YOLO SUN OPINION :

A Woodland City Council majority (Councilmember Tom Stallard dissenting) on October 15 adopted as city policy a new General Plan annual growth projection of 1.7%, more than double the current average state growth projection of 0.8%.

This is a quite curious belief for the City Council to hold, that Woodland will suddenly grow at twice the pace of the rest of California.

Woodland has never achieved such a level of growth in the modern era.

In words of the city’s General Plan consultants: “This rate of growth would substantially exceed” that of any time period for which records are relevant (1990 onward). The state’s official population projection for Yolo County is 1.1% annual growth.

The city council’s new growth policy prepares for a 2035 population of about 85,000 — with a startling 50% increase in housing units (~20,000 to ~30,000). The city’s present population is about 56,000.

Apparently, the local flood issue is influencing city policy in terms of a perceived need to adopt this radical growth plan in order to induce successful consideration for federal flood-prevention funding.

Conaway Ranch recently hired a planning consultant for purposes of presenting this radical, city growth plan, with its manager strongly linking it to prioritization of federal funding before the city council.

This approach seems to have worked for Conaway Ranch, since (despite cogent, contrary argument by the city’s General Plan consultant, as well as Stallard) the majority city council is basically endorsing its planning program.

___  Odd Growth Projections Proposed To Drive Land Use  ___

Instead of embracing regular planning practice and initially reviewing in concert with its planning commission various land use scenarios and development implications — separated from growth projections (conventional consultant practice) — the city council is now insisting that its swiftly arising and patently radical growth plan should promptly drive all consideration of land use within the city’s new General Plan.

Woodland Mayor Skip Davies states that he understands: “The [conventional] 20 year [General Plan horizon] scenario — but if you don’t look beyond that I think you are doing a disservice to your population.”

Davies argues, with intrusive contention, regarding Stallard’s expression of concern about vaulting Woodland toward a population of ~85,000, that: “We’re talking about trying to solve problems for the community.  If we don’t look at this solution and reach out, we will fall behind Yuba City, Natomas, Elk Grove and West Sacramento, in our economy, our housing and everything else.”

Explaining his motivation, Davies says that: “We need to answer these people [land developers] in the audience that are saying: We want our parcel considered.  The only way we can do that is with the change in the [growth] percentage and by phasing.”

Apparently, Davies’ belief is that — “phasing” — is the magical implementation formula / technique needed for somehow rationalizing and implementing a comprehensive city zoning roll-out, involving the city council’s new and radical growth plan.

Of course, fully developing / zoning most land within the city’s urban limit line places an extraordinary and perhaps prematurely pressurized dimension of developmental cards upon the community planning table, briskly premised by the city council’s new and radical, unheard-of growth projections.

And guess what?  This city council majority is in a big hurry.

Councilmember Bill Marble expresses with a warbling chortle, a tone reminiscent of a spoiled child at Christmas, that the majority city council: “Is anxious to put things together.”

Marble suggests: “Why not attempt an additional mix that we would draw together, put together in 15 minutes here, ourselves?  Why would we not do that?”

This quaint and revealing proposal by Marble must have particularly irritated city staff and consultants, as well as being a gruesome spur to planning commission concerns.

Marble explains that his perspective of impromptu alternative consolidation: “Speaks to [of] our desire to move forward.”

Davies then uses Marble’s view to suggest that only one map, a fully consolidated General Plan proposal should be considered.

In his discussion, Hilliard also ties a flood solution to staff consideration of this one-map proposal (toward what known in planning jargon as a “preferred land use alternative,” the eventually adopted plan/map, usually adopted after detailed consideration of a range of planning alternatives).

Later in its meeting, the city council adopts this new planning scope and staff direction, along with its new annual growth policy of 1.7%

___  City Staff And Planning Commission Flummoxed  ___

Two weeks afterward, city staff from top to bottom are still trying to comprehend and respond to this abrupt shift of city policy by the council, which seemingly intends to attempt orchestration of most all future city development — within this new General Plan.

Ken Hiatt, new community development director, answers in the affirmative to a press query about suddenly having to: “Swim through a quagmire” related to this city council action.

City manager Paul Navazio indicates his (understandable) bafflement regarding the quite important but very uncertain dynamics of duly representing a potential flood solution within impending decisions about land use in the new General Plan.

