The most memorable moment of the forum on Sunday came when Colin Walsh was pursuing another hypothetical nitpick of the Nishi project. It is one thing to complain about legitimate concerns in a project like air quality, affordability and traffic, but what we have seen is a bunch of nitpicking at the developer agreement on these ticky-tack issues.
When Mr. Walsh pushed the issue of university access to the absurd, Sandy Whitcombe responded with the line of the day.
She argued and correctly, “There’s no way to get financing for a $100 million project telling the bank, oh and by the way, we don’t know how people are going to get here.”
She then said, “We need to focus on reality and the need and the merits of the project and not all these weird red herrings. This is serious, let’s get rational. People need housing. This is good for everybody.”
This drew a huge amount of applause from an audience that, until that point, was relatively quiet. She exposed the fact that there were absurd arguments being made here that don’t take into the consideration the fact that, in order to get built, a project needs financing and you can’t get financing on a wing and a prayer.
And the bigger fact of the matter is that this isn’t the first weird red herring that Colin Walsh has used in this campaign – it is just the latest in a string.
Back in March, Colin Walsh during public comment made the comment: “The other ordinance, that was passed that night, allows for zoning on Nishi. Allows for urban agriculture, day cares, preschools, I can’t imagine are these indoor-only preschools. Do these preschools not get a play yard? There’s nothing in the ordinance that it’s an indoor-only preschool.”
This is a weird red herring. Mr. Walsh is drawing on the fact that certain uses are permissible but that doesn’t mean they are likely. There is no plan to build a preschool or day care at Nishi. But that hasn’t stopped him from drawing on this example time and again to argue why people should not build the project.
Mr. Walsh has also repeatedly asserted that the affordable housing program “is not in the baseline features so it can be changed on a 2-3 vote of a future city council. It seems pretty unlikely that this affordable housing will ever actually happen.”
In a post on Facebook, he asserted the baseline project features “redirects to the project development agreement. The affordable housing requirement is specified in the project development agreement which can be changed by the city council.”
In order to combat that, the Vanguard pressed the city to issue a legal finding that, in order to change the affordable housing component, they had to go to a vote of the people.
In consultation with the city attorney, Mike Webb on April 26 wrote, “On the affordable housing issue outlined below, I would read the baseline features literally and say that any substantive change from the DA as approved by the City in February would require a new election.”
And while “the Plan expressly provides for modifications that the City determines are reasonable necessary to comply with Fair Housing Laws,” he states, “I would opine that any substantive change from the program laid out in Exhibit L would require voter approval.”
But even after that opinion, Colin Walsh has continued to raise this issue.
Colin Walsh pointed out on Sunday that “the affordable housing agreement is only referenced in the baseline features and only appears in the affordable housing agreement – which may or may not be changeable by a city vote.”
Robb Davis responded, “It’s the clear legal opinion of the city… that changes to the affordable would trigger a new vote.” He said, “The fact that there’s a legal opinion on the table, makes it actionable now in a court of law – if any changes are attempted.”
Changes, he said, “would require a new vote on the affordable housing on Nishi.”
That led to the final exchange on Sunday over the undercrossing.
Robb Davis would point out that if the university does not permit the undercrossing, the project cannot happen.
He said, “That’s in the baseline features, if that doesn’t happen, no site can be occupied.” He later added, “Nothing can go on that property unless there is an undercrossing. We understand that.” If the university does not allow the crossing, “then no development can house people on that property.”
Colin Walsh pointed out, “There is no requirement that there be approval before construction begins – there is no definition for what ‘construction begins’ means.”
Colin Walsh added, “So the site could get built out and no one could live there.”
He continued: “An election where the project was already developed and sitting there ready for occupancy, if that went out to the public…” Mr. Walsh argued that the city could be forced to connect the project to Olive Drive under these circumstances.
As stated above, Sandy Whitcombe scoffed at the notion, saying, “There’s no way to get financing for a $100 million project telling the bank, oh and by the way, we don’t know how people are going to get here.”
And she said, “We need to focus on reality and the need and the merits of the project and not all these weird red herrings. This is serious, let’s get rational. People need housing. This is good for everybody.”
While Mr. Walsh has unloaded a string of these red herrings, he is hardly alone in this regard.
For example, a poster on the Vanguard known only as “Ron” repeatedly has asserted, “Still not sure if the developer can sue the city (for access to Olive), if one (or both) of the parties does not agree to (or revokes access) through UCD.”
The problem as we pointed out is that the developer agreed to that condition. The point he kept missing again and again is that the baseline features state that they have to have university access in order to occupy the residences. That means to change it would require another vote.
Furthermore, the baseline features precludes them from vehicular access to West Olive: “There will be no vehicular traffic access allowed to West Olive Drive except for emergency vehicles, & public transit.”
This should be a non-issue, as the language is quite clear and explicit.
But he refused to accept that, responding, “[B]ut I’m not interested in engaging in extensive legal arguments, especially with non-attorneys who are obvious supporters of the proposal.”
This is a campaign of weird red herrings and convoluted hypotheticals. I suspect that is a function of a general opposition to housing in the city without having a clear reason to oppose it, other than perhaps the air quality issue which is debatable at best.
—David M. Greenwald reporting