YOLO SUN OPINION :

City staff usually insist that Woodland has the best advice available, like Bay Area Economics (BAE), which has done a splendid job of contending with sudden intervention by developmental consultants retained by East Woodland LLC (according to city staff, a commercial developmental group associated with Conaway Ranch), involved in an effort to provoke community development toward its own commercial interest.

Problem is: the majority Woodland City Council swoons before the swill served up by East Woodland LLC’s hired henchmen.

Various and quite interesting contentions by these consultants, and how these assertions and assumptions interact, appear in analysis below and within Part Three of this Yolo Sun investigative series.

Underneath this community planning landscape, though, is an arising prospect that the sitting city council (in concert with lobbying by these real estate developers) will attempt truncating consideration of the new General Plan by accelerating its adoption in alignment with a potential shift in municipal election practice, which may well serve (especially in light, ironically, of this very council action on the new General Plan) to expand civic / political participation and accountability toward confronting injurious (so-called) “free-market” alliances on the council.

District-based city council elections occurring at general-election timing in November would likely result in twice the usual voter turnout (~35% to ~70%) – good news for our democracy, but bad news for conservative-type fans of the (so-called) “free-market,” so very fond of rhetorically brandishing this inherently vague term to justify knee-jerk capitulations of civic interest toward private commercial influences.

BAE does a masterful job of exposing and explaining in a very solid and professional manner, East Woodland LLC’s skewed stew of statistics; so, why is Woodland City Council swept away under this stew’s scant sway?

That is the key question deserving an adequate, satisfying answer, which only Woodland City Council members can provide in absolute detail.  As will be seen, this will be an interesting adventure in civic accountability.

This column is devoted to illuminating the public record, so as to assist Woodlanders’ comprehension of the extent to which they are now at risk by a madcap and reckless City Council, which seems much more interested about ideological display and servicing various developmental interests, than with basic, constructive governance.

___  Davies’ Ideological Posture  ___

Woodland Mayor Davies, of course, is leading the glorious charge in this quest to elevate ideological, economic phantasms above civic interest.

In his close company is a four member council majority; only councilmember Tom Stallard is taking a contrary position.

Davies has a habit of breaking into oral presentations of those with contrary opinions (his own colleague, Stallard, as well as city consultants), to espouse his brand of (so called) “free-market” views.

Such views of Davies and other Council members have been tantalized and teased-out using developmental consultants hired by East Woodland LLC, which desires to duly and timely exploit the fact that there are currently five, white, male Republicans sitting upon the Woodland City Council dais.

___  Davies and Tschudin  ___

Davies interrupted the General Plan project manager, Heidi Tschudin, during her basic presentation, in order to exploit an opportunity to inject his determination that the 1996 General Plan’s annual growth cap (1.7%) be adopted as a genuine, developmental mechanism of the new General Plan.

“Our city policy [  ],” says Davies, “That [staff projected 5,500 new housing units by 2035] doesn’t respond to our existing city policy, correct?”

‘It does not,” states Tschudin.

“What would our existing city policy tell us that our demand would be?” asks Davies.

“I don’t think this existing [1996] city policy speaks to demand,” answers Tschudin, “It simply sets a maximum number of new, single-family units.

“The [whole] idea [here] is: In this General Plan, you’re redefining your assumptions.”

There was a long pause — as Davies tried to get another grip on this pivotal exchange, since he is obviously intent on using this old housing policy / growth cap as a crude gadget (detailed in context, below) to pursue attention toward “free-market” adoring, developmental interests.

Davies later in this meeting announces that: “The input that I’ve had is [that] the interests are similar [to that of councilmember Bill Marble, who appears strongly within the “free-market” camp] — across the board.”

“Existing city policy identifies [ ] 10.559 units,” claims Davies, who refers to a memo by a consultant retained by East Woodland LLC, in his exchange with Tschudin.

“You’re anticipating us doing half of that?” questions Davies.

Davies is clearly wrong, of course, in proposing that this 1996 growth cap actually — “identifies” — anything at all, other than simply a 17 year-old city policy capping growth, conjoined to the prior (voter-approved) General Plan that needed updating more than a decade ago.

