Analysis: How Much Does Housing Commitment from UCD Really Change Nishi Game?

Solano Park and Nishi Gateway as envisioned in the LRDP
Solano Park and Nishi Gateway as envisioned in the LRDP

With the big and surprising announcement from the university that they are going to take on 90 percent of new growth at the university, one might have expected that the two campaigns on Nishi would be falling over themselves to frame the debate going forward into the last three weeks.  Instead, both seemed a little gun shy, as no press releases have materialized from either side.

Part of the answer for that is that the announcement, in the end, really doesn’t change a whole lot.  From the opposition side of the ball, Nishi remains “bad bad bad,” and the same basic tenets of the campaign remain in place – the potential for gridlock on Richards caused by huge amounts of new cars flowing onto a congested road.  The concerns about air quality are unchanged, as are criticisms of illegal exemptions to the Affordable Housing Ordinance and accusations of an $11 million giveaway by the city.

When pressed, the No on Measure A campaign would argue that having the university take on more housing for its projected increased enrollment was a solution to the concerns about rental and student housing needs.

In short, little of that view changed on Monday and Tuesday, although the university’s announcement gave the opposition a more credible claim that the university could ease the housing crunch by providing internal housing options to new students.

The Yes on Measure A side has a more complicated case to make, but in the end, it is not all that different from the points made before.

First of all, the university’s commitment doesn’t solve the current shortfall.  Right now there is not enough housing.  The vacancy rate is around 0.2 percent – as someone mentioned during public comment last night on the rental ordinance, that is essentially and effectively zero  It means that students in bad living situations have few options for changing their homes.

There are thousands of students coming in during the next decade – over 6000 are projected – and the university is not going to find housing for all of them.  That means that the students either having to find new housing in the city, like mini-dorms, or commute from out of town.

From the perspective of Nishi, Sterling and Lincoln40, they can provide up to 3000 beds.  If those come on line, the housing crisis is greatly diminished.  But the university housing alone still adds to the number of students needing houses, even if it’s now 10 percent of over 6000 new students.

The second problem is that the university has been slow to provide housing, even when it has committed to doing so.  West Village is nearly 10 years in the making and it still isn’t done.  They were slowed by neighborhood concerns about traffic impacts that ultimately led the university to provide no vehicular access to Russell.

The university attempted to densify Solano Park concurrent with Nishi, but potential student protests ground that to a halt.  West Village and Solano Park are two key components to the university plan, but who knows if and when that housing will be built.

Solano Park is still connected to Nishi anyway.  As the university writes, “The Plan also includes the possibility of a connection to the Nishi Gateway Project, a private development that is separate from campus, east of the railroad tracks. The University and the City of Davis have been planning collaboratively and exploring possible roadway, bikeway, and open space connections with the Nishi property, in hopes of gaining mutual advantage to the vitality of the campus, downtown and the greater Davis community. The Nishi Gateway project will appear on the City of Davis June ballot as Measure A. Campus will analyze a possible connection in the LRDP EIR in 2017.”

This has led to wild speculation that the university will eventually buy this site.  It seems a bit far-fetched, especially because the landowner would have to reimburse the city for lost revenue according to the baseline features.

Regardless, the Yes on Nishi side will argue that, just because the university is taking on housing 90 percent of new students in the LRDP, that doesn’t mean that housing will come to pass any time soon and, even if it does, we need more units currently to house those new students for whom the university is not providing housing.

Our assessment is that, while it is possible that the announcement changes the nature of the debate, it really doesn’t change the fundamental for Nishi.  Nishi provides 1500 beds and the potential for 325,000 square feet of R&D space that could go to startups and help to bring in jobs and revenue.

The voters will have to weigh this against the claims by the opposition that Nishi is a fiscal loser and a giveaway by city staff and council, that it will negatively impact the already gridlocked Richards Blvd. and represents a danger to the community and residents with its harmful air quality.

From the community’s perspective, the university’s commitment can only be seen as a positive.  It shows that the work behind the scenes by Mayor Pro Tem Robb Davis, City Manager Dirk Brazil and Community Development Director Mike Webb paid off.  The university was sensitive to community concerns.

It may not impact current plans, but may take a huge amount of pressure off Davis to go beyond the current projects in the pipeline.  It gives the city a chance to re-examine rental housing issues without the pressure cooker of 1000 new students without new places to live.

