Analysis: Looking at the ASUCD Endorsement of Nishi

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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

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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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54 thoughts on “Analysis: Looking at the ASUCD Endorsement of Nishi”

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      Had the charge been that they didn’t have a balanced discussion, I would agree. But that wasn’t the charge made in the piece yesterday.

      1. David Greenwald Post author

        Question for Mike: It has been four months since the Vote by ASUCD, has the No on Measure A campaign asked for a reconsideration of their endorsement? If not, why not?

        1. The Pugilist

          Point is, you guys had plenty of time to revisit this issue in the appropriate venue and choose not to. Now you raise it at the last second as a political hit piece. And a transparent one at that

        2. Alan Pryor

          While you’re doing that, Mr H, make sure you give Skylar a bonus… at least twice what y’all have been paying…

          Skylar Johnson has not been paid by the No campaign and has not done any other volunteer work for the campaign. In contrast, the supposed “unpaid” student intern (Hiba Saeed) who presented the Yes case to the ASUCD has been paid $1,800 by the Yes campaign after the fact. Looks like he earned his money.

        3. Fred

          Hiba has worked at Spafford + Lincoln since August of 2015. The Yes on A payment Mr. H. sites is a direct payment from the campaign. What is not reported is how much she was paid to work on the campaign that passed through Spafford + Lincoln or what other compensation she may receive as part of her job at S+L.

           

      2. Alan Pryor

        Had the charge been that they didn’t have a balanced discussion, I would agree. But that wasn’t the charge made in the piece yesterday.

        What?  That was exactly the gist of the article …that the ASUCD only got one side of the story.

        1. The Pugilist

          So by Shenanigans you meant, one-sided story?  Still doesn’t explain why the No on campaign didn’t try to get the senate to reconsider.

        2. DavisforNishiGateway

          Mr. Pryor, the author charged that the process was “semi-secretive” and “rushed” when, in fact, these have been demonstrably shown to be false. The article also claimed that the arguments of the opposition (accessibility, traffic, and air quality) were not mentioned, even though minutes prove otherwise. The gist of the article was to muddy the waters with false and unsubstantiated accusations from which you are now trying to pivot.

      3. Alan Pryor

        As we know, four people splitting a two-bedroom apartment are going to end up paying between $450 and $500.

        David – Once again you are taking the word of the developer as to what they think they are going to charge for rent but there is absolutely no substantiation to the claim. You just take Ruff’s word at face value. Not exactly objective reporting.

        Instead, the No on Nishi side relies on what the City’s own independent consultant says are going to be the rents (i.e.$2.20/sq. ft. – Goodwin Report, “Nishi Property Development Framework Plan”, 1/4/2016, Table 2, Residential Income and Expense Projections)

        Who to believe ???

    2. DavisforNishiGateway

      Mr. Harrington, anyone was welcome to attend either the public meeting of the External Affairs Committee or the ASUCD meeting to present their veiwpoint. If you or members of the No side had wanted to go, you could have. It is not the responsibility of ASUCD to reach out to you.

      1. Fred

        Look into this further. ASUCD did nothing to seek an opposing point of view and that is scandalous. Several of the Spafford operatives hold positions in ASUCD and the Aggie. Hima herself had a position previously.

  1. ryankelly

    Was there an organized opposition at the time and a UCD student that could have represented this opposition?   Skylar could have brought her viewpoint forward, instead of making allegations in the press.  Mike is assuming that the outcome would be different, but that’s not a given.

  2. nameless

    If Skylar was so concerned about the ASUCD process, why did she wait until one week before the election to raise any objections?  This goes to the heart of her credibility IMO…

      1. The Pugilist

        No you failed to do your due diligence and challenge the vote when you had a chance to do it.  I wouldn’t put this on Skylar, a student.  I would put this on the No on Measure A campaign.  Their job.

      2. ryankelly

        No. You weren’t organized yet and regret it and now are trying to twist it to your advantage.  What I read was thoughtful questions by ASUCD members that probed the issues around Nishi.  Increasing housing stock in Davis is a critical issue for students who are finding themselves paying increasing rental rates for substandard housing.  Support for Nishi by students is expected.

    1. DavisforNishiGateway

      Anyone could have attended. It is a public meeting, and anyone could have had input. The fact that neither Skylar nor anyone from the No side showed up reflects more on their organization and contextualizes their false accusations. Indeed, perhaps it is because they were not present that they have willfully mischaracterized the proceedings and process.

  3. Roberta Millstein

    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.

    This seems like a distinction without a difference.

    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 don’t see how you can make a “choice” when you don’t hear all sides of the issue, when any issues of concern raised are quickly dismissed, when you might not even know all the questions that you should be asking. In other words, that kind of “choice” is not really a choice because you don’t know what it is that you are choosing.

    1. Biddlin

      The “No” side didn’t participate and that’s on them.

      “I don’t see how you can make a “choice” when you don’t hear all sides of the issue,”

      People have to do that, all the time. Temporal constraints often demand decisions based on the available information. The “No” side has provided no end of “talking points,” but mostly disinformation, imo and may continue to do so right up to the election.

