Hanwha Corp. of Korea.

Apparently, relevant (upstart) tree-advocates intend to suitably attract city council attention during its meeting this coming Tuesday evening (May 19), with hope of the council determining to soon and responsibly amend its agreements with Hanwha Corp., at a June council meeting — before such radical tree removal might begin at our community Dog Park.

Indeed, a scenario seems to exist (below), whereby these advocates may hope to prevail (using enough political presence and pressure).

Hanwha, TerraVerde, Conaway

Hanwha Corp., an enormous Korean conglomerate, has worked out a pretty neat deal with sunny Woodland.  It installs and operates solar-energy facilities, providing the City a certain amount of (renewably sourced) electricity at a discount. The city annually saves $140,000 for 28 years ($7.6 million in total); while, of course, Hanwha Corp. (which produces and installs high-quality photo-voltaic cells) will then sell to others the vast predominance of such solar-generated power.

City staff in January reached an amended agreement with TerraVerde Renewable Partners LLC (a Delaware-based company) to contain municipal liabilities regarding its due “Development Fee” related to this deal (seemingly, brokered by it), in the amount of $950,000.

So, the city pays almost a million dollars, fairly up front, for its $7.6 million savings; thus the city saves only $6.65 million in the end, for the 28 year term of its deal with Hanwha Corp., after paying what amounts to about a 13% commission to TerraVerde.

Conaway Preservation Group, which owns most land easterly of the city, has extended a helpful (sweetheart-type) arrangement, allowing needed transmission-related access for $100, annually.

Six Solar-Energy Sites

In all, six sites are involved in the city’s solar energy project: (a) city parking lot at northwestern corner of Court and College Streets, (b) city sewage plant, (c) city screw pump, (d) city police station, (e) municipal services building, (f) Community and Senior Center.  Tree removal is involved in (a), (d) and (f), since solar-energy arrays and shade trees are not compatible.

One basic idea, here, is to deploy solar-energy arrays over city parking lots, so such shaded parking might amplify environmental benefits. The basic question, though, is whether the city has actually minimized relevant tree removal, especially at its Community and Senior Center (and Dog Park), in order to best conduct (so to speak) this idea.  Also, is it is more valuable to provide totally shaded parking in these city lots, or to let trees do their best and find other city-owned land to locate solar-energy facilities?

Staff Response

“The Community and Senior Center is the second highest energy user of City facilities, and an approximately 500-kW array is planned for the center,” explains Roberta Childers, lead staff person for the City on this project (admirably responsive, organized and capable).

“We did consider extending some portions of the system into the parking lot farther to the east at one time,” describes Childers, “but this idea was rejected because panels there could be too exposed to potential damage from sports park activities (stray balls). Since then, significant effort has gone into establishing the electrical system and interconnection details with PG&E. Note that the interconnection will be along the south side of the property. Lengths and locations of conduit runs are important technical considerations in siting the arrays to optimize system efficiency, reduce power losses between the panels and the interconnection point, and reduce trenching and directional boring runs. The closer the arrays are to the interconnection, the better.”

Here outlined, are the pivotal matters regarding siting of these solar arrays, involving still unanswered questions.

Perhaps Now Relevant, Yet Then Inaccurate Depiction Of Solar Array

In December of 2014, the Daily Democrat ran a story about this subject being on the city council agenda, featuring an artistic rendering of a solar-energy array, place directly alongside the sidewalk of the Community and Senior Center. This photo is likely the most publicly distributed image of these affairs.

“This picture is an artist’s rendering meant to illustrate the basic design of the arrays (how they will curve, the style of the support columns, etc.). It does not represent the actual system location, size, or extent,” indicates Childers.

Well, why not?

Shifting one solar array from alongside the Dog Park, to alongside the community center sidewalk, as very publicly depicted in this graphic example, extending it easterly along this sidewalk (not yet close to sports park hazards) — fully resolves all related Dog Park concerns.

City staff have not yet addressed this specific and pivotal question.

Even More Basic Question

In addition, regarding a more basic question, is it is more valuable to provide totally shaded parking in these city lots, or to let trees do their best and find other, perhaps even better, city-owned land on which to locate solar-energy facilities?

Childers relates: “Note that the interconnection will be along the south side of the property. Lengths and locations of conduit runs are important technical considerations in siting the arrays to optimize system efficiency, reduce power losses between the panels and the interconnection point, and reduce trenching and directional boring runs. The closer the arrays are to the interconnection, the better.”

This PG&E “interconnection” is located at the extreme southwesterly portion of the Community and Senior Center property. Were designs considered, which may have located solar arrays on vacant land — directly adjacent — to this “interconnection?”

After all, “the closer the arrays are to the interconnection, the better.”

Both solar arrays and trees may then have equitable spaces.

Problematic Tree Species In Parking Lot

“The majority of the trees to be removed [from the Community and Senior Center parking lot] are ornamental pear,” reports Childers, “a problematic species for maintenance and not a very beneficial tree in terms of canopy and shade. In fact, the City arborist notes that many of them are showing signs of fire blight, and some are dying. Given the species and age of most of the trees in these parking lots and the City’s commitment to replace the trees at least 1:1 with species that are suitable to our conditions, the Woodland Tree Foundation contacts have been supportive of the project.”

The question arises: Why did the City of Trees plant problematic tree species in such an important spot?

It appears that the city has even more and various problems with its Community and Senior Center, than previously realized.

Continues Childers: “Concurrent with solar project development, City staff members have been working with interested community members to develop plans for the replacements. The major part of this planning is for a grove of some 50 trees that will wrap around the west and south sides of the dog park. I’ve also attached a concept for the tree grove, which was developed by landscape designer Jerry Stacionis. We would like to see this developed into a memorial grove with paths and benches and places for contemplation.”

This (“Heritage Grove”) proposal is planned for the land where, if it could be designed to fit, solar arrays would be hundreds of feet closer to PG&E “interconnection;” while eventually, replaced, more suitable trees would continue to grace this parking lot.

Were these alternatives / options duly considered by the city and Hanwha Corp.?”

Dog Park Tree Rescue

We may never know, of course, the true scope and extent of such environmental, energy and political considerations of the city and Hanwha Corp.

However, one salient aspect of critical adjustment currently remains viable, whether solar arrays can be prevented from encroaching on the city’s Dog Park, by shifting one such array alongside the sidewalk of the Community and Senior Center.

Otherwise, offers Childers: “Staff quickly began discussing options for addressing concerns, such as installing [artificial] shade structures to offset the loss of shade should the trees need to be removed. Given the current size of the eight trees in question, it also may be possible to leave them in place for a while as other trees in the dog park grow to provide more shade. We’ll be evaluating these and other possibilities.”

Dog Park tree-advocates will help to best decide this interesting matter, if they attend the Tuesday, May 19 city council meeting, prepared to speak during the public comment section at 6:05 PM.

