As we close in on the council decision about whether to put Nishi on the ballot, I have a number of different thoughts to share. There appear to be three different schools of thought here.
First, Nishi isn’t really a black and white issue. I see emerging kind of a three-way analysis: yes, no, and wait. As we saw in our survey, most people are still uncertain as to whether they will support or oppose the project, in part because most people see strengths and weaknesses.
The strengths seem fairly clear – proximity to downtown and the university are what is driving interest in this project. This is a unique Measure R project in that it’s not out on the periphery, but rather nestled in between the university and I-80. However, that location clearly presents access challenges, which have made people more reluctant to support the project.
The key question is whether the city and developer have done enough to address these concerns. The answer to that falls along three rather than two lines.
First, there are those who believe that the council has addressed enough of the issues. We have delayed any occupation or construction before access to the university is established and Richards Boulevard has been modified. Issues of fiscal impact have been better clarified. And the council has worked on the affordable housing component and sustainability.
Then there are those who believe we still have work to do. They ask, why the rush? Their question is why we are approving the project before the issues of accessibility to the university and corridor improvements are actually achieved.
In my view, these people fall into really two categories: those who sincerely believe that delay will produce a better project and those who are using delay as a tactic because they do not believe they can defeat or stop the project outright.
Finally, there are those who simply oppose this project. Perhaps they oppose all growth. Perhaps they believe that this is a bad project – that the university should provide housing. Some believe that this should be an R&D (research and development) only project.
What Does Voting to Put the Project on the Ballot Mean?
Yesterday I argued that, rather than litigate differences of opinion on the technical EIR (Environmental Impact Report) and CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) aspects of the project, we should simply allow the voters to decide if the city went far enough in mitigating traffic impacts on Richards.
A key question here is what does voting to put the matter on the ballot mean. The staff recommendation is that “the City Council take the following actions to approve the Nishi Gateway project and place the Nishi General Plan Amendment on the ballot for voter consideration under Measure J/R of the Municipal Code.”
Does that mean that a vote is, as one person put it, “an endorsement of the substance and the process”? That could certainly be one interpretation. On the other hand, perhaps the vote is simply an acknowledgement that the Measure R process means that the council is like the Planning Commission – they have a role to play in terms of getting all the steps completed, but, in the end, the voters are the ones who ultimately decide yes and no.
My personal opinion is that I have not decided how I will vote on this project, but I think it is time for the voters to make the decision.
I just don’t think waiting another six months is going to change anything in the calculations. What’s the rush, some will ask. I guess I disagree with the premise of the question. Given Measure R, we have artificial time constraints that mean we have deadlines to put this on the ballot now or we have to wait for six months, or a year, or two years.
The developers have decided that they want their project on the ballot now. They put their money behind it and have gone through the process. I don’t see anything substantially changing in the next six months and, despite the access and corridor issues, I don’t think it really changes anything to go now versus four years from now.
If you don’t want the project – then vote no. If you don’t have enough certainty, then vote no. Going now doesn’t guarantee success.
There are those who believe that going now means that the council is punting on serious issues and forcing citizens to take up their slack. In Davis, however, I think a lot of people’s default position on a housing project is no rather than yes, and therefore they have to be convinced to vote for it rather than convinced to vote against it.
Future of Growth in Davis
On Wednesday, we will have a discussion with seven panelists from differing perspectives discussing the Future of Growth in Davis. The panelists run the gamut of various views and the event is from 7 to 9 pm on Wednesday in the Davis Community Chambers.
In a way, Cannery and Nishi represent the final frontier for Davis. They are the last two clearly defined parcels in and around the city. Whether Nishi wins or loses, the city will be faced with a new choice. Either Davis is going to stop growing outward and will only grow upward, or Davis will have to figure out a way forward – that is accepted in a Measure R world – to grow on the periphery.
One person told me if Nishi can’t pass, no Measure R project will. That may not be true, because a Mace Ranch or other innovation park might be a different calculus than housing.
But what is clear is that we have to think long and hard about what this city ought to look like in the future. A pressing issue is, of course, student housing, but there is also the consideration of whether Davis becomes a student-retirement community or whether there is a place for the 24-55 demographic.
That conversation will start but not end on Wednesday night.
—David M. Greenwald reporting