In short, while this doesn’t solve the rental housing crisis altogether, it points a way forward.  The city still needs to look at its long term land use policies and economic development policies, but now it has time to do so in a more reasoned and deliberate manner.

—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

    What’s the timeline for Nishi to actually have beds available for students.  Is it possible that UCD could actually have beds available before or close to the Nishi timeline being that UCD doesn’t have to deal with all of the city’s drawbacks and a Measure R vote?

    1. CalAg

      Yes. It is possible, if not likely, that UCD will start delivering new beds (in addition to those that are already in its pipeline – like the current phase of Tercero) before Nishi.


  2. Tia Will


    I think that is a good question which might best be addressed to Robb Davis since he both favors Nishi and has been instrumental in working on the collaborative project with the university. I cannot imagine that timelines were not a consideration in his decision making.

  3. Ron

    Per article/David Greenwald:  “This has led to wild speculation that the university will eventually buy this site.”

    I believe that you’re referring to a scenario in which Measure A passes, but the developer cannot (or chooses not to) meet access (or other) requirements required in the agreement, and eventually sells the property to the University.

    I’m not sure how “wild” that particular scenario is.

    But, I recall that one of the developers already mentioned (in the Enterprise) the possibility of working with the University, if Measure A is rejected.  That scenario, in which (presumably) neither the developer nor University can force the city to provide normal motor vehicle access onto Olive Drive, seems more likely, to me.


  4. nameless

    Even if UCD provides 90% of the housing for new students, that still adds 10% of new students into already overcrowded conditions in the city.  And that is a huge “if”, since UCD has promised to build housing in the past, e.g. West Village, and has not come through with its commitments.  It is one thing for UCD to promise to provide 90% housing for new students, but an entirely different thing for it to actually occur.  Talk is cheap.  Doing is expensive.

    1. CalAg

      No need to malign UCD. They’ve delivered on West Village and Tercero despite significant friction. I’d be more concerned about the Nishi developers delivering on their plan.

      1. nameless

        West Davis housing for grad students is in a holding pattern, so UCD did not deliver on its promise.  And as Eileen Samitz has reminded us on numerous occasions, UCD has not delivered the amount of housing it has promised in the past.  Why would they now?  What has changed?  These are simple enough questions, and there is no attempt to malign UCD.

        1. CalAg

          West Village has stalled because of a union lawsuit over prevailing wages and a resulting turnover in developers. I’m sure UCD will get everything worked out and the project will proceed to buildout (without a connection to Russell).

          Katehi was obviously more interested in building up R&D infrastructure than taking care of the student body. That dynamic has now changed.

          In my opinion, the recent “promise” that UCD is least likely to keep is the connection from Nishi to Old Davis Road. The DEIR for the LRDP (coming in 2017 at the earliest) will document what everyone that drives that road already knows – it cannot handle the planned traffic volume from Richards. I’m expecting UCD to act rationally to protect its roadway infrastructure and deny the Nishi connection based on its own CEQA analysis.

  5. Ron

    From article/David Greenwald:  “From the community’s perspective, the university’s commitment can only be seen as a positive.  It shows that the work behind the scenes by Mayor Pro Tem Robb Davis, City Manager Dirk Brazil and Community Development Director Mike Webb paid off.  The university was sensitive to community concerns.”

    David, I think you’re leaving out the fact that city officials and the University would likely not have even responded, had there not been a significant community/organized effort to encourage the University to provide more housing.  And, that this effort was made despite the “naysayers”, who said that it couldn’t be done.  Also, I’d like to thank Eileen Samitz in particular, who strongly encouraged the effort and continues to do so.

    Let’s give credit where it’s due!

    1. The Pugilist

      You’re basically arguing that without Eileen, Robb Davis would not have tried to work with UCD to get them to increase their housing?  You want credit where it’s due, and yet you want unilateral credit as though Robb were a dolt.

      1. Ron

        The Pugilist:  “You’re basically arguing that without Eileen, Robb Davis would not have tried to work with UCD to get them to increase their housing?  You want credit where it’s due, and yet you want unilateral credit as though Robb were a dolt.”

        Well, now you’re forcing me to review the definition of a “dolt” (a “stupid person, a dunce”).  (Funny how some interpret responses, on the Vanguard.)  No- I don’t think that description fits Robb, at all!

