YOLO SUN OPINION :
____ Preface: Locus Of Municipal Responsibility And Process ____
As preface, in times such as these, when civic frustration is at relatively high-tide, a brief digression about municipal process:
Citizens of Woodland should understand that as a basic and ordinary dynamic of governmental function, some key staff reports to City Council are not created independently of (often pervasive) Council influence.
City council has ultimate authority and responsibility for its processes, actions and policies.
City staff all serve in a relevantly subordinate role.
Many earnest folks are inclined to wrongly fault city staff persons for perceived policy problems which clearly should be layed at the door of city council members who direct, sometimes in substantial detail, various matters eventually leading to material appearing within staff reports.
In other words, city council members, especially of mayoral class, are obviously and reasonably able to usually cause the generation of staff reports favoring whatever courses of actions they may desire.
Objectivity and balance of staff reports are always deserving of scrutiny.
Pending action on David Wilkinson’s appeal of action by Woodland Planning Commission on November 18, 2010, to approve design of a proposed Chase Bank upon a large vacant lot on the SE corner of Main and Walnut Streets, is a vivid case on point.
City staff has publically acknowledged that they were plainly directed within city hall (directly or indirectly, by city council members) to work with Chase Bank to improve / upgrade its — initially inferior design proposal — and to tailor this developmental proposal, so as to at least purportedly meet — minimum — thresholds of acceptability under the Downtown Specific Plan (DSP).
Staff are simply (professionally capable) soldiers who duly take orders from the city council. In the case of city manager, Mark Deven, only sheer discretion of a simple majority of the city council keeps him at his job.
Deven serves at the pleasure of city council (as a managerial employee), while most other staff have some nature of (likely somewhat tenuous) civil service protection.
City staff are fully expected, using their various time and expertise — to produce material and make efforts as closely consistent as practical / ethical — with direction received from city council.
In general terms, this is the way city hall should work.
Staff are soldiers and elected officials are their bosses. City managers like Deven are employed on behalf of public service directed by our elected officials, the Woodland City Council. If he were city manager of Davis or Winters, for example, he would behave differently. That would be his job.
Citizens should, as (representatively) the bosses of these elected officials, orient and focus their criticisms of municipal responsibility for processes, actions and policies where it genuinely resides: your city council members.
New city council direction means new (better) directions to city staff.
____ Squandering Of “Prominent” Downtown Corner? ____
To briefly recap this subject:
(JP Morgan) Chase Bank has determined to build a — regular bank — within Woodland’s downtown area, initially desiring to locate on the SE corner of Main and Cleveland Streets, resulting (perhaps appropriately) in a bank on every corner of this — already developed — intersection.
But reasonably assembling parcels of land required for this purpose allegedly became too difficult and purportedly infeasible for such an immense and formidable bank to pursue.
Woodland Redevelopment Agency, by voters vested with authority and responsibility for considering / devising opportunities for relief from such circumstances — for reasons of city council direction — failed to address / help alleviate these relevant obstacles of Chase Bank; however — the city council still desires it to successfully build a downtown location.
This same (SE) corner of Walnut and Main Streets was a few years ago projected for development as an architecturally appropriate, multi-level, mixed-use building — covering the vast majority of this large parcel and fulfilling percepts of the DSP regarding an anchoring edifice at the “Western Gateway” into the downtown area.
Financial catastrophe nationwide, (oddly enough) resulting from out-of-public-control banking and securities speculations (The Great Recession), has now revised economic support for new development such that an anchoring edifice for this gateway has suddenly been transformed into an architecturally faux — single-level, single-use — regular, suburban-style bank — covering an — extremely minimal portion of this immense parcel — with the remainder of the land consigned to a vast and gilded parking-lot, perhaps for a new Gilded Age.
Complicating these strange planning circumstances is recent emergence of a proposal to renovate and expand the historic State Theatre — presenting a compelling alternative use upon this pivotal downtown intersection — but also apparently perhaps doomed by city council directions / actions, since at least mid-2010, overtly designed and determined to install a Chase Bank upon this (as below demonstrated: “prominent”) spot.
Paul Petrovich was so interested in the relevance of this parcel, rumor has it, that he attempted to purchase it before it was put in escrow by the Tovar family and Chase Bank.
Certainly, for Chase Bank to build on this parcel, perhaps so pivotal for successful renovation and expansion of the State Theatre, and whose proponents currently desire to purchase it and use it for that purpose — would be tremendously advantageous for Petrovich’s (CinemaWest partnership) application to build a downtown cinemaplex on site of (former) Electric Garage (Main to Deadcat Alley, between Third and Fourth Sts.).
____ City Hall Enfeebles And Violates DSP ____
The staff report for this agenda item identifies and addresses seven points of contention raised by Wilkinson’s appeal of planning commission approval of the design of this proposed Chase Bank. These municipal responses claim that all of the issues raised in the appeal are groundless and without merit.
Examination and careful analyses of these responses of city hall to these points of contention, however, display these municipal responses as, themselves: largely flawed and without merit.
