Nishi Proposal Goes to Planning Commission This Week

In June of 2016, the voters of Davis rather narrowly voted down the Nishi project.  Two of the biggest issues involved the lack of an affordable housing component and the perception that the developers were allowed to pay a vastly reduced in-lieu fee, as well as concerns about traffic impacts along Richards Boulevard.

For the first time in the Measure J/R era, we have a project that was voted down that has returned with a new proposal.

At this time, the Nishi project includes 2200 residential beds in roughly 700 two- and three-bedroom multifamily rental units.  It also includes 10,000 square feet of ancillary retail such as cafes or coffee shops.  There are 13.6 acres of open space including 3.3 acres of the Putah Creek Parkway, a 7.1-acre “urban forest” adjacent to Interstate 80 and an additional 3.2 acres of stormwater detention at the southern end of the site.

The site will have only 700 vehicle parking spaces, in part due to its close proximity to campus.  “Vehicular access is proposed through a new grade-separated crossing of the railroad tracks to Old Davis Road on the UC Davis campus. Bicycle/pedestrian access would be provided through the Putah Creek Parkway connections to Olive Drive, South Davis and the UC Davis Arboretum. The Olive Drive connection may also be modified to allow bus access.”

The mixed-use development on the Nishi property was approved 5-0 by the city council in January 2016, subject to voter ratification. At that time, litigation was filed after the city council action,
challenging the EIR and affordable housing component.

Voters rejected the ballot measure in June 2016 which invalidated the General Plan Amendment for the project. Late in 2017, the litigation was resolved in the city’s favor, and with the litigant ceding the affordable housing argument. An appeal was filed with Yolo County Superior Court on October 10, but was subsequently dropped.

In October, the property owners submitted a preliminary conceptual plan.  Staff explains, “The proposed concept would be generally consistent with the ‘Nishi Property – Option with Access Via UCD Only’ site recommended for housing in the City Council’s 2008 resolution regarding Housing Element Steering Committee recommendations. The City Council authorized environmental review and directed the proposal be scheduled for Commission review, under a schedule that would allow Planning Commission and City Council hearings in January-February 2018. This schedule would give the City Council the ability to place the project on the June 2018 ballot if it so chooses.”

Staff notes: “Assuming a five-year buildout of the 700 units proposed for the Nishi property, and assuming approximately of 84 units (equivalent 12 percent of the beds) as exempt affordable, Nishi would generate an estimated 123 non-exempt units per year. The total amount of growth, with the Nishi development (totaling approximately 343 total non-exempt units/year), exceeding the 1% growth cap established by Resolution 11-077 in 2011.”

However, “Because the Nishi project would constitute an infill project providing community benefits, and because development 2006 to 2015 was significantly below the 1% growth cap, staff finds the project is approvable.”

Staff also notes that, in July, the council and planning commission met and held a joint meeting.  At that time, staff noted “the current vacancy rate of 0.2 percent (about 24 units) and the fact that about 4,850 single-family homes are rented, many to students. If the City were to pursue a healthy vacancy rate of 5 percent, and strive to five to ten percent of rented single-family homes for occupancy by families, it might require 816 to 1,059 new apartments to meet existing needs.”

Staff argues: “Rental housing on the Nishi property, along with other projects approved or in consideration, could help improve vacancy rates and possibly provide benefits to the overall rental housing market.”

On air quality concerns, development of residential projects along I-80 have become a subject of community discussion for the Nishi site.

“The EIR requires the applicant to implement three separate mitigation measures that will reduce TAC [toxic air contaminants] and UFP [ultra-fine particulates] concentrations within the buildings and on the site. These Mitigation Measures have been agreed to by the applicant for the current proposal, with minor modifications reflecting changes in the proposed use (elimination of the condominiums and business park uses),” staff notes.

These mitigation measures include: requirements for the applicant to locate residential buildings as far as possible from I-80 “with no structures in the southwest portion of the project.”  Second, “the establishment of a vegetative barrier that will achieve a certain height within 15 years and further improve outdoor air quality conditions.”  And third, “the applicant to include a state-of-the-art air filtration system within all on-site structures that will remove no less than 95 percent of UFP from indoor air. Because of this Measure, interior air quality conditions would be very good.”

