Can Council Resolve Nishi Baseline Features in Time For a June Election?

Developer Tim Ruff addresses council at the last meeting
Developer Tim Ruff addresses council at the last meeting

Once again, the Davis City Council will hear the latest proposal on Nishi this coming Tuesday. Previously, the council had a January 12 workshop followed by a public hearing on January 19. The council will receive an update on the Baseline Project Features this week, with limited public comment. Final action would take place by February 16.

Nishi requires a vote under Measure R to approve the site’s conversion from agriculture to urban uses. A key component within Measure R is the establishment of “Baseline Project Features,” which cannot be eliminated, reduced or significantly modified without subsequent voter approval.

In the past two weeks, staff has worked with the council subcommittee of Mayor Pro Tem Robb Davis and Councilmember Rochelle Swanson to refine the Baseline Project Features and Development Agreement provisions, reflecting the policy direction provided by the city council at the January 19 meeting.

The question now is whether they have done enough to allow council to put the project on the ballot, given a very tight deadline of February 16.

According to staff, the core features of the project remain 650 residential dwelling units, 325,000 square feet of R&D (Research and Development) and 20,000 of retail. However, “The Baseline Project Features also allow potential increase in residential units, or addition of a hotel, as a potential subsequent action by the City, but without a requirement for subsequent voter approval.”

What would be required is: “Discretionary review, public hearing, and environmental analysis would be required for a proposal to increase densities or add a hotel to be considered.”

Staff notes that two possible amendments are identified in the Baseline Project Features, which would require a full environmental review as required under CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act), and city council consideration of the necessary General Plan and planned development amendment (but not an additional vote). These are the additional 130 units of residential which would increase the total to 780. And the construction of a hotel not to exceed 125 rooms.

Staff maintains, “City Council may approve, modify and approve, or deny, any submitted application, but subsequent voter approval would not be required.”

The project remains limited to a maximum of 1732 off-street parking spaces. The city and developer “are committed to exploring options to reduce the parking further, through the Transportation Demand Management Program, with a target maximum of 1,550 parking spaces.”

On the phasing of the project, staff writes, “We are now recommending that all backbone infrastructure, the grade-separated crossing to UC Davis, and the improvements to the Richards Boulevard interchange, be completed prior to any occupancy on the Nishi site. Construction on the Nishi site could begin only after construction has begun on the interchange and the grade separated crossing.”

They argue that this “provides a clear commitment to the community that any project on the Nishi site will have the desired two connections.” Moreover, “It reduces the variables the campus must analyze as it evaluates options for the Long Range Development Plan.”

Furthermore, staff offers, “It provides better opportunities for city and campus coordination within the Richards / 1st Street / Old Davis Road circulation system.” Finally, “It is more consistent with the assumptions in the EIR and public conversations.”

On the financial side, staff notes that the property owner has committed that the project will be a net fiscal positive, “with or without a hotel,” which includes “a ‘make-whole’ provision should property be purchased or leased by an entity exempt from property taxes. Other components could include a Landscaping and Lighting Assessment District, Community Facilities District, positive negotiations with Yolo County, or other mechanism as established in the Development Agreement.”

There will be a “Services Community Facilities District for municipal services, to ensure positive fiscal and economic benefits for the City of Davis.” Staff says, “A Services CFD is different from an infrastructure CFD, which has the purpose of financing bond debt to provide capital funds for construction of physical improvements related to a development project. A Services CFD provides an ongoing revenue stream from payments that are made by property owners within the district and collected with the annual property tax bill. This provides a permanent source of funding for City operations to serve the project, in addition to property and sales taxes that would continue to be collected per statute.”

The developer is committing in the Baseline Project Features to “establish[ing] a Development Commitment of $1 million for the City Council to allocate amongst contributions to the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, on-site civic arts, establishment of a local carbon offset program, and implementation of the Downtown Parking Management Plan.”

On sustainability, council pushed for a LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) certification as part of a third-party verification process for sustainability commitments. This would provide a structure for accountability to look at implementation of the Nishi project as a whole, rather than staff review of individual buildings and public improvements at the time of permit issuance.

However, staff reports (and we will present this in a later article) that analysis by a LEED expert concludes that “pursuing LEED for Neighborhood Development certification for the project is not feasible at this time.”

Staff believes that “continued conversations with the U.S. Green Building Council could result in resolution of some of the issues identified in the Thornton Tomasetti analysis. However, certification would be difficult or impossible to achieve, and staff questions the benefit of continuing to pursue certification using standards designed to apply nationally, rather than evaluating sustainability reflecting local standards, priorities, and expectations.”

Instead, the baseline would “commit the developer/ project to pursue a City-defined -certification equivalent to Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design Neighborhood Development (LEED-ND) offered by the U. S. Green Building Council, as defined in the Development Agreement.”

