Sunday Commentary: Thinking Bold on Nishi

Nishi-2015-Draft-Site-Plan

In 2008, a diverse group of residents appointed by the city council back in 2007 approved the General Plan Housing Element Update with a list of 37 potential housing sites. In their ranking, 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.”

Given that, it is somewhat surprising that 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.”

There is no mention in the staff report of why the General Plan Housing Element Recommendations, that were approved by the Steering Committee and then the city council, have changed. Maybe there is a good reason for this, and hopefully staff can explain it when the council meets on Tuesday.

We have not seen any traffic studies and, when I met with the developer last year, they had yet to do any. However, anecdotally and from observation, I am concerned that adding to vehicular traffic on Richards Blvd will be problematic.

I am heartened that the city is undertaking a study and plan ultimately to revise the I-80 interchange, but we have to do more to deal with traffic flow issues under the Richards underpass. Voters, of course, rejected a plan to widen Richards – which I don’t think is the answer anyway.

However, despite serious concerns about traffic flow onto Richards Blvd, overall I think Nishi is the right location to develop. That question is really how we should go about doing this. In September 2013, I suggested a radical idea of land swap where we put student housing onto Nishi which would go to UC Davis, and Solano Park would become the innovation center.

My thought today is along similar lines, but without the land swap. Right now the current proposal calls for about 500 to 700 residential units on Nishi. What I think makes a lot more sense is going up to 2000 units.

Ideally, we would have either no cars at all or only access on the university side, as the Housing Element called for back in 2008. There is some question as to whether we can legally prohibit cars. But by eliminating cars, we can better utilize 200,000 feet of parking space which currently would allow 500 cars to be stored on site.

There is a sizable student population that does not have vehicles. Moreover, the university is looking at more overseas students, and those students mainly do not bring cars to town.

The location is ideal for such a facility – again, if legal. The students would be adjacent to the university and be able to easily walk or bike to class. Moreover, it is a short walk from Nishi to the Davis Downtown. We could even make the area a bit more self-sustained with a small-sized grocery store among the retail that is being planned for the property as it is.

We can be innovative with how we design this housing by putting retail on the ground level and student housing above – a mix of small stores, some restaurants, perhaps a satellite post office and some cafés could make this a very attractive location.

By going up to 2000 units, we can start making a dent in the student housing problem. High density student housing can be a solution to the other problem we discussed this week – housing in Davis.

As we noted with regard to the mayor’s speech, one of the problems he cited was the decline in the 25 to 45 demographic – the families with small children enrolled in our schools.

One idea that we have put forward would be for UC Davis to find ways to house more students, which would open up rental housing in town for families and older residents. That might open up housing stock currently utilized by student populations – who might be better served by living closer to campus.

While we wait for more housing to open up at West Village, Nishi expanding up to 2000 units can take a large number of students who are currently renting homes in Davis and put them next to campus. That would then free up housing units in the city for families or help to dis-incentivize absentee housing ownership in the core of town.

If we find ourselves unable to prohibit vehicle ownership in Nishi, perhaps we can find ways around that – either by incentivizing residents who do not own or drive cars. At the very least, we can restrict access by car to the university, which would prevent the further congestion of Richards Blvd.

People will undoubtedly come up with lists of reasons why this proposal could never work. A few responses to that. First, I think Nishi is an amazing opportunity but we have to understand that the property has limitations that were cited back in 2008 by both the Steering Committee and the council. The biggest is the access and circulation issue.

Second, given the strengths of Nishi, I think it is a waste of opportunity to shoot so low as to have only 500 to 700 units.

Third, we need to think outside of the box. Perhaps 2000 units is not the way to go; perhaps there are other cool and innovative ways to deal with the weaknesses of the property while enhancing the strengths.

My call here is not that we need to approve this specific proposal, but that we think outside of the box and use this opportunity to address serious problems facing our community while developing this property to its fullest extent.

—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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62 Comments

    1. Don Shor

      Trees can capture a significant amount of the particulate matter that is of concern, and research has shown that specific conifers are best. The landscaping along the freeway can make a big difference. And it happens that some of the foremost experts on this topic are here at UC Davis.

