My View II: When Should Nishi Return?



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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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


About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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116 thoughts on “My View II: When Should Nishi Return?”

  1. MAli

    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.

    Don’t forget Mike Harrington in this group.

  2. MAli

    You miss the bigger problem with the Enterprise editorial encapsulated in the concluding paragraph:

    “We hope the developer and the city (and, who knows, maybe UC Davis) can work out some way forward, to build on this proposal to come up with that elusive, magical beast — a development this city can approve at the ballot box.”

    The problem is that the city and the developer don’t have the power to decide. Under Measure R that power is reserved for the voters. The Enterprise does recognize this but does so with a dismissive wink by referring to the impediment to rational planning posed by Measure R as “That elusive, magical beast.”

    Perhaps Nishi will come back to the voters at some point, I really don’t know, but I think the proponents feel a lot like Jeb Bush right now who voiced his frustration by saying     “If this is an election about how we’re going to fight to get nothing done, I don’t want any part of it. I don’t want to be elected president to sit around and see gridlock just become so dominant that people are literally in decline in their lives. That is not my motivation. I’ve got a lot of really cool things I could do other than sit around being miserable, listening to people demonize me and me feeling compelled to demonize them. That is a joke. Elect Trump if you want that.”

    Substitute Nishi for the President and I can easily see the developers going off to Florida to play a few rounds of golf with the ex-Governor while leaving Davis’ housing shortage and crumbling roads to the voters to figure out.

  3. Roberta Millstein

    “If the city and developer address the traffic issues and affordability, what reason is left to oppose the project in the first place?”

    The harmful pollutants from the adjacent elevated freeway and the trains.

    1. nameless

      I rest my case!!!  (see below)  It is clear to me that no growthers opposing Nishi will do so no matter what changes the developer tries to make… and try and convince the electorate using whatever tactics are necessary, even if unethical.

      1. ryankelly

        There will be people who will never vote Yes – people who would rather see people risk their lives driving miles on busy freeways to come to Davis for work and school and don’t see the benefit for all in the planting of an urban forest.

      2. Roberta Millstein

        nameless, you assume that my objection is based on “growth,” but that is not my objection, and your accusation that I am objecting to growth at the Nishi site is completely baseless.  I raise the concerns about health because I am concerned about health and for no other secret, unstated reason.  You have no case to rest.

        1. Fred

          “unethical.” what are you talking about? Your attack seems really over the top. I mean really, Three exclamation points? Nameless you seem upset about something this morning. Anything we can help you with?

        2. Tia Will


          I believe that your concerns about health issues are sincere. I also believe that you willfully chose to close your eyes, or at least not respond to the point that I made multiple times about the health risks inherent in commenting further distances to access campus or downtown. I brought this issue directly up to you many times during the campaign and you had not one word to say about the dangers of commuting which are much better worked out that than are those of the specific quality of the Nishi air.

        3. Roberta Millstein

          Tia, and I have many many many times called upon to tell me how you know that people who live at Nishi will be driving less.  People living at Nishi may not be students or work in Davis, or even if they are students, they may have partners who commute or may need to travel for other reasons (say, to see distant family).  It seems like you are basing your claim on speculative assumptions.  I don’t know why you haven’t responded to this, but instead you keep pretending that I am the one who hasn’t responded.  (Please feel free to go back and look at our previous exchanges).

      1. Fred

        Also filtration systems only work while you are indoors. The last version of Nishi had 11 acres of parks and open space that encouraged an out door lifestyle.

        1. Alan Miller

          Now we are through the looking glass and out the anus.  Criticizing the outdoor parks as harmful to health.  It is definitely time to close off the bike path under the railroad and the freeway, those bicyclists might breath in some FUMES.

        2. Fred

          Alan. No need to get all twisted up. Parks are great. Parks by the freeway where there are air quality problems not so great. If you exercise and breath  deeply while you are in a park with bad air quality it increases the effect. Dr. Cahill has stated quite firmly that its not a good place for housing. Until there are some proper studies done it would be foolish for the developers to build there because they would be open to future lawsuits if the people who live there end up having health problems.

        3. Fred

          I am pretty sure the developer never attempted to address Dr. Cahill’s concerns directly, but OK, the Mitigation is an attempt at mitigation. The problem is Dr. Cahill has very clearly stated no one should live on the Nishi property period. I am more than happy for there to be independent third party studies that will tell us what the situation air quality situation is. As I have stated in other places here, I believe that is in all of our best interests, especially the City and the developers to do the studies now to avoid future lawsuits if some one does have breathing problems on the property.

          Maybe what is making my position hard to understand is that I am not arguing from a political point of view. I love parks, but the truth is parks that have air quality problems are not good places for people to exercise. That is not that complicated.

          To the extent there are air quality problems in the proposed Nishi parks, then no one should exercise there, and maybe parks that encourage people to spend time in the poor air quality should not be built there. Urban forest sure sounds nice, but lets not forget that the whole parcel is no wider than 90 yards at any point. At least in the last plans the “urban forest” is much narrower than that. When we are talking about an “urban forest,” its not some deep wood, its more like a thin line of trees along the freeway.

    2. Rich RifkinWDE 73

      MILLSTEIN: “The harmful pollutants from the adjacent elevated freeway and the trains.”

      This is not a rational argument. It is fear mongering.

      First, if you are afraid of ‘harmful pollutants’ from adjacent sources, then don’t live there.

      Second, the supposed harm from diesel particulate matter is vastly overstated: It ignores the fact that since the early 1990s, the state of California’s Air Resources Board’s exhaust regulations have cut dpm emissions by more than 80 percent, and health risks from dpm are down even more. See this ARB graphic:

      The “science” which suggests risk factors — estimated to be a very slight increase in cancers and other health problems over 70 years of exposure based on living near a freeway — are based on population studies where the diesel particulate matter was, for most of the period, 5-6 times as high as it is today.

      An additional factor is that Tom Cahill, the leader of the “It is too dangerous to breathe that air crowd,” based his conclusion on a ridiculously false premise. Mr. Cahill supported the construction of a freeway-side apartment building south of I-80. But he said he could not support Nishi because he thinks the wind there will blow pollutants toward the apartments. Mr. Cahill has no real idea of how the winds work in the Yolo-Solano region. They vary hour-by-hour and day-by-day. This morning I rode 60 miles on my bike, and faced some southwest winds, some northwest, and for a short while a headwind from the east. Cahill looked simply at the “prevailing wind,” ignoring the specific nature of the wind throughout each day and the specific direction winds blow at given locations.

      The reality is that there is not a single good argument against Nishi. The people who oppose it all have one major thing in common: They are selfish. They don’t see any personal benefit to themselves from a project like Nishi. And they idealize “the Davis they moved to” some years ago, and they want Davis in the future to remain the same. It is that self-centered attitude which prevails in our city. I think it has likely been the dominant attitude of the progressive-left since the early 1970s. However, it has only been since Measure J/R came along that these selfish folks have been able to stop all developments of this nature by voting them down at the ballot box. It does not matter how good a project is. Nothing will trump the selfish attitude of a majority of Davis voters.

