After all of the work leading up to Tuesday night, the council vote to unanimously support the staff recommendation and place the Nishi Gateway Project on the Measure R vote was almost anti-climactic. Even so, it took the council nearly three hours to listen to staff and consultants, a mixture of views on public comment, and eventually to nail down the final details and vote to put the matter on the ballot.
A number of students came out to beg for additional student housing. Citizens came out on all three sides of the issue – some wanting to put it on the ballot now, others asking for more time, and some seemingly outright opposed to the project.
Those who believe that the project is not ready will have the opportunity to vote against the project in June. For Mayor Pro Tem Robb Davis, he attempted to address the “why now” question, arguing that the relatively uncluttered ballot “gives maximum possibility of the kind of in-depth analysis that direct democracy initiatives require.”
He said, “Of course, that alone would be irresponsible if I believed other significant changes to the project were likely to come forward. Having put in significant effort on this project over the past three months, I feel that significant changes are unlikely.”
“A voters’ decision on this, one way or the other, will clarify to a significant partner in this endeavor—the University—the citizens’ position on a significant issue or its desire for action on the part of the University,” he said.
He added, “If no, then a strong message will have been sent that citizens do not view it as their responsibility to provide significant student-style housing in proximity to the University (whether that is the intention or not). If yes, then a strong message will have been sent that action to provide a grade-separated crossing of the UPRR line is critical.”
The mayor pro tem seemed ready for, and even ready to take on, a lawsuit, stating, “Moving this forward will lead to a lawsuit concerning the traffic study portion of the EIR which, I believe, will provide clarity on whether or not the studies done (which will be used for other projects as well) are adequate from a CEQA perspective. It is time to move from innuendo and accusation to the legal issues involved. I look forward to this process as I believe it will provide a great learning opportunity for our city.”
“For these reasons, I think it is appropriate for this Council to advance this initiative to the ballot,” he said. “I have learned a great deal about the reality of decision making in a Measure R world via this process. In this world, our role is to conduct a due diligence process that encompasses both the formal CEQA process as well as a consideration of community needs—just as in any other decision. However, Measure R requires more time to try to ascertain with the community how to more precisely achieve community members’ aspirations.”
Tim Ruff, the managing partner of the Nishi Gateway, thanked staff and council for their hard work.
He said in a statement, “I look forward to this opportunity to explain to Davis residents that Nishi would create up to 1,800 jobs, $385 million in economic activity annually, $108 million in wages annually, and $1.4 million in revenue for city services annually without new taxation on existing residents.”
He added, “I expect Davis voters will appreciate the most sustainable project in Davis history and the first project to exceed Davis’ Beyond Platinum Bicycle Action Plan, a live-work community that will depend on onsite renewable energy sources for 85% of all energy used. I hope Davis voters are ready to help alleviate the student housing crisis that brings mini-dorms to residential neighborhoods and forces thousands of students to commute from outlying cities, clogging our roads.”
He concluded, “I’m optimistic Davis voters are ready to establish a research and development space near the campus and downtown that is capable of converting technologies developed at UC Davis into innovative small businesses headquartered in the City of Davis. We have four months to convince Davis voters that Nishi is a project that helps our city become what it has always aspired to be, and I trust the wisdom of Davis voters who have a proud reputation of being deliberative and thorough in their decision making.”
Councilmember Brett Lee was appreciative of the work that the project applicant put in, working with a wide variety of community members trying to make the proposal better. He noted his vote in opposition to the Cannery as well as the Cannery CFD.
“At this point I do plan on voting yes and ultimately the voters will decide whether they think this is appropriate for Davis,” he said. He said his criteria for this vote “is this something that I’m willing to hang my hat on in terms of this being something that I’m willing to vote yes on. I plan to vote yes and in large part it’s due to the progress that has been made in the last month.”
Councilmember Lucas Frerichs also cited the public process and changes made in the project as reason for his yes vote. He said that this process has “helped to refine and shape the project and make it a better one.”
He said, “We have an opportunity to put forward a project to the voters of Davis in June that, if approved, will be guaranteed to be head and shoulders above most if not all others we have seen in Davis. And if it’s not approved by the voters in Davis there will be other communities that approve projects that are far far worse.”
Rochelle Swanson stated, “A few months ago I didn’t think that I would have been supportive of a June vote.” She said they “worked very very hard” and ultimately improved the project to the point where she believed it was ready to go. “I feel very strongly that we need a project that the voters can approve,” she said. “A no vote, hurts us all.”
She said that she has committed to finding revenue sources rather than just counting on taxes. “I think this is part of that commitment,” she said. “It is an opportunity. Some may argue that this is not a windfall. I think a neutral fiscal still is an income generator for our entire community.”
Mayor Pro Tem Davis stated, “In the end I feel we have fulfilled our responsibility to the electorate and therefore, with a clear will and intent, release this project to the collective wisdom of the community—if such a collective wisdom exists.”
He would add, “If we wake up in June and this project hasn’t passed, the sky will not fall. The world will not end. Armageddon will not arrive on our borders.” He said they will continue to make decisions as councilmembers and citizens “within a constrained environment.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting