by MARI RODIN
Ukiah City Council
Opinion, Press Democrat
Developers Diversified, or DDR, is one of the country’s largest developers of shopping malls. The proposed zoning change would allow it to override Mendocino County’s ongoing general plan update, giving it the green light to develop a 500,000- to 700,000-square-foot mall just outside the city limits of Ukiah — perhaps without any environmental review.
Since DDR purchased the property, its representative, Jeff Adams, has been attempting to change the zoning to allow for retail use.
Adams began more than a year ago, at a time when a majority of the Board of Supervisors was favorable to the zoning change. In November, however, two new supervisors were elected (Carre Brown and John McCowen), and there is now at least a 4-1 board majority opposed to the project.
DDR’s project was a major campaign issue, and there has been significant community mobilization in opposition to it. The reasons for opposing the project include:
• Sprawl development right outside historic downtown Ukiah is bad for the environment and bad for small, locally owned businesses.
• The project would support mostly low-wage jobs. We should reserve the site for industrial land uses that provide jobs at a living wage.
• Depletion of sales tax revenue for the city of Ukiah would lead to a severe cutback in public services to the county seat.
DDR’s petition for a ballot initiative changing the zoning of the former Masonite site to retail/mixed use ignores the fact that Ukiah Valley voters have already expressed opposition to the project by electing supervisors Brown and McCowen. Moreover, DDR is sure to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a campaign to convince voters that a mega-mall is in our best interest.
In fact, DDR began this campaign almost a year ago by sending attractive mailers about the mall on brown recycled paper, appealing to Mendocino County residents’ “green” values. More recently, DDR has conducted telephone surveys around the county, gauging our values so they can spin their message in a way that they believe will win their cause.
Infusing large sums of non-local corporate money into a campaign that undermines the general plan process, with its environmental controls and public input, usurps local control and self-determination. We must firmly oppose this strategy.
I predict that Mendocino Tomorrow’s initiative will galvanize opposition to its mall project. Mendocino County is a very progressive place, full of activists, grass-roots organizers and independent thinkers. We are wise to the ways of large corporations in their efforts to try to sell us something that the majority of us do not want.
We were the first county in the country to ban genetically-modified organisms. We did this through a ballot measure, overcoming strong opposition from Monsanto, whose campaign outspent the local one 6-to-1.
I plan to actively oppose this ballot measure and will rally voters around the county by educating them on the facts of this project. Once you look closely at the proposal, I am sure you too will agree that a Masonite mega-mall is bad for Ukiah and bad for Mendocino County.