      1. Ron

        Rich Rifkin:  “The reality is that there is not a single good argument against Nishi. The people who oppose it all have one major thing in common: They are selfish.”

        Also – per Rich: “Nothing will trump the selfish attitude of a majority of Davis voters.”

        Wow.  Now there’s a “winning argument”.

      2. Roberta Millstein


        My argument is fully rational and based on the available studies.  I am not fear mongering.  There is no reason for me to fear monger, as I have no other significant reason to object to a project on this site.  Your analysis, on the other hand, conveniently ignores significant parts of Dr. Cahill’s analysis.  You focus only on the diesel fumes from the freeway.  You’ve overlooked the fine metals from braking – and the fact that there is a lot of braking in this area.  You’ve overlooked the elevated freeway.  You’ve overlooked the winter air inversion.  You ignore the impacts from the passing train.  Are you deliberately leaving out part of the story, or have you not bothered to actually look at Dr. Cahill’s research?

        You base your analysis of the wind on your personal biking anecdote – is that supposed to be data?  Yes, winds vary (who said that they didn’t?) but there are prevailing winds, and they either blow from the freeway onto the site or from the train tracks onto the site.

        The fact that Dr. Cahill opposed Nishi but approved New Harmony gives credibility to his arguments, rather than taking away from him.  He is not a “no-growther.”  He is not opposed to all developments.  But he determined that there were specific things about this site (as described in my first paragraph above) that made it worse than New Harmony.

        You say, “if you are afraid of ‘harmful pollutants’ from adjacent sources, then don’t live there.”  But sadly, this “choice” is not one that future residents will be able to make, since they will not be presented with a clear explanation of the risks – or any hint that they might be taking on any risks – before signing on the dotted line.

        You say I am being selfish.  What is your basis for that personal attack?  Do you know me?  If the developers are to be believed, I should have everything to gain from this project.  I should get better traffic flow and money for the City’s coffers.  The selfish argument is the argument that sacrifices people’s health for these benefits.

        1. Don Shor

          You base your analysis of the wind on your personal biking anecdote – is that supposed to be data? Yes, winds vary (who said that they didn’t?) but there are prevailing winds, and they either blow from the freeway onto the site or from the train tracks onto the site.

          wind direction

        2. Roberta Millstein

          Don Shor, good, those are data.  And from those data, we can see that when the wind is blowing, it is blowing from the freeway or from the train tracks.  How that pans out in terms of when pollutants are being spread from the freeway and when they are lingering is still not fully known, which is why Dr. Cahill has called for more research, as I do in my June 25, 2016 at 1:56 pm comment below.  We’ve got some time now; why not use it to try to resolve this issue?

        3. Tia Will


          since they will not be presented with a clear explanation of the risks – or any hint that they might be taking on any risks – before signing on the dotted line”

          I would say that like you accuse Rich of doing, you are making this assertion based on an anecdote of how you were once not fully informed during a housing situation. You have no more way of knowing whether future residents of Nishi would always be fully informed of the risks than Rich has of knowing which way the wind will blow on any particular day, and yet both of you are willing to use anecdotal evidence as though it were known fact.

        4. Roberta Millstein

          Tia, I spent most of my adult life renting apartments and houses.  I have never been presented with any information about risks at a site, other than the default Prop 65 warning which is so ubiquitous as to be useless.  There was no promise from the developers to provide residents with information about risks, and every disincentive for those renting the apartments at Nishi to do so.

          As you and I discussed before, yes, residents could take the trouble to research the risks of a site on their own.  But it is a rare person who would think to do something like that unless they already had some inkling that a site might be harmful.

          1. Don Shor

            There wouldn’t be anything reasonable to disclose. The autism argument was speculative and pretty pointless. The freeway pollution is, as Rich points out, probably significantly overstated, and freeway particulate matter can be mitigated. All that remains is the fine particles from the trains which might pass over the site if the wind happens to be out of the north when the train happens to brake, which could cause some absolutely undeterminable increase in risk. Which would be mitigated somewhat by the measures the developer was willing to implement for keeping indoor air clean.
            There would be no accurate thing to disclose to potential renters except ‘living here might slightly increase your risk of cancer and various other diseases if you live here for a very long time’ — which is also true of many other things we do and places we live. It would, in fact, be about as meaningful as the Prop 65 warnings. If the project violated ARB standards, there would be something to disclose. But the objection was coming from one researcher, not from a regulatory agency.
            What would you have the developer ‘disclose’ exactly?

        5. Roberta Millstein

          Don Shor, you and I and others disagree over the relevance of the autism data and the significance of the risk that residents would face.  So, obviously, any such document would be controversial and would need to be drawn up by a neutral third party.  It would need to state what studies have shown in clear, non-technical language.  It would need to describe the measurements that have been taken and what those measurements indicate.  And it would need to refer people to the studies themselves, so that if they chose they could follow up and do more research.

      3. Tia Will


        They are selfish.”

        I just called out Roberta for her one sided view of the Nishi health situation. I am now going to call you out. I sincerely doubt that you have made a thorough assessment of the minds of those who voted against Nishi. Amongst those who voted no were a number of people who I know personally. They had many different reasons for their opposition, but very few want to keep Davis how it as when they got here, or even how it is today. Their reasons centered around traffic concerns, the lack of “little a ” affordable housing, and a very few, such as Roberta had concerns about the air quality despite my efforts to provide reassurance on the latter issue. Just because you do not see these as genuine concerns does not mean that no one did. Dismissing the genuine concerns of others by branding them is hardly a persuasive way forward.

        1. Rich RifkinWDE 73

          OB/GYN: Their reasons centered around traffic concerns, the lack of “little a ” affordable housing, and a very few, such as Roberta had concerns about the air quality despite my efforts to provide reassurance on the latter issue.

          All of those reasons completely fall apart upon serious examination. As a result, it all comes down to selfishness: These are people who want to preserve something they think they have and any change threatens them in that respect.

          The marginal traffic concerns are not substantial. There clearly is a problem at certain times of the day going through the Richards underpass. Demand exceeds supply, and hence there is a queue. The Nishi project would send almost no extra cars into the tunnel at any time of the day, and therefore this argument by the selfies does not hold up. Moreover, if Davis really wanted to solve the imbalance between supply and demand on Richards, we could end it overnight. All you have to do is charge $5 per vehicle that traveling north during the morning commute or going south during the evening commute. Demand would decrease dramatically. Most drivers coming from or going to UCD would opt for the UC Davis freeway exit. Others would use Unitrans, or walk, or ride a bicycle. And some would adjust their schedule to avoid going through the tunnel at that time. (Note: Using license plate readers, which the city owns, no one paying the toll would have to stop. They would get a bill each month from the DMV, charging them $5 for each time in the prior 30 days they went through the underpass during the hours the toll was in effect.)

