Flint West: Concerns with Health Impact of Nishi

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Nishi Site Plan
Nishi Site Plan

By Thomas Cahill

Early childhood education. Daycare. Services for the elderly, Cold weather shelters, … I’m sure that the leaders of bankrupt Flint, Michigan, had all sorts of plans for the money saved by going from the more expensive water of Detroit to the cheaper source, the Flint River. I truly hope that no one knew of the hazards the more acidic water of the Flint, River would have on the old lead pipes in the city.

I truly hope that no one knew how easy and cheap it would be to add materials to the water to mitigate the impact. I really hope it was ignorance, because if it was deliberate, it was criminal and people should be in prison!

Housing for students. Bike access to the city. Parks and open space. Money for Davis city coffers (maybe…)   I’m sure the leaders of Davis have all sorts of plans for the money earned by developing Nishi. The space is ideal for research, high tech industry and the like. But can you really think anyone in their right mind would like to live there?

Miserable access through a congested business area, constant noise from cars, trucks and trains, and the stink of air pollution? But regretfully the proposed Nishi project includes a lot of residential development, both rented and for purchase.

But most important, Nishi runs directly into the new knowledge of the threat of freeways on human health. I worked hard to get lead out of California gasoline in the 1970s, (for which my program was shut down by Ronald Reagan). But with the help of Jerry Brown ver 1.0, we triumphed, and the world followed. In that triumph we let our guard down on other highway impacts,

We have always known that diesel exhaust causes cancer, and provides about 2/3 of all the cancer threat from all the Proposition 65 toxic air contaminants in California. We have long known that a very small number of cars, perhaps 1 in 10, somehow avoids our smog check systems and provides about 2/3 of the pollution of all cars combined.

But beginning in the late 1990s, new threats were discovered. It became clear that children living near freeways permanently lost lung capacity – a lot of lung capacity. Abundant data showed enhanced asthma from living near freeways. And then there was VW gaming the system for years.

We discovered in 1997 that Bakersfield had lots of early heart attacks, about a 60% higher rate of lethal heart attacks than in Davis. In 2007 we showed the cause was ultra-fine metals from the brakes of cars and trucks on I-5 Grapevine grade and the Tehachapi Pass.

Sacramento is also somewhat impacted from its tight freeway network, and also has enhanced heart attack rates. And in 2010, researchers, including some at the UCD MIND Institute, published results showing that getting pregnant within 1020 feet of a freeway enhances your chances of having an autistic child by 86%.

Based upon all these published peer reviewed studies, we conclude that Nishi is an almost “Perfect Storm” of freeway impacts – an upwind freeway with heavy traffic and a high truck admixture, with massive braking and acceleration directly upwind of Nishi, an over-crossing that pitches pollutants across the entire venue, a berm to help trap winter pollution on site during stagnation periods, and trains accelerating as they go west.

The Ascent environmental company doing the Davis Environmental Impact Report (EIR), reported that impacts from air pollution were “…significant and unavoidable” (4.3-33) …” . I presented these data to the Planning Commission in detail last October. I have forwarded all this information routinely to the Council.

In terms of potential mitigation, I have also forwarded to the developer and City the information on filtration of ultra-fine metals, the same protocols I am using with the US Embassy in Beijing. However, these protocols have never been proven in realistic buildings with active residents.

The open spaces are great, but there is no way to mitigate air pollution impacts there, which are worse if you exercise and breathe through your mouth. Trees will eventually help, as we saw a factor of 2 mitigation of ultra-fine metals in Land Park east of I-5 in 2010, but it will take decades for the trees to grow to adequate size. So even with these efforts, the site is unfit for residential use.

Eventually the state will have to address the problems of gross emitting cars, 3 axel diesels, metal additives in motor oil and diesel fuel, and ultra-fine metals from brake drums and pads. In the interim, people should not be encouraged to live in an area rife with invisible but dangerous ultra-fine pollutants.

We can’t get away with using fixes like the bottled water as they are doing in Flint. Nishi is a great site for research and light industry, and even these buildings should have enhanced air cleaning systems.

Keep it at that. If Nishi goes on the ballot with its current residential component, everybody in Davis should know what we are doing to future residents of Nishi. Thus, unlike Flint, no one can claim ignorance as a defense.

