The Nishi Project Would Sacrifice the Few for the Many

Nishi Site Plan
Nishi Site Plan

By Roberta Millstein

Many potential benefits for Nishi have been touted by proponents and many concerns have been raised by critics.  But one issue trumps all the  rest: the “significant and unavoidable” air quality impacts due to the proximity of Nishi to train tracks from the northwest and I-80 from the southeast. (“Significant and unavoidable” is the language used in the City’s own Final Environmental Impact Report).  It is a matter of ethics.  No matter what the potential benefits, Davis should not sacrifice the health of its most vulnerable citizens to try to achieve them.

Here is my story.  In 2003, my partner Gilbert and I were living in the South Bay and came very close to signing a lease on a seemingly-wonderful rental property in Mountain View: great location, nice unit, good price.  We were ready to sign, but decided to sleep on it.  That night, we had dinner with some friends and were excitedly telling them all about our prospective new home.

“But isn’t that near a Superfund site?” one friend asked.  Ummm, what? So, we hit the internet as soon as we got home to find out that our friend was correct.  It turns out that there was Trichloroethylene (TCE) in the air, soil, and groundwater.  At that time, the EPA had deemed the amounts of TCE to be safe, but they were in the process of re-evaluating their safety.

Gilbert and I pictured ourselves living in the apartment, day after day, wondering if we were slowly being poisoned.  We decided not to sign the lease after all, and told them why.  The leasing agent claimed not to know anything about it, but the owner did.  He had researched the issue and “had put it to rest in his mind.”  Apparently, he did not think that we deserved the same chance to come to our own conclusions.  In 2005, the EPA completed its Final Health Assessment for TCE, formally characterizing it as a human carcinogen and a non-carcinogenic health hazard.  The levels we would have been exposed to would have been unsafe.

Dr. Thomas Cahill, a universally acknowledged expert on issues of air quality and their impact on human health, has said that at the Nishi site, “the threats from air pollution (diesel and ultra-fine metals) are so grave that it should be modified to eliminate all residential housing.”  The location, between an elevated freeway where braking often occurs (releasing ultra-fine metals into the air) and the train tracks, is a “perfect storm” of harmful health effects: doubling of early heart attacks from ischemic heart disease, 5% per year loss of lung function in children, exacerbation of asthma, increased cancer rates from diesel exhaust from accelerating trains, and 86% increased chances for having an autistic baby.

The Nishi site is being touted as ideal for housing for students and seniors.  Seniors have been identified among the sensitive groups most subject to risk.  As for students, as a professor I can attest to the fact that some students have children or become pregnant during their time at UCD, a fact that might be easy to overlook.  Some students have asthma; some might not even know that they have it (I myself didn’t experience my first asthma attack until I was twenty).  Among tech workers (other likely residents at the site) there are also women who have children or who might get pregnant.

But the risks are low, some Measure A proponents would say.  And so, shouldn’t we let people decide whether they want to face those risks for themselves?  But that is exactly the problem.

Will prospective residents know the risks they might be facing, or, like Gilbert and me, will they find out only if they are lucky, by chance?  Will they be able to make an informed choice for themselves, or are we making the decision for them if we build housing at this site?  Is that ethical?

And are the risks low?  Our expert, Dr. Cahill, has called them “grave.”  And no one has put forward any studies to challenge the findings from him and his colleagues.

Some Measure A proponents would point to planned mitigations.  But of the possible mitigations, Dr. Cahill has said, “Many are unrealistic, none are completely effective.”

Other Measure A proponents would acknowledge the risks, but say that they are outweighed by the potential benefits: money for the city, needed housing, more jobs, etc.  In my line of work as a philosophy professor, that is known as utilitarian reasoning: seeking the greatest good for the greatest number.  But one known flaw in utilitarian reasoning is that you can end up sacrificing the few for the good of the many.  Do we have the right to subject our fellow citizens to these harmful health effects, most likely without their knowledge or consent, for possible (not even guaranteed) benefits to the City, no matter how good they are? I think we don’t, and I think that if my fellow citizens reflect on this issue for awhile, they too will recognize that health is the most basic of rights, fundamental to all other rights.  And that we should not benefit ourselves at the expense of a few.  We can find other ways to solve our problems that don’t result in severe harms.

Vote “no” on Measure A.

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Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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64 Comments

  1. Misanthrop

    By this standard much of the housing along Olive Dr., Cowell, Drew, Cantrill, Koso, Albany, La Vida, Ensenada and El Cemonte should never have been built. When infill at Koso was proposed nobody brought this up. Additionally we should add properties between Shasta and Arthur and Sycamore because of the 113.

    What I find immoral is this ballot box planning where perfection is the enemy of the good and it is impossible to satisfy the people of Davis whose indifference to others who came here after their own arrival is only surpassed by their concern for issues that they never showed any interest in before that issue could be used to take down a project years in the making.

    I’m curious, how far from a major non point source of pollution does this author live?

    What I do agree with the author about is that the owners of  Nishi should disclose to perspective buyers and renters the potential impacts of living so close to a freeway and a railroad. Of course by that standard so should all the other property owners in Davis who live short distances from the railroads and freeways.

    1. Alan Miller

      Of course by that standard so should all the other property owners in Davis who live short distances from the railroads and freeways.

      But those aren’t “grave” “perfect storms” that are “jammed”.