This 1.7% figure has nothing at all to do with actually predicting current, authentic, developmental demand, as was — almost — stated by staff within this October 15 city council meeting.

But, such a solid reference to verity and logic seems far too much of a burden / miracle to pull off for Woodland City Council.

Thus, city planning is flung into a sudden quest to connect the majority city council’s “free-market” outlook, however false its foundation, to reality.

___  The Facts  ___

BAE, the City’s General Plan consultant, indicates that: “It should be noted that in looking at historic growth rates for the City of Woodland, this rate would substantially exceed the growth rate experienced between 1990 and 2000 (1.4%), the growth rate experienced between 2000 and 2010 (1.5%), the growth rate experienced between 2001 and 2013 (1.0%) and the longer term growth rate between 1991 and 2013 (1.3%).”

Woodland has never experienced a 1.7% annual rate of growth in the modern era.

BAE informs the city council that: “It should be concluded that [East Woodland LLC’s consultant’s] most aggressive scenarios [including the 1.7% figure] are not likely.”

However, Davies wants to somehow interpret the city’s existing (1996 era) 1.7% annual growth cap as being a precious, predictive goal toward which the new General Plan project must now be essentially engineered.

Antiquated and irrelevant, is the best way to describe this 1.7% number, which was arbitrarily established during the 1996 municipal referendum on the General Plan of that time.  Almost two decades later, as Tschudin accurately advises: “The idea is: In this General Plan, you’re redefining your assumptions,” based upon the contemporary context.

East Woodland LLC and the majority Woodland City Council, though, desire to – without good cause or proper process — enshrine this arbitrary and obsolete 1.7% annual growth cap as becoming a pivotal, reliably predicative element operating within the new General Plan.

___  Challenge Of Electoral Changes  ___

This slanted, obtusely “free-market” oriented city council composition is soon to be jeopardized, to the great dismay of local “free-market” enthusiasts.

The California Voting Rights Act mandates reform of the local electoral system, by using district-based municipal elections instead of at-large contests.

Because of its tardy address to this situation, Woodland may also have to shift city council elections to November (measure related to reform will be on the ballot for June, 2014, and legal sense dissuades from holding another at-large city council election at the same time).

The (impending) first general-election, district-based ballot in Woodland’s history may well prove to influence City planning in progressive ways.

So, the sitting Woodland City Council can fully control the new General Plan if it could be adopted in November of 2014, while Council terms would be extended to the same time for California Voting Rights Act reform.

Stallard has expressed concrete planning concerns about city council action regarding the new General Plan and also an intuitive / experienced sense about when to come in out of the brewing, local political storm, which is now swiftly gathering in response to this city council adoption of a “free-market” inspired, “aggressive” growth policy that proposes a stunning 50% increase in city housing units in 20 years, projecting a city population of ~85,000 by 2035.

Woodland is now home to about 56,000 persons.

As stated, the city council’s now adopted 1.7% annual General Plan growth projection is over twice the state average of 0.8%, far above other reliable estimates (~1.1%), as well as never occurring in modern city history.

___  Stallard Apologetic In Dissent ___

Stallard, though, (even in dissent) cannily expresses a need to craftily apologize for having the temerity of calling into question the expansive and destructive ambit of — “free-market” — influence rhetorically wielded by Davies, who portrays Woodland as currently being in dire competition with surrounding communities (“Yuba City, Natomas, Elk Grove, West Sac.,” etc.), in terms of housing and economic development, “and everything else.”

Such a peculiar and pernicious City Council dynamic is becoming a source of dire concern that municipal policy is often (and in basic ways) driven by destructive ideological fascination with vague and intangible, “free-market” rhetoric — unhappily confounding city council action upon the real and present interests of Woodlanders.

Responding to the continuing lawsuit against Gateway 2 (doubling of the size of the existing GatewayCenter), for example, the city has oddly stated on the record that it:  “Has no authority to distribute or control the distribution of commercial potential” in Woodland.

Of course, such curious policy / practices are an absurd abdication of common city zoning authority, obviously undermining our civic interests.