Note: While most of these materials are in the City of Davis EIR, I will post further references and materials on my DELTA Group web site http://delta.ucdavis.edu

Tom Cahill, a resident of Davis since 1967, is a UC Davis professor emeritus of physics and atmospheric sciences and head of DELTA Group.

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12 thoughts on “Flint West: Concerns with Health Impact of Nishi”

  1. Tia Will

    I truly respect the work of Thomas Cahill. As a resident of a similar neighborhood, and as a primary care doctor with special interest in both women’s, children’s and public health, I see some of these points differently at this time.

    But can you really think anyone in their right mind would like to live there?

    Miserable access through a congested business area, constant noise from cars, trucks and trains, and the stink of air pollution? But regretfully the proposed Nishi project includes a lot of residential development, both rented and for purchase.”

    Yes. I can certainly see how many in our right minds might want to live in very similar circumstances. I have no congestion problem. I walk where I want to go. When I bought my Old East Davis bungalow about 5 years ago, I was well aware of the presence of both the freeway and the trains which pass 3/4 block from my house. Yes, an adjustment period was necessary. It took me a few days to not be awakened by the trains and two weeks to stop hearing them at all except for brief halts in conversation when they are too loud, at which time we simply pick up where we left off.  But that is all about personal preference and adaptability and not everyone will be adept. They will theoretically have more choices opened by those who do not mind what they see as minor inconveniences.

    Of course, the health issues are of much greater concern. So I did a bit of homework.

    1. We do not have a higher incidence of ER visits for acute respiratory problems from the Olive Dr. neighborhood, the closest comparison that I could find. Granted this is a weak point given that the Nishi project is not likely to draw large numbers of young children.

    2. Which brings me to point two. I would take the health risks much more seriously ( and freely admit that I could be wrong) if Nishi were likely to attract many long term residents. But I understand that this is not the case. Most residents will likely be college age, and thus an overall healthier and more resilient as well as more transient population. While there might be more some short term effects in terms of respiratory health ( although in my early 60’s I have not experienced any) they have much higher recuperative capabilities than do either the very young or their elders.

    I am a chance taker, but I am not reckless. I feel that this project, like all others in our community needs to be addressed in a holistic fashion taking into account all of the pros and cons. At this point, I do not see the health risks as being prohibitive as presented to date.

    If Thomas Cahill or others who post here have more definitive evidence of higher specific risk, I am open to reconsideration.

  2. Eileen Samitz

    Tia,

    The project will have 210 condominium for long-term residents. Also, the 420 apartments are not limited to students. Some people live in apartments the majority of their lives. Also, the students could live there 4 years or longer just for their academics, and may wind up working there long term. I think that is one of the goals, to encourage new scientists to stay here and to work at the innovation park portion of Nishi Gateway.

    1. Matt Williams

      Eileen, there is no shortage of student-targeted apartment complexes in Davis that can give us real-life data rather than speculation.  Your personal belief appears to be that non-students will want to live in an apartment complex that is predominantly (overwhelmingly?) students.  My belief is that they will not want to do so. 

      The reasons behind my belief is that student apartments are far noisier than non-student apartments, and as we have seen from the Ket-Mo-Ree discussions, students are often just getting started in their revelry at 10:00, which is well past the bedtime of the preponderance of DJUSD children. Will a responsible parent want to put his/her children in that kind of environment? 

      Perhaps BAE Urban Economics can expand the scope of the annual apartment vacancy survey to gather some demographic indicators about how the apartment complexes and rental units are being filled.

      1. Tia Will

        Matt

        I would very much like to see actual data on the co-existence of non student and student renters in student majority apartment complexes if you can obtain it. The reason is that during the four years that I rented in Davis and now in the five years that I have lived in Old East Davis, I have encountered many locations where there are a mixture of student and non student tenants. Most of the apartment buildings in my neighborhood seem to have both student and non-student adult renters although no young children apparently.

        1. Matt Williams

          Tia, I am going to reach out to Matt Kowta and Matt Fairris at BAE Urban Economics on Monday to see what (if anything) they have.  I’ll keep you posted.

  3. Tia Will

    Eileen

    Agreed. But this is also a matter of personal choice. If we were forcing people to live there that would be one thing. We are not. The people who would choose to live there, unlike many in Flint, are likely to be better educated with more access to information  about the relative risks of living there vs at some other location as well as more affluent thus having more economic choices.

