Monday Morning Thoughts II: Richards Plan Ignores Biggest Problem, Imperils Two Projects

Richards Tunnel

Richards Tunnel

It is difficult to overstate the magnitude of the problem here. The city is already being sued for producing a Mitigated Negative Declaration of the environmental report for the Hotel Conference Center, and the success or failure of a citizen’s vote on Nishi will hang on its ability to deal with traffic problems on Richards Boulevard.

For several months now, the Vanguard has pounded on two critical problems with the Richards underpass, neither of which have anything to do with the underpass itself – which, ironically, is not the problem.

The first problem, the city is looking into fixing. That has to do with the light sequencing.

Staff notes, “The traffic signals between Richards Boulevard/Research Park Drive and First Street/D Street intersections (a total of five signals) used to be in coordination to provide for an orderly movement of traffic throughout the corridor.”

Staff claims that over the last two years, “due to the numerous signal equipment failure and malfunctions, the traffic signals have been gradually taken off coordination, as they could not communicate with each other.”

I find this a strange comment because, from my perspective, the light sequencing was not working two years ago and it was not working five years ago. I don’t sense the problem of traffic has gotten worse, it just is needlessly bad and is likely to be further strained by new development proposals.

It is annoying to get a green light at 1st and E, only to have traffic back up because the light is red at 1st and D and have to stop. However, the question I still have here is how much capacity can these small streets – that were not built to be arterials – handle?

The problem isn’t just the light sequencing, it is that we are funneling huge amounts of traffic during the early commute, during the lunch hour and during the evening commute onto streets not built for such capacity.

As evidence of this, Richards Blvd. actually works fairly well during the summer when you do not have the massive amount of traffic going to and from the university. It doesn’t work poorly during non-peak hours in the middle of the morning or afternoon.

That should tell us the problem is the university traffic. As we have repeatedly reported, at both ends of the commute, the traffic flow doesn’t work. In the evening, the traffic backs up all the way to Russell Boulevard.

In the morning, the traffic flows north on Richards, turns left onto 1st  Street, some of the traffic enters the university at A St. along Old Davis Road but much of it goes north on B St. and heads west on Russell.

In the meantime, on the western part of campus there are three access points that lack traffic congestion.

This is the problem and it remains unaddressed in the report. This despite seeming council consensus in September that we need to figure out a way to route traffic away from Richards and toward the western end of campus.

The council in September added language to examine traffic and come back with recommendations to fix Richards Blvd.

Councilmember Lucas Frerichs noted, “I also think the suggestion (about re-routing traffic) has a lot of merit. I think it would take a comprehensive educational campaign to work with the university on trying to re-route a bunch of this traffic off the Richards tunnel and the Richards Blvd. intersection and have folks that are heading to the core part of the campus… have them head to Old Davis Road and use that interchange as opposed to Richards.”

He noted that when the students are back in session, “the exit ramp heading off of 80 onto northbound Richards Blvd backs almost all the way off onto the freeway, often-time in the morning, it many times backs to top of the overpass as well.”

He believes there is the ability to work with the university in a way that is “minimally expensive” to get folks to utilize another access point to the university.

Rochelle Swanson added, “I would like to recommend – we own land out there – people have approached us in the past about doing a billboard and doing a partnership” to create a billboard with instructions to take these exits. “I think waiting on Caltrans is going to take forever, it’s a huge process.”

She said, worst case scenario, set aside some money to put the city’s messaging on existing billboards. “That’s a phone call tomorrow,” she said. “I want to see this item come back with the traffic piece – but have that included. It’s a really simple solution that can get up and getting moving.”

She said, “Everyone gets off and goes onto Richards Blvd. and there’s definitely a work around.”

So where is this language in the staff report? Why does staff not even mention this critical issue?

—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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66 thoughts on “Monday Morning Thoughts II: Richards Plan Ignores Biggest Problem, Imperils Two Projects”

    1. ryankelly

      That seems to be the best that you can contribute.   No plans or ideas, no action as a City Council person when you had the chance, just file lawsuits, and then sit back and watch and then take credit for any further action.

      1. Alan Pryor


        That seems the best you can contribute. No plans or ideas, no action as a City Council person when you had the chance, just file lawsuits, and then sit back and watch and then take credit for any further action.


