By Kemble K. Pope
In these days of modern mass communication, it is very difficult to sort through, much less find, fact vs. fiction on public policy issues. Our local vote on Measure A is a rare and unusual activity; we’re being asked to judge the qualities of a complex and complicated land use decision that has been created in a ~6 year public process, gone through multiple revisions and generated thousands of pages of publicly available impartial studies and analysis by professionals in many different fields of study.
For the past week or so, I’ve been part of several ongoing dialogues on Facebook and email chains with folks who are undecided on Measure A. Overall, I’m happy to report that the tone has been very civil and respectful. Basically, we all agreed to keep an open mind while sharing weblinks, documents and opinions to add to everyone’s knowledge base of the issue.
Disclosure – I have no financial interest in this project. I am not being paid for my time having and documenting these conversations or anything else I do to support Measure A. I am currently working as an infill redeveloper on several projects, but the investors in those projects are not investors in the Nishi Gateway project. I am friends with some of the partners that own the Nishi property. Years ago, I worked as a consultant for Tandem Properties. One summer in college, I was one of those brave youths that knocked on your door for the Sierra Club. I studied land use and natural resources at UCD Extension and prior to that my academic background focused on environmental policy (and I basically minored in extra-planetary space exploration!). I have served on City Commissions (Open Space & Habitat and Climate Action Team), I served three years as the former CEO of the Davis Chamber of Commerce, and I’ve volunteered my time for numerous other non-profits and public benefit causes and groups in our community. I have been following this project closely, every since a class at UCD Extension used the site for an in-depth case study.
- Let’s get started. First, here’s the City of Davis website that hosts most of the official documents from the past two years. It’s a deep dive into the process, and even I have not read all of these documents, but it’s a good resource page.
The following are several Q&A that have been posted on Facebook or personal email conversations. I apologize in advance if I’ve lifted anyone’s words and not given proper credit.
Q 1: AFFORDABILITY / STUDENT HOUSING
“Why do I keep hearing that it won’t actually be affordable student housing and that the City is giving up money for affordable housing?”
There are mixed opinions on this one. So, here are a few facts to take into account:
- It’s important to make the distinction between (capital “A” = required, subsidized/regulated) “Affordable” housing and (lower case “a” = by design or size, market rate) “affordable” housing
- The City of Davis has a rental housing crisis. Currently, we have a 0.2% vacancy rate in our rental housing stock, and it’s been below 1% for a long time.
- Most academics and public policy wonks agree that at 5%-7% vacancy rate strikes a fair balance between property owners and tenants for profitability, affordability and respect for tenant’s rights.
- UC Davis is adding 6,800 new UC Davis students. UC Davis has indicated that they would like to house 90% of them on campus (latest public version of the Long Range Development Plan), but it will be many years before those units are actually built.
- UC Davis is adding 3,000+ new faculty and staff.
- New student housing at West Village is $1,000+ per person per month for 1bd/1ba in a larger unit, and they’re NOT allowed to share rooms… and it’s 100% occupied.
- Nishi’s 2bd/2ba student apartments are estimated to be $1,500 – $1,800 per month by the project proponent (and $2,200 per month by the No on A campaign) and students will be allowed to double up in rooms.
- Nishi residents will not need a car to get to campus or downtown and will have extremely low energy cost, which helps on affordability.
- In 2013, in an effort to encourage dense, transit-oriented development, the City of Davis passed an ordinance that removed the requirement for builders to provide subsidized affordable housing units in mixed-use (retails on ground floor, residences above) or stacked flat condominiums.
Here is the official answer from the City of Davis on “Affordable” vs “affordable”,
City ordinances exempt condominiums, mixed-use buildings, and rental housing from affordable housing requirements. This project is not required to provide affordable housing because the rental and for sale units are exempt under the City’s Affordable Housing requirements. However, even though the project is exempt, the property owner has agreed to place $1 million into the City’s Housing Trust Fund for creating and preserving affordable housing in Davis.
Mayor Pro Tem Robb Davis gives some thorough background on this public policy decision in this commentary: https://www.davisvanguard.org/2016/04/guest-commentary-city-not-violate-affordable-housing-requirements-nishi/
Why are the apartments that costly in the first place?
New buildings are expensive to build in CA because they’re required to meet CalGreen Building Standards (and in Davis, required to hit the Tier 1 mark) for energy efficiency.
There is a lot of information and many different perspectives on this issue, so here is a link to a bunch of different articles on the topic from the Davis Vanguard: https://www.davisvanguard.org/tag/student-housing/ and https://www.davisvanguard.org/tag/affordable-housing/
Q 2: OWNERS/DEVELOPERS OF NISHI
Who exactly are the owners / developers of this project?
