By Mark Braly
The Nishi project seems to me the culmination of decades of land use arguments in Davis. Ever since that time in the 70s when a young group of revolutionaries seized City Council from the typical real estate and business interests which ran most towns then, planning in Davis has been in flux. Sometimes the no growthers were on top; other times well-designed projects managed to get through. But the time for all out development never came back and probably never will.
I have lived here for 35 years, served on the Planning Commission for eight of those. Many of the ideas embodied in the Nishi proposal emerged during this time: (1) mixed uses, in the same neighborhood and even same building, (2) ultra green construction and on-site production of renewable energy, (3) urban gardens and forests, (4) density, (5) subordination of autos and parking to walking and bicycles.
The struggle will go on. Neighbors never will like density. Proposals are never green enough for cutting edge environmental activists. Developers will continue trying to chip away at the urban boundary which the city has established. But innovative, high quality proposals will continue to get through.
A product of those on-going conflicts, Nishi will live or die at the ballot on June 7. By the way, we can thank those conflicts for Davis’ vibrant downtown in a country where few cities have been able to do this – or started too late.
Nishi is criticized for not being green enough, although it sets a new greenhouse gas standard for the Davis and will go for one of LEED’s highest certifications. And for being too near I-80 air pollution, although any central location would be. And this site is about as central as possible, adjacent to downtown and the university. We’ve run out of developable land not near a freeway. Yet Nishi is big enough to provide an urban forest along the freeway to filter emissions and to locate housing far from the freeway.
Nishi would provide revenue to city government and the economy, though we can haggle over how much. Nishi would provide R&D research and start up space for University innovation – jobs – although one minority view is that we don’t need jobs in Davis. It will provide needed student housing and contribute money to affordable housing off site.
But, whatever the outcome June 7, I hope that Nishi will begin a conversation in the community about our general plan. The notion that you can decide what should go on a given piece of land now and forever, never made sense to me. The reality is that what gets built in Davis is a complicated interaction between what the community wants and what the marketplace can pencil out. Thus, we do piecemeal planning by approving planned development districts.
As we decide the fate of Nishi and choose a new City Council majority, we should give serious thought to the kind of planning that will work for Davis. That could be form based planning, which puts the emphasis most how a project looks and fits into the community, not what it is used for. It could be planned development districts, but with more guidance to city council and staff about what Davis should be in the future.
Or, something else that provides a mechanism for molding the countervailing forces of Davis into a plan that actually guides decision-making.
Editor’s note: following the decision by Mace Ranch Innovation Center to put its pending project on hold, the Vanguard decided to re-start a community discussion on the future of economic development in Davis. As such, we are reaching out to a very diverse group of people and starting May 1 we are hoping to publish one op-ed a day on this subject. We are pleased to announce that so far we have over 40 commitments and counting. Beginning today, we will publish one article per day for the month of May into June. If you would like to add your voice – please submit your piece on the future of economic development in Davis (800 to 1000 words).
May 1: Robb Davis
May 2: Elaine Roberts Musser
May 3: Dan Carson
May 4: Matt Williams
May 6: Peter Bell
May 7: Bob Fung
May 9: Rob White
May 16: Alan Humason
May 17: Mike Hart
May 18: Judy Corbett