As a strong supporter of the idea of citizen-based planning, I am dismayed by the amount of heat and at times hyperbolic claims generated during this campaign, and, I am sorry to the No on Measure A side, but much of that is coming from the No side of the ledger. While I remain neutral and truly on the fence as to which way I am going – I have been much more critical of the No side, in part because I believe they have made more unsupportable claims than the Yes side at this point.
I still think there are legitimate concerns raised about the project that need to be addressed. I will get into these issues shortly.
Comments like these do not help an enlightened understanding of the issue: “Shameful that our ‘progressive’ city is seeking to create a ghetto for young people in an area famous for its toxic air. Shameful. And that Yes on A mailer had photos of families and babies playing in that murky soup, without one word about the location of the project ?”
That is from former councilmember Michael Harrington, a leader of the No on A campaign. It would be irresponsible for the Vanguard not to call the campaign to task for such rhetoric. When the opposition states that the Vanguard has not called the Yes side to task for similar rhetoric, they seem to miss the fact that the Yes side is simply not making those kinds of bombastic claims.
Nevertheless, the Vanguard gets accused of writing “pro-Nishi arguments.” Eileen Samitz on Monday writes, “So much for the Vanguard’s ‘objectivity.’” She adds, “However, I am sure you will come up with more of these pro-Nishi arguments to promote Nishi on a daily basis. So much for the Vanguard ‘objective’ articles by you. By the way, it is interesting that the placement of ‘Yes on Measure A’ campaign ‘banner’ ad on the very top of the Vanguard daily. To many readers it would certainly seem to imply that the Vanguard is officially endorsing Nishi. Also, has the ‘Yes in Measure A’ campaign donated any money for the Vanguard’s fundraising efforts?”
As I noted on Monday, the Nishi ad at the top is there because the campaign purchased ad space, just as the No on A side purchased ad space. Neither Nishi Gateway nor Yes on Measure A has made any donation to the Vanguard other than the ads that it has purchased.
I understand that the No side has to raise critical issues to get people to vote no – although Michael Harrington has pointed out to me that the voters may be more or less primed to vote no on projects unless given reasons to vote yes. His campaign tactics do not seem to bear that out.
Despite this rhetoric, I remain of the belief that there are three legitimate battle line issues that should define the remaining two weeks of the campaign. At the end of the day, our job is to ferret out facts, but the voter’s job is to weigh competing benefits against their costs.
On Monday we offered that the city faces a housing crisis. As the commenter Ron pushes back, the Vanguard column is “not objective.” He writes, “Using terminology such as ‘crisis’, and concluding “if Nishi doesn’t pass, Davis must add ‘3000 to 5000 beds’ is not a fact-based statement. It’s an argument – nothing more, nothing less. But, it seems to demonstrate David’s support for the development.”
I agree with Ron that it was an argument put forward. However, I disagree that it demonstrates support for the development. Rather, I believe it demonstrates support for the need for housing with or without the development. The voters can decide if Nishi is the correct time and place for that housing.
Here are the facts that back up my view. First, UC Davis has stated it has the plan of adding 9000 students, faculty and staff in ten years. It appears around 6200 of them are students. It has a tentative and preliminary plan where it has agreed to housing 90 percent of new students.
The No side has argued from the start that UC Davis needs to take on more housing. I think everyone agrees with that view. The question has been how much and over what period.
The problem with the city not building any housing is that it is completely at the mercy of UC Davis. We currently do not have enough housing to meet current needs. 0.2 percent vacancy is effectively zero and as we discussed puts students at the mercy of landlords. So even if UC Davis added no students and built no housing, we need more housing for students.
I pointed out on Monday, that UC Davis has pledged to build housing in the past – West Village, Solano Park – and has had hang ups. Others have pointed out that UC Davis has committed to levels of housing in an MOU and failed to produce.
Nishi provides 1500 beds. I believe the city should plan on providing at least 3000 to 5000 beds in the next decade to help meet current and projected demand. Yes, that’s my view, but it is backed by the analysis provided above. Nishi could be 1500 of those, however, if the voters decide Nishi is too problematic, we still need to find a place to add those beds somewhere.
That’s not an argument for Nishi, if you believe Nishi causes more problems with traffic and air quality than it solves with housing.
In an article that didn’t generate near enough discussion, I painstakingly laid out the evidence on the air quality issue on Monday. Please read it for yourself and come to your own conclusion.
On the one hand, the EIR concludes there is a serious health risk to residents. But as Robb Davis and others point out, the added health risk in the neighborhood of 800 to 1200 per million residents is far lower than the overall cancer risk and overall respiratory cancer risk.
The EIR notes that, according to the American Cancer Society, “the lifetime probability of contracting/dying from cancer in the United States is 43.3%/22.8% among males and 37.8%/19.3% among females. In other words there is a lifetime probability that over 430,000 per 1 million males and over 370,000 per 1 million females will develop cancer over their lifetime.”