      All of the above are highly scientific terms that precisely measure Nishi’s situation by a completely objective expert.  All experts are free of politics and hyperbole.

  2. Misanthrop

    For many years anti-growth advocates pointed to the PG&E yard along 2nd St. as a place where infill should take place. This property was the perfect answer to opposition to things like Covell Village because it wasn’t for sale and wasn’t going to happen but had all the benefits that Nishi provides; it was walking distance to downtown and the train station and therefore was a supposed better alternative than places like Covell Village, which, at a distance of about a mile, was demonized as too far from downtown to develop.

    Now that an actual project at Nishi is on the ballot, we hear all this opposition based on Nishi’s exposure to air pollution that we never heard about with the PG&E yard even though they are equaldistant from I-80 and the railroad tracks.

    You must remember last decade’s lies to understand this decade’s lies.

  3. dlemongello

    It has been said over and over again that Dr. Cahill maintains that the other sites due to configuration, elevation and other positional differences do not pose the same level of pollution  or risk from these materials.

    1. Misanthrop

      Really. Just look at a map.

      So, we are supposed to believe that this one lot is uniquely un-developable because of its many variables that make it distinct from all the other sites along the freeways and roads through Davis? That is nonsense. You can say it all you want but it is simply nonsense.

    2. Tia Will

      dlemongello

      Speaking only with regard to the issue of in utero causation of autism, I do not see how he could claim any difference since increased risk is only minimally associated, during the third trimester only, and even then the authors were clear that inhalants might not even be the correlative factor.

      With this degree of uncertainly, I cannot see how Dr. Cahill could arrive at any fine tuning of risk based on configuration, elevation, or any other distinguishing factor of the Nishi space.

  4. Tia Will

    Roberta

    86% increased chances for having an autistic baby.”

    I greatly respect Dr. Cahill’s work in his own field. I greatly respect your concerns for the health of our population. I, myself, have built much of my career around the concepts of prevention and early detection of disease. However, I do believe that claims, especially dramatic claims like “an 86% increased chances for having an autistic baby” need to be backed by data supporting causality. Since pregnancy and pregnancy outcomes are in my area of expertise, I just read the entirety of the study that seems to be the referent for Dr. Cahill’s claim as quoted by you instead of just the abstract.

    http://search.proquest.com/openview/9e12a157154b61c91dcc742bfc1db2fa/1?pq-origsite=gscholar

    This article by Volk et al does not support this dramatic conclusion. The article begins and ends appropriately with the following statement.

    “Little is known about the environmental causes and contributing factors for autism.”

    While this study contributes a tiny piece of information about one potential factor, it in and of itself does not provide any statement about causality as the authors themselves note in their declaration of limitations. They state that other factors than particulate or inhaled substances such as increased noise or other unconsidered factors could be the coincident factor.

    They further note that the correlate increased risk of autism was found only in women who resided within the 300 m during the third trimester. And even then the increased risk of this particular factor affected only 10 % of the affected population.

    So in other words: 1. No causation is established  2. Increased potential risk due to some undetermined factor exists only in the 3 rd trimester 3. Since much of the data about other potential contributory risks was accumulated by interviews of the mother or other knowledgeable adult somewhere between the child’s 24th and 60th month of life, there is the confounding factor always present with accuracy of memory in studies reliant upon self reporting. Accuracy of address is not in doubt as most people can remember where they lived. However, accuracy of reporting of other possible exposures is a major weakness. I doubt many of us can name all the potential toxins we have under our sinks right now, let alone what a child might have been exposed to besides toxic fumes 2 years ago.

    I respect the work of authors such as these who, in good faith, are reporting out on their findings. I respect the need for the incremental accumulation of data over time. And I believe that it is important to observe that they made no claims of causality and no sweeping and frightening projection of the statistical increase in risk. Their work ( and the works of the authors they cite) present the possibility of increased risk, not the establishment thereof, and they are clear on this point in their conclusion.

    If you have other articles that you believe do demonstrate causality based on intrauterine exposure , I will be happy to review those also so that we can all be making our discussion claims based on the actual data. Just post the link here on the Vanguard and I will review anything you feel is relevant.

    1. Roberta Millstein

      Tia,

      I very much appreciate your evidence-based approach.  Here are the citations that Dr. Cahill included in the document that he sent me (which he has offered to send anyone upon request):

