The majority of Woodlanders (at least those currently visiting the polls) basically trust their elected officials, as in the recent election previous members were all returned to the council. In many ways, the councilmembers validate that trust and they are also very fine folks. I like them. But within some areas of municipal policymaking, they simply cannot be trusted.
Location of a one-story, mini-box, cookie-cutter Rite-Aid building / store upon the premier gateway site for Woodland’s historic downtown area, in flagrant violation of the law in the form of the Downtown Specific Plan, is a landmark disaster for our community. It will long be a glaring example of the charade of council lip-service about the downtown, while behind the scenes, when the going gets at all tough (like thinking for themselves about this Rite-Aid proposal), the council is caving-in to development pressures which are genuinely adverse to the public interest. This is a public interest which could have been, and should have been, successfully defended, protecting the Downtown Specific Plan.
There is no good excuse for what has occurred. Once Woodlanders properly understand the circumstances of this utter failure of responsibility and leadership by their council, their common sense and outrage will surely ensue.
This community has worked hard for many years on its program for renewing its downtown area, hoping to re-create its unique and vibrant identity within our past-post-modern era, not an easy task, but essential for revitalizing activity at the city’s core, and valuable for community culture and congruence.
Addition of the Wiseman building has beneficially embellished the setting of the downtown’s “primary gateway.” Now, that key progress is eviscerated by the monstrosity of being joined with a one-story, strip-mall mini-box, a huge and vivid blemish upon the downtown’s complexion, and still worse for the council’s reputation.
Of course, most all Woodlanders had no knowledge that anything like this mess was afoot. The fact of the site designated to be the downtown’s key gateway, being suddenly made a location for such a Rite-Aid store, didn’t initially show up on the public record, since the previous community development director interpreted the Downtown Specific Plan to simply allow such a project to move forward. Eventually, a few related items came before the planning commission. However, it is outside the formal role of planning commissioners to question or override decisions that exist within the purview and policymaking authorty of the community development director.
City Council Fails to Exercise Authority
The only way to overturn (mis-) interpretations and (bad) decisions of the community development director is through council authority, perhaps necessitating overt council action. The council was inattentive and inactive on this matter, for more than two years, during most of which time Woodlanders were generally kept in the dark. All it would have taken to alter the outcome, to successfully resist this disaster, is a single councilmember taking an interest and raising this issue. Once uncovered, such an obvious mistake would have been prevented. This disaster happened because the councilmembers violated their oath and promise that they “shall support” this aspect of the “vision” set forth in the Downtown Specific Plan. Not only did they not support this Plan, they even failed to timely inform our community of the existence of such a serious problem / conflict as this Rite-Aid project. The council should have objected to such an adverse interpretation and decision by the community development director, and overturned it. Then, the developer (Paul Petrovich) might have desired to litigate the item; since purportedly, a “drug store” is an “allowed” land use for this location. However, for several good reasons, the sound basis for a sturdy assertion of council policymaking authority on this important item would have prevailed. The council could have justifiably claimed that the “allowed” designation for “drug store” within the land use matrix was clearly an error / oversight (being timely corrected), strongly based on the evidence of stark conflict with all (four) other clear references to this location within the Downtown Specific Plan. Obviously, this location must be processed through a conditional use permit, for the plain reason that without it, there can be no adequate control over projects, sufficient to ensure adherence to the significant goal of establishing a suitable “primary gateway.” For example, a Rite-Aid might even have become the ground floor tenant of a mixed-use development which expressed the Rice Mill’s (agricultural heritage) theme and was consistent with the vision and planning goals of the Downtown Specific Plan. Mr. Petrovich looks for these sorts of multiple-tenant dynamics in his retail development on Woodland’s outskirts. Why wouldn’t they have been an attractive and practical approach for a project that conformed to the Downtown Specific Plan. Such a valuable prospect would have been supported and respected by any nature or version of review (electoral, legal, etc.). Absent was council attention and engagement. These sorts of issues would be balanced by a superior court (although, as implied above, this prospect is quite limited for several reasons, both legal and political), in a way that would be successful at protecting Woodland’s serious interests related to the Downtown Specific Plan. The problem is that the council itself demonstrated no such concern.
The Way Forward
So, what steps and options may be available to the City (especially within the updated, 2008 version of the DSP) to recover its ability to create a meaningful “primary gateway?” The gut reaction of the average Woodlander, regarding this situation, has been unscientifically estimated to be, “Can’t this be stopped?” It’s pretty late in the process to actually force a halt to construction of this project and create a massive revision of its contours, although the council could have accomplished a relevant revision of this project, as recently as this year. Stopping this project in its tracks would require instant litigation against not only the developer, also the City, in order obtain from the superior court a temporary restraining order, which has certain legal standards that may lie outside the scope of any viable complaint. Suing and stopping this project isn’t impossible, but it would require resources and good attorneys to execute. Perhaps some legal cavalry will suddenly sense a worthy goal and come riding over the horizon to rescue the downtown from this developmental despoilage, but unlikely. Perhaps the Grandparents for Justice will initiate a boycott, take up cardtables and umbrellas and set a picket-line, though unlikely. So, the community may be stuck with this disaster and have to somehow overcome it. This would mean moving the “primary gateway” to Freeman Park, the only good prospect that remains for this purpose. The City’s Toy Library would need to be relocated and that old City building it’s in demollshed. In addition, the parcel with the motel would need to be acquired, for a useful expansion and elevation of Freeman Park, as the “primary gateway.” Freeman Park becoming the downtown’s key gateway would be a good response to the impending disaster, and of course very appropriate for the legacy of the pioneer merchant who founded Woodland. Guess who suddenly owns the motel parcel that needs to be acquired? Paul Petrovich, the developer of this Rite-Aid project. The editorial position of Yolo Sun is that Mr. Petrovich should make the City a very, very sweet deal for acquisition of this motel parcel, for purposes of transforming Freeman Park into the primary entrance of downtown Woodland.