In yesterday’s guest commentary, Skylar Johnson, a UC Davis student, puts forward accusations that “Backroom Shenanigans were used by ASUCD to Endorse This Project.”
She writes, “In addition to asking how this project’s features really benefit students, this article questions the wisdom and the rushed, almost secretive process by which this endorsement occurred to make it appear that the campus as a whole supported the project. In reality, the ASUCD Senate urgently introduced and rapidly passed Senate Resolution #13 unanimously without any outreach to the student body.”
She continued, “While student input on such massive developments such as Nishi is crucial, but completely lacking in this case, it is also clear that there was not even any informed discussion addressing both the pros and cons of the development. Instead, the ASUCD only heard developer-driven talking-point arguments. When asked to speak about the opposition to the project, there was no detailed information presented, but instead it was only stated “there are people who are no-growthers,” clearly aiming to characterize opponents as selfish NIMBYs.”
Furthermore she argued, “Let’s be clear, incredibly, the ASUCD Senate voted to endorse this project in early February, almost 2 full weeks before the final details of the project were worked out and approved by the City of Davis on 2/16/16. Has this ever happened before in the ASUCD? Unfortunately, it now appears that the rental units for the project will be completely priced out of range of all but the most well-to-do students.
“It is apparent from the record that our Senate should have been more informed when this endorsement resolution was discussed and passed, It was clearly outside of the proper process for the Senate to urgently introduce and pass such a resolution for which they didn’t have adequate information. Because of this flawed process, I am also strongly against the ASUCD representing that the student body as a whole supported this development so that now “Yes on A” has featured this ASUCD endorsement prominently on their campaign literature, newspaper ads, and at public forums.
“It appears the ASUCD has been used as a pawn by the developer to extract an endorsement of a project for which they did not have all of the necessary information and that that mostly benefits the developer with little to offer the student of average means.”
These are strong accusations. The full minutes of the ASUCD Senate meeting show a somewhat different picture. While it is clear that the Senators got a presentation that was tilted towards the development, most of the key issues came out and the Senate weighed in with a vote that does not appear coerced.
The case was put forward by a student identified in the minutes as Hiba, an unpaid intern for Nishi at the time.
Hiba said: “We are introducing this as urgent because the City Council is voting on this soon, want students to have input. I think this is a fantastic project, think we as students will benefit from it greatly, as well as the community. Nishi is good for students, community, and local economy. Ranked #1 for sustainability goals, will serve as model for the region. Energy will be powered by on-site renewable energy. Nishi will ensure that students and residents will benefit.”
The Senate then went on to have a lengthy public discussion:
Dalavi: I received an FB invite for a town hall discussion on this. What were the conversations like at the event?
Hiba: Town Hall was held by Vanguard. I wasn’t there personally, but I can tell you the main concerns about the project. One is traffic. Location of development is near Mondavi, adjacent to campus, behind Whole Foods parking lot. That’s where Richards underpass is, where most of traffic collects. We’re going to make West a lot wider, put in a diamond intersection, underpass with Old Davis Road. Another one. A lot of older folks in Davis don’t really want growth. Many new students are being added to campus, vacancy rate is so low right now. Trying to change that with this development.
Lara: Difference between this and West Village?
Hiba: We’re promoting affordable rates, and will be right next to campus. 30% of units are under 1000 sq. ft. Also promote a car-free lifestyle.
Tresh: Wasn’t there more to it than just providing beds to students?
Hiba: We’re going to bring in more sq. footage for research and development space. Allow startups to stay in Davis, allow us to find jobs here. It’s also going to bring in around 1800 jobs for students and residents.
Garcia: Want to remind you all to students that there’s no housing for students with children and are married. A lot of new places that are coming out but they are luxury housing geared towards specific students. When we’re talking about housing geared towards students, should be thinking about the students whose needs aren’t being met. I was wondering, how is it really more affordable, more inclusive than any other apartments?
Hiba: This development is geared for students, we’ve been keeping in mind the needs of students.
Tommy: When it came before council, they’re setting up a million dollar fund to support affordable housing, so that is a real part of this development.
Garcia: When you said students, it could be anyone who is 35 and coming as a student, a trans students. How accessible is it to those kinds of students?
Tommy: Right now we don’t have a lot of that information, the earliest this structure could be completed is 2020. If there is a movement enough for it, they will listen.
Garcia: Usually when people say “students,” they aren’t talking about people who afford rent by themselves, just want to keep that in mind.
Singh: Any way project will collaborate with ASUCD?
Hiba: This is our in to that. The project is still in its early stages. Everything we’ve been asking for, we’ve been able to really work with. I could see us building a relationship.
Lara: Some questions about the 1800 job figure and where you got that.
Tommy: There have been 4 economic studies done, that number has been thrown around since last summer. We can provide you with the source at a later date, don’t have that info right now.
Lara: In terms of research and development space, any of that being used by university?
Tommy: Potentially. That’s actually part of why we’re here today. The entire project is a collaboration with UCD. They haven’t committed to much, but we have a voice in this instance.
Lara: I don’t know how good of an idea it is for UCD to rent space from a private entity….
Jamaludin: Does development propose a town hall to integrate student input? What other services besides beds… any services like babysitting? This development will help redirect traffic, more biking, how?