Such absurd yet politically serviceable views, regarding “free-market” developmental perspectives, seem to surface and operate when needed (by those interests) within much of city council decision making.

Repeated requests by Yolo Sun — for an official explanation of this bizarre city planning perspective, expressed within a supposedly accountable legal record — have for years been ignored by the city.

___  City Planning Basics  ___

“Assumptions regarding the pace and phasing of growth for purposes of general planning and CEQA [California Environmental Quality Act] analysis can dramatically affect analytical outcomes in both good and bad ways, and should be carefully considered,” explains Heidi Tschudin, General Plan Project Manager.

For example, “overestimating demand can lead to unintended consequences oversized infrastructure and [  ] less money actually collected when it is needed thus potentially precluding the ability to construct the infrastructure in a timely fashion[;] not all growth yields positive benefits for the community; type, quality and timing of growth matter.

“The approach proposed by staff is to use the best available reliable information to develop reasonable growth projections for purposes of planning and environmental review, and to build in policies and triggers that address sequencing and phasing of growth,” describes Tschudin, adding that: “Polices would be added to establish re-assessment points (e.g. every ten years; at 80% build-out of active growth area, etc.) or triggers (e.g. rail realignment, flood solution, etc.) at which time growth trends would be re-evaluated.

“By using policies to create a strategy for phasing and sequencing of growth,” explains Tschudin, “the City can also ensure: maximum opportunities for community benefit, efficient provision of services and infrastructure, maximized tax revenue, master land use planning within an area, and preservation of land use and development opportunities for later years.”

___  East Woodland LLC’s Data Must Be Adjusted To Apply  ___

East Woodland LLC’s planning consultant (Development Planning and Financing Group, Inc., DPFG) uses unadjusted (flawed) data, beginning in 2008 (not 2013), a practice / result explained and professionally resolved in a subsequent presentation by the city’s General Plan consultant, BAE.

In fact: “The adjusted [DPFG] estimate for residential demand is very similar to the expanded range of 4,000 to 7,100 [proposed] by the General Plan team,” describes Tschudin.

Yet, East Woodland LLC’s consultant (DPFG) instead proposes that 10,559 new housing units will be needed within twenty years — based on its unadjusted data.

This is the figure latched on to by Davies in his discussion with Tschudin (above).

Such a number of new units would reflect an annual 1.7% growth rate for the city.  The majority city council clearly voted on October 15 to attempt pursuit of this rapid rate of growth in the new General Plan — based on such flawed data.

Other serious problems of data interpretation also plague DPFG’s memo, according to BAE.

Wait — there’s more: DPFG admits that it doesn’t have any analysis or factual support for its “free-market” view / plan.

___  DPFG Memo Includes Key Disclaimer  ___

As the BAE memo points out, DPFG’s memo includes the following statement regarding the data which predicates its conclusions recommended to the Woodland City Council: “[T]he selected projections were developed simply to provide varying estimates of future growth potential and are not meant to incorporate judgments about the likelihood of the projection results or imbedded assumptions.”

Thus, as has been by itself admitted, there is absolutely no analytically verifiable reason to believe DPFG’s “aggressive” data and conclusions.

DPFG’s numbers are as plainly suspect as suspect can get.

So, East Woodland LLC’s representative, Tim Taron, an attorney with Hefner Stark and Marois LLC, simply testifies before the city council that anything less that a 1.7% growth projection would be: “Pessimistic.”

“It seems to have worked OK [in the previous General Plan].  There is no reason not to do it now,” claims Taron, going on to give the city council blunt directions: “Tonight, [ ] clearly and definitively indicate and direct staff to go with the 1.7% growth rate.”

Taron claims that: “Planning recommendations tend to always underestimate demand [and] think they can manage the market, which they can’t.  None of us can.

“We have to have multiple (commercial) opportunities” insists Taron, to operate in a “free-market” manner.

Woodland City Council does as Taron insists.

