In 2009, I watched the council, on a divided 3-2 vote, put Wild Horse Ranch on the ballot at the midnight hour on the last possible day. By the time they cleaned up the language and put key features in the baseline a month after their recess, the project for all intents and purposes was defeated and never recovered.
Given the magnitude of defeat, it may not have mattered. Certainly, while hindsight is 20/20, it also serves as a guide for future decision making. So the most important thing that council can do tonight is make the right decision.
If there is even a hint that things are not ready to go, forcing a project onto the ballot now could be a tremendous mistake.
I have not taken a position on the project itself. In fact, as of right now, if the project were on the ballot, I honestly would not know how I was voting. There are details to lock down, considerations to make.
But the stakes are very large here. There are those who believe that Davis will not pass any Measure R vote – ever. There are those who believe that if Davis doesn’t pass Nishi, they will not pass any Measure R vote.
For those on the slow growth side, Measure R itself might be at stake, as well. In 2000, the initial measure, Measure J, narrowly passed. In 2010, everyone seemed supportive of Measure R and it passed by a nearly 3 to 1 margin. We’re only four years away from its sunset, but a defeat of Nishi unlike the defeat of Covell Village (too big) and Wildhorse Ranch (middle of the recession) could change the tide in Davis away from an initiative that many will believe makes it impossible to pass anything, ever.
Maybe Measure J/R would survive a full on assault, but maybe not.
For those who believe we need development whether it is student housing, family housing, workforce housing, or economic development, the stakes are equally high. A defeat of Nishi could spell the end of MRIC (Mace Ranch Innovation Center). It could mean that investors will not look toward Davis anymore.
The university made the decision to stop their efforts to put a massive innovation/research park to the south of campus in Solano County. But that could change if Davis is closed for business forever. Or the campus could simply continue its push into Sacramento, and bypass Yolo County and the current campus altogether.
For the last week or two I have made the argument that if people believe that Nishi is not ready to go, they should simply vote no on the project. That is certainly preferable to tying the project up in litigation, where a judge rather than the voters get to decide.
But that view is not meant to punt responsibility from the council to make good decisions. While the finances have moved in the right direction toward a revenue stream that will make it more likely that the voters would approve the project, there are loose ends here. I was surprised to find that there are actually some loose ends that need to be put into the baseline features.
The so-called Development Agreement Revenues are not as locked down as they could be. There is no mention of the Parks & Open Space responsibility revenues in the baseline features. That’s $181,000 there. The services Community Services District is placed in the staff report, but needs to be locked in at 1.6 percent, with a make-whole provision by the developer if it doesn’t reach the projected $356,000.
There is the make-whole provision for the tax-revenues that would be lost if an exempt organization purchases the property, but it too is not in the language of the project baseline agreement.
These are simple fixes – a matter of making sure that all commitments are in the project baseline agreement where they are ironclad.
As I mentioned previously, part of the undoing of Wildhorse Ranch was the failure to make sure that all commitments by the developer, to the extent possible, were in the project baseline agreement rather than the developer agreement, which could be changed after the vote.
Staff notes, “The Baseline Project Features also include commitments for backbone infrastructure to the R&D properties with the first phase of development, to ensure ‘permit-ready’ sites when prospective purchasers or buildings are identified.”
The question has been raised by some whether the R&D (research and development) section will get built. This commitment does not quite get to the R&D section being built, only that it is ready to go whether purchasers are identified. A question that likely will arise is whether we can go further to tie phasing to the commercial portion of the project.
For me then, a key consideration as to whether I will support the project is the degree that the council can lock down these commitments into the project baseline features.
As I have noted previously – there are two different groups that are pushing for delay at Nishi. One group is using delay as a strategy to kill the project. I am not sure if they are simply trying to kill the clock, hoping to get a better council, deferring to a later point, but it is clear that the argument for delay is simply a pretense for killing the project.
There is a second group of people who are quite sincere in their declaration that the delay is necessary to resolve key issues. From my perspective, most of the key uncertainties are not going to be resolved by November. We have the Richards Corridor study and a host of improvements to Richards that are necessary.
