By 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?
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 firstname.lastname@example.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.