___  Infill Potential Is Overlooked By New Council Policy  ___

Tschudin indicates that: “Development of existing designated but vacant sites, existing underutilized sites and approved but undeveloped projects would accommodate some or all of this demand (~5,500 housing units, 7,300 jobs, 250,000 sq. ft. of office space, 530,000 sq. ft. of retail, 200,000 – 500,000 sq. ft. of regional retail, and 1 5 million sq. ft. of industrial uses) depending upon policies and phasing ultimately adopted in the General Plan.”

Quite importantly, BAE research has also determined that, referencing the city’s 2009 Housing Element inventory: “Around 1,500 housing units are also developable,” within the city’s established neighborhoods and planning zones (excluding Spring Lake and the Master Plan Remainder Area).

Additionally, BAE’s view is that existing (perhaps obsolete, commercial zoning within western Woodland should be considered for rezoning for residential uses.  This would again increase city potential for infill development, rather than continuing peripheral sprawl.

In other words and quite importantly — Woodland’s basic — infill — opportunities could reasonably achieve — all — of its various growth projections until 2035, the current planning horizon.

Such a course, though, would be openly antagonistic toward these “free-market” demands of local developers, such as East Woodland LLC.

Thus, Woodland City Council somehow feels a profoundly ideological (“free-market” – driven) need to use flawed data for prematurely zoning thousands of additional acres around the city periphery, supposedly in service to a prospective solution of the potential flooding of Cache Creek; whereas, most all of the city’s reasonable need for developable land can be satisfied as infill — totally outside of the relevant floodplain.

___  City Consultant Memo Disregarded By Council  ___

BAE (the city’s General Plan consultant) expresses in a memo responding to DPFG: “The DPFG memo advocates [ ] housing growth rates that are more aggressive than the current SACOG (Sacramento Area Council Of Governments) projections [ ] for the 2008 to 2035 time period. [ ] The implication of the DPFG memo is that, based on more aggressive assumptions about the housing unit growth that Woodland will sustain through 2035, the City of Woodland should include more land for residential development than what is [currently available [as housing infill].”

DPFG’s memo does not address anything other than residential demand.

“It is also important to maintain a level of perspective of what the different scenarios represent, particularly when the scenarios are proposed by parties that may have a vested interest in the use of aggressive growth assumptions,” wisely indicates this BAE memo.

This BAE memo goes on to (in a professional way) accuse DPFG of utilizing an unbalanced data platform, for which there also is no form of supportive analysis in justification.

Also — BAE points out that DPFG’s expressed position regarding the Master Plan Remainder Area is directly contrary to civic interests, since it delays reimbursement for oversized SpringLake infrastructure, for which the city’s General Fund is currently bonded and liable.

With regard to DPFG manipulation of state-derived data, BAE states that: “If DPFG had [ ] chosen to consider a broader time period that more fully reflected not only the boom period leading up to the 2008 housing crash but also the extended recovery period that was still underway as of 2013, the average annual growth rate would have been 1.0%, much closer to the rate that SACOG projects for Woodland.”

This properly modified scenario would result in a projection of 4,811 (not 10,559) housing units, according to BAE, including a substantial expansion buffer in case of unexpected demand.

Apparently, the majority city council has chosen to disregard this due caution about its commercial motivations, as well as questionable statistical credibility behind the presentation of DPFG.

DPFG presents the position that the city’s growth cap of 1.7% demands: “[A]dditional land to accommodate at least 5.059 additional housing units beyond what is currently being planned” (emphasis in original).

Such an “aggressive” developmental view, essentially based on flawed data and interpretation, vaults city housing projections toward 10.559 new housing units.

DPFG’s memo cannily argues to the council, along “free-market” lines, that BAE’s position regarding SACOG data: “[S]hould be evaluated to determine if a depressed rate of growth is a desirable condition for policymakers.”

Woodland City Council is certainly not ready to be accused by East Woodland LLC and DPFG of ordaining some (anti-”free-market”): “Pessimistic / depressed rate of growth.”

Thus, Woodland City Council has ignored its own consultant and (so far) sided with DPFG and East Woodland LLC about the new General Plan.

___ Part Three ___

Part Three of this Yolo Sun investigative series will examine additional salient facets of the evolution of Woodland’s new General Plan, including views of city council members and city staff, as well as of the competing consultants in this key civic exercise.

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