      Volk, H. E., Hertz-Picciotto, I., Delwiche, L., Lurmann, F., and McConnell, R., Residential Proximity to Freeways and the CHARGE Study, Environmental Health Perspectives, 119, # 6 , pg 872 – 877 (2011)
      Volk, H.E, Lurmann, F., Penfold, B. Hettz-Piciotto, I., McConnell, R., Traffic-related Air Pollution, Particulate matter, and Autism, JAMA Psychiatry 70 (1), 71 – 77.
      Gong, T., Almquist, C., Bolte, S., Lichtenstein, P., Ankarsatar, H, Lind, T., et al, Exposure to air pollutants from traffic  and neurodevelopmental disorders in Swedish twins., Twin Res Hum Genet 17 (6), 553 – 562 (2014) 
      Block, M.L., Eldar, A., Auten, R.L., Bilbo, S. D., Cehm, H., Chen, J.C., et al, The outdoor air and brain health workshop, Neurotoxicology 33  972 – 984 (2012)
      Comment: One of the Nishi developers and a city council member referred to the paper Guxens et al,  “Air Pollution Exposure during Pregnancy and Childhood Autistic Traits in four European Population-Based Cohort Studies: the ESCAPE Project,  Env. Health Perspectives 124 (1) 133 – 140 (2016), so I am adding it to the informational packet.  
      However, the Guxens et al paper in no way challenges the California based work showing an 86% increase in autism within 1020 feet of a freeway:
      1.     Seven previous studies in the US and Asia found an association between air pollutants and autism, including two involving freeway proximity in California.
      2.     The Guxens at al paper represents an obsolescent research approach based on regional PM mass that does not include the stunning advances on ultra-fine metals from the US EPA Particulate Matter Research Centers, 2000-2010  (including UC Davis).
      3.     The authors admit that their study differed from prior work because they used a definition of “autistic traits”, not autism, a much broader cohort.
      4.     In almost all cases, regional PM2.5 mass was used with no clear roadway association.
      5.     PM2.5 mass is the wrong metric, since it includes large amounts of harmless mass that masks the dangerous ultra-fine metals from braking. One Swedish twin study also used extrapolated PM data to roadways and also found no effect
      6.     The authors admit “… PM soluble components are one of the major suspected culprits of the neurological effects of air pollutants, primarily metals, because they may translocate from the respiratory tract into the systemic circulation and reach the fetus and promote oxidative stress and inflammation (Block et al 2012)”
      7.     The authors further state, “Further work including trace metal content of PM, such as lead or manganese, is warranted to understand the discrepant findings”.
      8.     The Volk et al data is from modern California freeways, not ill defined European roads in several different countries with different traffic air emission standards..
      9.     Before including the Volk et al autism work, I checked with a staff scientist at the California Department of Public Health and the leader of the California CHARGE study and the UCD MIND Institute.

      Unfortunately, I cannot access the entire paper that you are discussing, only the first page (I get the message “it looks like this particular document is not part of your library’s current ProQuest subscription” – thanks, UCD).  But I read the first sentence a little differently than you do: “Little is known about the environmental causes and contributing factors for autism,” sounds to me like a statement concern the state of knowledge prior to the paper, knowledge that the paper seeks to contribute to.  From what I can see, the paper does seem to conclude only that “living near a freeway was associated with autism,” without making conclusions about causation, as you say.

      However, that is at least a potential smoking gun that ought to give us pause, again, remembering the special aspects of this site with an elevated freeway and the tendency for air to become trapped, especially in the winter (the “inversion”).  If I was a woman who might get pregnant that would be enough to give me pause.  I wouldn’t want to take that risk.  And yet if we build housing here, prospective tenants (who might not be able to envision future pregnancies) would probably not know that they were taking those risks, just as I didn’t know about the TCE (even though it had been all over the papers, once I knew to look).  I don’t think that’s right; informed consent and autonomy are important values that would be violated here.

       

      1. Tia Will

        Roberta

        Thanks for posting the full list of references. While I do have full access to essentially any research article that I want through Kaiser, I did not need to do that to obtain the full PDF for the article I sited. I simply looked it up on Google under “scholarly articles for autism / freeways and was able to get the entire article on PDF on my private computer.

        I will take some time later in the day to look up the additional references  you have listed and will post my thoughts as time allows.

        If I was a woman who might get pregnant that would be enough to give me pause.  I wouldn’t want to take that risk”

        I agree with you that some women would see the risk as you do. Others would see more risk associated with the amount of fumes to which they might be exposed , or the potential for being involved in an accident while driving from a more distant housing location to UCD due to the lack of a Nishi like project. There are many different ways to interpret risk and many factors to be considered. As an obstetrician with more than 30 years of experience as a doctor and 27 years as an Ob/Gyn, I would not personally use the proximity of the freeway as a determining factor as whether or not to live on the Nishi site.

        As for the risk to seniors, I am one as is my partner and we both made the fully informed decision to purchase a 50 year old house without any special air filtration within a stones throw of the east/west railroad tracks and a five minute walk of the freeway.

      2. South of Davis

        dlemongello wrote:

        > he maintains it’s fine for industrial and R&D

        > uses where exposure is not so constant.

        Most (but not all) young people working in tech and R&D spend MORE time at work than they do at home.

      3. South of Davis

        Roberta wrote:

        > Here are the citations that Dr. Cahill included in the document 

        Any idea what percentage of cars Dr. Cahill estimates will be electric in 10 years?

        As we make the transition to electric cars (and less and less cars without efficiant smog control are on the road) the pollution levels from I80 and 113 will continue to drop

        Do you know if Dr. Cahill factored the new “clean diesel” program in to his calculations?

        “The regulation requires diesel trucks and buses that operate in California to be upgraded to reduce emissions. Newer heavier trucks and buses must meet PM filter requirements beginning January 1, 2012.  Lighter and older heavier trucks must be replaced starting January 1, 2015. By January 1, 2023, nearly all trucks and buses will need to have 2010 model year engines or equivalent.”

        http://www.arb.ca.gov/msprog/onrdiesel/onrdiesel.htm

        I don’t need to tell this to people that lived in the area in the 70’s (who can look out the window and see the smog is gone) but thanks to the strictest automotive emission laws over past 50 years the air keeps getting cleaner (and all the Teslas and Leaf’s with their personalized plates that say things like NOSMOG SMOGFRE) will make it cleaner.