          Affordable housing: Another completely brainless argument by the selfies. How many extra “affordable” units of rental housing will be added in Davis by not building Nishi? Zero, doctor, zero.

          Air quality: Don Shor completely eviscerated that lame excuse and the nonsensical arguments of Mr. Cahill, whose argument on wind-direction, comparing life south and north of i-80, makes no sense. (See Don’s June 25, 2016 at 3:57 pm comment).

          Even more, no one will be forced to live in Nishi. So if Millstein fears trains breaking or diesel exhaust, she can choose not to live there. I have repeatedly stated that I would not want to live in that location because of the noise factor. I ride my bike near I-80 all the time, and what drives me crazy is the noise, not the exhaust. So I choose to live elsewhere.

          Yet, because the selfies are a majority in Davis and they reject every development for some bogus reason or another, marginal renters are left with very little choice in their housing in Davis. And one consequence of that is Davis workers and students who live in W. Sacramento, Woodland, Winters, Dixon or even Vacaville drive to Davis. The selfies, who also claim to be environmentalists, don’t seem to give a hoot about the air effects they are causing and the fossil fuels that must be burned due to our extreme rental housing shortage.

        2. Fred

          RR, Its unfortunate that you are grinding away on this topic. You seem really upset. If your so convinced there is no air quality problem on the Nishi property, then you should be more than willing to have more extensive studies done. If your right, they would only prove your point. If your wrong, well then it might keep people from harm.


        3. Roberta Millstein

          Rifkin, Don Shor didn’t “eviscerate” anyone’s argument.  What he did is state his disagreement with Dr. Cahill, which of course is his right to do, but that’s not an argument.  Look, Monty Python is here to show you the difference between merely denying someone’s claims and making an argument:

          Again, I ask you what are the grounds for your claim that I am being selfish by raising health concerns about Nishi.  How could I possibly benefit from the project not being built?  If anything, as I said before, if the developers are correct we should all benefit from the improved traffic flow and the money for the City.

        4. Roberta Millstein

          ryankelly, yes, it was an attempt at humor.  But people do get confused sometimes between simply denying what someone else is saying and actually giving reasons why someone else is mistaken.

  4. nameless

    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.

    To expect the developer to add 200 affordable housing units (even tho not required), and I assume you are referring to big A Affordable, would probably mean the project does not pencil out for the developer.  How is that going to help the situation?


    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 don’t really understand your concept.  Students rent apartments in such a way as to squeeze as many students into a space as possible to cut down on rent.  Your solution is really a distinction without a difference.  Nishi’s proposal called for a 2 bedroom apartment at $1,500 to $1,800 per month.  For 4 students that is $375 to $450 a month.  Quite affordable and comfortable.  But there is nothing stopping students putting 3 to a room, or putting 2 more in the living room with a sofa bed to cut down even more on the cost of rent.  To make an apartment smaller in square footage just cuts down on how many students can live in the apartment.  How is it helpful to offer a 2 bedroom apartment for $1,000 a month if the square footage is so small it only allows for 1 student per bedroom @ $500 per month?


    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.

    I don’t care what changes the developer makes to address traffic problems – opponents will never be satisfied.  Even if access to Olive Dr. were cut off, opponents would complain there would be too much pressure on Old Davis Rd.  Even if access were provided directly to the freeway, opponents would complain about that.  Remember, opponents have said this entire development is unacceptable because of the pollution residents would be exposed to!

    IMO, major tweaks to this development are not what are going to get it approved, because the no growthers are: 1) controlling the message; 2) using underhanded tactics to get their way; 3) determined to prevent any kind of growth to the city no matter the cost to taxpayers.  Until the city/City Council decides to get actively behind this development, innovation parks in general and the need for economic development, with its own cohesive, intelligent, coordinated and unified message – instead of remaining neutral – the innovation parks will never get past the opposition.

    1. The Pugilist

      The question on Big A affordable will be how much help they can get with it.

      You are correct that opponents will never be satisfied, but the point that the Vanguard is making is that you don’t need to satisfy the opponents, you need to satisfy the swing voters.

      1. MAli

        You are trying to argue about how to get it passed but not addressing the costs of trying. Why would the applicants want to spend all that money to risk being rejected by the voters again?


        1. Matt Williams

          That may be true Pugilist, but the real question for the developers is whether it would be better to put that money into a campaign to defeat the extension of Measure R in 2020.  One of the advantages of that alternative is that they would have a considerable number of allies who would be willing to share the cost of the electoral fight with them.

        2. Alan Miller

          Not a chance.  Measure R will always be renewed.  Nishi has a far better chance of passing than Measure R has a chance of being not renewed.  Simple economics:  the longer we are at zero vacancy, the more the value of Davis property skyrockets, the death spiral of Measure R forever locked in.

          The tragedy:  Skyrocketing rental rates for students, and no one cares, they have theirs.  PS.  Affordable housing morons — there is no such thing:  substitute ever and always in your mind:  SUBSIDIZED housing.  The only way to keep rents from skyrocketing is increase supply.  At effective zero vacancy rate, rental rates not only rise, but steeply, thus many large-holding Davis landlords opposing Nishi, and supporting Measure R.

          “Fight the real enemy!” – Sinead O’Connor

        3. Ron

          Alan Miller:

          I think you may be overlooking the efforts of some (e.g., Eileen) to continue efforts to encourage the University to build housing on campus.  (This seems to be the best solution for both students and other residents.) Perhaps most importantly, it appears that Eileen and others have already made a difference, regarding the University’s commitments.

          For the most part, I think that you’re misunderstanding the motivations of those who support “slow growth”.  (For example, your view implies that once someone becomes a homeowner, they would “suddenly” support slow growth.  I doubt that’s the case, for most slow growth supporters.)

        4. Alan Miller

          Nor.  For most, their home is their largest, by far, lifetime investment.  A vote for Measure R, and then against all projects, raises the value of that investment.  I’m not saying it is the primary motivation for all, but for the many silent, who don’t care about, have time for, or understand the nuances of, politics, but do understand that more housing dilutes the rate at which their primary investment rises in value.  Thus, Measure R is a self-perpetuating death spiral.

          On or off campus, we are not getting anything that could even make a dent for some time now in the vacancy rate — especially now with Nishi, um, delayed . . .

          So we have at least 5-10 good years of spiraling upward rents for students.  Berkeley and Santa Cruz are among the liberal bastions of California, and is there affordable housing for students there?  Nope.  Death rents.  And so, we are going to go for SUBSIDIZED housing for students?  Wouldn’t that have happened, if anywhere in West Village, a government-built complex?  But no, it’s “GREEN”, and EXPENSIVE AS S–T.

          The only solution is more housing.  Infill is frought with problems and fights, especially now with the immense pressure on the few sites actually available, all due to the pressure from no peripheral growth.  Nishi was a fantastic plan and location — and now — it’s GONE!

          Good luck finding something better.

