Council Moving Toward February Decision on Putting Nishi on the Ballot

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

Last week, the Davis City Council heard a lengthy presentation, some public comment, and then had some discussion on Nishi. Next Tuesday, the council will hold a public hearing on the project application, but it appears to be headed toward action at its February 2 meeting, with a February 16 deadline for putting the measure on the ballot.

The Nishi project requires voter approval under Measure R, however, as staff points out, proposed charges to West Olive Drive would not require a vote and could be entitled through an amendment to the Gateway/Olive Drive Specific Plan.

As the Vanguard explained earlier this week, Measure R requires the establishment of “Baseline Project Features,” that “cannot be eliminated, reduced or significantly modified without subsequent voter approval.”

Right now staff is requesting policy direction on “the concepts for Baseline Project Features and Development Agreement provisions at this meeting, so that documents can be prepared for action on the meeting of February 2, 2016.”

City staff is recommending the following site plan components be included as Baseline Project Features:

  • Up to 650 residential units (apartments and condominiums).
  • Up to 325,000 square feet of office/R&D
  • Ancillary ground-floor retail, as established by Planned Development zoning
  • Hotel or extended stay hotel may be added, as conditional use in residential or commercial zoning district, subject to discretionary review and environmental/market analysis
  • Additional 20% residential units may be added, subject to discretionary review, environmental analysis, and no additional parking.
  • Minimum of 14-16 acres open space, greenbelt, and parks (not including drainage)
  • Maximum 1,732 surface and structured vehicle parking spaces, which reflects a 10% reduction from the 1,925 spaces on original plan)
  • Circulation components including vehicle connections to Olive Drive and to Old Davis
  • Road on the UC Davis campus, and separated bikeway connecting the Putah Creek Parkway to Old Davis Road.

According to staff, “These baseline features allow potential increase in residential units, or addition of a hotel, without a requirement for subsequent voter approval.”  However, some are questioning the ability of the city to do this – and including such uncertainties may result in legal action.

Staff continues, “Staff notes that the identified parkland acreage reflects a range, rather than the specific number shown on the current site plan. The project has not been engineered, so precise calculations of land required for drainage, roadway grades, buffers, parking, and similar infrastructure requirements have not been established. This range will provide necessary flexibility, while ensuring compliance with the expectations of the Sustainability Implementation Plan and City standards.”

One of the big questions will be whether this project is ready to go on the ballot. In the last week, two key city commissions have weighed in with different answers. The Planning Commission, despite expressing concerns about air quality, traffic and circulation, forwarded to council the project on a 5-2 vote. On the other hand, the Finance and Budget Commission recommended, on a 6-1 vote with Dan Carson dissenting, “that the city council does not approve development of innovation center projects until the economic analyses are complete and accurate.”

The Vanguard has taken a temperature reading of the city council and has found a mix of views, ranging from this project should definitely be put off to there are concerns but those can be worked out prior to voter approval.

In addition to conflicting fiscal assessments of the project, there are concerns about access to UC Davis as well as correction to the Richards Boulevard interchange. As a result, there is a proposal for phasing the project in, tied to the completion of the connection to the UC Davis campus, which “requires completion of the Long Range Development Plan and environmental review, and approval of the Regents” as well completion of Richards interchange improvements.

Staff writes, “At the City Council workshop, the property owner suggested two project phases tied to completion of these projects. The northern phase could be occupied only after completion of the Richards interchange improvements, while the southern phase could be occupied only after completion of the connection to UC Davis.”

Staff suggests an alternative, that the council “may wish to consider a phasing requirement that does not allow any construction on the property until completion of both improvements. This would likely defer all construction until after 2020 – if not later.”

They argue, “Advantages to this approach include clearer ‘messaging’ to the community, and a strong commitment from the property owner and the City Council that the mixed-use innovation district principles of connectivity and campus partnership are paramount.”

On the other hand, “A disadvantage to this phasing requirement is deferral of any opportunities for desired residential or business development to an uncertain time. This would also extend the overall time of construction activity in the area, because efforts would be sequential rather than simultaneous.”

However, phasing raises other issues as well. First, it raises the question as to why put a project on the ballot when it won’t be built for several years. At the very least, some will argue, push the project off to November. The second question is whether voters will approve a project with this amount of uncertainty.

The Vanguard has also suggested that reductions in parking spaces, and re-routing traffic through campus, could eliminate the need for tying the project to improvements to Richards Blvd.

This week, the Vanguard has published articles on the Finance and Budget Commission’s fiscal concerns, as well as Dan Carson’s belief expressed in his op-ed published today that “Nishi Project Could Provide the City a Big Financial Boost.”

From the city’s perspective: “The property owner has committed to a Baseline Project Feature for a projected net fiscal positive with or without a hotel. One specific component of discussion has been 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.”