        1. Roberta Millstein

          South of Davis: To be clear, Dr. Cahill’s results show that the worst impacts are from ultra-fine metals from braking (as you probably know, this is a part of the freeway that often backs up because of the reduction in lanes – the braking releases ultra-fine metals), and the main diesel impact is from trains, not from cars.  He acknowledges that there have been some improvements in diesel (so yes, he seems to be taking that into account), but that more needs to be done.  I’d also point out that while there are a lot of fancy new Teslas, etc., on the road, in general people are keeping their cars much longer than they used to.

  5. Frankly

    The dust particles and effluent from the farming operations all around the city are more hazardous to resident health than is the exhaust from auto traffic.  This is a ridiculous path the No people are attempting to take.  Look around folks.  How many people in this world live close to busy roadways?

    The author’s attempt to link Nishi to TCE is hilarious.

    The No people are coming unhinged.

    1. Roberta Millstein

      What is the evidence for your claim that “The dust particles and effluent from the farming operations all around the city are more hazardous to resident health than is the exhaust from auto traffic”?

      The link to TCE is to point out that we will essentially be making decisions for future tenants, decisions that they might themselves not make were they to be aware of the risks they were taking, just as someone essentially made a decision for me (except for my luck in discovering what I was getting myself into).  In no way did I say that there was TCE at Nishi.  You should avoid making accusations that others are unhinged while at the same time completely making things up about what they have said.

        1. Roberta Millstein

          Well, those don’t speak to the relative hazards, which is what you claimed.  And in any case, residents at Nishi would still be exposed to those hazards, plus the freeway, plus the train, plus the additional impact given the prevailing winds, the elevated freeway, and the air inversion in the winter.

        2. Frankly

          But to keep it a farm field which is what most of the No people want, it just means health risks to those adjacent to it.

          Sorry, but your concerns are too conveniently selective to be taken very seriously.

        3. Roberta Millstein

          Frankly,

          I was under the impression that the recent use of the site had been for grazing.  In any case, what to do with the land if Measure A doesn’t pass is a separate question.  I have heard many proposals put forward, but no point in discussing them now in case it does pass.

  6. Frankly

    Hey – if that Nishi air is so bad, we should not allow any farming there… think about all that bad stuff getting on the crops that the children will eventually eat.

  7. Frankly

    And another thing.  The bad stuff in the air in a crappy old apartment or old mini-dorm house (mold, dust mites, old pet dander, rodent and cockroach droppings… etc.) is MUCH worse for a child’s health and well-being than is the potential for some auto exhaust and road-way particulate…especially given all the freakin’ environmental wacko regulations that have required extreme environmental-friendly gas additives and car parts.

      1. Frankly

        I’m sure you are not going to dispute the health hazards of mold.  Rodents can cause HPS/Hantavirus infection.  Cockroaches contain specific proteins or allergens that may cause allergies or can even trigger asthma symptoms.  Dust mites can also cause allergies and asthma symptoms.  Older places have more risk of old lead paint and pipes and also asbestos.  Old HVAC systems are much less healthy.  Newer ones can include HEPA filters and UV lights to trap and kill bad particles and bugs that can infect the lungs of people… especially children.

        1. Roberta Millstein

          No, I do not dispute the health hazards of mold.  I was asking for your evidence that the “bad stuff” in an old apartment is “MUCH worse” for child’s health and well-being.

          I imagine there will be cockroaches and rodents at Nishi since they are everywhere, as are dust mites.  Then in addition they will be exposed to the other, specific hazards of the Nishi site.

      2. Tia Will

        Roberta

        It almost pains me to be in agreement with Frankly when he “shoots from the hip” without providing evidence. However, in this case, I think that “lead” or “asbestos” might be two examples of his point. These came to me belatedly after I had finished posting earlier this am.

        1. Roberta Millstein

          Not sure I understand your argument, Tia.  Because we are exposing people to harmful substances from past construction, we can go forward and expose people to harmful substances in the future?  Shouldn’t we be learning from our past mistakes, not repeating them?  We can do better.  There are healthier places for people to live than Nishi.

        2. Roberta Millstein

          ryankelly, simply that we (and especially UCD) should be pursuing housing options elsewhere, in places with fewer health risks (e.g, reasonably sized Trackside and Sterling projects, housing on campus).

    1. darelldd

      Wait a minute. You are saying that auto exhaust pollution is far less of a hazard to our health today – because of effective regulation of automobile emissions.

      Yet you disparage the significant improvement with your favorite “wacko” and “extreme” label for anything that people wish to improve?

      It is because of the extreme wackos that we’re in less health danger? Is that good or bad?

      Can’t figure out your message sometimes.

      1. Frankly

        You got it.

        Because of environmental and safety extremism, we are much safer now.  But that does not stop the hyperbole claiming we are going to die of pollution and safety hazards.

  8. darelldd

    In all of these arguments, I have to keep wondering why we consider our deadly pollution corridors are a given. They just exist – like earthquakes and high winds – something we have to work with because we can’t change it.  Our solution is to keep the old and young people away from these ever-growing, unstoppable pollution sources. How far is far enough away to live safely?

