Monday Morning Thoughts: Future of Growth – Nishi v. Cannery

Nishi-Forum-11In a way Nishi and the Cannery may be forever tied together in a number of respects. They represent what I would call the last two natural parcels in the city. While they are tied together by that distinction, in most ways they are opposites and it is those differences that make studying them most interesting.

Cannery in is many ways the last traditional housing development in Davis. It has a mix of 547 residential units –ownership, rental, detached and attached.

I would argue that Cannery would not have passed a Measure R vote. In fact, it barely passed a council vote 3-2. The problem? It is not affordable, with housing starting at $500,000 and going up from there. It is fairly low density with just 547 units on 100 acres – compare that to Nishi which has 625 on 47 acres.

Then there was the flak over the lack of connectivity to bike paths via a grade-separated crossing. Finally, there was the Community Facilities District that was imposed after the fact. Cannery developers asked the council to approve a CFD for the project, which will allow developers to sell an estimated $11.8 million in bonds to finance amenities that the developers had already committed to.

A divided council a year ago would ultimately approve the CFD on a 3-2 vote. Mayor Pro Tem Robb Davis and Councilmember Brett Lee opposed that, wary of additional taxes that will be levied on future Cannery residents. They argued that the developer agreed it could build the amenities without further fees.

Compare that to Nishi which has a Measure R process, which means it has to be approved by the voters. The CFD is off the table. The project is contingent on access to UC Davis. There are provisions for bike connectivity to existing routes. The project is contingent on Richards Corridor updates. While the CFD is off the table, the council is looking at ways to generate streams of revenue for the community.

Agree or disagree with Nishi, the community will get a far greater project because of the Measure R vote than it did at Cannery.

And yet, Davis has a crisis on its hands. We just saw it in the latest rental housing report – 0.2 percent vacancy. As UC Davis continues to add students, the housing crisis is becoming more pronounced. Single-family homes are being converted to mini-dorms. Students are rapidly displacing the 25- to 55-year-old demographic.

UC Davis is planning for additional housing but admitting they cannot accommodate all student growth.

Some are saying that the city should take on more housing, but – outside of Nishi and Sterling which, combined, may account for 2700 new beds if approved – it is difficult to see where the city is going to add housing. There may be additional infill possibilities, but for the most part all new major prospects would be Measure J/R votes – which seem problematic at best, given the community desire to not expand its borders.

The most recent housing projects, in fact, fit that bill. Cannery was already in the city, it had long served as the site of a cannery and, therefore, the housing project was not an expansion outside of the city and did not convert agricultural land. While Nishi does convert agricultural land, it is an unique site in that it’s nestled between I-80 and UC Davis. It is a stone’s throw from the downtown and the university.

There is a proposed site more on the periphery, Mace Ranch Innovation Center, but that site is looking toward much needed economic development rather than housing – although there is a very controversial mixed-use housing alternative. Some have suggested the site next to Harper Junior High, inside the Mace Curve, as more appropriate for housing.

Something has to give. The city is facing a very real crisis. As we suggested in Sunday’s column, students who are attracted to Bernie Sanders may form a key constituency, should the Nishi project come up for a June vote, to push Nishi through, just as they did a decade ago with Target.

But with Davis running out of obvious spots for new housing and UC Davis apparently unwilling to fulfill their obligations, the future of Davis seems very uncertain.

Next week, the Vanguard will host a forum, on Wednesday, February 17, from 7 to 9 pm at the Davis Community Chambers, to discuss the issue of the Future of Growth in Davis. The panel will be comprised of: Mayor Pro Tem Robb Davis; Stephen Wheeler, Local Government Commission; Jim Gray, Commercial Real Estate; Alan Pryor, Sierra Club; Bob Segar, UC Davis, Assistant Vice Chancellor, Campus Planning and Community Resources; and Meg Arnold, Former Director of SARTA (Sacramento Regional Technology Alliance).

Each panelist offers a different perspective on the issue of growth in the community.