(A) An element of objection in the appeal is that the western facade along Walnut Street is insufficiently accomplished / designed, since DSP design guidelines state that: “Buildings on corners shall include storefront design features for at least 50 percent of the wall area on the side street elevation.”
City hall says that, “the applicant add[ed] an arched window to [ ] enhance this area and vertical articulation was added to the roof lines to stress the importance of this west elevation[,] also designed to provide for shadow lines that added to its visual interest.”
What is the — actual purpose — of this particular DSP design guideline?
Clearly, it is to prevent corner buildings from having lengthy, predominantly uninterrupted walls along side streets (such as Walnut St.).
An example of such an aesthetic problem (disaster) would be the lengthy and largely unbroken “street-wall” along Main Street of the Daily Democrat building.
The relevant problem (disaster) which exists with this proposed Chase Bank building, however, is mainly that it — at root — cannot satisfy “gateway” gravity, since it occupies only a small fraction of space along Walnut Street (and Main St.).
The problem here isn’t the visual distress of a long, uninterrupted wall; but rather: absence of enough wall — whatsoever.
This proposed building’s western elevation is simply far too slim to satisfy.
Although city policies protect against too much of a plain building wall, not enough of a building wall is capable of cleverly circumventing architectural imperatives for intensively (optimally) redeveloping the downtown area?
Apparently, the (outdated) (2003) DSP didn’t close enough specific loopholes to manage to achieve its vision or mission (and in some cases even created unjustifiable priorities undermining its own mandate).
Only a single solution exists for such a civic inadequacy: Exercise of general city council discretion to direct Chase Bank to propose a more suitable design which satisfies community goals clearly expressed (but perhaps not all totally nailed down / unjustifiably distracted) within the outdated (2003) DSP and / or direct the redevelopment agency to act to accomplish its core mission by relocating Chase Bank to the SE corner of Cleveland and Main.
This is a viable course of city council action in the midst of this appeal — with much more weight applied for such action within below continuing examination and analyses of relevant points of contention.
(B) The DSP demands that: “Corners of new buildings on prominent intersections shall be cut at an angle to the street,” and that: “Buildings situated on the corner of a public street shall provide a prominent corner entrance to street level shops or lobby space[.]”
City hall responds that: “The DSP does not indicate which corners are ‘prominent’ in the Downtown area,” suggesting that since the intersection of Main and Cleveland Streets is technically considered to be the beginning of the downtown area; perhaps then, it is “prominent” to the “western gateway” — while the Walnut Street intersection is not.
Prominence of Cleveland Street as a “downtown gateway” is hopelessly undermined by the sheer fact that three ordinary banks and a gas station occupy this already developed intersection.
Plain common sense, however, admits that — three corners of undeveloped land at Walnut Street — present an obvious (“prominent”) opportunity to create a proper “gateway.”
That is why Walnut and Main Street is indeed a — “prominent” – intersection — it provides the only realistically available opportunity to create a “Western Gateway” for our downtown.
This key facet of downtown planning (at this very same intersection) was seemingly clearly understood, quite recently, with the City Center Lofts project being submitted to extended design-review processes, because of what was to be represented by its location at this intersection.
If (as is the case) the DSP doesn’t define: “prominent” — it clearly must have intended this term to be applied in context-specific situations — such as are involved within this appeal.
The city council must interpret the term: ”prominent” to refer to the intersection of Walnut and Main Streets, or else violate the DSP by refusing to apply this term in a relevant context, as intended through general inclusion for use of this term within the DSP.
Allowing Chase Bank to subvert the key purpose of properly conceiving and creating a downtown “gateway,” indeed facilitating such subversion by directing that it perform only the — absolute minimum possible standards to garner municipal approval — while avoiding due recognition of Walnut and Main as a “prominent” intersection — would be a stark and unwise betrayal by the city council of the DSP.
(C) The third contention of this appeal involves the question of sufficiency of the proposed Chase Bank building’s — “street wall” — along Main Street sidewalk frontage.
City hall declares that: “there is no requirement for a building to occupy the entire frontage along Main Street.”
This bold admission proves far too much, though, revealing that since there exists no such overt “requirement” within the (outdated) DSP — only the relevant exercise of municipal (city council) discretion serves to protect against proposals such as this Chase Bank project — where far too much Main Street frontage is becoming just a badly disguised, frilled and glorified entrance to a Bank parking lot — declared by the DSP to be objectionable along Main Street (see D, below).
The DSP is protected in this instance — only to the extent that the city council acts to protect it — otherwise anything goes.
Insufficient dimension of this building in general, relative to the huge parcel involved, obviously undermines the key goal of optimal use of undeveloped land within the core of the downtown.
All the city council has to do is say to Chase Bank:
“Woodland wants you to locate within an architecturally realistic and proper, multi-level, mixed-use building, that surely (JP Morgan) Chase Bank can afford to produce, in order that a prominent (only realistically available) downtown intersection becomes a downtown gateway, as envisioned by the DSP. Otherwise, our redevelopment agency will happily help you to locate where you initially desired, at the already ‘bank-ifiable’ SE corner of Cleveland and Main. [In fact, we’d a lot rather that you did that because the subject of your present intention is pertinent to civic accomplishment of a solidly proposed renaissance of the State Theatre.]”