    When do we stop thinking about how best to avoid the pollution, and instead switch to figuring out how best to reduce or eliminate the pollution? Yes, this is a regional – even national and global problem. And where to put housing is the only local part we have full control over. But this isn’t working, is it? It isn’t sustainable to simply keep running away from the problem. If we had a shooter running around town, is the best long-term solution to barricade everybody in their homes for their safety, while the shooter invites more of his shooting friends in? No, I’m pretty sure the better solution is to figure out how to get rid of the shooter.

    It is much like people who drive alone in their cars complaining about traffic congestion. Something should be done! We need more lanes to solve all this congestion! We happily drive our gasoline and diesel (well, not so much diesel any more) automobiles down the very same freeway that we claim is the source of pollution that will make people sick. The message we present:

    Don’t build homes where I’m going to pollute.

    If we really care about the health of everybody who wishes to live in our (or any) town, then we don’t just keep polluting and tell everybody not to live near the pollution. We work on the bigger picture to solve the problem instead of the easy, short-term, unsustainable and useless “solution” of running away from it.

    1. Roberta Millstein

      I actually agree with this for the long term, and Dr. Cahill has some very nice suggestions in this regard:

      1. Eliminating the backup as I-80 necks down to 3 lanes.
      2. Removing iron, nickel, copper, and zinc from brake shoes and pads
      3. Removing the stabilizer zinc thiophosphate from lubricating oils
      4. Greatly reduced emissions from diesel trucks
      5. Greatly reduced emissions from trains

      The question is, what are we going to do now, in the short term, given that these changes are probably a long way away?  Do we just tell people, sorry, you’re just going to have to put up with it?  Or rather, as I’ve said already, they probably don’t even know they are being subjected and might have chosen to live elsewhere if they did know?

      1. darelldd

        >> I actually agree with this for the long term

        This sounds like you were not expecting to agree that eliminating the problem vs running away is a better long-term solution?? My comment wasn’t intended to be that controversial…

        >> The question is, what are we going to do now, in the short term, given that these changes are probably a long way away?

        I don’t know what’s best in the short term. I only know that continually running away from it does nothing but kick the ever-growing problem down the road. Ignoring it in the past is why we are in this position today.

        1. Roberta Millstein

           darelldd, sorry, I couldn’t tell if you were suggesting something as a challenge or just pointing out the larger issues.  I am in 100% agreement with you that we ought to be addressing the larger issues and stop kicking the can down the road.

      1. darelldd

        If you figure it out, please let me know! In the meantime, I guess it is reasonable to assume that “extreme wacko” is a compliment bestowed upon those who are successful at improving our quality of life.

  9. ryankelly

    I’m sorry, but the 86% likelihood of having an autistic child reminded me of the anti-vaxx movement and made me discount the entire opinion.

    1. South of Davis

      Ryan wrote:

      > I’m sorry, but the 86% likelihood of having an autistic child

      > reminded me of the anti-vaxx movement…

      They didn’t say “86% likelihood” they said “86% increased likelihood”

      If something is 5 out of 100,000 and goes to 7.5 out of 100,000 the headline will read “50% Increase”.

      P.S. I hate when people try to make something small seem bigger doing this almost as much as when someone takes a $1/person/year tax increase and calls it a $1.2 MILLION increase (for the entire city over 20 years)…

    2. Roberta Millstein

      ryankelly, I don’t quite follow your reasoning here.  Because some people mistakenly think Xs (in this case, vaccines) are linked to autism, all claims linking A, B, or C to autism should also be discounted?  There does seem to be a genuine increase in the incidence of autism; surely that has causes, and surely we ought to seek those causes out.  Yes?

        1. darelldd

          Very much like determining how “out of control” Picnic Day is by counting the citations issued by the police. Number of citations is an indication of how things are enforced as much as how many incidents occurred.

           

  10. Don Shor

    Risk is a relative, not an absolute, condition. Frankly is making a valid point that there are environmental factors all around us that pose risks to varying degrees. Proximity to farming operations, to a freeway, to an industrial site; each of those things causes an increased risk, though to a very, very small degree.

     What are the relative health risks for these two individuals?

    A child who grows up in Davis Trailer Park, 1502 Olive Drive, in a mobile unit with a window-mount air conditioner.

    A student who lives for three years in an apartment in the new Nishi development, with air filters and air conditioners.

     Which is likely to have the better health outcome?

     

    1. Roberta Millstein

      Don Shor, I don’t know the answer to that question.  I don’t have the data to determine it.  But I know that when people hear “student,” they think “young, healthy person,” who can stand a few years of poor air quality.  Again, however, not all students are healthy or young, some do have children or get pregnant, and some people (students or not) may end up living there for far longer than 3 years.  Apartment renting is on the rise, home owning is on the decline, and many people rent for many years.  When they sign the rental agreement, will they know what risks they are taking on?  And why do we think it’s OK for us (as voting citizens of Davis) to decide for them that the risks are not significant, when experts are telling us that they are significant?

      1. Tia Will

        Roberta

        When they sign the rental agreement, will they know what risks they are taking on?  And why do we think it’s OK for us (as voting citizens of Davis) to decide for them that the risks are not significant, when experts are telling us that they are significant?”