—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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  1. Misanthrop

    The article I link explains the social trends that describe Davis’ housing problem perfectly. Davis is a microcosm of what the author describes. Why is Cannery so expensive? Lack of supply. It also shows that Affordable Housing programs drive up costs for market rate housing, how high density reduces the number of children, that adding jobs without adding housing raises housing expenses and creates a new kind of rental serfdom. It even explains the rise of Bernie Sanders among the young with this quote that encapsulates the frustration of Millennials in a single sentence:

    “Faced with a huge student debt load, a weaker job market, and often high housing prices, millennials face tougher challenges than some previous generations, but retain remarkably similar aspirations.”


    This trifecta description of the challenges faced by the young adults in Davis also explains why there seems to be a divide between the young and old on housing at public comment before the City Council these days. Perhaps some of your panel members might want to read this article so that they can better understand the dynamics at play in how the housing policies of one generation has created a problematic landscape for the next generation. Its too bad that your panel seems to lack any young people who are most effected by current housing and land use policies.

    1. Robb Davis

      I have a front row seat.  My two adult children–raised in Davis–now at UCD and working here experience these challenges.  One, at least, may have to leave.

      1. Don Shor

        One of my employees has been informed that his lease, and all the others on his wing of their apartment complex, will not be renewed because they need more space for student rentals. At the time of the ASUCD survey, there were 16 apartments total in Davis available. Average rent is now $1489/month, a 5.3% increase. “Bed lease” rents have increased 5.1 – 11.5%, depending on the unit.

        1. hpierce

          Gotta’ ask… is this an apartment complex, owned by UC, within the City [there are/have been several]?  Or a privately owned one, with a ‘special relationship’ to UC?

          1. Don Shor

            It’s private, and no relationship with UC that I’m aware of. So I’m curious about this as well.

        2. Jim Frame

          I wonder if the mechanism isn’t “we’re not going to renew your lease,” but rather “we’re raising the rent, so if you want to renew your lease you’ll have to pay what these well-to-do students’ parents are willing to pay.”

        3. Matt Williams

          Don, was your employee informed that not only was his/her current lease coming to an end (not being renewed), but also that he/she was not going to be able to submit a bid for the successor lease?

          Issuing a new lease that incorporates the new market realities of rental housing supply/demand is understandable when there is a lease end date.  Excluding part of the market from participating in the new lease is anything but understandable

  2. hpierce

    They represent what I would call the last two natural parcels in the city

    Nishi is not in the City.  It wasn’t even in Yolo County until the early 90’s.  The Cannery land was in the City by the early 60’s.

  3. The Pugilist

    Does Davis need to have more housing?  I would suggest that the issue of the student housing be left to the university.  The city can deal with mini-dorms right now through ordinances and zoning.  Everyone is enabling each other here.

    1. Miwok

      Everyone is enabling each other here.

      After living here for a decade here about 30 years ago, and working here for the rest, I can tell you Davis PLANNED this. An exclusive little enclave, all they need is big walls and gates.

      Students are at the mercy of slumlords, who hire students with an interest in working, calling professional Handyman Services only when they have to. A recent Apartment Complex was sold for an outrageous price, but the place should be razed and rebuilt according to current code. But it might get a new business card and a coat of paint. And the City lets that happen. So you get constantly deteriorating buildings with rising rents, fostering more students in each room.

      It is no accident other towns and cities are all around building and supplying the housing  Davis won’t. 50 year old houses are ready to fall down, but sell for more than new. I was told in a previous article the the PD does “Code Enforcement”. Lets see the statistics on that, when contractors I have met tell me their business is converting houses to dorms.

      The next infrastructure crisis for Davis will be the in ground services, because when you have 8 or 10 people living in a house zoned for a family of 3-5, it taxes (haha) the systems.

      It is plain to me, 30 years ago, what Davis was becoming, and UC striving for, that I had no future trying to buy a property here. There was only going to be more and more congestion, not safe for kids or other small animals. UCD had their own office to meddle in real estate for their Faculty hires and anyone else they deemed “worthy” with low interest loans and taking property in case they might need it.

  4. CalAg

    Future of Growth – Nishi v. Cannery

    Seriously? I get that the Vanguard business model is to polarize the community to drive “hits” that translate into advertising dollars and donations. I get that the Vanguard is also trying to monetize this polarization by building an events business. However, this type of framing is beginning to jump the shark.

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