The Draft EIR for the 2016 SACOG (Sacramento Area Council of Governments) Blueprint “acknowledges the health risks associated with Toxic Air Contaminants and placing residential uses and other sensitive receptors near freeways and major roadways (including Interstate 80 through Davis).”

However, the Blueprint DEIR also notes, “The location and pattern of the proposed MTP/SCS [Metropolitan Transportation Plan/Sustainable Communities Strategy] growth is important, because it impacts travel behavior and provides a means to determine the impact of future vehicle emissions in the proposed plan area. A compact growth pattern served by an efficient and diverse transportation system provides the foundation to reduce automotive travel and increase walking, bicycling, and transit use—all of which reduce individual vehicle trips and associated VMT [vehicle miles traveled]. Reduced VMT and vehicle trips are directly linked.”

The Blueprint DEIR further notes that “in order to achieve the greatest VMT reductions from a compact growth pattern, development also must necessarily be in close proximity to public transit and freeway and major roadway corridors.”

The Blueprint DEIR “proposes mitigation measures, but concludes that impacts are significant and unavoidable even with mitigation.”

On affordable housing, the project’s defeat in 2016 can be partially blamed on the fact that the project was exempted from the affordable housing ordinance and then allowed to pay just $1 million into the in-lieu fee.

The new application will have an on-site affordable housing project that would “provide 264 of the estimated 2,200 beds to extremely-low and very-low income residents within double-up bedrooms integrated into the overall development.”

Currently, Municipal Code Article 18.05 “requires a developer of rental housing developments containing twenty or more units to provide, to the maximum extent feasible, at least twenty-five percent of the units as affordable housing for low-income households and at least ten percent of the units as affordable housing for very-low income households.”

At the same time, the council held a workshop in October “and recognized that the existing inclusionary ordinance requirements should be studied to see if revisions are warranted. City Council also expressed interest in providing for greater flexibility in how to provide inclusionary housing in various development prototypes could be accommodated recognizing a one size fits all approach may not be appropriate given the complexity different rental housing models. The City Council also expressed interest in allowing for original proposals that integrate affordable units/beds into projects inclusive of the potential to serve the student population.”

The Social Services Commission, while seeking a greater number of affordable housing units and requesting a refined affordable housing plan to return to the commission before city council action, did support the concept of integration of the affordable units within the larger development.

Sustainability components of the current proposal include:

  • LEED Gold equivalency for all buildings
  • Zero Net Energy
  • Third-party analysis for photovoltaic maximization
  • Water and electric meters or sub-meters for each unit
  • VCEA [Valley Clean Energy Alliance] for any required electricity, at the green tier
  • Accommodations for bicycle storage and operations

The draft Development Agreement reflects the following commitments of the City and the Developer:

  • The Developer has a vested right to develop the property in accordance with the entitlements and the Baseline Project Features.
  • Specific commitments to sustainability features, including energy conservation and generation.
  • Affordable housing obligations as approved by the City Council in a project-specific plan.
  • All Mitigation Measures identified in the EIR Addendum, including air quality mitigation measures, will be incorporated into the project.
  • A Development Agreement commitment of 194 maximum weekday pm peak hour auto trips entering or exiting all project parking facilities.
  • Agricultural mitigation will be provided in accordance with the Agricultural Protection Ordinance. Compliance will be verified at the time the mitigation land is identified for preservation, which would be required prior to any construction or conversion of the Nishi property.
  • The Developer commits to a mechanism for offsetting any foregone property tax revenue to the City as a result of purchase or lease of the non-residential properties by the University of California.
  • Developer reimbursement of City pre-development costs under the original cost sharing agreement.
  • Community Enhancements inclusive of a $200,000 contribution to arts and other City programs.


—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. Ron

    Still wondering how the ever-increasing deficit for Nishi as shown on an analysis from one of the budget and finance commissioners (approximately $13 million, at year 15) will be addressed.