Staff adds, “The property owner has stated that a Community Facilities District is not required for infrastructure financing, but may be proposed as a source of ongoing revenue to the City of Davis, if that is the appropriate mechanism.”

Finally, there is the Sustainability Implementation Plan, which “provides guidance in development and operation of the Nishi property, as defined as achieving long-term positive and balanced outcomes for people, the environment, and the economy.”

Staff notes that the key components of the Sustainability Implementation Plan (SIP) will be included as Baseline Project Features, including:

  • 10 percent reduction in parking off of current plan (192 fewer spaces);
  • peak hour trip cap per the SIP
  • 9 MW photovoltaic (or equivalent, per Development Agreement)
  • Buildings exceeding 2013 CalGreen standards by 30 percent

Other components, including provisions for evaluating performance and monitoring, are to be addressed in the Development Agreement. Staff argues, “This will allow the City to adjust actions and methodologies with changes to regulations, technology, and societal behaviors.”

The city council has heard “public testimony requesting independent third-party verification, such as LEED ND (Neighborhood Development) as a means of confirming compliance with sustainability principles.”

Staff writes, “Overall obligations could be established as part of the Baseline Features, with details to be confirmed through the Development Agreement.”

Staff notes that “LEED does not have provisions for ongoing monitoring of project performance.”

Instead they offer, “The City’s consultant, Ascent Environmental, is preparing an evaluation tool to be used through buildout and operation to confirm compliance with the Sustainability Implementation Plan. This is anticipated to be presented to the Planning Commission for review and action with Final Planned Development and Subdivision Maps, as part of project implementation.”

Council will not be making a final decision until at least February 2, with a deadline date of February 16.

The Vanguard will be holding a public discussion and forum on Nishi on Saturday, January 30 from 1 to 3 pm at the Conference Room of the University Park Inn. Following the discussion will be a walking field trip to the adjacent property for any interested parties.

Similar to the format from this week’s discussion on Mace Ranch, the developer Tim Ruff and his team will give a presentation and Councilmember Brett Lee and Community Development Administrator Katherine Hess will be on hand to answer questions that may arise.

—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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25 thoughts on “Council Moving Toward February Decision on Putting Nishi on the Ballot”

  1. Barack Palin

    Obviously the vote should be pushed back until these issues are resolved.  If the council forwards this less than finished proposal and because of that voters subsequently shoot it down imo it will set back the innovation parks for years.

    1. Davis Progressive

      BP – granted there are a lot of moving parts, but I don’t know that they are irresolvable.  The lrdp and interchange are going to be the same in November as now, all we’re talking about is whether to entitle the property contingent upon those developments. What do you see as irreconcilable?  And again, this isn’t an innovation park, it’s a mixed use project with a relatively small r&d componnt.

  2. SODA

    “The property owner has stated that a Community Facilities District is not required for infrastructure financing, but may be proposed as a source of ongoing revenue to the City of Davis, if that is the appropriate”

    Sound familiar?

  3. Tia Will

    I agree that there is just too much uncertainty with regard to the specifics of this project to be putting it forward for a vote at this time. We recently saw with the Cannery just how much a project can morph even when we believe that the details have been agreed to. How much more might this change into something other than intended if a vote is held without greater specificity with regard to what that vote actually means ?

    1. Robb Davis

      You lost me Tia.  How has Cannery “morphed” exactly?  We are still finalizing the grade separated crossing issue but that is on track.  While I disagreed with the CFD decision the DA explicitly allowed for it.

      I am intrigued by how “narratives” evolve in this community.  I may not have agreed with all the decisions related to Cannery but I fail to see how it has morphed.  I think the DA has served us well and we reopened one part of it to explore more options on the grade separated crossing.  I do NOT see that as a problem.

      1. SODA

        Robb, Help me understand your comments. The DA allowed for but did not mandate a CFD for Cannery….correct? Many of us including you I think, were disappointed that the city opted for a CFD.

        The language David cited for the Nishi property seems the same, not mandated but allowed. How is that different and do you see a different outcome?

        Thanks Robb.

        1. Robb Davis

          The DA allowed the developer to request a CFD.  The City was not required to respond.  The CC did so.  But there was NO change to the DA.  It was allowed.  That was my point.

        2. Matt Williams

          I concur with Robb.  The Development Agreement gave New Home Company the right to request a CFD.  However, the Development Agreement did not say what the City’s response to the CFD request had to be.  The City could have said “Thank you for your request, but our answer is No.”  Or the City could have said “Thank you for your request, and if we can get to a situation where the value the City is receiving from New Home is equal to the value (money) the City is giving from New Home, then our answer could be Yes.”

          The problem is that the City said “Yes” without conducting an analysis of the value it was getting vs. the value it was giving.  Robb and Brett asked staff to complete that kind of value analysis; however, they were outvoted 3-2 and the value analysis was never done.