    2. Rich RifkinWDE 73

      The evidence that living (or working or going to school) near a freeway can be unhealthy is fairly strong. (Look at this, for example.) So I suppose there is a public health question when it comes to planning residential units such as those proposed for the Nishi property. My feeling, nonetheless, is that the City Council (and later the voters of Davis) would be wrong to reject the developer’s proposal on the grounds of its proximity to the freeway and thus its potential of being a health hazard to its residents and commercial tenants.

      I think in this regard, as long as the development does not harm the rest of Davis–and I strongly doubt it will–we should leave the choice of living that close to I-80 and the rail line or not up to the future owners or renters who can make that decision for themselves.

      I disagree with the prohibitionists like Tom Cahill, who think it is okay to build a housing project south of I-80, but not one on the north side, due to the nature of our prevailing wind*. What Mr. Cahill, who endorsed the New Harmony project in South Davis, does not understand is that the southwest wind (the Delta Breeze, if you will) is only our prevailing wind in the warmest months. Half the year our prevailing wind comes from the northwest. Every single road cyclist in our region knows that. In fact, we had a north wind this morning. I felt it on my 45-mile ride to Lake Solano and back.

      * http://www.davisenterprise.com/forum/letters/nishi-and-new-harmony-differ/

      I would add, though, that there ought to be a few developments conditions unique to this property which take into account its location:

      First, the developer (and any future landlords or property sellers with units in Nishi) must be required to collate all the best known evidence regarding the health effects of living or working near a freeway and present that to anyone considering living or working there, and the people buying or renting or working within Nishi must affirm that they are fully aware of the risks;

      Second, the City needs to require much better ventilation systems than is code for the rest of Davis in order to insure that residents, workers and tenants within Nishi will be breathing high quality air when they are inside. I think you have to take it as a given that, being so close to the freeway, some pollutants/particles will get into the indoor air, too, and thus it is crucial to have a ventilation system which circulates and cleans the air as fast as possible year round;

      Third, the City needs to require much better sound insulation in the construction of the buildings than is code for the rest of Davis in order to insure that residents, workers and tenants within Nishi are harmed as little as possible by the noise emanating from the freeway and the rail line; and

      Fourth, the City needs to require the developer to construct a freeway-side sound wall that is at least 10 feet higher than the freeway and the sound wall needs to be made of straw bales, two feet by two feet by four feet. A wall like that, coated in stucco, would substantially reduce the noise problems. It would also serve as a benefit to the areas of UC Davis just north of Nishi.

      With strict codes and full information, I think Nishi could be great for a lot of people. That said, I would not want to live there, stuck between the rail line and the freeway.

       

      1. Don Shor

        Actually, prevailing wind direction in Davis is SSW most of the year. NNW occurs often enough in December and January that the wind can be said to “prevail” from that direction in those two months. The rest of the year NNW wind (called “north wind”) is intermittent, but gustier than our usual prevailing Delta breeze (which is SSW).
        This site doesn’t list Davis, but you can extrapolate from the data for Vacaville and Sacramento: http://www.wrcc.dri.edu/htmlfiles/westwinddir.html
        And that confirms what I learned in an atmospheric sciences class many years ago.
        There are many, many people in California living directly along freeways. And living in agricultural areas, where there is dust. And living in urban areas, where there is air pollution. Unless you can show that this provides a unique level of risk, I can’t think of any reason to make the developer of this site provide any more information about the air quality than would be required for any other development.

        1. Rich RifkinWDE 73

          Don, I can assure you, as can any other year round cyclist in the Davis-Winters area, that nearly half the year–when it is under 70 degrees for a daytime high–the wind in our area is more likely to come from the north or northwest. Further, looking at a full month is a bit misleading. It is common, even in the summer, when the Delta Breeze does prevail, that we will have 10-12 days with the north or northwest wind, and 18-20 days with the south or southwest wind. So yes, it is correct to say in June or July we have a south or southwest prevailing wind; but that is far from exclusive. We even will occasionally get winds from the east (usually southeast) during the hot months. Those winds tend to also bring humidity.