        5. Fred

          One thing Berkeley has going for it when it comes to student housing that Davis doesn’t is much larger scale student Co-ops. Over 1,500 students live in the Berkeley Student Housing Co-op system, and it is relatively affordable compared with some of the other options. Obviously even if Davis or UCD could start replicating something at that scale it would still only be part of what UCD will need, but it is an alternative to the apartment model and can be denser and more affordable.

    2. Matt Williams

      nameless said . . . “I don’t really understand your concept.  Students rent apartments in such a way as to squeeze as many students into a space as possible to cut down on rent.  Your solution is really a distinction without a difference.  Nishi’s proposal called for a 2 bedroom apartment at $1,500 to $1,800 per month.  For 4 students that is $375 to $450 a month.  […] To make an apartment smaller in square footage just cuts down on how many students can live in the apartment.  How is it helpful to offer a 2 bedroom apartment for $1,000 a month if the square footage is so small it only allows for 1 student per bedroom @ $500 per month?”

      The concept is really quite simple nameless, configure the apartments differently.  Right now the proposal has one bathroom per bedroom . . . no bathroom sharing.  Moving to an average of one bathroom per two bedrooms eliminates cost and frees up square footage for additional units.  The market rent rate of $1,500 to $1,800 per month would still apply for most of the units.

      The 440 units as proposed have 1,012 bedrooms and approximately 1,012 bathrooms.  The total square feet are 494,560, averaging 489 square feet per bedroom.  Cut the bathrooms in half and you free up just over 50,000 square feet, which supports 115 additional bedrooms with 115 bathrooms.  That represents a 11.3% increase in monthly revenue for the developers if rents are kept at $1,500 to $1,800 per month, or alternatively the opportunity to reduce rents by approximately 11% to $1,325 to $1,600 per month, which still gives the developer the same monthly gross revenue.

      I personally don’t know how 389 square feet of living space per bedroom compares to other apartment complexes, nor do I know how reducing it 10% to 350 square feet per bedroom compares, but such a 10% reduction frees up 50,600 square feet, which supports the addition of another 130 units with a bathroom for every two bedrooms.  Do you personally think an average bedroom size reduction from 389 square feet to 339 square feet is meaningful in terms of the ability to keep the students per bedroom ratio constant?



      1. ryankelly

        Right now, the rents are $500-$1000 per month. Harrington is charging $750 per room with no living room – just a shared kitchen and one bathroom for 5 bedrooms. So, building smaller 2 bedroom units with shared bathrooms for $1500 protects current landlords from downward pressure on rental prices. Is that the idea?

        1. ryankelly

          From the posted rates in my neighborhood, property management websites of rental properties available, talking to people who are hunting for housing right now.

        2. Matt Williams

          Ryan, that is a highly disparate standard. Some rooms can support one bed, others two beds, others three beds, others four beds, some might even support more than four beds.  With variability like that there is no way to make a statistically logical comparison.

          Further, the whole principle behind shared bathrooms and (possibly) smaller bedroom sizes without reducing the number of occupants per bedroom is to reduce the rents below the proposed $1,500-$1,800 for a 2BR-4 bed apartment.  Reduced rents would put downward pressure on rental prices.

  5. Jim Frame

    if it ends up part of UC Davis, we haven’t gained anything there.

    We would gain student beds, and likely many more than were included in the Measure A plan.  That’d be a pretty nice consolation prize, in my view.  Nishi is a logical location for student housing due to its proximity to campus.

    No matter which way Nishi goes, with regard to the First Street/Richards Boulevard traffic problem, I think it’s time to take another look at limiting access from First Street to Old Davis Road.  Gates or extendable bollards that block access to all but bikes and buses during crunch hours could go a long way toward solving that problem.


    1. ryankelly

      This is a bad idea.  It would force more cars onto 1st, B, and Russell.  We need more avenues, not less.  It is not good transportation planning to force all traffic into fewer and fewer streets.

      1. Steve McMahon

        If you follow the eastbound traffic back from 1st along Old Davis, it’s pretty obvious that the congestion is coming from the big southern parking lots on UCD. Old Davis, 1st and Richards are being used as an extended on-ramp for I-80. It would only take a small hindrance to change the behavior in favor of the Old Davis Road exchange. Probably even a timed signal light would do the trick.

      2. Jim Frame

         It would force more cars onto 1st, B, and Russell.

        I’m not seeing that.  If Old Davis Road were closed at First Street during peak hours, there’d be no advantage in crawling through Richards, First, B and Russell.  The I-80 offramp at Old Davis Road will be even more appealing if the new south entrance to campus (Old Davis Road straight up Putah Creek Lodge Drive to La Rue) ever gets built.


      3. Tia Will


        We need more avenues, not less. “

        I disagree with your basic premise. I do not believe that we need more avenues. I believe that what we need is more public transportation, more pedi-bikes, more ride sharing, more people walking, skateboarding, biking…. and many, many fewer cars.


  6. Roberta Millstein

    If the City is truly interested in a project at this site, perhaps it should fund a study of the air quality at the site, with measurements taken at different times of the year, different times of day, and different days of the week (to take into account the varying effects of traffic and weather).

    1. ryankelly

      I would support a study, but to provide comparison also study air quality along Olive Drive, Old North near 7th & G, Solano Park and maybe a few other places where there is traffic and the railroad tracks.

    2. Fred

      Roberta you are exactly right. The City and the developer are now on notice that there may be health hazards at the site. It would be prudent for them to have a third party do a thorough investigation to see what the situation actually is. If they move forward with out the investigation, and any one person has an asthma attack out there, or there is any pattern of health issue the City and the developers could face very serious lawsuits. I don’t mean Mike Harrington EIR lawsuits, I mean Erin Brockovich,  Tom Girardi type lawsuits that cost millions to defend.

      1. Fred

        Really, have you looked into what kind of lawsuits Girardi and Keese pursue? They are just an example of what scores of plaintiff firms would be willing to take on, and those types of cases are expensive to end. I would rather not have my tax Davis tax dollars go to defend a case like that.

    1. Roberta Millstein

      Tia, I probably would, if the study were well conducted.  I would want to hear Dr. Cahill’s thoughts on it.  I imagine that he would drop his opposition to the project if the data showed that there were fewer pollutants at the site than its configuration would lead one to expect.

      1. Rich RifkinWDE 73

        Millstein, why don’t you at least start with the concession that Mr. Cahill has built his argument against Nishi, after he supported a multi-family housing project much closer to I-80, but south of the freeway, based on the cockamamie idea that we have prevailing southwest winds, but lack winds from other directions. That was his argument. It is nonsense. It is not science. If you base your conclusions on his argument, you are being as irrational as Cahill has been. Cahill’s “science” is not serious.

        1. Fred

          Sure, so battle of the scientists. Let’s have a third party firm do testing and get the data and build a real air model so we know what the situation actually is. It is in everyone’s best interests. I find arguing against actually having third party testing to be highly suspect. What is anyone afraid of? Finding that there is a problem and then no housing is built that would put the residents at risk?