YOLO SUN OPINION :

[Editor’s note: Further, detailed research into this very interesting matter has for a few days delayed Part Two of this column (originally set for May Day), but has resulted in the following (open) letter to Woodland City Council, regarding its impending (May 5) action on Spring Lake Specific Plan. Part Three of this column will soon be published, involving the procedural outcome of this key community development matter. Woodland City Council will be meeting about this item, Tuesday evening. Copies of this Open Letter to the Woodland City Council will be delivered to each Councilmember before Tuesday’s meeting. I encourage all interested citizens to attend this Council meeting and to speak if they wish.]

OPEN LETTER TO THE WOODLAND CITY COUNCIL

May 4, 2015

To: Members, Woodland City Council

Tom Stallard, Mayor

William L. Marble, Mayor Pro Tempore

Jim Hilliard

Sean Denny

Angel Barajas

Dear Councilmembers:

On Tuesday, May 5th, you’re being asked to approve a new development plan for a pivotal 105 acre parcel within the larger Spring Lake Specific Plan. This revised plan has been requested by a new ownership group called Woodland Spring Lake Partnership, L.P.

When you strip away all the legalize and boilerplate, the City Council is being asked to amend Woodland’s General Plan to increase Low Density Residential housing at the expense of Medium Density Residential housing, by expanding and concentrating High Density Residential housing.

For the first time within this key development, 128 R-4 homes would be built (four homes to the acre). Accommodating this major increase in home size and value, the number of R-5 and R-8 single family homes would be decreased by 196 units. The previously approved 171 multi-family residences in R-15 and R-20 zoning will be entirely eliminated; while adding, 232 very-high density apartments (R-25) directly adjacent to a quite adversely relocated park and commercial development (the latter, these new owners unsuccessfully attempted to eliminate from their plan).

So, what justifies this proposed change to Woodland’s General Plan, allowing this R-4 zoning? In its supporting documents to the Council, the Planning Commission merely repeats an assertion from the developers’ application. The exact language approved by the Planning Commission reads in its entirety as follows:

Page 2

“General Plan Consistency Findings:

The project is consistent with the goals and policies of the General Plan

in that the proposed modification provides for a more economically

viable land use designation for single family residential densities that

the current housing market will more readily absorb and support.”

(See: City Council Agenda Attachment 6, Exhibit C, page 3)

That’s it. This is the only evidence being provided to the Council to support a request to amend Woodland’s General Plan. If the Council approves this amendment it will be endorsing the idea that only very large and expensive homes will sell and that there is no market for smaller, medium-priced homes, accessible to ordinary Woodlanders.  If this view fits the Council’s vision for the future of Woodland, then you should approve it. If not, you should vote to return this development plan to the Planning Commission.

This proposed Spring Lake Specific Plan amendment is particularly disturbing as the City Council prepares to begin its legally-mandated process of reforming Woodland’s General Plan for the future. If this current proposal is all it takes to get the Council to so strongly endorse such large, expensive homes, which only few families can afford, at the sacrifice of more affordable homes, then it sends an unfortunate message regarding City Council vision of Woodland’s future (diverse demographic) growth.

This is not a decision which should be driven by developers from outside our city. Unfortunately, we’ve been down this path before, where remote developers promise one thing but deliver another. Gateway 1 started as an auto mall, but quickly morphed into what it is today—a gigantic parking lot surrounded by big box stores and restaurants, but no auto dealerships. Gateway 2 resurrected the promise of an auto mall plus more retail, but after City Council approval, state courts intervened to stop this project due to its grossly inadequate, environmental review process.

This week’s decision regarding Spring Lake Specific Plan’s key component is a clear opportunity for the City Council to, once and for all, stand up to the blandishments and skewed promises of developers whose interests do not necessarily align with those of Woodland.

Page 3

Corollary to this situation, above, is another key question the Council needs to consider: Does the City of Woodland really know who are the new developers of this pivotal, 105 acre parcel in Spring Lake?

Initially, this pivotal parcel was sold (2005) for $30,000,000 to Reynen & Bardis Communities, a respected, legacy homebuilding firm from Sacramento. An initial Development Agreement was signed on March 15, 2007 between the City and Reynen& Bardis Communities.

Then came, the Great Recession, and in 2008 John D. Reynen and Christo Bardis found themselves financially overextended, both filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, while owing about a billion dollars between them.

According to reliable press reports, this key parcel of land in Spring Lake was sold on May 10, 2012, within a foreclosure proceeding by OneWest Bank, to Village Properties — for a mere $3,000,000.

In 2012, Woodland Spring Lake Partners, L.P. was created (California Secretary of State File #201211400004) as successor in interest to Reynen & Bardis Communities. A new Development Plan was submitted to the City (2013), in the name of Woodland Spring Lake Partnership, L.P, the (revised) Plan that the City Council is now being asked to approve.

However, if you look at the 2013 Application Form (See: City Council Agenda Attachment 9, page 4), the signature on the line for “Owner” is that of “Bardis.” It’s probably Christo Bardis’ signature , although the first name is an illegible scrawl—although it does clearly begin with a “C.”

Interestingly, the “Project Applicant” listed on the form is a person named Les Hock of HCM, Inc., which is described as a construction management firm. His current address and phone number, however, are identical to those used for years previous by Reynen&  Bardis Communities and are still being used by Bardis family members who are engaged in housing development in Sacramento. This address is as follows:

10630 Mather Blvd.

Sacramento, CA 95655

Page 4

In 2011, John D. Reynen and Christo Bardis, having come through their bankruptcies, formed an entity called Artisan California to reengage in homebuilding. This firm also operates out of the above address.

The Project Applicant for the current owners, aforementioned Les Hock, has a somewhat blemished past. In 2008, he was successfully sued by several previous partners in a housing development partnership for breach of fiduciary duty and Mr. Hock was ordered to pay $500,000—a judgment that was subsequently upheld on appeal.

So who are the real owners of Woodland Spring Lake Partnership, L.P. with whom the City is dealing? Despite the signature of Bardis as “Owner” on the Application, the name of the property owner on the Application is listed as follows:

Woodland Spring Lake Partnership, L.P.

940 Emmett Ave., #200

Belmont, CA 95616

On the spaces for a phone number and email address, the notation “not available” is given.

In its initial filing with the Secretary of State, the name Robert Isackson is given as the Registered Agent for Woodland Spring Lakes Partnership, L.P. at the Belmont address. Mr. Isackson is elsewhere identified as Founder and President of Village Properties, a real estate development firm operating out of the same Belmont address, the organization which purchased this 105 acre parcel, once valued at $30,000,000 for only $3,000,000.

$3,000,000 amounts to about $30,000 / acre.  Lot prices in Spring Lake are generally in the range of $40,000+, depending upon circumstances.  Thus, huge profits to these speculative land developers are involved in this deal.

The actual owner of this Belmont address is one John Glikbarg, a Bay Area resident who is a senior partner in Village Properties aside Mr. Isackson. Mr. Glikbarg has also recently been involved in several other residential development projects within the Sacramento region.

