Many Reasons to Vote No on Nishi – Measure A

Richards TunnelBy Eileen M. Samitz

Historically, the Nishi site has been problematic due to its location between I-80 and the railroad tracks. But, if Measure A were approved it would create a host of new dilemmas. It will intensify traffic gridlock, especially after completion of the Embassy Suites Conference Center and the proposed 130 unit Lincoln40 Olive Drive student apartments. Nishi Gateway would cost taxpayers, has no affordable housing provisions, would expose residents to harmful air quality, lacks binding developer obligations, and is very weak on sustainability.

Richards “improvements“ will not fix the Richards corridor problem

The Yes on Measure A campaign claims the Nishi “improvements” would fix the Richards Boulevard corridor problems, but congestion will only worsen. There will simply be more traffic, “stacking” and gridlock due to Nishi and the cumulative traffic impacts from the other projects.

Millions in taxpayer costs

Nishi would pass permanent costs along to taxpayers. Road “improvements” will cost at least $10 million but there is no Caltrans budget for a redesigned Richards interchange. Our City would have to provide at least $7 million for work that would not reduce traffic logjams.  Yet, the “Yes” campaign claims there will be “zero” taxpayer cost.

Measure A supporters claim the project would yield $1.4 million annually, but that estimate was generated by one Davis Budget & Finance Commission member, and was not unanimously supported.  The City’s financial consultants concluded that Nishi Gateway would instead cause a deficit of $106,000 annually.  Also, what about the loss of businesses (such as Redrum Burger) and revenue loss from other Olive Drive businesses that would directly result from Nishi and its traffic impacts?

Unaffordable housing

Nishi has been given a special privilege of not including any affordable housing. This has never been allowed for any project of this size and magnitude and essentially “gifts” the developer $11.5 million.  In addition, the project targets UCD students, but $2,400/month for a two-bedroom apartment would be unaffordable to students and non-students.

Nishi Gateway would impose long-term costs on Davis residents for water, wastewater treatment and other City services. Passing these costs onto our community would essentially subsidize student housing UCD has promised to build on-campus for over two decades but has not yet delivered. The good news is that the newly released UCD LRDP update states that UCD will build much more on-campus housing.  This long-sought solution for student housing eliminates the major rationale for Nishi Gateway.

Unhealthy Air Quality

UCD professor of atmospheric sciences Thomas Cahill, Ph.D. (http://physics.ucdavis.edu/people/faculty/thomas-cahill), is an internationally respected expert who has spent years studying the impacts of air quality on health.  Cahill has publicly stated that residential occupancy of the Nishi site would be hazardous to residents, particularly children, pregnant woman and seniors, but his concerns have been ignored by the Nishi developers.

The combination of I-80 vehicle traffic and railroad activity together with the site’s air currents and topography will create the “perfect storm” Dr. Cahill has described.  Residents would face serious and unmitigatable health hazards, including chronic respiratory disease with possible cancer consequences from long-term exposure. The developers assert that short-term student occupancy will entail minimal risk, but would you want your children living with these exposures? And what about longer-term residents living in Nishi housing, which cannot be legally restricted to students?

Inadequate Baseline Project Features

Another major defect is the failure of the Baseline Project Features to include the assurances needed to deliver the developer’s “promises.” Numerous important conditions instead appear in the non-binding “developer agreement,” which can be renegotiated at any time.

Too many loose ends

 Nishi Gateway has many major issues that are unresolved, yet it was still placed on the ballot. For example:

  • There is no City-County property tax agreement to assure that the City will have at least the 50:50 tax share upon which the fiscal analysis relies.
  • There is no formal agreement with Union Pacific to allow a road below its railroad tracks for UCD access. Railroads are notoriously protective of their system and resist easements.
  • UCD’s draft LRDP update mentions the possibility of Nishi access, but there is no formal agreement to allow traffic between Nishi and UCD. Nishi’s traffic impact on the campus has also not been analyzed.
  • The location of the required 2:1 agricultural mitigation land has not been defined.

If any of these agreements do not happen, Nishi Gateway would not be built.  However, if Measure A passes and these unresolved problems prevent the project from materializing, the developers would still retain Nishi’s new urban land use designation (i.e. changed from agriculture), which would greatly increase the site’s resale value.

Not as “green” as it claims

Nishi Gateway has inadequate sustainability standards.  It would cause over 10,000 metric tons of unmitigated greenhouse gases that would undermine the City’s Climate Action Plan.  The “Yes” campaign advertises that Nishi Gateway ranks first in sustainability, but this claim is based solely on a City–UCD grant for studying the project.  Nishi Gateway did not win any awards for its final design.

Nishi Gateway would bring more problems, costs, and impacts to the City, not solutions. The 325,000 square-foot “innovation park” would be comprised of small start-ups, not large enough to generate significant revenue. This small R&D space could be easily accommodated on 15 acres of zoned commercial land or existing vacant commercial space within the City.

Finally, student housing needs to be built on-campus to reduce the traffic, parking problems, and costs incurred by the community since the neglected 1989 Memorandum of Understanding in which UCD promised to provide on-campus housing. Thanks to our many citizen communications over the past eight months, UCD has finally agreed to build more housing. Providing more on-campus student apartments would do far more to reduce growth pressures on our City and our carbon footprint than Nishi Gateway, and is simply the best solution for UCD students and our community.

