Comments To City Of Woodland

Regarding Downtown Revitalization

April 18, 2013

Bobby Harris

___  Preface  ___

Almost a quarter-century ago, I was the initial Woodland City Council candidate to advocate for its downtown revitalization, prior to any form of political consensus existing toward that purpose.

I had settled in 1983 near City Park in the house built a century earlier by the premier local cement mason of those days, H.T. Barnes (for example, he laid the sidewalks around the county courthouse), whose grand-daughter aged in her seventies still lived next door.

State Theatre was only a few blocks away, serving as an urban landmark which then roughly defined the western edge of the City’s downtown area. I was attracted to Woodland because it represents historical urbanization within what was otherwise vast rural countryside, bounded by the Sacramento River, its Delta, and stretching far off into the hills and central valley.  Although Winters and Knight’s Landing have regional, historical significance alongside it in this countryside which would become Yolo County, Woodland has always functioned as its most cosmopolitan zone.

Yet, UCD has during recent decades catapulted Davis into another style of urbanization, reflecting anticipated characteristics and diversities of a university city and rivaling Woodland for regional and cultural significance.  While Davis’ identity has been slowly strengthened, community identity for Woodland and its downtown area has fallen increasingly into question, as if latent remains of its political and historical significance were assumed to somehow provide worthy compass for the upcoming century.

___  Pivotal Problem  ___

Woodland’s evolution has been greatly impeded by anachronisms and its chronic political inability to create true community consensus about basic details of its genuinely modern setting and identity.  Central examples of this problem are the starkly contradictory and incompatible goals within the Downtown Specific Plan (DSP) regarding both: (a) efficiently moving traffic through downtown Main Street and (b) having a pedestrian-friendly zone at the downtown core.

On July 21, 2009, I published an article in Yolo Sun, entitled: “Woodland’s Evolution Impeded By Anachronism – New Street Master Plan Indicates Options Exist,” the text of which I hereby fully incorporate by reference into these comments.  This article is available on the internet at Yolo Sun (- https://yolosun.wordpress.com – in archive -); it analyzes the problem stated above and examines it in light of this updated City Street Master Plan (which for various reasons has not yet — for four years — been formally adopted).

Also, in February of 2012, I filed with the city a ballot petition on this subject (downtown traffic circulation system), but the city attorney refused to provide a fair and accurate ballot title and summary for this measure (despite admitting and correcting other serious mistakes), the text of which I hereby fully incorporate by reference into these comments.  The city has, of course, the filed original copy of this ballot petition.

This ballot petition outlines a plan for four-way stop signs and diagonal parking within the downtown area, as well as a program for intermittent closure of Main Street and its use as a flexible and central, public plaza.

These two sources of information and advocacy display a pivotal problem confronting downtown revitalization:  traffic flow, speed and noise on Main Street disallows essential pedestrian gravity, atmosphere, participation.

Combining with this problem the huge, added problem that there exists no adequate central plaza / city square within the downtown area, strongly argues for a serialized and intermittent, civic dedication of Main Street infrastructure for purposes of establishing a flexible and convenient downtown plaza directly upon it, within the downtown core.  Downtown merchants and property owners, as well as pedestrians, would greatly benefit from such a fundamentally focused civic program.

Significantly, such a program would supply a key and desperately needed civic resource — at only a small fraction of the cost of any relevant alternative.

General Plan 2035 Stakeholder Interviews directly reflect a consensus about these two matters:  Downtown’s basic and immediate need for a (much) more “pedestrian-friendly environment” and a “central public plaza” which both encourage socializing of various kinds.

For instance, the Woodland Farmers’ Market would take place on a block (perhaps more / perhaps in rotation) of Main Street, on most Saturdays and some evenings.  Thursdays and Fridays may also be popular days to close a particular block or two of Main Street for various community events, celebrations and various merchant-based activities and functions.  Perhaps much of Main Street would be closed and pedestrian-occupied during certain weekends to accommodate key civic / commercial events.

The length and scope of downtown Main Street would thus become a valuable resource, serving as a flexible city square.  Properly managed, such an essential downtown program would establish a system of interest and activity conducive for significantly elevating pedestrian values and participation – pivotal to downtown revitalization.