These features include the reduction in vehicle parking spaces, a peak hour trip cap, 4.9 MW photovoltaic, and buildings to exceed 2013 CalGreen standards by 30 percent.

Staff requests the city council verify the Baseline Project Features and direct staff to return on February 16, 2016, with the Development Agreement, recommendations of the Finance and Budget Commission, and other actions.

On Saturday, January 30, the Vanguard is hosting a community discussion on Nishi with the Developer Tim Ruff, Councilmember Brett Lee and Community Development Administrator Katherine Hess. The discussion will take place from 1 to 3 pm at the University Park Inn on Richard Blvd in the conference room and will feature a walking tour of Nishi.

—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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10 Comments

  1. Davis Progressive

    read this now, i think it’s going to be impossible to get nishi ready for the ballot.  too many moving parts.  having a 20% uncertainty on the number of housing units will be death.

      1. Davis Progressive

        and some that were, weren’t answered in a good way.  for instance, leed certification.  i want to support this project, but think if it’s put on the ballot this june, it loses.

  2. Alan Pryor

    Instead, the baseline would “commit the developer/ project to pursue a City-defined -certification equivalent to Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design Neighborhood Development (LEED-ND)

    Oh boy! I am getting a really good feeling about this project now! So instead of the developer having to pay fees to the independent, 3rd-party LEED-certification agency, he just instead pays a million bucks payoff to the City and now we get to trust our “Staff” to define that this project is “certification-equivalent“!

    I am getting more and more confident about this project now that we know we have our expert, knowledgeable, and qualified Staff to back us up to make sure the project is environmentally-friendly and financially-beneficial to the City. And we have those hard-nosed tough nuts on the City Council to hold their feet to the fire to make sure it happens right and in an open and transparent process!

     

    ….Uh, oh…wait…hold on a sec….

     

    So how many qualified building engineers, architects, or LEED experts are on City Staff or Council that have any experience at all in LEED-approved projects? Hmmm, so that would be NONE.

     

    OK…well then, correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t this the same Staff and Council that gave up so many environmental goodies and recommended approval of such a blatantly-flawed traffic analysis that entitled the Richards Blvd Embassy Suites Conference Center that the whole project is now stalled and mired in a big CEQA lawsuit?

     

    And isn’t Nishi being negotiated by and approved by the same Staff and Council that approved that same $40,000,000 Conference Center project in a 45-day secretive rush job during the dead of last summer without sending the project to any single City Commission for review other than the minimum review by the Planning Commission?

     

    And isn’t this the same Staff and Council that negotiated away our promised 2nd bicycle crossing at Cannery AND then gave-away a giant $6,000,000 lollipop to the new Home Company by allowing them to slap a huge infrastructure tax on all the residents of the Cannery project which just sucked $6,000,000 out of the local economy…and the City got nothing in return?

     

    All of a sudden, given this recent history as the backdrop, I am not feeling so good at all about letting Staff and Council negotiate these environmental baseline features for us. How can the Council possibly expect us to now trust them and the Staff to get the best deal possible for the City and not just have another developer-giveaway given all the give-aways we have seen over the past 18 months?

    I want to support this project but will not unless the details are presented to the voters honestly. If this project is sent to the voters for entitlement/approval without all financial and environmental baseline features fully nailed down and transparently presented to the public, the Nishi project faces the very real possibility of failing at the polls.

    And it will have completed the full morphing of the new developer-driven mantra for the City from “Davis is Now Open for Business” into “Davis is Now for Sale”.

     

     

    1. CalAg

      And isn’t Nishi being negotiated by and approved by the same Staff and Council that approved that same $40,000,000 Conference Center project in a 45-day secretive rush job during the dead of last summer without sending the project to any single City Commission for review other than the minimum review by the Planning Commission?

      AP: I understand and agree with most of your position on sustainability. What baffles me though, is your silence on Nishi traffic – which is at least an order of magnitude worse that the Hotel/Conference Center project (even with both UCD and Olive Drive access the Richard corridor gets trashed).

      You and Michael Harrington were all over the Richards traffic issue until crunch time on Nishi, and now crickets. What’s up with that?

  3. CalAg

    “Staff notes that two possible amendments are identified in the Baseline Project Features, which would require a full environmental review as required under CEQA …” David Greenwald

    I believe this language would open the door for a neg dec on adding the new 130 units or the 125 room hotel. The baseline project features language needs to specifically preclude a Mitigated Negative Declaration and require a full CEQA analysis for either of these proposed modifications.

      1. Matt Williams

        Time will tell DP.  If the Sterling 5th Street Apartments proposal goes through a Focused EIR, then I will agree with you that some learning took place.  However, if it goes the Mitigated Neg Dec route then I’ll have to say that if there was any learning, it was short lived.

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