Council Puts Nishi on Notice – Solve the Access Issue if You Want a June Vote

Nishi Site Plan

Nishi Site Plan

The Davis City Council in its strongest wording to date served notice to Nishi that without addressing the access issue, namely a second grade-separated crossing, it would not vote to put the project on the June ballot. That gives developers until February, less than three months, to solve the issue that has shadowed the project since its conceptual inception.

As Mayor Pro Tem Robb Davis put in no uncertain terms, “I will not vote to put this on the ballot in June without conditions related to access. The cleanest way is to say no undercrossing at the railroad – no project. No improvements to Richards – no project.”

However, like his colleagues, he said, “I’m willing to see what we can come up with in terms of this other way that may allow certain things to go forward in phased way, but no further. With the idea that the actual, that’s on the table in front of us cannot be developed without the second crossing.”

Mayor Pro Tem Davis put a motion on the table, seconded by Mayor Dan Wolk, to affirm a June ballot deadline for working to define the conditions to make it clear for the voters.

Councilmember Brett Lee said, “I’m a little bit uncomfortable with this notion that we’re supportive of the June ballot and asking staff to come back and address some concerns.” He said that staff could come back with the proposal that he is either supportive or not supportive of, depending on the specifics.

He said that, while he was in generally in favor of a June ballot for this project, he wants to see specific things before he will support that project. “The actual specifics make a lot of difference,” he said. “Even with the second crossing,” he said, “there are many shapes and sizes of this project that would not be acceptable to me.”

Councilmember Lee offered different language, “supportive of a June election for this project but leave it relatively vague.” Among his concerns were what the county-city tax sharing agreement would look like.

The motion eventually became to “direct staff to move forward with the applicant as if they were preparing for a June ballot with the understanding that questions need to be answered before council will take formal action to place it on the ballot.”

Earlier, Councilmember Brett Lee said he found it “curious” that people referred to the second crossing as “the key event” in terms of the project moving forward. With a single access point, he noted, the draft EIR shows a Level of Service (LOS) F at the Richards-Olive intersection. However, with the two access points, there would also be an LOS F at the intersection.

He said he agrees with the notion that “that level of service F is unacceptable.”

He suggested a phased approach, saying that “the idea would be at each phase Level of Service F would not be encountered at Richards and Olive.” He said he would support a June ballot “provided that the applicant could produce a phasing proposal which would not trigger a Level of Service F at our intersections.”

This would allow the project to move forward and the public to have more certainty, as they wouldn’t have to worry about the university approving the second access point. The applicant could have an initial build and when a second access point or corridor improvements on Richards were implemented that would allow additional housing to be built at that time.

“With student-oriented apartments,” he said, “they have an ability to discourage the use of automobiles.”

Councilmember Lucas Frerichs added that the issues of access have been the key topic since this project was first discussed. “Access to this site,” he said, “that is the lynch pin across which the success or failure of the site hinges upon. For me, particularly the proposed grade-separated crossing the tunnel through the university, having that second access point, is absolutely essential.”

He said, “It’s got to be something that is on the front end of the project.” He added, “I do think it’s a really great site. It’s probably one of the best sites that the city has to develop – in terms of infill but also transit oriented development… But it has a lot of natural constraints.” He noted it is wedged between the highway and the railroad and the university, which creates complications.

Councilmember Rochelle Swanson also agreed, saying “that access point with the university, that’s essential for the success of the project and it’s also essential for the success of the applicant going through and moving it forward.”

Katherine Hess noted, about the timeline, that “it is a very tight schedule, there are a couple of weeks in there, but not much.”

Councilmember Lee said, “Kind of where we are tonight leaves the applicant in a little bit of limbo because we’ve kind of talked in generalities – I would be interested in sending them a signal that if they were able to come up with a proposal that did not generate Level of Service F traffic in segments and intersections, that this would be something we would be supportive of putting on the ballot.”

He added, “I’d rather them being the ones lobbying the university to have that happen, as opposed to us just waiting for the university to come through.”

Robb Davis stated, “We need to signal clearly to the university that we want to move this forward and that we need them to act.” He added, “We need action from them. We can’t expedite that action but we can say we’re ready for you now to do your part.”

The council was ultimately willing to move forward at this point, but it is very clear that, without addressing traffic impacts through either a phased approach, reduced vehicles or a second access point, this council is not going to put Nishi on the ballot.

—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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28 thoughts on “Council Puts Nishi on Notice – Solve the Access Issue if You Want a June Vote”

    1. Matt Williams

      SODA, the fiscal impact was brought up in public comment.  Don Fouts, speaking in support of the project, pointed out that while the fiscal analysis showed an annual $78,000 deficit for the City Budget from the project at full buildout, it was also important to keep in mind that the total annual economic impact for the Davis community from Nishi’s ongoing activities is projected to be $385 million.   Allen Hirsch and Eileen Samitz also raised the projected negative fiscal impact on the City as one of the multiple components that cause each of them individually to believe that a Ballot Date in June 2016 is too early.

