An item scheduled for the Tuesday, March 20, council meeting discussing
“priorities” has roots in one originally put before the council March 6.
The March 6 item, if approved, would have allowed city staff to negotiate “amending” a developer agreement with The Surland Cos. regarding a swim center and the Ellis residential project, an agreement struck down in court that awaits appeal.
It is less than clear how it is possible to change an agreement under legal review, or whether council-approved negotiations would lead to a truly amended agreement or one that’s wholly new.
The city attorney even said at the time he could not be certain if a new or amended deal would result from negotiations with Surland.
Because of the ambiguity, the council feared acting on the item might violate the state’s open-meeting law, as the agenda clearly foresaw amending, not reinventing, the developer agreement.
The council wisely erred on the side of caution when it decided to reconsider under a description that more accurately reflects the issue’s true nature.
Ironically, that requires an official description that is more vague, not less — something that seems to miss the point of having a noticed agenda in the first place.
The question that remains from the March 6 meeting should be simple to answer: Does the city want a new agreement, or an amended one?
If leaders are unable or unwilling to describe what they are seeking on behalf of citizens, it’s time to put on the brakes.
Instead of plunging ahead, the council must ask what, exactly, the city and Surland would negotiate. What are we, the city and its residents, trying to get out of this deal? What are our goals and priorities? And, finally, how do we best achieve them?
We hope answers to these questions will surface at this week’s meeting, when the council discusses its
priorities for developer agreement amenities.
Regarding the Surland developer agreement and swim center, there has been no convincing reason offered why the city should not simply wait for the court battle to play out or start the process completely anew, though some observers suggest the hurry is an intentional ruse.
In any event, clarity is lacking.
This has been our issue with development in Tracy since the boom days. It’s not that growth is bad or development an evil; it’s that the process must be clear and fair, and the goal for Tracy’s future must be one that is balanced, livable and sustainable.
Ellis looks like a well-planned community, although one is left wondering how well it fits with the rest of the city and adjacent uses, specifically the Tracy airport.
Its lead developer, Les Serpa, has shown his commitment to Tracy through various civic projects.
And the swim center that could be part of a developer agreement would be an attractive public amenity, if the center addresses community need and doesn’t burden city finances.
None of those things, however, supplants the need for a clear, transparent process so our community can make a fair decision.