Nishi Takes Shape, Still Faces Key Challenges

Developer Tim Ruff two weeks ago
Developer Tim Ruff two weeks ago

After Tuesday’s meeting, the Davis City Council, city staff, and the developer had just under two weeks, until February 17, to make key changes to the Nishi project in order to put it on the ballot. While a number of citizens continue to push for delay until November, the project continued to take shape on Tuesday night.

Perhaps the biggest change was the removal of both the 20 percent (130) additional units and the hotel from the baseline project features language. This move was anticipated after Tim Ruff suggested on Saturday that the 20 percent additional dwelling units would “go away.”

However, council continued struggling with language on LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) and LEED alternatives, with Brett Lee pushing back that any language in the project baseline features need to be “binding, simple, and direct.”

The city also introduced the concept of a Service CFD (Community Facilities District). As the consultant noted, “[T]he city had not engaged previously on land-secured service districts,” but added, “We believe it’s a very viable tool to ensure an ongoing revenue stream to the city… in perpetuity to ensure that city services are being covered.”

Tim Ruff, the project developer, made three suggestions about changes to baseline project features. He noted, “Regarding parking, I would like to eliminate the reference of 1550 as a target maximum number of parking spaces – I have already eliminated 200 parking spaces down from the maximum to 1732 spaces. I think having two numbers in the baseline project features will confuse voters. I also think it is premature to hack off an additional ten percent without more discussion on potential impacts.”

He noted the parking impact on surrounding areas and he suggested that this proposal would eliminate Nishi as possibly helping to address parking issues in the surrounding areas. “It also seriously jeopardizes the vitality of the research and development space,” he said. “We may want to take advantage of a company that needs a few more parking spaces.”

He wants the number 1550 eliminated but will continue to work with the city to reduce parking. “I think this is a reasonable compromise,” he stated.

“After careful consideration, I think this whole section can be removed,” he said, referring to the 20 percent additional housing and the hotel. He saw it as a “brilliant suggestion in concept” as a way to provide additional density and car-free units, the idea was simple, add units, do not increase parking. But in practice, it “was confusing as written,” and he asked it be removed.

The staff report on LEED-ND (LEED-Neighborhood Development) noted “continued research into the requirements of LEED-ND show inherent difficulties posed by the nature of the site and the development in meeting the prerequisites for certification, or garnering the necessary points for a given level of certification.”

Consultant analysis concluded that “pursuing LEED for Neighborhood Development certification for the project is not feasible at this time.”

The council, led by Mayor Pro Tem Robb Davis, pushed for a workaround. He said, “We can say (in the baseline features) that the city and developer together will seek LEED-ND, meaning that we’re going to put our best foot forward to try to convince… the US Green Building Council that we really want this and I think that they’re going to want us to go through it, quite frankly.”

He said if there “is just an absolute deal breaker,” and he said he felt “more optimistic” if they reach a point where they can’t, “we have a clear fallback” which would be a “city defined certification equivalent” which would use the same principle even though “we can’t call it LEED in the end.”

He called for the development of a “group certification panel” made up of key members of six or seven different city commissions, members of the university and others.

Councilmember Brett Lee said, “I don’t think it’s a terrible idea, I think it’s a nice idea. However, I think it’s important that on the Measure J/R language that there are binding requirements. And there is no way as an applicant I would bind myself to some yet unnamed commission, composition unknown with requirements that may or may not be reasonable.”

He argued that there needs to be a binding commitment by the applicant “about what level of sustainability will be incorporated into the design.”

Robb Davis then read language he proposed which called for the pursuit of LEED-ND with a goal of platinum level and, “should LEED-ND not be attainable because of prerequisite reasons, the project developer will pursue a city-defined certification equivalent to LEED-ND offered by the US Green Building Council as defined in the development agreement.”

Councilmember Lee said “I think there is a way forward that addresses 99 percent of what you’re trying to do and I’m with you on that.” He said, “But I think that’s complicated.”

Brett Lee then added very clearly, “I want whatever is the J/R language to be binding, simple and direct.”

Council also attempted to address the issue of onsite affordable housing. The baseline features establish a commitment of “$1 million for the City Council to allocate amongst contributions to the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, on-site civic arts, establishment of a local carbon offset program, and implementation of the Downtown Parking Management Plan.”

Lucas Frerichs noted that “now it’s $1 million in this account with a whole range of possibilities for expenditure.”

Brett Lee said he would be very supportive of “small ‘a’ affordables” – “affordable based upon design” or size. However, he said, “I do think in terms of design and project proposal I do think it’s a little late to suddenly spring on the project proponent.” He thinks having money for a fund is reasonable.

Councilmember Frerichs pointed out that the language could allow $1 million to be spent on civic arts, and, while he has nothing against the arts, he didn’t see that as the primary objective.

The proposal will come back to council on February 16. The big question will be whether it is ready to go. The big changes at this time were pulling the hotel and the additional housing off the table. Also, they are still working through the issue of LEED and affordable housing, they have added a Services CFD for a revenue stream (but there will not be an infrastructure CFD), they have reduced parking, and there will be a tree buffer.

Is that enough? Stay tuned.

—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. CalAg

    “The big changes at this time were pulling the hotel and the additional housing off the table.” David Greenwald

    They were never actually on the table

    The housing was added after completion of the CEQA analysis. The hotel, while included as a CEQA alternative, was never given an weight analysis. Accordingly, neither deal point was allowable under CEQA, and a new EIR would have had to have been performed to put them into the baseline project features.

  2. CalAg

    The big news is that Council members reneged on their prior public assurances that the UCD connection would be completed prior to the construction of the project. Interesting that the Vanguard is not reporting on this.

    Other big news that’s being swept under the rug is the give away of 150 affordable housing units worth about $10M to the City’s affordable housing program.

    The stripping of specificity from the baseline project features is also newsworthy – what’s up with that? It’s getting harder every day to figure out exactly what commitments will be locked in by Measure J/R.

  3. Don Shor

    I would say that if the staff continues working overtime on this, Tim Ruff continues to be willing to make changes, and the council keeps the pressure on (kudos to Robb and Brett especially), they’ll be able to get this on the June ballot.

      1. Matt Williams

        CalAg, your comment confuses me, what are the changes that are going in the wrong direction?  The differences between 1/6 and 1/19 appear to be cosmetic, and the 2/2 version appears to have a lot of additions and no deletions when compared to the two predecessors.

  4. Barack Palin

    I just participated in a phone poll about Nishi from Spafford Lincoln.  The poller read a very rosy account of the project but what really stood out was she said the project would create a positive revenue flow of $455,000 for the city.  I asked her how they knew that when the numbers haven’t been finalized yet.  Obviously they didn’t know.

    The poll painted such a good picture of the project that I doubt many will say they won’t vote for it.

    The poll to me was useless because I don’t think it gives a true account of the project, how could it, the project isn’t finalized yet?

    If the people paying for the poll just want positive feedback then the way this poll was presented they will get it.

  5. SlowSoDaMa

    As long as the traffic doesn’t feed onto first street or olive drive, I don’t care what they build there.  And that’s how we answered the poll.  Vote no, until the traffic is moved to old davis road.

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