        It is now, and has been for at least 30 years, been illegal to sell or rent without disclosure of the known risks of the building. During that time frame, I have both rented and purchased homes. I have had realtors provide me with information about properties, and when I asked questions to which they did not know the answers, they have found the information for me if available. I believe that the choice should be up to the potential buyer or renter whether or not this is a risk they are willing to assume.

        I believe that you are asking a valid question about deciding for someone else what risks are or are not significant. However, I think it is also important to realize that when we vote against Nishi, we are making the decision that it is better for them to have to travel from a distant site than it is for them to live within walking distance of many destinations. A “No” vote for some will make the difference between whether they can walk or whether they must use a car. Either way we vote, we are making a choice for some potential resident of either Davis, or a surrounding community.

        “….when experts are telling us that they are significant.”

        Here what we seem to have is a difference of opinion amongst experts. We have Dr. Cahill saying in his opinion there is significant risk. We have the county epidemiologist stating that she believes that the respiratory risk is likely being overstated. We have Dr. Will stating that based on review of articles cited by Dr. Cahill,  her own expertise, and consultation with a perinatologist , she does not believe that the link to autism is strong enough to be used to vote against the project. So as is common, we have some, but not all experts telling us that “they are significant.”

        1. Roberta Millstein

          Tia,

          “The known risks of the building” – yes, according to Prop 65 (the proposition that brought us ubiquitous signs that everyone ignores), these have to be disclosed.  But I don’t think that Prop 65 covers environmental impacts, and I have no reason to think that those will be disclosed.  And not everyone thinks to ask.  I didn’t think to ask when I was considering signing a lease on an apartment in Mountain View, and apparently (supposedly), the leasing agent didn’t know and so wouldn’t have been able to tell me anyway.  I’d say that you, as an educated and thoughtful person, are the exception in pressing to find the answers to such questions.

          I understand that you and the county epidemiologist think that the risks are less significant than Dr. Cahill does.  I appreciate your independent assessment (which I certainly trust far more than that of the developers), but I am more inclined to believe the person who has actually done the research.  I am also inclined to err on the side of caution when it comes to harmful health effects.  My impression is that in general, we tend to learn over time that things we thought were only somewhat harmful turned out to be more harmful than we thought (as with TCE).

          It is true that by voting “no,” we don’t allow people the choice of living at Nishi.  But to my way of thinking, that is analogous to not letting people eat at a restaurant that has not passed its health inspections.

  11. DavisforNishiGateway

    The relative risks to which you are referring are minuscule. Nishi is going to great lengths to ensure that it provides extensive mitigation measures. The EIR states that the air quality is significant and unavoidable mainly to fend off a lawsuit (looks like Harrington and company found another excuse instead), but it is also critical to note the EIR also stated that Nishi is still “a model for the region.” Mrs. Millstein seems to object to cost benefit calculations, but it is beyond me how the Davis can ever implement anything new if we are going to insist on equally weighting the minute increase in risk that might come from the air quality at Nishi with the significantly greater risks of inaction–more students and university employees commuting (which is far more dangerous), less money for Davis schools (we know education is very important in determining life span), and relatively slower commute times for emergency services.

    1. Roberta Millstein

      If I am going to listen to someone about the severity of risk, I’m going to listen to the independent expert who has actually done the studies and reviewed the research, rather than a person who has a financial interest in the project and won’t even sign their posts.  And who thinks all women are married.

      I am not against all cost-benefit analyses.  I am against sacrificing people’s health in the name of financial gain for others.

      1. Robert Canning

        Dr. Millstein,

        Your point is that the evidence suggests that this is a bad place to put housing.  You base this on the opinion of an acknowledged expert and several studies that were correlational in design and had very small effect sizes.  Yes, the increased risk for the group of interest is 86% higher than that for the control sample.  But there are problems with that study. The authors went back and actually modeled (not sampled) the pollution near the freeways and produced a “better” study with ORs a little higher (see JAMA Psychiatry 2013, 70(1): 71-77.  I have both papers if you want them.

        This is not, in my opinion, overwhelming evidence in favor of banning housing on Nishi. No one has measured the pollutants that Dr. Cahill has said pose “grave” risk (how big does an effect size have to be to pose “grave” risk”?)

        Re. the utilitarian argument.  Cities and other municipalities make these kinds of judgments all the time.  New Harmony housing was located within 1,000 of a freeway but no one brought up these studies.  These types of siting decisions are policy and political decisions that are made for lots of reasons.  Using hyperbole to make your point (arguing from the extreme shall we say) is great for sound bites but not good (again in my opinion) policy making. Opponents claim the EIR is wrong about traffic and other things.  If they lose, they will sue – believe me.

        Simply saying we shouldn’t make utilitarian arguments flies in the face of how governments make their decisions – they do cost/benefit analyses.  I’m curious what your alternative is to this sort of policy decision-making. As someone who is interested in the environment, you should know that environmental groups have been using these sorts of arguments for decades. And as Don Shor notes, these are all relative risks.  No one knows, even Dr. Cahill, what the absolute and attributable risks are with the air quality of the Nishi site.

        And for the record, I will be voting in favor of Measure A.

        1. Roberta Millstein

          Dr. Canning,

          Your point is that the evidence suggests that this is a bad place to put housing.  You base this on the opinion of an acknowledged expert and several studies that were correlational in design and had very small effect sizes.  Yes, the increased risk for the group of interest is 86% higher than that for the control sample.  But there are problems with that study. The authors went back and actually modeled (not sampled) the pollution near the freeways and produced a “better” study with ORs a little higher (see JAMA Psychiatry 2013, 70(1): 71-77.  I have both papers if you want them.