      In  my personal public comment I reiterated fiscal impact concerns that were raised in the September Finance and Budget Commission deliberations about the Economic and Fiscal Impact Analysis of Proposed Innovation Centers in Davis prepared by Economic & Planning Systems, Inc. (EPS).  Those concerns were that the projected City Services costs in the EPS model assume the demographics of the Nishi residents will be the same as the City as a whole and therefore the cost of City services will be equal to the city-wide average costs.  If the Nishi residents are predominantly students, most of whom have no cars, it is reasonable to expect that the cost of providing city services to those residents will be lower (perhaps significantly lower) than the City-wide average.  If that is the case then the $1,351,000 annual General Fund Expenditures figure is overstated, and the $78,000 General Fund Deficit is overstated as well.

    1. Matt Williams

      SODA, what additional vetting do you believe the fiscals need?  My comment above about the concerns the Finance and Budget Commission raised is definitely on my radar.  What fiscal vetting is on yours?

      1. SODA

        Hi Matt!

        I had not seen your response and explanation when I wrote my 7:54am post because yours was at 11:08!  I see it now and appreciate the info…and think that is welcomed vetting. I wish the story had included mention of the fiscal impact discussion but realize the bulk of the comments hence the article was about access, critical to the project. Naive question:  how is the $385M ‘total economic impact’  you stated calculated??  Hard to imagine…?

        1. Matt Williams

          SODA, the whole 199 page economic analysis report can be accessed at the September 14th FBC meeting page on the City website (see document ). Here are some excerpts from that report that will answer your questions at a summary level.

          Developing the two Innovation Centers through buildout will support temporary, one-time economic activities associated with on-site backbone infrastructure, nonresidential, and residential construction. The estimated construction costs over the entire period of project development are shown in Table 3. Total cumulative construction costs across the Base Development Program and the three sensitivity analyses range from approximately $925 million to $1.1 billion. Appendix A provides details on the construction cost assumptions.

          The establishments and residents occupying the nonresidential and residential space developed in the two Innovation Centers will support ongoing economic activities. These ongoing activities will take two distinct forms. First, the private- and public-sector establishment operating in the Innovation Centers will support jobs to produce goods and provide services. Table 4 shows the estimated number of jobs support by establishment operations in the Innovation Centers. Total cumulative job counts range from roughly 6,400 to 6,900 across the Base Development Program and the three sensitivity analyses. The supporting tables in Appendix B show the assumptions used to derive employment counts and the related industry allocation. Second, the residents living in the Innovation Centers will support household expenditures that flow to establishments throughout the community.1 The total pool of potential household spending equates to roughly $10 million in the Base Development Program and three sensitivity analyses.2 The assumptions regarding the amount of household spending also are summarized in Appendix B.

          The economic impact analysis uses an input/output (I/O) modeling framework to estimate the full range of economic effects associated with the one-time and ongoing economic activities of the proposed Innovation Centers in Davis.3 Economic impacts are derived through an I/O model by taking a direct activity and adding multipliers to account for the chain of spending and respending that is set in motion by the initial activity. For example, a R&D entity operating in one of the Innovation Centers will purchase goods and services to support its own economic activities. The demand for goods and services will stimulate additional economic activities at other supplier businesses. The impacts expand further when employees of these businesses spend their income and stimulate economic activities at businesses receiving the spending. These various economic effects multiply throughout the economy and, when added to the direct activity, yield the total estimated economic impact.

          The I/O modeling framework is premised on the concept that industries in a geographic region are interdependent in the sense that they purchase output from and supply input to other industries. This analysis relies on the framework established through IMPLAN (Impact Analysis for Planning) software, an I/O model that draws on data collected by the IMPLAN Group, LLC, from several government sources, including the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA), Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), and the Census Bureau. The model is used widely for estimating economic impacts across a wide array of industries and economic settings.
          The total gross economic impacts reflect the sum of direct, indirect, and induced effects. Indirect and induced effects are derived through multipliers that measure the impact of the direct activity as it “ripples” throughout the economy:

  1. Tia Will

    supportive of a June election for this project but leave it relatively vague.”:

    I also also have not heard the discussion, but was a little troubled by this quote from Brett Lee which I admit I am responding to out of context in order to get clarification.

    Leaving something “relatively vague” sounds like a questionable strategy to me when considering whether to move any issue to a vote. Can someone explain just what Councilmember Lee felt it was reasonable to “leave relatively vague” ?

    1. hpierce

      Have no clue why CC member Lee said what he said in the terms he did… but I DO know when I’ve done that (infrequently), I’m trying to impress the listener that they need to “bring their game”, and not just set a “bar” that I might feel I need to raise or lower when I learn more. It sounds appropriate in this context.

      1. Davis Progressive

        actually i think that was the point – he wanted to encourage them to stick with the june timeline without committing to support the project until he sees how traffic issues are fixed.  moreover he wants reduced impacts to less than los f.