Page 5

I sincerely hope the City has been able to reliably sort out all of this odd and conflicting property ownership information.

Who’s really in charge of this key city development? Is it former owner Christo Bardis, who signed the Application as Owner; is it Robert Isackson as Registered Agent for Woodland Spring Lake Partnership, L.P.; or, is it Les Hock, whose name appears as Applicant and to whom the City has been directed to send copies of all documents arising from the development plan process.

I can clearly identify here, several, relevant outside developers / investors from the Bay Area and beyond, as well as people still associated with the previous owner/developers, Reynen& Bardis Communities, very closely involved with this pivotal parcel, importantly related to Woodland’s future.

These aren’t just idle questions designed to stir up dust at the eleventh hour. They go to the crucial question of whether the people this city is now dealing with have the legal authority to meaningfully commit the real ownership group(s) behind Woodland Spring Lake Partnership, L.P.

The City Council deserves to have clear and unambiguous answers to these ownership questions before it approves this new plan. Also, it needs to seriously consider the implications of amending Woodland’s General Plan for these developers’ objectives as presented.

If the City Council objects to transformation of residential densities within this proposed revision, or its adversely revised relocation of park and commercial areas, these are added reason to delay approval and send this vital matter back to the City’s Planning Commission for its improved review and action.

I thank the City Council for carefully considering this item.

Yours truly,

Bobby Harris

(Yolo Sun)

Reply Forward

YOLO SUN OPINION :

This column describes an intriguing and yet unresolved saga about a small group of multi-millionaire housing developers (essentially, John D. Reynen, Christo Bardis — Reynen & Bardis Communities — and related agents and heirs), who — at the apex of the housing boom (early 2007) — entered into a pivotal development agreement with City of Woodland, regarding what are perhaps the City’s most centrally important development parcels.

Future access to affordable and innovative (new-construction) homeownership in Woodland, as well as questionable marketability of recently proposed revision of this vital project, alongside a need to responsibly approve such new development, combine to make a quite revealing spectacle of upcoming municipal process.

Part Two of this column will be published on May Day, including extensive argument regarding salient details of the potential for retaining a pivotally valuable and already approved project, instead of succumbing to what amounts to false expediency for speculative developers.

It is hoped that the newest scion of Reynen & Bardis Communities, etc., (Christo’s daughter and niece), Bardis Homes (relevant details, below and in Part Two), might somehow instantly intervene to best help Woodland City Council soon find its way forward with this matter.

Affordable Homeownership

Locally, the political question of this moment is whether Woodland City Council will reasonably delay a critical development project, in order to properly examine its proposed revision and ascertain the basic feasibility of affordable homeownership within the City’s largest development plan, crippled by the Great Recession.

Clearly at stake, is the realistic potential of new-construction homeownership in Woodland, for between $200,000 and $300,000. Presently, such basic homeownership options in the City are priced at $400,000 to $650,000 and on up.

Lest one might think unrealistic such homeownership affordability, the plain fact is that real estate interests very closely related to Reynen & Bardis Communities (Bardis Homes) are currently pursuing homeownership options within the $200,000 to $300,000 range . . . in Sacramento.

“The Past”

Woodland, though, seems intended by Reynen & Bardis Communities and some associates (see below), to simply be resigned to what savvy financial interests (Ranch Capital LLP), cannily supporting Bardis Homes’ Sacramento (affordability) acumen, describe in recent SacBee coverage of as: “the past.”

“The past,” (low-density, cookie-cutter-type residential development) was recently rejected for key projects, by Ranch Capital LLC, on the basis of innovative housing concepts developed by Bardis Homes (details in Part Two of this column).

What is involved here, is the valuable possibility of Woodland offering (truly contemporary) innovative homeownership products at about half of regular / conventional cost, because such homes are: “affordable-by-design” (relatively small, usually multi-story, some basements, lacking regular yards and set-backs, relying upon common-spaces, using a successfully emerging and proven concept: small-lot development).

Reasonable Delay

Woodland City Council is presently being requested to reasonably delay allowance of proposed revision to this crucial plan, for purposes of adequate determination regarding actual feasibility of its previously approved project, especially since this original development scenario – if feasible — is obviously in the City’s best interests.

This impending Woodland City Council action will reflect and engage the arising future of homeownership; or else, this action will relapse into a remote past, by wrongly allowing a badly flawed revision of an — already approved project — possessing such affordable homeownership potential.

Details Of Impending City Council Decision

On May 5, Woodland City Council will take action on this proposal to significantly revise / amend the Spring Lake Central Project (SLCP), a fundamentally key 105 acre development within the 1100 acre, Spring Lake Specific Plan (SLSP).

SLCP (present version) contains the only remaining commercial area at SLSP, alongside an appealingly arranged, 4 acre park, within a graceful design certain to attract post-recessionary homebuyers, now beginning to surface in a gradually improving market.

Elegance, genuine allure and affordable homeownership – though — would be largely lost in this proposed revision, gravely undermining its ultimate marketability.

Woodland is under immense fiscal pressure to approve renewed projects at SLSP, since $2 million annually (one-half) of relevant city sales tax revenue has since 2009 been expended to back-fill speculative, development-fee based municipal bonds, related to SLSP.

Formerly a quite capable, aesthetic focus of SLCP, this proposed revision rather tucks its 4 acre park-site along the project’s edge, curiously floated on deeply speculative and distant prospects of annexation.

The project’s commercial zone is, in this adverse revision, instead of its park, highlighted / promoted, as if residents need to have this zone directly in their faces, so they might better find it.

High-density apartments are proposed by this revision — to wrap around its park and commercial areas.

Conventional (low-density) homes are this project revision’s remainder, directly across the street from this commercial – park – high-density apartment concentration.

Zoning available for innovative homeownership options (reflecting planning by Bardis Homes at “The Mill at Broadway” project) will be eliminated by proposed revision of SLCP.

This SLSP / SLCP revision is not (especially) graceful.

Woodland City Council should beware, while it best determines whether the existing SLCP zoning is feasible.

The Applicant For SLSP / SLCP Project Revision

So, who is the actual applicant for this SLCP revision?

A man named Les Hock, who in 2002 formed Hock Construction Management (HCM).

Hock represents an entity known as Woodland Spring Lake Partnership LP, located in Belmont, California. Participants in this partnership apparently are unknown, publicly undisclosed.

Hock was employed by Reynen & Bardis Communities as a development manager, from June 2005 to June 2009, during the time period in which Reynen & Bardis Communities owned Woodland’s SLCP and acquired (March, 2007) entitlements to develop it (as the existing project, of which Hock. as applicant, now demands revision).

During the time period Hock worked for Reynen & Bardis Communities, he also free-lanced with HCM and other ventures, one of which clearly reflects his ethical character.