___  Entire Downtown Core As “Entertainment District”  ___

Unfortunately, the (five years out of date) 2003 DSP contrives to make an “entertainment district” upon only a half of the core downtown zone (First Street to Fourth Street).  The key to extending such an “entertainment district” to the western edge of the downtown area is, of course, State Theatre, which has lately become politically diminished by the city council and may eventually be largely reduced to an auxiliary, (only) 200-seat theater space for Woodland Opera House.

Original vision of the DSP (1993) was for an expanded and renovated State Theatre to robustly function as an anchor of revitalization at the “western gateway” to downtown.

The 2003 DSP, however, without even a shred of explanation, analysis or justification, suddenly prioritized a rival project of Paul Petrovich, for which the historical nature of the Electric Garage building was aggressively obscured and ignored.

On October 15, 2010, I published in Yolo Sun an article (in archive) about these circumstances:  “Movieplex Muddle Displays Disordered Downtown Planning Goals, Glaring Conflicts,” the text of which I hereby fully incorporate by reference into these comments.  This article examines details of the stark incongruities of city council actions in this area, exposing their departure from the city general plan and DSP.

The lawsuit over Petrovich’s Gateway 2 project resulted in a very strange municipal statement regarding zoning and community development in general.  In response to this litigation, Woodland claimed that:  “It is not within the City’s authority to distribute or control the distribution of commercial (“free market, free enterprise”) potential.”

Of course, this statement is clearly a general abdication of the civic “police-power” of zoning, for vague ideological reasons.  Repeated inquiries to the city for an explanation of this statement have been ignored.  Yet, this same attitude has been present in the Rite Aid project, the Chase Bank project, State Theatre matters and various other places.  If this perverse ideological perspective toward community development persists within downtown development, Woodland’s revitalization vision will become denigrated.

Because of the city council recently rejecting a quite popular opportunity to renovate and expand State Theatre into a cineplex (as originally envisioned by the DSP), and its permitting of Chase Bank to locate next to it (with obvious, multiple violations of the DSP), things presently appear rather bleak for the cause of extending any robust, authentic vitality of an “entertainment district” into the western part of downtown.

This is a huge problem, for a wide variety or reasons, resulting from the adverse notion of locating a cineplex — not in conjunction with State Theatre as an entertainment anchor at the western side of downtown, but rather on the site of the former Electric Garage, owned by Paul Petrovich.

Another gigantic problem for any new downtown cineplex is that the city council’s development agreement with Petrovich allows the location of yet another cineplex at his Gateway projects — once a downtown cineplex is operational.  This deleterious situation is reminiscent of past (~1990) city zoning for the cineplex at County Fair Mall, weakening State Theatre and seriously eroding the entertainment-center identity of downtown.

Petrovich has reneged on his promise to develop a cineplex at Electric Garage, but he still owns this property.  If the city buys this property (seemingly being considered), as part of any such negotiation it must also extinguish the section / portion of the Gateway project development agreements which permits location there of a cineplex.

Otherwise, Woodland’s “entertainment district” will eventually include Petrovich’s Gateway project, again eroding the integrity, the identity of its downtown area, and significantly impairing opportunities of revitalization.

___  Get Back On Track!  ___

Petrovich’s various (municipally facilitated) influences over the 2003 DSP were devastating for community interests of downtown revitalization.  His and Chase Bank’s projects have dealt serious blows against revitalization of the downtown area.  Luckily, his Rite Aid project at East and Main Streets was abandoned.  A lengthy series of articles concerning Petrovich’s pernicous involvement with Woodland community development can be found at Yolo Sun.

For one matter, Woodland City Council allowed Petrovich eight (8) years to mitigate admitted environmental damage done to the downtown area by his existing Gateway development project.  By July of 2016, Petrovich must create a downtown project(s) assessed at a little more than $3 million, or pay the city a little more than $1 million.  Of course, extensions of performance on this matter may be negotiated with the existing City Council, so perhaps it will be more than eight years.

Electric Garage, for another example, on the site Petrovich desired for his now abandoned cineplex project, has been very curiously ignored in the 2003 DSP regarding its historical nature as the initial auto dealership in Yolo County at the turn of the previous century.

Optimally, Electric Garage should be developed as a flexible, excitingly and authentically (historically) named, event / concert venue, with a maximum capacity of ~1500; while, State Theatre should represent the (also historical) cineplex opportunity at the other end of downtown.