Tommy: Most of the town halls have already occurred, this development started in 2008. We’re just bringing it to City Council to vote on now. Encouraging biking, it’s all about accessibility.
Alavi: The chancellor has made it clear that she has no idea where she’s going to put all the students on this campus, so I challenge you all to address that problem. Napolitano has made a deal with the state to increase student population by 10,000… there is no space.
Nahabedian: LRDP for 2027 initiative in the Nelson Gallery. We got to see some of the possibilities. They were talking about high-density living close to downtown and the university. Hotel-style living. 1500 beds is what it says in the resolution. Is the housing… the enrollment will keep going up on campus. Is this low density or high?
Hiba: High density, leaving a third of the property for open space. Is this in the city of Davis?
Tommy: Not yet, will be part of it in an annexation.
Nahabedian: How does the city go about annexing the land?
Tommy: It’s private property, will be passed to the city. County and city will have shared ownership.
Hiba: Thank you for fitting us in whenever you can. One of the investors is the owner of Tandem Properties, it’s not going to be the same way West Village is run. This project is addressing the need Davis has right now. We’re advocating to have 1500 beds for students, it’s multi-family living. We want to put these in so our rent rates also go down. There will be at least 5,000 more students by 2020. We want to give Davis that outlet for it to grow.
Guerrero: Can you speak at length about the composition of the opposition?
Tommy: Accessibility was the biggest opposition. Also location. What they’ve done is put a lot of money to move the residences as far away from freeway and railroads as possible. Also, a very high-grade HVAC systems. There are people who are no-growthers.
Guerrero: Who is opposed?
Tommy: This isn’t even on the ballot yet, so no formulated groups have come forth yet.
Guerrero: Proposed location, how do you propose to have it be competitive to other housing in Davis?
Tommy: It’s going to be there. As a renter, I wouldn’t want this, but we’re not really looking to address that problem until way down the line.
Nazzal: I just wanted to let the table know that EAC saw and voted on an iteration of this bill, and we supported it unanimously. We had concerns about funding, but they were all met.
Nahabedian: As far as the legislative voodoo goes, something that came to our attention was that these commissions aren’t necessarily set up to be roadblocks. We’ve talked about the sustainability and all of that, and I think it’s a shame it hasn’t gone to EPPC.
Hiba: We only did this for the sake of time. If we had the time, that would’ve been the best route, but we really want to show that the student body is behind a project like this before going to City Council.
Nahabedian: I understand strategically why you want to introduce it urgently, but it would make your resolution stronger to make sure EPPC sees this.
Thomas: Would this affect the prices of houses?
Tommy: Our hope is that if we can increase the supply, we won’t see rent increasing every year. We’re trying to make it as affordable as possible, but want to make sure the residents are as comfortable as possible. This will be the number 1 sustainable project in the city. It’s not ideal when looking at affordability, but as a complete project, that’s what it offers.
A review of the meeting minutes shows that the original vote was 11-1, but the lone dissenter changed their vote after the fact to make it unanimous.
Looking at the discussion quoted above, what appears to have happened is that ASUCD was presented with an urgency ordinance, in that if they voted to support the project, they could do so before the final vote in order to perhaps give students a voice in the process.
There does not seem to be any arm-twisting going on, from a rather complete public record of the comments.
In her Vanguard article yesterday Ms. Johnson writes, “The ASUCD only heard developer-driven talking-point arguments.”
That’s a negative interpretation of what appears to have happened. ASUCD heard mostly a case for the project. The opposition at that point had not come together.
Ms. Johnson continues, “When asked to speak about the opposition to the project, there was no detailed information presented, but instead it was only stated ‘there are people who are no-growthers,’ clearly aiming to characterize opponents as selfish NIMBYs.”
The full statement was in response to the question: “Can you speak at length about the composition of the opposition?” The answer: “Accessibility was the biggest opposition. Also location. What they’ve done is put a lot of money to move the residences as far away from freeway and railroads as possible. Also, a very high-grade HVAC systems. There are people who are no-growthers.”
This is actually a fairly accurate accounting of opposition. Accessibility is one of the big issue. They address the location and air quality concerns (and mitigations) and there are in fact people who are no-growthers.
Was this a balanced presentation before ASUCD? No.
Everything else falls into the subjective analysis of the campaign. When Ms. Johnson argues, “Unfortunately, it now appears that the rental units for the project will be completely priced out of range of all but the most well-to-do students,” it appears to be a campaign statement. As we know, four people splitting a two-bedroom apartment are going to end up paying between $450 and $500. This certainly has been a point of contention in the campaign, but there is no objective fallacy offered here to the students.
Also expressed in the discussion is the concern about student growth and lack of housing options.
Overall, reading the discussion reported in the meeting minutes, I would conclude that the ASUCD did get a less than balanced presentation of the project – which is to be expected, given who was providing the information. However, they made the choice to support the project and no one forced them to do that.
I have seen a lot of resolutions by ASUCD over the years – they have had urgency ordinances. I don’t see anything unusual in this process. One question that we should ask is, if the Senators were misled here, have any changed their mind in the four months of community debate – where these issues have been fully vetted and discussed? If there were shenanigans, don’t you think that someone from the group of 12 ASUCD Senators would have cried foul long before the week before the election?
—David M. Greenwald reporting