Quite interestingly, in late 2008, Hock lost his appeal of a successful lawsuit filed by his former partners (Wood, Rogers), a shareholders’ derivative complaint — for breach of fiduciary duty — by an officer or director in usurping (for his own private benefit) a corporate opportunity worth upwards of $954,000.

The California Court of Appeal for the Third District, following several years of (unneeded) litigation, ordered swindling Hock to pay $500,000 in damages to these injured partners.

Hock was recently (mid-2013) the applicant for a development proposal in Elk Grove, representing Reynen & Bardis Communities, about which he was fairly circumspect with the press (Sacramento Business Journal).

This is the same person who is representing / advocating SLSP /  SLCP revision, representing an entity which might likely be simply a shell-company, extended holding company, etc., for previous interests of Reynen & Bardis Communities, trying to finally squeeze and leave Woodland; while at the same time, Bardis Homes focuses on innovating housing in Sacramento (argument for analogous value in Woodland will comprise Part Two, to be published on May Day).

YOLO SUN NEWS REPORT :

[Editor’s note:  Also, please see related comment, below, regarding this column.]

Tonight, Yolo Sun drifted (again) past a continual scene of chronic homelessness in downtown Woodland, to find that the daily meal at the former Wayfarer’s Center (now known as 4th & Hope, since profound organizational turbulence during recent years) is quite severely (nutritionally) deficient.

According to several reports, many of the beneficent offerings for this daily meal at this perhaps overly-important outfit are greatly unflavorful pasta sorts of stuff, combined with various starch and canned fruit (particularly unappealing, upon instant inspection).  No person (of ordinary means, to wax sarcastic) could possibly hope to well survive on such meager rations.

Pride in helping the homeless, defenseless and downtrodden in this difficult time, is especially not available in this situation.

Disgusting performance is the only way to properly describe most meal offerings at 4th & Hope, according to reliable reports.

2007-09, the former Wayfarer’s Center hired a proper cook / chef (Bradley Griffith) to maintain its appropriate level of performance within this facility, even with continuing involvement of local (public benefit) organizations, which would still prepare meals several times a week.

Now, it seems that these local organizations have substantially increased their role, to the enormous nutritional distress of its patrons.

Bradley Griffith was let go, while Wayfarers Center’s (suspiciously undermined) fiduciary / client responsibilities eroded, on a steep downward slide toward eventual public scandal.

If 4th & Hope has any hope of satisfactorily serving the masses of homeless persons helplessly clinging to its doors, it must immediately hire staff (a professional cook) to properly feed these many folk, despite whatever (relatively insufficient) help is being provided by beneficent local charities, etc..

If you (the reader) tried to survive on today’s meager meal at 4th & Hope, you would not be hopeful.

 

YOLO SUN OPINION :

Woodland’s growth dynamics are suddenly and prematurely at a genuine crossroads, resulting from two political influences: the issue of flood control and the desire of Conaway Preservation Group (CPG, which controls the ~17,000 acre Conaway Ranch, lying between City of Woodland and the Sacramento River) to acquire from the City and develop a 900 acre parcel at the very easterly edge of town, southeast of Costco, near the sewage treatment plant.

A key and intricate political drama has begun playing out alongside consideration and eventual adoption of Woodland’s new (2015-2035) General Plan, a political drama which will decide where City growth will largely take place after (substantial, say 85%) completion of the recession-plagued Spring Lake Specific Plan (SLSP), ~1,100 acres, ~4,000 housing units, ~11,000 residents.

SLSP is currently only about a quarter built-out and Woodland would technically be able to meet its basic housing needs for the entire term of the new General Plan, simply on the basis of already approved zoning.  However, jockeying to best control the — post-SLSP horizon — has recently given rise to a truly lynchpin exercise over the basic direction of the City’s future development.

Transparent, Yet Non-Transparent

With an astonishing coincidence / convergence of both — transparency and non-transparency — CPG has recently launched — by proxy of a small group of locally well-connected, seemingly earnest folk (among whom, interestingly, some dissension exists concerning elements of this campaign), skippered by former mayor Skip Davies — a sophomoric, attractively glossy yet starkly misleading, public petition campaign intended to crucially influence impending update of Woodland’s General Plan.

Transparent, is that this petition campaign obviously represents the pure interests of CPG.  Non-transparent, is that CPG’s name or reference is found nowhere on it and CPG fails to respond to press inquiry regarding this quite public (and controversial) subject.

Significant resources were expended from somewhere, to produce several pieces of relatively sophisticated campaign material, which does not disclose its organizational status.  Have no doubt, CPG is clearly (transparently) somewhere behind / underneath this (non-transparent) political campaign: “Woodland Balanced Growth Boundaries.”

As we’ll see, even this campaign name itself is nonsensical.  There is no actual “balance” involved here and relevant “boundaries” are deceptively confused.

Altogether, considering this campaign’s catchy name and scrutinizing its stated goals, there is a distinct impression of the public being buffaloed toward supporting CPG’s design of community development.

City Hall has already received nearly 500 very colorful, beautifully designed postcards with bucolic settings, supplied by this petition campaign, expressing support for its quite curious list of goals.

CPG Campaign Goals

This petition campaign initially presents a series of eight goals, the first five of which are quite popular, totally uncontroversial: (a) preserve prime farmland, (b) revitalize / infill downtown, (c) accomplish flood-control. (d) promote railroad relocation, (e) complete SLSP prior to approving large new development.

But then, underneath these top goals, the campaign swiftly drifts into very strange territory: (f) encourage a ‘bring-your-own-water’ type of general plan incentive / provision for future city development proposals (contrasted by the fact that the city says all future development will be fully served by addition of its new surface water project — a cooperative venture with CPG); (g) purportedly, “Save jobs at Pacific Coast Producers [PCP] by relocating their organic wastewater” spray-field; (h) rezone PCP’s present 900 acre, city-owned spray-field for cannery production residue, to allegedly establish “a community asset and include job-creating land purposes.”

Glaringly evident intentions / interests of CPG, posed by the three goals at the bottom of the list, are here being cynically elevated through association with a series of straightforward, praiseworthy and undeniable community values expressed within the campaign’s initial five goals.  Subterfuge is here at work, as these campaign matters descend toward an exploitation of civic circumstances.

General Plan Updating Process

The general plan updating process is expected to release, perhaps by early May, various community land-use scenarios, representing analyses and evaluation of a broad scope of municipal consequences deriving from future growth options.  Eventually, Woodland City Council will adopt a — “preferred” — land-use scenario, approving a rather specific blueprint of future community development.  The City last fully updated its general plan in 1996.

CPG clearly wants to play a pivotal role within local political dynamics, leading to adoption of a new general plan, by using intertwined leverage:  (a) its cooperation / support toward both flood control and railroad relocation, (b) alongside its longstanding interest in swapping a piece of its vast land for the relevant 900 acre, city owned and annexed parcel at the city’s eastern extremity, presently being used as a spray-field for organic residue from the local tomato cannery, operated by PCP.