          Sure, send them my way.  I do note that you are discussing only one study, the one having to do with autism, which says nothing about the other studies and the other potential health effects.

          This is not, in my opinion, overwhelming evidence in favor of banning housing on Nishi. No one has measured the pollutants that Dr. Cahill has said pose “grave” risk (how big does an effect size have to be to pose “grave” risk”?)

          Interesting that in the previous paragraph, you seem to suggest that modeling is more important that sampling.  Now you want sampling over modeling.  Which is it?  In fact, Dr. Cahill has done both.

          Obviously, different individuals will judge what level of risk is acceptable differently.  I look at those data and I would not want myself or anyone I care about to be exposed to those pollutants.  Based on the letters in the Davis Enterprise the last few days, others feel similarly.  You and Dr. Will may feel comfortable exposing yourselves to risks like those.  But whatever adjective you attach to those risks, they are severe enough such that it would be wrong to expose others to them without their knowledge or consent – given that they would not consent if they knew – and the vast majority of people who would live at the site would not know.

          Re. the utilitarian argument.  Cities and other municipalities make these kinds of judgments all the time.  New Harmony housing was located within 1,000 of a freeway but no one brought up these studies.  These types of siting decisions are policy and political decisions that are made for lots of reasons.  Using hyperbole to make your point (arguing from the extreme shall we say) is great for sound bites but not good (again in my opinion) policy making. Opponents claim the EIR is wrong about traffic and other things.  If they lose, they will sue – believe me.

          As I have said many times already, there are things about the Nishi site that make it particularly problematic – it’s not just that it is near a freeway.  And in fact, the health effects of New Harmony were debated, and also, interestingly, in that case Dr. Cahill was not opposed to housing.   That is one of the things that makes me trust in his judgment – that he is not being knee-jerk in his assessment.  His judgment does not seem at all extreme or hyperbolic to me.

          I am not sure why you are bringing up the traffic issue here.

          Simply saying we shouldn’t make utilitarian arguments flies in the face of how governments make their decisions – they do cost/benefit analyses.  I’m curious what your alternative is to this sort of policy decision-making. As someone who is interested in the environment, you should know that environmental groups have been using these sorts of arguments for decades. And as Don Shor notes, these are all relative risks.  No one knows, even Dr. Cahill, what the absolute and attributable risks are with the air quality of the Nishi site.

          I didn’t say that we shouldn’t make utilitarian arguments.  I said that there is a “known flaw in utilitarian reasoning” (by the way, a utilitarian argument is not quite the same thing as a cost-benefit analysis, but as they are similar enough, I will set aside that technical detail).  That flaw is that it allows for people’s basic rights to be violated.  There can be other cases where one is trying to bring about the greatest good to the greatest number, and even though we all might not be benefit equally, no one’s basic rights are being violated.  In such cases it can be appropriate to use utilitarian reasoning.  Really, you don’t need to educate me on the sort of arguments that environmental groups make.  Perhaps you are unaware of how condescending you sound, or perhaps you are doing so intentionally.  I don’t know you so I won’t speculate.

          And for the record, I will be voting in favor of Measure A.

          So I gathered from what you wrote above.

  12. nameless

    I’m going to come at this from a slightly different angle.  The push for infill means that it is more likely infill will be near freeways and air pollution, because the whole point of infill is to build it near transportation hubs.  When it comes to the growth issue, the same people who argue for no urban sprawl ala MRIC will also argue against infill like Nishi.  Bottom line is you can’t have it both ways…

    However, Nishi has instituted appropriate mitigations as recommended by city planners, by installing special filters and provided a tree buffer.  See: http://www.changelabsolutions.org/sites/default/files/Building_In_Healthy_Infill-FINAL-20140624.pdf

    1. Frankly

      Egg-zackly

      And a few decades from now we will have 50% of the cars on the roads running on batteries and hydrogen, and many more people riding that trillion dollar bullet train.

  13. Tia Will

    ryankelly

    I’m sorry, but the 86% likelihood of having an autistic child reminded me of the anti-vaxx movement and made me discount the entire opinion.”

    I have a very difficult time with the interpretation of numbers and so had this explained to me by my statistically savvy partner. It is not that any one is claiming that there is an 86% chance of having an autistic child if one lives in close proximity to a freeway. That would indeed be a ridiculous and hyperbolic claim that one should discount. What the limited study did show was an odds ratio of 1.86 meaning that there is a .86 ( or 86% ) increased risk of having a child with autism, in the small group studied in this particular article. The association takes into account proximity only and makes no statement of causality with regard to inhalants or any other causal factor. The statistical association is valid within the context of the study and as such should not ,in my opinion ,be completely discounted.

    However, I also do not believe that this marginally increased risk based on proximity in a different portion of the state, in a questionably selected population, with many limitations of the study as noted by its authors, should be extrapolated to the situation at Nishi as some of the opponents are attempting to do.

    I hope that this comment will be taken as intended ,as a balanced presentation of the validity of the specific number within the context of the study, and its inapplicability and unsuitability to be used as an argument against the Nishi project.

