YOLO SUN OPINION :

[Editor’s note: Woodland Planning Commission’s recommendation to the City Council about this item is included within City Council consideration of the new (2015-2035) General Plan, on its meeting agenda for November 3, 2015.]

Native Americans sometimes used a technique for hunting big-game, such as buffalo, by frightening such a herd into stampeding over a cliff.

The term, “buffaloed,” has other pertinent meanings (please see Appendix of Definitions, below), also reflecting an astonishing public event occurring between Woodland Planning Commission and Conway Ranch, in the person of Bob Thomas, its General Manager, during the Commission’s consideration of the new City General Plan (2015-2035) on July 23, 2015.

Conaway’s Campaign

Conway Ranch has instigated a political campaign during 2015, involving colorful and deceptive post cards (Yolo Sun published an article about this campaign:   https://yolosun.wordpress.com/2015/03/21/conaways-skippered-general-plan-campaign-should-be-scuppered/  ), that campaign proponents now say (in July) amounted to slightly more than 3000 cards being delivered to Woodland City Hall.

This campaign matter concerns a 900 acre parcel owned by the city and located at its eastern edge (south of I-5), which is now being leased by the local cannery as a spray-field to disperse wastes created by its operations.

Conaway Ranch (Conaway Preservation Group) owns more than 17,000 acres of eastern Yolo County and several hundred acres adjacent to this 900 acre parcel.

Clearly, Conaway desires to eventually acquire this 900 acre parcel to develop, but the parcel lies within a seriously flood-prone area, requiring a solid flood-control solution prior to any development.

Creating city (new General Plan based) planning attention to this parcel, though, would seem to establish some future civic intention / format, easing / predicating its development — despite the fact city staff has plainly advised that any such future development would be required to produce a (new) General Plan amendment, a specific plan and related environmental studies.

Thomas’ Presentation

Bob Thomas made a lengthy and detailed presentation about this parcel, to the planning commission:

“It’s in your city, it’s in your city limits, [  ] you want to plan that [900 acre] area.

“If this city sends the wrong message to the state and federal government, that it’s not important, we’re not going to fix the flood-control project.

“We’re going to have to make that [flood-control project] work, just like we made the water project work.

“That east area is important to your water supply, [  ] it’s absolutely essential to your flood control and it’s essential for your railroad relocation.

[   ]

“The preferred alternative to relocate the railroad out of your downtown is through Conaway Ranch.

“So, that east area needs to be looked at from a job employment level, from PCP; we’ve solved the water problem, and at this point we can’t throw up our hands and say, we gotta wait ‘til flood control is fixed.

“We should be allowed to go forward with the planning process now, as part of the general plan.  And if we do not have flood control in place, we cannot issue building permits.

[   ]

“[That] 900 acres is not prime ag land.  It’s a policy of the city to preserve prime ag land.

“I don’t know how long it’s gonna take, [  ] but we need to send a strong message to state and federal agencies that we want flood protection.

[   ]

“This [not acceding to our developmental plans] is slamming the door.  [  ] You have the right to proceed with a specific plan for that area.

[   ]

“By delaying the planning process, you’re delaying ultimately what might occur there, I think it sends the wrong message [   ] to federal and state government, that it’s not a priority.

“There’s an opportunity to start the specific plan, while we’re figuring out a flood solution.  They can be parallel processes; they don’t need to be sequential.

“If the city is sending a strong message that it’s land in the city that we plan on developing, [ ] it helps in terms of our federal and state partners.”

Planning Commissioners Respond

Chris Holt, Vice-chair of Woodland Planning Commission, responded:

“Mr. Thomas alluded to it, but I’ll lay it right out there for everyone.

“At some point Conaway has a lot of very good things that we need to solve some of our problems, including the flood control solution, the railway relocation, [and preserving the local cannery].

“So, we would be disingenuous to believe that Conaway would go ahead and give us all of that and not expect something back.

“So, I think that 900 acres and their interest in that 900 acres can be a benefit to us.”

John Murphy, a planning commission member who, like Holt, has been rather slow to respond in agreement with the planning wishes of Conaway Ranch, soon added:

“How do you pay the local share, [for] this?