        2. Roberta Millstein

          Rifkin (not sure why we are on a last name basis, but whatever), I see in your posting the words “cockamamie,” “nonsense,” “irrational.”   What I don’t see is any evidence for your claims.  They are therefore just name calling and lack any weight whatever.

          Dr. Cahill has published peer-reviewed research on these issues in highly respected journals and is a world-respected expert on issues of air quality.  On what grounds do you call into question his scientific findings?

        3. Rich RifkinWDE 73

          Dr. Cahill has published peer-reviewed research on these issues in highly respected journals and is a world-respected expert on issues of air quality. 

          Maybe so. However, his conclusion in this matter, as Don Shor demonstrated with air flow studies, is based on a false assumption, regarding wind direction at that site.

          And while you may think my experience with wind direction in the Davis-Solano area is “anecdote,” it is not based on one or two incidents or one or two seasons. It is based on decades of experience in the country with our winds. It is also backed up by the experience of everyone else I have ever met who rides a road bike in the Davis region and has done so for decades.

          To dismiss my long-observed experience and that of many others as “anecdote” is as silly of you as dismissing the notion that it is simply anecdote for me to observe, after 51 years in Davis, our summers are hot and dry and our winters are cooler and wetter.

          Since Mr. Cahill based his argument against Nishi on a false understanding of wind direction, it is clear to me he has never spent much time in the rural parts of Yolo and Solano Counties where you experience the nature of our winds every minute of every day.

        4. Roberta Millstein

          Rich Rifkin, what makes your experiences anecdote rather than data is, first of all, that they are not measured and not recorded, so they are subject to biases in impression and memory; second, that they are not performed at varying times of the day; and third, that they are not specific to the Nishi site.  Don Shor’s graph does provide data, but it also shows that when the wind is blowing, it is blowing either from the freeway or the train tracks, both of which generate harmful pollutants according to various studies that Dr. Cahill cites (and which I have listed on earlier discussions of Nishi), so the data actually support Dr. Cahill’s claims.   In fact, if you look at the shape of Nishi it’s pretty easy to see that almost any direction the wind is blowing would come from the freeway or the train tracks.

          But Dr. Cahill’s findings aren’t only based on his claims on the prevailing wind direction.  They are also based on measurements taken adjacent to Nishi of various pollutants — in the end, the concentration of pollutants is the real issue, not the wind direction.  In the Nishi EIR and in his testimony to the City, Dr. Cahill called for more such measurements to be taken at a more appropriate location, but these were not done.  Now that a Nishi project is off the table for the moment, I call on the City (as I have done several places on this page) to perform those measurements.  Anyone who wants to know the real situation with regard to the pollutants and who is genuinely concerned not to put future residents at risk should agree to a proper study of the site to see what is actually there.

          1. Don Shor

            Summer observations Davis, 1991:

            early morning
            12 midnight – 6 a.m.
            south 33.1%
            southeast 24%
            calm 7.2%

            6 a.m. – noon
            south 21.1%
            north 24.2%
            west 10.3%
            northwest 16.2%
            southwest 10.1%
            calm 5%

            early afternoon
            noon – 6 pm — highest wind speeds
            south 58.8%
            southwest 13.0%
            north 11.7%

            6 pm – midnight – slightly lower wind speeds
            marine air intrusion on almost 90% of evenings
            south 67.4%
            southeast 11.3%
            calm <1%

            Schultz eddy (a localized turbulence of counterclockwise air flow) exists around Davis during the late night or early morning.

          2. Don Shor

            In fact, if you look at the shape of Nishi it’s pretty easy to see that almost any direction the wind is blowing would come from the freeway or the train tracks.

            Perhaps, but much of the time it’s blowing from the south the wind speed is sufficient to carry away much of the material. When the wind “prevails” from the south, it is cleaning the air.

        5. Roberta Millstein

          “Perhaps, but much of the time it’s blowing from the south the wind speed is sufficient to carry away much of the material. When the wind “prevails” from the south, it is cleaning the air. ”

          Don, how about we actually measure the pollutants at the site and find out?

          1. Don Shor

            Sure, and every other place people live or want to live, too. Olive Drive, on campus, West Village, Dixon, Woodland; put in a network of monitoring stations all over the I-80 corridor, and in town. Why not?

        6. Ron


          I think you know the answer to your own question, since it’s been repeated a number of times on the Vanguard.  (The Nishi site is somewhat unique, regarding the elevated freeway, train tracks, etc.)  I understand that none of the other sites you mentioned have that unique set of concerns.

          I used to think that the Nishi site might be appropriate for University-owned housing (with no access to Olive Drive), but I’m not so sure, anymore.  (If the University ends up with the Nishi property, perhaps they can use it for other purposes, and place student housing in a better location on campus.)

          I would think that the developer might be most interested in settling the issue, if they’re planning to submit this to the voters again (at some point in the future).  (If there’s no concern, then that’s one less argument that can be used against it, no?)  Otherwise, are they simply planning to ignore the concern, again?  However, I don’t know if they’re willing to pay for a study, given the uncertainty of approval.

          Given the concerns regarding traffic and access (and air quality), I still suspect that the best outcome is for the University to obtain the site for purposes not related to housing.


          1. Don Shor

            (If there’s no concern, then that’s one less argument

            It’s not a binary choice of concern vs. no concern. Risk is relative.

        7. Roberta Millstein

          Don Shor, particular concerns have been raised about this particular site by an internationally recognized air quality expert, who describes the characteristics of this site that make it potentially more problematic than other freeway-adjacent sites, as Ron points out.  Preliminary measurements have supported these concerns.  This is a reason to do measurements here.  There may be reasons to do some measurements in some other places, but that is not the issue at hand.  The issue is whether we do them for Nishi.

          1. Don Shor

            Risk is relative. Dr. Cahill has concluded that the risk at New Harmony was low, but at Nishi is too high. Solano Park is just a short distance away, on the same side of the freeway. We are counting on UCD to build housing there to help alleviate the severe rental housing shortage in town. What if the risk measured there is, say, 15 – 20% lower by measurement than Nishi? Should the university not build housing there?
            We know the sites are different. We don’t know what quantitative measure caused Dr. Cahill to conclude that New Harmony was safe enough for housing without any mitigation, but that Nishi is too unsafe for residents even with several forms of mitigation designed into the buildings and landscape.
            You really aren’t getting my point at all. Risk is relative. We all make risk assessments all the time. Even experts make those judgments at times without strict quantitative criteria on hand. We can take all the measurements you want on the Nishi site, but that won’t actually mean anything really to you. Nishi may be a slightly or somewhat relatively riskier place to live, depending on exposure and duration, than other places right near the freeway. But your call for more measurements is meaningless unless you have something to compare them to. Even in the EIR, the comparison is made to Watt Avenue levels in Sac.
            I have no reason to believe, based on what you’ve said here, that any more measurements of air quality at the Nishi site would make any difference in your opinion about the site. You’d consider it too risky to live there. Fine, your choice. But you want to also make that choice pre-emptively for hundreds of other people, and instead cause them to live elsewhere — traveling on the freeway every day in many cases. Have you done a risk comparison of daily freeway commuting with the risk increase of living on that site?
            Once you see that risk is relative, you can understand why I am saying we need to do air quality measurements everywhere if we’re going to do it at Nishi. Because further air measurements performed only at Nishi give us little to work with in assessing the relative risk of living there.

