Leaked Letter: Whitcombe on Behalf of Nishi Pitched a UC Davis-Only Project

This proposed Nishi Underpass led to campus through the Nishi project
This proposed Nishi Underpass led to campus through the Nishi project

The Vanguard has received through its anonymous submission system, Yolo Leaks, an undated letter from John Whitcombe, one of the owners of the Nishi Property, to Mary Hayakawa, Executive Director of UC Davis Real Estate Services, asking the university to consider a title transfer of a portion of the Nishi project.

While the Vanguard has requested follow up documentation from the university, given the content of the letter, it is believed to have been sometime between the time that the Nishi vote was finalized and August 3.  He calls the letter “an unsolicited proposal” which he says outlines “partial solutions to the myriad complexities now facing the campus.”

Moreover, he represents, “This conceptual proposal is brought to you on behalf of Nishi Gateway LLC which owns, free and clear, the approximate 45 acres on the South edge of the UCD core known as the Nishi property.”

On August 3, UC Davis and Bob Segar held an outreach meeting on the Russell Fields issue at the Senior Center.  At that time, Mr. Segar is reported to have stated that the university has no interest in developing Nishi, reportedly due to infrastructure costs for a campus connection as well as concerns about air quality.

In his six-page letter, Mr. Whitcombe, who also owns Tandem Properties, a large series of apartments throughout town, notes, “On a more comprehensive level, costs of building new housing on campus have escalated and the failure of the City of Davis to effectively plan has limited the supply of off campus housing further worsening the hardship to a growing student and staff population.”

Mr. Whitcombe continues, “The ability to rectify shortages in supply and affordability is further complicated, even on campus, by a scarcity of available land to relocate existing, but important, low intensity uses to make way for more efficient uses which might provide better located housing supply opportunities.”

“Lastly, the acceleration of campus growth increases the demands for new teaching and research facilities. On campus alternatives are sometimes constrained by legacy infrastructure that has a long and broad community, campus and alumni affinity,” he writes.

In June, the voters narrowly defeated a proposal that would have annexed the property into Davis and brought in 1,500 student beds, 210 units of condominiums, and a business/research park accommodating 325,000 square feet of buildings.

Mr. Whitcombe writes, “Because access for West Olive Drive was deemed part of a Richard’s Blvd. traffic solution Nishi Gateway LLC is acquiring rights for an easement to widen that segment of Olive Drive connecting to our property. The values which would have been created by the city project adequately funded the infrastructure requirements of the site.”

“Although voters rejected the ballot measure despite strong support from an unprecedented and broad spectrum of community leaders, the Nishi Partners remain convinced that sustaining the values (and value) of our Davis community is dependent upon continuing our historical role as an accommodating host to the university. Meeting university needs was the foundational goal of the Nishi conceptual plan,” the letter continues.

The letter notes that the stakeholders spent three years working with the university, including consideration of master planning Nishi in conjunction with Solano Gateway and other university lands.

He writes, “To further this cooperation, we would favorably consider a title transfer of a portion or all of the Nishi property to the University of California in order to proceed with this project. Under that scenario, we envision utilizing an inclusion model, with planning and development of uses focused on meeting university needs.”

Some of the many opportunities might include:

  • Working together to develop internally subsidized student housing;
  • Conveniently located midrise housing for faculty and staff;
  • Space for the relocation of current uses, thereby liberating campus land for higher-purpose use;
  • Facility opportunities to enable UC Davis to avoid competing for existing off-campus locations.

Mr. Whitcombe closes: “We truly believe formal collaboration between the Nishi Partners and the University is in everyone’s best interest. Although we were disappointed that our efforts to include the city, narrowly missed approval, we, now with this approach, may have more flexibility in addressing specific UCD priorities on a site rated #1 by the Strategic Growth Council of the State of California for sustainability opportunities.

“I know our proposal requires a stage one level of campus review. My associates and I would welcome an opportunity to discuss the conceptual basis for this plan. We await your reply, and would appreciate the courtesy of updates about campus administrators’ consideration of our proposal.”

The Vanguard,as indicated above, has requested follow up information from the university.

