Colin Walsh, one of the leaders of the No on Measure A campaign, responds to the Davis Enterprise editorial from last Sunday, “What Next For Nishi?” He argues that it “makes a number of over-reaching assumptions that I don’t agree with.” He writes that the worst of these is the claim that there is a “corps of Davisites who simply will vote no on every project.”
Instead, he argues, “Davis voters carefully consider every project individually and make careful thoughtful choices. The real problem (which is not mentioned) is the lack of trust that the community has in our city planning.”
He writes, “There is simply a lack of confidence that developers and the city can bring forward an innovative project that benefits the city, more than it financially benefits the developers.”
While Mr. Walsh makes a good point here, he also pushes his argument too far when he writes: “Suggesting that there is a ‘no’ attitude in Davis, or that Davis is ‘closed for business’ does more harm by introducing these fallacies. Davis obviously does not always say ‘no,’ which is evident by all the projects in progress, including The Cannery, Chiles Ranch, Grande Village and the newly approved BerryBridge project. Davis is open for business, and our community just wants good planning.”
He adds, “It is also unfair for The Enterprise to chronically villainize Davis residents who just want to see decent projects proposed. Claiming that Davis is ‘closed for business’ or the answer is always no is not only untrue, but it hurts the city’s image and discourages good, innovative, new projects from being brought forward.”
The first problem that we have is that Mr. Walsh makes a rhetorical sleight of hand. The Enterprise wrote regarding the outcome of Nishi: “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.”
Mr. Walsh not only pulls that accurate quote out of its context, but the counter narrative he offers is false. When he writes, “Davis obviously does not always say ‘no,’ which is evident by all the projects in progress,” he cites only infill projects that are approved by council rather than the voters. The difference with Cannery, Chiles Ranch and Grande Village, as opposed to Nishi, is that there was no Measure R vote in those cited projects.
The Enterprise is claiming that there are a group of citizens that always say no to Measure R projects, and they have a point that is unrefuted by Mr. Walsh’s comment.
That point aside, while Colin Walsh doesn’t offer an exhaustive list, one point he fails to acknowledge is that these projects – along with a few others like Verona and Willowbank Park – are the sum total of all projects approved in the last 15 years. Cannery at just over 550 units, Chiles at 118 units, Grande Village at 41 units, along with a few others, represent the sum total of all approved units since the passage of Measure J in 2000.
While there is the affordable housing at New Harmony and the affordable senior housing at Carlton Plaza, for the most part these subdivisions are single-family homes. Moreover, for the most part, they represent the available sizable infill space left in the city.
What we do not have in these projects are sizable numbers of rental units that would accommodate the demand for student housing in Davis. The other thing we do not have is space for research and development, that would have been provided at Nishi or the now-withdrawn Mace Ranch and Davis Innovation Centers.
While I think Mr. Walsh does his argument a disservice by conflating Measure R projects with those within the city limits that do not require votes, I think he makes other important points which highlight that the Enterprise, in its frustration, has made statements exacerbating the situation.
Some of the most notable leaders of the No on Measure A campaign have not – in fact – always said no. Eileen Samitz was a supporter of both the water project and the Cannery, while Alan Prior was a leader supporting the water project and also a supporter of Wild Horse Ranch. And, while Michael Harrington has been notably a city opponent on a number of recent issues, he too supported Wild Horse Ranch in 2009.
Labeling people is a good way to get them to dig in – rather than a way to bring the community together.
The Enterprise had an opportunity to acknowledge that some of the problems with Nishi were self-inflicted. Avoiding the pitfalls of the affordable housing, making the sustainability component more assured, addressing traffic and perhaps concerns about air quality could have easily pushed this project into the Yes camp.
As Mr. Walsh notes, the trust issue is huge. The current council bears the baggage of those who came before them and attempted to ram through projects like Covell Village. But the current council also bears primary responsibility for the Cannery. Three members voted to approve the development agreement in late 2013, and those same three voted to approve a CFD (Community Facilities District).
By itself, Cannery did not sink the Nishi project, but it did tell a bunch of people on the fence that council might not be trusted to see that the city gets the best deal possible. That is why the affordable housing issue surprisingly resonated so much.
It is not that the public holds the issue of affordable housing in such high importance, it is rather that they can see when the city is entitled to a certain benefit and gets a far less benefit, so the council again looks as though it is not looking out for the best interests of the city.
It is a big failure by the Enterprise op-ed to fail to acknowledge the shortcomings of the project and the legitimate lack of trust by some voters.
However, it is a significant failure by Mr. Walsh and the No on A people to fail to acknowledge that the city’s current trajectory is unsustainable.
Here we agree with the Enterprise when they write: “Davis needs to add more student-friendly housing and diversify its revenue base. Our streets and parks need attention, and the city budget is under severe strain from unfunded liabilities.”
We agree with the Enterprise that, while Nishi wouldn’t have fixed these problems, it would have been a significant first step.
However, we also agree with Mr. Walsh, “Rather than create division, let’s move forward by encouraging truly well-designed and sustainable projects that embrace the values of our community.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting