From The Press Democrat
[You can smell it in the air, can't you? It's a dead Dino in the middle of the road stinkin' to high heaven. -DS]
The heated debate surrounding Measure A in Mendocino County hits on some familiar themes of our time:
• Attracting big box stores vs. protecting locally owned mom-and-pop retailers.
• Creating low-paying retail jobs now vs. the hope of creating higher-paying industrial-type jobs later.
• The urgent need for economic development vs. the glacial pace of local planning.
But the central issue in the Ukiah Valley is this: How does Mendocino County want to decide on its major developments, through the traditional county planning process or through the ballot box?
We strongly believe in the importance of a local review process and, for that reason, encourage voters to reject Measure A on the Nov. 3 ballot.
This initiative seeks direct voter approval of the Mendocino Crossroads project, a massive mixed-used development targeted for the site of the former Masonite wood-processing plant just north of Ukiah. The project could include up to 800,000 square feet of retail space and 150 residential units.
We use words like “could” and “up to” because there are so many unknowns about what voters would be approving. The wording of the ballot measure and specific plan are fuzzy, and there are no real guarantees, other than the fact that the project, if approved, would be exempt from the California Environmental Quality Act.
The petitioner, Ohio-based Developers Diversified Realty, never had its project officially rejected by the county.
Jeff Adams, the project manager, says DDR had no choice but to go directly to the voters because the project was getting bogged down in process, including having to wait for completion of the Ukiah Valley Area Plan, still a work in progress.
“It’s a process with no end,” Adams told The Press Democrat Editorial Board. “There is no process.”
It’s true that local governments, including Mendocino County’s, need to do a better job of reviewing development proposals in a consistent and timely fashion. Too often, developers, large and small, are left in a kind of planning purgatory, with no clear up or down vote to guide them, only the promise of more meetings and studies.
At the same time, doing an end-run like this is no solution either. Approving Measure A would just open a Pandora’s box. For example, if this initiative is approved, any major changes in this 80-acre project would have to go back to the voters for approval, a costly and complex process.
More important, if Measure A is approved, it will set a dangerous precedent for Mendocino County and, possibly, throughout the North Coast. Major developers will see initiatives as a way to bypass the often-complex, but necessary, local planning review process.
Mendocino County needs more jobs. And given the reports about how many local dollars are spent at Sonoma County stores, including Costco, it also needs a broader retail base.
But it doesn’t need these things at the cost of abandoning the local planning process, giving up hope of seeing an industrial use at the former Masonite plant and giving the green light on such a large, ill-defined project.
The Press Democrat recommends a no vote on Measure A on the Nov. 3 ballot.