(Hint: they’re real people, not demons!)
Everyone has their own experiences with other people, and in this town it seems to be a popular sport to demonize all developers without acknowledging the good things that they’ve done. I don’t think that this topic is very important to your decision on how to vote. I believe that what’s most important are the legally binding baseline features described in your ballot information. But, I understand the desire to know who will actually be making this happen if approved.
All of the owners of the Nishi property are local. They are not part of some massive company like KB Homes. They bought the property in 2005 from the Nishi family. These are people you sit next to in local coffee shops or pass on the street or in the grocery store. Most likely, if you have children, they know one of these folk’s kids or grandkids. You’ve met or seen them at school events, sporting events, the Farmers Market etc etc. I won’t list it all here, but all of them are incredibly generous folks who have given untold amounts of resources to local non-profits and for the public benefit… often anonymously.
Della Aichwalder Thompson was raised in Davis, attended DJUSD from K-12 and graduated from UC Davis. Della’s husband, Blake, is a retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel and currently works as a commercial airline pilot. They are raising their three biological sons and one foster son here in Davis (all of them in Junior High!). Della works as a local Real Estate Agent. Della has volunteered and supported numerous non-profit and community benefit organizations over the years.
Ray Thompson came to Davis in 1958 and started out managing projects for a local builder, the Stanley Davis Company. He’s a local guy and not some huge company. Ray’s last project was the Evergreen Subdivision in West Davis, which donated the land to the City that eventually became University Retirement Community.
Tim Ruff is a developer with lots of projects under his belt. He lives in Davis and has raised his family here. One of his recent projects is the Del Rio Live-Work Lofts, currently under construction across the street from Right & Relevant. It’s a 16-unit project on an infill site at 5th Street that is offering for-sale opportunities for small business/professionals/entrepreneurs who want an office/lab on the ground floor and live above it. http://www.delriolivework.com/. Tim is a graduate of UC Davis.
John Whitcombe has participated in several developments in town, but for context, he’s only ever done projects in Davis. People love his projects without really knowing it… like the neighborhood in North Davis around the massive North Davis Park & Pond, he’s responsible for all of those greenbelts, wildlife habitat and the mixture of small, affordable duplexes (many ON the greenbelts) that are mixed in with houses of all different sizes. John was born and raised in Davis, attended DJUSD from K-12 and he raised his family here too. He is one of the owners of Tandem Properties, which if you ask around, is regarded by renters as one of the best apartment management companies in town.
Joe and Karen Ogando are not developers, but they have construction experience. They own a highly regarded underground construction company that specializes in underground utilities, utilities connections and street lighting. Karen is a graduate of UC Davis. They currently live in Winters.
Q 3: CONSTRUCTION / TRAFFIC DELAY
“What will happen to the Olive Drive / Richards Blvd intersection during construction?”
Here’s a snippet from a great Q&A on The Davis Vanguard by Dan Carson, of the City’s Finance and Budget Commission:
Q: Will the construction of traffic improvements near the project be disruptive to traffic?
A: Most of the work on the new road connection to campus is internal to the Nishi site and will have only a minor impact on surrounding traffic conditions. But construction of roadway improvements, such as the new interchange, obviously can cause temporary delays but the traffic control measures and staging practices make the delays minimal. The tradeoff is well worth it to fix vexing traffic congestion problems that have been in existence for many years and that would continue to plague this community if Measure A does not pass.
Q 4: RELOCATION OF EXISTING BUSINESSES
“What’s going to happen with Third Space Art Collective?”
I’ve been offering advice to some Third Space leaders for a couple of years, mainly in the vein of, “You’ve got a huge opportunity here to strengthen the collective… if you negotiate now with the owners of your building and the Nishi developers (there’s some cross-over there, but the two groups are definitely different), you could get a great deal on current and future space.” And that’s exactly what they’ve done…
From the horse’s mouth,
For those wondering about Third Space’s future due to Measure A, this just in:
“Third Space Art Collective has reached an agreement with Tim Ruff on new leasing terms at their current 946 Olive Drive location. The new lease is for two guaranteed years, and includes a 40% reduced rent, and relocation fees to be received when the The Collective must move due to eventual development of the area. Third Space’s current lease has been month-to-month, so this new lease provides a longer stay for the artists working at the space. “With this option, we’re able to continue serving the community at our Olive Drive location for the next couple of years,” said Dylan Wright, Co-Founder and Facilities Director.”