Page 62 of the final EIR explains that the consultants compared air pollution health risks within other areas of the state. They write, “South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) conducted a district-wide evaluation of air pollution health risks in 2014, finalized in May 2015. The average air pollution health risk was estimated to be 1,025 per 1,000,000 residents (SCAQMD 2015). The report also estimates that diesel particulate matter represents approximately 80 percent of the total air pollution health risk or 820 per 1,000,000 residents.”
Here they find that the DPM (Diesel Particulate Matter) health risk, in the unmitigated form, “at the Nishi site was determined to be approximately one-fourth of that.”
Thomas Cahill told the Vanguard in an email that “the regulations have fallen way behind the medical and air quality research, and do not take into account the stunning advances of the past 15 years.” He would add that “a group of 30 health and environmental scientists” that he works with argue that “existing regulations do not protect people within 1,000 ft of freeways where braking and acceleration occur, and especially downwind of an elevated section.”
The bottom line for him is quite simple: we do not have the data to support what he believes the actual risk is. But he wants to err on a side of caution.
He said, “After getting all the scientific information possible I would have to make my judgement with the ‘Precautionary Principle.’ This requires that in the face of uncertainty, I would have to choose on the basis of the most conservative estimate of the impact, which is almost always lower than the scientist’s bottom number. In Davis, this means that (if) there is any reasonable chance that I and my colleagues are right, I would have to reject residential use and maximize protection of workers in commercial or research facilities. The best way to solve this is to have better data, covering at last a year and including all the most toxic components. This is what I recommended in Jan 2015.”
Some people have attacked or criticized Dr. Cahill, but I find his view quite reasonable – he simply wants to err on the side of precaution.
At the end of the day, the best data we have suggests that, while air particulate matter is a concern and a health risk, it is a fairly low risk that we hope to further mitigate through the urban forest and air filtration systems.
If that’s enough for you, then you should vote yes. If you believe that the problem may be more serious than this, as Dr. Cahill believes, then you should err on the side of caution and vote no. That’s a judgment call, but let’s avoid unsupportable rhetoric like “student ghetto” or “toxic soup.” Current evidence suggests a very small elevation of overall risk of respiratory cancer or other health impacts.
Those who attended the Measure A forum saw Alan Pryor present slides showing current traffic conditions on Richards Blvd. To me, this is the best argument that the No Side has against the project – Richards is already heavily impacted particularly at peak hours, and adding residents and businesses to Nishi in my view, COULD, make things worse.
The truth is that this stretch of road is a problem now. The city has some plans to fix these problems through better light sequencing and perhaps routing traffic headed to the university to access the university through Old Davis Road.
We also should give the developers credit here – they are going to be pumping about $23 million into fixing the traffic situation including the underpass to the university which will give us another route for traffic to use. The corridor study and redoing the interchange will be of great help and it is not clear that the city could do that without this project.
The Draft EIR gives fodder to both sides here. The EIR (Table 4.14-11) finds that the existing conditions plus Project Access Scenario 1 will worsen conditions in some cases dramatically. Access Scenario 1 is the university access.
However, at the same time, the EIR believes that the interchange improvements will reduce the impacts greatly but since they cannot be assured, the impact remains significant and unavoidable
The EIR writes this on page 4.14-46: “Significance after Mitigation.”
“The City is in the process of implementing improvements at the Richards Boulevard/Research Park Drive intersection that include the addition of a second southbound through lane, and this improvement was taken into consideration as part of the mitigated condition. With that improvement and implementation of the mitigation shown above, LOS E would be restored to the impacted intersections and impacts would be reduced to less than significant. Figure 4.14-9 illustrates the intersection of Richards Boulevard/West Olive Drive with implementation of Mitigation Measure 4.14-2. Refer to Section 4.5, ‘Cultural Resources’ for a discussion of potential impacts to the underpass, which is considered a historic resource, as a result of implementation of this mitigation.
“Modification of the I-80/Richards Boulevard interchange, including off-ramps, would require approval by Caltrans and is outside the purview of the City as lead agency. Further, Caltrans is currently considering improvements to the I-80/Richards Boulevard Interchange, which may or may not coincide with improvements necessary to reduce impacts of the project to less than significant levels. Because the approval of interchange improvements by Caltrans cannot be assured, the impact would remain significant and unavoidable.”
Where does that leave us? That again leaves us with a weighing of evidence that does not guarantee us that the traffic area will be improved or worsened.
I have been on record both here and at council believing that we can simply route traffic that heads through the tunnel before either heading up B Street and then to campus or heading towards campus on the Eastern Entrance directly, onto Old Davis Road and potentially Hutchison Drive as a way to alleviate traffic through the tunnel.
As such, adding another bypass for the tunnel could improve things, but there are those who believe that directing traffic that way will lead to traffic backups on Old Davis Road itself.
While Nishi developers have attempted to do their best to mitigate these impacts, it is a reasonable potential criticism of the project.
To summarize, I think the No Side has over-hyped their opposition to the project, but there are enough reasonable concerns about traffic, air quality and housing needs to have a good discussion in the last two weeks. My list is not exhaustive either – affordability, West Olive impacts, and other issues could and should be discussed as well.
I hope we go that direction rather than to more and more extreme rhetoric and baseless accusations.
—David M. Greenwald reporting