Analysis: Should We Wait on Nishi for UCD Decisions on Connectivity?

Nishi-2015-Draft-Site-Plan

On Sunday, we noted that when the Housing Element Steering Committee ranked potential housing sites, they listed the Nishi Property with UC Davis access only at No.17, and the Nishi site with access via Olive Drive a bit lower, at No.25.

They cited poor vehicular access and potential impact on Richards Blvd. as a reason, but they also recommended that access via UC Davis “must be explored fully before any consideration of this option.”

However, city staff did not even include that option as a possibility. Instead the two equal-weight alternatives as the primary project to be analyzed in the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) were: “The preferred project alternative with full ped/bike/vehicle access from both west Olive Drive and the UC Davis campus; and an alternative with access from west Olive Drive only.”

As both the staff report and city staff on Tuesday explained, “Access to the UC Davis campus would require approval of the UC Regents, anticipated to be within the context of a Long Range Development Plan update. Campus staff report that a LRDP update effort will be launching within 2015 with Regents action anticipated in 2016.”

As Bob Segar from UC Davis explained in response to a question from Councilmember Rochelle Swanson, “For the roadway plan to be fully analyzed, it has to be in the context of our future growth as well as potential future growth at Nishi. Those scenarios would get fully developed this spring.

“At least for implementation of it, it would require an approval and I think it does require being part of the growth plan,” he said.

Mr. Segar said they run these processes locally in terms of the long range development plan and environmental impact reports, but ultimately the Regents are the agency that makes the call. The long range development plan is the closest thing that the university has to a city general plan, he explained.

Mayor Pro Tem Robb Davis said he was mainly concerned about the undercrossing, explaining, “In my view that connectivity piece is a huge piece of this from our side.”

What Bob Segar told the council implies that we may soon be locked into this approach. He explained to the council at the meeting, “We did a very high level first pass of the traffic implications of the connection/no connection but really now that there’s a preferred alternative, that can go the next level of detail of traffic analysis as you prepare for the environmental impact report.”

That really suggests that the council, by setting the preferred alternatives as either a dual access or an Olive-only access, may have eliminated the possibility of a UC Davis-only access to Nishi, or at least the process will become prohibitive to backtracking at some point.

The Vanguard reported on Thursday that there was concern raised by at least three councilmembers about three potential innovation park projects going forward simultaneously.

These concerns were pushed by Councilmember Lee, who said, “I’m a little concerned about this idea that three projects will be simultaneously on the ballot.”

“I would like to see this have its own separate spot on the ballot,” he continued.  Councilmember Lee noted that the project came to council a full year before the other two innovation park proposals, and “I’d like to give it the opportunity to go first.”

Councilmember Lucas Frerichs went so far as to state, “It’s crazy actually. Not just problematic.”

Mayor Pro Tem Robb Davis added, “I think what we’re signaling is a real concern that the way these are lined up time wise, just the timelines, they’re pointing toward March 2016 – at this point they’re all pointing like an arrow and I find that daunting.” He concluded, “If that arrow keeps pointing in that direction, it’s kind of insane…  There’s something that’s going to have to give.”

Councilmember Brett Lee, on the long range council agenda, pushed an item on the timing of various development proposals.

Dan Wolk opposed a discussion, stating, “I just think it’s premature to discuss it so I’m opposed to putting it on the agenda any time soon.”

Robb Davis was in support of Brett Lee’s suggestion. But others questioned what the item would entail and whether they would have enough information to act.

“I would like the ability to discuss the three large proposals in terms of the planned timing,” Brett Lee stated. “As of now, they’re all planned for the same date. I would like to have a discussion which allows us to (consider that)… that was not based on our recommendation to staff, that came to staff and said oh by the way, those are all planned for the same date.

“We have a status update tonight (but) we are not able to actually have that discussion because it’s not in the scope of the item,” he said. “I would like an item before us where we’re able to discuss that because this council has not approved the idea of that specific date for all three proposals.”

Brett Lee clarified that it could be in three months, but he doesn’t want it to occur in six months or a year. At that point, the council agreed.

Given the concerns about putting three projects on the ballot in Spring 2016, one question is whether the city should wait to see the analysis from the university, and whether university access is even a possibility, because that is certainly a game-changing situation.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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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17 Comments

  1. Jim Frame

    It seems to me that the council is putting Nishi in an unfortunate box by not considering UCD access.  They’re betting the farm (pun intended) on an Olive Drive traffic analysis so favorable that objections to an Olive-only access plan will be small enough to get the project past the Measure R vote.  My take is that without a RR undercrossing, the project is dead.  Olive-Richards is one of the few choke points in town that manages to irritate most everyone, and the idea of clogging it up with every bit of traffic going into and out of Nishi is likely to produce a backlash that builds on residual opposition to the 1990s(?)-era Nishi debacle.

    1. Topcat

      My take is that without a RR undercrossing, the project is dead.  Olive-Richards is one of the few choke points in town that manages to irritate most everyone, and the idea of clogging it up with every bit of traffic going into and out of Nishi is likely to produce a backlash that builds on residual opposition to the 1990s(?)-era Nishi debacle.

