Nishi Developer Responds to Process Complaint

Yesterday’s commentary highlighted a letter from local resident Roberta Millstein, who wrote believing that the “commission process favors developers.”

She wrote: “Our commission process is broken, as was very evident at the Davis Planning Commission meeting on Jan. 24.

Among her complaints, the “developers were allowed to speak for well over an hour” and “basically take as much time as they liked.”  But citizens who wanted to speak during public comment, “were given only two minutes each to reply.”

She also noted that “the commissioners gave a very brief discussion — with some commissioners giving no comments at all — before their unanimous vote in favor of the project at about 11:30 p.m. Many citizen concerns brought up during the comment period were not even mentioned.

“This is not a democratic process. This is a process that heavily favors developers,” she argued.  “There needs to be a limit on the amount of time developers are allowed to present, just as there is for other citizens.

The Vanguard reached out to developer Tim Ruff, who made some critical points in response.

“This will be the most publicly vetted development project in the history of Davis. It will be subject to 2 votes where it needs 12,000 votes to succeed. Not 3 out of 5 votes on the CC as other
development projects,” Mr. Ruff said.

He pointed out: “Matt Williams and Roberta Millstein were ABSENT from the commission when Nishi 2.0 was before their commission – is that our fault?

“Look at the planning credentials of the PC – impeccable,” he added.

He also pointed out that this project was identified as the top location for housing during the Housing Element Steering Committee (HESC) process starting in 2007-2008.  While two different versions of the project were highly rated, the version with university-access only was the highest rated project.

“This site was given a ‘green light’ in 2008 by 2-year extensive citizen based process,” he said.

“Nishi 1.0 was a City-Landowner partnership begun in 2012 , requested by the City for innovation center, 100% community driven process, informed by a grant from Strategic Growth Council, UCD involvement, extensive public outreach, EIR, and vote of the electorate in 2016,” Mr. Ruff explained. “The sustainability plan prepared by the grant is still applicable for this project.”

He added, “Nishi 2.0 is the manifestation of the 10-year public process, listening to the voters, listening to the commissions, and will again be voted on by the citizens of the City if the CC considers it worthy. The Baseline Project Features reflect much of what the commissions discussed in their deliberations on the project.”

On the process, he explained, “The PC is filled with citizens with knowledge on land use, landscape, EIRs, environment, and health risk. Is it possible that, after all the evidence, they felt this was a proper plan? Proper planning is their task.”

He said, “Do not sell-short your fellow commissioners or elected officials. But in the end, everyone still gets 1 vote, including the developer.

“How can a process be more informed or public?” he asked.  “We are criticized for taking too much time to describe our project to the public, to inform the voter, and then told we are rushing.”

Interestingly enough, when Sterling was going through the commission process, a number of people complained that there were too many commission hearings which created a burden on residents having to repeatedly show up to make their voices heard.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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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. Howard P

    There is a piece missing from these narratives… and disturbing…

    Both Ms Millstein and the developer, (and other proponents and detractors) are missing another key element… as to information and fairness… for any proposal… think…

    1. Tia Will


      Ok, I took some time and thought….but your message eludes me. Can you please state what you are thinking rather than hanging it out there as a guess what I am thinking teaser ?

      1. Howard P

        Neither the response letter, nor the letter that spawned it, mentioned professional City staff and consultants who review, analyze, work to assure that a project conforms to City codes and professional design standards, and, as appropriate, identify any departures being sought.

        In the latter case, making clear the public record acknowledges those, with a discussion of the pros and cons of the proposed departures, and forming a recommendation.  Then they present the background information, the project description, and analysis, and share and present  all of that, to the public commissions and to the City Council.

        Along the way they have to deal with meetings between developers and citizens, where, on contentious issues they often find themselves as the “common enemy” of both, because they are obliged to be the truth-tellers, referees, and arbiters to help both find common ground. If they can.

        In any case, they are the record keepers of such meetings, and are obliged to report out the context of the discussions, salient points raised, any common ground/concessions/changes made, and obliged to present it dispassionately and fairly.

        Some are better at all that than others, true.