Councilmember Jim Hilliard, on the other hand, exclaims that: “I don’t think any map that doesn’t address [a solution to] the flood issue should be considered. [  ]  We need to address the flood issue in terms of — ultimately, we’re going to get it; ultimately, we’re going to be there. [  ]  I want to assume that we do have the flood issue taken care of [ ] in ten to twenty years.  The flood solution has to be put in there [into the new General Plan].”

That’s a huge and complex assumption, about which Navazio expresses ample confusion.

Hilliard says: “We have to have incentives for [  ] a lot of different land owners and interested parties that are affected by the flood [issue] to move this thing along and get it pushed.  So, if we address it in the General Plan, that allows us to move forward and not have to assume we don’t have [a flood solution].”

Of course, Woodland does not now have a flood solution of any kind.

Prominent among these “land owners and interested parties” mentioned by Hilliard is Conaway Ranch, an 18,000 acre operation between Woodland and the Yolo Bypass of the Sacramento River.  This interest has intensively lobbied the city to adopt what its General Plan consultants describe as flawed and exaggerated growth projections.

Again, Navazio indicates his (believeable) absence of awareness and confidence about: “How all of the stars would align,” toward Woodland actually receiving federal funds to properly resolve its flooding issue.

Hilliard recognizes, though, that the flood zone: “Is not going to go away, unless we have a major change, eliminating [flood risk] completely.”

In other words, Hilliard and the council majority intend that Woodland should — immediately — plan for radical (“aggressive,” according to the City’s consultants), expansive growth about which there is no certainty at all, only a vague hope that federal flood-prevention funds may somehow, someday become available — perhaps upon the basis of adopting a new General Plan zoned for such “aggressive” growth projections.

It’s as if the city is saying to the federal government: ‘We declare that our city is prepared to grow at — twice the rate of the rest of our state — whether we will ever realistically do so or not; so, please fork over the enormous expense of protecting our city policy declaration.’

Clearly reflected by Navazio, is that despite fervent, longstanding desire — there is yet on the planning horizon no plausible, feasible or comprehensible plan for properly resolving flooding issues within northern and eastern parts of Woodland.

Neither is there any good reason to believe that the city council’s new growth plan is tethered to reality, in the view of its General Plan consultants.

___  Timeline Becomes Friction Point For Council And Staff  ___

Taken by total surprise, relevant city staff indicate that perhaps as much as a month has been lost from the current General Plan project timeline, as a result of such instant alterations / declarations of policy by the city council, involving this key project’s scope and logistics.

“Our consultants were ready to perform the needed, detailed analyses for consideration of the [various] land use alternatives,” explains city staff; while, “this [city council] change of scope and direction will likely add to the cost and time required” to complete the new General Plan.

Stallard agrees with this staff perspective, emphasizing that: “The more we increase the scope of what we want to do here, the more data has to come in.  It just complicates, makes it needlessly complex in some cases.”

Astoundingly though, the city council also expects city staff and relevant consultants to somehow compress their work related to these new council policies and directions and to complete General Plan approval — four months ahead of schedule — so that it might become adopted in November of 2014.

The city’s present schedule has new General Plan approval set for February and March of 2015.

Hiatt objects to this new council-ordered timeline acceleration, describing that: “The same body of work” must still be accomplished, and stating that he would “caution you” (city council): There is no good way to “compress” this work.

The predictable effect of attempting such a timeline compression would be to deny relevant data and community development implications from consideration within this basic planning process, which worries both Stallard and city staff.

Nevertheless, Davies insists that: “We can get the date quicker by just studying it at once.  We need to study it all at one time and bring it back so we can deal with it [in December].  I don’t want to wait until February and put it off to March.”

Davies says: “There is no sense analyzing three [land use alternatives] if there are parts of those three that are non-starters.  [  ]  Narrow it down.  Cut the time down.”

At another point in the meeting, Davies relates that: “I looked at the scenarios.  I met with staff.  There are part of them [various land use alternatives] that just don’t make sense.”

Truncating community planning processes in swift accord with what are obviously pre-determined perspectives / actions by the city council, is apparently now the course of Woodland’s new General Plan process.

Woodland Planning Commission at its October 17 meeting strongly implied that a ‘train-wreck’ of planning process is now set to unfold, using stark terms like: “Short-circuit, Rubberstamp and Frustration” in its reaction to this city council action.  Its chairperson stated to Hiatt that he should take back to the city council a clear message: “Frustration.”

