I was just reading a letter from Matthew Palm where he argued that “No on A is a generational war.” He makes the point, and I think it is one that people should heed if they own a home in Davis or have a job in Davis – you have a different view of the world than those just coming out of college, or even in college looking for housing and jobs in Davis.
Okay, his message is more accusatory and visceral than that, but that’s how I view it. The push-back came in the comments: “It is so disappointing to see this angry and misinformed letter. Quite the contrary, those of us who have been opposed to the Nishi project have been doing this … for the millennials and and the opportunists are the ‘Yes on Nishi’ developers in this election, not the ‘No on Nishi’ side.”
Just as I think the original message was unhelpfully accusatory, the response is almost arrogant – hey millennial punk, we are doing this for you whether you know it or not.
In other columns, I have made light of comments, like those from Michael Harrington, who has called the project the worst he has ever seen, likened it to a student ghetto, and told people it would wreck the southern entrance of town.
The reality is that I believe we need more student housing than we currently have. I believe that a 0.2 percent vacancy is a crisis, and I think we have to at least skeptically assess the university’s vague and unenforceable commitment to housing 90 percent of new students in the next decade – Nishi is not going to solve those problems.
I mean it when I say that Nishi ends up being a balancing act between the housing it provides and the downside risks of traffic, congestion and air quality.
I disagree with Mr. Harrington in the sense that Nishi isn’t going to wreck the southern entrance to town – it is already wrecked. Try driving from my kids’ school at Montgomery to my office in downtown Davis. I don’t even bother during the school year. Whoever thought it was a good idea to funnel traffic off the highway into a merge on Richards was smoking crack.
We have known about this problem for decades, and yet we couldn’t even figure out how to re-route university traffic to the west.
The entrance is wrecked. Will Nishi make it worse? Maybe. At least Nishi has a reasonable plan and they are putting money behind it to fix it.
If you believe Nishi is going to make traffic worse on that stretch, by all means, vote no.
Here is the Davis world as I see it and, at the end of the day, Nishi really is only a very small piece of the puzzle one way or the other.
First, Davis faces two huge challenges in the next decade. The first is that the university is growing faster than the city’s capacity to house the new students. While the university has agreed to take on a huge amount of that growth in the form of student housing, it does not take on all of the growth. In fact, it only addresses part of the problem because, while they will be housing 90 percent of the new students in theory, that still leaves faculty and staff to be housed.
All of that assumes they follow through on their commitments – and, given the delays on West Village and the lack of follow through on other aspects, we should treat that promise as sincere, but treat it skeptically.
While I have focused my analysis on student housing, hoping that by housing more students we free up single-family homes for families, we can point out the shortfall of single-family homes, the decreasing pool of people my age and the rising senior population with no transitional homes.
Not many people want to blow up our borders, but we need to figure out a way to provide some housing for the current need.
The second problem can be seen as the Vanguard’s raison d’etre for years. We have spent more rapidly over the last 10 to 15 years than our revenue stream can keep up with and, as a result of the shortfall in revenue and the downturn in the economy, we have a huge deficit in the form of unmet needs.
We can rejoice that the economy has improved to the point where we can pump in one-time money to address a few infrastructure needs, but the number we have is scary – $655 million. That comes to about $32 million a year for 20 years.
The reality is that one of my chief complaints about Nishi is that it really doesn’t resolve either crisis. We have a huge shortfall in housing and, while 1500 beds may be helpful, a project like Poly Canyon Village on a smaller piece of land provides a much greater amount of housing.
At the same time, while the project touts 1500 jobs and $1.4 million in revenue – two numbers which opponents question – neither of those make a huge dent in our needs.
We have lost one big peripheral innovation park project for sure in Davis Innovation Center. Mace Ranch Innovation Center (MRIC), on the other hand, is not dead yet, but it is paused. Those would have provided the space to meet our economic development needs.
Here’s my point – we have huge needs. We can argue about how far Nishi goes toward addressing them. We can argue about whether the weaknesses of the project suggest we should vote no.
But whether Nishi passes or fails at the polls on Tuesday – and right now I think it’s a coin flip – we need to figure out how to fix these problems.
Because, at the end of the day, our great community is not going to be so great if we can no longer pave our roads, maintain our parks, bike paths and green belts, or house our young college students.
We have become so polarized and even paralyzed over a 45-acre, 650-unit project that I am skeptical that we can come together to address our needs. But Matthew Palm had one thing right in his piece – I think the next ten years are going to bring huge change.
The old guard in this town have done some amazing things, but unless we make some small and incremental changes, we will lose this community as we know it. Come June 8, we have to figure out a way to come together, regardless of the outcome of Measure A and figure out a path forward for our community.
—David M. Greenwald reporting