Monday Morning Thoughts II: Emerging Fault Lines on Nishi, Future of Growth


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

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. Don Shor

    One person told me if Nishi can’t pass, no Measure R project will.

    Hey, I called it first! “IMO, if Nishi can’t pass a Measure R vote, then nothing can.” — 10/31/14

  2. The Pugilist

    I’m largely supportive of the project.  Agree with Don, if Nishi can’t pass, we need to re-think Measure R.  I’m not anti-growth and if Measure R means no more growth, I fear that the city will be chocked off.

  3. Tia Will


    I fear that the city will be chocked off.”

    I do not understand your use of the words “chocked off”. Do you feel that there is no desirable upper limit of growth for the city ?  If you do feel that there is an upper limit, where might that be in your view ?

    1. Mark West

      “Do you feel that there is no desirable upper limit of growth for the city ?”

      Over time, the City will grow as much as it needs to grow. Being smart about how we grow, and planning for that eventual growth, is how to prepare for that future appropriately. Growth will be determined by regional and community needs, not by one person’s perception of desirability (or the imaginary limits built upon that perception). Our solutions should be based in reality, not one’s fantasy.


    2. Matt Williams

      Tia, the concept of an upper limit is, for me, overly simplistic.  In fact, growth in Davis is controlled by a factor that is outside our control … the fact that UCD has been so successful.  UCD is no longer a small college, and as a result Davis is not a small-college town and hasn’t been for some time.

      Every bed of student housing that is added to accommodate UCD’s success, whether on-campus or off, increases the demand for City services.  The demand for those services is lower with on-campus housing, but it is far from zero. To see the impact of off-campus housing:

      — All you have to do is look at the significant spike in traffic on the I-80, Richards, First Street, B Street corridor.

      — Or look at the significantly increased number of in town (downtown and its surrounding neighborhoods) parking spaces being taken up by UCD students who park their car that has just come off the I-80, Richards, First Street, B Street corridor and walk to campus.

      — Or take note of how 3 bedroom houses in residential neighborhoods have eight unrelated adults living in them

      — Or watch the UCD student portion of Davis rise 3,500 at the same time as the young parents and DJUSD children portion of Davis shrinks by 2,350.

      An upper limit does not address these externally imposed forces of change that UCD’s success as an academic institution is the driving engine of.

      1. Tia Will


        Tia, the concept of an upper limit is, for me, overly simplistic”

        Of course it is. But then the same might be said of the phrase “choked off ” which was what I was questioning. See my response to Mark just posted. I was asking for clarification of a statement, not attempting to draft a planning document !

  4. Tia Will

    Our solutions should be based in reality, not one’s fantasy.”

    Completely agree. And I still feel that in a conversation, it is valuable to know rather than making assumptions about each others definitions, goals and perspectives. I trust that conversations, not city planning is what we engage in here on the Vanguard.

    1. Mark West

      This is not the first time you have pushed your fantasy of ‘desired upper limits,’ nor the first time that the concept has been discounted, yet you continue to repeat it.  In fact, it just goes hand in hand with your fantasy that Developers should be required to negotiate directly with any private party who ‘perceives’ an impact from a proposed project (plus many other examples over the years).  I’m not engaging you in a conversation when you are demonstrating the extent of your fantasyland Tia, I am only pointing out the nonsense of your comments that ensue.

      It is hard enough to find solutions based in the reality that is, without mucking around in the fantasyland of how you (or others) think things should be.

  5. Tia Will

    This is not the first time you have pushed your fantasy of ‘desired upper limits”

    For heavens sake….It was a question, not a “pushed fantasy” ! And for someone who is “not engaging in conversation, you are being fairly responsive.

    I am wondering if you are including yourself in the “how you ( or others) think things should be”, as you have had much to say about how you thing Old East Davis and many other areas of town “should be”.

    1. Mark West

      “you have had much to say about how you thing Old East Davis and many other areas of town “should be””

      Have I? When? Certainly I have argued in favor of the City evolving and growing as needed and against your desire to metaphorically ‘encase your neighborhood in amber’ (locking in the poor land use decisions of the past). I don’t recall, however, ever proclaiming how a neighborhood ‘should be.’ That is your area of expertise. I am happy to be corrected, however, if you have an example.


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