“That’s the only asset the city’s got . . . the development potential of that property seems to be the funding source [for a flood control solution and rail relocation].

[   ]

“We have to maximize the value of that property, if that means that it has to be in [the new general plan] EIR, then it has to be in it.  I see that’s the only reason we’re even talking about that piece of property, is because of its value to the city.

“Otherwise, I wouldn’t even want to talk about developing that piece of property.

[   ]

“We can develop that piece of property, if it means we’re going to get things we actually want more, which is the flood control and the rail relocation.”

Local Cannery’s Viability Becomes Side-Issue

Thomas made the following comment about the local cannery:

“They would prefer to relocate [the spray field] away from the urban area. [  ] They really can’t make that move unless you include the 900 acres in the preferred alternative. They can’t make that move.  And I would hope that you would honor and respect and want your largest employer to be successful in this city. If it’s not in the preferred plan, they can’t move.”

In other words, Conaway Ranch believes that it controls the only reasonable prospect of relocating the cannery’s spray-field – using its land – thus, making the 900 acre parcel (with general plan zoning) available for acquisition by Conaway Ranch, which would essentially be buying it to provide the city with: (a) government grant-gap funding (~$40 million) likely needed for its flood control project, (b) Conaway’s cooperation with this flood control project and railway relocation.

Planning commissioners seem to be in harmony with Conaway’s view; although, John Murphy (at one point) questioned the necessary connection between moving the cannery’s spray-field and developing this 900 acre parcel.  Thomas failed to respond and the meeting discussion turned away from this issue.

“Growth-Inducing” Planning May Jeopardize Federal Funding

Planning Commissioner Marco Lizarraga made this comment (reflective of his other pertinent comments), echoing arguments by Thomas:

“There’s never enough incentive for the government to fund anything; the more you have, the better and the easier.”

According to city staff, though, the federal government looks askance at local governments using its flood control funding for what it describes as “growth-inducing” purposes, as contrasted with preserving and protecting existing development.  Just imagine the unsustainable, competitive scene, of local governments all across the nation extending their development projects into floodplains, at will, using federal money.

Conaway’s Con

There’s a very basic and serious problem / con regarding Conaway’s view / plan, drawing to attention sometimes strange conjunctions between names and actions (such as with Bernie Madoff).

Conaway is conning (buffaloing) the Woodland Planning Commission, as to the factual circumstances involved in this matter.

An “Agreement For Conveyance Of Real Property And Easements” was entered into by City of Woodland and Conaway Ranch (among others) on December 21, 2010.  This document is the basis for the Woodland – Davis Clean Water Agency, through which these cities will access surface water.

Apparently, Woodland Planning Commission is unaware of this key document, outlining the relevant legal relationship between Conaway Ranch and the City.

As well, Woodland Planning Commission appears to harbor the erroneous impression that the City must make some sort of deal with Conaway Ranch, about this 900 acre parcel, in order to receive its cooperation with flood control and railway relocation.

Article Three (page 8) of this legal document describes the details of obligatory cooperation by Conaway Ranch, with both Woodland’s eventual flood control project and its plans for railroad relocation:

“COOPERATION WITH RESPECT TO POTENTIAL ADDITIONAL EASEMENTS

“3.1  Cooperation  CPG covenants to cooperate, in good faith, with Davis and Woodland with respect to matters set forth in this Section 3.1 and to utilize good faith efforts to accomplish the same promptly following receipt of request by the applicable parties. The provisions of this Section 3.1 shall survive the Closing (as defined below) for a period of ten (10) years.

“3.1.1  Relocation of Railroad Tracks  Sierra Northern Railway, a California corporation (“SNR”) has railroad tracks near Conaway Ranch which extend into land owned by Woodland.  Woodland would like SNR to relocate the railroad tracks in a manner which reduces the impact on street traffic in Woodland and in order for that to occur, the relocated railroad tracks may include replacement railroad tracks through Conaway Ranch.