With an expanded Woodland Opera House complex located (somewhere) in the middle, downtown would possess four distinct centers of diverse entertainment – spread out along its core – and finally begin to evolve overall pedestrian gravity, as well as broadening civic, cultural and commercial participation.

All of Woodland’s downtown Main Street, etc., deserves to be and should be included within an “entertainment district;” a 200-seat Woodland Opera House venue which fundamentally distorts State Theatre is not a suitable anchor for the western side of downtown.  The Opera House should be fully funded (prior to any other options / causes) for proper creation of its expansion at another location in the core downtown area; then, the City should concentrate on the development of Electric Garage and State Theatre as noted above.

Property now vacant and blighted on the southwestern corner of Main and Walnut Streets is perhaps available to assist with a cineplex locating somewhat adjacent to State Theatre, while enough added land may exist between it and Elm Ford to make possible such a staggered cineplex site, anchoring the western downtown amidst a two-dealership, downtown auto-mall.  With this vision, we’re talking significantly increased pedestrian flow in synergy with downtown commercial revitalization.

___  Downtown Housing  ___

I was the first city council candidate (1990) to focus attention on redeveloping housing within the downtown core, largely on upper floors.  That was about a quarter-century ago, and (excepting enlargement of low-income units at Woodland Hotel) despite a lot of talk over the years, only a handful of such housing units have been created since then.

Essentially, the problem is that persons with incomes sufficient to afford living at the cost needed to promote such housing development are not interested because there is not enough downtown attraction to truly warrant their housing interest; only genuine revitalization would establish a commercial basis to develop upper-income units above retail spaces.

Housing being developed within the downtown core itself, though, is not the salient aspect of its revitalization affairs.

Many thousands of potentially interested folk live within the many and diverse neighborhoods surrounding the downtown area, only a short walk, bicycle ride or (even) drive away.

Providing a – good reason – to relevantly occupy Woodland’s downtown clearly is the primary issue for its revitalization; then, even closer housing will become more plausible.  The measure of interest and motivation toward downtown within its surrounding neighborhoods will surely indicate and reinforce any real success.

Even though not now pivotal, housing certainly should be increased within and proximate to the downtown core, as well as upon underdeveloped, etc., sites throughout the general downtown area (West to East Streets and along East Street from Beamer Street to Gibson Road).

___  Library  ___

Woodland Public Library provides key civic services to more persons than any other department of city government (excepting basic utilities).  Yet, the existing General Plan set a goal of only one-half square foot per local resident (now ~57,000 and growing).  For decades, the American Library Association Guidelines have established one square foot per resident as its standard.

The library is an essential facility and prominent, historical feature of the downtown area.  It must be closely woven into downtown revitalization, including creation of a city plan to at least double its size (from 20,000 to 40-50,000 square feet).

___  Latinos  ___

Latinos are now a (census documented) majority of Woodland residents.  This demographic reality should be reflected within downtown affairs.  Latino music festivals would be appropriate and desirable (there is a wide variety of Latino music), as would such ethnic-food based events and soccer related activities.  For example, a “Yolo Cup” soccer tournament might become connected with downtown activities of a weekend-long Latino music and food festival.

___  Festivals  ___

Once downtown Main Street functions properly (as noted above), much is possible in terms of recapturing several events and festivals from the county fairgrounds (some of which began downtown but had to move away because of insufficient facility).

A Tomato Festival is a natural and historical event for downtown.  Another popular event would likely be an Olive Festival.  Capay celebrates the almond blossoming time, but why not also have a later, downtown Woodland Almond Festival?

From chili to barbeque, cooking contests, etc., could be held within a properly functioning downtown area, rather than at the county fairgrounds, where the city is not able to collect sales tax.

Cultural festivals of all kinds become possible once the downtown becomes pedestrian-friendly with a flexible and historical, central public plaza.

___  Other Ideas  ___

Directional signage (especially related to parking) should be improved.

Wifi coverage throughout downtown should become a goal.

A downtown business improvement district should become considered.

Community communication about downtown should become improved.

Building facade assistance should continue, as much as feasible.

Reuse of the old county courthouse should become a priority.

City council responsiveness to concerns of downtown merchants should become improved.  In October of 2012 I filed with the city a one-page petition regarding city parking policy on downtown Main Street, endorsed by a majority (36) of downtown Main Street merchants.  Six months have passed without any response, whatsoever.  This is inappropriate city conduct, engendering adverse relations between downtown merchants and the city.

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