Ongoing objections from Woodlanders concerned about impacts upon State Theatre and the city’s profoundly outdated Downtown Specific Plan (DSP), by plans begun during early 2010 — but only revealed to the public by the city last September — to locate a Chase Bank on the SE corner of Walnut and Main Streets, have come up just barely short of successfully filing a dense lawsuit against Woodland City Council for on January 18 approving this project.

Objectives of this litigation effort were to create and ensure DSP consistency of this Chase Bank project or through obtaining a legal ruling demanding such consistency, force Chase Bank to reconsider its project, thus perhaps making this parcel again available to realize the original DSP plan regarding State Theatre.

Reasons for coming up just short with this litigation effort are several, including: tactical stalling by city hall, a brief time period in which to file legal action, the need to attract specialized legal counsel from a great distance, and the nature of managerial divisions and programming incompetence which often plague such grass-roots organizations as Friends of State Theatre (FoST).

Faced with all of these serious obstacles — this recent litigation effort was last week raising a thousand dollars per day, in the end falling only one thousand dollars short of accumulating the formidable amount of monetary retainer demanded by such specialized legal counsel, to be able to meet the April 18 deadline for filing such a lawsuit.

Formed in early 2010 to promote the original DSP goal of expanding and restoring the emasculated, dilapidated and (then, soon to be) shuttered State Theatre, constructed during the Great Depression (1937), FoST timely galvanized around a community campaign involving the Woodland Redevelopment Agency (WRA), hoping to realize such a cineplex project through municipal approval of an expansion and renovation plan by local developer Ron Caceres, associated with operator Galaxy Theaters.

The corner parcel which is the site of the Chase Bank project (using only 13% of this lot for its building), is the location indicated within the DSP for its original vision of State Theatre expansion, being thus depicted within Caceres’ proposal, the mission around which FoST was organized.

____ Original FoST: R. I. P., Once Understood — WCA Arises  ____

Circumstances surrounding this litigation effort have irreparably fractured FoST leadership and membership, resulting in instant formation of a new advocacy organization with a broader mission: Woodland Civic Alliance (WCA).

Upcoming Yolo Sun articles will soon provide further information about WCA.

Central to this organizational schism is a sudden shift away from the FoST mission displayed by a person within its core leadership, David Wilkinson, who also suddenly refused to cooperate and/or assist with its litigation effort which was fully in harmony with the FoST campaign, as being — somehow — inconsistent with his sudden shift to an alternative mission: simple preservation of this edifice connected to whatever plans for narrow re-use become readily available.

Pursuing his newly modified quest, Wilkinson falsely wrote to the city council about his acting “on behalf of” FoST, when he clearly held no such portfolio; while, the FoST-based litigation effort was genuinely consistent with the actual goals of this grass-roots organization.

Wilkinson once had very strong words against this disastrous Chase Bank project (a side-topic within future articles about WCA, etc., at Yolo Sun, as he has previously submitted such text for publication).

However, he suddenly and spectacularly wandered away — just as he was truly needed to help move forward this just cause — having a quite salient impact upon the limited abilities of the remainder of FoST leadership to swiftly and successfully accomplish the challenge of initiating timely litigation against municipal approval of the Chase Bank project.

Another key facet of these evolving circumstances exists in the fact that Ron Caceres hasn’t given up on developing a cineplex with Galaxy Theaters (ahead of any possible CinemaWest project approval / construction schedule), and is presently attempting to obtain control over the 2.4 acre site directly across Main Street from State Theatre.

Because of his grave inconsistency and politically untrustworthy behavior and its seriously adverse impacts upon the failed FoST litigation effort, someone close to these pivotal issues has suggested that the new Chase Bank building be dubbed: “Wilkinson Towers.”

“Of course,” continued this former member of FoST — “ David remains our friend and we certainly respect his valuable community activities in general, and he’s very welcome to join WCA; but we’ll have to think twice about putting him in charge of key projects.”

Funds collected during this FoST litigation effort will be either returned to its donors or by them redirected into WCA, which will now engage an instant membership drive in order to support its immediate involvement in essential community advocacy regarding various other pertinent matters of municipal planning — such as the looming DSP violation(s) outlined below.

____  Petrovich’s Actions Impact Redevelopment Agency  ____

WRA was suddenly informed by Sacramento developer Paul Petrovich, at the outset of 2010, that he would immediately pursue development of his long anticipated (and in some quarters, widely reviled as an unjustifiable and destructive distortion of the original DSP) Cinema Square project — proposed for location at the site of the (to be demolished, yet quite historic) Electric Garage building (currently Dave Hoblit’s motor-vehicle dealership).

