There is a lot of work still to be done between now and February 2, the next city council meeting. It is possible that the council will need beyond that to nail down all of the details on Nishi before deciding whether to put it on the ballot, but on Tuesday, the council laid out a lot what they would like to see, including a significant tightening of the baseline feature language.
Developer Tim Ruff started the night with a comment, “After carefully listening to the community over the past several months I wanted to offer the following discussion.”
First, he said, “Nishi will commit to a LEED-ND [Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design–Neighborhood Development] certification process. Step 1 is to determine if the site meets the required LEED prerequisites. Step 2- determine what level LEED certification can be obtained and strive towards the highest level of certification. This will be an ongoing process throughout the development of the project. If for whatever reason the project does not meet the prerequisites for LEED certification we will focus on the SIP [Sustainability Implementation Plan] monitoring and verification tool to insure LEED equivalents. The SIP can also be used as a document to inform the LEED process.”
Second, he said, “Nishi will NOT be requesting a CFD [Community Facilities District] to finance the public improvements.” But, “Nishi will agree to a landscape and lighting district to cover costs associated with maintenance of parks and a ‘make-whole’ provision for transactions involving public entities to insure net fiscal positive.”
Finally, “Nishi will place the FOR SALE condominiums into DJUSD school district CFD #2 which will provide approximately $200,000 annually to the schools. This is in addition to the funds provided through Measure C, Measure E, and CFD #1, and the DJUSD 2000 Bond, which covers all of the land uses on site. These mandatory fees contribute hundreds of thousands of dollars more for our schools.”
Twenty members of the public came forward to speak, the vast majority supportive of the project, though some recommended changes and further work.
Former Councilmember Stephen Souza read a letter on behalf of eight other former mayors and city councilmembers: Maynard Skinner, Mike Corbett, Ruth Asmundson, Bob Black, Joe Krovoza, Debbie Nichols-Poulos, Jerry Adler, Ted Puntillo and Stephen Souza. He told the council, “Each of us believes that the Nishi-Gateway project is a strong and worthy project to bring before the voters.” He pointed out the commitment by the developer to a university access point as well as the willingness to wait for improvements to Richards Boulevard before construction commences.
Former Mayor Ken Wagstaff said that the key to the project getting consensus in the community is the connection to the university. He said, “As a veteran of the war over the four-lane tunnel into Davis which was defeated, I will tell you that the juices of this community will come to full fruition against any project where the voters cannot be sure that there’s an access for motorized vehicles that is locked and, I have to say, built.”
He said that, in order for the community to back this project “we have to show that we’re not going to have any more pressure on the tunnel.”
The council did not take action on Tuesday night, however, primarily Robb Davis and Brett Lee put forward a number of proposals and considerations for the city staff to return to the council on February 2 with more concrete proposals.
Mayor Pro Tem Robb Davis proposed a host of changes to the baseline features. “No project until the connection to UCD Campus and the auto bridge across the Putah Creek bike path are constructed.” What’s important, he said, “is we link development of the site to construction of the tunnel.” The second part of that is for “no occupancy until the Richards I-80 interchange improvements are complete.”
The mayor pro tem said that, rather than put a 20 percent increased residential units contingency in the baseline, “we should just go ahead and say up to (780 units) and make that the cap.” He said, “Let’s just say what we want to do and what we’re willing to do.” He said, “I’m personally willing to add in the 20 percent right out of the gate.”
He said, “I want staff to work with the applicant on reducing parking on the site.” He stated, “I think we can reduce parking. I think we can reduce it a lot. I think there’s probably a disagreement about how much.” He sees a “market for people living without cars on this site, especially the rental market.”
Robb Davis said, “I’d like us to get the point where we can reduce parking to the point where we take it all back to the surface parking. No garage.” He believes that will reduce costs to the project like the affordable housing component. That will allow resources to go into other amenities. He believes more surface parking allows for more solar on the site as well.
The downside, he said, “would be the loss of a park.” That means, “the park on the south side would go away.” He said, “This project has always been about tradeoffs.” He sees a concept of a park on the north side of the project. He also cited the close location of the arboretum and even Central Park. So, he said, “I don’t see a need for another park here.”
Robb Davis supported the recommendation of the Finance and Budget Commission (FBC) to create a lighting district – which is something that the developer has agreed to do. “That alone will take this talismanic figure of $78,000 and turn it positive,” he stated.
He added, “I don’t think we should put a CFD into the baseline agreement, I think it’s an extremely inefficient way of funding – and the developer is not asking for it.”
However, he wanted a commitment in the baseline agreement, “an agreement to pursue LEED certification.” He said we have a month to see how far we can move the ball on this and at the very least he wants to pursue it. “This is about an intentionality of pursuing,” he said. “If we can get to platinum, great. If we can get to gold, great. Let’s put it in there. Let’s make it part of the baseline agreement.”