    Also, how are those air quality studies going?

    Does the planning commission address either of these types of issues?


  2. Matt Williams

    In the last 60 days City Staff has prepared Staff Reports for seven City Commissions. The one consistent thing in those seven Staff Reports is their inconsistency.  The number of beds jumps from 2,200 to 2,200 to 2,800 to 1,900 to 2,800, to 2,800 to 2,600 in that 60-day period.

    That begs the question, “What’s the size of the project going to be tomorrow?”  

    The simple truth is that nobody knows, not even the developer.

    The first sentence of the motion passed by the Finance and Budget Commission on January 8th says “At the time of this analysis, the commission did not have available to it a complete and detailed description of the project, a supplemental environmental analysis, or a development agreement with the city.  Therefore, any conclusions we have reached should be considered preliminary and subject to change.”

    This has the appearance of an elaborate game of “Trust  Me” … and like a young girl sitting in the back seat of a parked car with a young man, hearing the words “Trust Me” is a massive red flag.

    The Planning Commission should tell Staff and the developer and the City Council that Davis deserves more than “preliminary and subject to change.”

    This proposal is not ready for primetime.  If we proceed now, following the “Trust Me” approach, without the protection of proper due diligence, there is a good chance that Davis voters will be deciding how to deal with unplanned for consequences.


    1/24 Planning Commission Staff Report — “The Nishi project includes  2,200 residential “beds” in approximately 700 two- and three-bedroom multifamily rental units”

    1/8 Finance and Budget Commission Staff Report — “The proposal includes approximately 2,200 beds in perhaps 700 apartment units.”

    12/18 Social Services Commission Staff Report — “The multi-component proposal includes an up to 2,800 bed residential component” and two paragraphs later says, “While the applicant has not finalized unit density, unit type, or unit totals, the applicant based its affordable housing calculation on a 1,900-bed total of which 1,696 would be market rate beds and 204 would be affordable units.”

    12/14 Bicycling, Transportation & Street Safety Commission Staff Report — “The proposal includes approximately 2,800 beds in perhaps 700 apartment units.”

    12/4 Open Space and Habitat Commission Staff Report — “The proposal includes approximately 2,800 beds in perhaps 700 apartment units.”

    11/27 Natural Resources Commission Staff Report — “The proposal includes approximately 2,600 beds in perhaps 700 apartment units.”

    11/15 Recreation and Park Commission — the Staff Report provided no information on the size of the proposal.

      1. Matt Williams

        Indeed they do David.  Have you, or anyone else seen even a draft of a project baseline features document?  I certainly haven’t.  To the best of my knowledge, none of the seven City Commissions have seen such a draft.

        Bottom-line, the approach on project baseline features appears to be “Trust us.  We will have those finalized by Election Day.”  Which is very similar to the approach Staff used in describing the property tax revenues at last Monday’s (and the December) FBC meeting.  “Trust us.  We will have a City-County Tax Sharing Agreement finalized by …”  In that case, they didn’t even commit to having that agreement finalized by a target date.”

        The parallels between using this kind of city planning and using the Rhythm Method for family planning are both clear and frightening.

        1. David Greenwald

          I have not seen the final proposal, but my guess is they’ll have to have it by Feb 6 to get this on the ballot.  They are not leaving a lot of margin if something goes wrong – as it inevitably does.

  3. Matt Williams

    One thing that the Planning Commission Staff Report contains that hasn’t been available to date is a site plan including buildings.  I have included that site plan graphic below.  The site plan shows twenty 24-unit buildings and eighteen 12-unit buildings.  It also shows a “footprint” of eight units per floor in the 24-unit buildings and four units per floor in the 12-unit buildings.  Two simple mathematical calculations (24 divided by 8 and 12 divided by 4) tells us that all 38 buildings are going to be three stories tall.

    At the July and August Planning Commission hearings for Trackside, one of the Planning Commissioners asked the following question … If the densification goals and efficient use of land goals of the City are pointing to four stories at Trackside, why shouldn’t the West Davis Active Adult Community proposal also be at least four stories?