Petrovich owns the parcel bounded by: Main Street, Third, Fourth Streets and Dead Cat Alley, and has filed legal papers with the city allowing Dave Corkill of CinemaWest (cineplex developer) to engage a building application filed in November of 2010 and now under municipal consideration, for constructing a cineplex on the northern portion of this parcel, while Petrovich retains ownership of the portion fronting along Main Street, proposing to eventually install an adjacent retail-oriented project.

Interestingly, CinemaWest several years ago attempted to accomplish the State Theatre project originally intended by the DSP — but was — according to several public statements by Corkill — unreasonably obstructed and disinclined — by city hall intentions to favor the upstart Cinema Square development plans of Petrovich.

Seemingly, Corkill has learned since then — whose bread is receiving political butter — and has thus crawled into bed with Petrovich — to best smooch and squeeze a very willing city hall.

Glaring (potential) violation of the DSP has apparently been arranged in this manner, as described further below.

A lot of additional action, as well, seems to be going on under these bed-clothes, such as various public infrastructure improvements (some using $800,000 of WRA money) suddenly being focused by city hall around Petrovich’s project, as well as a curiously unjustifiable (and perhaps unlawful, depending upon whether relocation occurs “as a result of redevelopment action,” in the words of WRA counsel, Edward Quinn, Jr.) proposal to use $200,000 in WRA funds to subsidize Petrovich’s project by helping pay for relocation of Hoblit’s dealership.

Otherwise, approval of Petrovich’s project would quite likely be firmly conditioned (within a conditional use permit process) upon his own financial expenditure for relocation of Hoblit’s dealership, now operating on a month-to month tenancy and already the subject of an enormous rent increase charged by landlord Petrovich.

Petrovich’s announcement to WRA of his intentions and preparation to move forward his Cinema Square project — directly resulted in issuance of a Request For Proposals (RFP) for a downtown cineplex by WRA, because the majority of the WRA Citizen Advisory Committee instead favored such a downtown cineplex being associated with State Theatre — consistent with the original DSP vision.

____  Questionable WRA Collapsing of Cineplex RFP  ____

On May 5, 2010, WRA authorized an RFP: “to solicit a developer for a downtown theater project,” and this process ensued between Petrovich’s and Caceres’ proposals until an October 25 letter from Petrovich withdrew his proposal from the RFP process; because, in his words: “The issue has become too contentious and I do not wish to put the City Council in a position of having to choose between the more viable project [his, of course], versus the one that has created so much emotion at the State Theater site.”

Petrovich thus decided to attempt to (himself) make this key choice for the City Council, by declaring that his partner, “CinemaWest [  ] will be submitting its application in full compliance with the Downtown Specific Plan criteria so there are no discretionary approvals required.”

WRA erroneously / inconsistently (per DSP) echoed on Dec. 14, 2010: “[T]he CinemaWest proposal could proceed on its own without any discretionary actions required of the City except for environmental review and possibly consideration of an alternative parking plan. [  ] The project itself does not require a conditional use permit, so the only real discretionary action would be site plan and design review. [  ] It is anticipated that the applicant may ask for approval of an alternative parking plan. [  ] If Agency funds are not requested and all development requirements are met, the City’s approval would be limited to design review that would be considered by the Planning Commission. [I]t has been discussed by the applicant that there may be a request to modify the downtown parking requirements.”

Apparently, WRA interprets the fact that: “the Hoblit car dealership. located there [at the project site] will [itself] request some financial assistance from the Agency[,] likely to be approximately $200,000” — completely relieves Petrovich / CinemaWest of having to themselves request such a project subsidy, thereby raising perceptions of them unfairly receiving WRA money after tactically withdrawing from its RFP process for properly contrasting and determining such matters.

City funding for utilities being undergrounded has recently been assigned to the area proximate to the proposed site of this CinemaWest project.

Also, within its latest announcements, WRA has now determined a need to expend $800,000 in public infrastructure improvements associated with the CinemaWest project.

Community perceptions exist that these three specific items are forms of (stealthy and improper) municipal subsidy for a project that was — de-facto selected — through collapsing an RFP process put in place to illuminate and fairly compare these two cineplex proposals, and to best predicate fiscal decision making on this subject.

For instance, each competing cineplex proposal was requesting via the RFP process about $2.5 million of WRA money as either loan or grant, some of which may now be unduly provided to CinemaWest through its actual circumvention of the RFP, its receipt of eventual reinforcement by means of such items of subsidy accounting for far in excess of $1 million of fiscal support to this project, suddenly appropriated by city hall.

Why should this Petrovich / CinemaWest project declare it will proceed without any WRA funds, in order to argue for collapsing the RFP; but then, in effect receive WRA money through the crafty mechanism of such items of fiscal benefit?

For one example, how can WRA provide funds (even) requested by Hoblit for relocation — when it obviously did not occur “as a result of [WRA RFP] action,” as explained by its legal counsel?

Since CinemaWest submitted an application amounting to an end-run outside of the WRA / RFP process, why doesn’t it thus accept the consequential cost of relocating Hoblit as a relevant condition of potential approval?

Doesn’t Petrovich’s demonstrated intention / actions to move forward the CinemaWest project, regardless of any incidental WRA involvement, strongly argue that relocation of Hoblit does not qualify for WRA funding?

Doesn’t the fact that Petrovich’s Cinema Square project has been (without any form of substantial explanation / justification, by the way, for its impact upon State Theatre) included within the (severely outdated) DSP since 2003, indicate that consequential relocation of Hoblit is not any result flowing from WRA actions?

___  WRA May Violate DSP / RFP To Protect Petrovich From CUP  ___

Another quite pertinent aspect of these circumstances is clearly outlined within an WRA staff report (cited above):  “[I]t has been discussed by the applicant that there may be a request to modify the downtown parking requirements.”

Of course, this most likely course (made necessary by the failure of the new county courthouse complex to contain a DSP-anticipated parking structure), as well as noted expenditures by WRA — admittedly will require multiple, discretionary municipal actions.

Discretionary municipal actions are admittedly possible (or probable) related to design aspects of the CinemaWest project application.

In addition, if the eventual zoning administrator decision connected to the CinemaWest project is appealed, multiple discretionary municipal actions would ensue.

So — was it correct and lawful for WRA to (in contradiction) claim within its argument for collapsing the RFP — that there exist no meaningful, discretionary municipal actions required for the CinemaWest project to proceed?

Municipal actions here obviously involve a DSP that is extremely outdated (should have been updated by 2008); yet — it contains explicit provisions which guarantee that it be timely updated.

One prominent weakness of the DSP regarding the CinemaWest project application is that the DSP closely links this project to a parking structure which did not materialize.

Woodland has waited many years for city hall to finally act on DSP intent to establish a cineplex in the downtown area (originally focused on State Theatre), because of city hall’s determination that an associated parking structure was essential / fundamental to such a project.

This fact is why discretionary approvals of parking alternatives should be much more prominently identified and discussed within public documents of WRA, rather than its diminishing of such key issues, as was done in this matter through inconsistent and erroneous statements by WRA regarding the full scope of relevant, discretionary municipal actions.

____  Parking Issues Of DSP Plainly Trigger CUP For CinemaWest  ____

Discretionary municipal actions involving: “modif[ication of] the downtown parking requirements” relate directly to relevant conditional use permit (CUP) processes. The DSP requires a conditional use permit (CUP) process if the CinemaWest project does not: “demonstrate [ ] adequate parking for the use.

“Failure to meet the [relevant] performance standards listed or desire to contest the requirements will result in the project being processed as a [conditional use permit].” (DSP, page 8 – 17, emphasis added.)

However, according the WRA staff report arguing for collapsing the RFP: “The project itself does not require a conditional use permit [CUP.]”

Clearly — under provisions of the DSP any: “request to modify the downtown parking requirements” overtly / plainly constitutes a: “desire to contest the requirements[,] result[ing] in the project being processed as a CUP.”

But a huge problem for CinemaWest / Petrovich is that if a CUP process is convened, anything, any relevant issue may be raised, not simply the issue of parking. For instance, such a venue is where CinemaWest would be shouldered with its due burden of relocating the Hoblit dealership.

Apparently — in an effort to protect the CinemaWest project from broad public consideration through a CUP process, if it (as anticipated): “request[s] to modify the downtown parking requirements.” — city hall / WRA is (again, as with the Chase Bank project) setting the municipal stage to egregiously violate the DSP.

The legal mechanism of this DSP violation is a private (non-public, ministerial) approval decision of the city zoning administrator, absence of public notice for which was a basic element of legal considerations (deemed a “good claim” against city hall by un-retained legal counsel) involving potential FoST litigation against such municipal approval of the Chase Bank project.

The CinemaWest project application contains — upon its very face — such an obvious (updated) DSP need / requirement regarding parking — that it seemingly must proceed only as a CUP.

WRA, however, by its prior relevant actions (described above), is now moving directly toward committing a blatant violation of the DSP by exempting the CinemaWest project application from CUP process, creating vulnerability to litigation challenging (at the least) its decision to so protect this project application from being correctly processed as a CUP.