—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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  1. quielo

    Why didn’t he just take her to lunch? Hard to believe as the rep of the Nishi property he could not have gotten a F2F. Or perhaps this is an email follow-up to a meeting without referencing it.

        1. quielo

          I’m not feeling the love today CF. The letter as I understand it has no provenance and may or may not be real.  The fact that it is described as a “unsolicited proposal” makes me believe it is not. After the previous campaign it seems to me unlikely that the owners of the property and the UCD leadership have never met. While it is possible that a letter arrives out of the blue it seems unlikely and what is the purpose of calling it an unsolicited proposal? They know it’s unsolicited. While my experience is in a different area in my world this would indicate that the recipient had given some signals that a proposal may be evaluated and the “unsolicited proposal” is added to the text so that when the letter is forwarded to others they understand that the original recipient has not made any commitments nor are they encouraging proposals outside of their mandate.

          1. David Greenwald

            The letter is real. You’re comments are not adding to the discussion and actually detract from it.

  2. ryankelly

    There have been commenters on this blog who have suggested the same solution or guessed that this might be a solution, so I’m not surprised.  Not really a bombshell.  Nearly half of the voters in Davis wanted to see the project go forward, so why not look for a possible solution?

    1. Chamber Fan

      While we need housing for students, Nishi promised something more – revenue for the city, something we also needed.  If it goes to UCD, we lose that possibility.  That’s huge.

      1. hpierce

        John W knows that the Nishi property has some rights for access to W Olive… if those are exercised, we could well have the traffic impacts to Richards/Olive, and no revenue.

        I was mildly opposed to Nishi (voted no) because of the W Olive connection focus.

        I support a UCD related project, IF the property owners relinquish all rights to W Olive Drive access.  Except, perhaps EVA, bicycle/ped.

  3. South of Davis

    Whitcombe wrote:

    > Nishi Gateway LLC which owns, free and clear, the approximate

    > 45 acres on the South edge of the UCD core

    I would be interested if anyone with access to the county assessor records can post the assessed value of Nishi and the annual tax bill.  Nishi Gateway will have to be paying full taxes since they can’t get the Williamson Act discount without locking out any chance of development for a decade.

    1. hpierce

      You have access to the assessed value.  It is public record.  Call Yolo County assessor… I believe the APN is 036-170-18.

      or, you can look it up at the website.

      If you don’t make the effort, don’t whine…

      1. South of Davis

        The Yolo county site lists the tax for APN 036-170-18 as $0


        Information as of Lien Date
        January 1st 2016


        New Search


        View/Print Value Notice

        Property Information

        Assessor Parcel Number (APN)

        Assessment Number

        Tax Rate Area (TRA)

        Current Document Number

        Current Document Date
        9/19/2008 12:43:18 PM


        Lot Size

        Roll Values





        Total Land and Improvements

        Personal Property

        Business Property

        Homeowners Exemption (HOX)

        Other Exemptions

        Net Assessment


        New Search

    2. ryankelly

      Be aware that discussion of payment or non-payment of property taxes for people not running for office is off limits on this blog, even if they are involved in land planning issues.

  4. Frankly

    Why do you want that development cut off from Davis so much?

    With all the hours and ink I have invested in this topic, it is clear to me that dislike of traffic is a primary driver in opposition to development.  Remember the West Davis residents opposition to West Village that resulted in no access to Russell Blvd.?

    I have the same twitch here, but with a twist.  Like for most I assume, bad traffic experiences make me grumpy.  But bad traffic experiences for me are those where there are too many cars, bike and pedestrians in an area where I need to travel.  It is congestion that makes me grumpy, not just traffic.  What irritates me about people that voted against Measure A was their apparent irrational assessment that it would cause more traffic.  But the road infrastructure design and the overall project design would have relieved congestion.  It would have provided a second entrance to campus other than First Street. It would have helped with the flow of traffic to get cars, bikes and pedestrians more quickly and more safely through that busy intersection.

    And so Measure A lost because of this irrational dislike-of-traffic twitch in people.

    And now we can kiss away many of the benefits that Nishi would have provided, including tax revenue to the city, more retail space to help keep more retail in the downtown area, and traffic congestion-taming road design.   The traffic will still be there and still be growing with the growth of UCD.

