Vanguard Commentary: Council Will Weigh Delicate Balance at Hotel-Conference Proposal

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The City of Davis is literally starving for additional tax revenue. Back in the spring of 2014, staring down the barrel of a $5 million structural deficit well into the future, the city put a temporary sales tax measure on the ballot that will sunset in 2020. Despite an improved revenue picture, without that tax measure the city would be operating in the red now and, when the measure expires, projections show that the city will be operating in the red by 2021-22.

As the rough week on Wall Street shows us, the economy remains precarious across the nation and the city is more vulnerable to downturns now than it once was. Moreover, the city faces an infrastructure crisis that will force it to put another revenue measure on the ballot as soon as June of 2016 to pay for roads and infrastructure.

It is against this backdrop that the city has looked into longer term revenue plans through economic development. The voters may face a vote on Nishi with a relatively small tech park component and Mace with a 200 acre, 2 million square foot component as soon as next June. But even there, the benefits of tax revenue may be ten to twenty years away from full fruition.

A more immediate tax generator could come from a proposed Hotel-Conference Center. As the Vanguard was getting set to host its event on Economic Development on campus, it became clear that the number of venues in the city that could accommodate a decent sized audience were limited. We don’t have a large-scale hotel that can host a major conference in the city. The university developed the Hyatt for such purposes with the nearby UC Davis Conference Center, but this would be a way for the city to host a conference and gain the tax revenue.

If the economic analysis is correct, we are talking a substantial amount of revenue.

The proposed project is expected to be a huge revenue generator for the city. Just 50 percent occupancy of the 89 net new rooms at $130 per night would generate approximately $200,000 per year in transient occupancy tax for the City General Fund, plus an additional $40,000 for the Yolo County Visitors Bureau (YCVB).

Staff writes, “A preliminary market analysis was commissioned by the Redevelopment Agency in 2012. The analysis concluded that the conference facility would be expected to increase occupancy at other local hotels, contributing to additional TOT [transient occupancy tax] and YCVB revenues. The construction valuation of $37,000,000 would increase total property tax obligation by approximately $300,000; the City’s $27% share would be approximately $82,000 per year.”

Moreover, the staff notes, “The additional hotel rooms and new conference facility will generate economic vitality downtown, support local retailers and restaurants, generate room-nights for other hoteliers, and serve conference and visitor needs of UC Davis and local businesses.”

The advantage of the Hotel-Conference center in this location is its close proximity to the downtown where people can walk and eat. Also are its close proximity to the proposed Nishi-Gateway Project and its ready access to the university.

But there is a downside and it is not a small downside. The location is one of the most impacted traffic areas in the city. The city contracted with Fehr and Peers Transportation Consultants to conduct a traffic analysis of the hotel conference center proposal.

According to staff, “The project proposes a set of improvements to Richards Boulevard to channelize vehicle traffic and provide additional direction to drivers and cyclists on how to traverse the corridor.”

These include a median separator that would “prevent left turns across Richards Boulevard into and from the hotel, gas station, or other uses between Interstate 80 and Olive Drive. This will reduce both risk of collision and ‘messiness’ of movements within the corridor. This median was requested by Caltrans during its technical review, and is also a mitigation measure identified in the traffic study.”

They further recommend “reconfiguration of the Richards/Olive intersection to more comfortably allow U-turns from northbound to southbound Richards, in lieu of left turns.” Finally they suggest “green paint identifying bicycle lanes and conflict areas.”

But we need to be honest – they are improving the trimming around the edges here. The biggest problem is the volume of traffic that is funneled from I-80 east and westbound exits onto Richards Boulevard – during peak hours, the poorly-designed interchange is a huge mess, often backing up to the top of the Richards Overpass.

Moreover, all of that traffic gets funneled through the narrow underpass where the bulk of traffic turns left onto First Street then right onto B Street, where people for reasons that are not clear continue to the university by entering it on its north side.