    I believed at the time, and continue to believe, that that was a spectacular question.  I think that question also applies 100% to the Nishi site.  The developer and Staff need to tell the voters of Davis why they have reduced the 5-story Nishi 2016 residential buildings down to only 3-stories in this Nishi 2018 proposal.

    The “what is the appropriate density at Nishi?” question should be one of the key discussion items at the Downtown Davis Plan Project Team public workshop this Thursday, January 25 at 7:00 p.m.

    1. David Greenwald

      The density question is a good one.  Given that you don’t have the issues of neighbors and sitelines that you did for Trackside or some of the other infill projects, it seems like density is a discussion to have.

      1. Mark West

        “it seems like density is a discussion to have.”

        I agree, and personally, I would like to see greater density on the site. The other part of the discussion though is what is the City willing to provide as incentives to obtain that greater density. The project being proposed is what the developers believe will work given all the current constraints and financial demands.

        The City is free to make whatever demands it wants on a project, but there is no way to force a property owner/developer to build what the City wants. Successful developers need to earn sufficient return on their investment within the given level of risk, for a project to move forward. The choice is not between what is proposed and some hypothetical ‘better’ project, but rather between what is proposed and no project at all. What the City can do is provide incentives, usually in the form of reduced financial demands, to get the type of projects that the City prefers. So if you want to have a discussion about greater density, you need to be willing to offer something in return to make that greater density project the financially desirable one to the developer.

        1. Howard P

          Good points, particularly as to who “owns” the land and project… my thought is that they may have limited the proposal to 3 stories… for ‘political’ reasons (aesthetics/scale?)…  that may not be the case… there may be practical (code, construction economics) reasons why they settled on 3.

          If, so, agree that it should be considered, as proposed.

          But if they choose 4-5, would have no problem with that.

        2. David Greenwald

          Howard: seems to me that the politics/ aesthetics of not pushing height don’t make sense there – no neighbors, UC only access.  Cost makes more sense.

  4. Howard P

    developer and Staff need to tell the voters of Davis why they have reduced the 5-story Nishi 2016 residential buildings down to only 3-stories in this Nishi 2018 proposal.

    Good question… many years ago 3 stories were the limit due to fire ladder/life safety rules, but that was before the codes were changed requiring CO/smoke/fire detectors in all new residential buildings…

    Don’t know the answer, but 5 stories, on the same foot print, could increase the availability of housing by 40%… if not 5, why not 4 (25%)?

    1. Mark West

      “why not 4”

      I have been told that once you hit four stories you need to add an elevator and an 8′ wide interior hallway to access the apartments from the elevator, which adds expense and reduces the amount of living space per floor, and thus revenue per square foot in the building. Above four, you have more expensive construction materials and methods. Successful developers need to find the optimal balance between construction/operation expense and potential revenue.


      1. Matt Williams

        Mark makes good points about elevators and corridor width, and the fact that construction methods above 4 stories (Tim Ruff told me “above 5 stories” back in 2015-2016, with steel beam vertical supports replacing wooden frame vertical supports) change.

        The developers do indeed need to find the optimal balance between construction/operation expense and potential revenue.  I would add in the fact that the land costs for a 9-story building (like 108 foot tall Sproul Hall on Hutchinson Drive) are exactly the same as for a 3-story building, so the land costs per unit of a 9-story building are only 33% of the land costs for a 3 story building.  The Nishi parcel has 24 acres devoted to RHD (46.9 acres is the total area of the parcel).  If the land value is (hypothetically) just over $290,000 an acre, that would mean a total land cost of  $6,960,000 and a per unit land cost of $10,000 for the 696 units shown in the Staff Report graphic.  Build 9-stories and 2,088 units and the land cost per unit drops to $3,333 per unit.  

        Similarly, entitlement costs (which include election costs) are the same for a 9-story building as a 3-story building.  I wouldn’t be at all surprised if their aggregate entitlement costs reach $6,960,000, but let’s be conservative and say they are only $3,480,000.  That means $5,000 per unit for the 3-story proposal, but only $1,667 per unit for a 9-story building.

