Saturday, May 10, 2008

Benicia First statement on Business Park, 5/6/08

We have reached a crisis point in consideration of the Benicia Business Park. The decision of the City Council in this matter will have a profound impact upon the future of Benicia.

The Council is faced with the following choices: (1) To attempt to reshape the current version submitted by Seeno by the use of either a huge number of conditions of approval or by a development agreement or (2) To deny the project and ask Seeno to return with a new proposal reflective of the cities needs and desires and the new economic realities of the time.

The character and economics of industrial development have radically changed in just the past few years, a change not reflected in either the initial or the revised plan presented by the Seeno Company. Even if limited solely to an economic evaluation and assessing only the future economic prospects for Benicia, the Seeno plans have not made sense. The first plan was an incredibly bad proposal, a dated warehousing and shipping model, involving no concern for scenic values, environmental impacts, economic sustainability, energy efficiency, market realities or the Benicia General Plan.

While the alternative plan now presented has attached some of the buzzwords of the new industrial era, and has reduced impacts, it is clear that at the conceptual level it remains mired in the past. There is neither a deep understanding of nor a deep commitment to anything resembling a coherent, integrated research and development campus, anchored by some major technological core. This is reflected in its phasing plan; it is reflected in its fragmented approach and it is reflected in the complete lack of any overarching vision of the whole project. Its scope is reduced but it is still far from the kind of project envisioned in Benicia’s Economic Development Strategy. It still does not conform to the General Plan, still provides no evidence of serious economic analysis and is still starkly deficient in any awareness of current trends or the rich potential of the Benicia site.

Whether north Benicia development will ever achieve what the city has set forth in its development strategy, is heavily dependent upon (1) the developer sharing with the city the same goals and vision for the overall project; (2) finding the right kind of high tech, research and development venture to anchor the development and to stimulate related technological enterprise, and (3) creating the kind of campus setting that fits this type of industry. It is precisely this kind of venture and this kind of planning that is now attracting major economic focus and venture capital and has the Bay area leading the state, at a time when general business credit is very tight. There is little indication to date that the Seeno Company understands these realities. One crucial planning reality is that any initial development begun without such understanding can immediately close off all the rich potential and possibilities of Benicia’s situation.

What we do not want, what we absolutely must avoid. is to begin with a large commercial development, potentially conducive to urban decay and then “phase” into a string of warehouses and random unrelated activities created over the next twenty-five years.

In our view, the establishment of hundreds of conditions of approval is a woefully inadequate method to deal with the shortcomings of the Seeno plan. It is a fragmented approach; it will neither create nor insure a coherent project and is a virtual guarantor of continuous oversight problems. There is no way that the present proposal can be nudged, negotiated or forced into anything resembling what this city wants, or to fit the demands for sustainable, future oriented, technologically oriented, green industrial development. Nor do we believe that moving to a development agreement, while a step better than detailing conditions of approval, can solve that fundamental problem.

For these reasons, we believe it to be imperative for the city to deny this project and ask Seeno to come back with a new sustainable, campus oriented, cleantech project reflecting current and future economic and environmental realities, demands and opportunities OR, to bring in a partner, capable of such planning. We further believe that the city should assure the Seeno Company that it is prepared to engage actively in expediting such a proposal and cooperating fully in its realization.

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