Cannery Spray-Field, Owned by City, At Very Core of Affairs

PCP, according to a reliable and knowledgeable source, is unwillingly, unhappily, yet quite abruptly caught-up in CPG’s political connivances regarding this campaign intended for influencing the general plan process.  PCP is prominently referred to, in large and slick campaign material resembling an hypnotic board-game, as somewhat urgently needing to move its spray-field to another location — potentially supplied by CPG (although CPG nowhere appears in this campaign material).

A prominent campaign claim is made that such a spray-field move will: “protect jobs,” as if without such a spray-field transfer, PCP will somehow cramp its labor force.

Reliable and knowledgeable sources indicate this central claim of the CPG campaign is pure baloney, explaining that: (a) PCP is investing millions of dollars in this cannery, acquired from Delmonte corporation in 2000; (b) PCP is in no form of labor bind due to current operations related to its spray-field; (c) PCP is strongly committed to remaining in Woodland, despite any future issues related to its (city owned and leased from) spray-field.

According to the view of one reliable and knowledgeable source, PCP is being falsely represented / used in this campaign by CPG, as a cynical device of hoped-for leverage toward achieving its goal of acquiring and developing this 900 acre parcel.

Both PCP and CPG were fairly requested to provide officially pertinent information, make relevant statements, etc.; both have failed (after a week) to respond to such requests.

Deceptive Campaign Angle About Preserving Prime Farmland

“Respecting growth boundaries means only building inside the voter-approved Urban Limit Line,” declares petition campaign materials, also misleadingly advocating in this context, for “preservation of prime farmland.”

However, this campaign crudely and confusingly ignores the stark fact that “prime farmland” is already located — inside — the Urban Limit Line.  This land is generally described as the Spring Lake Master Plan Remainder Area.

Woodland’s Urban Limit Line was constituted to protect farmland adjacent to the City — outside the Urban Limit Line — not to forestall development of the very limited amount of farmland which is fairly unavoidably contained within the Urban Limit Line.

CPG’s petition campaign fails to distinguish this salient difference, deceptively disorienting the public by obscuring the important fact that: “honoring our voter-approved Urban Limit Line” is wholly consistent with developing the small slice of prime farmland left remaining within it.

In fact, prioritizing future development toward the southern extent of the Urban Limit Line, rather than the eastern edge as CPG desires, may indeed be in the city’s best interest.

The CR25A interchange exists not to support farmland preservation, but to make feasible future community development toward what was eventually chosen by local voters (2006) as the Urban Limit Line.  Davis is only a very few minutes away.  Properly designed commercial / residential zoning at / nearby the CR25A interchange would help elicit and invigorate participation of Davis-connected persons within our local economy, best enhancing positive synergy between these two cities.  Land (soil) quality is high in this general area and these southern parcels are out of the flood-plain.  SLSP’s overall planning goals obviously anticipate further southerly development and its infrastructure was designed to accommodate such annexed growth; developing here means using an already invested value which the city greatly needs to optimize.

Also, if you were presently / potentially a Davisite, considering Woodland as a prospective (re)location option, would you want to live within these convenient southerly areas, or within the 900 acre parcel CPG covets, to the east, much further away, on much worse (alkaline) soils, nearby the sewage treatment plant and I-5 traffic?

CPG’s challenge to overcome (through campaign influence on city council members) is that city annexation and development of the Spring Lake Master Plan Remainder Area could effectively dislodge for decades its own fervent hope to acquire and develop the 900 acre parcel of city-owned land now leased by PCP.

Thus, CPG wants to publicly foster beliefs that — as well as by saving (non-)threatened cannery jobs, by deceptively alleging that threatened prime farmland will ultimately be saved by the new general plan directing city growth into the eastern-edge property it intends to acquire and develop — its own plans can be viewed as consistent with civic interest.

CPG Campaign’s Position On Urban Limit Line Is Essentially Flawed

The basic problem CPG cannot overcome is that the Urban Limit Line properly and logically includes this limited amount of prime farmland, outside of the flood-plain, which may surely be preferred for development because of a wide variety of strong justifications (above), as should be reliably reflected within the process of updating the general plan.

Is the position of this campaign that the Urban Limit Line should be moved (must be by ballot action) to exclude such farmland from municipal development, or rather — only — that development of this farmland should occur — after — development of the 900 acre parcel CPG craves?

If the latter, such simple delay appears inconsistent / hypocritical with its grave sentiment against developing farmland.  If the former, such ballot action must become realistic; until then, official city policy holds this farmland open for potential / eventual development and the city predicates its overall activities upon this basis.  Either way, CPG is here pursuing quite suspect, even fraudulent, campaign advocacy.

This CPG campaign is attempting to subtly contravene / undercut sound, ballot-box-established city policy, as the core dynamic of its approach to this city’s new general plan process.  Could anything be more imprudently, unreasonably awkward?  Let’s just hope it’s unsuccessful.

Why does CPG believe it can buffalo Woodland in this fashion?

Flood Control As Another CPG Device / Gambit

Another layer of great and genuine curiosity, if not political / civic negligence, exists in irresponsible city council direction, that — only — land-use scenarios premised upon achievement of a flood-control solution will be considered within this General Plan update.

Such a patently unbalanced and foolish premise plays directly into CPG’s conniving hands, as well as disserving municipal interest.

There is no form of guarantee that the city will have any kind of successful flood-control remedy within the time-frame of this new General Plan.

All its eggs in one basket, alternative options ignored, city planning therefore will plainly be flummoxed / undermined, if final and effective flood control is delayed for any significant period of time.  This is not smart policymaking; in fact, it’s pretty stupid.

Why is the city council directing such an unbalanced, possibly untenable approach to this important general plan process?

There is no good reason for the city to rest all of its community planning upon such an unbalanced platform of relative uncertainty.  Clearly, this sort of mistake has happened before, with SLSP.

Talk around town, though, is that a flood-control solution may be only a few years away.  After all, Woodland has applied to the state Department of Water Resources for $150 million to help resolve the Cache Creek flooding potential and the federal Army Corps of Engineers is involved (at its usually plodding rate).

Yet, the huge and unsolved problem is that the city will need to come up with — at least $40 million, on its own — in order to move forward this flood-control solution.

The city doesn’t presently have this money; so, the apparent gambit being waged by CPG, is to offer to purchase the city-owned, PCP spray-field, while providing a sufficient PCP spray-field space amidst its vast acreage.  Revenue from such a sale would then be used to finance the city’s instantly needed (acting in the short term), ~$40 million portion of some anticipated flood-control solution.

CPG’s gambit seemingly assumes the city can be enticed, in the face of soon achieving a flood-control solution — to short-sell its 900 acres — which flood-control would then make exponentially more valuable, while the city rezones this land toward development by CPG.

What a clever squeeze / swindle — unless the city council manages to protect civic interest in a creatively cogent manner.

