Nishi Becomes First Unanimous Council Vote on Measure R Project

Students listen to public comments at Tuesday's meeting
Students listen to public comments at Tuesday’s meeting

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.”

Robb Davis speaks with Mayor Wolk looking on
Robb Davis speaks, with Mayor Wolk looking on

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.”

Brett Lee lays out his concerns
Brett Lee lays out his concerns

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.”

Councilmember Lucas Frerichs makes some points
Councilmember Lucas Frerichs makes some points

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.”

Students clap in approval of a public comment
Students clap in approval of a public comment
A student speaks in favor of the project
A student speaks in favor of the project
Another student in support of the project
Another student in support of the project
the Student Message
The student message

—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. Barack Palin

    I noticed during last night’s meeting there was clapping anytime a speaker was pro Nishi.  I thought the council had put a stop to any audience applause or heckling.  Was the council allowing this because it aligned with their views?

      1. Tia Will

        Last night’s vote was the culmination of a long and arduous process that I would like to see as one model for “the Davis Way”.  In my view, the developer and his partners, CC and staff, members of various commissions and interested community members all listened ( more or less) respectfully, took each others concerns into account, attempted mitigations of those concerns when possible and worked collaboratively to design and move forward a project that meets as many city goals and aspirations as possible while still maintaining profit for the developer and associates.

        While I do not yet know how I will vote on the project itself ( a very cautious favorable at this point in time), I see this as a model for how controversial projects can proceed in our community whether subject to a Measure J/R vote or not. I am very proud of the willingness of so many of our citizens to work together collaboratively and would like to sincerely thank all who have participated.

  2. Frankly

    This is the way it should work. Lot’s of passionate debate and then an executive decisions.  Davis though has the problem of the Measure R vote… so there will be more passionate debate, FUD, lies distortions, law suits, yelling… and I’m guessing some crying too.

  3. Misanthrop

    The big question is how many of those young people and other young people will vote? If the students and young people, who live in town and are tired of the current rental market dynamics, turn out and vote, they will swamp the usual suspects, who will be, as Bob Dylan said to the Baby Boomers back in the day “Like Pharaohs tribe they’ll be drowned in the tide and like Goliath they’ll be conquered.

    If the young people in town are tired of your parents generation running your life and not necessarily with your interests at heart, there is a simple solution, register yourselves and your friends and vote.

      1. South of Davis

        > How many of these college students will even be around by the

        > time the new apartments will be ready to be rented?

        When President Saunders has free college for all I bet we will have a lot more PhD students…

        1. Misanthrop

          Perhaps none of them will be around by then but they should vote anyway so that future students have better housing choices and a more balanced rental market.

          Back before Reagan UC was tuition free because education was supported by the state. Perhaps you forgot how much less you paid for your education.

        2. South of Davis


          Misanthrop wrote:

          > Back before Reagan UC was tuition free because education

          > was supported by the state. Perhaps you forgot how much

          > less you paid for your ed

          I can tell you exactly what I paid for my education (since I paid for it).

          You are correct that UC was “tuition” free before Regan was elected Governor, but it was still “tuition” free when Regan left office (despite the fact that Regan did try and start charging a “tuition” since he saw so many stoned long haired kids hanging out at  the UC Campuses who seemed to care more about anti-war protests than school).

          Before Regan took office in 1962 “fees” at Cal were $75 a semester and increased to $110 a semester in 1964.  In 1968 in Regan’s first term the “fee” to attend Cal was up to $160 a semester (and was $107 a quarter at Davis other UC Schools).

          P.S. I’ve been gone for a while but just so you know I am not defending Regan (who IMHO was a bad Governor and even worse President) I’m just trying to set the record straight.

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