        I was simply pointing out that there was “nary a mention” in the Vanguard article above (and from yesterday) regarding the significant/organized community effort (mostly led by Eileen) that preceded the effort by city officials and the University. Discussing the (appreciated) effort by city officials (without mentioning the organized community effort that preceded it) is the “unilateral credit” that needed to be addressed. And, I understand that Eileen is continuing the effort to encourage more housing on campus.

        1. CalAg

          Not taking sides … but I’d be very interested to know specifically how the process played out. Who’s representing the City and how often have they met with UCD? This speaks to the questions of how much substantive input the City has had in the current outcome, and what the community can expect going forward.

        2. Yes on A Fan

          CalAg and (Ron) are clearly on the same page here. They think Eileen should get the credit for the breakthrough collaboration; Robb not so much.  I agree with CalAg. I want to know who has been meeting with the campus and how often- something is fishy here.

        3. Robb Davis

          No big mystery.  We started meeting with University staff last summer (2015) to discuss the LRDP.  Good meetings at which we expressed a desire to see them maximize housing on campus.  We listened to their options and expressed our opinions. Clearly.  We listened. They listened.  There was no arm twisting, no table pounding.  Just a group of people sitting around a table trying to understand how to deal with mutual interests and mutual concerns.

  6. Adam Smith

    How Much Does Housing Commitment from UCD Really Change Nishi Game?

    Shouldn’t change it at all, other than to encourage the No on A folks who have been concerned that the university wouldn’t do their part to upgrade access points to  understand that the university is committed to a long range plan of bringing more students to Davis and Campus.   Campus students need better access in and out of Solano Park and the new academic/residential areas shown south of the Arboretum.      This will mean that access through Nishi (made possible by the developer of Nishi) and Old Davis Road (made possible via the University) will relieve a tremendous amount of traffic trying to get thru the Richards underpass and onto First Street.

  7. Yes on A Fan

    What has changed? Nishi remains the City’s top economic development priority based on years of community input.  We are now close to implementing the plan the community worked so hard to conceive. It appears that the City and the University are working well together- why stop now?  Remember 60% of the students will not be living on campus after this catch-up period.  Meanwhile the City and the schools need the revenue and we need private sector jobs to diversify our economy.

  8. Odin

    So, folks step in to keep West Village from accessing Russell, but those of us withstanding the greatest impacts living in south Davis and here on Olive are expected to bend over and say it’s okay to make Richards/Olive worse.  Go figure.

    1. Frankly

      Ironic comment given the expansion of West Village will end up connecting to Russel.

      But here is another perspective WE ARE TALKING ABOUT THE DOWNTOWN CORE AREA AND THE PRIMARY TRAFFIC ACCESS TO IT not a 100% residential neighborhood.

      Sorry, but I felt the need to shout given it was so obvious.

        1. Frankly

          Well in addition to the point about this being the core downtown area, it happens to also be an access point to the university which is immediately adjacent and is growing.

          You can make the analogy that you decided to reside next to an airport… one that started to expand and now you are in opposition to the expansion because of the impacts of the airport.

          Why live next to the airport if you don’t like the sound of aircraft?

      1. hpierce

        the expansion of West Village will end up connecting to Russell.

        Weird statement, given West Davis folk even physically attacked someone who even mentioned it as a possibility… remember that?

        Oh, a bike/ped connection,perhaps, but MV? Not likely…

    2. CalAg

      Odin: It’s not okay.

      (1) The 1,500 beds are not worth the additional degradation of the Richards corridor, especially given the recent announcement by UCD and the other student housing projects in the City’s pipeline.
      (2) The claimed fiscal benefit to the General Fund is a sham – 50% is from a developer kick-back and 50% is from a bookkeeping trick.
      (3) The economic development argument is just not credible.

      There are vacant spaces for lease and developable lots all over town that would already be filled with tech companies if the claimed demand was really there. Moreover, if you audit the new Davis spinouts over the last five years, it’s painfully obvious that UCD is not generating enough viable starts to support an “innovation hub.”


      1. Frankly

        There are vacant spaces for lease and developable lots all over town that would already be filled with tech companies if the claimed demand was really there.

        Calling you out.  Identify them.

        I think this topic is above your pay grade.

        1. Frankly

          Did you note this comment in the article you posted?

