Council to Receive Update on Nishi

Interior View of Nishi
Nishi Artist Rendering
Nishi Artist Rendering

This fall, the city of Davis released a draft EIR for the Nishi Gateway Center where the community had 46 days to provide comments ending on October 26.

The Nishi Gateway Innovation District is a collaborative planning process among the city, UC Davis and Yolo County, and is proposed on the 47-acre Nishi property adjacent to the city limits and UC Davis. The Innovation District also includes West Olive Drive and is designed to complement adjacent uses on the UC Davis campus.

The city in September also released the economic analysis of Nishi which showed it to be a net negative in terms of fiscal impact on the city. Staff however writes, “Although the Nishi project is estimated to result in an annual net fiscal deficit at buildout, the project is envisioned to contain land uses that contribute to a successful innovation ecosystem. In addition, the annual net fiscal deficit of the Nishi project may be mitigated by actual conditions that are more favorable than those modeled in the analysis.”

Staff adds, “The analysis concluded that all Nishi DEIR project alternatives are estimated to have a positive effect relative to the impacts of the Base Development Program, especially the inclusion of a hotel as part of the mixed-use development.”

Tim Ruff, the project developer, told the Vanguard, “We are committed to building a project that provides the maximum benefit to the community through this collaborative process. Inclusion of a small extended stay hotel creates a annual revenue SURPLUS of $400,000 annually for the project as a whole.”

The project anticipates development of a mixed-use innovation district on the Nishi property, complemented by potential redevelopment of properties on West Olive Drive and adjacent UC Davis lands. Components of the Nishi proposal include:

  • 650 high-density apartment and condominium units (440 rental and 210 ownership units)
  • 325,000 square feet of office and research & development uses
  • Ancillary retail to serve residents and employees and to complement Downtown Davis
  • Parks, greenbelts, and stormwater detention areas
  • Enhancements to the Putah Creek Parkway
  • Vehicular access to West Olive Drive and Old Davis Road via an anticipated undercrossing to the UC Davis campus

In their update, staff notes that the final EIR is anticipated to be released in December. The preferred alternative has full pedestrian/bicycle/vehicle access from both West Olive Drive and the UC Davis campus.

Any commitment to a UC Davis connection requires approval from the UC Regents. Staff notes, “While UC Davis staff have been supportive of analyzing this concept, a formal commitment to such access would not be anticipated until after UCD’s Long Range Development Plan update and completion of the campus environmental review.”

Comments and concerns have focused on issues of traffic and circulation, especially the impacts on the Richards Blvd corridor. Staff notes that the environment reviews for Nishi as well as the hotel conference center will “require mitigation measures to improve operations on the Richards Boulevard corridor, including a median to prohibit left turns across Richards Boulevard between Olive Drive and the I-80 on/off ramps. Nishi is also required to make improvements to the Olive Drive/Richards Boulevard intersection, and fair-share contributions toward improvements to the interchange.”

The city anticipates putting the measure on the ballot for June for the required Measure R vote. The latest date for Council action would be February 16, 2016.

The staff report summarizes both what could be placed on a June ballot as baseline project feature as well as what would have to be deferred.

Baseline features:

General Plan Amendment and Planned Development Zoning: This would include overall development uses and intensity as well as locations of streets, greenbelts, and parks. A hotel has been proposed as a possible project alternative; staff anticipates that this would be a conditionally-permitted use subject to subsequent market analysis and Planning Commission review. Development standards such as setbacks would be established through the Final Planned Development, which would likely go to Planning Commission with the tentative subdivision map application. Provisions for adoption and amendment of the Sustainability Implementation Plan and Design Guidelines could be included in the either Development Agreement or the Planned Development Zoning.

Development Agreement: The Development Agreement would ratify and require compliance with the baseline project features. The Development Agreement could also address the anticipated Community Facilities District for infrastructure improvements; requirements for agricultural mitigation; impact fee structure; and other contributions.