We hope to continue long past our current home!
“What’s the big deal with Redrum Burger?” and “Why aren’t the developers even talking to Redrum about relocating?”
In my humble opinion, this one is a red herring. Redrum will certainly be affected, but they’ve turned down all offers of help. I’ve gathered a bunch of information from a few sources, shared it on their FB page, and Redrum has not disputed any of the following.
From a source at the Yes on A campaign,
“If Redrum closes its doors after Measure A passes, it is their own choice. They are not in any way being forced to close. Quite the opposite. It will likely be 2 years until any construction begins. But, their building is old and in disrepair, and they have a chance to upgrade their location at the same rent. They shouldn’t pass up the opportunity. The property owner has been in discussions with Redrum for over three years!”
From the property owner to the owner of Redrum Burger :
“Jim, I’d like to offer you space in one of our buildings at the Nishi site for the same rent and equal space that you have now. A new facility for you on the Nishi property. Dan, my project manager is copied herein.
Or reduced rent to $1000 plus CAM over the next 3 years in your current space with a one time payment of $10,000 if your lease terminates prior to 3 years. That would come into affect when I acquire the property. This would go to June 2019.
Or assistance in finding another location in the next 2 years. There is no bulldozer coming in July – as mentioned prior – we have a lot of work to do before we need Olive Drive. Let us know if this is acceptable. Look forward to your response.”
From another source in commercial real estate,
“Redrum has known of Nishi plans for 5 years and have made no efforts to find a new location. The building is failing and does not meet ADA requirements. Redrum has lost business to IN and Out and Dutch Bros traffic has hurt his business.
Redrum has been offered the following and refused them all,
- a new spot behind their current location
- property in South Davis next to Jiffy Lube
- a spot in the Nishi development
- suggested that he talk with the City about the vacant property on the corner of Olive Drive near Napa that the City owns.
Jim Edlund, the owner, has decided instead to oppose the project rather than taking the 5 years of notice to be proactive. He has been offered multiple forms of assistance and options, and he has rejected them all. Jim demanded free rent through 2019, which was apparently being considered, but that fell apart when he started funding the No on A campaign.
Obviously there is no agreement they can reach before Election Day, but he has had plenty of advanced notice and has decided to do nothing.”
Q 5. FARMLAND
“Is the land still usable as farm land?”
I think that this issue is very important, but oddly, it’s the one with the least public conversation.
For context, I served as a volunteer commissioner on the City’s Open Space & Habitat Commission for 6 years. My wife has a Masters in International Ag Development and a Ph.D. in Horticulture & Agronomy from UC Davis and she is a local Farm Advisor. So, the following is based on my experiences and knowledge, and I’ve gleaned some of it from conversations with my wife… but don’t quote her, these are my words!
SIZE & SHAPE – The Nishi property is 47 acres in a long “tear drop” shape that makes it difficult to farm some crops.
ACCESSIBILITY – Currently, there is only one access point to the site for anyone who wants to farm. It is a private railroad crossing at the end of Arboretum Terrace, which is at the end of Arboretum Drive, which is an extension of Old Davis Road. Several people have died at this crossing over the years, at least one of them an accident. More info on daviswiki: ( https://localwiki.org/davis/Nishi_Property )
This limited accessibility means that it is incredibly difficult and dangerous to move people, farm equipment and finished produce on and off the site. Many crops would not work here simply because the large machinery necessary (harvesters, processors, etc) would have difficulty navigating Old Davis Road.
SOIL QUALITY (this section has been pulled directly from the project’s Environmental Impact Report, Section 4.02 Agriculture)
The California Department of Conservation Farmland Mapping and Monitoring Program (FMMP) classifies all ag land throughout the state. Classifications are based on a combination of physical and chemical characteristics of the soil and climate that determine the degree of suitability of the land for crop production. The FMMP has classified this land as suitable for Grazing of Herd Animals… it does not meet the qualifications for Prime or Unique Farmland.
The Yolo County Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) developed a Land Evaluation and Site Assessment (LESA) model to assist in planning decisions related to the relative significance of agricultural land uses in Yolo County. Land evaluation factors include information on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Land Capability Classification and Storie Index Rating for soils mapped within the Yolo County Soil Survey, as well as a measure of irrigation availability derived from the Important Farmland Map for Yolo County developed under the FMMP, surrounding land uses, separation between agriculture and urban uses, zoning and other factors.
