Chase Bank is now erecting its architectural Frankenstein building on the southeast corner of Walnut and Main Streets, 21 months after it first approached the city and 12 months after the public was made aware of its project.

For eight months (Jan. – Aug., 2010) Woodland City Hall was quietly working with Chase Bank to concoct a subversion of the City’s Downtown Specific Plan (DSP), permitting this bank to build in the general way that it desired: a small bank with a glorified drive-thru and a vast parking lot.

Chase Bank’s building plan is distinctly suburban, rather than urban and historically valid. Historically, parking lots did not exist within such Main Street frontage and the DSP flatly forbids their location along Main Street.

Such serious problems were supposedly cured by installing unhistorical framing a few feet wide along the forbidden sidewalk frontage, so that city hall might claim that this parking lot would thus be technically separated from prohibited proximity to the sidewalk; while, totally ignoring the clear and basic reason for this DSP policy, to protect the historical integrity of downtown land uses.

No formal building construction application was submitted by the bank and it paid no application fees, until its detailed business of eight months within city hall was made public in September of 2010.

____  Frankenstein Bank Now Squats On Downtown Gateway  ____

This bank is a Frankenstein building for reason of combining various architectural styles into a phony historical format, appearing (pseudo) historical, but without integrity of actually representing any valid, actually historical, architectural style. Call it: “Modern Woodland Pretense.”

Glaring violations of the DSP include evisceration of its ability to produce a proper manner of “Western Gateway” for the downtown area and placement of an enormous parking lot along sidewalk frontage on both Main and Walnut Streets.

Core downtown land is utterly precious and irreplaceable. Using 87% of this key downtown parcel for a parking lot is a completely ridiculous waste of key civic (zoning / planning) resources, and the city council spent eight long months and considerable staff resources working under-the-table to make sure it happened. And that’s not all that’s been skewed awry.

____  Key Redevelopment Program Preempted  ____

During these same eight months of confidential negotiations between city hall and Chase Bank, the city’s redevelopment agency created a program to consider proposals for a downtown cineplex based upon inclusion of State Theatre renovation and expansion within that process. This State Theatre proposal was (per DSP) virtually dependent upon use of this very parcel upon which Chase Bank was intending, with city hall’s graciously covert assistance, to construct its small building and its huge parking lot.

State Theatre renovation and expansion (per DSP) became a pretty popular idea during 2010, via this city redevelopment program of choosing the best proposal for a downtown cinema (destroyed by Paul Petrovich suddenly dropping out of it, while still claiming his project was the best, and with a majority of the city council unwilling to continue this program).

Unpopularity is a regular reaction of Woodlanders to news of Chase Bank locating in this adverse manner within the core of our downtown.

Popularity of State Theatre renovation and expansion, confronted by such crossed and conflicted city hall behavior, seemingly required a political remedy created by means of a lucky convergence between plans of Woodland Opera House for expansion and this clearly palpable and surging political imperative to somehow rescue State Theatre from impending, blight-ridden oblivion.

Woodland Council Member Bill Marble deserves abundantly legitimate credit for salvaging this emerging disaster by actively merging these matters. Plus, he voted to continue the redevelopment program after Petrovich quit and the council majority falsely declared municipal processes related to his project, a hoax for dissolving this program.

While a performing arts venue for ~200 persons designed and managed by the opera house board will hopefully become a valuable (renovated but contracted) re-use for this historic theatre, such plans are clearly a big change from the (per 1993 – 2003 DSP) original, more attractive, exciting and appropriate plan of redeveloping State Theatre as an expanded cineplex, thus also satisfying the related goal of best establishing our downtown’s: “Western Gateway.”

Community consensus existed about State Theatre being the basic site of a new downtown cineplex, until the 2003 DSP; at which time, Petrovich’s plan to instead develop his (former) Electric Garage parcel as the new downtown cineplex site somehow, without any explanation or justification within the DSP, became both a suddenly competing proposal and highly (emphatically) prioritized.

____  Council Dances With Petrovich & Chase Bank, Not Public  ____

Why was it necessary to abandon this original and brilliant DSP goal of expanding and renovating State Theatre as a cineplex?

Because a majority of the city council decided that it would rather have Chase Bank absurdly shoe-horned into this key downtown corner and let Paul Petrovich develop his Electric Garage property as a cineplex.

It’s that pure and simple.

These three council memebers may desire you to believe that there was some (phony) kind of inevitability involved with such an
adverse outcome.

But the plain truth is: Sheer policy decisions of these council members were the pure cause. Things would be entirely different upon any desire by them to eliminate serviceable confusions and abide original DSP goals and a native and genuinely enthusiastic display of community interest and concern.

It was how this city hall action was accomplished which causes even more serious political concern. This easily challengeable decision of DSP compliance for the Chase Bank building was made in full secrecy, behind closed doors, even to this day not being formally acknowledged in detail.

During literally dozens of various public requests / comments regarding the basic substance of this secretly made DSP-compliance determination, before public sessions of both Woodland Planning Commission and City Council, no properly informative response was ever provided by the City.

And why not?

Because such information about the salient details of (somewhat arcane and confusing) public processes may tend to give rise to valid public challenges, which are to be keenly avoided even at the heavy price of abridging key civic obligations of transparency and accountability.

Existing as well, is the perpetually paid price of bad community planning and bad-faith political deceptions, of which this Chase Bank will long become a stern monument.

The basic dynamic of such democratic devolution is the fact that city hall and our elected officials / representatives refused to fairly inform / advise the public about its ability / legal right to appeal a pivotal decision (Chase Bank’s DSP compliance) — made wholly in secret, on an unknown date, without any public notice, whatsoever.

Apparently, Chase Bank was too big to not bamboozle the public about.

Within secret chambers and by collusive (mis)conduct of city hall, our city council has thus provided us:  A small Frankenstein building, without much hope of creating downtown foot-traffic, swimming in a vast sea of asphalt on a key downtown parcel, beside (per original DSP) a truly second-choice, afterthought, re-use of a genuinely historical building, a civic landmark — all of this accomplished by means of an obvious and disturbing pattern of intentionally using devious, un-transparent processes contrived to quell public scrutiny, understanding and challenges.

Politically, can Woodland do better than this?