      I agree that the Olive-Richard choke point is already a big problem.  Any Nishi proposal that has this as the only access should be immediately rejected by anyone who is knowledgeable about Davis traffic patterns.

  2. Mark West

    My take is that without a RR undercrossing, the project is dead

     

    I agree with this, but add that the project should be dead without dual access from both Olive and UCD.  I have no issue with controlling access at certain times of the day to help with traffic flow, but developing the parcel with only UCD access would be just as nonsensical as doing so with Olive Drive access only.

    1. Davis Progressive

      maybe it would be nonsensical – but why not at least study it as an option considering that was the recommendation and in fact the preferred alternative from the housing element steering committee?

      1. Mark West

        Where did I suggest that it not be studied?

        The City decided that the University’s housing project on the West side of town should not connect directly to the City,  and agreed to a development project at Cannery without a second outlet, both of which were equally nonsensical decisions.  My opinion does not prevent well meaning people in town from making poor decisions.

        To answer the question in David’s headline, we absolutely should wait for the University’s decision on the connection, and turn the property back into farm land if they say no.

  3. Aggie

    My take is that without a RR undercrossing, the project is dead.

    … the project should be dead without dual access from both Olive and UCD.

    Agree 100%.

    The equal-weight EIR was a strategic blunder by the council. Very poor leadership. In my opinion, it was done in order to allow Nishi to race Mace and West Covell to the ballot. All they accomplished was putting the real innovation parks at greater risk.

    1. Davis Progressive

      i agreed that without an undercrossing, the project is dead because that defeats the entire purpose of the housing – close housing to ucd.  that doesn’t seem to be an issue but, it’s odd that this is pushed forward as an eir before ucd has done their requisite work.

      1. Aggie

        Good point on the housing.

        Without the originally planned UCD access, the terrible land plan currently on the table will have:
        (1) limited economic development value
        (2) a negative impact on the General Fund and fiscal sustainability
        (3) no credible argument regarding student-focused housing
        (4) no bike/ped connectivity for all those hordes of UCD entrepreneurs that are supposed to be flocking to the site on bikes and on foot.

        The council unanimously took a bullet for the developers. Pretty pathetic. They should have stayed the course. As explained by Bob Segar, UCD connectivity is tied to their long range planning process and we’re just going to have to let things run their course.

        1. Aggie

          The equal-weigh EIR gives Nishi a development path without UCD connectivity and allows them to race the other two proposals to the ballot. In my opinion, it was a bad planning decision and the council did it to pander to the applicants and their horde of political cronies. It now creates a variety of bait-and-switch scenarios. I agree that the developers want UCD connectivity, but at the end of the day their main driver is to get a project approved. If UCD connectivity is years away because of the UCD long range planning process and/or finding infrastructure funding, they will have to try and spin some story about uncoupling annexation from resolution of UCD connectivity.

  4. Alan Miller

    I will vote for Nishi J/R if:

    • Connects through Richards/Olive to U.C.D.

    and,

    • Traffic analysis shows theoretical improvement is real.

    Olive only?  Fuggetabowdit!

  5. Jim Gray

    The Nishi Plan and the Nishi site offer great potential for the community.  I was one of the partners 20 years ago trying to get this site developed but have nothing to do with it now. Today it is a much improved plan.  More dynamic, better uses… That said it still faces challenges of access and circulation.  Good planning and cooperation between the City, The Univeristy, The Developers, CalTrans, the Railroad , and other regulators who govern the approval of crossing at/over/under railroads will be the key to success.  A lot of folks to lead in the same direction with at times different and even conflicting public policies and goals.. But great minds are working hard and creatively trying to find solutions.  This time joint planning is being collaboratively funded including transit oriented development planning funds…  I don’t have a dog in this fight but the related discussion about 3 items on the ballot I want to react to.

    California and Davis voters, are smart , we see many propositions and ballot measures all the time.  Davis voters will be smart enough to consider the merits of the individual projects while at the same time sensing the cumulative impact.  Having choice and stimulating competition is probably the best way to get better and great projects.  Businesses want choices. Don’t give one project a monopoly or put all of the community’s economic development future in just one basket.  These projects are very complicated and developers and projects suffer from their own fits and starts. What happens if you select only one projedt and it doesn’t proceed as planned… Then what does the City have? Then where will the next generation of jobs and innovation take place in our community? There are different, very well capitalized and qualified teams focused on creating good plans.  Keep them competing and proceeding.   Voters can differentiate between well conceived well planned projects that will be great for the community.

    I would hope that the Staff and the City Council and the Consultants keep the planning process moving forward.  If a little tension develops that is OK.  Clearly, the best projects and the best teams and those that offer the best mix and probability of success are ultimately going to be selected. And if it is 1, 2, or 3 it won’t really matter.  Don’t get afraid just because people are thinking big and offering to create infrastructure.  Let’s keep a climate focused on choice, competition, excellence and abundance…  Whatever you do please don’t poison the process by indicating that there “will only be one site” — by doing so I believe that you are likely to stimulate a negative win/ lose approach.  If that happens then some developers will likely respond by spending resources on negative campaigning against the other projects because only one can go forward.