One planning commissioner stated that: “People now have to get involved,” with opposing this city council action.

___  Timeline Appears Related To Election Changes  ___

November 2014 is a very key date, since legal and political pressure is building regarding the state Voting Rights Act, to initiate its required reform of the city’s voting practices at the General Election held during that month.

It appears that the sitting city council wants to wield utter control over the new General Plan adoption, and is prepared to leverage that control with its potential decision to extend its term in office from June (when elections have traditionally been held) to November of 2014 (consistent with legal and political pressure for election reform).

Attorneys active in litigation regarding the state Voting Rights Act believe that it would be a violation of the Act for Woodland to hold another at-large election for City Council in June of 2014, according to a well known Latino leader who requests to remain anonymous.

Thus, for several reasons the city council will soon face legal and political pressure to shift its elections to November, beginning in 2014, as well as to utilize a district-based election format.  Its apparent political gambit is to extract new General Plan approval in November of 2014, in return for shifting the next (reformed) city council election to that date.

___  Conaway Ranch Pulling Political Strings  ___

Appearing before city council on October 15, Conaway Ranch General Manager Robert Thomas had quite a lot to say, beginning with the quip that it and Woodland: “Are joined at the hip — and we like it.”

Conaway Ranch directly elicited the planning / development consultant’s report which is being used by Woodland City Council to predicate its newly radical (“aggressive”) growth policy.

According to the city’s General Plan consultant, such radical growth: “Is not a most likely scenario by any means,” expressing in detail within a contending memo to the city that this planning consultant presented by Conaway Ranch is using both flawed data and skewed interpretations to arrive at the conclusions which it is recommending to the city.

Navazio expresses a week after its meeting, key concern about city council appreciation of the actual context of these competing planning consultants.

___  Thomas Challenges City With Essential Partnership  ___

Initially, Thomas announces to the City Council that Woodland’s: “Flood control solution is going to require access through Conaway Ranch to the Yolo Bypass.”

Also, Thomas reminds the city council that: “Railroad relocation, freeing-up 27 intersections within three cities” is fully dependent upon cooperation by Conaway Ranch.

For a hat-trick, Thomas reveals that Pacific Coast Producers (PCP, operators of the local tomato cannery) has recently requested help from the city with managing its own commercial growth plan by shifting its “spray field” for production-related waste away from a soon inadequate, city-owned parcel of 900 acres on the eastern edge of town — and on to suitable land that would be provided by Conaway Ranch.

Thomas states that: “Giant mistakes” would occur if railroad relocation were separated from a flood solution and if the request to the city of PCP is ignored (“We are very interested in working that out”).

“The only way to do this,” says Thomas, “is to look at that 1025 acres in a comprehensive manner” (Conaway Ranch owns 125 acres adjacent to this 900 acre city parcel used by PCP as its current “spray field.”).  These 125 acres, according to Davies, could be used to help potentially resolve the city’s flood issues.

“We are prepared to partner with the city on these three issues,” says Thomas, but these 125 acres presently zoned as Urban Reserve, “needs to be a part of your consideration.”

“Can flood control be solved for Woodland in this area?  Absolutely,” claims Thomas, who then proceeds to deride city staff’s perspective that a flood solution is relatively tentative and uncertain within the planning horizon of the city’s new General Plan (2035).

Thomas challenges the city council to move forward with its (Conaway Ranch consultant-based) intentions related to an “aggressive” growth plan, stating that he would: “Hate to see” [a General Plan] document representing to the federal government that: “The city council doesn’t think we can do it.”

“Because” if that happens, says Thomas, “you won’t be prioritized for [federal] funding” related to flood prevention.

___  Part Two  ___

Part Two of this Yolo Sun investigative series will soon present additional views of Woodland City Council members, including an in-depth analysis of the perspective of Stallard, which is clearly contrary to the Council majority: “I really do believe that adopting the 1.7% [growth rate] does violence to the state’s newly enacted Sustainable Communities Strategy (Senate Bill 375) and its a direction that I regret seeing our city go.”

Additionally, Part Two will explore and analyze the various details of contention arising between the city’s General Plan consultant and the planning consultant hired by Conaway Ranch, as well as explaining the origin of the city council’s 1.7% annual growth plan.

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