  • Subject to the provisions of Sections 3.2 and 3.3 below, CPG agrees to cooperate, in good faith, with Woodland’s reasonable efforts to have SNR relocate its railroad tracks by providing necessary right of way and construction easements to SNR for the relocated railroad tracks, to the extent they are placed on Conaway Ranch.
  • These easements will be granted, if at all, without payment from SNR to CPG so long as (i) CPG does not incur any direct costs in connection with the grant of such easements; (ii) SNR bears all costs and expenses associated with such easements; and (ii) SNR complies with the provisions of Section 3.4 below.

“3.1.2   Woodland Flood Protection   The Parties acknowledge that Woodland desires to improve flood protection for its City by increasing the flood capacity of Cache Creek by relocating the south levee of the Cache Creek Settling Basin and constructing a new channel south of such levee.

  • Subject to the provisions of Sections 3.2 and 3.3 below, CPG agrees to cooperate, in good faith, with Woodland’s reasonable efforts to implement such flood protection by conveying appropriate easements over Conaway Ranch located within the Cache Creek Settling Basin for the location or relocation, maintenance and operation of the necessary levees and the right to flood the areas north of such levees. These easements may cover approximately 550 acres of Conaway Ranch within the Cache Creek Settling Basin.
  • These easements will be granted, if at all, without payment by Woodland to CPG so long as (i) CPG does not incur any direct costs in connection with the grant of such easements; (ii) Woodland bears all costs and expenses associated with such easements; and (iii) Woodland complies with the provisions of Section 3.4 below.

[   ]

“3.2   Impact on Conaway Ranch   CPG shall not be obligated to provide any of the easements described in Section 3.1 if, in the exercise of CPG’s good faith business judgment, supported by substantial evidence of the same, such easement would have a material negative impact on the operation of Conaway Ranch or the marketability of the crops grown on Conaway Ranch as a whole.  [This section continues, outlining potential “effluent” / “pipeline” concerns and creating a process of non-binding mediation for potential conflicts.]

[   ]

“3.4   Terms Applicable to Easements Granted Pursuant to Section 3.1   The following provisions shall be applicable to each and every easement granted pursuant to Section 3.1 above:

“3.4.1   Diligent Construction   Once the grantee of such easement commences construction of the improvements to be located within its easement area, such grantee shall diligently prosecute the construction of such improvements through completion.

“3.4.2   Compliance With Applicable Laws   The grantee of such easement shall, at its own expense, comply with all laws applicable to the construction and operation of the improvements constructed in and the use of such easement.

“3.4.3   Provisions in Section 2.4   The provisions contained in Section 2.4 shall also apply with respect to each easement granted pursuant to Section 3.1.  Specific terminology shall be conformed to the terminology of the specific easement.

[   ]

“2.4   Coordination With Ranch Operations; Crop Damages; Restoration   [This provision is self-explanatory, concerning notice of and responsibility for potential crop damage, due to granting of relevant easements.]”

Conclusion

Conaway Ranch is legally obligated to perform according to this “Agreement For Conveyance Of Real Property And Easements.”

It is not necessary for Woodland to attempt to sway Conaway Ranch’s potential bad faith actions regarding these matters (flood control and railroad relocation), by prematurely planning development on the 900 acre parcel of city owned land which it is intent on acquiring.

Woodland Planning Commission’s decision to accede to the wishes of Conaway Ranch, by expanding the new general plan process to include planning for this 900 acre parcel, was obviously based upon a gross misunderstanding of affairs, based on Bob Thomas’ con-job of mischaracterizations.

Appendix of Definitions for the word: Buffaloed —

Cassell Dictionary of Slang contains the following entry for ‘buffaloed’: 1900s-1950s [orig. U.S.], coerced, crushed. [BUFFALO v.] This is the entry for ‘buffalo’: 19th C. [U.S.] to overawe, to frighten, to confuse

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Third Ed. has this to say: buffaloed 1. To intimidate, as by a display of confidence or authority 2. To deceive, hoodwink 3. to confuse, bewilder

DICTIONARY OF AMERICAN SLANG offers the following: BUFFALO verb 1) [about 1879] To confuse someone purposely, especially in order to cheat or dupe 2) [about 1890] To intimidate; cow; bulldoze

HISTORICAL DICTIONARY OF AMERICAN SLANG has relevant insights: BUFFALO verb Originally Western 1a) To intimidate or frighten, especially by means of mere bluff; to cow.

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