Unusual relations and consequential drama betwixt City of Woodland and Paul Petrovich have again surfaced connected to his newly proposed project to squeeze a (vehicle) drive-through Starbucks on what city staff describe as a — “’tight’ [half-acre] development site” — between Burger King and Rite Aid at the southwestern corner of Main and Ashley Streets.

The existing Starbucks location within Raleys at the shopping center where Main Street meets Road 98 (the western edge of town), would then be closed (“cannibalizing an existing business site,” according to a city staff member), with that Starbucks moving aside this Burger King and Rite Aid.

Petrovich’s “Justification Statement” for his project expresses that: “The Starbucks coffee shop is a relocation from an existing site further west on West Main Street. At the current location the coffee shop does not accommodate a drive-thru operation which Starbucks has defined as essential for their continued operation on the west side of the City of Woodland.”

Starbucks currently operates three other locations (some drive-through) in eastern Woodland. Dutch Brothers (Starbucks’ major competition) operates two Main Street drive-through locations on the broad edges of Woodland’s downtown area.

___  Three Drive-Throughs In A Row On An Acre  ___

Petrovich’s Starbucks project would unusually create — three (3) vehicle drive-throughs — within about an acre — adjacent to a long built-out and occupied residential zone on Lincoln Avenue — while, such vehicle intensity is much more applicable to highway-commercial zoning.

A traffic engineer at a professional firm contracted by the city to provide relevant analyses, relates to it that: “It is unusual to have 2 drive throughs in a row outside of highway-commercial locations. Three drive throughs in a row on one site is very unusual,” especially in a regular commercial (C-2) zone adjacent to residential uses.

Because of such clumsiness on this already “’tight’ [  ] site,” a city staff member writes: “Should the city discuss with Starbucks directly what their site selection criteria entails and are there any other sites that might be more attractive to them?” Another city staff member later relates to Yolo Sun that going “directly” to Starbucks would not be proper process for the city; still, such was the level of staff concern regarding this project.

___  Significant Intensification From Original Zoning  ___

A memo among city staff, including city manager, Paul Navazio, refer to Petrovich’s project as “a significant intensification from the original [zoning] concept, [yet which must] not result in significant effects relating to traffic[,] noise [and] air quality” (emphasis in original), in order to legally avoid relatively basic processes within the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

Rare planning proposals such as this obviously deserve by law at least a sufficiently regular environmental review process, to properly evaluate various project impacts, such as: noise, air-quality, parking and traffic circulation, in this case perhaps even urban decay.

___  City Mimimizes Environmental Review, Pays Cost Of Traffic Study  ___

Unusually, however, City of Woodland has chosen to both: substantially minimize this project’s environmental review process and — pay the cost ($5640) — for the one project study being required: parking and traffic circulation. Usually, project proponents would pay such costs.

Documents obtained by Yolo Sun clearly indicate that relevant members of city staff were proceeding upon regular, professional-type expectations of a more robust nature of project environmental review (although still willing to present “somewhat of a [political] compromise’’) — when their work was substantially affected by sudden interference from the level of city council.

___  Burger King Versus Starbucks  ___

About five years ago, Petrovich, who owned the entire southwestern corner of Ashley and Main Streets (128,543 s.f.), sold a half-acre parcel on the eastern side of this property to the developer of the now existing Burger King: Sunny Ghai, leaving another half-acre parcel, the “Shops Parcel,” between this Burger King and an adjacent Rite Aid on the corner.

Documents obtained by Yolo Sun plainly indicate that Petrovich’s Starbucks project is likely in blatant violation of the: “covenants, conditions and restrictions (CC&Rs)” which were associated with this previous land sale to Ghai. Those CC&Rs, among other relevant items, contain the following provision: “[N]o portion of the [middle, remaining] Shops Parcel shall be used as a restaurant business.”

Relevant CC&Rs, dating from September 30, 2009, states that “Declarant [Petrovich] plans to develop the [entire] property as an integrated retail shopping center,” implying the middle “Shops Parcel” would become developed to meaningfully expand / diversity the center’s retail variety. “Integrated” now apparently means for Petrovich, by means of drive-throughs, since so much of the project space is devoted to them.

Another perhaps relevant CC&R provision states that the use of “Common Areas” (such as driveways, etc.) “[shall not] impede the free flow of vehicular or pedestrian traffic.”

Petrovich’s “Justification Statement” for this project contends that; “[T]he drive-thru for the Starbucks has been carefully designed such that it will not interfere with the existing drive-thrus on the overall site.” Yet, it seems that he will not pay for any confirming study, the city must pay.