Lucas Frerichs brought up the need, even without on-site affordable housing requirements, to provide some sort of mechanism to develop affordable housing off-site. “It could be through some amount of dollars contributed to the city’s affordable housing trust fund,” he said.
Robb Davis said he supported some sort of affordable housing in-lieu fee, along the lines of what Councilmember Frerichs laid out.
Mayor Pro Tem Davis said that he wanted to require that the 2-to-1 mitigation cannot be on city-owned property.
Some of the other things that the mayor pro tem laid out was to have the city write an official letter to UC Davis – he later clarified that this would not be a formal requirement in the baseline features – to ask them to provide an undercrossing with access to the site, and perhaps to contribute at least 10 percent to the final cost.
He asked that Nishi be included in the UC car share program.
He also wanted the chair and vice chair of the FBC to meet with both EPS Consulting and the Plescia team next week to better understand the models. He wants to see an update of the EPS report. One thing he noted is that EPS assumed that the entire sales tax would simply go away when it expired, rather than being renewed. He said that’s unrealistic, as he believes the city will keep at least half of that.
He also said that they need to model “the making whole provision on any properties leased by a non-profit or the university.” He said, EPS needs to put that money back in since it’s a commitment Tim Ruff is making.
He thinks these are realistic assumptions and the corrections made to the model, he believes, will push it into the black. “I think what we’re going to see is probably a clear net positive project,” he added.
“The question is why put this on the June ballot?” he asked. “If we can get these things answered I’d be willing to put it on the June ballot.” However, he said, if there are still issues about sustainability and fiscal impact, we are doing a great disservice putting it on the June ballot.
Councilmember Brett Lee told his colleagues, “I think it’s important that if we decide to place this on the ballot in terms of the Measure J/R ballot that it’s quite clear what we’re voting on.”
His said, “I think No.1 is the access point to the university – I think that is what allows phase one to occur. If the Richards Blvd. improvements and tight diamond doesn’t occur then there’s no ability for a phase two and no access to Olive. I think it needs to be spelled out in very simple and direct terms.”
He said, “If the university chooses not to allow the access point – that’s between the developer and the university.” Mr. Lee added, “I don’t feel it’s necessary for the city to get involved in lobbying on behalf of the developer.” He said the concern of the community is if “we leave it a little too weasel-wordy that suddenly the traffic is pouring through on to Olive,” and he said it’s unacceptable to him.
The trigger for phase one is the access to the university and the trigger for phase two is the tight diamond and Richards improvements.
Brett Lee is not in favor of “big A affordability” for this project, stating instead that “affordability would be better served if we control the average size of the units – specifically the for-sale units.” He wants the unit size be clearly specified either in the average or in some sort percentile, so people know exactly what size units will be built.
Councilmember Lee, on air quality issues, stated, “I want there to be a forest buffer between Interstate 80 and the built areas of this parcel.”
Related to traffic, he wants “a hard cap on peak vehicle trips in and out of the parcel. I think that should be in the Measure J/R language.” He said, while he appreciates Robb Davis’ comments on parking, “I think if we control what the general concern is, which is trips in and out of the property, specifically onto Olive, contributing to congestion, if there was a hard cap, I believe the number mentioned was 425 trips per hour, I will leave it to the ingenuity of the developer to figure out the best way to achieve that…”
He mentioned high prices of parking or free memberships to Zipcar as possible solutions.
Brett Lee said that the idea of LEED “is very important” and “we need to commit to a certain LEED level.” The importance of LEED, he said, is that it introduces third-party verification and takes the onus off city staff to make critical determinations. “The nice thing about that is it’s third-party verification and people will have a high level of confidence that they’re evaluated objectively. It takes a little bit out of the concern that (about the cozy relationship between city staff and developer)… it takes that concern off the table.”
He noted that the photovoltaic capacity is quite impressive but he wants the project to spell out what level of Net Zero Energy is attainable.
Finally, he wanted approval of the project to be subject to a certain tax share with the county. He argued this would help the developer at some level, it protects the community against a poorly negotiated agreement with the county, and it puts the county on notice that there is a minimum, and if they get too ambitious then this falls through and they get nothing.
The council had a long discussion about places of consensus on this, but much of this was agreeable to the four members of council present (Rochelle Swanson was home with an illness).
Tim Ruff was concerned about the LEED issue, noting that if the level of LEED is put into the baseline features and they can’t obtain it, they don’t have a project. “I can’t commit to that,” he said. He added, though, “I’d love to get there (to Platinum Certification).” He felt there was too much uncertainty.
Staff will come back for the February 2 meeting and we will see how much progress was made.
—David M. Greenwald reporting