          I am sure you know this, given the remote location of your home, but many in Davis might not, because the houses and trees almost completely block the wind when it is under 5 mph: There is some wind every day. It may be perfectly still at my house in Davis. And then I will get out on Runge Road in Solano County and realize there is, say, a 3-5 mph wind blowing in from the south. I sometimes cannot really feel a wind like that. But what I can tell is if, say, I look down at my speedometer and I am going 20 mph, but only giving normal effort, I must have a slight tail wind pushing me. Likewise, if I have a light headwind (which I can usually just feel), my speed might only be 16 or 17 mph, when my effort suggests I should be going 19 or 20 mph.

          P.S. I forgot to add “as many appropriate trees as possible should be required for Nishi approval.” I am just seconding here what you had already posted.

        2. Rich RifkinWDE 73

          RIFKIN: “… when it is under 70 degrees for a daytime high–the wind in our area is more likely to come from the north or northwest.”

          In thinking about this a bit more, I need to amend my claim: The morning wind in our area is north or northwest prevailing about half the year, and south or southwest prevailing the other half of the year. I very rarely ride (long distances) in the mid or late afternoon or evening. So I think what probably takes place is that on some days, we have a north or northwest wind at 7am, and then it can shift by 3 pm to a south or southwest wind. I think such wind shifts are not that uncommon, particularly in the spring and fall. In fact, I have had rides where I benefited from a nice north wind on Stevenson Bridge Road pushing me south toward Sievers, and then later in the ride, when I’m going north on Runge Road toward Tremont, I will get a nice south wind pushing me north. Unfortunately, I have had the reverse, where I had a headwind coming and going. But I always look at days like that as “great for a workout!”

          1. Don Shor

            Yes: if we didn’t have that nice northwest wind in the morning, the balloon-ride companies wouldn’t launch out of Woodland and pick up near Dixon. But it is not true to say that we have prevailing wind from the N or NW half of the year. S and SW is prevailing more of the day, more of the time, most months. The ocean is a stronger influence than the land most of the time. The data that I posted confirms that overall measurements of wind direction show that S and SW are prevailing.
            I have recently been looking into wind turbines for my property and have realized that Nov – Dec tend to be too low wind velocity at all for them. So I’ve been looking at this data, albeit for other reasons.
            But someone would have to present a lot more data to demonstrate that there are unique, unacceptable, or significantly increased health risks from living in an apartment near the freeway for a couple of years, as compared to lots of other sites where people live in the Valley. I just don’t see it being necessary for any developer to deal with that as a unique risk requiring special notification to potential buyers and tenants.

      2. Jim Frame

        Fourth, the City needs to require the developer to construct a freeway-side sound wall that is at least 10 feet higher than the freeway and the sound wall needs to be made of straw bales, two feet by two feet by four feet. A wall like that, coated in stucco, would substantially reduce the noise problems. It would also serve as a benefit to the areas of UC Davis just north of Nishi.

         

        Sound barrier walls have some serious limitations.  My understanding — not this is in my area of expertise — is that highway noise flows over a sound wall, and has little effect beyond about 200 feet, i.e. the area right next to the wall on the residential side (subject to height considerations)  receives substantial protection, but as you move outward that protection diminishes, such that beyond 200 feet very little protection is afforded.

        Sound will also end-run around a wall.  I’ve seen specs that call for at least 800 feet of wall beyond the target protection zone.  That’s going to be hard to achieve at the northeast and southwest ends of Nishi.

        Height is also going to be a problem.  A 10-foot wall will provide no relief for residences above the first floor, even if they’re within the 200-foot protection zone.  They’ll basically have line-of-sight to the noise source.  And at the southwest end of the project, the freeway rises to cross the railroad, giving the noise source considerable elevation.  The railroad is also elevated; same problem, but less frequently noisy.

        Finally, a straw-bale wall may be counterproductive.  The FHWA lists rigidity and density as the critical factors in effective wall design.

        I think a wall of some sort is probably needed, but it’s not going to solve the noise problem.

        1. hpierce

          Jim, you are basically correct, particularly with respect to masonry soundwalls, where most of the research has been done.