    On the anecdotal level, I knew the risks of living within the potential crash zone of a train derailment. Although I must admit I had not factored in Benicia at the time of purchase. However, I am willing to accept the consequences of my choices. I would not be defending the relative health and safety of this site were it intended as long term low income family housing, but without more definitive evidence of harm, I consider this as probably “safe enough” for the intended population.

    Again, I am open to specific, direct evidence to the contrary. And since you probably are aware of both my public health and slow growth tendencies, almost anything would prompt a review on my part. I just haven’t seen enough yet.

  4. Eileen Samitz

    Matt,

    Your personal belief appears to be that non-students will want to live in an apartment complex that is predominantly (overwhelmingly?) students.  My belief is that they will not want to do so.

    First Matt, you are incorrect in your assumption. I am simply pointing out that the Nishi Gateway apartments are not restricted to students and that non-students could live there and may live there longer than 3-4 years.  Particularity if they just graduated and work at the innovation park or elsewhere in Davis for instance.

    Furthermore, there are plenty of apartment complexes in Davis that have more students than non-students. That is due to UCD not providing on-campus student housing. I am not saying non-students prefer to live there, but they probably lie there most likely due to availability.

    Also, the 210 for sale condo’s are intended for longer term residents. So what is your response on this?

    1. Matt Williams

      Working from your last paragraph forward, my suspicion is that when the vagaries of the realty marketplace play themselves out, a substantial percentage of the 210 condos is going to be purchased as investments by people who will not be living in them, but rather renting them out.  Those additional rental units wouldn’t be being added to the Tandem Properties inventory, but rather added to the inventory of rental properties owned by others.

      Regarding your second paragraph, I agree with your suspicion that “there are plenty of apartment complexes in Davis that have more students than non-students.”  As I said in my prior comment, having BAE Urban Economics expand the scope of the annual apartment rental survey would give us evidence about that rather than anecdotal beliefs.

      Regarding your first paragraph, I agree with your choice of the word “could.”

       

       

  5. Frankly

    So, decades of Flint Michigan Democrat rule that caused the city to spend much more on city labor than the city had and was required resulted in fiscal insolvency.  Finally a conservative mayor is elected and he tries to prevent complete collapse by implementing ideas that would save money given the dire financial circumstances caused by those before him… and it is the new conservative mayors fault?

    The connect to this rant above is relevant in that Davis is doing pretty much the same things as Flint Michigan… albeit in a smaller scale.

    From the FBC report, we now know and can accept the $1.4 million per year net positive benefit that the Nishi development will provide (despite the ongoing and never ending denial from those that don’t want Davis to ever change).  This does not solve our spending problem… that is something we still must tackle.  But revenue is the other side of the fiscal coin that we need to focus on.

    Otherwise with the next economic downturn, Davis might be in the same financial boat as Flint… having to cut corners to make ends meet.  Instead of this artificial human health and safety concern, we will have real problems.

    1. wdf1

      Frankly:  Finally a conservative mayor is elected and he tries to prevent complete collapse by implementing ideas that would save money given the dire financial circumstances caused by those before him… and it is the new conservative mayors fault?

      (boldface added)

      I am tempted to comment on this, but I don’t know if we’re living in the same reality or not.  So excuse me for asking.  In your reality, what is/was the name of the conservative who was elected mayor of Flint, who presumably behaved so valiantly and is now the object of anti-conservative hate?

  6. Eileen Samitz

    Matt,

    Working from your last paragraph forward, my suspicion is that when the vagaries of the realty marketplace play themselves out, a substantial percentage of the 210 condos is going to be purchased as investments by people who will not be living in them, but rather renting them out.

    Wow… So this certainly sound like Nishi Gateway is not really going to provide ANY significant workforce for-sale housing. This certainly is important for the City Council, City Staff and the community to know, since this was supposed to be one of the objectives of the project. So it sounds like the for-sale housing will just be a “front” for investors to buy and then rent out. I am sure then that housing will not be very affordable either. Good to know. I just keep learning new reasons why Nishi Gateway is just a really, really bad project.

    1. Matt Williams

      Eileen, you have argued over and over again that there are no ways to control who purchases for-sale housing.  It’s an open market.  “Substantial” isn’t “all” and my suspicion could just as easily be wrong as right.  That’s the reality of suspicions.

       

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