    I believe if this planning process is thwarted too soon that it is likely to lead to Negative campaigning instead of projects being judged on their merits and values to the community and region.  Think about the impact of fostering a climate where Negative campaigning, also known  as “mudslinging” emerges. It will lead to good people changing tactics and redeploying resources and then t trying to win an advantage by referring to negative aspects of an opponent rather than emphasizing one’s own positive attributes or preferred policies.  

    Let’s keep the process open and positive.  Let’s not become afraid that the voters aren’t smart enough to deal with complexity and choices and make good decisions.

    1. Tia Will

      The Nishi Plan and the Nishi site offer great potential for the community.  I was one of the partners 20 years ago trying to get this site developed but have nothing to do with it now. Today it is a much improved plan.  More dynamic, better uses…”

      What happens if you select only one projedt and it doesn’t proceed as planned… Then what does the City have? Then where will the next generation of jobs and innovation take place in our community?

      First I want to thank Jim for the very thoughtful perspective based on years of experience with the development of our community.

      The perspective from which I would address his question is a very different one. If only one project, or even none were to be selected, what the City has is the same potential that we have now, namely that which is limited only by our imaginations. As Jim said, he was involved in this project 20 years ago. The sky did not collapse because it was not developed then, and will not collapse if not developed now. What did happen is other businesses did develop in other locations. Some businesses started, some left. There was the ebb and flow of businesses as there always is. And in Jim’s own words “Today it is a much improved plan.  More dynamic, better uses…”

      While I agree with Jim that a climate based on choice, excellence and abundance ( although I am sure that we see this this last term differently) we have two points of disagreement. I do not agree that competition necessarily produces better outcomes. I would prefer a collaborative process that takes into account not only reasonable profits for the developers, potential businesses, and other risk takers involved but rather the holistic well being of the adjacent communities, the City, and the region. What is often ignored in the calculation of the developers and the businesses as the “risk takers” is that the entire community is also “risk taking” not necessarily with our money, but with our future environment at stake. For me, this is the much bigger risk, since it is beyond our individual ability to design and shape except by our individual comments and participation at forums, and ultimately with our one vote.

      Whatever you do please don’t poison the process by indicating that there “will only be one site” — by doing so I believe that you are likely to stimulate a negative win/ lose approach. “

      Here we have a second point of disagreement. I believe in personal accountability. Even if the City were to say that only one site would be considered and that everyone was lobbying to get their site chosen, it is the individuals involved who decide how to behave. This is for me the heart of the limitation of competition. Too often it results not in the creation of the best project that you yourself can design, but rather when you have reached the limits of what you feel you can do, there is always the tactic of destruction of the alternative whether through “mudslinging” or other destructive tactics. Anyone remember Watergate ? For me the epitome of destructive competition. But one could name more recent, albeit legal negative campaigning in the Clinton/Obama competition or virtually any nation wide election. In business, as in politics, competition all too often leads to negative tactics. These however are not the fault of the City, but the fault of the individuals who would adopt these tactics.No one compels anyone else to take the low road. Let’s place the potential blame where it belongs, on those who would utilize the tactics, not on those who are thrust into the middle of this very complex decision making process.

       

  6. DT Businessman

    “took a bullet for the developers”, “pathetic”, “pander to the applicants”, “their horde of political cronies”, ” bait-and-switch scenarios”, “spin”. Thank you Aggie for showing us “the low road” to avoid.

     

    -Michael Bisch

  7. Aggie

    For the record, I think Mace, Nishi, West Covell, and the just announced Chiles projects should all be entitled as quickly as possible. In particular, I think Chiles and Mace should be fast-tracked for the following reasons:

    (1) Chiles because it is within the city limits and would provide more immediate stop-gap opportunities to the mid-sized users we can’t currently serve.

    (2) Mace because the down-side of losing FMC Schilling on the heals of Bayer would be catastrophic to the growth of the technology sector in Davis (and, as a consequence, our fiscal sustainability strategy).

    I’ve been critical of the current Nishi proposal because of it’s lack of vision and ambition. This site has the potential to be transformative to the city, UCD, and the region – and it is extremely disappointing to see the work product that’s now on the table. I’m also concerned by the gamesmanship around efforts to define the Nishi proposal as the one true innovation center, the Nishi-first effort that it now becoming public, and the new effort to sell the idea that UCD connectivity might not be necessary or could be deferred and/or uncoupled from the processing of this proposal. With no assured UCD connectivity and a housing-centric proposal, Nishi is largely irrelevant to the fiscal sustainability strategy and i see no reason why the city shouldn’t take it’s time to get it right (or at least better). Whining about the “low road” from its proponents isn’t going to make it a better project.

    West Covell should also be entitled for the reasons Jim Gray has alluded to, as well as the benefit of having multiple sites on the market competing for end users.

  8. Topcat

    Has anyone considered the cost of a Railroad undercrossing of the Union Pacific?  This would be a multi million dollar project that would probably make the whole Nishi project economically unfeasible.  Perhaps the property should just be left undeveloped?

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