Access and Circulation: The baseline features would reflect significant EIR mitigation measures, including fair-share contributions to Richards corridor improvements. Staff anticipates limitations on development phasing until access to Old Davis Road is approved by the UC Davis campus. The baseline features could also establish conditions relating to improvements to the Richards Boulevard corridor to be implemented prior to development phases.

Elements that would need to be deferred to after a June 2016 ballot measure include:

Tax-Share Agreement with Yolo County, required prior to annexation. Without a completed tax-share agreement in place, the final fiscal impacts of the proposal are unknown.

Commitment to UC Davis Access. Campus staff have anticipated that the connection to the Nishi site will be analyzed as an alternative in the EIR effort, beginning in spring 2016. The collaborative planning efforts for Nishi Gateway and adjacent UC Davis lands have anticipated the possibility that land-use planning and environmental review for City and campus efforts might occur on different schedules. City and campus planners have incorporated mechanisms for separate analysis to allow either option to proceed independently, such as the equal-weight EIR analysis of the Nishi Gateway proposal, with and without access to campus.

Affordable Housing Contribution. The current affordable housing ordinance exempts vertical-mixed use rental housing and stacked-flat condominiums from inclusionary requirements. This was reflected in preliminary draft deal points presented with the predevelopment agreement in 2012. More recently, staff and UC Davis representatives have had preliminary conversations on possible partnership opportunities for creating affordable student housing in conjunction with the Nishi development, whether on that site or elsewhere. Conversations have been positive, but it will be difficult to reach a resolution outside of the comprehensive LRDP effort.

Richards Boulevard Corridor Plan and Interchange Improvements. The engineering work for interchange improvements is now underway. Staff anticipates including a Corridor Plan for Richards Boulevard as a requested Capital Improvement Project in the City’s 2016-17 budget.

—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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14 thoughts on “Council to Receive Update on Nishi”

  1. SODA

    Couple of questions on a rainly morning!

    What am I missing: why would we vote before the important issues you state at the end are determined?

    Why (in 35 words or less) is the project projected to yield negative fiscal impact and only positive and only 400K if a hotel is added?

  2. Mark West

    “Why (in 35 words or less) is the project projected to yield negative fiscal impact”

    Because the financial models used to make the projections assume that the City will continue to refuse to control the run-a-way growth of its total compensation costs.

      1. Mark West

        Not ‘catty’ at all, just repeating what Matt said a couple of weeks back about the models being used.  Revenue growth stops around the time of build out, but the costs of City services continue to rise, primarily due to continuing increases in total compensation.  Eventually, costs become greater than revenues and the project becomes net negative.  Same thing was true with the projections of the Cannery.  Some projects (residential) become net negative faster than others (commercial), but they all will do so eventually, until we make fundamental changes to our benefits programs.

        1. Matt Williams

          Mark has summarized the situation very well. One small revision I would make to what he has said is that “Revenue growth stops” isn’t technically accurate. What happens is that the annual inflation rate of the Revenue reflects the realities of the dampening effect of (A) Proposition 13 and (B) the long-term home ownership patterns of Davis. As a result Revenues inflate at a much lower annual rate than Costs do.

          Another, less small revision I would make is to recognize that it isn’t just “fundamental changes to our benefits programs” that we have to make. We also need to make fundamental changes in actual employee compensation. To accomplish that, we need to bring parity to the compensation of our Public Safety employees. Currently we pay fire fighters more than we pay police officers. I believe that pay disparity is inconsistent with the relative value that Davis resident place on fire protection services versus police protection services. The unfortunate incidents over the past several years (KetMoRee and Marsh being just two examples) have shown us just how important and valuable the services our police officers provide is. The fact that firefighters are paid more than police offices is (I believe) one more example where political considerations have been placed ahead of evidence-based decision making.