The analysis shows that the Hotel-Conference center is probably not a huge source for new peak hour traffic. Unless there is a conference that draws from people outside of the area that begins at 9 am, most of the traffic that is drawn to the hotel will be spread out during the day.

Staff notes that many regional trips are likely to be by vehicle, but the city’s and hotelier’s goal is that hotel guests park once and use bicycles or walk to destinations within Davis.

They find that all intersections will operate at LOS D (Level of Service D) or better during the AM and PM peak hours under the “existing plus project” scenario. LOS D means “approaching unstable flow. Speeds slightly decrease as traffic volume slightly increase. Freedom to maneuver within the traffic stream is much more limited and driver comfort levels decrease.”

In their analysis, “‘cumulative plus project’ conditions, assuming General Plan build-out (but not Nishi or the Innovation Center proposals), the Richards/Research Park/Cowell intersection would decline to LOS F for PM peak, with or without the hotel, but project traffic would not be a significant contributor to this decline.”

They continue, “During the PM peak hour, some downtown intersections would continue to operate at LOS F (as is allowed by the General Plan within the Core Area and the Richards/Olive area) but the project would not have a significant contribution to any deteriorated conditions. Similar conclusions were made for the ‘cumulative plus Measure R plus project’ analysis, which included Nishi Gateway and the innovation center proposals.”

Level of Service F means “forced or breakdown flow. Every vehicle moves in lockstep with the vehicle in front of it, with frequent slowing required. Travel time cannot be predicted, with generally more demand than capacity.”

They add, “The project would not have a significant effect on freeway operations.”

Finally they find that the proposed on-site parking would be “adequate to serve the hotel at 85 percent occupancy and a conference of 115 on-site attendees.” However, “Events that will generate more than 115 off-site attendees will likely require valet parking to an off-site lot, in addition to requiring employees to park off-site or arrive by non-auto modes. Staff notes that conference attendees staying in other Davis hotels will have shuttles and bicycles as options to driving to the facility.”

Between the Hotel-Conference Center, Nishi, and the Gateway – we are looking a redesigned area. However, the underpass will always remain a barrier to added traffic. We believe that with proper work between the city and the university, some of these problems can be alleviated.

Since much of the traffic emanates from vehicles heading onto the campus either at the southeastern corner or the northern entrance, the university should encourage traffic to enter the university at its dedicated I-80 access point. They could have an impact as well by prohibiting a left turn onto campus at Howard Way.

That would redirect traffic that enters the university at the north entrance to take either the Hwy 113 Russell exit further to the west, or to exit at the I-80 UC Davis exit or the Hwy 113 Hutchison Drive exit to take La Rue and then head east on Russell to park in the parking structure off Howard Way.

Either approach could alleviate a good portion of the traffic through the underpass and downtown roads that are not built for this volume of traffic.

If Nishi comes on line, the city and university could work to route traffic from Richards Blvd. onto campus through Nishi. But that remains a separate vote.

The bottom line is that we believe that the city has a unique opportunity to generate substantial revenue, but it needs to take some additional planning steps to alleviate the congestion on Richards Blvd.

—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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19 thoughts on “Vanguard Commentary: Council Will Weigh Delicate Balance at Hotel-Conference Proposal”

  1. Davis Progressive

    i think good points were raised yesterday – the question is can we fix the drawbacks here.  because clearly we need the revenue or davis will be destroyed by lack of resources to pay for services more than by a single hotel building.

  2. Frankly

    Davis can be a destination.

    My company is 20 employees and 9 directors on my board.  I meet with my board in person two times a year. We have multiple conference call meetings, but two time a year we meet face-to-face.  One of those meetings will be a board retreat.  I also have a staff retreat one a year.  The retreat meetings are a combination of planing, training and team building… including having fun together.