          For me, the key with Nishi is to ensure that if a CFD is requested by the developer under the terms of the Development Agreement that a value received vs. value given is completed. The FBC in its Monday meeting presented powerful arguments why a CFD at Nishi does not make fiscal sense either for the City or the developer.

      2. Tia Will


        I was specifically referring to the issue of the grade separated crossing. I perhaps erroneously felt that was an issue that was more well defined upon the acceptance of the project that it turned out to be. Based on perhaps my faulty assumptions, this looked like a “morphing” of the project to me.  I also took issue with the way that the CFD moved from “may” to a done deal.

        On a project such as Nishi in which there will be a vote, I feel that there is a much larger chance of success if folks truly understand what it is that they are voting on. With as much uncertainty as seems to exist at this point, I am not sure how that will be achieved. I really meant nothing more than that.



  4. Topcat

    …re-routing traffic through campus, could eliminate the need for tying the project to improvements to Richards Blvd.

    Are there any details about how the roadways would be reconfigured on the UCD campus to accommodate all the additional traffic coming and going from the project?  I know from personal experience that after a show at the Mondavi Center getting on to Old Davis Road to get to the freeway is a very slow process with lots of congestion.  Sometimes it takes 10 minutes just to get out of the parking lot onto the road.

    The roadways on this part of the campus were never designed for the traffic levels that we will see with Nishi, and I don’t see any easy ways of increasing capacity unless an entirely new roadway were built where the existing parking lot is south of the Wine and Food Institute.

  5. Barack Palin

    Both Nishi and MRIC should’ve been slam dunks.  It’s pretty amazing how the City has managed to muck up both of these projects.  It’s not too late to fix them, get the revenue up at Nishi and tighten up on the project’s language and get rid of any housing option at MRIC and we’ll once again have two winners.

    1. Robb Davis

      Mucked up in what way?  What is really going on here is  that when one moves from a concept to the nitty gritty details of the project certain answers are provided and other questions are raised.  I find it interesting to compare ALL the criticisms I hear about these projects (a sampling):

      The city is doing nothing

      The city is moving too fast

      The city needs to provide more details

      The details raise other questions

      What are the assumptions in the models

      I don’t agree with the assumptions in the models

      So which assumptions should we go with in the models?

      So which is the “right” answer based on the assumptions?

      These are large complex projects that we rarely see in Davis.  As I question people around town no one can remember a community vote on a mixed use project the size of Nishi or a commercial one the size  of MRIC.  This is new ground for everyone. There has been no vote to send this to the community for a vote.  Allow the work to go forward.

      It is interesting to me that even as folks ask for more details–and have a desire to de facto actively participate in negotiations–they become appalled at the messiness of the negotiations.  I hate to say it but I think that in a community like Davis, with the demands (reasonable) for more information that a feeling of information overload is inevitable.

  6. Robb Davis

    I will now say something that may get me into trouble.  These are complex projects.  To wade through all the documents: economic, EIR, sustainability, etc. takes a tremendous amount of time.  They are vetted through various commissions over several (many) months.  They produce a tremendous amount of material to read and digest.

    As an elected official in a representative democracy I take it as my responsibility to read everything, attend as many commission meetings as I can, meet with proponents and staff and provide guidance on process SO THAT I can make an informed decision.  I am happy to do that.

    The challenge is, the voters neither have the time nor, possibly, the inclination to do this work.  A VERY small handful will, but most will only get a limited amount of information and much of that is filtered through a variety of preconceived ideas about whether they “like” the projects or not.

    The bottom line is that Measure R gives all citizens the right to weigh in on the projects but to be fully informed and fully confident takes a lot of work.  I am not sure anyone can feel fully comfortable.  And so we are left with electeds trying to provide a recommendation based on extensive work but citizens not certain they can trust the recommendations.  There was a commenter at public comment on Tuesday who listened to the staff presentation on Nishi and then suggested that it read like an “annual report” as if it was fluff designed to sell something.  I was offended because of the volumes of information that I knew were backing the statements being made.

    This is the reality of our participatory development process.  I have enjoyed it but I also understand how discomfort arises.

  7. SODA


    The DA allowed the developer to request a CFD.  The City was not required to respond.  The CC did so.  But there was NO change to the DA.  It was allowed.  That was my point.

    i assume this refers to the Cannery; how is the Nishi different in terms of CFD or are they similar and will depend on CC down the road. Is that what you meant?

    1. Robb Davis

      SODA – My comments refer to the Cannery CFD.  We have not yet made a final decision about a CFD for Nishi.  The FBC has offered some questions/concerns and we will be discussing this issue among other elements of the DA next week at the CC meeting.