The land evaluation component of LESA has a maximum score of 50, as does the site assessment component, for a total maximum score of 100. The LAFCo considers a score of 75 or higher as representative of Tier 1 Agricultural Resources, the “very highest agricultural importance.” A score of 60-74 represents Tier 2, which is considered “high agricultural importance”; 40-59 represents Tier 3, “moderate agricultural importance”; and less than 40, Tier 4, “moderate agricultural importance.”
A preliminary assessment of the site resulted in a Land Evaluation and Site Assessment score of 69.8 out of 100, indicating the site is Tier 2, high agricultural importance (refer to Appendix B). The site scored high for soil type and size parameters, but is less valuable as farmland because of lack of irrigation and the presence of development, including I-80 around the site boundary.
WATER – I believe that the site has always been dry farmed. The site does not, to my knowledge, have any water rights. They could, I assume, dig a well for irrigation in order to farm the site, but that is costly and there are now groundwater regulations in place with which they’d have to comply.
CROPS – It seems like the only type of farming activity that COULD possibly work here would be the one thing that sets all our hearts aflutter (I’m not being sarcastic)… a bunch of small-scale, organic CSA-type operations. They’d still face the same challenges described above, namely safe access and lack of water.
OPEN SPACE & MITIGATION – If Measure A passes, the Arboretum pathways and bikeways would be extended into the project site creating 23 acres of open space on the site… that bears repeating, 23 of the 47 acre Nishi site would be open space, including a large “urban forest” on the northwestern apex of the site.
Additionally, as a result of the City’s 2:1 Mitigation Ordinance that we helped put in place while I chaired the Open Space & Habitat Commission, the developer will be required to put (47 acres x 2) 94 acres of farmland that is adjacent to the City into PERMANENT conservation, land that will never be developed. If anyone is interested in exactly how this land would be protected, and how other existing land around the City is protected, I can explain the details if you send me an email (kemblepope (a t) g mail (d o t) com)
BEST & HIGHEST USE – The most important question on this topic is, however, a public policy question: “What is the best and highest use of this property?”
I believe the answer is simple: this site is adjacent to UC Davis and the downtown, so, dense (mostly student) housing and Research & Development space for emerging and growing companies created from UC Davis tech transfer are the best and highest use.
Q 6. AIR QUALITY
“I hear that there is bad air pollution at the Nishi site, but how is it any different from everyone else who lives near a freeway? What’s the real deal?”
The scientists seem to disagree on not only the severity of the problem but also if and how it could be solved. On one side is Tom Cahill, a former colleague of mine from the OS&H Commission, for whom I have great respect. On the other side, are, well, lots of other scientists. Cahill does not agree with the findings of the Environmental Impact Report and other scientists have disagreed with Cahill.
Here’s the most recent input from a scientist on this topic: Charles Salocks is a 30 year Davis resident with a Ph.D. in Environmental Toxicology from UC Davis and 30+ years of experience preparing and reviewing human health risk assessments for hazardous waste sites.
In an article published in the Davis Vanguard, Salocks wrote: “Although I respect Dr. Cahill and acknowledge that he has done excellent research, many of his claims concerning the health risks Nishi residents will face are overstated.”
Read more here about Salocks’ thoughts: https://www.davisvanguard.org/2016/05/toxologist-challenges-cahills-air-quality-health-effect-findings/
And here is a link to a variety of opinions: https://www.davisvanguard.org/tag/air-quality/
Personally, it was this article that put this issue to rest for me: http://www.davisenterprise.com/forum/opinion-columns/nishi-is-a-model-for-mixed-use-infill/
Q 7. FISCAL BENEFIT TO CITY
“How much will the City benefit from this project? Or will it cost us money?”
There has been an incredible amount of study and debate on this topic. The fiscal analysis of the project shows a net benefit to the General Fund after all services are provided to the new residents. Plus, the school district negotiated for some extra ongoing money in addition to the one-time funds. That’s why the entire City Council (and all of the candidates for City Council) and the entire DJUSD Board have endorsed the project.
Again, I’ll direct you to Dan Carson on this topic: https://www.davisvanguard.org/2016/06/last-minute-questions-measure-answers/
Let’s also not forget the fiscal benefit to Downtown businesses, best described by the owner of B&L Bike Shop:
Q 8. TIMING & PROCESS
“I hear from some people that this project has been publicly reviewed for several years and from others that it is being rushed through… what’s the truth?”
Truth? Apparently, that’s subjective and depends on your definition of “rushed” and what components of the process may or may not have been rushed. Here’s a brief timeline of activities that I’m aware of… it is certainly not exhaustive.
pre-1987 – The 1987 General Plan and previous General Plans for the City of Davis envisioned development of the Nishi site.
