On Tuesday, the council unanimously agreed to move forward and process an application for the revised proposal for only student housing at Nishi, which would have a required Measure R vote as soon as June 2018 should council agree to put it on the ballot at that time.
The 2016 measure was voted down by over 600 votes with two key problems being the perceived lack of affordable housing component as well as the impacts on Richards Boulevard. The new proposal seeks to address both of those issues with an on-site affordable housing land dedication portion and a proposal that would allow for limited to no private vehicular traffic through the Olive Drive portion of the project.
Alan Pryor, who was staunchly opposed to the original proposal, said that while the devil was in the details, he seemed more inclined to support this version of the project.
“The developers made a significant attempt to address the main reasons people voted no on Nishi last year,” he said. “But the devil is in the details. The biggest problems for people (who) voted no were traffic and lack of affordable housing.”
He said the proposal to have no single car access to Olive from Nishi “takes a lot of people’s traffic concerns off the table.” He urged the council to have the same parking ratios on Nishi as were imposed on Lincoln40 and Sterling.
Mr. Pryor noted that people are talking about the air quality. “I was very clear in the No on Nishi campaign that I didn’t share that concern, particularly if we restricted it to students who are only going to be there for a few years and we have the highest quality air filtration there,” he said.
“By having it only be student housing there, that takes half the equation off the table,” he said. “And installing hepa-filtration, I’m comfortable that’s not going to be a significant quality (issue).”
While Alan Pryor seems satisfied that with things like LEED-Gold and the same bed to parking ratio as other recent developments, such that the project addresses most of his concerns, Eileen Samitz and, before her, Michael Harrington expressed opposition to the project.
“We have no defined project yet,” Ms. Samitz stated in her public comments. “So it’s interesting that we’re already talking about putting this thing on the ballot when we don’t even know what we’re talking about.”
She noted staff acknowledges the need for university access to the project, but said “there are numerous other issues that need to be addressed.”
She continues to have an issue with “the four and five bedroom apartments suites” which she argues “should be off the table.” Eileen Samitz believes, “Any multi-family housing in the city needs to be flexible to be able to house non-students as well as students.” She said, “It’s a disservice to the community not to be able to have that flexibility.”
Ms. Samitz remains concerned about the air quality. “The air quality studies have been asked for for years,” she said. “Particularly by Dr. Cahill – he even told them how to do it. The developers continue to refuse to do it. Even in the EIR, they say it continues to be a significant impact.”
In terms of the EIR, Community Development Director Mike Webb pointed out, “The impacts would likely be similar or less in some respects than what was analyzed in the (EIR) already certified by the city and upheld in the courts based on the legal challenge that was posed the last year… So long as that envelop – we’re keeping under that envelop of analysis and impact – then we should be in a position to be able to rely on that environment document.”
Councilmember Lucas Frerichs moved the staff recommendations.
“There is still a fair amount of details to be worked out,” he said, including obviously “access issues.” He said, “Myself and certainly the council was previously very supportive of this site and
housing there. Particularly if a lot of the major concerns in the proposal are being addressed in terms of not having vehicular access except for emergency vehicles on Olive and Richards. I think that the affordable component is also being addressed.”
He did say, “I want to be sure that the affordable is truly affordable.”
He also suggested that buses need to have access through Olive Drive as he believes that would be a real service for Unitrans, which is also wary of going through the Richards Tunnel.
“I want to remind folks – it’s worth noting – this site has been consistently ranked by the state of California… as one of the top sites in the entire state for the type of infill that we are needing to see in our community,” he said.
Councilmember Will Arnold said, “It’s absolutely critical that we continue to put pressure on UC Davis to do their part and to fulfill the obligations that they’ve already made as well as respond to what the city has requested of them with regards to increasing their share of students that are housed on campus that is more in line with the rest of the university of California system.”
He added, “I also believe there is value to an all-hands-on-deck approach here too.” He said, “I’m unfortunately not convinced that the university is listening to us in any way.
“No matter what we do – whether we build enough to address our vacancy and to address the affordability for students,” he said. “There’s a worry – and I share that – that by doing this we’re somehow letting them off the hook. But at the same time, whether we did it or not, UC Davis has proven one thing, they’re going to do whatever they want regardless of what the city does.”
Mayor Robb Davis called this “back to the future” where a lot of the issues are the same as before and, he said, he has not heard anything new. He does want to raise the issue of giving access to buses through Olive Drive.
Following up on Councilmember Arnold’s point, he said, “I understand Will’s concern and other people’s concerns that if we do this, we’re somehow letting UC Davis off the hook. I don’t see it that way. I see what we’re doing as being responsible.
“We’re trying to be responsible people and say, whether you fulfill your responsibility or not, we’re going to try to fulfill ours,” he said. “I think that’s what this community has always done with students – it’s tried to fulfill its responsibilities.”
He said when he talks with the university staff that they thought that they were full in support of Nishi. “There’s a real disconnect here,” he said. They felt that they were full in support and we are saying, ‘It wasn’t near enough.’”
The mayor said, “We need a commitment about the undercrossing.” He said, “We need a commitment” and it can’t be a “we hope” or “we believe,” but it has to be an actual commitment.
He said that ultimately this in the interest of the university.
“This is in their interest,” the mayor said. “It’s also in our interest because it brings people to the doorstep of downtown.”
The motion passed 5-0 and the council named Robb Davis and Rochelle Swanson, interestingly enough, the two councilmembers who will be leaving the council in June, as the subcommittee.
—David M. Greenwald reporting