YOLO SUN OPINION :
Woodland City Council has suddenly dug itself into a political hole deep enough to swallow a hundred year flood.
In 1996, the city’s previous General Plan went onto the election ballot, so local voters could decide the basic future of community development, an essential question being Spring Lake’s impending conversion of more than a thousand acres of prime farmland. Voters approved this conversion, although the pertinent issues were somewhat clouded by slanted contexts within that 17 year-old election debate.
Following resignation of former city manager, Mark Deven, interim city manager, Kevin O’Roarke, realized that this city was very tardy regarding state guidelines for revising its General Plan. At this time, the city also had not published a municipal budget for two years.
O’Roarke insisted both that the city have a formal budget and update its General Plan.
More than a decade after it should have done so, thererfore, the city is finally now updating its General Plan — which clearly seems headed for a huge political train-wreck, a real (historical) smash-up that may well delay and perhaps pivotally intervene upon its adoption.
___ General Plan Headed For Election Ballot? ___
Yolo Sun has recently received information confirming initiation of grass-roots activities intent on intervening upon the present course of city council actions related to the new General Plan, by means of a voter-initiative based election ballot measure.
Why? Because the City Council’s recently unveiled General Plan policies are not only bad for Woodland — these adverse policies are also fundamentally bogus.
Apparently, this community has on its hands a madcap, crackpot City Council, which lacks voter-expected, critical thinking skills; but yet, possesses the crude pomposity to believe it can deal with a blustering flurry of land development speculation arising coincident with creation of the new General Plan.
Conaway Ranch Manager, Bob Thomas, exclaiming how delighted this outfit is to be: “Joined at the hip” with Woodland, proceeds to successfully browbeat the (willing) City Council in a way that is transparently fraudulent, regarding the city’s flood control plans.
And the city council thirsts for more.
For one example, Thomas claims to city council that a local flood solution must involve Conaway Ranch, since it lies between the city and the Yolo Bypass.
Actually, there are three possible options to displace potential Cache Creek floodwater, of which exit into the Yolo Bypass is only one. The other two potential solutions are: (a) water moved northerly into the Colusa Basin and (b) water ponded northeasterly from the city.
Thus, Thomas overstates, misrepresents his case before the city council in a manner designed to pressure it to adopt policies favorable to Conaway Ranch. More details along these lines are analyzed below.
Densification is disregarded and sprawl sanctioned — at a very early point in this General Plan project.
Beyond this, the city council took these pivotal actions — outside of any form of public comment or objection — at its meeting of October 15. After public comment was closed, the majority of councilmembers made their move.
Their plan clearly was to exclude the public from this radical maneuver.
Councilmember Marble states on the dais, though, that we: “Should put all the developers in a room for two hours and they’ll come back with the solution.”
Even as a sort of stupid joke, this is a very troubling attitude relevant to other adverse views of Marble.
___ Marble Misinterprets Growth Cap ___
Marble views a simple and arbitrarily coined (1996 era), housing growth cap (annual 1.7%) in the prior General Plan as being: “Worthy of continuance,” in the totally different form of becoming some kind of realistically predictive, reliable forecast of population and economic growth — which must thus be immediately handled within the new General Plan — a patently absurd course for city policy.
This 1.7% annual growth cap is only approved by local voters to apply in the context of the 1996 General Plan — not that of the new General Plan.
In its reckless pursuit of “free-market” ideals, the city council has lost track of this simple, electoral reality, like Councilmember Sean Denny being quite happy to resolve key city issues upon such an obviously delusional basis.
With Marble working the sails and Denny plus Councilmember Jim Hilliard greasing the rudder, Mayor Skip Davies has incompetently steered our local ship of state straight onto the rocky shoals of radical mis-governance.
Davies states of the city’s new General Plan: “I think you can meet everybody’s needs and the city’s needs economically as well.”
Denny chimes in, expressing that: “I don’t really like to go against something that the public’s already voted on. So, I like the 1.7% on the growth rate. I think that takes care of a lot of the problems and lets a lot of people do things. It does keep everybody happy.”
It can now be starkly seen, that “everybody” is not “happy;” in fact, a deep and influential political revolt is swiftly brewing.
Denny, like Marble and the rest of the council majority, believes that city policy must be essentially “market-driven,” with various developers being the major influences of community composition and evolution, rather than having city policy determinations guide development into civically valuable directions and outcomes.
___ Lone Voice Of Reason ___
Councilmember Tom Stallard is the lone voice of reason.
“I think we need to be careful how many areas we develop in our city, simultaneously,” cautions Stallard, who describes instant city council action as: “Huge and rapid expansion,” about which he didn’t even expect council discussion until 2014, associated with the schedule of anticipated General Plan project process.
“I don’t think tonight is the night to make these decisions,” warns Stallard, insisting that more data and information is needed before taking such plainly radical steps. “Compromise scenarios” are possible, he predicts.
“How do we build commitment to infill as part of our General Plan? This is an important point to me,” pleads Stallard, trying to keep his focus within a growing mood of frustration and gloom about these sudden, radical and unfounded city council actions.
Indeed, the city’s General Plan consultant estimates that there are about 1500 developable units within the established city area.