In late September of 2012, Ghai submitted a “strongly oppose[d],” written message to the city, complaining in part about Petrovich’s project being “in breach of recorded [CC&Rs]: I am hopeful that this [project] application will die before it reaches the Planning Commission and save me the legal expense of engaging an attorney to have it stopped.”

Ghai has since retained legal counsel from a Capitol Mall (located) firm, Stoel Rives, LLP., which recently requested that the city forward to it a copy of all material relevant under the California Public Records Act, obviously preparing to sue the city if it approves Petrovich’s project.

“I don’t see any reason for staff to support it in contravention of what was agreed at my [city development permit] hearing and what is on record,” writes Ghai, “Mr. Petrovich himself stated at our Burger King [city development permit] hearing that there was no likelihood of [another] drive-thru.

“In the end, the Starbucks customers will jam up my driveways and kill my business,” writes Ghai.

Ghai also writes that Petrovich is claiming that this 1700 s.f. Starbucks is not a restaurant, contrary to county health department regulations.

A key problem for Ghai, though, is that the city does not enforce CC&Rs. These legal agreements may be considered within a developmental permit process — but in order to ensure their actual enforcement — Ghai must (potentially) engage in a civil lawsuit against the city and Petrovich.

___  Substantially Minimized City Environmental Review  ___

“[W]e could have required a Neg Dec [CEQA MItigated Negative Declaration] and urban decay [due to relocation context] and greenhouse gas studies [trip generation data and air analysis],” declares a memo in early September, 2012, from the city engineer, Brent Meyer.

“We reduced the study requirements to only require the traffic study and the noise study [avoiding a Neg Dec].” reads this memo among relevant city staff, to city manager Navazio.

A memo from other relevant staff adds that: “[B]ased on recent occurrences [multiple, significant, planning-related lawsuits in previous year or so], it may be best to reconsider the requirement for [CEQA] Mitigated Negative Declaration in the case of this possible intensification of use.”

“Three drive through businesses in a row could lead to a significant amount of traffic congestion at this site and could negatively impact the existing Burger King business,” describes the memo from Meyer to Navazio.

Meyer continues, “Council has communicated a heightened sensitivity to traffic issues for previous projects. [  ] In situations like these, we recommend a traffic study so that we have the answers when [they] are raised at the Planning Commission (and possibly at Council meetings).”

As far back as April of 2012, Petrovich was formally advised by city staff that both noise and traffic studies would be required. In July of 2012, he was again so informed.

Within a few weeks of these memos (above) from Meyer and related staff, toward the end of September of 2012, relevant city staff received a phone call from Petrovich’s staff, informing them:  There would only be a traffic circulation study, no noise study, and that the city was paying this cost.

City staff responded, “I told him that was news to me. [He] informed me he would be bringing in the application early next week.”

Already substantially scaled back from what relevant staff believe should have been required (Mitigated Neg Dec), environmental review established by law for this project has over again become significantly minimized – with the city paying the bill.

___  Questions  ___

Documents obtained by Yolo Sun indicate that Woodland’s City Manager, Paul Navazio, issued these orders.

Why did city manager Navazio suddenly waive the requirement for a noise study and agree to fund the traffic circulation study?

Were these orders issued purely on Navazio’s own initiative — contrary to the city’s expert staff working for months in this area?

Not very likely. Something else is needed to explain these circumstances.

On fact is clear, the more environmental studies are done, the more exposure has Petrovich – to potential mitigation measures or even project collapse due to infeasibility. Thus, he would greatly desire (especially in such an unusual planning context) to minimize city environmental review to protect the viability and value of his Starbucks project.

With his Starbucks project susceptible to being potentially obstructed by relevant city staff, Petrovich must have appealed to someone upon the city council for assistance. By process of logical exclusion, the only member of the city council likely to have become involved in this civic caper is the city mayor, Skip Davies.

Petrovich called Davies, Davies called Navazio and ordered (or strongly suggested) that Navazio:  Fix this item for Petrovich.

Navazio issued this order, upon this basis of a request / direction from Davies.

Apparently, this is the fundamental trajectory of these planning affairs.

Requests for an official statement by city hall about these matters were made several weeks ago and again a week ago. No response has yet been received.

Another ripe question for city hall is whether the other four council members were aware of these matters and by what procedure one council member was able to independently direct that the city substantially minimize its environmental review of Petrovich’s project and pay the cost for whatever limited review cannot be avoided?

These questions and many others will be examined within upcoming articles of this series.

Petrovich’s Starbucks project is expected to arrive before the city Planning Commission sometime this Spring.