Also, is there really any price for which profound deviation from this community’s best interests is ever warranted?

 

YOLO SUN OPINION

The newly proposed Prudler project involves a prime and uniquely urbanizable parcel of 38 acres, bounded by the County Fair Mall and Woodland Community & Senior Center, within the City’s East Street Corridor, a fundamental element of enhancing municipal urbanization.

“The previous [Planning Commission] petition [for this project] submitted on August 5, 2005, from K Hovanian Homes,” describes a relevant letter by (then) community development director, Nick Ponticello, “was specifically designed as an active senior housing development [containing 246 dwelling units]. If the revised project is not in substantial compliance with the previously approved petition, then a new petition is required to be submitted and reviewed by the Planning Commission.”

Ponticello’s letter (Nov. 4, 2011) to Prudler project proponents refers to formal City policy adopted by Woodland City Council, regarding General Plan amendments (Resolution No. 4516-B – February 17, 2004), “outlining a process to allow initial consideration of an amendment to the General Plan.”

Prudler project proponents have ignored this clear direction by Ponticello, predicated on basic city policy, for unknown reasons; such reasons should be made public within the consideration process for this project. A subsequent petition would have required that Prudler project proponents present a new developmental “narrative” and “justification as to why and how a change in the approved General Plan would provide benefit to the community.”

Reasonable folk may easily view the newly proposed Prudler project (189 conventional, low density housing units), identical to much of the Spring Lake Specific Plan (an immense, adjacent, already approved and crucially underperforming project, whose adverse financial condition drains $2 million annually from the city’s Measure E budget), as wholly unnecessary and totally at odds with current city goals and vulnerabilities. Doesn’t the city already have enough Spring Lake, etc.?

Despite any argument that city planning process will serve to correct whatever problems may arise from project proponents’ eschewing of straightforward city policy, the intended value of submitting their revised concept for “initial consideration” in a setting of de novo review, has now been lost; the CEQA process is here underway, absent such supposedly beneficial (“required”) process. Why have such a city policy, if it may be (perhaps unreasonably) disregarded? Do not the project proponents desire to prudently receive initial approval of their new, altogether altered developmental concept, prior to engaging in CEQA process?

A significant environmental effect of the Prudler project (as presently proposed) is delayed / circumvented responsibility for, and satisfaction of, consequences of key land-use imperatives recognized and adopted by Woodland’s voters in 2006, by means of an Urban Limit Line Ordinance (ULLO). The ULLO set a maximum legal perimeter on the size of Woodland, partially purposed with promoting local housing “diversity.” To make reasonable and feasible this provision, the ULLO demands a two-tier strategy toward emphasizing and determining “the potential for increased residential densities / higher density residential uses.”

The ULLO establishes that: “The City shall continually reevaluate residential land use densities, housing policies and zoning to determine the potential for increased residential densities for both infill and undeveloped land within the permanent urban limit line. The City shall continually review existing non-residential zoning to determine the potential for conversion to higher density residential uses within the permanent urban limit line.”

The Prudler project is all three developmental categories noted by the ULLO: “infill,” “undeveloped land,” and an “existing non-residential zoning [  ] conversion.” “[C]ontinually reevaluate” indicates that such specific review clearly will occur upon pivotal planning occasions, such as consideration of the Prudler project.

Consequent to the city ignoring the ULLO in approving the Prudler project, located on a prime and uniquely urbanizable parcel (a keystone location for municipal urbanization) would be unavoidable, unwise and unlawful shifting of obvious burdens and responsibilities involved with the ULLO, to other / future land-use development scenarios.

In order to manifest the ULLO process regarding the Prudler project, the required California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) Environmental Impact Report for this project must include and properly analyze a “range of reasonable alternatives” (CEQA Guidelines, Section 15126.6). Circumstances related to the ULLO make plain that “the potential for increased residential densities / higher density residential uses” must be reasonably reflected within this CEQA “range of [  ] alternatives.”

YOLO SUN OPINION :

Coincident with planned renovation and expansion of State Theatre, the City of Woodland is moving forward a “preliminary feasibility study” for using $1.4 million (about one-third) of reaquired redevelopment funds to improve Main Street and its sidewalks proximate to this project, as well as to install a palm-tree studded traffic median between Walnut and Elm Streets, purportedly to calm traffic and establish a “sense of place / entry” for this project and the western edge of downtown Woodland.

The city council took action on November 4 to allocate about 10% of these funds ($130,000) for developing a specific scope, design and extent of such proposed improvements.  Council consideration of these improvements will then occur on the basis of this preliminary assessment and presentation.

Improved Sidewalks, Parking Are Good; Median Is Doubly Problematic

Sidewalks on Main Street between Elm and Cleveland, especially on the northern side, certainly must be replaced / improved to complement the new State Theatre complex.  Parking is unavailable on the northern side, due to an abundance of driveways associated with historical use of adjacent property as motor-vehicle dealerships.  Dave Hoblit (who now owns this huge property) has, according to city staff, recently accepted removal of all but one of these several driveways, making parking possible on the northern side of this block.

Planting a row of full-sized palm trees in the middle of Main Street, though, clearly is not so dire a need, as improving this block’s sidelined sidewalks.

The notion of lodging palm trees in Main Street references existing palm trees near East and Main Streets, which “sort of frame the eastern gateway[, by now] attempting to create a compatible and complementary entry feature” at the western gateway of downtown, suggests city staff.

Thus, two basic reasons are being suggested for justifying construction of this palm-tree containing center island, traffic calming and various forms of locational identity.

This notion is to combine (purported) traffic calming effects with a western, downtown gateway / boundary feature, reflective of existing palm trees at its eastern fringe.

Neither of these basic premises withstands actual scrutiny.

Palm trees, while relatively decorative and attractive in certain settings, are non-native to Woodland.  They are not historically authentic as any proper symbol of the City’s identity, or that of its downtown, which should eventually be provided with appropriate gateway features.

That these palm trees are being donated by the railroad, is no justification for their unwise / unwieldy use.

Is Median Effective At Slowing Traffic?

Traffic calming is clearly needed upon all of downtown Main Street, much more so than simply a block-long median could ever deliver.  It’s not at all clear, as well, that such a median would even slow traffic stubbornly barreling down what used to be a state highway.

Council member Sean Denny excitedly describes that, when he is visiting his bank between Walnut and Cleveland Streets, “people are going by at 35 and 40 MPH” on Main Street.

Denny strongly believes that Main Street traffic “need[s] to be slowed down before [it] hits Cleveland and Walnut; otherwise, they’re still going too fast before they get to” Main Street having only two lanes, rather than four lanes available west of Cleveland Street.

Tenacious traffic must be greatly slowed / calmed, according to Denny, prior to arriving at the proposed, tree-stippled center-island, purported to accomplish such calming.

This needs to be “looked at hard,” he exclaims.

And well it should be examined; with the obvious solution being installation of stop signs, instead of palm trees.

