Council Proceeds with Nishi and Prepares for a June 2018 Vote

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



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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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21 thoughts on “Council Proceeds with Nishi and Prepares for a June 2018 Vote”

  1. Jim Hoch

    “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.”

    Looking into my crystal ball I see the above will not stop her from opposing it.

    1. Ron

      My understanding is that Eileen is concerned with ensuring that the city isn’t subsidizing the costs (and maximizing out city infrastructure capacities), essentially resulting in a city subsidy for UCD’s actions.

      I believe that Eileen is still working toward ensuring that UCD builds more housing on campus, regardless of Nishi.
      .
      Regarding air quality at Nishi, I’m gathering that it’s an unresolved issue.

      1. David Greenwald

        Two councilmembers addressed the point – subsidizing the costs/ city subsidy for UCD’s actions.  I would prefer to see your response to those comments as it pushes the conversation forward.

        In terms of air quality – no one I have talked to considers it an unresolved issue.  Alan Pryor (who opposed the project last time) is making the same point I made last weekend – the air quality issue is a non-issue given the limited time exposure and the low base level risk assessment.

  2. Howard P

    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.

    Is this close to a quote?  If yes, it’s a definitely a sign that CC member Frerichs “has no clue”.  Buses accelerate more slowly than automobiles. Any Unitrans access to or from the Nishi site will mess up the intersection of Richards/Olive as they would be turning movements, not through movements.

    Nishi is within reasonable walking/bicycle distance to Unitrans stops and hubs. There is no conceivable reason why Unitrans should have required access to W Olive.  None.

    1. David Greenwald

      “Nishi is within reasonable walking/bicycle distance to Unitrans stops and hubs. There is no conceivable reason why Unitrans should have required access to W Olive.  ”

      I didn’t get the impression that it was Unitrans requiring access but rather the council requesting

    2. Alan Miller

      I don’t understand this opinion at all.  A bus route that went through Nishi and onto Olive Drive is going to mess up traffic because of a left turn movement?  That doesn’t add up.  This seems like a very logical proposal, and a very logical bus route.  Unitrans has already said it would serve Lincoln 40, so a very sensible route is Nishi to Lincoln 40 via West Olive.   What is the issue here?

    3. Ron

      Howard:  Thanks for bringing that up.  Hopefully, the city will listen to someone with expertise (if not you, then someone else with traffic engineering knowledge). (I wouldn’t have even given this a second thought, without your comment.)

        1. Ron

          As noted in your article (and in Howard’s comment, as well as your response to him), it appears that the council is not aware of the concern that Howard brought up.

        2. David Greenwald

          You think that council is going to put in changes to the intersection without city engineers studying it?  He made a suggestion that the developers and the city will look into.

          I disagree with Howard here as the original Nishi plans I believe called for a double left turn lane from Richards to Olive.

          But just because a councilmember suggests it, does not mean it will ultimately happen.  But I agree that they should look at it.

      1. Alan Miller

        I wouldn’t have even given this a second thought, without your comment.

        And what is your second thought?  I don’t even have a first one.  A bus coming through every 10-20 minutes and making a turn isn’t going to “mess up an intersection”.  There may also be improvements to the intersection as part of the project agreement, so there could be a net benefit.

        1. Ron

          Alan:

          I generally defer to Howard (or other traffic engineers), for such issues.  (Much as I don’t try to “guess” regarding air quality.) Of course, I realize that there’s often differences in professional opinions, as well.

          From my “personal” experience, it doesn’t take much to mess up traffic flow.  (In general, it seems like there’s an “exponential” impact regarding singular delays in traffic flow.)  In other words, short initial delays seem to become magnified, in traffic.  But, that’s about the extent of my knowledge.

          Anyway, here’s what Howard said.  Perhaps he’ll “expand” upon it.

          Howard:  “Buses accelerate more slowly than automobiles. Any Unitrans access to or from the Nishi site will mess up the intersection of Richards/Olive as they would be turning movements, not through movements.”

        2. Alan Miller

          R, HP’s comments are out of context as any delay may or may not be significant, and is entirely dependent on traffic flows, which way the bus travels, and the configuration of the intersection.   The issue I have is the definitiveness of the statement sans context much less a study.

          It’s sort of like throwing out the air is potentially toxic, and then it becomes an issue whether it was ever a reasonable assertion or not.  So now, under the toxic soup theory, we have an issue we now “have to” study, because an expert said so.

          I am, by the way, a public transportation planner of a couple of decades.  Though my specialty is rail, among tasks I’ve performed is studying the routing of city bus services.

        3. Ron

          Alan:  ” . . . we have an issue we now “have to” study, because an expert said so.”

          Regarding technical matters in general, maybe so.  Probably more valid than my opinion (or lack thereof), at least. Especially if the expert has no “dog in the fight”.

        4. David Greenwald

          Howard’s comment is fairly baffling.  Again, it’s not like Lucas put it into a motion – he asked for it to be considered.  It will be evaluated by staff and the applicant for feasibility and then when this project comes back to council or during the subcommittee it will be a topic of further discussion.

  3. Eileen Samitz

    Just got around to seeing this article and there is no question that the air quality issues at Nishi need to be addressed. Here is just one section from the original Nishi Draft EIR:

    Ultrafine Particulates: (Nishi Draft EIR Air Quality Section, pages 4.3-30-31)
    The level of health risk exposure from TACs generated by nearby stationary sources and diesel PM generated by trains passing on the Union Pacific Rail Road line would not be substantial. However, the level of health risk exposure from pollutants generated on I-80 would be substantial. Based on measurements collected near the project site it is estimated that the level of cancer risk on the project site is approximately 235-in-a-million, which exceeds the 100-in-a-million cancer risk level specified by BAAQMD. Substantially high UFP concentrations were also measured near the project site and subsequent elemental analysis indicates that the UFPs contain transitional metals associated with severe adverse health effects. For these reasons, exposure to diesel PM and UFPs on the project site is considered to be a significant impact.

    1. David Greenwald

      “the level of cancer risk on the project site is approximately 235-in-a-million,”

      That’s still an extremely low risk. And over how long an exposure is that number?  20 years. The residents here aren’t getting twenty year exposures with elevate the risk by .0002 percent. You’re not putting this is proper perspective.

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