The City Council voted 4-1 Tuesday to direct staff to bring back a report Nov. 12 with all the possible land-use options for 391 acres of farmland just east of Davis before it’s locked away in conservation forever.
Councilwoman Rochelle Swanson, who made the motion, hopes at that meeting the council can decide whether the property should be considered for a future tech-business park or if it should remain on track for permanent preservation.
“Pretending that we’re not talking about a potential for an innovation park is not genuine,” Swanson said. “We’re going to lose (local businesses looking to grow) if we don’t do something. It’s very, very serious.”
As requested by members of the council, city staff Tuesday brought a status update of the conservation process for the land, called Leland Ranch, to lay out the timeline by which the council would have to make a decision on a grant that would pay for a conservation easement. The council likely would have to take action on the easement in December.
The city acquired the property in 2010 with Measure O funds, which are property taxes earmarked for open space preservation. Later, Yolo Land Trust helped the city secure a $1.125 million grant from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service to pay for the easement.
With the potential for lucrative economic development on the site, however, it appears the council isn’t yet prepared to pass up the opportunity to at least think about its options for building a revenue-generating business park there. And the majority of the city’s leaders seemed comfortable looking into that possibility next month as long as the process is transparent and open to the public.
“I think it’s our responsibility to look at what is best for the community,” said Councilman Brett Lee. “But I would want that open and transparent discussion, and the key here is transparent. I am extremely disappointed in the way this information trickled to us as council people. I do not believe that staff upheld the high standards that we expect of them.”
While the city and Yolo Land Trust had been working toward finalizing the easement over the past few years, local business interests approached city management sometime last year with desires to potentially develop the site. With its proximity to Interstate 80 and its overall size, they saw the location as ideal for a tech-business park.
But Lee said the council wasn’t kept informed by staff about the conversations that were happening about the farmland.
“How are we supposed to make reasoned, well-informed decisions if we’re not being given the information?” Lee asked.
Nevertheless, with the issue fully out in the public realm now, the council is ready to discuss the range of options. Lee tacked on to Swanson’s motion that he would like to know why 200 acres of land would not be sufficient to house a business park.
If the city accepted the conservation easement for the 391-acre property, the next step for a business park likely would be roughly 200 acres of privately owned land near the Mace/I-80 interchange. But city officials have said a 400-acre business park would be ideal for the local economy.
“I understand the need for a business park to retain the businesses, but I don’t have a sense of the size necessary,” Lee said.
Council members also stressed the importance of learning whether Yolo Land Trust would be negatively impacted by the city turning down the grant for the easement.
“If there’s any type of long-term harm that’s going to come to the Yolo Land Trust should the city go with some of these other options, I’m going to have a hard time at the end of the day supporting any of those other options,” Mayor Pro Tem Dan Wolk said.
Councilman Lucas Frerichs said, while he’s not yet sold on the idea of developing the property into a business park, he believes it’s important to engage the public on this issue of open space versus economic development.
“We need to engage the public on this,” Frerichs said. “I take partial responsibility that we did not engage the public on this and now we’re in this situation where (it’s an) essential Catch-22. We feel like we’re rushed, doing something in haste, and that’s quite frustrating.”
But Mayor Joe Krovoza, the lone dissenting vote on the motion, vehemently disagreed with the rest of the council members about the public process.
Krovoza said the city spent three years discussing the easement on the property and, concurrently, discussing sites for potential business park space through the city’s innovation park task force.
“That was the outstanding public planning process,” Krovoza said. “If everybody wasn’t tracking on it exactly, I apologize, but there were many, many checkpoints.”
The mayor also said he believes preserving the 391 acres is the appropriate use for the farmland considering the high quality of the soil, in addition to a potential for the space to complement an agriculture-tech business park on the adjacent 200-acre property.
— Reach Tom Sakash at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-747-8057. Follow him on Twitter at @TomSakash