          Rich… you almost sound like someone who prescribed what would protect against a Noachian flood… can you re-state your dimensions in cubits?  Didn’t know you were an acoustical engineer.  Impressive.

          Most soundwalls have little/no effect, and in certain applications can amplify noise if they reflect noise from one ‘target’ to the detriment of another.

          1. Don Shor

            That’s my recollection from landscape architecture. Site planning for acoustics, and earth berms are the most effective ways to reduce sound, if they are options (takes a lot of earth). Sound walls are basically useful if you’re sitting just on the other side of them, and not much further into the site. Landscape plantings don’t reduce measured sound much, but, interestingly, they’ve been shown to reduce the perception of sound.

        2. Rich RifkinWDE 73

          Jim, it sounds like you know more than I know about sound walls. I spoke with the developer of the Nishi site and he told me he thought my idea was a very good one.

          Here is what a straw bale expert says about their ability to block out noise:

          Straw bale buildings are incredible insulators from sound. If you live on a very loud street or perhaps you back to an interstate, these walls will eliminate almost all of the noise that you currently live with. You can build a straw bale house or consider building a straw bale landscape wall. Although not as good as an entire house of straw, they still work really well to eliminate sound.

          The science is in the density. Sound travels as waves. When it moves through hard material, it travels in fast, short waves. When it travels in soft material, the wavelength increases and slows down. Now look at a straw bale wall. The outer plaster skin is hard and dense and so the sound waves move through it at high speeds; however, when they hit the bales, the sound waves slow down. The key here is the interior plaster. In order for the sound waves to escape the soft bales, they would have to accelerate to get into the hard plaster skin. They can’t do that and so end up absorbed in the bales. Voila, sound proofing 101.

        3. Rich RifkinWDE 73

          Pierce: can you re-state your dimensions in cubits? 

          Sounds like you don’t know anything about straw bales. They usually come 2′ x 2′ x 4′. The reason I mentioned the dimensions is to help make the point that a straw bale wall, unlike the usual 8″ concrete sound walls along most freeways, are very, very thick; and everything I have read suggests they do a much, much better job than concrete walls; and maybe more importantly, they are much cheaper, as they use what is essentially a waste material. (If rice straw were baled and used in construction, California would save billions of gallons of water we now use flooding rice fields in the winter.)

        4. Miwok

          Bales come in a few more dimensions, like 3x4x8 and 4x4x8. Look out at a field for reference. They are also round in some instances, which would provide for interesting acoustics.

          My question: If the Mondavi had to build a “building inside a building” to isolate the vibrations from the trains and such to hold performances, why would the residences proposed not subject he occupants to the same 24×7  (not a dimension)?

      3. hpierce

        Guess I should make a disclosure… perhaps since I spent the first 22 years of my life within 150 feet of a freeway (HWY 101, SF Peninsula), my mind and health is such that everyone should ignore my skepticism of many of those studies.

    3. Alan Miller

      Oh, pleez.  While true, what are we supposed to do with all the people who currently live next to a freeway or railroad?  How far back are we supposed to raze all the buildings and prevent human occupancy?  Should we remove the bicycle lane along the causeway because of the nearby freeway?  Should people at New Harmony never let their children outside because the HEPA filters only work inside?  There is no difference between old or new habitation along a freeway or railroad.  Either there should be people living there, or not.  If you ban development of Nishi on this basis, tear down all current buildings with X-feet of all freeways.

      1. Tia Will

        There is no difference between old or new habitation along a freeway or railroad.  Either there should be people living there, or not.”

        I believe that it is possible to learn from previous mistakes. One can prevent new unhealthful housing and prevent future health problems without stating that all has to come down at the same time.

      2. Miwok

        “Oh, pleez.  While true, what are we supposed to do with all the people who currently live next to a freeway or railroad?  How far back are we supposed to raze all the buildings and prevent human occupancy?

        Don’t worry, there is no will to do this. I wish there were.  I think a half mile is fairly good, but still not enough when you cannot open a window and hear someone’s car or heavy trucks drone by.