  8. Tia Will


    “Allow the work to go forward”

    I fully appreciate the complexity of the issues and tomes of material that you wade through in order to make the decisions that you have volunteered to make for us. I remember being handed an EIR by a city leader a few years ago which reinforced by decision that public decision making would never, ever be for me.

    Having said that, I have a different take on the idea of “allowing the work to go forward” without questioning or commenting. Long before it became a phrase used in fighting criminal behavior or terrorism, we were using the phrase “if you see something, say something” in surgery. This applied not only to the more highly technically skilled in the room, the surgeon and anesthesiologist, but also to all involved including nurses, techs, housekeeping, and trainees including residents and medical students. More than once, I have seen serious errors avoided by someone very far down the hierarchical chain say something was happening that they didn’t think was right and commented in time to avert harm to the patient.

    I generally see commenting, at least in this forum as a way of asking questions, often not directly taking up your time or that of the staff since others here frequently ( almost always)  know more about business and city process than I do. It is also a way of getting my perspective seen so that others may comment. That certainly does not mean that I feel that I should be the decision maker, but rather if I do not ask, perhaps the question will go unanswered, and if I do not say what I see, I have no way of knowing whether it has been considered or whether it has been overlooked.

    1. Topcat

      More than once, I have seen serious errors avoided by someone very far down the hierarchical chain say something was happening that they didn’t think was right and commented in time to avert harm to the patient.

      Yes, this point is well illustrated in the children’s story of the Emperor’s New Clothes.

      I’ve seen this principal in action many times in business and in my private life where people that are close to the process miss an obvious problem.

    2. Robb Davis

      Tia, when I said “allow the work to go forward” I meant the analysis and preparation. It was in response to the idea that the process is somehow not working: the idea that the city is somehow mucking this up. I was NO WAY intending to convey that there should be no critical analysis or comment. Various groups, from the FBC, to the BTSSC, and citizens groups have done yeoman’s work, but the process is not done. I was appealing to let it continue before casting judgment on the outcome; nothing more.

      1. Barack Palin

        Robb Davis, I certainly haven’t put in the time or are privy to all of the reports that you are but I feel I’m more abreast of city happenings than your average citizen.   All I can go by is what I read in the local paper, the Vanguard articles and discussions, replays of city council meetings and word of mouth with my friends and neighbors.  IMO the City is certainly “mucking up” the message that’s getting sent out to the voters.  First we were told that we needed innovation parks for the tax revenue just to see a report that Nishi might not produce much if any revenue.  Secondly MRIC was first sold to us that it would be innovation park only with no housing just to later find what many believe is a bait and switch to now have housing being considered.  It’s not just my perception, comments on the Vanguard, letters to the Enterprise, neighbors and other people I’ve talked to all have basically the same thoughts.  Heck, even Don Shor who hardly ever sees things as I do agreed with my post.  I may be wrong but that’s the message I’m getting.

        1. David Greenwald Post author

          BP – I think while you make a great point – and messaging is a big criticism I have of the city- Robb makes a solid point too – it’s a dynamic process and it is evolving. There are reasons why concepts evolve, morph and change and not all of them are nefarious or intentional bait and switch.

  9. Robb Davis

    BP, when you make statements like this:

    First we were told that we needed innovation parks for the tax revenue just to see a report that Nishi might not produce much if any revenue.

    you kind of make my point about needing to read everything.  The EPS report provided a single scenario under which the impact of Nishi would be net negative and that number was so small (72,000) as to be a rounding error over the time horizon in question (a later addendum raised it to around $100k).  However, people have latched onto this number as if it represents the “truth” about Nishi.  But it does not and cannot.

    The EPS report provided half a dozen alternative scenarios (without a hotel) that could turn this number positive.  Dan Carson, a member of the FBC has laid out more.  But instead of engaging the full set of scenarios that could change the picture, many people stay focused on the single number.  I will grant you that even the staff report of this week lays out that single number and I do not think it is helpful.

    The point is there is and will be uncertainty about the projects.  The more information we get the more questions we can pose of the data, the assumptions, and the results.  All I am saying is that this is the normal part of any complex project and to conclude something based on a single data point when alternatives are also provided is not helpful.  Further, the single data point in question completely ignores the multiplier impacts on the local economy, and while the EPS report included them, for some reason they are still not part of the narrative.  Is that the “city mucking it up?”  Maybe…


    Measure R is direct democracy in action.  I have written before on the VG how direct democracy does not always achieve the results that those advocating for it desire.  Most importantly, direct democracy requires a very well informed electorate or it will be manipulated by a few who use money, bully pulpits or fear to achieve their ends.  All of us, not just the electeds, must spend the time necessary to evaluate project for which we might vote (e.g. Nishi) so we can make informed decisions rather than relying on convenient narratives, soundbites and innuendo.

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