The developer and city have tried to hedge on this issue by tying construction to implementation of corridor features, but frankly the city has some real credibility problems here. It is not like issues surrounding Richards have crept up on them. Some of the fixes are tied to changing the I-80 on- and off-ramps, but some could have been fixed years ago, including light sequencing and access to UC Davis.
The bottom line is we won’t know what Richards is going to look like any better in November than we do now. If we wanted to wait until 2020, then we might know more. I can understand why the city council and developer do not want to wait four more years but I can also understand why citizens might vote no in the face of uncertainty.
In his op-ed yesterday, Alan Pryor writes, “The final analysis by the Finance and Budget Commission of the economics of the Nishi project shows an extremely modest annual net income of only between $500,000 to about $1,400,000 to the City. And even this relatively small sum was only projected after the Finance and Budget Commission disregarded the explicit requests by both the Davis Fire and Police Chiefs that the previous estimates used for providing such fire and police services be retained in the Finance and Budget Commission’s analysis. If these original estimates for police and fire protection to the projection were retained, the project would not be net positive economically to the City under the more conservative estimates.”
Mr. Pryor is factually wrong here. The difference between the $700,000 and the $1.4 million is based on whether or not the city will realize about $700,000 or so in savings on the projected additional cost of police and fire. However, as I argued earlier this week, I think the police and fire are simply over-estimating the added costs. There is not going to be added police or fire personnel based on Nishi.
Mr. Pryor continues, “This modest income to the City assumes that full build-out of the R&D facilities occurs which is NOT guaranteed by the anticipated agreement between the developer and the City.” I have expressed concern about the lack of guaranteed buildout, but the analysis on Saturday suggested that the impact on taxes would be modest, at least in the model that the Finance & Budget Commission passed.
However, I think there are legitimate concerns about the affordable housing component.
Staff writes, “The Baseline Project Features establish Developer commitments of $1 million for the affordable Housing Trust Fund and an additional $200,000 for the City Council to allocate amongst on-site civic arts, establishment of a local carbon offset program, and implementation of the Downtown Parking Management Plan, for a total of $1.2 million.”
Staff later notes, “The anticipated deal points for in the Pre-Development and Cost-Sharing Agreement approved by the City Council on November 27, 2012 assumed that there would be no affordable housing obligation for housing with densities exceeding 30 units per acre. In recognition of project location supporting of reduced costs for vehicle ownership and use, high-density housing including small ownership and rental units, and energy-efficiency features reducing resident energy costs, the Project is not required to provide price- and income-restricted rental or ownership housing.”
They add, “Nonetheless, the project will contribute one million dollars ($1,000,000.00) to the City of Davis for deposit to the affordable Housing Trust Fund, to be used at the sole discretion of the City Council. This contribution will be allocated per parcel, on a basis such parcel size, parcel use, and/or anticipated building square footage basis, at the time of approval of the first Tentative Subdivision Map for the project. Payment for each parcel shall be made with Certificate of Occupancy for the first building on that parcel.”
While staff references the pre-development agreement, some have suggested that the city has simply violated its own affordable housing ordinance in order to reach this agreement and then, when called on it, they accepted $1 million as an in-lieu fee which is significantly below what is required.
Under the city’s affordable housing ordinance, “A developer of rental housing developments containing twenty or more units shall provide, to the maximum extent feasible, at least twenty-five percent of the units as affordable housing for low income households and at least ten percent of the units as affordable housing for very low income households.”
It goes on to specify, “Such housing shall be provided either by the construction of units on-site or by land dedication.”
The project claims to be exempt from affordable housing. In order to qualify for this exemption, the residential units would need to be “vertical mixed use,” which require the ground level floor to be entirely commercial.
The council clearly needs to clarify the extent to which it is exempt.
From our perspective then, there is a lot of work to be done tonight. The council needs to be transparent in terms of the readiness of the project, it needs to lock whatever it can into the project baseline agreement and it needs to understand that whatever they do tonight might simply not be enough to gain the passage.
It is hard to read the public on this issue. Most people are not engaged. The bottom line is that the council needs to figure out how to get this right.
—David M. Greenwald reporting