        The problem like our roads is the original use was daily during the day. NOW it is 24×7, unacceptable. But then, why is sleep important? 🙂

        1. hpierce

          Age helps.  You lose hearing capacity.  Here’s [not, ‘hears’] an idea… let’s have an exchange program for those who lack hearing acuity to occupy residences closer to the trains/freeways, and free up places for the hearing sensitive.

  1. Aggie

    The only merit of David’s “bold thinking” on Nishi is that it would completely eliminate the charade that the applicant is seeking to build an “innovation center.”

    1. Matt Williams

      Aggie, when you look at the total innovation picture being discussed for Davis, there are start-ups that are going to want to keep intact their umbilical cord to the pure research going on at the University. The principals and researchers in these early stage start-ups are going to want the convenience of being able to “walk” along that still intact umbilical cord to the campus. That kind of “innovation incubation” environment will not be physically possible at either of the peripheral innovation center sites. Further, both the venture capital firms that may choose to locate in Davis and the legal firms providing entrepreneurial support services will more than likely prefer to locate close to both the UCD Business School and the pure research labs from which the technology transfer into the private sector is going to emanate. Those firms will also (more than likely) prefer the “neutral ground” of the incubation environment at Nishi Gateway, as opposed to having to choose one or the other of the Mace Innovation Center or the Davis Innovation Center as their place of business.

      Bottom-line, because of its extremely limited size, Nishi Gateway has never been a viable site for a full service Innovation Center. On the other hand, because of its “niche” characteristics thanks to its immediate proximity to the campus, it has always been a superior site as an innovation incubation center that is part of a larger Davis innovation environment that very importantly includes Downtown Davis.

      1. Aggie

        Matt: You’re not saying anything that is news to people with credentials in technology transfer and/or the technology sector. In fact, what you’ve done is made a compelling argument that Nishi should be 100% business park. In my previous posts, I’ve argued that the Nishi proposal should be densified to support the sort of economically beneficial activities you’ve listed. 100% of the student housing should be on the Solano Park side of the tracks.

        1. Matt Williams

          Aggie, you and I have discussed this issue before. I understand your perspective and conceptually agree with your argument up to a point. Why I’m not fully comfortable revolves around two key points. First, is comfort with an estimation/quantification of the demand for incubation space that UCD’s Technology Transfer program will generate. Second, is the expected life cycle of the early stage start-ups that will incubate on the site. Bottom-line, I don’t expect any individual early stage start-up to reside in the incubation center any longer than three years. If they are still early stage after three years, then the chances that their product/service has commercial viability will have decreased to near zero. If they have generated enough commercial viability to graduate from early stage to the next stage of their life cycle … and continuing to reside in an innovation incubation environment makes very little practical sense for the company or its investors. The sum total of those two factors means that each individual start-ups demand for space in the Incubation Center will evaporate in three years or less … which brings us back to my first concern, the estimation/quantification of the demand for incubation space that UCD’s Technology Transfer program will generate.

        2. Aggie

          Matt: This is pretty much complete nonsense. No offense, but you are way out of your depth. The currently proposed 325,000 square feet translates into approximately 1,000 employees. While there may be an incubator component on-site (if the developer or some other entity steps up to subsidize it), most of the space will be occupied with established companies operating with venture capital and/or revenue. This is good. So good, in fact, that the City should display some vision/ambition and make the site 100% technology park and densify to maybe 1-1.5 million sq ft (FAR of 0.5-0.75).

        3. Aggie

          (1) Fiscal sustainability trumps student housing. Not even close.

          (2) It’s not legal to discriminate against non-students, so the “student housing canard” is irrelevant anyway.

          (3) If you are sincerely interested in student housing, then the Solano Park site on the north side of the tracks is the best location.

          (4) The political driver for even considering Nishi annexation is the economic development imperative – when the electorate understands that most of the site is intended to be Tandem apartments, Measure R is likely to fail.

          1. Don Shor

            Students are not the only young adults that need housing. As to the Solano Park site, city residents and voters have zero influence over what UCD does.
            Evidently your solution to the serious shortage of housing for young adults in Davis is to wait for the university to build something that it never plans to build.

  2. Anon

    If 2000 houses were proposed for Nishi, how would it ever get past a Measure R vote?  Citizens are not going to vote in favor of anything that would lower their property values.