    Everyone in the company likes to stay where they can walk to restaurants, shops and entertainment.  Some of our favorite locations are Napa, Santa Barbara and Sonoma.   It isn’t just the wineries and beach that attracts us, it is the fact that we can find a nice enough hotel with accommodations and meeting facilities that is in walking distance to venues.   Davis is very close to being a reasonable alternative.  My board has asked if we can host a retreat here, but we do not have the accommodations.

    Davis downtown isn’t there yet.  The hotels are not there.  The restaurants are not there.  On the surface it appears to be vibrant, but those are mostly poor students and miserly retired old people milling about. The restaurants and shops struggle.  Only the bars seem to be doing well.

    We need to ramp up services to the next level.

    But to get there we need much stronger city leadership.  We need leaders with vision and drive to make something happen.  And that something is redevelopment.  The downtown needs to grow up and out.  It needs creative transportation design and solutions.   And the city needs money in our coffers to help fund some of this.

    That is our major impediment if you think about it.  We want progressive solutions; yet we are broke because we have over-paid and over-committed benefits to city workers for decades… and are still doing so.

    And because we cannot do anything ourselves because we don’t have the money, we put all our wants on developers lacking shared goals and without the shared benefits.   We turn into professional critics demanding perfection or else opposition.

    That will not get it done.

    Our first priority needs to be to get our financial house in order.   We can either continue to be super generous to our city employees while we also continue to demand perfection in any and all new developments.  Or we can recognize that we are in a hole and need to accept stronger compromises for both things.

    Davis is unique in how geographically small and dense we are.  This is one reason that we have so many critics for each and every significant development.  Because of this, it seems to me that Davis needs to start leading development from the front, and not the back.  We need to design a master plan that is more detailed… with definitive projects that move the progressive needle forward.  We need more sophisticated city staff with experience in urban planning and also have worked on the development side.   We need council leaders that are visionary and are not afraid to push for beneficial change against the tide of those 49% that lack vision and are prone to fits of anxiety for almost any change.

    My guess is that none of this will happen anytime soon.  Davis is stuck in a rut of our own making.  The people that like the rut will likely continue to be satisfied even as they flail about in fits of opposition to each and every significant change.

    Davis will still be a destination… just not a very good one.

    1. Davis Progressive

      it seems like we’re moving in the right direction – but perhaps i’m mistaken.  it’s just slower than it needs to be with a lot of people pushing back.

    2. sisterhood

      I agree, but for sightly different reasons I’ve already stated. The hotel is bland, boring and does not say “We are in Davis”. They could at least put some bicycle themed artwork, perhaps a sculpture or anything that would distinguish it from the hundreds of other Embassy Suites. I really like water features with lights. They look pretty in the evening. Or a big fire pit,  like what’s in front of the Bistro.

      Frankly, you’ve mentioned before the restaurant scene. I liked Davis’ choice of medium priced restaurants, I just wish there were more. Do you want more high end choices? What do you suggest?

      1. Frankly

        Yes.  Davis needs more higher end sit down waited full service restaurants.  UCD is the World Food Center and also trains many of the world’s best wine makers. We are missing the opportunity.

  3. Alan Pryor

    The problems with this project are several fold:

    1) The traffic analysis was legally deficient in that it relied on unjustifiably low preexisting traffic counts, it grossly underestimated the number of cars that would come to the facility during maximum occupancy events, and has not considered cumulative impacts of the proposed freeway interchange modifications and the Nishi project. On this basis the proposed certification of the Mitigated Negative Declaration under CEQA is unlawful.

    2) The project traffic report states that 100s of cars a day will be parked in an offsite lot and use valet parking. Unfortunately, no offsite lot even exists and the traffic report does not take this into account. Further, valet parking will actually double the number of entries and exits into the proposed project which impacts were also not taken into account in the traffic study. This project has the potential to be an unmitigated traffic disaster unless further traffic modifications are made

    3. The project does not meet any minimum environmental certification standards. It may be the most energy-inefficient new building to be constructed in Davis in some time. Instead of fully embracing environmentally benign energy efficiency building standards to minimize its energy usage, it uses a very small solar PV system and a miniscule partial “green roof” and very small “green walls” to green-wash itself.

