The ink was barely dry on the apparent defeat of Measure A a few weeks ago when bold assertions began making their way into the fray. Some, like Enterprise Columnist Bob Dunning, argued that we would never see a Measure R project again while others inexplicably believe this will be the end of Measure R.
I disagree strongly with both views. First, for the first time, Nishi shows that the Measure R process can work. The opposition has called this the worst project Davis has faced. The proponents see it as a modest but well-conceived proposal to bring housing close to campus and provide the community with much needed R&D space.
The reality is that the community is split on the issue of growth – in fact, much more split than it was just a few years ago. A growing number of people – myself included – see the need for more housing and especially more space for economic development, startups and technology transfer from the university.
What brought Nishi down was not opposition to all growth – although certainly some of the leaders of the No on Measure A campaign oppose a lot of new growth. But the average person, the swing voter on Nishi, likely saw a number of key flaws with the project that resulted in their voting no.
I believe Nishi will be back with some tweaks to things like the affordable housing provisions, the affordability of the units, and with more concrete proposals to fix Richards Boulevard and access to UC Davis.
I do not see that having this project with no Olive Drive access or as a University Project is viable. We cannot have Davis citizens cut off from the city and, more importantly, cutting off Olive Drive may push more and not less traffic through the tunnel.
Likewise, I don’t see this as a university project. One of the clear needs in Davis is for more R&D space that will allow for more tax revenue – making this a university project may help alleviate some housing needs, but won’t address the innovation space needs.
Bottom line – I think Nishi will be back and it won’t be the last Measure R project we see. The close loss has convinced people that I know to suggest that there are some ways to pass a Measure R vote and produce a progressive, Davis-friendly project. Some of those people by the way, voted for Measure A.
Another was Michael Harrington, who wrote that “the public has nearly always been in favor of good, reasonable housing and business projects. We just have seen few of them. For Nishi to ever win an R vote (and I believe it can), they are going to have to stop being so arrogant, and talk to the public about a plan that works for all of us in that quadrant.”
While I think using the term “stop being so arrogant,” is over-the-top, reading between the rhetoric suggests that even Mr. Harrington believes it is possible to put forward a proposal that can pass. Heck, this one came pretty darn close – as bad as Mr. Harrington believes it to be.
That brings me to the second point – those who believe that Measure R is going away are kidding themselves. I have heard it from a number of people – and it is wishful thinking – that people see the Measure R process to be broken.
The problem with that belief is it is coming from the people who voted for the project and lost, and not from the people who voted against the project and won. More people were on the winning side than the losing side.
I fully support Measure R. I believe that it saved us from what would have been a disastrous Covell Village that would have been implemented and half built when the market collapsed. It was too big and traffic impacts were not nearly vetted enough.
I also believe that Cannery has been a poor project and would have been much improved with a Measure R process.
The voters overwhelmingly voted down a much smaller Wildhorse Ranch, that was poorly conceived during the heart of the recession, and they narrowly voted down Nishi – which, while much closer, certainly had realistic concerns.
For most people in town, Measure R has worked as it is supposed to and I fail to see a realistic chance that even a hard-fought campaign in 2020 will result in its defeat.
Michael Harrington and his crew have been trumpeting changes to the Measure R process. We have not seen details of these changes but he has suggested the need for more certainty. One of his chief concerns has been the lack of specificity about mitigation land prior to the vote.
I believe that Measure R can been changed to strengthen projects and also reduce risks for developers. I would like to see a modified proposal that would look at ways to reduce risks for proposing projects by reducing upfront costs to the developers and proponents.
Right now, an applicant has to go through the entire entitlement process – a project design, full EIR, go through all of the commissions, go through a council approval and then, if they get approved, go on the ballot and take the matter to the voters.
I have not received how much that process has cost the applicants in Nishi, but I know the figure is somewhere between $3 million and $4.5 million for Mace – a project that may never go.
I know a lot of people think developers are greedy and attempting to line their pockets, but they are just like any other business people – they are investing in projects that they hope to make money on. But who wants to throw out $3 to $5 million, or perhaps as high as $6 or $7 million, and end up with nothing to show for it?
Is there a way that we can all work together to produce a development project the community wants without the investors having to risk millions on a project that might never be built?
There are a lot of people in this community who believe that they can design a project at Nishi or elsewhere that would result in an easy approval by the voters – what we need is a process that gets us to that point.
I am hoping that hard feelings and anger on both sides can give way to true dialogue and trying to put together a plan that will alleviate a housing crunch and the need for more revenue in a way that most people in this community can support.
Perhaps that is just more wishful thinking on my part, but the words of Michael Harrington yesterday lead me to believe that perhaps this is possible.
—David M. Greenwald reporting