        8. Roberta Millstein

          Don, I fully understand that this risk is relative.  You can’t seem to understand that I am judging the importance of particular risk differently from you.  There are other benchmarks, based on peer-reviewed studies, that we can compare the pollutants at Nishi to.  We can do measurements at other sites that we might have reason to suspect, but I see no reason to do them at all sites.  I am fully prepared to withdraw my opposition to Nishi should (based on a well-performed study by knowledgeable scientists) the pollutants at Nishi not be what Dr. Cahill has predicted based on the characteristics of the site and the preliminary evidence so far.  Are you prepared to change your advocacy of the project if the readings turn out to be worse than you expect?  Or do you prefer to just stick your head in the sand and assume you are right, no measurement needed?

          I will also point out, again, that others who live there will not be making a “choice,” since they will not be away of the pollutants at that site.

          1. Don Shor

            I fully expect that further measurements would confirm the conclusion that there is a slightly elevated risk of certain diseases from the exposure to the particles and pollutants, calculable to a somewhat meaningless degree in any given population, probably applicable only to individuals who live on the site for a very long time, compared to some other places they might live.
            I don’t see that as useful information.
            Given that Dr. Cahill has already stated, apparently unequivocally, that he doesn’t consider the Nishi site suitable for human habitation (but ok for businesses, apparently), I see little point in continuing to collect the data.
            The appropriate venue for his concerns is before regulatory agencies where regulatory scientists can take his research and that of others into consideration as they put forth clean air rules. Trying to apply his data in an ad hoc manner to a local planning process would simply lead to chaos if that approach were tried statewide. Asking the voters to assess risk data and health outcomes is simply inappropriate; it’s like getting people to vote on whether glyphosate causes cancer or GMO’s are bad for you. The public doesn’t have the technical skills to sort through the data as presented, and it lends itself to demagoguery of the sort that we saw in the Measure A campaign.

        9. Roberta Millstein

          Don, your view of how policy works is rather “odd,” to say the least.  First of all, while you can repeat “risk is relative” all you want (a banal truism), the fact of the matter is that regularity bodies can and do set levels of various pollutants that are considered safe and unsafe – this is discussed in the EIR, not something I am making up.  So, we can do measurements to see where we are with respect to what regulations exist, and where regulations have not yet been put into place, we can use the best available scientific findings based on peer-reviewed research.

          Second, yes, it would be silly to have people vote on whether “glyphosate causes cancer or GMO’s are bad for you.”  But it is not silly to have people vote on regulations concerning glyphosate or GMOs.  As I am sure you know, we have already seen the latter in the form of ballot measures concerning whether we should be labeling GMOs, and we may see the former, as various individuals have proposed banning glyphosate.  The reason this makes sense is that policy about such things isn’t just a question of what the science says (although of course that is a big part of it), but it is also a question of values and tradeoffs, which are not purely scientific.  Thus, they become questions of policy, to be determined by citizens and their representatives.

          Concerning Nishi, we should not simply toss our hands up and say, “what can we do?  We’re not scientists – oh well, we might as well forge ahead and build there.”  We have been told by an internationally recognized air quality expert that the site is potentially harmful and that we should do further testing.  No peer-reviewed studies have been presented to contravene those findings (themselves based on peer-reviewed studies), and no measurements have been taken to contravene them, either.  We now have time to do further measurements to find out what we are really dealing with.  There is simply no reason not to proceed with taking those measurements to find out where we stand.

          1. Don Shor

            He has been very clear.

            “If the Planning Commission should decide to support the Nishi proposal, the threats from air pollution (diesel and ultra-fine metals) are so grave that it should be modified to eliminate all residential housing.”
            …“in present conditions, it is my opinion that causing people, and especially vulnerable populations spending much of their time on the Nishi property, to move into a situation of such great potential harm is simply not supportable.”

            He says there should be no housing there. So what’s the point in doing further measurements? Why waste the time and money?

        10. Roberta Millstein

          Don, yes, Dr. Cahill said that.  But he also recommended additional testing.  He reached a conclusion based on what is currently known, and then proposed that we find out more so that we can improve our decision making.  How does that not make sense?

  7. MAli

    I don’t get why people think UCD would be interested in the Nishi site. Why would they want a property that requires ten million dollars or more to be spent on access when they already own thousands of acres that can be developed for millions less.

    Roberta, why would the developers want to pay for the studies you request? I’m sure they feel like they did everything they could and that more study arguments are just excuses for delaying and defeating the project by those who will oppose a project there no matter what. Notice that some here are saying it needs more housing while others say less housing because its unhealthy air there. Its a no win situation. Down with Measure R, it doesn’t work.

    1. Roberta Millstein

      Here’s a radical idea.  They might do the studies in order to have some confidence that they aren’t putting people’s health at risk.  Right now, they have an EIR that says that the health risks are “significant and unavoidable,” and the expert who has done much of the background research, Dr. Cahill, recommends against housing at the site.  The developer has not, as far as I know, paid for any measurements at that site, and when I asked about studies that contradicted those that Dr. Cahill cited, they provided none.  So, no, they haven’t “done everything they could.”  This is not an excuse to delay the project.  The project is already not going forward at this time.  Why not use this time productively to get more data?

      1. Ron

        MAli:  In light of the EIR (and Dr. Cahill’s findings), perhaps the Nishi site is best suited for purposes other than housing, for the University.  Perhaps the developer and the University will now explore this.  (Of course, the developer may not be able to reap the same level of profit, under that scenario.)

        As you’ve pointed out, the University has other sites to build student housing.  (And, there’s an effort by some to encourage the University to house even more than the 90% increased enrollment that they’ve already agreed to).

    2. Fred

      MAli, I spelled it out above. Even if the developers and the city are unconcerned about the health of the people who live on the Nishi site, they still should have a reliable third party do further studies. The city and the developers are now on notice that there might be health hazards on the site. If they build at Nishi without further study they could face very serious lawsuits were there to be any pattern of health issue on the site. They could even face serious lawsuits if there is just one asthma attack. Now that they have been warned to progress without further research would greatly increase the damages that could be awarded in future litigation.

        1. Fred

          No, not really. If housing is built there after such a stern warning from a leading expert and people get hurt, a much bigger lawsuit could be brought against the city and the developer. Because the City and the developers have been warned, they now have increased responsibilities. You don’t have to like it, you don’t have to agree with Dr. Cahill’s assessment, but it is hard to overlook that it is in everyone’s interests to proceed with caution.

    3. Topcat

      I don’t get why people think UCD would be interested in the Nishi site. Why would they want a property that requires ten million dollars or more to be spent on access when they already own thousands of acres that can be developed for millions less.

