In some ways, I’m sure I will hear from various councilmembers that this is an unfair question. That the developers are private interests and they should have the right to put their project on the ballot and if those projects cannot gain a majority, then they will lose.
However, I am concerned that, while both innovation projects have good aspects and considerable merit, they have shortcomings that could prove fatal in what one can only surmise will be contested elections for approval via a Measure R vote. The council approval process represents the first chance to improve the projects and hopefully the council, recognizing the importance of the projects, will push the developers for small but important improvements.
Our analysis yesterday on Nishi was basically that the project appears to try to do too much – it tries to provide rental housing, workforce housing, and R&D (research and development) space all on a 47-acre property. That seems a tough task at the relatively low density they are proposing.
I rarely agree with Mark West, but I think he hit the nail on the head in a comment late yesterday afternoon when he said, “The current Nishi proposal is a missed opportunity. Rather than looking at it as a stand alone project, it should be developed as one leg of a two pronged expansion of the downtown, with the 3rd street corridor extending to L street as the other prong. At the Nishi end, there should be high density student housing, the proposed commercial space, and an extensive retail component with at least 10x more space than what is currently proposed. Creating a small ‘village’ like the USC development that David cites is a good way of thinking about how the project could be improved, by creating a ‘University’ focused extension of the downtown.”
While I am not sure I agree on the Trackside proposal, I do think he had a point when he said that “this is Davis, so instead of planning for a vibrant and growing downtown, we will settle for more of the same low density housing and commercial space, with no significant expansion of retail. We don’t want to threaten the downtown land owners or the large apartment landlords in town after all.”
Yesterday I made the point that if Nishi and the city fix the Richards Boulevard traffic congestion – a point that I am dismayed has not been adequately raised in the staff report on the Hotel Conference – Nishi probably passes. But, after reading more comments yesterday, I am less certain of that.
As one person keeps asking me via text message – why do we even need Nishi? The answer is simple. The city, as Don Shor keeps pointing out, is thousands of beds short for college students. Nishi seems like a good location to put those beds – or at least some of them. Moreover, the city needs space for R&D. Third, the city needs more workforce housing. And finally the city needs more retail.
The advantage of Nishi is that building there does not expand the city’s boundaries. Nishi is already surrounded. It is not sprawl inducing. It follows the concept of smart growth, putting people potentially near their place of work or school.
It is not a perfect location, but it is pretty close to that. My only real concern is that, given its small size, we cannot try to do everything there and certainly not at such low density. I’d like to see the council really challenge the developer here to think bigger.
On the Mace Ranch Innovation Center, the Vanguard readers had a long discussion over whether the $2.2 million in fiscal impact to the city at buildout was too conservative a number. It may be too conservative and there are reasons to believe that is the case, but my point on Saturday was that we should be able to generate a better number than that, even using conservative assessments.
The EPS report’s analysis “excludes the ongoing operations and maintenance of Project facilities that are proposed to be funded through private sources (e.g., lighting and landscape district; Mello-Ross community facilities district [CFD] for services).”
The city has looked into a CFD of $.50 per square foot on top of the rest of the fees and taxes. That would generate over a million in revenue. The advantage of taxing built-out space is that they do not have to pay the tax until something gets put up.
Right now they are projecting 2.7 million in non-residential square feet. That includes office, flex, manufacturing, and industrial commercial, as well as a hotel and public space. Factoring out the hotel and public space, we are looking at about 2.5 million in taxable square footage.
There are mixed views on the viability of the CFD, but, as one person told the Vanguard, given the increase in the value of the land once it gets entitled and annexed, the city should have the right to share in that windfall.
Finally, we ought to consider, instead of a 2.5 million square foot development, what happens to revenue at 4 million square feet. From the city’s perspective, the majority of the costs – roads, infrastructure, etc., are not all that different at 2.5 million square feet versus 4 million square feet.
But the added jobs, additional property taxes due to increased property values, and additional square footage along with construction costs and other fees would be a tremendous improvement.
If we are going to pave over 200 acres on the other side of Mace, it should be a game-changer for the city’s finances and, for me at least, the $2.2 million, even if that represents a low estimate, is not enough.
Why do we need Mace? Because the costs of the city to supply the services we need are going to continue to rise and if we want the city to be able to provide services – including police, fire, parks, roads, greenbelts, swimming pools and other recreation – we need to have a better financing mechanism than we have.
The bottom line here is that, if we are truly projecting a $2.2 million revenue in 20 years, then I think the voters are going to be reluctant to support this project. The city needs to think about ways to generate the additional revenue and model it so we can see the likelihood of success.
We need the council to take the lead here – we have good starting places on both Mace and Nishi, but we need to be able to improve upon them if we hope they can succeed at the polls.
—David M. Greenwald reporting