    4. The project was approved by the Planning Commission on July 8 and is now before the Council for full certification and entitlement only 45 days later. There has never ever been a project of this magnitude that has moved through the review process this quickly in Davis. And the project has not been reviewed by any other City Commission that normally looks at large projects in Davis including the NRC, Traffic and Bicycle Safety, and Business and Finance.

    This project is simply not ready for prime time. It must have traffic deficiencies resolved and reviewed by all of the appropriate commmissions in town before being approved.

    Failure to do so will cast serious doubt as to the City’s commitment to sustainable development and seriously question Staffs technical capabilities in managing future building projects such as Nishi and Mace.

    When the new City Manger was hired recently, it was touted as a major coup because the new Manager, himself a resident of Davis,  understood the “Davis Way” of doing things. Unfortunately, everything I have seen since speaks to a lack of public engagement and transparency by the City which has translated into a lack of trust of the Council and Staff. If not reversed, this lack of trust bodes ill for the possible future passage of  Measure J/R votes for Nishi and Mace next year.

    1. SODA

      Thank you Alan for your thoughtful article and summary here today. I can’t say that I understand all the ramifications but hope others with more expertise, weight in both here and at CC.

      If what you say about the EIR traffic consultants the city hired is true, I would wonder how much we paid for their expertise?

      Hpierce, can you weigh in?  Thanks in advance. It would be good to get a dialogue going. Alan made specific points that I would like to see addressed. I think we all want more city revenue and maybe this hotel center is the way, but his issues offer the community a place to start the discussion. I assume it may be in the Enterprise today in time for tonight’s CC meeting but wonder if enough nonDV readers will have a chance to digest it before the possible vote tonight?

    2. Robb Davis

      Given the allegation of “legal deficiency” by Alan, I offer a link to the traffic study here.  (Appendices here)

      It analyzes five scenarios with assumptions and methodologies laid out (interestingly, it also refers to the General Plan which allows for LOS “F” on core street intersections AND Richards/Olive Drive intersection):

      Existing

      Existing plus Project

      Cumulative (i.e. Davis General Plan buildout)

      Cumulative plus Project

      Cumulative plus Measure R Projects (Nishi, DIC, MRIC)

      Cumulative plus Measure R Projects plus Project

      I have some methodological questions that I will ask this evening.

    3. sisterhood

      #3  I’d like to hear what Brett Lee has to say about this woeful lack of energy efficiency, and what can be done to make the area more pedestrian/bicyclist friendly.

  4. CalAg

    This is a good project that will benefit Davis on many levels. It should be approved.

    In addition, and this is important, I hope it informs the community about the inevitable redevelopment of the rest of the West Olive Drive area. The Embassy Suites project – the redevelopment of an underutilized site adjacent to downtown – shows us the future of Redrum Burger, Dutch Bros, all those crappy industrial buildings, and the vacant lot encircling the site.

    This flagship project needs to be surrounded by development that reflects well on the City.  Initially, it won’t. In the near term, expect negative comments on sites like Trip Adviser that will hurt the image of the City.

    Traffic is a legitimate issue and Alan Pryor’s article should be taken seriously. The City Council is moving to entitle this project via a mitigated negative declaration that is dubious at best. A reasonable compromise would be for the Council to commit to requiring UCD-only access for any Nishi entitlements in exchange for a commitment from the anti-growth community not to legally challenge the environmental documents for the Embassy Suites project. This strategy would honestly acknowledge that the cumulative impacts of cleaning up the existing mess on West Olive Drive will have devastating (but necessary) unavoidable negative impacts on Richards Boulevard.

    It’s time for the City to approve this project and get to work in earnest on redeveloping the front door to the City into something to be proud of. This needs to be done before we consider a greenfield project on the Nishi farmland.