  14. Tia Will

    Roberta

    Because we are exposing people to harmful substances from past construction, we can go forward and expose people to harmful substances in the future?  Shouldn’t we be learning from our past mistakes, not repeating them?  We can do better.  There are healthier places for people to live than Nishi.

    What is clear is that I did not succeed in conveying my point. I would never condone new known dangerous exposures because people live in dangerous conditions now. My point about lead and asbestos was two fold. First, there are remaining toxins in some very old buildings that may escape the need for disclosure because the composition of the building materials is no longer known. We ran into this as a deciding factor in some remodeling decisions on our bungalow built in 1950 because no one could tell us for sure what was in the original building materials. By not building on Nishi, it is possible that we are unknowingly condemning pregnant women and children to unhealthy living conditions that they may already be encountering by keeping them from having a safer alternative.

    Also, we know that travel on our freeways and streets in automobiles is not risk free. So when we deny people a project that would allow them to move safely around a number of destinations free of need for the use of individual cars, we may actually be statistically be preventing them for choosing a safer alternative.

    Your claim of “choosing for other people” cuts both ways. A vote for Nishi may be putting some at some  increased health risk ( quantity and causation not known) but a vote against Nishi may actually be consigning some people to a higher known risk from automobile collisions. Either way, we are making a decision for others.

    And where specifically do you feel are these “healthier places” that do not include the need for travel by car which is arguably one of the greatest public health risks of all ?

    1. Roberta Millstein

      As I just mentioned in my reply to ryankelly, I think reasonably sized Trackside and Sterling projects, plus, especially, more housing on campus.  I think we have to stop assuming we know who would be living at Nishi.  There is no student housing and no senior housing – there is just housing, and we don’t know what the driving habits of the occupants would be.

      1. Tia Will

        Roberta

        I think reasonably sized Trackside and Sterling projects, plus, especially, more housing on campus.”

        Trackside, in either of its iterations to date, was never meant to serve large numbers of people. It was specifically intended to be luxury apartments for a select few and, as such, would not be a substitute, or even part of a substitute for Nishi.

        Also by combining Trackside and Sterling, I am not sure that you are aware of the differences in these two projects, their intent, or their target populations.

        I completely agree that more housing should be located on campus. And, am also aware that the city has no leverage with the university to make this happen.

        Finally, I am not sure what you consider “reasonably sized”. This seems to be widely variable depending individual preference. Can you share your concept of “reasonably sized” ?

        1. Roberta Millstein

          Tia, I don’t know enough about these projects to weigh in on them.  I know that neighbors wanted fewer stories.  That’s all I meant by “reasonably-sized.”  I don’t have a particular opinion on the topic because I haven’t done the research.

          Apparently, Davis had an MOU with the university in 1989 concerning housing.  The City Council should be pressing – hard – for a new MOU (or to live up to the old).  We (all of us) need to be making a big stink about this.  I don’t think we’ve done that.  Perhaps there will be a new Chancellor and a new opportunity to make progress.

          But again, all of this is beside my main point, which is that regardless of benefits, we ought not be be building housing on that site.  So, I’m going to let this be my last comment on this thread of discussion.

  15. Tia Will

    Roberta

     but I am more inclined to believe the person who has actually done the research.  I am also inclined to err on the side of caution when it comes to harmful health effects.  My impression is that in general, we tend to learn over time that things we thought were only somewhat harmful turned out to be more harmful than we thought (as with TCE).”

    I also am more inclined to believe the person who has actually done the research. This was why I was so careful to point out that with regard to expertise, I was addressing only the issue of  freeway proximity and in utero autism risk.  To the best of my knowledge, Dr. Cahill has not done any direct research on autism risk associated with pregnancy. This is the reason that I would strongly suggest that instead of making very selective comments about risk, that you read the entire article including the study limitations and the closing comments of the authors themselves which present a much more balanced view than does this very dramatic but also very limited risk ratio of .86 which some are clearly interpreting erroneously to mean that a woman living within the specified distance from a freeway has an 86 % chance that her particular infant will be autistic. Now you, and Dr. Cahill, and Alan Pryor, and I all know that this is not the case. However, those not familiar with the concept of risk ratios might actually believe that. I find this kind of allowing a misrepresentation to stand without clarification is frequently done by both sides of controversial issues and I cannot in honesty allow these kinds of doomsday interpretations to go unchallenged regardless of whether I find them.

    This is no different when I called out the slick production of a family in a Nirvana like setting as being far from an accurate representation of the Nishi project, even though I favor the project.

    I simple believe in truth in advertising, and in truth in opposition to said advertising. I want to ensure that everyone who cares enough to read, has an accurate depiction of the actual risks and benefits rather than the edited and usually highly biased versions brought up by either strong proponents or strong opponents.

    1. Roberta Millstein

      Tia, I appreciate your clarification of the risks.  I had no intent to misrepresent them and no way of knowing that they would be misunderstood in the way that you state.

  16. Tia Will

    Roberta

    I had no intent to misrepresent them and no way of knowing that they would be misunderstood in the way that you state.”

    I believe you. I had not have thought of it myself until I read ryankelly’s post stating his entirely appropriate disbelief of the statistic interpreted in that way. It was not until then that I realized that unlike ryan, some people even less conversant than I with statistics just might view it as a accurate statement of personal risk, not as a risk ratio.

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