Additionally, knowledgeable city staff estimate that several hundred acres of developable land exist along the city’s immediate edges (especially the northerly edge), outside of the relevant floodplain, in areas where developmental and construction design factors are capable of containing flood threats.
“We need to act in terms of current, realistic expectations [such as the 1.1% annual local growth rate predicted by Sacramento Area Council Of Governments (SACOG)],” adds Stallard, who more colorfully admonishes the council that: “It’s not about SACOG trying to shaft the City of Woodland, or any such nonsense. [ ] SACOG are not our enemies, they’re our friends.”
“I really hoped Woodland would be more sympathetic to the objective of rationalized growth,” Stallard expresses in complete frustration with council action.
Denny, on the other hand, “look[s] at things a little different [from Stallard, specifically].”
Denny wants to create the: “Biggest economic drivers for all parts of the city,” signaling his broad inclination to attempt orchestration of more than is reasonable or prudent, in terms of unfocused, non-infill development.
As Stallard has indicated, developmental pressures for city infill are weakened by more peripheral projects, and as the General Plan project manager has stated: “[N]ot all growth yields positive benefits for the community – type, quality and timing of growth matters.”
Denny says he doesn’t want to “stifle” local economic / developmental progress.
Denny expresses his confidence that city staff will be able to manage
Denny seems to operate as a sort of Skip-light in these council actions.
___ A Floody Farce ___
Thus, Woodland City Council is using a bogus growth plan (population from 56.000 to 85,000 in twenty years, with a 50% in housing units) to purpose and motivate commercial and residential development into the floodplain, such as upon a 900 acre parcel of city property just east of the water treatment plant.
This 900 acre parcel was singled out by the city council for immediate staff attention, at the behest of East Woodland LLC and Conaway Ranch.
Hilliard makes a big point of saying that as city property, this 900 acres can be easily and immediately zoned to meet developmental demands.
All four radical councilmembers went on at various length, in response to both blunt and sharp prodding by Conaway Ranch (Bob Thomas) and East Woodland LLC (Tim Taron), about a supposed, imperative need to provide “inventives,” etc., for relevant developmental interests — in order to somehow lubricate the enormous and tiresome wheels of state and federal government toward providing Woodland with its flood solution.
This basic and bogus argument of the council is that: Having the city demonstrate within its new General Plan a firm / robust intention to zone and develop into the floodplain will (with such developmental alliances) somehow help to influence and persuade state and federal governments to provide the hundreds of millions of dollars needed for a local (Cache Creek) flood solution.
This policy perspective is pure hogwash, zestfully ingested by an ideologically (“free-market”) oriented / driven city council.
Since the 1970s, according to city staff, the federal government has had specific policy in place to prevent the use of public funds to service commercial / residential expansion into floodplains, even (or especially) in conjunction with local governmental intentions.
There is no successful traction available using this ploy of the city council and relevant developers.
State and federal governments actually frown on such designs and predications for flood protection.
Demonstrating within the new General Plan any municipal desire to zone and develop into a floodplain intended to be protected by such a state-federal flood solution — amounts to: “Less than zero,” within competitive applications, according to city staff.
In other words, the city council is badly blundering by stiffly following with its key General Plan policies, the sprawl-laden lead laid down by developmental interests such as Conaway Ranch and East Woodland LLC.
This city council notion of adopting an “aggressive[,] unlikely” (city General Plan consultant) growth projection and zoning development into the floodplain, in order to help induce a grant of state and federal aid — is a floody farce.
Will it take a ballot measure concerning the new General Plan to induce city council comprehension of its approaching community planning debacle?
___ Densification, Not More Sprawl ___
Along with expressing his great dismay toward these city council actions, Planning Commissioner, Chris Holt, recently has some pertinent things to say about city densification (infill).
Holt describes his research into these matters, by saying that Woodland and Elk Grove have remarkably similar municipal densities: ~3,600 residents to a square mile. Contrast this with Davis, which (excluding campus housing) has more than 6,600 residents per square mile.
“I do think that our land use alternatives should look at a density option,” explains Holt, who goes on to say that the present city council (single option) course cannot possibly: “Allow for the appropriate analysis of what it means for Woodland to densify.”
Holt indicates his belief that primary goals of Woodland’s new General Plan would be well advanced by focusing attention on prospects for such city densification (infill), rather than through yet another spiral of sprawl, which clearly is the demonstrated desire and intent of the majority City Council.
___ Part Four ___
Part Four of this Yolo Sun investigative series will continue to follow city actions regarding the new General Plan, as well as examining related factors of how and when the city will eventually receive its flood solution and how such a solution affects decision making related to the new General Plan.
The city will hopefully file its formal flood protection request / application with state and federal government in July of 2015, to be duly considered within planning agendas during 2017 and thereafter.
City staff now hope to have a flood solution moving forward by 2025 or 2030, based on the starkly important fact that Interstate 5 would be under eight to thirteen feet of water for two miles, just east of Costco, with a 200-year flood event.
Such a flood event could — close Interstate 5 — for months — not a consequence compatible with sound state and regional planning.
Woodland’s flooding problem thus exists (quite conveniently) alongside key regional and state imperatives. In this overall planning context, it is likely that Woodland will finally receive its flooding solution toward the end of the new General Plan horizon of 2035.