    Sad and frustrating.

    1. hpierce

      You are obviously a liberal arts major… frankly, Nishi would not have improved ‘congestion’ @ Richards… it would have incrementally increased it.

      Intelligent folk actually pick times of day, routes, to do discretionary trips.  I often use Richards… but I pick my times… no problems…

      1. Mark West

        hpierce: “Intelligent folk actually pick times of day, routes, to do discretionary trips.  I often use Richards… but I pick my times… no problems…” [emphasis added]

        Exactly, and Nishi would not have changed that reality one iota, which makes your opposition to the project all the more inexplicable. Whether traffic congestion was incrementally worse or better post development, “intelligent folk” would have continued to “pick times of day…”


        1. hpierce

          My opposition was not just based on traffic, although the incremental degradation was a problem for me.  I promoted EVA/bike/ped only

          I liked the land uses, and proximity to UCD/Downtown… came down to a “coin flip” for me… 49% of my judgment said vote Yes… 51% said vote No… [where have I seen those numbers before?] So, at the end of the day I voted No.

          Had there been no MV access to Richards via W Olive, would have not only voted for it, but might well have advocated for the project.  If the same project came back, annexed to the City, no MV access to Richards/Olive intersection, I’d be a strong supporter.  The air quality thing was BS… as were many of the BS arguments against…

          As I said, it was a coin flip for me, and traffic, utilities I am concerned about (the latter got almost no discussion, but am familiar with the issues anyhow…).

          I don’t feel any dissonance with my knowledge of the site, the proposal, the site’s history, and my vote.  No apology here.  Except perhaps I might have gone the other way just to spite the BS ‘NO’ folk… most of their arguments were “patently lame”… but that’s not a good metric to use when voting…

          Yet am challenged, Nov 8, whether to advocate for a choice of ‘none of the above’… or hold my nose in vise-grips to vote for one of the two “contenders”…

      2. Frankly

        You are obviously a liberal arts major

        Ouch.  You sure know how to poke a conservative.

        Nishi would not have improved ‘congestion’ @ Richards… it would have incrementally increased it.

        How so?

        Congestion is the state of being locked up with or too full of something, in particular… (of a road or place) so crowded with traffic or people as to hinder freedom of movement.

        If things are moving they are not congested.  The road design change would have helped to keep traffic moving.  Now we have no improvements and incrementally increasing traffic.  So a doing nothing vote was a vote to increase congestion.

        1. hpierce

          Ahhh… no comprehension… in order to move UCD traffic to W Olive, via Nishi, the LT timing would need to be increased big time… that, by necessity, would delay other legs of the intersection… First Street would have less traffic… intersections on First maybe could improve slightly.’

          Richards & Olive?  Not a good outcome @ peak hours… frankly, you should study some traffic engineering tomes prior to opining on traffic engineering… or, you could perfect the way to turn lead into gold… haven’t seen many ‘philosophers’ stones’ on E-bay tho’…

          Do you also believe in the Easter  Spring holiday Bunny?

    2. Alan Miller

      And now we can kiss away many of the benefits that Nishi would have provided

      I agree with you on this, Frank Lee.  We likely will have a worse development built there some day.  Nishi LLC had a good plan, it will not get better than that, and Davis will have no control or benefit if UCD builds it.  Similarly, I liked the Covell Village Design.  In the long run, I believe we’ll get something like the UnCannery on the CV land, a signnificantly suckier version of CV with less infrastructure benefits.

  5. Misanthrop

    If UCD takes title then no measure R vote although likely some sort of lawsuit to slow things down like at West Village. Its an interesting gambit but I doubt UCD would want to get involved and see all hell break loose. Yet if it did happen it would be the worst of all worlds for the city, all the people but none of the revenue or mitigation. It would serve the city right but I doubt its going to happen.

    Just today another friend talked about moving to Woodland. Married with kids, well educated, employed, tax paying they would like to stay but Davis doesn’t have any housing options that work for them. Instead they are considering moving to what he calls north north Davis, AKA Woodland. That means driving the kids to school instead of biking and driving to work at UCD instead of biking. This is simply insane that Davis refuses to grow enough so people like them can make it here.