      1. Roberta Millstein

        This isn’t about “sides.”  This is about people having the information necessary to make important decisions that affect them.  We should all be in support of that.  I’d think it was equally a problem if they’d only heard from the “no” side and had the “yes” arguments quickly dismissed without discussion.  One side can often seem compelling until you have heard other sides (and there are often more than just two sides).

        1. Biddlin

          Well, your side is certainly making itself heard, now.  The information/propaganda from all sides is certainly available to any interested voters. It should be incumbent upon the voters to take the time and make the effort to educate themselves.

        2. Roberta Millstein

          But meanwhile, the endorsement is done, for those who might assume that ASUCD had made an informed decision that would factor into their own.

        3. The Pugilist

          First of all, the endorsement is done because it’s a week out.  We’ve known about the endorsement for four months now, and yet, this is the first complaint we’ve heard about it.

          My experience is that endorsements are assymetrical processes.  You have to be opportunitistic and those who sit back, end up losing.

          If I’m a candidate for office, I meet with someone, they like what I have to say, I can get an endorsement.  Many times people endorse without having met with all candidates.  The person that contacts them first has an advantage.

          I get it, you think that an elected body would have more of a process, but that’s not generally how it works.  This complaining is sour grapes and actually was preventable had the No side been more proactive, even after the fact.  They weren’t.  Oh well.  Get over it.

        4. Roberta Millstein

          So, should democracy be about “who gets there first,” or should it be about an electorate that hears different sides of an issue and comes to an informed decision?  You’re supporting this process like it’s a horse race, with each of us just hoping that our horse wins.  It isn’t.

        5. The Pugilist

          This isn’t a should argue – this is an is argument.  The No side has had four months to appeal to the senate and hasn’t done it.  Personally, I doubt it would have mattered here because the students know we have a shortage of housing and most of the other arguments that the No side puts up are not going to appeal to them.

        6. Roberta Millstein

          It seems to me that this is very much an argument about what the process should have been. Yesterday, Skylar made the argument that there wasn’t a good process.  Today, David seemed to both agree and disagree.  But that is the topic at hand.

  4. dlemongello

    How recently by the NO side was it known that this meeting had occurred? They are being slammed for inaction.  Was it inaction against an unknown?

    1. DavisforNishiGateway

      The endorsement by ASUCD (of which we are quite proud) has been announced for nearly four months now. At no point has the No side tried to take action until they decided to post a piece by a someone who is not involved in student government making false and unsubstantiated accusations.

  5. Frankly

    The problem here is that the No side is a platform of lies and distortions without any alternative solutions for the community problems that Nishi helps solve.

    So it is appropriate that there was/is no representation from the No side.  One can just read the tabloids in the grocery store checkout line for that type of “information”.

    1. Michael Harrington

      Frankly:  go  easy on your neighbor?  I don’t go around calling you a liar or accusing you of misstating things. And you do go out of bounds on occasion but I don’t call you on it this is all over on Tuesday night and we are still neighbors

  6. dlemongello

    Frankly, you actually believe there is no traffic issue at Richards, they’ve got that all figured out?  You actually believe they know what rents they are going to charge and that using the available information to calculate that is irresponsible, especially given they not only pretend to “know” but are using different numbers from those?  I really wish everyone would admit 1)rents are unknown  2)unless the economy changes significantly rents will be what the market will bear/high, and if the economy does change significantly rents will still be whatever the market will bear.  Don’t get me wrong, we NEED the housing, but both sides do their share of calling information what is actually speculation.

    1. Frankly

      you actually believe there is no traffic issue at Richards

      The traffic is terrible at Richards and will get worse every year as UCD is adding about 1000 new warm bodies every year.  The road design changes that Nishi will help fund (and that we will not have enough money to do otherwise) will significantly improve vehicle flow-through and bike and pedestrian safety.   Yes, I believe the experts have figured this out as much as we can expect any expert to figure it out.

      You actually believe they know what rents they are going to charge

      The rents charged will be what the market will bear.  If the perceived value of living there is higher than the average alternative, then the rents will end up higher than the average alternative.  My guess is that rents will be 10% higher than the average alternative because: 1 – new units command a premium, and 2 – proximity to UCD and the downtown will command a premium.

      However, the people that would rent these units would no longer be competing for alternative units that would tend to cost less.  Your focus on the cost of just these units is a sign that you really don’t care about rental costs, or you don’t have a clue about the larger rental market and how rents are impacted and influenced.

      Yes we need the housing… and we need the jobs… we need UCD tech transfer business space… and we need the traffic improvements.  Nishi provides them all.   It really is quite simple and comes down to these things.

  7. DavisforNishiGateway

    Just yesterday, the Graduate Student Association endorsed Measure A. Students stand to benefit substantially if Measure A passes, and a lot to lose if it fails. That why ASUCD unanimously supports Nishi. The whole city of Davis, in fact, also has a lot to gain which is why Measure A has been endorsed by every City Council member, every City Council candidate, 11 former City Council members, and every person who has represented Davis in the State Assembly since 1996.

    1. Michael Harrington

      Sorry, Dear Nishi developers, but this is one former CC member who does not endorse Meadure A and believes it’s the worst project in many many years.   The traffic, filthy air, giveaways, sky high rents, explosive oil tanker cars yards from hundreds of bedrooms, and complete lack of affordable housing …. It’s appalling the project got this far. And this is DAVIS?? Embarrassing.

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