We have closely scrutinized Nishi in the last week or so. Based on the conversations on the Vanguard and my conversations elsewhere, I do not believe that Nishi would pass the city council let alone a Measure R vote as currently comprised. That is just my opinion, of course, and I have not done polling on it.
However, the council made it fairly clear last week that, without a second crossing, they would not entertain putting the project on the ballot. Councilmember Brett Lee went further and suggested the need to reduce traffic congestion to better than the LOS F (Level of Service F) in order to gain his support.
Despite my criticism, I think that the Nishi site itself – awkward and difficult as it may be – represents a great opportunity for the community. But I would like to see us push the envelope more.
So here are some of the options I would like to see:
- Modified Current Proposal – higher density housing, low parking/car alternative. There are two current problems with the proposal, one is circulation-related, and the other is simply that I don’t believe we get enough bang for the buck with 650 housing units and 350,000 or so square feet of R&D (research and development). So this alternative bumps up the housing back to about 1200 units which was one of the earlier proposals, it limits parking options to reduce the number of cars, and it keeps the R&D space the same.
- High Density Housing Only – low parking alternative. I’m a supporter of the need for innovation park space, but I believe we can better meet that need on the periphery while we can meet a huge amount of the need for future student housing right next to campus. As I’ve noted in the past, students really don’t need cars on campus and many that I know don’t have them as it is. So why not create housing for people who don’t own cars, give them access to ZipCars for when they do need them, and people who want to have a car can live elsewhere? What if we could house 5000 students here? That would solve a lot of needs and open rental housing potentially in the city for other uses.
- R&D Only – with the loss of the Davis Innovation Park, Mace Ranch Innovation Center is the only game in town right now for a pure research park. But one of the EIR alternatives is a 1.25 million square foot research park only space. I think we would need to make the bulk of the traffic access go through campus, as well as work with the university to fix Richards, but we might be able to make this work.
There are also things I do not want to see.
First, any proposal that does not have university access, I think, is dead on arrival. Richards Blvd, even if you believe like me we can remedy it without major upgrades, is not going to be able to support an entire 45-acre project with business and residential by itself. So if the university does not approve a below-grade crossing option, I am going to oppose Nishi.
Second, Nishi developers seem to believe that the EPS (Economic Planning Systems, Inc.) report showing a $78,000 deficit can be rectified with a hotel conference center. In their press release they write that “the Nishi project alternative that includes a hotel will generate a general fund surplus of $416,000 per year, money that can be redirected to vital city services. According to city projections, the Nishi project proposal with an onsite hotel is estimated to create between 1,500 to 1,800 jobs, $315 million to $385 million in economic output, and $89 million to $107 million in labor income (wages).”
While I would prefer to see a Nishi project that generates revenue for the city, that is actually not the biggest consideration for me. However, I believe that the hotel revenue is a bit misleading. I agree with those who believe that the hotel population is underserved and that Davis could take advantage of larger conferences with more hotel space.
However, the number of such conferences figures to be relatively rare. Instead, we would be proposing a situation where we have three major hotels within a stone’s throw and walking distance of each other with the Hyatt, with Nishi, and with the Richards-based Embassy Suites. I would be reluctant to support a project that has the hotel as the centerpiece for revenue generation without significant study to show that three hotels in that proximity would work.
Third, while I agree with Major Pro Tem Robb Davis on the need for assessments, tax-sharing agreements and reducing municipal service costs, I would still prefer a more heavily R&D project for revenue generating than hoping the current configuration plus hotel can produce sufficient revenue.
The bottom line for me is that I would like to see Nishi enhanced to the point where it serves real needs for student housing and/or research and development space. I think the current plan can be modified in these ways to serve some of those needs while dealing with the access issue.
—David M. Greenwald reporting