It remains to be seen if the new version of Nishi proves to be less of a flashpoint issue than the original one. However, it would be helpful if people understood that the city has more than one “crisis” it is facing simultaneously.
A recent letter illustrates that the public may not recognize that, while the city faces a crisis in terms of finding revenue to fund basic city services, it also faces a massive shortfall in housing.
The letter notes, “The city is overdue on infrastructure repairs and is facing looming employee compensation bills. We probably will be voting on several tax measures in the spring to help pay for both.”
It continues: “Some say a business park would help bring the needed money to the city. Originally, Nishi was supposed to be used for that purpose.
“But now, Nishi, the largest infill area we have in a town with limited space, is to go for student housing only, meaning a loss of potential revenue for the city — when the university has ample space of its own for student housing and when the site has poor air quality and living there risks negative health impacts,” the letter says.
Finally the writer asks, “This makes sense how?”
The tricky issue is that the city does face massive amounts of infrastructure repairs and looming employee compensation bills. We will likely have several tax measures in the spring to help pay
for these. These points are accurate.
I also believe that a business park would bring in needed money to the city. Originally Nishi would have provided about 300,000 square feet of innovation space.
But here is where I start differing with the author. First of all, the original proposal contained the innovation space and I don’t believe the author supported Nishi at that time. I’m sure they had a number of reasons and some of them likely had to do with air quality and other concerns, but the original proposal did not pass.
As I have stated previously, I believe that as a result of the failure of Nishi, we actually have had infill innovation space created. Sierra Energy had partnered with Nishi last year but Rob White made it clear that if Nishi went down, Sierra was ready to develop the R&D space elsewhere – and they have moved forward on that.
The other new development has been the purchase of Interland by Mark Friedman of Fulcrum Property, who has taken that underutilized space in the University Research Park, and the plan there will be to redevelop and densify the single-story facilities which have vast amounts of underutilized space.
Finally, MRIC (Mace Ranch Innovation Center) is looking at a potential November 2018 date for going on the ballot with a revised proposal after their EIR was certified. While Nishi was going to provide 300,000 square feet of R&D space, MRIC would provide over 2 million.
In short, while Nishi circa 2016 would have added some space to the Davis ecosystem, the combination of Area 52, the University Research Park and MRIC will bring far more.
In the meantime, it is not as though we only have one crisis and I think this is the worst problem with the letter. It completely ignores the 0.2 percent vacancy rate and the fact that Nishi would be able to bridge the gap between what the community needs in student housing and what the university is willing to build.
So here is the math – yet again. The university is willing to build around 6200 beds over the next ten years. By our calculation, getting to 50 percent on-campus housing would take us to 10,000 new beds. That leaves about a 3800-bed gap between what we need and what was promised.
Between the already-passed Sterling and the soon-to-be-voted-on Lincoln40, that could be around 1500 beds.
Nishi is proposing building 2600 beds, which would then take us to about the 3800 mark.
Hey, I get it. Some people want UC Davis to build all 10,000 beds on campus. The city has requested UC Davis got to 100/50. The Yolo County Board of Supervisors has voted likewise. So has ASUCD.
But at this point, I don’t see it happening. The response from some is we can convince them otherwise. Keep trying. Before Nishi goes on the ballot the formal EIR will be released which will show how many the university is planning to accommodate.
However, I believe that the community has done what it can do at this point to ask the university to do more. The city really doesn’t have any more leverage and it is hard to know exactly who the university decision-maker is, but I suspect the decision-maker is probably not local.
In any case, Nishi clearly fills a pressing need. The voters will eventually make the determination as to whether to approve the project – and they may well reject it again. However, given the numbers and the needs, I think the developers are in fact addressing a critical need and it is not clear to me at this point that revenue outstrips housing – in fact, I would rate them as priorities 1 and 1a of co-equal importance.
Could we do more on the Nishi property? Yes, I still hold out a faint bit of hope we could do the USC Village-type proposal which does both housing and retail. I suspect the letter writer would not like that proposal either, and I also believe that at some point you are letting the perfect be the enemy of the good.
At this point the good is filling a community need – and student housing is a critical need. Now the question is whether the voters will agree. Stay tuned.
—David M. Greenwald reporting