I urge you for these reasons and more covered on NoOnNishi.org to vote “No” on Nishi – Measure A on June 7th. If you have any questions, please contact me at 756-5165 or citizens@dcn.org.

Eileen Samitz is a longtime Davis resident and former member of the City of Davis Planning Commission, the 2001 General Plan Update Committee, and the 2008 (General Plan Update) Housing Element Steering Committee.

About The Author

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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17 Comments

  1. nameless

    Same old talking points.  Bottom line, if Nishi is not built, it is guaranteed the city will get no new tax revenue from this project, no money from Nishi for the affordable housing fund, no new jobs from Nishi, no R&D space, no 1,500 beds for students, no traffic improvements from the Nishi developer.  As a consequence, no other innovation park developer is likely to try to come to Davis, forcing the City Council to deal with the city’s fiscal problems with higher and more parcel taxes to cover the costs of infrastructure repair/maintenance.  If voters fail to approve the increase or new parcel taxes, expect the city roads and buildings to continue to deteriorate.  That will be our new reality.

      1. Mark West

        “we’ve been doing just fine ever since…”

        Sure, if deteriorating infrastructure, increasing tax rates, $650 million in unfunded obligations and 0.2% vacancy rate is your idea of ‘doing just fine.’

      2. The Pugilist

        Doing fine?

        Let us recap –

        We have cut one-quarter of our city staff in the last ten years

        We have about a $100 million short fall in roads funding

        We have parks that have had to be closed down and others that have millions in maintenance

        We have had to close down pools and lack the funding to renovate them

        We have a 0.2 percent vacancy rate causing more students to push into single family homes, causing housing prices to escalate and pushing families out of town.  I find it ironic that you complain that Olive is the only place you can afford to live and yet the policies you support insure that Olive is the only place you can afford to live.

  2. Eskimo Pie

    Attention residents of Notre Dame Dr., Brown Dr., Acacia Ln., Brentwood Pl., Olive Dr., the entirety of Old East Davis, and anyone else with a house near a freeway: You are in DANGER, and your home is not worth what you think it is worth! According to No on Measure A, if you live near a freeway, you’re practically dead already.

  3. skeptical

    Chicken Little is alive and well!

    Mark West… the City is over $650 million in the hole because it spends more money than it collects… and it continues to approve projects (like Nishi, Cannery, take your pick) that continue this practice.  You can read on another thread a list of these past practitioners, they are the supporters of Measure A.

    1. Mark West

      So tell me…what is your solution? Stick your head in the sand and hope it all goes away?

      We don’t solve our fiscal problems without improving the economic vitality of the City, and the only way to do that is to grow more jobs. That is what Nishi helps accomplish (no it won’t solve the problem alone). We address our severe shortage of rental housing by building more apartments, something that Nishi helps with (but again, does not solve alone). Sitting on our hands and complaining about sprawl will only speed our trip to bankruptcy court. Perhaps that is your goal, but it won’t save the things about Davis that you all claim to be protecting. We are not talking ‘chicken little’ here, just reality.

      1. zaqzaq

        Why should we trust the city council on this after the fiasco at the Cannery where they gave the developer an %11,000,000 gift and never required them to build a safe bike tunnel for the residents.  Nishi looks like more of the same.  Our city council cannot negotiate it’s way out of a wet paper bag.  Developer Dan is at it again.

  4. Tia Will

    Stick your head in the sand and hope it all goes away?”

    There are more possibilities than either “sticking your head in the sand and hoping it all goes away” or “building as fast as we can so as to build our way out of trouble.”

    I suspect that neither of these approaches would prove successful. More citizens means more need for housing. These new citizens will also need new jobs. New jobs will attract new citizens who will also need more housing. These citizens will also need more infrastructure…..you know that same infrastructure that is currently crumbling. So unless you are content with the proposition that we can grow indefinitely as you seem from previous posts to believe is a reasonable proposition, this will not prove tenable. I do believe that more housing will be necessary to lower housing costs, but I do not believe that it will prove adequate in and of itself as you seem to imply when you use the phrase “the only way”.

    As stated previously I believe that we are going to have to use set of alternatives that includes jobs, housing, increased taxes and conservation of resources. I also would stress the need to incorporate the “growth side”of this equation slowly allowing time for adaptation and incorporation into the existing community which also has some rights to  a say in development decisions.

    1. nameless

      No one (at least most of us) is advocating “build as fast as you can”.  No growth is not the answer either, and slow growth may not be the solution.  Smart growth seems the better direction, but determining what “smart growth” means will be a difficult task, because there are some in this community who will not compromise their view even if they are in the extreme minority.  Alan Hirsch and his group typify collaboration to achieve smart growth in a constructive way, and should serve as a model for how its done.  My hats off to this group and Alan’s leadership.

  5. South of Davis

    Eileen wrote:

    > a two-bedroom apartment would be unaffordable to students and non-students.

    Since (according to Eileen) “Residents would face serious and unmitigatable health hazards” I would think she would be happy that the project was “unaffordable to students and non-students” so it would empty (at least until the developer lowers the rent to a level where the rent is “affordable” to enough students and non-students to fill the place) since even a month of “unaffordable” rent would keep the place empty and keep the young children and pregnant moms away from the “serious and unmitigatable health hazards” of the “Toxic Soup” at the Nishi site (where Marina has admitted she lived in the past)…

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