While critical details about the Nishi project remain up in the air, the Davis Enterprise editor has endorsed putting the Nishi Gateway project on the ballot and, in the final sentence of the editorial, seems to endorse the voters approving the project.
Calling the project “[a]n opportunity to put smart planning into practice,” the newspaper notes that “the Davis City Council is expected to vote on the final parameters of the plan and decide whether to put it on the June ballot.”
One of the areas of uncertainty is how the fiscal angle will play itself out. While the developer has pledged to make the project pencil out as fiscally positive, it is unclear at this point how much of a revenue generator Nishi will be.
And yet the Enterprise argues, “As unfunded liabilities and structural deficits pile up, city of Davis leaders have sought for years to bring in the sort of development that can give a real boost to the bottom line.” Nishi, they write, “offers a unique opportunity for the city not only to put its money where its mouth is, but actually to come up with some money beyond its narrow tax base.”
They add, “In addition, in an effort to avoid any sort of urban sprawl, the twin goals of densification and walkability have risen to occupy the thoughts of planning officials, at least in theory.”
They acknowledge that this land, “narrow” and “neglected,” is “crammed in awkwardly between Interstate 80 and the Southern Pacific railroad tracks” but, the accessibility issue aside, “the location is almost perfect.”
They write, “Adjacent to the east end of the UC Davis campus, and providing easy access to downtown Davis through Richards Boulevard, the project would create walking access for an unprecedented number of professionals and students. Providing a place where UCD employees could live close to where they work, and close to all the downtown amenities, would move us off the path of becoming yet another commuter suburb along the I-80 corridor.”
But “accessibility is an issue,” they acknowledge. They argue that “here the council’s ground rules for the project act to ensure that it develops along the most sustainable path possible.”
They continue, “The project’s ‘baseline’ features include commitments to build an undercrossing connection to UCD under the railroad tracks, and improve the Richards Boulevard corridor. During the first phase of the project, nothing would happen on the site until that tunnel connecting the Nishi property to the university is built. The second phase would allow construction to begin, but would not allow occupancy or private-vehicle use until the Richards Boulevard Corridor improvements are completed. In the meantime, buses and emergency response vehicles would be able to travel through the site.”
The paper notes, “In addition for pushing for a low parking allotment, the council also won a promise from the developer not to request a Community Facilities District to finance public improvements; to create a private landscape and lighting district to cover costs of park maintenance; and to place condominiums into the Davis school district’s Community Facilities District No. 2 to generate $200,000 annually in revenue for schools.”
The editorial concludes, “Add in the economic activity of so many people living and working near downtown, and the financial payout is impressive, as is the commitment to making the project align with Davis’ values and way of life. On Tuesday, Feb. 2, the council may vote to place the project on the June 7 ballot for the required Measure R/Measure J vote.”
Bottom line: “We hope the council and, after that, Davis voters recognize what a unique and beneficial project this is for our city. We’ve talked long and hard about smart planning; here is an opportunity to put it into practice.”
This is an editorial which likely will not sway a lot of people who are on the fence. First, one of the central points predicts Nishi “actually to come up with some money beyond its narrow tax base.”
People who have spent a far greater amount of time than the Enterprise Editorial Board disagree on the fiscal certainty of the project. Setting aside questions as to how much sales tax and property tax this project generates, most of the biggest fiscal drivers are either offline or down the line.
Dan Carson presents the most optimistic model, but that hinges on half a million from a hotel that, at best, is going to come online years from now, a CFD that has been taken off the table and savings on public safety that will likely not be enacted. The developer here has lowered the bar, promising a net fiscal positive, but not a real revenue stream.
The paper calls “the financial payout,” “impressive,” but to us it seems tenuous and uncertain at this point. It may get shored up in the next two weeks, but right now, the Enterprise seems overly on the optimistic side.
For some, the other advantages of Nishi may make the project worthwhile, especially if it adds housing and R&D (Research and Development) space, and therefore jobs, to the community. However, from our experience, overselling a project in Davis is almost sure to backfire, as opposition will seize on this language to throw it back in the face of the project proponents.
We agree with the Enterprise that the location is almost perfect, but accessibility is a big issue. The developers attempt to deal with that in a variety of ways, only some of which the Enterprise mentions – the commitment for a UC Davis access and the phasing to allow for Richards Blvd. Corridor improvements.
But the project also promises peak hour metering and a reduction of parking in order to adequately deal with congestion concerns on Richards. Moreover, we would like to see what the city’s solution overall on Richards looks like – something they promised on the Hotel Conference Center but which still remains a big unknown going into a vote.
The Enterprise doesn’t address probably the biggest question that will face the council on Tuesday and perhaps again on February 16 – is the project ready to go now as opposed to in November?
That remains to be seen, based on how many of the remaining questions can be resolved on Tuesday, including an additional 130 possible units that may or may not be in violation of Measure R’s baseline feature provisions.
On Saturday, at the Vanguard discussion on Nishi, Tim Ruff said that the proposal about the additional units may go away. If it does, it will remove a clear barrier to a June vote. But that still remains to be determined.
—David M. Greenwald reporting