That is all it would take; it’s pretty simple.
Why can’t this occur?
Ask your city council members.
(D) “[P]arking lots shall not be placed along Main Street.”
This rule seems to be crystal clear and have common sense.
Yet, Chase Bank wants about half of its Main Street frontage to be in essence, a parking lot.
City hall responds that: “[Chase Bank] has provided an archway over the driveway and arbor between the bank building and the State Theater as a method to separate the parking [lot] from Main Street[.]”
Such address to this matter re-writes (violates) the DSP to rather intend that: “Unadorned, un-frilled and un-garnished parking lots shall not be placed along Main Street.”
Instead of accepting the straightforward intent of this DSP design percept, city hall intends to attempt to interpret it into insignificance by using only a few feet of parking-lot-dressing.
Or rather, perhaps: All too believable!
Superficially reducing visual impact of a relevant parking lot is improperly a minimum mitigation type of approach — to a serious aesthetic (also land-use, see G) problem plainly outlined in the DSP.
In pertinent fact: the relevant diagram representing this precise matter in the DSP illustrates an entire building(s) between all street frontage and any parking lot.
Contriving this wispy illusion of something along the sidewalk: an — “archway” — to what? To anything other than a — parking lot that is forbidden by the DSP? This planning approach is truly ludicrous lunacy.
This revisionist approach of city hall, hoping that by gilding over abuses, these abuses disappear, violates the clear intent of the DSP.
(E) The DSP allows single-level buildings to be built along Main Street, if they are as high as a double-level building.
Chase Bank wants to be afforded this allowance, although city council discretion could easily demand a multi-level structure.
Such allowance diminishes occupancy space potentially available within the downtown area (and with that, its relative vibrancy). It should be permitted only where reasonably necessary.
This occasion is not one of reasonable necessity, but rather of simply another unjustifiable aspect of city hall selling-out our downtown.
(F) “Recessed entries shall be retained [in existing buildings] and are strongly encouraged in new storefront construction[,]” reads the DSP.
This objection of the appeal proposes that the city council act to give meaning / life to such encouragement by insisting that this Chase Bank building include such a design feature. City hall is interpreting-away crucial DSP imperatives regarding no parking lots along Main Street; so, why would it snag up such a wholesale sell-out by engaging in petty quibbling over a recessed entry?
(G) The seventh contention related to this appeal is perhaps the most crucial.
Banks are — “conditionally allowed” — as a use of downtown real estate. Satisfaction of certain criteria — “may allow” — a bank to avoid a conditional-use-permit process (CUP), potentially considering wide-ranging topics, including dimensions and desirability of such a use at a particular location.
However, “conditionally allowing” a use is still fully discretionary, since the DSP indicates that satisfaction of certain criteria (performance standards which reflect basic, boilerplate concerns of a CUP) “may allow” – (not ‘shall allow’) this Chase Bank project, for example.
In other words, satisfaction of these (performance standard) criteria is necessary, but not sufficient for obtaining approved status as a “conditionally allowed use.”
Municipal discretion remains fully intact.
Otherwise, municipal (land-use) police power would become abandoned in an arbitrary, negligent and reckless manner, egregiously violating the DSP.
Thus, the position of city hall is erroneous, that: “[T]he location of the bank to the proposed State Theater project expansion was not to be considered by the [Planning] Commission in their design review. This [is] because the site is zoned for [bank] use and is allowed by right.”
This remark perhaps presumes and reveals too much.
Quite significant, as well, is the following statement by city hall:
“[T]he design could have been reviewed and approved or denied by staff; however, it was felt due to the significance of the building to the downtown that the item should be reviewed by the Planning Commission as community representatives.”
This salient question at hand, however, is not where and when the design was approved (although this may be important), but rather:
Where, when and by whom was the land use of this project approved, at what point was exercised the clearly existing municipal discretion to either approve or disapprove this “conditionally allowed” use?
This central question was, perhaps by imperative intent, not presented / available for public comment before the Planning Commission, which considered only “design” elements of the proposed Chase Bank Building.
At the Planning Commission meeting of November 18, many citizens desired to make public comment on the matter of the location, the land use involved with this Chase Bank project application.
They were told that: No comment could be heard on the topic of “location / land-use,” only on the topic of “design.”
City hall is apparently, recklessly pretending that it somehow possesses no processes of exercise of discretion over whether it “conditionally allows” this proposed Chase Bank to adversely occupy a crucial downtown location.
City hall is hiding the ball.
____ The Biggest (Land Use) Questions ____
Therefore, here are the central (land use) questions within this likely legally flawed process:
Does the municipality of Woodland possess (police-power) discretion regarding land use matters relevant to location of Chase Bank upon this parcel?
Has land use approval been granted for this Chase Bank project?
Where, when and by whom was this land use approval granted?
When was / will public comment be entertained on any such granted approval?
When public comments on the subject of “location / land use” were made by numerous persons at the November 18 meeting of the Planning Commission, why was municipal direction totally absent regarding where / when / to whom to make / address such public comments?
Has the city abused (violated) its legal discretion / process in this matter?