More from the mayor

Andy Holcombe talks like the lawyer he is, which means he answers questions with detailed explanations. There’s only so much room in a column, so here are expanded and additional quotations that I couldn’t fit in “My lunch with Andy.”

The “Gold Line”: “My gut reaction is mixed. I like the idea on a certain philosophical level, but as a matter of practicality …

“I know we need to grow somewhere. I don’t see limiting growth in the foothills as adversely affecting affordable housing.”

He cited the Oak Valley subdivision as an example. The City Council voted to move the project’s higher-density portions off the foothills, and Holcombe said there’d be “more affordable housing because of that”—i.e. duplexes.

“For other council members, it was about viewshed protection. In that particular case, though I’m sensitive to the viewshed protection argument, I don’t think the type of housing proposed would have ruined our viewshed. It was an affordability issue for me.”

He then elaborated on viewshed protection.

“One of the problems in the word ‘viewshed’ is the word ‘view,’ because if you really had to, Oak Valley houses could have been built on the upper reaches of the foothills and not impacted the view. But, there’s a lot more to the Gold Line and ‘viewshed’ than view. If you focus on the ‘shed’ part—watershed and environmental sensitivity—that certainly merits careful attention on a project-by-project basis. Because it is a sensitive, non-renewable resource.

“And the other piece of protecting the foothills is promoting the compact urban core concept—New Urbanism—and how the city can and should grow. Inasmuch as we should grow out, having a vital downtown, Meriam Park, Barber Yard and a revitalized Park Avenue, that’s a more sound economic way to grow. There are sound economic reasons to stay off the foothills.

“Those are issues for me that would drive a Gold Line.”

There are other issues, too: aquifer recharge and utilities. “The cost of government providing city services is much, much cheaper in a compact urban core than reaching out to the foothills.

“I do hope we grow in and up in a vibrant way through form-based codes. Certainly developers in town are interested in that concept, and it’s certainly in the interest of the majority on the council to pursue that kind of growth.

“I think we’ll grow out—not necessarily in the foothills. There are identified growth areas—the Northwest Specific Plan, the Bell-Muir area—so I think we can and should grow north along the transportation corridor, and we’re poised to do that as much as in and up. I think we can have it both; I think we do have it both.”

Homelessness: “I see that more as a community issue than a city government issue. I will try to bring as much energy as possible together, but I don’t see it as a city government issue.

“I’d like to use my energy to get the community to respond, including the buy-in of the homeless. So I’ll continue to try to facilitate community meetings to work on what was initially called the ‘homeless campground.’ I call it ‘met needs,’ connecting the homeless with services. There’s a need for a warming place during the day, particularly for those not in the shelter.”

Wal-Mart: Regarding the proposed Supercenter on the north side of town, one fear-sparking scenario that’s made the rounds is that, should the City Council turn down the project, Wal-Mart would apply to the county and get the OK from the Board of Supervisors. We’d have a Wal-Mart, but the city would get no tax benefit from it.

“That’s pretty much a hollow threat. It’s our sphere of influence, and I think the commercial or retail development that’s going to take place there—whether Wal-Mart or not—should be subject to city standards. I think the county will respect that. I don’t see them [Wal-Mart] getting two bites at the apple.”

The city and county strained their relationship over the proposed Mechoopda Indian casino at the Highway 99-149 intersection. Over the objection of the Board of Supervisors, the City Council agreed to let city staff discuss the idea of providing safety services at the site. Might there be tit-for-tat on Wal-Mart?

“In terms of the Mechoopda, perhaps the process distinction that’s been lost in the heat of battle is that whether the casino goes there is not in our jurisdiction to decide, and it’s not in the county’s. It’s a federal decision. The city’s position is we should have talks—we are talking rather than negotiating.

“If approval is given by the federal government, they [the Mechoopda] are not giving any substantial entitlements to be there. Wal-Mart might give substantial entitlements, but I don’t see it.”

As for the Wal-Mart itself, “Commercial, retail and residential growth is anticipated to take place in the north corridor. If that’s correct, the Wal-Mart question to be answered is, if there’s supposed to be retail and commercial growth, then why not Wal-Mart as part of that retail growth mix? I know there are opinions about that, and I’ll be very interested how those questions get answered. EIRs [environmental-impact reports] more and more are also taking into consideration the human impacts and social impacts as conditions of the environment.

“As a lawyer as well as a citizen who cares, this sort of debate is interesting and a planning challenge.”