    1. Davis Progressive

      in other words, the concern right now is that the “level of service” or “los” is at “f” which means traffic is at basic standstills.  what brett wants is to force the developer to improve the roadways so that we are at better “los” than “f” before they can build more.  whether that’s through a second access, reduced traffic, mitigations on richards, etc.

      1. Matt Williams

        DP, if there is no access to Olive Drive from Nishi for anything other than emergency vehicles (fire, ambulance, police) would the traffic level of service issues on Richards even be part of the equation?  Electronically controlled bollards would accomplish that kind of restricted access.

      2. hpierce

        You seem to not understand what ‘LOS F’ is and the fact that the current GP specifically considers LOS F acceptable in/around the Core at peak hours.  One could easily argue that LOS F, at peak hours, is in itself a “mitigation”, as it would deter intelligent folk from using that segment/corridor during peak times.  LOS F is not equal to “gridlock”.  Something like the ‘squares/rectangles’ analogy.

  2. Anon

    I could not make the City Council meeting last night, but for me there are two huge issues with Nishi: 1) access; 2) net fiscal negative.  Both are equally important.

    1. Matt Williams

      Anon, when you get to see the video on the City website (it isn’t accessible as yet, but it will be soon), you will see that access was front and center at the head of the Council’s concerns.  If the Nishi site has its primary access through the new tunnel under the railroad to Old Davis Road on the UCD campus, that would appear to address the lion’s share of the access issues.  The rest of the access issues could be addressed by the installation of electronically controlled bollards to restrict access from Nishi to Olive Drive for anything other than emergency vehicles (fire, ambulance, police).  The bollards would permanently block access at the current end of Olive Drive at the edge of the current bicycle path, unless and until an electronic signal from an emergency vehicle causes the bollards to pneumatically recede into a cylindrical hole in the ground so the emergency vehicle can drive over them.

        1. Alan Miller

          OK, will take your word, for now, but still have a bit of skepticism.

          The bollards around the State Capital placed after 9-11 are of this telescoping variety.   The first time I saw one retract I thought I was seeing things!  Sure enough, Highway Patrol can control them remotely.  Really cool to watch.  I’d sure hate to be walking over one as it went up.

        2. Jim Frame

          “Retractable” or “telescoping” bollards are not uncommon.

          I wouldn’t discount the technology out-of-hand, but it’s nice to know that a simple 1″x4″ electric gate arm — like the ones at the various entrances to the campus core — is an available alternative.  Those usually work fine, and when they don’t it’s an easy matter for the driver or passenger to get out and break the arm.

          A few years back I was working at the A Street / Peter J. Shields gate when a UCD fire truck pulled up.  After one or two attempts to trigger the arm from the cab, one of the firefighters hopped out and nonchalantly snapped the arm off, and away they went.


      1. Matt Williams

        Anon, is it a net fiscal negative?

        In addition to the concerns the FBC raised at the September review of the EPS analysis (noted earlier), EPS raised its own concerns about the $78,000 deficit.

        The Nishi project is estimated to produce an annual net General Fund deficit of approximately $78,000 at buildout. These results assume a 50%/50% property tax sharing allocation between the City and County of the applicable property tax rate for the portion of the Innovation Centers in the unincorporated County, among other key assumptions described in the fiscal impact analysis memorandum. (page 16 of their analysis report)

        The annual net fiscal deficit of the Nishi project may be lessened by actual conditions that are more favorable than those modeled in the analysis. The fiscal impact analysis is predicated on a set of assumptions that reflect current, conservative economic and demographic conditions. However, more favorable assumptions may significantly diminish the deficit or result in an annual net fiscal surplus for the City’s General Fund. For example, a moderate increase in taxable sales generated by the onsite retail and other non-retail, non-residential uses will produce additional sales tax revenue that may diminish the estimated annual deficit for the City’s General Fund. In addition, a higher property tax sharing allocation for the City or the addition of a potential hotel project onsite may result in an annual net fiscal surplus for the City’s General Fund. Finally, privatization of parks, open space, and public works maintenance obligations may also result in an annual net fiscal surplus for the City’s General Fund. The details of these potential amendments to the Base Development Program (sensitivity scenarios) are discussed in detail in Exhibit 2 of the fiscal impact analysis memorandum.

        EPS went further and included the following scenario analysis results in their report … some of which produce a much different bottom line for the City Budget.

  3. Jim Frame

    These results assume a 50%/50% property tax sharing allocation between the City and County

    It seems to me that I read somewhere that tax sharing is regulated by state law such that the county is made whole but is not allowed to require anything above that.  If that’s true — and I can’t offer any more evidence that it is — then wouldn’t the county’s tax bite be pretty much known already?

    1. Matt Williams

      I asked myself the same question this morning Jim.  It would seem to be straightforward to bring clarity to the revenue sharing question.  It would also seem to be in Don Saylor’s best interests in his Assembly campaign to take the initiative and bring resolution to this question.

    2. hpierce

      Actually, you are mostly right, Jim… the County can’t “require” anything above that, but in reality they can negotiate for a better deal… think “Development Agreement”… whatever the parties agree to is “good”… by law.

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