      Yes.  The University could build a lot more student housing on the Orchard Park site and West Village without the multi-million dollar costs of a railroad underpass to the Nishi site.  UCD acquisition of Nishi is a non-starter.

  8. Jim Frame

    Why would they want a property that requires ten million dollars or more to be spent on access when they already own thousands of acres that can be developed for millions less.

    Proximity.  It’s worth a lot.


    1. hpierce

      You are correct as to long-term maintenance and societal benefits (that is hard to put a $ value on).  I remain of the opinion that Nishi would be great for student housing, if primary MV access would be under UPRR, and only bike/ped/EVA access to W Olive.

  9. DurantFan

    “….Why would they want a property that requires ten million dollars or more to be spent on access….”

    They wouldn’t!  Remember that a number of Davis residents are protesting the transport of flammable oil by rail through Davis to Benicia. These activities have the potential to reduce the willingness of the RR to negotiate critical overpass/underpass access to the Nishi site with any developer or the City.

    1. Jim Frame

      These activities have the potential to reduce the willingness of the RR to negotiate critical overpass/underpass access to the Nishi site with any developer or the City.

      Union Pacific has a far greater problem with the existing at-grade crossing than it does with a tiny increment to the already massive oil train opposition.  The potential for another death at that crossing is a very present risk, and UP would dearly love to get shed of it.

      1. DurantFan

        ”    a tiny increment to the already massive oil train opposition…”

        I quite agree Jim, and appreciate your comment.  Because that “tiny uncrement”  surrounds the Nishi Site, it gets considerable (disproportionate) coverage by the local news and press, and its impact is maximized. That will impede local access negotiations with the City, developer, and RR.

        1. Jim Frame

          That will impede local access negotiations with the City, developer, and RR

          Believe what you wish.  My conclusion is very different.


        2. Alan Miller

          Wrong DurantFan.

          The developer already was working with Union Pacific.

          Oil train opposition is massive and nationwide.  Davis is one blip.

          UPRR wants that crossing gone.  They will negotiate with anyone willing to put up millions for a grade-separated alternative.

          On very rare occasion, a collision can result in a derailment — in the least it’s an expensive shutdown of the railroad for a few hours.  They want the crossing gone.

  10. Tia Will


    No need to go back and review. From my point of view, the intent of the developer was that the project be inhabited largely by students and individuals working on campus. I believe that it would most likely appeal to those groups as well as individuals who live downtown. While I grant you that there is not guarantee that no other individuals or groups would choose to live there, I think it is very likely that they would be the predominant groups. Of course there is no guarantee that spouses or some people would not commute to other communities. I just see it likely that many of the inhabitants would need to commute less. I believe that I have been very vocal on many occasions about my desire to limit the use of the private automobile. With a walkability index of 94, I believe that the Nishi project would be likely to meet this goal of minimization…..not a complete cessation of car  usage….but minimization. So is your claim that you do not believe that the proximity of this project would cut down on miles travelled, and if so, on what are you basing that claim ?

    We also seem to have had very different experiences with regard to information received about living circumstances. At the time that I received information about both of my purchases of homes in Davis, I was given extensive information about the neighborhoods including the known physical risks as well as nuisances. With my home in North Star that included wild animals frequently still seen in the vicinity as well as the proximity of the North/South trains. My realtor fully informed me about the noise, fumes and question of particulates from the trains that pass within a block of my house. She also discussed the proximity of the freeway with both noise and air pollution issues. I am sorry that you have not had this experience, but I do not think that either of us can generalize from our own experiences to make the assumption that this would or would not occur.

    1. Roberta Millstein


      Ah, home buying.  Yes, a very different experience from renting.  There are laws protecting home buyers – not so much for renters.  How many places have you rented?  I’ve rented about nine over the course of my life, including one place in Davis and several others in CA.  You go in, they show you the rooms, you take it or leave it, you sign or you don’t.  It’s not a life commitment and you take what you can get.

      As for why I’m not convinced that the location would be just students – as you have pointed out, it’s close to downtown, so it would be appealing to anyone for that reason, regardless of where they actually worked.  It’s also near the highway, so convenient to commuters, perhaps even people outside of Davis (note that the Cannery is being advertised in the SF Bay Area).  As for campus, there is not much “campusy” directly adjacent (rather, it’s the Mondavi, the hotel, the convention center, Mrak Hall…) I’m not saying it wouldn’t be relatively convenient for a student on a bike, but the location doesn’t scream student to me – and again, just because someone is a student living on campus doesn’t mean they don’t drive a lot.

      For certain, though, everyone living there will be breathing.

      1. Tia Will


        Over my lifetime I have lived in at least 15 to 20 different rentals, both houses and apartments. I think the number illustrates one point. Most people, especially students who rent are not planning on living in the location longterm. Of course, there are many exceptions, but I doubt that many of these exceptions would be choosing or able to make Nishi their lifelong home. I certainly did not look into the long term health risks of living situations which I knew would be a few years at the most. If I were looking at living in any location long term, I would certainly take more than a cursory look at the living conditions, unless of course, I had absolutely no choice, which is the case for many students in our community today. Nishi would have helped with this lack of choice. I fail to see how someone who is having to travel long distances by car to get to the university on a daily basis is statistically safer than the individual who can walk or skate or bike to school. A point that you still have not chosen to acknowledge.

        1. Roberta Millstein

          Tia, there are short-term renters and there are long term renters.  Sometimes one doesn’t even know what category one falls into, that is to say, you can rent a place not intending to stay there very long, but between one thing and another you do.  One of the places I rented was a place I stayed at for 9 years, and that was certainly not something I would have anticipated.  I don’t think it’s unusual for people to stay much longer in a place than they had originally planned. And we don’t know where people would live after they lived at Nishi.  We can’t say “oh, a few years won’t harm them,” presuming that all of the other places they live in their lives will be fine.  But we have no reason to presume that, and again, people won’t be informed that they have been living in a place where they have been exposed to pollutants, and so not know that they ought to avoid exposure to additional pollutants.  Sure, in principle someone could make a rational decision that, given their particular personal situation, the risk of driving is worse than the risk of exposure – but that is only in principle.  Again, in practice, people will not be making that informed decision because they will not be informed of the risk.

          And again, I call on the City to do further studies of the air quality. I would think that you ought to support that, Tia. We could have a much more informed response.

  11. Tia Will


    You are correct that I do favor adequate studies. However, there are two statements that you made that give me pause.

    First you said that you might drop your opposition to Nishi if the study were “well conducted”. This makes me feel that you may have already passed your judgement since you were willing to stand behind the possible suggestion of a relationship to autism based on two studies which the authors themselves pointed out were of insufficient power and design to be used for any form of extrapolation to other sites and were not to be used as evidence of causality. The authors themselves felt that these were “preliminary” not “well designed” studies and yet you were willing to set the authors own precautions aside in saying that they  demonstrated “too much risk”.

