It was a long evening at the Planning Commission on Wednesday night, but ultimately the commission was unanimous in supporting the staff recommendation on Nishi to recommend to council certification of the EIR and approval of the General Plan Amendment, Prezoning and Preliminary Planned Development, Development Agreement, including provisions for affordable housing, and Baseline Project Features as required by Chapter 41 of the Davis Municipal Code.
The commission voted 7-0 on a motion, made by Stephen Mikesell and seconded by David Robertson, “to recommend that the City Council determine that the Addendum to the previously-certified EIR adequately assesses the impacts of the revised projects and there are no changed circumstances or new information requiring recirculation pursuant to Section 15164 of the State of California CEQA Guidelines.”
That was followed by a 7-0 vote on the subsequent recommendations.
In his presentation, developer Tim Ruff argued that the development team listened to the message sent by the community. Thus they: “Eliminated Private Vehicle Access to and from Richards Blvd. Eliminated other peak hour traffic generators. New undercrossing connection to UCD for bikes, pedestrians and vehicles. Focused on student housing due to the critical need, further reducing traffic trips.”
As a result they believe that there will be 2097 fewer vehicles trips every day. “Of the 2200 residents 1500 of them will NOT have a car,” they argue. “1,225 fewer parking spaces (1925 down to 700), while increasing density by 300 residents.” There will also be “700 parking spaces compared to 2300 Bike spaces.”
Unlike the last proposal, they will provide onsite affordable housing. He said that they have “[i]ntroduced a unique affordable housing program that is fully integrated serving both very low and extremely low income students, at levels never addressed before in Davis.”
“This program meets critical student housing needs adjacent to UCD,” he said. “$800,000 per year internally subsidized by developer (with) no public subsidies.”
They also had professor Charles Salocks from UC Davis analyze wind patterns. He found over a ten-year period that only five percent of the time does the wind blow particulate matter directly onto the project site.
He found, “Davis winds are variable.” There are two prevailing wind directions. Southerly winds occur about 60 percent of the time. Northerly winds occur about 40 percent of the time. However, “Worst case scenario winds (SW) occur very infrequently (5% of the time).
“Southerly and northerly winds have higher winds speeds, which cause greater dispersion of traffic-related pollutants and reduce downwind air concentrations,” Professor Salocks found. “Elevation of the freeway at Nishi enhances the dispersion of traffic-related pollutants. There are no geographic barriers to impede the dispersion of particulates. The Nishi site is not an area where they would be expected to concentrate.”
He also noted, “The health assessment in the EIR is based on an assumption of a residency of 70 years with no mitigations. (The) typical residency at Nishi will be 1-3 years, not 70. This alone reduces long-term health risk by at least 95%.”
He also found that the mitigations will further reduce exposure.
“A 100’ x 2000’ peripheral greenbelt and an internal ‘urban forest’ will filter particulates from the freeway. Future residents of Solano Park, and other nearby properties, will also benefit from this measure. Air filtration systems will further enhance indoor air quality where students spend most of their time,” the professor wrote.
He also noted that on-site auto traffic will be limited, which would reduce other exposure to particulate matter (PM) that might normally be present.
Dr. Salocks concluded: “The mitigations that will be adopted at the Nishi project are, in my opinion, comprehensive and will serve to also protect other nearby properties. This project provides a model as Davis copes with the various impacts inherent to other infill opportunities. After all, it is the utilization of such infill properties, appropriately labeled ‘smart growth,’ that are an important element of this air quality solution for everyone.”
Don Shor found that the urban trees play a huge role in reducing pollution and improving air quality by as much as 16 percent.
Among the studies cited:
- Trees planted outside the home can provide substantial reductions in PM inside the home (>50% reduction).
- A field study in Sydney, Australia, showed a 42% reduction in particulate matter from sites with more trees.
- Cahill (2008) found that redwood vegetation removed 79% of 0.17μm diameter particulate matter in a wind tunnel experiment.
- Further wind tunnel research used by Dr. Cahill estimated very high filtration of very fine particles by two species of conifers (redwood and deodar cedar), from 79 – 99%.
- As of April 2017 the state Air Resources Board now includes vegetative buffers among their recommended strategies that reduce traffic emissions.
Nishi is proposing “an urban forest with > 2000 trees and shrubs, with a goal of 85% canopy within the first few years and ultimately 100% canopy.” The parking lot will be “shaded and plant selections around the buildings will further reduce heat load and enhance pollution mitigation.”
“This 7-acre urban forest will sequester carbon as the trees grow reducing the carbon footprint of the project,” Dr. Salocks said. “It will be of benefit to the residents of Nishi, as well as Solano Park, those who work and study at UC Davis, and the community as a whole.
“The goal is to create model solutions which can be implemented anywhere communities have people living, working and playing along roadways.”
The project is projected to be 700 units with a mix of two- and three-bedroom flats. There will be 2200 residents, 700 parking spaces and 2300 bicycle parking spaces.
UC Davis Chancellor Gary May: “Housing market changes cannot be resolved by UC Davis alone. We want to continue to work cooperatively with the Davis community, City Council and other local communities to encourage smart and responsible development, drawing on the careful and innovative history of planning in the city of Davis.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting