My View: Examining the Preference for Nishi

Interior View of Nishi
Interior View of Nishi
Nishi artist rendering, Interior View

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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

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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  1. Barack Palin

    If this project ends up coming to the voters without significant planned revenue for the city I believe the voters will reject it.  After all what have we been talking about for the last several years, the need for revenue generating business parks.  I believe the voters will feel they’ve been mislead and will not vote for it.

    1. Anon

      I would go one step further.  I agree that significant tax revenue is the major consideration.  But I believe adding significant housing will make the project less palatable to many, which will gel opposition to Nishi.  Too many, including me, believe this project has morphed from a primarily R&D project to a primarily student housing project.

      1. Matt Williams

        Anon and Barack, I’m trying to wrap my head around your respective positions, and I may be missing something, so correct me if I have heard either of you incorrectly.

        Unlike the Hotel/Conference Center, EIR issues don’t appear to be problematic for what you propose. The City’s EIR includes ALTERNATIVE 2: RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT ONLY ALTERNATIVE, so under the rules of CEQA, an R&D Only project doesn’t have to start over with a new EIR.

        What I am having trouble with is the fact that the applicant shown no interest in proceeding with a 100% R&D proposal. Regardless of the EIR situation, if there is no applicant, there is no R&D only proposal, and we are back to square one … a parcel of land, but no party interested in doing anything with that parcel other than continuing to farm it. Is that your desired outcome?

          1. Matt Williams

            I understand and agree pierce, but that doesn’t change the fact that for every year that I have lived in Davis, the only activity on that parcel has been farming.

    2. Matt Williams

      Barack Palin, “I believe the voters will feel they’ve been mislead and will not vote for it.”

      Barack, do you feel you’ve been misled specifically by the revenue associated with Nishi by itself, or by the revenue associated with the Innovation Economy Initiative in total?

  2. CalAg

    “I know that automobile access from Nishi through West Olive Drive to Richards will make my personal position opposed to the project.” @ Matt Williams 11/23/15

    “My vote will be “no” if there is automobile access from Nishi through West Olive to Richards.” @ Matt Williams 11/24/15

    MW: Thanks for clarifying your position.

    There are a large number of reasons to do 100% R&D on Nishi. To lose this opportunity to student-focused residential would be a terrible loss to the City.

    That being said, a rationale argument can be made that the circulation collapse on Richards which would be created by Nishi plus West Olive Drive redevelopment is intractable.

    As a matter of practical reality, I could get behind your position if (1) the site plan precludes a future connection to West Olive Drive, and (2) the issue is addressed with robust language in the baseline project features. I should point out that the UCD-only option was not analyzed in the Nishi DEIR traffic element. To go down this track the DEIR would need to be revised and recirculated.

    The other reason for my more flexible position is that I view MRIC as absolutely mission critical. We can prosper w/o Nishi, but not w/o a large tech park (I don’t really care where its located, but Mace is all that’s on the table). It’s very disturbing to me to see the Davis no-growthers starting to rally behind Nishi at 100% R&D as an alternative to MRIC. The best outcome for Davis would be Nishi+MRIC (both at 100% R&D) and we work to make the best of a bad situation on Richards in the name of fiscal sustainability. A small crippled tech park at Nishi instead of MRIC is just idiotic.

    1. Matt Williams

      CalAg, my position on access for the Nishi site has been clear since 2008 during the Housing Element Steering Committee (HESC) process. There were 37 sites in the final ranking list (Nishi had two alternatives). 10 of the 15 members of the HESC had Nishi Property – Residential and R&D With Access via Olive Drive Only ranked between 24 and 37, with the other 5 members ranking it between 6 and 12. The HESC minutes reflect my strong support in my public comment supporting the majority’s very low ranking of Nishi – Olive Drive. The Nishi Property – Residential and R&D With Access via UCD Only alternative garnered considerably more support, with 8 of the members ranking that alternative between 5 and 17 and the remaining 7 members ranking it between 20 and 33. I supported that majority assessment as well in my HESC public comment. One interesting note about the voting. Jay Gerber, who gave the Olive Drive Access Alternative a high grade of 10, gave the UCD Access Alternative a low grade of 23. Mark Spencer’s rankings most closely paralleled mine. He ranked the Olive Drive Access Alternative dead last with a ranking of 37, and the UCD Access Alternative with a high grade of 14.

      With that said, the decision whether there will be access to Olive Drive from Nishi is of much less impact on traffic (and therefore much less importance) than the successful use of market-driven incentives for Nishi residents to use tranportation modalities other than automobiles to get from place to placed. For every Nishi resident who uses pedestrian, bicycle and/or public transportation, whether there is automobile access to West Olive Drive becomes a moot issue. I strongly believe the Development Agreement needs to require separate rentals for residences and parking spaces, with each parking space having a minimum monthly rental fee of $300. $300 pays for a whole month’s worth of $10 daily meals, and the vast majority of tenants at Nishi will choose those meals over having their car gather dust in a parking space 7 days a week while they bicycle or walk to class and/or Downtown.

      On the other side of the coin, the addition of 650 units of rental housing means that 650 single family residences will not be converted into mini dorms to accommodate the UCD student demand for rental housing. That will be good for Davis’ family-oriented neighborhoods.

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