1994 – A “Gateway Mall” was proposed on the Nishi site. Davisites mobilized to “Save Downtown Davis from Gateway Mall” with slogans like, “Davis is a Mall-Free Zone.” The project was scaled back, still opposed and then it was withdrawn.
1993 – 1995: The City Council appointed a 27-member Advisory Committee to create the “Gateway/Olive Drive Specific Plan”. They met publicly 20 times. The Nishi property is discussed throughout this document that was amended in a public process in 2002.
1994 – 2001: The City Council initiated a citizens planning process to create a new General Plan, with 200+ citizens on 14 committees working on different topical areas. Ultimately, 13 of the 14 committees recommended preserving much of the 1987 General Plan, including the Nishi property as the focus of future planned growth. However, the Growth Management Committee recommend removing virtually all land from the General Plan. The City Council adopted the 2001 General Plan, which removed the Nishi property.
2007 – 2008: The City Council appointed a 15-member Steering Committee to update the ‘Housing Element’ of the General Plan, as mandated by State Law. They met publicly 25 times, held 2 public workshops and had several public check-ins with the Planning Commission and the City Council. Site #17 (of 37 total) is “Nishi Property – Option with Access Via UCD Only” and was given the “green light”. Site #25 is “Nishi Property – Option with Access via Olive Dr. Only” was given the “yellow light”, to be considered if needed prior to 2013. Oddly, there is no option for Nishi with access to both UC Davis AND Olive Drive.
2009: The City’s Business & Economic Development Commission released the “Davis Economic Health & Prosperity Report”. Among other relevant statistics, it asked for further analysis on the question, “How can the City, private sector, and UC Davis collaborate to keep more UCD spinoff businesses in Davis?”
2010: The City Council created the “Innovation Park Task Force” which met publicly many times. It’s objective: Prepare recommendation on how, where and whether to pursue construction of a future business/innovation park able to primarily accommodate space needs of growing companies in an innovation plan within or peripheral to existing City boundaries.
2010: The City Council approved actions “to maintain a steady supply of developable business park/industrial land. Immediate actions included initiating planning of the Nishi property as a mix of university-related research park development complemented by high density urban housing.”
2012: In collaboration with the Innovation Park Task Force, “The City of Davis Innovation Center Study” is released by STUDIO30, UC Davis Extension. It recommends, “Continue to work with the land owner and development team for the Nishi Gateway site, as well as the University, to pursue a mixed use project that incorporates a close in, incubator/hub and mixed-use innovation district directly linked to UC Davis.
2012 – 2015: Joint Objectives of the Davis Chamber, Davis Downtown and Yolo County Visitor’s Bureau released annually. #1 Objective: Entitle the Nishi/Solano Park/Gateway/Downtown as a mixed use, innovation district that would provide space for start-ups and tech businesses, as well as much-needed high-density housing in close proximity to UC Davis and downtown.
2014: City of Davis, UC Davis, Yolo County, LAFCO and the property owners began the latest round of public planning that got us to today. See these two websites for all of those public meetings and work products:
January 28th, 2015: Environmental Impact Report process publicly and formally began with the “Notice of Scoping Meeting”… 16 months ago.
Q 9. TRAIN NOISE
“Why are the trains so loud?”
Great question! But I’m just making that up to fit in with my formatting here. Actually, on Saturday I was walking the site with a friend who is undecided on Measure A. My friend stopped by the booth at Farmers Market and Mike Corbett volunteered to join him on our walk.
The acoustics out there are very random. There are places where the interstate is barely a whisper (yes, I had my hearing aids in) and others where the train horn feels like a call from the other side (kinda like my backyard near the north-bound freight rail line).
Mike casually mentioned, “Won’t it be nice when the last private, at-grade crossing is removed, and none of the trains on the main line will have to blow their horns every time they come through town?” WHAT? Oh man, that would be amazing for so many residents… but don’t worry, we’ll still have those charming 6:30am freight trains blowing their horns at three intersections in Downtown!
OK, that’s all I have. I hope someone finds this information useful. And to my fellow citizens who are adamantly opposed to Measure A, I’m heading you off at the pass… yes, I know, I’m biased… but that’s the result of my assessment of the information that I have. I hope you’ll all recognize that I’ve tried to present many links to other viewpoints when possible. Now, I must regretfully decline from participating in the comments section… but I’ve got a family day planned for Sunday and a ton of work piled up on Monday. I have no doubt that a fair and balanced dialogue will ensue.
Tuesday, June 7th is Election Day, don’t forget to vote!