Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Seeno project: Benicia's message is 'competence'

Vallejo Times-Herald
Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Seeno project: Benicia's message is 'competence'
by Dan Healy, Member, Benicia Planning Commission

The Times-Herald editorial of Oct. 9 ("Benicia: What message was city trying to send Seeno?") was wrong at every level. Contrary to your bizarre assertions, the Discovery Builders project was rejected for the simple reason that the developer refused to negotiate a written development agreement with the City.

As a member of the Benicia Planning Commission, I had the opportunity to vote on the project over six months ago. Our entire Planning Commission was supportive of the project, although we were frustrated by the applicant's unwillingness to sit down and negotiate a comprehensive development agreement with the City. Such an agreement, which defines with specificity the rights and responsibilities of both the City and developer, is very common for such large projects. The project developer declined to enter into such an agreement and instead demanded that the project hearings move forward. Frustrated that the developer refused to enter into a written development agreement, the Planning Commission unanimously rejected the developer's application and then immediately asked the developer to negotiate a development agreement. (Every member of the commission was appointed by former "business friendly" Mayor Steve Messina.)

That situation did not fundamentally change thereafter, as Discovery Builders continued to refuse, despite repeated requests, to enter into a written development agreement.

The Times-Herald applauds Discovery Builders for allegedly "agreeing to every one" of the City's requests. This statement is simply false. There were significant concerns raised by the Benicia Unified School District and other key constituencies that were not adequately addressed by the developer. More importantly, however, is the simple fact that the developer, while making various promises at midnight on the evening of hearings, refused to reduce its promises to an enforceable written agreement.

The Times-Herald's attack on Benicia's efforts to reduce air pollution is also absurd, given that, since the passage of AB 32, California law in fact REQUIRES that cities reduce air pollution.

It would be irresponsible for the City to approve one of the largest development in Benicia history without a negotiated, well-vetted development agreement that guarantees that the rights of both the City and the developer are clearly defined and that the project complies with California law.

As an example, last month the City and Valero refinery entered into a huge agreement for the improvement of the refinery. In that case, both Valero and Benicia residents came together to negotiate in good faith, and the result was a written agreement with served the interests of both Valero and the City.

It is not "anti-business" to ask that development agreements be reduced to writing. It is responsible governance. Nor is it "perfection" that the City seeks, although the City certainly tries to get as close as it can (the Times-Herald's advocacy of mediocrity notwithstanding).

It is not "arrogant" to seek a better project, or to demand enforceable agreements for such a project. This is called "competence".

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