          With that said, the next time your car hits a pot hole in our roads, it may be a good time to consider the fact that our non-Public Safety employees are paid a fraction of what our firefighters are. Do we really value our non-Public Safety employees that lowly relative to their peers?

        2. Barack Palin

          It’s all in in the semantics Matt.  It’s not that we value our non public employees less than firefighters, it’s that we overpay our firefighters.

          1. Matt Williams

            BP, semantics are words. What we pay are actions. Our actions speak louder than our words.

            With that said, I don’t disagree with your final four words.

        3. Frankly

          I really don’t like this “compensation on what we value” thinking.  Everyone values different things and at different times.  If my house catches fire I am going to value fire fighters more than any other city service at that time.  If I need a building inspection, then the Planning and Development staff will suddenly become very important to me.

          Every hire has a compensation equilibrium that factors the supply of qualified candidates and the number of jobs.  Higher qualifications generally mean fewer qualified candidates and thus higher compensation.  But only relative to supply. For example, journalism tends to require significant qualifications.  So does the practice of law.  However, there is a much greater supply of journalist and lawers than there are employment opportunities… so many qualified writers and lawyers make less than other career choices that have lesser qualifications.

          Another factor is the difficulty of the work.  Employers generally have to award greater compensation to attract and retain good employees willing to do the work.  Think of those crab boat fishers in the Bering Sea.

          Getting back to what we pay fire fighters.  The credentials are not that difficult to acquire, there is an over-abundance of qualified labor relative to the number of jobs… and the job is really not that difficult to do except for maybe the rare large structure fire which Davis will likely never have due to the shortage of large structures and all the modern fire prevention.

          Police work is more difficult because it routinely and directly interfaces with the public… often the worst parts of it.  And it is more challenging to find qualified candidates because of the related skills needed and because we need more cop employees.

          We could pay firefighters 40% less and cut their benefits by the same… and require they work until they are at least 58 years old for full retirement vesting… and we would have lines around the block of qualified candidates eager and ready to do the job.

          I don’t think we pay our police too little or too much at this point given the changes made over the last several years of budget problems.  But our firefighters… absolutely!


        4. hpierce

          Mark and Matt… fair answers to what was basically a fair question… thanks.  I may not completely agree (need to cogitate on the info), but at this point, cannot refute.

        5. hpierce

          Frankly, Frankly, have to take exception to your 8:30 comment… if you value “journalists/bloggers/writers” and lawyers highly in the economic value system… ’nuff said.

      2. Matt Williams

        pierce, based on what I learned in the Finance and Budget Commission presentations by the consultant regarding the financial model, the inflation rate for the City’s costs exceeds the inflation rate for the City’s tax revenues. What Mark has said is an accurate recitation of the projection assumptions contained in the financial models.

        In addition, the model projects a $3.0 billion recurring annual contribution to the City of Davis economy, with only $2.2 million of that annual contribution being directly to the City of Davis’s annual Budget. The question that all Davis residents and workers have to wrestle with is the relative value of a $3.0 billion incremental addition to the overall Davis economy is versus a $2.2 million incremental annual specific addition to the City of Davis General Fund Budget.

        On Saturday at his campaign kickoff Brett Lee specifically referred to the $2.2 million annual amount, but said nothing about the $3.0 billion annual amount. I believe that represents an oversight on Brett’s part. If the financial models are on the mark, then both of those fiscal sustainability numbers are “true.”

  3. Anon

    If there are unresolved issues, e.g. net fiscal negative to the city, UC Davis access, tax sharing agreement with the county, affordable housing contribution, Richards Blvd concerns, then this proposal is not ready to be placed on a ballot initiative IMO.  Better to postpone and get it right if there is any hope of getting voter approval.

    1. hpierce

      Good points… if there is significant motor vehicle access via W Olive for Nishi, I will strongly oppose it.  It needs to have access to UCD and/or to the SW to Solano County for my support.  Not that my support matters in the grand scheme of things.  Or, at all.

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