The calendar may say April 1, but there is no fooling around that we are about five weeks away from the first wave of voters getting their vote-by-mail ballots and being able to vote. That is not a long time for candidates and advocates of either side of Measure A to change the hearts and minds of the voters, to vote Nishi up and down.
The question is whether that ballot measure is already in trouble. From our vantage point it appears to be. To me, at least, a good bellwether is the opinion posted by Jim Frame. He noted, “When this iteration of a Nishi proposal first came along, I was pretty excited.”
He noted, “Somewhere along the way the city’s ownership piece fell off the table, but hey, we’re still going to get a bunch of tax revenue from the innovation space, and all those apartment beds will be filled by students, thereby taking some of the heat off the mini-dorm market that’s plaguing single-family neighborhoods all over town.”
Mr. Frame would conclude, “Is it any wonder I’m having a hard time mustering enthusiasm for Nishi now? I haven’t decided how I’m going to vote yet, but most of what I was hoping from from the project seems to have evaporated.”
From our view this has not been a good week for the project. Opponents filed a lawsuit that in our view is questionable in terms of the legal points, but in terms of the politics is devastating to the project.
We kind of expected the attack on the traffic study for Richards and the connectivity, but the affordable housing piece is downright devastating. As Jim Frame puts it, “We learn that those apartments are going to be on the pricey side, and that only well-heeled students will be able to afford them.” He adds that “now we find out that $11M was sort of left on the table due to the affordable housing thing.”
The opposition has now taken on the project directly, aiming at the project strengths. The biggest strength that Nishi has is not just its proximity to campus and the downtown, but the fact that it can provide housing to a market that is being pressured by the UC growth plans to accommodate thousands of additional students in the next five years.
While there are clear legal considerations at play here, there is nothing to stop the developer and his campaign team from hitting back hard. Instead, as the Vanguard was writing about this analysis, the campaign managed only one comment that refers to the ballot argument.
Their counter line is that affordable living housing is just one living expense, and they noted the saving from car expenses. But that is not going to have a lot of legs in the face that they have an unaffordable project that will not solve the housing crisis and, worse yet, the city gave away millions in community assets.
There have been efforts by the campaign from outside, in three or four posts by an anonymous poster (why not publish your response under the name of one of the prominent mayors or former city councilmembers who signed the letter?). Where is the counter-attack?
As a commenter pointed out, there is no sending this project back to the drawing board. So, as I argued yesterday, we have to look past the issue of affordable housing, which is really an attack on the integrity of the process.
One astute observer pointed out to me that this mess is on the city staff – who allowed the project to go forward without the affordable housing centerpiece and gave the opposition a huge bat with which to pound the project. It should have been anticipated by someone that the opposition could turn this into an integrity issue.
However, the way to get out of the mess is on Tim Ruff and the Nishi campaign team. They have to re-frame the issue here. They don’t have a lot of time left, but they can still do it.
Start with the biggest issue facing the city of Davis today – the rental housing crisis. The city of Davis faces a huge crisis in that UC Davis is adding thousands of students without providing housing for them. That is going to put pressure on neighborhoods and families, it is going to force single families out of rental situations and force owner-occupied homes onto the endangered species list.
Nishi is not THE solution to this. But it could house 1500 students. That won’t solve the problem, but it does help to alleviate it.
There are legitimate issues about the small “a” affordability of these units, but, by building them, the market may help to bring down cost – not just at Nishi, but across the board.
The Nishi campaign team should be pounding this issue every single day. They should be hitting the streets.They should be going toe-to-toe with the likes of Michael Harrington and Alan Pryor. They have the ability to re-frame the issue as a solution to the problem. But right now that isn’t happening.
This campaign is not going to be won at the 30,000 foot level. The Nishi campaign team is not going to win with slick mailers and a few scattered letters in the Enterprise, it is going to have to get down on the ground level and fight this house by house, piece by piece.
Can they do that still? Yes. But they have their work cut out for them. They are going to have to carry their own water and fight their own fight or they will see their erstwhile supporters fade into the background very quickly.
They have to wage a modern fight here on social media and in the comment sections of blogs, and submit opinion pieces that address the concerns that the opposition has set forth.
Again, can they still do that? Yes, but not if they take a bunker-mentality approach.
—David M. Greenwald reporting