    1. Matt Williams

      Good question Anon, and it begs the following related question … “If 2,000 student-oriented apartments were added to Davis, what would the impact on the housing values of current Davis single family residences be?”

    2. Alan Miller

      “I would add, though, that there ought to be a few developments conditions unique to this property which take into account its location:”

      Fifth, their needs to be a giant heat shield like on the bottom of Apollo capsules that will protect residents in the event of an exploding oil train.

      1. South of Davis

        Alan wrote:

        > Their needs to be a giant heat shield like on the bottom of Apollo

        > capsules that will protect residents in the event of an exploding oil train.

        Maybe we can also put a dome on top to protect the Nishi residents from meteors (since I bet the odds of a meteor strike is probably higher than an oil train blowing up in front of the heat shield)…

  3. Aggie

    The better question is what impact would 2,000 multifamily units would have on the General Fund. Short answer, it would be revenue negative and require taxpayer subsidy in the out years.

    1. Frankly

      Revenue negative over the long-run, but not for several years.   The development fees and initial property tax revenue would be net positive.

      I look at it this way though. Davis is notorious for kicking the can down the road.  We are good at making a case that times are good and we can open our city treasuring to reward all those over-worked, stressed out city employees with more benefit lottery winnings.  But there are a lot of built-up liabilities that we fail to count.  Some of those have indirect costs, like our failure to build enough housing to keep up with the need for the student population.  So if the city suffers long-term net negative revenue impacts, it is only because we failed to take care of the need earlier.

      And if we refuse to build enough housing to stabilize vacancy rates to a more reasonable level, we will just keep growing that liability and the net negative impact we would eventually have to accept.

      1. Aggie

        Frankly: Until Measure J brought the hammer down, the City ran on this Ponzi scheme for many years. That’s why we have the unbalanced economy that the Dispersed Innovation Strategy is designed to fix. There is plenty of land on the UCD side of the tracks (the Solano Park site) to build student housing. If that’s not enough, there are potential building sites all over campus. The taxpayers should not have to subsidize another Tandem student housing project on Nishi – while forgoing a very real economic development opportunity.

        1. Don Shor

          There is plenty of land on the UCD side of the tracks (the Solano Park site) to build student housing.If that’s not enough, there are potential building sites all over campus.

          Do they have any plans to do so?

        2. South of Davis

          Don wrote:

          > Do they have any plans to do so?

          UC plans to tear down both Solano Park and Orchard Park and replace them with bigger units.

          Before the first tear down UC built the new place at 8th and Wake Forest (an apartment I forgot about when I listed the many new ones built in the past 20 years):

          http://8thandwake.com/

          1. Don Shor

            I don’t know how much of a net gain in housing units those redevelopments are going to provide. Orchard Park currently has 200 2bd apts, and when redeveloped it will house 500 students per one source. Solano Park currently has 108 1bd and 168 2bd. No word on how many students it will house after redevelopment. Generally UCD hasn’t gained that many beds in these rebuilding efforts. Given that we are short thousands of beds due to enrollment increases, those are a drop in the bucket.
            And I am unaware of any plans to add additional housing developments. That was really my question.

    2. South of Davis

      Aggie wrote:

      > it would be revenue negative and require taxpayer subsidy in the out years.

      This depends on your assumptions of what kind of apartments are built and who lives in the apartments.

      If we  get 2,000 units of high end units targeted to students we will get a huge POSITIVE revenue (especially since most of the high end student units are vacant for large chunks of time as the kids go home or on vacation for weeks on end), while if we build more units targeted to poor and or ESL families (like New Harmony) the city (and the schools) will get NEGATIVE revenue (that requires a taxpayer subsidy over the years)…

        1. hpierce

          Matt, and South of Davis:  if you truly look at MF housing, the demands on public services, and less “prop 13” turnover (yeah, those are ‘businesses’ that know how to play the game of not triggering re-assessments), MF housing, particularly if UC buys it, is even MORE a negative than SF residential, over time.  And it doesn’t take much time.  Look at calls for service from Public Safety, particularly Police, for MF vs SF, per resident, and you’ll most likely find this is true.

          Look at the calls for service at the “upper end” apartments on Cantrill (across the street from PD) or other market/above-market MF for proof.

          MF has a definite, positive place in our housing mix, but not based on City revenues.

          1. Matt Williams

            hpierce, when you say public safety are you really saying police? The reason I ask is that based on my conversations with the other part of public safety … fire … apartments generate fewer fires per resident than single family homes, and given the average age of students generate virtually no medical calls at all when compared to single family residences and non-student multi-family residences.

            Further, if you look at the following graphic of the 2013-2014 City Budget, you will see that on a General Funds and Internal Services Fund basis (excluding the capital intensive Enterprise Funds) that Police services make up only 23% of the total Budget. Being “heavier” users of 23% and “lighter” users of 77% is more than likely the profile of the student-centric multi-family residences.

            image1

            Further, when looking at the police calls to MF housing it would be interesting to see whether there are differences between student-centric apartment complexes and non-student-centric apartment complexes.

            Regarding your last paragraph, the issue we have been discussing has been mostly focused on costs rather than revenues.

        2. South of Davis

          hpierce wrote:

          > Matt, and South of Davis:  if you truly look at MF housing,
          > the demands on public services,

          I have looked at it and it totally depends on the demographics of the apartment community.  In some a year will go by without a single cop and firefighter setting foot on the property and in others the cops and firemen know most of the residents by name.

          > and less “prop 13″ turnover (yeah, those are ‘businesses’
          > that know how to play the game of not triggering re-assessments),

          You are correct that apartments turnover less than single family homes (has Tandem ever sold an apartment building in town?), but other than REIT mergers or bank mergers with REO apartments it is very rare that anyone “plays a game” to transfer ownership of an apartment without triggering a Prop 13 re-assessment.  The apartments that Petrovich built across from his Oakshade/Safeway Mall in South Davis sold a while back for over $17mm and the state got about a $100K/year increase in property tax revenue (the place now pays over $230K a year in property taxes + the (mostly) wealthy student renters bring a lot of money in to the community and pay a lot of sales tax).

          > MF housing, particularly if UC buys it, is even MORE a negative
          > than SF residential, over time.  And it doesn’t take much time.

          If UC buys a MF property the city and state will not get ANY property tax (just like with city owned property), but I’m pretty sure UC cops will respond to calls if they buy an apartment in the city limits near campus and convert it in to “student housing”.

          > Look at calls for service from Public Safety, particularly Police,
          > for MF vs SF, per resident, and you’ll most likely find this is true.

          Again it depends on the demographics, the SF “trailers” in the Royal Oak MHC get way more calls per resident than the nicer units in Rancho Yolo and the SFHs off Anderson and Syacamore just north of campus get way more calls than the SFHs in Lake Alhambra.

          > Look at the calls for service at the “upper end” apartments on

          > Cantrill (across the street from PD)

          The place directly across from the police station (on the corner of 5th and Cantrill) is a Senior Apartment (so it probably has less police, but more medical calls than a typical apartment).

          > or other market/above-market MF for proof.

          Does the city of Davis release the number of police and or fire calls to each address in town(actual “proof” of how often to visit each property)?

          P.S. To hpierce I recently heard that a high school friend bought a home just a few houses up from Rollins Road (that runs next to Hwy. 101) for OVER a million (did your family sell last year?) and I went to Zillow and was surprised that EVERY home in the neighborhood has an estimated value of OVER a million…

        3. South of Davis

          hpierce wrote:

          > Look at calls for service from Public Safety, particularly Police,

          > for MF vs SF, per resident, and you’ll most likely find this is true.

          The city only has so much LAND and it is important to look at income and expenses on the basis of the LAND use not PER RESIDENT.

          If a city decided that it could make $5K “per resident/per year if it let a couple build a SF home on a vacant 5 acre site or $3K “per resident”‘ if it let an apartment developer build a 50 unit property with 100 residents on the same site what would bring in more money for the city?