          “There is a real shortage today of space for mid-size and large companies in Davis,” Tim Schaedler, a partner in Panattoni who is heading the development plans. “We are pleasantly surprised by the interest, enthusiasm and energy focused  on our project. We believe we can deliver high-quality and competitively priced workplaces that will be a valuable addition to the Davis community. Our new project will be one of the last fully zoned freeway visible office developments available in Davis.”

          I am familiar with most the build-able lots in the city, that is why I made the “pay grade” comment… which was too snarky, sorry.

          You need to research the zoning and also know the owner before you can start making claims that they are feasible to even consider.

          Low density residential tends to bring in the most land value, and then there is retail.  Office and industrial are down the list.  Land owners tend to hold out for the highest and best use.  There is generally nothing motivating them to sell if they think there is a chance they can just sit tight for a future highest and best use.  Many of them are just sitting tight.

          So even though you might know of some lots in town, that does not mean they are build-able and feasible for the types of business that a tech park would host.

          Your statements are misleading at best.  There is not near enough build-able commercial land available in this city.

        2. CalAg

          You’re confusing apples and oranges. I agree with your previous posts that we need to annex maybe 1,000 acres to recruit large established companies for the next few decades.

          But that’s not Nishi.

          The Panattoni quote makes my point. They are a commercial builder. They have a piece of land that is zoned and ready to go. And yet it sits fallow. My position is that this parcel would have already been developed if the demand for tech space was anywhere near what’s being hyped in the article (which just parrots the spin that’s been fed to the community for many years). Its very telling that they’ve backed down along with all the RFEI respondents.

          I’m just not seeing this mythical demand for tech space in Davis. Would love to be wrong.

        3. Frankly

          CalAg – here is what I know.  For a business, the specifics of the property is very important.  It is very expensive and disruptive to move a business.  So the space needs to both meet the current needs and the future needs.

          I also know that there is a shortage of office, commercial and industrial throughout CA.  Now, there is a good inventory of industrial and office in certain neighborhoods in and around Sacramento.

          But one issue is millennials that are the tech workers… they are hiring managers’ nightmare.   They want to live where they want to live.  They value the life-side of work-life balance more than any other working generation. And many of the areas in Sac don’t cut it.

          We have some agreement related to the question about demand.. but I don’t question the business-side… I question the attraction of Davis to this generation of workers.

          What we would need it to see our residential, retail and entertainment  infrastucture improve along with the tech business development.

          I have some millennials working for me in at my location in Davis, and let’s just say their committment to Davis is a bit tenuous.  Lots of work schedule flexibility and copious paid time off seems to help a bit mitigating the problem of Davis not being cool enough.

          I think the fact that Davis is a college town and is centerally located between Tahoe and S.F… and midtown Sac is more happeing and an easy Uber or train ride away… well let’s just say that we have a good start.  But I think the expectation is that the innovation park development will include other retail and entertainment… and also some new cool places to live.  I think if we do that we will have a lot of success attracting business here.

  9. Tia Will


     it’s painfully obvious that UCD is not generating enough viable starts to support an “innovation hub.””

    This seems to be the classic chicken and the egg question. Are businesses not flooding into town because an “innovation hub” is not already established as some would clearly like to believe, or because there is not enough demand to create such a hub as you seem to believe. I tend to feel that if there was a “desperate need” for more space for these sorts of businesses in Davis, then perhaps some of them would have been willing to locate at the old cannery site before it became “The Cannery” or along second street where some of these innovative companies already exist.

    On the other hand, I do not share your feeling that no additional space is needed and see Nishi as the preferred site largely because of location. I also do not see a single intersection for which there are alternative routes already existing and further mitigation being planned as a strong enough reason to block such a development.

    1. CalAg

      I’m talking about the flow of spinouts from UCD. The number of viable companies is small and the best ones tend to leave Davis. Even if the city captured 100%, there is insufficient output to even begin to significantly populate an “innovation hub” with UCD spinouts.


      1. Frankly

        I agree that we will not populate the innovation parks with UCD spinoffs.  I don’t know of anyone that has made that claim.  The idea is to create an innovation ecosystem that is a combination of outside business locating here, and UCD tech transfer resulting in others growing here… with both creating synergy that in turns helps both.

        1. CalAg

          Providing space for UCD spinouts has been one of the primary talking points for the Nishi proposal since the beginning – dating back to the response to Katehi’s request for innovation hub ideas.

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