    1. hpierce

      To be clear, UCD doesn’t need to take fee title… the property is in the County, and if it is developed privately, with UCD approvals for connections, only the Regents and Yolo county need to give their blessings…

  6. Tia Will


    This is simply insane that Davis refuses to grow enough so people like them can make it here.”

    You did not provide us with any information about your friend’s financial circumstances so we have no idea what “housing options that work for them might mean. However, a quick glance at Zillow Davis just now shows that there are currently 158 homes listed as for sale now. Just looking at the first page of listings, then varied in price from the mid $300,000s to around $ 800,000. Some were new construction, some were old. They varied in their location in town. So I would rephrase your statement to read “they couldn’t find anything in Davis for a price that they were willing to pay”.

    The question that I have for you is just how many homes would you find the minimum number available on the market to assure that your friend, and everyone else who wants to live in Davis is able to find a home that they are willing to buy at the asking price ?  Is that really what our obligation is as a community ? Or should we be looking at some other marker for an optimal market for homes ?


  7. Tia Will


    Exactly !  My point exactly !  Their preference all things considered was to live in Woodland.  I do not see any problem with either choosing a less expensive home, or moving to an affordable location. I wasn’t able to purchase a house in Davis initially either. I certainly did not feel that it was the responsibility of Davis to provide housing acceptable to me at a price I could afford.

    Well, maybe not “exactly” since I have no intention of “stuffing it” and don’t find my position any more arrogant than your seeming belief that it is everyone’s responsibility to provide exactly what one family ( my own included) wants at a price they want to pay.

  8. Misanthrop

    My friends are fine people who any normal community should welcome to live in since they work here.They would prefer Davis but the lack of supply is forcing them out and is bad for the environment and the city budget.

    1. Tia Will

      I would imagine that your friends, like most people, have made the best choice for themselves.  The only questions that I did ask were clarifications of your beliefs which is what we commonly do on the Vanguard.


  9. Tia Will


    I do not doubt that your friends are fine people. I know many fine people who have to compromise on their first choice of living arrangements. Some are choosing to live in Davis in more humble abodes. Some have chosen to move. I am making no judgement whatsoever about the character of your friends. But if one is going to support a “free market” economy ( which by the way I do not believe that we have), then one must accept that not everyone is going to get exactly what they want at the price that they are prepared to pay. Now I have stated repeatedly my preference for building “little a” affordable housing and / or changing our basic income to a UBI which would alleviate some of these problems. I have also stated repeatedly my willingness to pay more in taxes to support our city’s revenue stream. That does not seem to matter to you since your way seems to be the only way that is acceptable to you.So much for “not caring”.


    1. Frankly

      I’m not supporting your lifestyle.

      I think this is the perfect, succinct, needs-to-be-repeated over and over again admonition for everyone that opposes growth and demands that we raise taxes to cover our City’s spending obligations.

      Of course the anticipated retort from these people will be… Well that is why I vote no… I am not supporting YOUR lifestyle!  Which will be an example of yet another childish thing they say to reject responsibility for their transparent selfishness on display.

      Now, can we say this too about government employee defined benefit pensions too and their super generous retirement age and paid health care?

      Ironically if stop the latter it will help the former defend their lifestyle.

      1. Don Shor

        It’s not clear to me who is not supporting whose lifestyle, what they’re trying to ‘break’, how that exactly is going to work. So you and misanthrop are going to just vote against parcel taxes so the roads won’t get repaired so that will somehow persuade Davis residents to vote for peripheral annexation and more housing? Is that the plan?

        1. Frankly

          I think that is the right thing to do.  Davis is unsustainable.  Davis is also odd in that it’s local economy is much smaller that any comparable city.  Raising taxes to a level that brings in enough revenue to pay for our needed services and demanded amenities while also allowing us to stay odd would be fine if that were also sustainable… But it is not.

        2. David Greenwald

          There’s something convoluted in that logic as Don points out. It reminds me of the liberals who rooted for Reagan believing if things got bad enough people would come around to their way of thinking. It never worked that way.

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