Stop signs are the original traffic-calming device, genuinely devoted to pedestrian convenience and safety.

Denny Seems Confused

Denny heralds “public safety” associated with the proposed tree-spiked median; yet, he insists that traffic be calmed before this median serves such a purpose.  Something is awry with his contradictory view.

Correct about the urgency of slowing downtown traffic, Denny confusedly applauds this proposed median as the answer, while at the same time contending that the actual slowing of traffic must be done elsewhere.

The city is planning to station a new traffic signal (acquired with federal money) at Cleveland and Main Streets, intending to promote use of Cleveland as an optional traffic diversion from Main Street.  This plan is based on commercial (rather than residential) properties predominating there, while Walnut has more residential uses between Main and Lincoln Streets.

Stop signs at Walnut and Elm Streets (as well as on through downtown to Fourth Street) would surely augment this planned traffic signal at Cleveland, by ultimately resolving the problem of calming / slowing easterly traffic entering downtown.

Council member Jim Hilliard expressed an endorsement of the overall proposal, including the palm tree filled median, despite his occasional statements in support of replacing traffic signals with stop signs upon downtown Main Street.  Such replacement, especially in concert with diagonal parking, would eliminate traffic calming as a justification for this median.

Parking Doubled With Diagonal Use

Increased parking on Main Street, between Elm and Walnut, was also mentioned by Denny as a benefit of these various improvements; however, inclusion of a center median disallows diagonal parking from this key, lengthy block.

Diagonal parking would double available parking, hugely aiding the new State Theatre complex, whose patrons would realize an important “sense of place,” by more easily and conveniently parking their vehicles.

So, it seems quite evident that best serving public safety and improving parking, means eschewing the proposed tree-laden median and instead, relying on standard stop signs to control traffic flow, as well as using diagonal parking to best supply such space and convenience.

Council member Bill Marble indicated, during consideration of this “preliminary feasibility study,” that:  “As we look at the ultimate objectives that we’re trying to accomplish, there may emerge other ideas, and we should look at them all; making sure that, moving toward a final decision, the process has included all of the input that we welcome and we so much need.”

On that basis, perhaps Woodland’s downtown may yet receive the nature of traffic calming and parking which has long been demanded, in order to properly elevate pedestrian values, essential for a flourishing downtown.

YOLO SUN NEWS REPORT :

Alongside considerable political drama related to proposed (30 year) property tax measures, S & T, representing $97 million for school repairs and improvements, the local 2014 general election ballot contains a fascinating contest for Woodland Joint Unified School District (WJUSD) trustee in District One, encompassing Woodland’s northern edge (from Beamer Street) and stretching northwesterly into the rural county.

The Candidates

Two-term Woodland Mayor, Art Pimentel, appointed by WJUSD trustees to fill a vacancy created by recent election of former trustee Angel Barajas to City Council, is being challenged by Tania Tafoya, who had sought that same trustee appointment, a former substitute teacher, coordinator of an elementary-level after-school program (2003-07) and speech pathologist, motivated to yet again seek this trustee seat by having parents who were educators and her recent participation on a committee at the middle school attended by her step-daughter, where she “saw the board opening as an opportunity to give back to my community.”

Tafoya seems quite determined to obtain this seat as WJUSD trustee; while, Pimentel has declared that, had he not received this appointment, he wouldn’t seek the seat only a few months later, through election.

Tafoya has since 2007 been employed by Cache Creek Casino, initially as a human resources representative, later promoted to a position of certified training specialist in the gaming / resort industry.  Pimentel directed a wide variety of student support services (academic tutoring, career counseling, etc.) at Woodland Community College for more than six years before becoming Executive Dean at the Clear Lake campus of Yuba College and most recently, Dean of West Sacramento Center of Sacramento City College.

“In all my [educational] experiences I was directly involved in supporting students of diverse backgrounds, supervised faculty and staff, managed a budget, and implemented local, state, and federal regulations governing the community college systems,” expresses Pimentel. “I worked very closely with all the high schools in our service areas to provide information about the programs offered by our institution in basic skills, career technical assistance and general education.  I have worked in higher education for the last nine years and I am the only candidate who currently works in an educational setting.”

Pimentel, thus familiar with access requirements for higher education, “applied for the position because I feel I can make a real difference in increasing the schools district’s partnerships with city, county and other educational agencies.  Public education is one of the most important issues facing our communities and society.  Access to high quality education is absolutely critical for us to build healthy communities.”

Tafoya indicates that “as a board member I want to make sure all students have the opportunity to learn and excel by providing them current instructional materials, safe facilities and highly qualified teachers.  [Our] challenges are to increase communication and information between board, parents, schools and the community, providing students the best learning environments for student success.”  Tafoya also emphasizes transparency as a goal of her candidacy.

Addressing these challenges, Tafoya suggests “informal meetings in my neighborhood schools, rotating board meetings to different trustee areas within the district and finally including board action items and proposals in school newsletters sent home to parents.”

Pimentel believes “there are many challenges to fully prepare ALL of our students to be work or college ready[;] involving parents by reaching out to them and visiting our sites on a regular basis will also be important and is something I am already doing as a trustee.”

Both candidates were asked the question:  If Measures S & T were to fail voter adoption, how (specifically) would you respond?

Tafoya states that:  “We as a board and administration would look for federal and state grants, community partnerships with City and County agencies and would review and prioritize building and maintenance budgets.”  Pimentel states that:  “If the bond measures fail then we are going to have to continue to place band-aids on the multiple facility problems all our schools are facing.  It will also be important for the Board of Trustees to make every effort to communicate the needs and develop a more collaborative relationship with our City, County and local community organizations.”

Both candidates favor intense and comprehensive implementation of the new “Common Core,” curriculum, designed to help create educational progress among K – 12 students.

Candidate Qualifications Controversy

Tafoya’s candidacy emphasizes that she “is not a career politician and her motives are sincere[;] what sets her apart from her competitor is her experience in the schools and classrooms of our community[;] Tania is one of us,” implying that Pimentel is “a career politician,” perhaps with insincere motives, who lacks direct classroom experience.  Attempting to distinguish herself from Pimentel, Tafoya states that her “work and volunteer experiences in our schools has prepared me to make a real difference in our schools and community.”

Pimentel’s resume, however, includes more than six years of directly managing provision of a comprehensive scope of basic educational curriculum, especially related to student retention and graduation.  He has earned a M. A. in Educational Leadership from CSUS.  On the basis of his performance within this continuous educational foundation, he has been twice appointed to a position of Dean, lately for the campus of Sacramento City College in West Sacramento.

By contrast, Tafoya’s professional experience in local “schools and classrooms” ended in 2007, when she accepted a position in human resources and eventually as a certified training specialist for Cache Creek Casino.  Her ballot designation describes Tafoya as an “educator / training specialist,” based on her current occupation in the gaming industry, because she teaches what she refers to as “Hotel English” to employees of the Casino.