        When it comes to revenue, given the current housing supply/demand curve realities in Davis, the per unit rentals for units in a 9-story building are likely to be very, very close to those in a 3-story building.

        So one of the trade-off questions to ask is whether the added construction/elevator/corridor width costs are going to exceed $10,000 a unit ($10,000 plus $5,000 minus $3,333 minus $1,667)

        1. Ken A

          I may be wrong, but I don’t think the people building Sproul Hall on the UCD campus had any “land cost” (I’m pretty sure someone is not paying off a loan they got to “purchase” the land from UCD with rents from the students).

          I’m not a developer and I can’t quote actual current construction costs per/sf, but if you look around the Central Valley (or other areas of the US without sky high land costs and rents) you don’t see many 9-story buildings (I can’t think of a single one).  I have been told in the past that it costs 50% to 100% more to build a 6-9 story apartment vs. a 1-3 story walk up apartment (that will be a lot more than the $3,333 savings per unit on entitlements).

  5. Jeff M

    I have to snicker thinking of all the core area blockers of peripheral development housing, and blocking of the original Nishi project that included some commercial space… now stuck with a single near core proposal to provide a large percentage of the housing for the seething masses of Davis home-needy students.

    When will they learn?  Never I guess.

    It is like a water balloon… squeeze it on one end and it will expand on the other end.

    Squeeze it at both ends and it will eventually pop and get the old geezer squeezers all wet.

    1. Ron

      Quite often, it’s the those who keep pushing for endless development in Davis who “get wet”.  (One way, or another.) Have to admire their tenacity, though.

      I have to “snicker” at those who claim to be concerned about city finances (and relative lack of commercial development), but are apparently not concerned about the loss of commercial at Nishi.

      On a site that may not even be suitable for residential development.

  6. Eileen Samitz

    Interestingly, since right after the holidays, I have not able to log into the Vanguard. I have been reluctant to take the time to get access again due to the previous efforts of trying to discuss the issues often resulting in a lot of negativity and having to repeat and re-explain my position over and over. But since I was told about this article about Nishi I thought I would take a look. And wow, and sigh… so much to address on Nishi 2.0 in this article. Where do I begin…

    Ok, so let’s start with the “short list” of issues regarding Nishi 2.0:

    1) An analysis from the Finance and Budget Commission shows that Nishi would be $12 million in the red (not $1 million in the black)  so it would be a big time fiscal loser, which is not hard to understand since it does not include an innovation park (oh yes, that reminds me, isn’t the innovation park the reason Nishi was ever even considered for development?)

    So why isn’t Nishi being $12 million in the hole being talked about and resolved? I was at the Finance and Budget Commission meeting where 4 members were willing to have an additional Commission meet to resolve these major discrepancies in the fiscal analysis in time to have a fully vetted fiscal analysis on Nishi. Why did that not happen? Why did the Finance and Budget Chair not support having this additional meeting to resolving this critical issue of if Nishi was going to be a -$12 million drain on the City, or Staff’s opinion of being +$1 million for the City (which had many problematic assumptions which were pointed out) ?

    2) Nishi blows the City past 1%  growth cap not only in apartments units, but the massive number of residents is going to increase impacts on the City significantly. So what about additional mega-dorms in the “pipeline” like Lincoln40 and Plaza 2555? How much more will the City go over the 1% cap for these exclusionary mega-dorms?

    3) Nishi’s “affordable housing” is only 12%, but the City’s Municipal Code is for 35%. But the City is now trying to eliminate that 35% requirement at the Social Services Commission meeting tomorrow (Monday) to facilitate fast-tracking these exclusionary by design mega-dorms. Here is the astonishing Staff report:

    4) What about the Nishi developers defining “affordable” in their affordable housing. And what are the market units or beds to cost? Lincoln40’s market rate student beds will be at least $1,000, and their “affordable” low income double occupancy student beds will be $800, and their  “affordable” very low income student double occupancy beds will be $670. None of this sounds “affordable” for students. It sure sounds like the only place the City will have a 5% vacancy rate is going to be in these luxury student mega-dorms which really doesn’t help the current situation, and in fact will only make it worse.