    The second thing you said that makes me doubt your objectivity is that you would want to hear what Dr. Cahill has to say. While it is true that Dr. Cahill has a very  impressive resume, none of it is in the field of medicine. Medicine is one area of science in which we do not rely heavily on “expert opinion”. We have a system for assessing the reliability of evidence with large, prospective, randomized, double blinded studies which have been reproduced being the highest standard and “expert opinion” being the least reliable. So while I do not like nor support the disrespectful tone of some of the commenters with regard to Dr. Cahill, I do think that one individual’s opinion happens to be just that, one individual’s opinion. So what you have done is to choose which “expert” to believe in while discounting the opinions of an Ob/GYN, a high risk pregnancy specialist , a public health expert ( Robb Davis), a psychologist ( for his expertise in helping me understand the statistical issues involved), the county epidemiologist ( for her ability to look up patterns of hospital admissions for asthma and COPD for me).

    To me, this looks as though you first made up your mind, and only then decided which “expert” you were going to place your faith in. This is certainly your right to do, but I do not think that this strengthens any claim you may be making to objectivity about this matter.

    1. Roberta Millstein

      Tia, you are reading way too much into what I said. To say that the study should be well conducted is such a bland truth that anyone with any sense of the scientific method ought to agree with it.  We have already hashed over the autism studies quite a bit and so I won’t go into that again, other than to remind you where we ended up, which was a disagreement about how cautious we ought to be in light of partial evidence, with me advocating for a more cautious approach than you.  That is a reasonable disagreement based not on the scientific facts but on ethics and values.  I agree that Dr. Cahill’s opinion is just one opinion, but it is an opinion that I trust.  Note that I did not call for Dr. Cahill to do the follow on studies (although I would not mind if he did), but on the other hand, I would not want, say, a cherry-picked “expert” from the developers.  Again, this is such a bland truth that I doubt anyone would seriously disagree, but you seem determined to read in more than is there.  And yes, I would want to hear what Dr. Cahill thought, were such a study to be conducted.  I would take into account what he said in coming to my own decision.  As for why I don’t accept the opinions of the experts that you describe, the main problem is that I have not had an opportunity to examine their reasoning and their evidence, unlike Dr. Cahill, who presented his arguments in detail in the EIR and in other documents, together with peer reviewed studies.  In other words, I am not just accepting his word, but rather I am taking into account the evidence he provided (in an area where randomized controlled studies are not and cannot, for ethical reasons, be the standard).  Perhaps if I had their reasoning available to me I would be persuaded by it.  But I’d also note that being an air quality expert is a distinct sort of expertise than the expertise that you describe.

      In any case, this should not be about persuading me, personally.  This should be about making the best possible decision.  Many people have said that we don’t have enough information about the Nishi site to say that it is harmful.  Ok, well, we have some time now!  Let’s find out!  I don’t see how you can not advocate for that, unless you are so sure that you know what the conditions are at that site.  But again, I call on whatever sense of caution you have to say, let’s find out.

    2. Ron

      Tia:  “While it is true that Dr. Cahill has a very  impressive resume, none of it is in the field of medicine.”

      Just wondering – are air quality studies generally conducted by those with a background in medicine?  (Seems like a complete analysis would involve more than one field of knowledge.)

      (I have not read the reports, except for some of the excerpts presented on the Vanguard.)

      1. Roberta Millstein

        Ron, here is one of the many studies that Dr. Cahill cites:

        “Very Fine and Ultra-Fine Metals and Ischemic Heart Disease in the California Central Valley” 1: 2003 – 2007 Thomas A. Cahill, David E. Barnes, Nicholas J. Spada, Jonathan A. Lawton, and Thomas M. Cahill, Aerosol Science and Technology 45, 1135-1142 (2011)

        The affiliations of the authors are as follows:

        Thomas A. Cahill, DELTA Group, University of California, Davis, California, USA – and – The Health Effects Task Force, Breathe California of Sacramento—Emigrant Trails, Sacramento, California, USA

        David E. Barnes, DELTA Group, University of California, Davis, California, USA

        Nicholas J. Spada, DELTA Group, University of California, Davis, California, USA

        Jonathan A. Lawton, DELTA Group, University of California, Davis, California, USA

        Thomas M. Cahill, Division of Mathematical and Natural Sciences, Arizona State University West Campus, Phoenix, Arizona, USA

        Note also the acknowledgements in the paper:

        The authors first wish to gratefully acknowledge the support of the Resources Legacy Fund of Sacramento, California, for encouragement and financial support for this study.
        The staff of all of the Air Resources Board (ARB) sampling sites were key to successful execution of the project.
        The authors also wish to gratefully acknowledge the financial support of the Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District under its CEO, Larry Greene.
        The authors wish to acknowledge the input and oversight of the Health Effects Task Force (HETF) of Breathe California of Sacramento-Emigrant under Jananne Sharpless, Chair; Betty Turner, consultant to the HETF, and especially members Ralph Propper and Earl Withycombe. Helpful suggestions and review were provided by William Wilson, US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).


        1. Ron

          Thanks, Roberta.

          I took a quick look at the abstract (and a quick “biography” for Dr. Cahill).  Not to discount Tia’s points, but it seems that air quality is an area of expertise, for Dr. Cahill.  (I assume that the actual impact on the human body is analyzed by others.)

          It’s unfortunate that (some) proponents of the Nishi development seem to suggest that Dr. Cahill (and others) are simply exploiting this issue as a justification to oppose the development.  In other words, the potential concern regarding the health of residents who might occupy the site (if the proposal returns and is approved) is becoming nothing more than a political talking point for some, regardless of whether or not there is an actual concern.

          I suspect that most voters don’t take the time to actually look at the analysis regarding air quality at Nishi (for two reasons):

          1) If housing is ever approved at Nishi, most current residents won’t be living there (and air quality at the site won’t affect them, personally).

          2) It’s a complicated issue.  (Not as understandable, as say – traffic concerns.)

          Nishi is a tough site to develop.  (Of course, the developers knew that when they purchased the site.)

          1. David Greenwald Post author

            My view of Cahill is that he was considerably more nuanced in his assessment than attributed to him. He wanted to err on a greater side of caution. But he wanted to study the issue more rather than necessarily concluding that the site was harmful.

        2. Roberta Millstein

          Yes, David, and I have emphasized that repeatedly – on this page, even!  Several times!  So, why do you ignore the health issues in your piece above?  Instead, you might join me in calling for more study of the site.

          What he said was, 1) given what is known, he recommend that no housing be built there, and 2) let’s study further. It’s very clear in the EIR.

        3. Roberta Millstein

          Ron, I agree with your analysis — thank you, you stated that very well — and also lament the personal attacks that this issue has generated.   That seems to be much easier than actually looking at the research and engaging in a principled discussion.

  12. Tia Will


    Would that it were . . . would that it were”

    Humans have shaped the world in which we live. We have the ability to reshape that world. We could choose a healthier, cleaner, safer path forward just as we could choose ever faster, ever more “convenient”, ever glitzier consumption. It is up to us.


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