    1. Miwok

      The Embassy Suites project – the redevelopment of an underutilized site adjacent to downtown – shows us the future of Redrum Burger, Dutch Bros, all those crappy industrial buildings, and the vacant lot encircling the site.

      It would be nice to rehab all the old buildings in that area, if they are owned by the same entity. I would hope the Embassy people would include as much as possible of the old with the new. Turn Nishi into the old industrial area?

      However, Davis has demonstrated the meddling that affects tax revenues by reducing profitable income, as in the case of “Redrum”, by dictating what people can even call their business. The other stores, one at Sierra College. is not forced to change its name because of some lack of humor.

      The project IS seriously underestimating parking and even their employees will not have a place to park with 600 people parking for conference activity, another 100 for hotel, and at least 100 employees. If the City keeps dictating conditions for wages, solar, etc, they will be a non-profit whether the developers intended it or not. Davis has taken things off their budget so they have more to give out to people who generate votes, not profit or productivity. THIS is smart?

      The fact they allowed a drive thru coffee place on the Corner of Dispute should tell you how much they think about these things before approving them. Did the Council or Staff approve that? Traffic is snarled there for hours a day, and even block Emergency vehicles in order to keep their place in line for a drink. Did the traffic report address that? That intersection alone makes me avoid Davis at all costs, and I know how to get around or through it after 30 years of working in Davis. The freeway is another bottleneck that common sense could cure, but that is CalTrans, I won’t start that here.

      Davis’ density is NOT something to crow about, because they have not addressed it as a problem, rather a source of pride.

      1. Alan Miller

        However, Davis has demonstrated the meddling that affects tax revenues by reducing profitable income, as in the case of “Redrum”, by dictating what people can even call their business. The other stores, one at Sierra College. is not forced to change its name because of some lack of humor.

        The Murder Burger in Rocklin by Sierra College went out of business nearly a decade ago, negating your argument.  I have never met a human being that calls it Redrum.  Doesn’t matter what the sign says.

        1. sisterhood

          I was a little sad when In N Out moved in across the street from Murder Burger. MB is slow, but worth the wait. I used to drive over to MB from Natomas! I loved it that much. Was also sad when Starbucks came to town (although they do provide good health ins. to their ee’s) because I saw the demise of another chain, Cafe Roma, that had a better vibe, promoted  local art on their walls, and had a superior mocha. Borders arrived, Bogey’s left. Then Borders left. I’m afraid to ask if Sweet Briar Books is still there? I guess folks don’t care if Davis is homogenized. Glad the co-op is still there, even with Whole Foods & Trader Joe’s moving in.

      2. Topcat

        The project IS seriously underestimating parking and even their employees will not have a place to park with 600 people parking for conference activity, another 100 for hotel, and at least 100 employees.

        Yes, it appears that the project proponents do not have a good understanding of the number of cars that will need to be accommodated.  This project will have serious consequences for traffic congestion and lack of parking.  The relatively minor mitigation efforts that are proposed are insufficient.  If the project is built as proposed, the Richards-Olive Drive situation will be much worse than it already is.

      3. sisterhood

        I bet the old Nugget and businesses around it like the snarl of mountain traffic on Friday and Sunday nights, folks taking the frontage road. I used to see a lot of out of towners stopping in that shopping center for food.

    2. Alan Miller

      the redevelopment of an underutilized site adjacent to downtown – shows us the future of Redrum Burger, Dutch Bros, all those crappy industrial buildings, and the vacant lot encircling the site.This flagship project needs to be surrounded by development that reflects well on the City.

      Instead of Murder Burger and Third Space, we could have a Pet Smart and a TGI Fridays.  Then Davis, instead of having character/blight, would have homogenization/sterility.  Does that “reflect well on the City?”.  Viva la change!  Sometimes, change sucks. Redrum is an institution; everyone knows it; old residents all remember it. Do we want sterility?

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