by Maynard Skinner
Davis has changed a lot since I was first elected to the City Council in 1966. I served three terms over four decades, and I keep telling my friends that I might come back again so I can say I served over two millennia.
I was the assistant vice chancellor of student affairs at UC Davis from 1971 to 1991, and I have seen both the positive and negative effects that a continually expanding university has on our fair city. Yes on Measure A provides critically needed infill housing that I believe is necessary to cope with UCD’s growing capacity — more research, more students and more opportunities to improve Davis’ economy.
The university plans to add more than 5,000 students as part of its 2020 initiative as well as 300 faculty. A growing number of investors, many rarely stepping foot in Davis, have been buying homes in Central Davis and converting them into mini-dorms. These mini-dorms are often owned by slumlords who violate city ordinances, and the housing becomes a magnet for nuisances that frequently upset neighbors.
These conditions are equally distasteful for many students who reach their second year and move to Woodland and West Sacramento for cheaper rent. Thus, we increase congestion as resident bikers become non-resident car commuters.
It’s no wonder that both the City Council and the ASUCD unanimously endorsed the Nishi project, now on the ballot as Measure A. At Nishi, the rents will be lower than in other university developments. The energy efficiency of the Nishi Gateway apartments — and their close proximity to campus, downtown and transit options — means most students will be able to live car-free.
Estimates suggest that close to 80 percent of students will use biking as a primary mode of transportation. This means a considerable savings to them — and a considerable benefit to the rest of us worried about greenhouse-gas emissions and traffic. The Nishi Gateway also will be a great fit for campus staff, young families looking for their first home in Davis and Davis seniors who want to downsize.
Nishi is projected to house more than 1,500 students, 30 percent of the expected increase in students. That is 1,500 students who won’t have to commute from outlying cities or occupy hundreds of homes in Central Davis.
Students who double up in a four-bedroom apartment in West Village will pay $462 to $535 in 2016-17. Each student in a comparable but more spacious four-bedroom apartment at Nishi would pay $440 per month, based on data from a Goodwin Consulting Study. A total of 239 of the 650 units will be less than 850 square feet in size and this includes 44 modest 580-square-foot studio apartments.
I was a member of Davis’ Housing Element Steering Committee, and one of things I have always lamented is this community’s lack of condominiums. High-density condos could make affordable living a possibility. They meet the needs of seniors, and they remain one of the few places young families can afford.
The condos at Nishi would average a compact 1,300 square feet; the average price per square foot for the city of Davis puts them 25 percent cheaper than the average home in Davis. Sixty-three of the condos available at Nishi will be less than 850 square feet in size and will be some of the smallest units available in our city.
A colleague of mine on the Housing Element Steering Committee, Kevin Wolf, summarized the senior housing issue nicely. “An unevaluated benefit of the Nishi project is how many senior citizens living in large-lot, empty-nest houses with low property taxes would move to the condos right next to the downtown, the Farmers Market, Arboretum and UCD arts and cultural center,” he said.
“When the University Retirement Community opened on Shasta Drive, many houses in town came up for sale as their owners moved there. In the process, new families moved in and the tax base on those homes often more than doubled, providing revenue for the city.”
In my many years in this great city, I’ve supported development and opposed development. Some ideas fit what we are and what we want to become, and some ideas take us down the wrong path.
Measure A provides us with a rare opportunity to simultaneously fulfill many of our needs while maintaining the character and vision of our city. In the strongest possible terms, I urge Davis voters to vote yes on Measure A.