        Seems to me these posters are not offering any possible solutions of substance themselves but rather are just trying to shoot the messenger. That’s an easy out for any “nattering nabobs of negativism” (loved the phrase…hated the source). But Mike did what others (including myself) refused to do by putting himself on the line and filing a lawsuit thereby bringing attention to the lack of due process in this matter and possibly helping to force a realistic resolution to this looming problem. Without Mike’s action, nobody on Staff in City Hall would likely even consider any changes to the wholly inadequate psuedo-solutions offered by the City to the enormous traffic problems through Richards generated by the Conference Ctr and Nishi proposals.

        1. ryankelly

          Hey, I’ve offered suggestions, Alan.  Even suggested alternate routes.  There is nothing noble about MH suing the City.  He did nothing when he was on the City Council, even though this was a growing problem then.  He says he has solutions, but only wants to divulge them in a “confidential settlement conference.”  MH’s methods are not something that should be encouraged and it is a mystery why you would align yourself with him.

        2. Davis Progressive

          alan – i disagree.  i think the city council was already concerned about the traffic and looking at ways to fix it well before harrington sued.

      1. Alan Pryor


        MH’s methods are not something that should be encouraged and it is a mystery why you would align yourself with him.


        No mystery at all. I believe the City’s actions were illegal under CEQA and told the City that in written comments and an article in the Vanguard even before MH weighed in at all. The City chose to ignore my advice and proceeded down their chosen path in apparent direct violation of CEQA. Government is a series of checks and balances to prevent any sector of government from exercising undue authority. In this case, a citizen lawsuit is the only remedy available to right the wrongs committed by Staff and Council in approving the MND. I wonder your ire at MH’s lawsuit has more to do with your opinion of MH than it has to do with the legal merits of his lawsuit because you don’t otherwise seem to me like the type who would cede unbridled authority to our City Staff and Council.

        1. Mark West

          “I believe the City’s actions were illegal…”

          This is the critical statement.  You believe, you do not know.  So far, the actual answer has not be adjudicated so everything else is speculation.

          The real question however is will it make any difference one way or the other.  The project will (and should be) approved regardless, and the only difference between the outcome of the MND and a focused EIR is the increased costs associated with the latter. The lawsuit will do nothing more than increase the costs further for all of us, which really isn’t something that you or anyone else should be happy about.

        1. hpierce

          Wow! … initials and two letters… mea culpa!  What “rules” did I cross?  [oh, just did so, using a latin/Catholic term] Perhaps the rules need to be modified so only you or those who believe as you do can post.  Brings a new meaning to the term “liberal”… and I consider myself having a liberal “bent”.

        2. Miwok

          hpierce, you have crossed the line redefining the term Liberal. These people are Progressives, and we know the intolerance of those. You may not ask questions, comment negatively, or dutifully ask for further information from them. THEY control the Vertical, the Horizontal, and the Focus.

  1. Napoleon Pig IV

    The obvious solution is for the city to buy more red light cameras and add some custom software to enable them to recognize UCD parking permits. Set the timing for random fluctuations (to entrap more drivers) and photograph only violators with UCD parking permits. That should ramp up revenue enough to enable investments by the city to solve a number of problems while also enriching the company that wins the contract for the cameras.

      1. hpierce

        Actually, it’s “get behind me, Satan”… and Satan was a “tester” in many views… “Devil” (in English) is “lived”, spelled backwards (“living backwards”).  Alan, either work for me…

        The most effective “red-light violation” devices (other than a condom) that I’ve seen have been signs indicating that there is a camera, and a coffee can “posing” as a camera… VERY effective, low cost, etc.

        Wish I knew how to add an emoticon with smiling, winking, tongue in cheek.

  2. ryankelly

    Maybe a sign on the freeways that alert drivers that Richards is impacted would help, and to use other routes, but that would involve CalTrans and would likely be expensive.

    I have to say that Russell east at 5:00 PM is just as impacted with untimed lights, and cars sitting in traffic, so I don’t understand the focus on just Richards.  There is just no easy way to get to/from Central Davis from the I-80.  People I know who commute to Sacramento that have found alternate ways – Richards Blvd. South, then Poleline over crossing and West on Russell  or Mace Blvd, to 2nd Street, then West on Russell, or Mace Blvd to Covell and then South on F or Oak.   But others just go the route they are used to, like Mike Harrington’s description of his trip to South Davis a couple of weeks ago.  He used Richards Blvd, instead of Poleline Road, even though it would likely be easier, because that’s what he’s used to doing.

