In 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