        The fact that neither the original letter writer, nor the developer’s response mentioned these people, nor their function, is what I truly find disturbing.

        I have to assume that the “citizen” considers professional staff (Planners, Engineers, Parks staff [particularly the Arborist], Finance staff, and representatives of Fire and Police) are just ‘paper-pushing shills’ of the, developer.  Not a meaningful part of a ‘good process’.

        I have to assume the responding developer likewise assumes that staff are paper-pushing annoying impediments to getting what they want, when they want it. Not a meaningful part of a ‘good process’.

        I find that disturbing. That neither recognize staff as an important part of the process, because neither even mentioned staff’s role.

        1. David Greenwald

          I don’t think that’s a fair or reasonable assumption.  I do think that most citizens think that city staff tends to be more pro-growth than the typical citizen which I think is largely accurate.  I’m not sure I can recall staff recommending against a given project – of course part of that is that staff has been working with the applicant to get it to the point where they think the project is ready.

        2. Howard P

          It is my opinion, based on two current data points, and what has been said/posted, by those authors (and others), in the past, here or elsewhere.  Only my opinion.  Said my piece.

        3. Todd Edelman

          At the Planning Commission last week staff was explicit about the health trade-offs of the project. This does not seem to be the same thing as no or low risk, nor the synonym for full mitigation.

        4. Howard P

          Todd… aka, impartial, fair, and transparent.  [As to staff report/presentation]  Also, made public.  My focus on this thread is process, not specific to an element of a single project.

          Feel free to focus on that… to me, not an issue… I live within 1000 feet of I-80…

  2. Todd Edelman

    I moved to town shortly after the Nishi 1.0 vote, and don’t doubt the quantity of process before that. About the quality I am not so sure, when the appraisal herein is more or less “… the Planning Commission knows its stuff. Trust them…”. I had two minutes only, but some of them didn’t speak at all to show off their expertise, etc. To help us feel comfortable with the decision they supported.

    Most recently I’ve noticed the dismissed EIR challenge and lots of good information on tree power against UFPs, yet still no clear winner in the air monitoring and prediction debate… and… do the residents at Nishi 2.0 need to keep their windows closed, or not, to get fully filter-y and stuff? And more macro: What about health risks before and after people live at Nishi, and what about all the other housing within 500 or 1000 ft. of the highway, what about subjective threats – e.g. noise distraction and/or a student trying to focus on studying as they imagine the invisible particulates possibly present?

    And even… um…. further and deeper, what’s this I-80 thing? Should we consider – if just for a mental exercise – what we’d say if there was no I-80 and the Federal and State governments proposed to build it through the middle of the City, with 500 ft. filtered air zones on either side for short-term residents?

    And back to the present day: Davis Depot doesn’t have a Park & Ride for access from the south (nor anything convenient which doesn’t involve crossing Downtown in a private car), and despite parking need going down in the long term due to new mobility technologies and systems, if we want a large and viable pedestrian zone in Downtown and reduced effects on the tunnel under the train tracks we’ll need cars parked on the true periphery, and would a bus stop directly on the freeway under Richards add great value to the planned HOV-bus lane project, and would parking here with direct access to the freeway make office/commercial functions possible in part of the Nishi space? (10 million could pay for at least structure-based 200 car parking spaces on its own; not building 700 surface spaces inside Nishi would save another 3.5 to 7 million dollars… bringing that total to as much as 350 spaces before monies for a grant for an enhanced HOV bus project is added. This structure would be designed for eventual conversion to office space, if desired.) Really, we could close the 1st Street Garage, have a reasonable amount of Park & Ride for people accessing Amtrak services all day. All of it connected by a 365/24/7 electric self-driving shuttle, operating on a fixed route.

    I am certain that I am not the only one who has come up with good ideas in the last two years. The air quality issues are still too debatable. We really need housing, but we need really good housing, too. If we can make this a healthy place to live, let’s make it happen in a vote in November, rather than June.

    (By the way I am a renter in Davis, won’t be able to manage owning soon and would appreciate a larger supply of affordable housing.)

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