    1. Davis Progressive

      “Maybe a sign on the freeways that alert drivers that Richards is impacted would help, and to use other routes, but that would involve CalTrans and would likely be expensive.”

      that’s not what councilmember swanson said.

      ” I don’t understand the focus on just Richards”

      because that’s where they’re putting the new development?


  3. Frankly

    People generally take the route that is the most convenient.  If students and employees of UCD are using the Richards underpass to access I80 instead of taking Old Davis Road to the 113 interchange, then the Richards underpass route is still the most convenient for them.

  4. Dave Hart

    Or, install a FasTrak/license plate reader and charge $2.00 during commute hours to go under the Richards rail overcrossing.  Let the invisible hand of the market decide the best level of traffic.

    1. Alan Miller

      the invisible hand of the market

      FasTrak is an invisible hand alright — of the market? — that’s a stretch . . . more like in your purse or wallet pocket.

  5. Napoleon Pig IV

    Let’s just meter the passage of cars through the tunnel based on the content of their bumper stickers. Hillary stickers have to turn around and enter Davis from 113, old Al Gore bumper stickers get to pass first to make up for past injustice, old Bush bumper stickers can only drive in second gear, and any car with both a Save the Whales bumper sticker and an NRA bumper sticker gets a police escort to its destination.

    1. Alan Miller

      . . . anyone with a “Co-exist” or a “My child is an honors student at Davis High School” bumper sticker gets their car impounded and crushed in Far East Woodland.

    2. Frankly

      I like.

      But what are people with Hillary and Algore stickers doing driving?

      I would add one more.  If a Sanders sticker they have to keep making left turns.

  6. Miwok

    Well, Vanguard digression and name-calling had its usual place in this discussion. You all seem to call people a lot of names but no solutions. Classy.

    What does it say about a town that lets painted lines fade to nothing before making plans to repaint them? Who in their right mind puts a coffee pace on the busiest corner in town? Traffic studies on the busiest part of town in the path of a major project have been done “for a day”? Now someone wants to set up Metering? More proactive ideas, 20 years too late.

    No matter, but the City has overloaded their streets and roads. the sign on the City Limits, makes no clue that twice as many people work and live there. Now that Davis wants to propose new buildings, and add more traffic and people, they can’t follow their own rules? If CEQA has standards and Davis is trying to pull something like UCD does, they may not be able to do it.

    1. Napoleon Pig IV

      There’s nothing inherently wrong with name calling. It’s a very old practice that distinguishes humans from most other animals, the giving of names to things and ideas. In some cultures, to be able to give something a name is to gain insight into its nature (such as distinguishing a loon from a grebe), and in some cultures to name something is to gain power over it. All in all, name calling is almost a sacred art.

      As for proposing solutions, didn’t you think I was serious with my red light camera and bumper sticker filtration proposals? Have you heard anything better out of the City?

  7. CalAg

    This Staff Report has the feel of a CYA for the CC to point to if it attempts to advance the Nishi proposal towards a premature vote in June 2016.

    The City has made zero meaningful progress in fixing the existing circulation problems, and they have no credible plan to fix the problems going forward.  Nibbling away at the margins isn’t going to cut it.

    Take a look at the Staff Report. It’s pretty bad.

    The City Council should postpone the Nishi Measure R vote until November 2017 to allow (1) the development of a robust Richards Corridor improvement plan (proposed for the 2016 budget), (2) real-world reality checks on some of these ideas that have been put forth (blocking free left turns, fixing the traffic light sequencing, educating the driving public re: route alternatives, etc.), and (3) the completion of the UCD LRDP – a requirement for the Nishi connection to Old Davis Road on the UCD campus.

    Nishi is absolutely DOA while the Richards Corridor mess continues to fester. More studies, interim tweeks, and promises of future action won’t get it successfully through the Measure R process.





    1. hpierce

      Can guess easily where you’re coming from… even DJUSD moved their elections to ‘even years’… Nov ’17 will have a VERY low turnout.  Perfect for well-organized partisans.  Nice.  Not.

      1. CalAg

        The date came from the Nishi staff report:

        If I was City Manager and wanted to kill the project, I would put it on the June 2016 ballot (as currently scheduled). If I was City Manger and wanted the project to have a fighting chance to pass the Measure R vote, I would fix the Richards Corridor circulation problem and put a fully-baked project on the June 2018 ballot.