    3. Matt Williams

      Aggie, I disagree with you 100%. The cost of City Services for the target market for the residences is extremely low. Demand for a broad spectrum of City Services from students and young professionals is much more limited than the demand from senior citizens, near-seniors, and families with children. Further, the turnover of residents that comes with multi-family rental units mitigates against significant City Services demand.

      1. South of Davis

        Anyone who has been to Target or Davis ACE at the beginning of a semester knows that there is a spike in sales tax revenue as different groups of students move in to high turnover apartments…

        1. hpierce

          Matt… perhaps it’s been too long for you… where is the most drinking, drinking-related, rowdy behavior coming from [that relate to calls for service]?  Maybe not ‘young professionals’ but STUDENTS?  Hell, most people get drunk and/or laid (willing or not) for the first [or more times] as college students.  Those events cause more calls for service than most units occupied by “seniors”.   Check FD and/or PD records.

        2. South of Davis

          Matt wrote:

          > SoD, how does that affect the demand for City Services from each apartment unit?

          It does not affect the “demand for services” but it increases the sales tax revenue that pays for services…

          1. Matt Williams

            So what you appear to be saying is that rapid turnover of UCD students in apartments helps the City’s coffers in two ways. The demographics of the students mean less costs of services (with the possible exception of police services) and increased revenues from sales taxes when the students purchase furnishings for their apartments. Do I have that right?

          2. Matt Williams

            You have hit on the inconvenient reality Don. The suggested solution (whether Solano Park or elsewhere on the UCD campus) is only conceptual … and until UCD changes its historical actions regarding housing students on campus, that conceptual solution has no practical value in addressing the City of Davis’ student-oriented rental housing shortage and/or the resultant shortage and high prices for non-student rental housing.

        3. South of Davis

          Keep in mind that the AVERAGE high school GPA for new UCD undergrads is now 4.00 (up from 3.99 last year) and over 40% of the undergrads are of Asian decent (most of who got OVER a 4.00 in High School).

          Sure we have some fraternity guys doing something stupid or affirmative action students who yell at each other every now and then, but I’m pretty sure the Davis cops don’t spend much of their time arresting UCD undergrads and grad students (since over 4 in 10 belong to a the group that has the lowest arrest rate in America).

          As far as (the new higher) sales tax goes anyone that drives down Covell can see the huge dumpsters Tandem gets every spring where the kids throw out everything that won’t fit in their Honda before they drive home to Danville for the summer (or Lexus before they drive home to Hillsborough for the summer).

          Every fall I wait in lines all over town as kids are buying tons of stuff for their new dorm rooms or apartments…

        4. Miwok

          It should also be mentioned by a person that knows, if you bought a house in Davis and now rent it to students, is the Code Enforcement or Zoning aware?

          That should bring in more revenue as well, because a couple houses I lived in were never owner occupied. A contractor whose parents bought and sold apartments told me he did lots of work in Davis converting living rooms and garages into dorms.

          Strippers and hookers were included in that demographic, I guess they wanted an education as well at UC Davis?

  4. Rich RifkinWDE 73

    AGGIE: The better question is what impact would 2,000 multifamily units would have on the General Fund. Short answer, it would be revenue negative and require taxpayer subsidy in the out years.

    This is only true if you assume that the City Council in the so-called out years will increase the total compensation per hour they pay our police and firefighters and public works’ personnel. If we had sustainable labor contracts–where increases in total comp were in line with increases in city tax revenues–there would never be a negative outcome from market-priced residential or other development. It’s a more complicated question if we are talking about adding a lot of low-income family housing. That comes with a lot of demand for police time.

    1. hpierce

      Interesting, Rich.  You single out PS & PW.  Have you considered the re-classes (to “up” comparisons to other agencies by making Planners and others ‘management’, even if they supervise no-one) or other compensation increases that accrued to HR, Planning, Fiscal Services, Community Services?  Think you will find that Fire got the most, and PW & Police actually fared worse/same than other departments.  HR, Econ-Dev/CMO in particular.

      1. Rich RifkinWDE 73

        The point about the costs of police, fire and public works is that those units of city government would have added demands on them going forward, as a consequence of new developments. But as long as we keep the added costs in line with tax revenue growth, we should not have a problem with a development causing a fiscal problem down the road.

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