    5) Where are those air quality studies that have been asked for over and over again to see if Nishi can even be suitable for residential?

    6) Will the baseline project features define that no other vehicular traffic can access Nishi from Olive Drive other than emergency vehicles (or if buses are allowed)?

    7) Why can’t Nishi apartment units be designed for workers and families too, particularly since UCD’s growth will be needing more UCD Staff and faculty needed?

    8) An affordable housing plan that the developer’s manage themselves with no legitimate oversight?

    9) What about billing for water over-usage? Why is there no commitment for water usage to be monitored and billed by the projects management in the development agreement? Also, what about there to be follow-up accountability with the City?

    10) If this is all to be student housing, why isn’t UCD water, waste water treatment to be used?

    11) Who would provide fire, police services? UCD or the City? Since with 2,200 residents, more than any residential project, in the City (perhaps the largest in the County or beyond) will have significant impacts and costs. Our population will go from 68,000 to over 73,000 within a few years just with adding these mega-dorms proposed for 5,000 beds of in the City.

    12) Why hasn’t the City done a financial and environmental cumulative impacts student first for 5,000 more student beds in the City?

    13) What isn’t the City waiting to get recommendations from the City’s hired consultant working on a) the need to adjust the outdated 2008 developer impact fee schedule under-charging developers on the mega-dorms, and b) how to resolve these mega-dorms are also short-changing the City on affordable housing?

    14) Why is Lincoln40 being fast-tracked to be voted on by City Council in two weeks, and Plaza 2555 being rushed through the planning process before: a) all of these needed consultant recommendations comes forward;  b) adequate fiscal analysis is done not only on Nishi, but each of these enormous mega-dorms; and c) a proper cumulative impacts study is done by the City to determine the impacts of adding 5,000 student beds to the City?


    1. Don Shor

      1. The F&B Commission has reviewed the project and given their determination. You may not like the outcome, but it’s done.
      2. The city didn’t add anywhere near the 1% cap any year for over a decade. All of these projects taken together barely get the city to the 1% cap over that period of time.
      3. They are not exclusionary by design.
      4. It’s pretty clear to me that you don’t understand how affordable is defined legally.
      5. The air studies are unnecessary.
      6. Presumably that will be defined, yes. It is not the intention to have regular vehicle traffic through Olive Drive.
      7. Anybody can live there.
      8. Same oversight as all other affordable housing plans currently operate.
      9. Huh? “Over-usage?” That’s absurd. The project will have water meters.
      10. UCD is a customer of the city’s water project now.
      11. Service territories overlap.
      12. Because that isn’t part of our normal planning process. Never has been, so I don’t see why it would suddenly be a part of the development process here. It’s something that would be addressed in a General Plan update.
      13. Because the project is before us now. Waiting and delaying are standard opposition tactics.
      14. Because we need housing.

      1. David Greenwald

        “An analysis from the Finance and Budget Commission shows that Nishi would be $12 million in the red ”

        Maybe Eileen can explain where that big a deficit comes from in terms of a housing project. To me it doesn’t pass the smell test. And if a housing project bleeds that much cash, the rest of the city is in trouble as well. Until someone can put a fine point on where that number comes from, and I have yet to see it, I think it’s fake.

    2. Ken A

      Rent of $640 a month is a lot more than I paid as a college student, but before saying it does not sound “affordable” to students you should actually talk to some students.  Almost every student at Cal, UCLA, UCSB and SFSU “afford” to pay quite a bit more every month and even in lower cost Central CA most UCD, Sac State and UOP kids “afford” to pay more than $640 a month for a place to sleep eat and study near campus.

    3. David Greenwald

      ” their “affordable” low income double occupancy student beds will be $800, and their “affordable” very low income student double occupancy beds will be $670.”

      Eileen this is factually inaccurate. Nishi has half its bed in the “extremely low” income category, just over $400 per month and hte other half at “very low” $670 per month.

      Lincoln40 is at very low and low (which is $800).

      BTW, those rates are set by formula, but the developer.

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