    2. hpierce

      BTW, after reading the staff report, not seeing the reason for your comment, “Take a look at the Staff Report. It’s pretty bad.”  Can you elaborate?  Meant as a fair question…

      1. CalAg

        It looks like a rush job by staff (probably done under protest and/or duress at the demand of the CC) to provide political cover on the Richards issue. An insultingly small $175,000 band-aid on the biggest infrastructure challenge currently facing the City.

        The appropriate staff work that the CC should be relying on is the proposed Corridor Plan for Richards Boulevard, which will be requested as a Capital Improvement Project in the City’s 2016-17 budget.

        The City leadership is looking pretty foolish right now for seriously considering a major urban development proposal that is effectively a 58 acre cul-de-sac with 650 dwelling units and 350,000 sq ft of commercial development feeding onto an arterial that is bumper-to-bumper level-of-service F during the morning and evening commutes as well as the evening and weekend peaks when people are trying to get in and out of downtown.

        Until UCD adopts it’s LRDP and formally commits to a connection to Old Davis Road, Nishi is DOA at the ballot box.

        1. Don Shor

          bumper-to-bumper level-of-service F during the morning and evening commutes as well as the evening and weekend peaks when people are trying to get in and out of downtown….DOA at the ballot box.

          Those aren’t voters. I think all of you are exaggerating the extent to which Davis residents and voters are concerned about congestion at Richards.

        2. CalAg

          “Those aren’t voters.” DS

          You have no evidence to support this broad mischaracterization. I’m a voter and I drive through the tunnel several times most days.

          When the anti’s get geared up to kill Nishi, watch for activists handing “Vote No on Nishi” flyers to the drivers creeping out of South Davis during the morning rush hour.

          1. Don Shor

            I’m a voter and I drive through the tunnel several times most days.

            Slow learning curve? You know there are alternative routes, right?

          2. Matt Williams

            CalAg, am I misremembering one of your prior posts where you referred to your residence as being near Covell Village? If it is and you are going to South Davis, why would you ever go through the tunnel as opposed to going over the Pole Line Overpass? Makes no sense.

          1. Don Shor

            There seems to be consensus — perhaps you disagree — that the major cause of traffic congestion at Richards is traffic coming to and going from UC. That would largely not be residents. There may be some traffic of downtown residents commuting out each morning and returning in each evening via Richards Tunnel, but they would be a small proportion of the total problem. Most Davis residents commuting out would have little reason to use Richards tunnel.

            I leave Davis every evening, six days a week, via South Davis to get onto I-80 West. I NEVER experience traffic delays as I merge over and get onto the freeway on that overpass. Never. I’ve been doing that for years.

            Thus my conclusion that the people responsible for the gridlock are not primarily Davis voters is based on deduction and observation. It is not a “broad mischaracterization.” I don’t know what job or residence causes you to use that underpass “several times most days.” I can’t imagine why you would do that. Perhaps you can elucidate. But I’d still be willing to conclude that most of those stuck in traffic there aren’t Davis voters, and most Davis voters really don’t care that much about the Richards tunnel.

            The voters chose not to widen it, not once but twice if I recall, and by pretty hefty margins. They were aware of the traffic issues. So I think it’s probably safe to say that’s not likely to be a major factor in any opposition to Nishi.

            There will be opposition to any project at Nishi. There is opposition to any project anywhere in Davis. That is just a given — probably 40% vote against pretty much anything at the outset. But whether there is broad-based opposition, enough to scuttle it? I doubt it.

  8. Michael Harrington

    CalAg:  I completely agree with your post above.  The problem I have with this entire “develop Olive Drive” crusade is that the city is rushing to approve development without first having a traffic plan to fix the problems.  Make the plan, fix the problems, and THEN approve development (or not).  In the case of Nishi, submit to the voters.

    In the case of the Hotel Conference Center, do you all believe all of that occupancy and car traffic analysis, coming from the same people who thought putting Dutch Brothers on that corner was just peachy??

    1. hpierce

      Uh, Mr H… you talking about PW, Planning, or CM/Rob White and/or Econ Dev folk?  Clue… your response will be a litmus test as to your sense of reality and/or veracity/credibility.  Fair warning.

    2. CalAg

      MH: We’re in general agreement on the Richards/Nishi issue (as it relates to process and traffic, but maybe not land use), but I disagree with you on Embassy Suites. In my opinion, the traffic impacts of the hotel project are de minimus relative to Nishi.

      The Embassy Suites project should go forward full speed ahead with one condition – the Dutch Bros access to Richards should be condemned and this traffic rerouted to the same ingress/egress point as the hotel conference center.

    3. Miwok

      When Davis starts treating its City as a commuter destination, with a University attached, they will be miles ahead of the game. When they benefit from many businesses that survive not off the City, but as services or product suppliers to the UC and Students, they will be better off.

      The City has stashed this extra income instead of reinvesting it to maintain the community, spent it on low priority headline grabbing stunts that maintains Davis reputation.

      These businesses would not thrive without the increased daily transient (commuter)  population. Why not plan to get them in n out (pardon the Pun) of town?

      I know it may have been years since anyone proposed this, as keeping them captive for a traffic jam may sell a few more toothbrushes?

  9. Michael Harrington

    hpierce:  “The City.”

    I actually walk in the same “contingency fee recovery” shoes as Tim Ruff.   He has to get a favorable “jury verdict” of voters to win a thin dime.  Meanwhile, he and his team have spent millions on the planning.    I would continue a trial date in a second if I thought a delay would help me to win.  Ruff’s plan is far from ready for a prime time vote that has a decent shot at winning.  I think the fiscal analysis has to result in them pushing June 2016 out another year.

    If they prematurely go to the voters and lose …. the second shot will be much much harder because their credibility will be gone.  Look at Covell Village.  Overreached, like Ruff’s team is doing, and you know what happened.

    The City Staff have zero incentive to give him this obvious advice: the City is probably billing Ruff + $10,000’s per month for all of the staff time. It’s a nice big fat biller, as the lawyers like to say.

    1. hpierce

      Mr H:  you failed the litmus test… blaming “the City” is like blaming the “world”… cute, inaccurate and well… [adjective deleted so moderator doesn’t have to](and/or having DP ask for it to be deleted).

    2. hpierce

      Clarification… possibly my bad… the part I was reacting to was, “… do you all believe all of that occupancy and car traffic analysis, coming from the same people who thought putting Dutch Brothers on that corner was just peachy??”  Other parts of your posts I either have no opinion on, or agree with.

    3. CalAg

      “Meanwhile, he and his team have spent millions on the planning.” @ MH

      In November 2012, the City Council approved a Pre-Development Cost Funding and Negotiation Agreement for the Nishi Property … … The pre-development concept was for the City to share predevelopment costs with the property owner. Upon completion of the environmental review and successful Measure J/R approval, the City’s contribution would be reimbursed by the Developer. Final structure of the real estate deal would be established through a Development Agreement.  Nishi Staff Report – 11/17/15

      The “team” is Ruff, Whitcombe, and two other investors. Ruff is a broker. Whitcombe builds multifamily housing (which is why this project is appropriately characterized as a Whitcombe multifamily housing development rather than an “innovation center”). The City is essentially giving a 50% subsidy to these developers for their “millions on the planning.” I’d guess getting a public agency to assume half your down-side capital risk is a great deal if you have the political connections to pull it off.

    4. CalAg

      “The City Staff have zero incentive to give him this obvious advice: the City is probably billing Ruff + $10,000’s per month for all of the staff time. It’s a nice big fat biller, as the lawyers like to say.” @ MH

      This is another aberration of having a stagnant no-growth City.

  10. Michael Harrington

    CalAg:  our General Fund dollars are funding 50% of the costs to get Ruff and Whitcombe to the craps game known as Meadure R??   They fund 50% and get 100% of the winnings ??  I think Measure R needs to be amended to make it permanent and require all applicants to fund 100% of the pre-development costs.

    Shall we put it on the June 2016 ballot? Anyone up for that? I will draft it and get it through the City.

  11. CalAg

    MH: Measure R is the problem, not the solution. Without the extreme economic distortions created by Measure R, I’m skeptical that the the Trojan horse at Nishi would have gotten much traction.

  12. Michael Harrington

    Nishi is a pretty easy idea to get behind:  something should go there.  The issues are traffic circulation, pollution from the highway and trains, and over-reaching from density, among others.  Maybe just push ahead for June and get the voter’s read on it?

    1. Alan Miller

      pollution from the highway and trains

      That’s an issue?  Didn’t stop the Lexington, also sandwiched between.  How is this any more an issue for Nishi?  Or any other person living near a rail line or major road?

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