Tafoya has earned a B. S. in Speech Pathology and Audiology, as well as being a certified trainer in what she describes as “Emotional Intelligence, Hotel English and Franklin Covey courses.”  The Daily Democrat has wrongly reported that she has a M. S. degree in Speech Pathology.

Tafoya intends to portray herself as an “educator,” while portraying Pimentel as a perhaps insincere “career politician,” not “one of us,” seemingly attempting to deny him the (decade-long) credibility he surely deserves as an educator.

“Career politician” is an easy accusation to recklessly fling, in an attempt to entice knee-jerk voter reactions; but factually, no local-level politician could ever base a career on such prospects.  Woodland City Council membership pays only $250/mo. and county supervisors most usually have a career separate from their elected office.

Added Aspects Of Interest

Another strange aspect of this contest is the local, political currency of the name:  Tafoya.  Tafoya’s Market (once near East and Main Streets) was for generations a local Latino landmark and Xavier Tafoya was the first Latino elected to serve on Woodland City Council, during the mid-1980s, when few folk thought such political success was possible.

The Tafoya name evokes a long heritage in Woodland, clearly one of political value.  Xavier is presently the most senior trustee at Yuba / Woodland Community College.  Many persons may have an impression that Tania is perhaps Xavier’s niece, etc.; however, despite her carrying the Tafoya name by recent marriage, Xavier is strongly supporting, walking precincts for, and endorsing Pimentel.

“Art has demonstrated his commitment to our diverse community,” announces Xavier Tafoya, “He deserves to continue to represent our children, parents, and community on the school board.”

Tafoya (Tania) also has very deep community relations, a daughter of teachers / educators, for instance, Evelia Genera, her mother, recently retired as principal of Woodland High School and heavily involved in Tafoya’s campaign, which is headquartered at Genera’s home.  Genera’s name appears regularly within Tafoya’s campaign filings and anecdotal information describes her as vigorously active in this campaign.

Genera has been, though, conspicuously unable to persuade very many of her friends and associates within local educational / political circles, to back / endorse Tafoya.

Even Genera’s neighbor, Carol Souza-Cole, Yolo County Office of Education, Trustee-Elect, is supporting and endorsing Pimentel:  “Art’s leadership and experience on the City Council along with his demonstrated skill in finding effective solutions to community issues will be a benefit for the students, parents, teachers and staff of the Woodland Joint Unified School District.”

By contrast, Pimentel wields endorsements from a very long series of elected / appointed officials, retired educators and both current and former WJUSD trustees.

Apparently, county supervisor Duane Chamberlain is the only elected official to endorse Tafoya, as well as donating to her campaign.

Yet another novelty of Tafoya’s campaign is that her lawn-signs are showing up a lot outside of the district, especially in southern Woodland.

Stark Difference In Anonymous Campaign Contributions

Quite interestingly, Tafoya reports receiving more than 72% of contributions ($4305 of $5955) as being anonymous and under $100 (the contribution amount at which public disclosure is legally required).

No other campaign on the relevant ballot has anywhere near this sky-high proportion of low-level, anonymous donation.  Pimentel reports $1183 of $9508 being in this contribution category; while Yes on S&T, which has raised more than $50,000, shows only $372 in this category, and No on S&T lists only $1075 of about $20,000 raised from such sources.

Tafoya has sparked a truly remarkable and unprecedented outpouring of small donations, or else her campaign contribution filing is fraudulent.

Queried about this rather odd circumstance and asked for some estimate of the number of small donations that amounted to $4305, more than 72% of her campaign contributions, Tafoya responded:  “As this is my first campaign all I can say is that I reached out to my community and they contributed what they were able.  I am very grateful and I continue to be humbled by the level of support I have received from throughout our community, city and rural.”

YOLO SUN NEWS REPORT :

The development agreement between City of Woodland and Paul Petrovich, related to Gateway Center (~sixty-acre commercial project at City’s eastern edge), may soon be amended by the City Council to extend its deadline for his construction of $3 million of assessed property value within the City’s downtown area — or else pay the City a penalty of slightly more than $1 million.

The relevant provision of Gateway Center’s development agreement is intended to help mitigate this peripheral project’s adverse impacts upon the downtown area; the downtown is prioritized by basic municipal policy to remain the city’s “central business district.”

The city council originally gave Petrovich quite a long time, eight and a half years from the opening date of Gateway Center, to accomplish something toward such civic balance.  That ample amount of time runs out at the end of 2016.

On July 18, 2014, Petrovich renewed his prior (2006-08) goal of building a suburban-style, single-story (fake two-story) structure at the northwest corner of East and Main Streets.  His new planning application (obviously intending to satisfy his obligation under the development agreement) proposes stationing a gussied-up back-end of a suburban strip-mall, absent pedestrian entryways, along uniquely crucial Main Street frontage.

Entrances to commercial space of this project would be only through its parking lot, located between Main and Court Streets.

As well, Petrovich’s (initial) planning application ignored long-standing commitments of any such project, under the California Environmental Quality Act, to restore the Keehn House, an historic Victorian dwelling previously moved to East and Court Streets, making possible a development project at this location.

Petrovich’s Application Conflicts With Downtown Specific Plan

The City’s Downtown Specific Plan (DSP) plainly states its basic “vision” for the key element of a: “Primary gateway” at East and Main Streets.  Downtown Woodland is the urban heart of Yolo County and its “Primary gateway” should capably display such identity, evoking urban, not suburban, heritage, contemplates the DSP.

The DSP’s vision is of: “[C]ontinuation of the old Rice Mill design, carrying the agricultural heritage reflected in this design directly onto Main Street.”

The DSP’s clear policy is that: “The City shall continue to support mixed-use developments” on this specific location, “with a similar style and scale of the historic rice mill building.”

The three-story Rice Mill building extends between North and Court Streets along East Street. It was renovated in the early 1990s as mixed-use and was recently purchased and modernized by local developer Jeff Morgan.

Oddly, several city council members have recently expressed their unawareness of these key provisions of the DSP, combined (of course) with their willingness to review this fundamental policy document.

Petrovich Agrees To Consider Withdrawing Application

Reliable sources indicate that Petrovich was approached by city staff, several weeks ago, in an attempt to discover if he would be open to withdrawing his current application in return for an extension of the present development-agreement deadline, which was apparently motivating his determination to  move forward this application.

Petrovich responded in the affirmative, according to these sources, stating that he would consider accepting suitable language for amending the development agreement, which would then be adopted by the city council.

These sources described Petrovich as being somewhat surprised at such cooperation by the city.

Such amendment language is apparently now being prepared by the city attorney, with Petrovich soon to receive it.  Speculation exists that Petrovich will be given an extra two years (until late 2018) to satisfy this obligation under the Gateway Center development agreement.

City staff has been requested by Yolo Sun to provide a statement regarding this situation and related reasoning / predication.

Expectations are that the city council will have this item on its agenda before the end of 2014.

 

 

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