According to City Manager Leon Churchill, staff sought to clarify what developer agreements can or can’t do, ask if the council demands more rigor and precision when it comes to using developer agreements, and what kinds of public benefits are priorities when it comes to using DAs to advance city growth.
He suggested that the city might have to change its thinking regarding DAs and what they provide the public in return for granting developers assurances regarding their projects.
“Perhaps we need to think of practices born, or perhaps continued in, a boom economy,” Churchill said.
Mike Souza, one of the leaders of Souza Realty, said the developer agreement process in Tracy has strayed from its original purpose.
Souza said DAs allow those who devote millions of dollars in up-front costs for long-range projects to operate under the rules put in place when a particular project is approved. But past city management, he said, turned it into a pay-for-play process.
“We’ve let this process morph because of the bubble in our economy to, ‘Who can provide the biggest carrot’.” I suggest we roll that back (to what it is intended to be),” he told the council.
He also warned that requiring developers to provide capital improvement projects, such as a swim center or sports park, in exchange for the right to build could make Tracy lose out on growth that would turn to cheaper, more business-friendly environs.
Tracy Region Alliance for a Quality Community’s Mark Connolly agreed the DA process has “morphed” into something it shouldn’t be.
Connolly, who has successfully brought lawsuits against several city-approved developer agreements, cautioned against frequent use of DAs, which he called an “exceptional” way to conduct business, as they give away the city’s ability to demand changes to a project as it’s going forward.
The council determined that the vetting process already in place for developer agreements is sufficient, as long as the council is appropriately appraised of the costs, impacts and benefits related to any particular DA.
“What I do expect is for staff to always bring us back what impacts are of any proposed contract with the city of Tracy,” said Mayor Brent Ives.
Later in the meeting, staff was greeted with hostility from numerous swim center advocates, who saw part of the agenda item as the city giving up on the center as a priority.
But the City Council confirmed that bringing a pool and other aquatic amenities to town is still a top concern, and instructed Churchill and staff to explore funding opportunities in addition to the Ellis developer agreement between Tracy and The Surland Cos., which in its most recent iteration offered $10 million for a swim center.
“I don’t have a problem looking at other funding,” said Councilman Steve Abercrombie. “But I don’t want (developers) to feel the only way they get to move forward is to put money into an aquatics center.”