This weekend, the Enterprise has an editorial speculating about the future of Nishi, noting that the final outcome for the project is now in the developers’ hands, who “have to decide whether to shelve eight years of planning or find a new way forward for a development that promised to add badly needed revenue to Davis’ coffers.”
The editorial has some strong points, noting that “it came a lot closer than two previous attempts to get Davis voters to approve a new development,” but, ultimately, “concerns about traffic, pollution and affordable housing — along with existing landlords wanting to keep rents up and the ever-present corps of Davisites who simply will vote no on every project that comes along — kept the measure from succeeding.”
I pretty much agree with that and think not enough time has been spent on those existing landlords who opposed the project – Jim Kidd and Dan Dowling, to publicly name two.
But some of the analysis here is shoddy. The Enterprise, while noting that the developers have not indicated their plan going forward, writes, “But a larger innovation-park proposal (this one at Mace Boulevard and I-80) recently was pulled from the November ballot, offering a new opening.”
The Enterprise asks, “Would the larger, more diverse voter turnout typically seen in a presidential election offer a better chance of success? Or would Davis voters turn on a project that’s already lost once in even greater numbers?”
In my view this is a very poor analysis for several reasons. First, we saw just two weeks ago all of the hoops it would take to get a project even on the ballot. Perhaps if Nishi simply came back with the same plan, they would be able to argue that they have already gone through the process. But any change at all has to necessitate at the very least a cursory review by the Planning Commission and probably Open Space and Finance and Budget – at the very least.
Maybe they could do that. But, realistically, in order to pass, I would think they need to do more than come back with the same plan. More on that in a second.
The second faulty factor here is the idea that the general election is going to be larger and much more diverse than June. In the city of Davis, 66 percent of all registered voters, 23,909 in all, came out to vote. The last presidential election, in 2012, saw about 73 percent turnout. That is larger, but I am not convinced the added voters are going to make a huge difference.
What I think most people believe is that Nishi can’t come back in Spring 2017 when the electorate will be far smaller and those who are most motivated to vote are those most likely to vote no.
I don’t believe we need a major overhaul to this project, but I do think coming back in June or November 2018 is their best bet.
I would recommend the developers do the following:
- Expand the project up to 800 units, but set aside 200 of those as affordable units. That immediately takes the affordable housing issue off the table.
- I would have more smaller-sized units so that you can keep the costs down for the students. I mean less square feet, not fewer beds.
- I would work with the city to at least address the issue of light sequencing, and re-directing traffic to the western edge of campus. I might also suggest building the road with the grade-separated crossing first, so people can see how that will impact traffic. Doing that will likely take away some of the traffic concerns as well as concerns about contingencies. That may require the city to work with UC Davis to get things approved.
Remember, the project needs roughly 350 people to switch from No to Yes in order to be successful. That’s not a huge lift, but my three recommendations should take a lot of the concern out of the city.
Talking with the opposition, they acknowledge the math here, but believe because they are more organized than they were at the start of Nishi, they can still overcome it.
But that leads me to the question – why would they want to? If the city and developer address the traffic issues and affordability, what reason is left to oppose the project in the first place?
There are some who want no access at all on Olive Drive. I think the developer sees that as a non-starter, and frankly, so do I. That creates a class of people who are living in the city, but who cannot have ready access to the city except through the university. I think that’s the same problem with West Village.
But the problem here is worse, because one way people will access Nishi with a no Olive Drive access project is by driving through the Richards Tunnel and through downtown – in other words, exactly what we want to avoid in the first place.
The second proposal is to make Nishi an extension to the UC Davis campus. The problem with that approach is part of the need for Nishi is for R&D (research and development) space to bring jobs and revenues into the city and, if it ends up part of UC Davis, we haven’t gained anything there.
So my view is let Nishi come back with some changes for 2018.
While we are at it, I would still like to see them look into a greater density for housing and more R&D space. I still think the best model for Nishi is either USC Village or Poly Canyon Village. The former would address a lot more of our R&D and retail needs. The latter would address most of our housing needs.
I recognize that the applicant is more likely to tweak rather than change the project, but figured I would throw my thoughts out there once again.
—David M. Greenwald reporting