Student Voices Once Again Come through Loud and Clear on Nishi

Once again, a large number of people came to speak on the issue of the Nishi project before the Planning Commission, and yet again it was the student voices that came through loud and clear, helping to make way for the housing development to go on to the city council and then possibly the June ballot.

Alisha Hacker, a freshman at UC Davis, she said she’s “currently going through the struggle of finding housing in the city with the 0.2 percent vacancy rate.”  She said, “Having more housing for students up close to campus that allows us to live in the community with other students would be a great benefit.”

Don Gibson, chair of the Graduate Student Association Joint Housing Task Force, said that two years ago ASUCD and GSA endorsed the Nishi project.  He said, “This is a much better project for the needs of the student community.”  He called housing “such a vital demand.”

He said not only have the developers been taking the concerns about housing needs seriously, but so has the chancellor.  He explained that the chancellor spent an hour with students on the issue of housing, taking really tough questions.  He said, “He changed his tone over the course of that hour to realize that housing is the number one issue in this city.”

Mr. Gibson said he was glad to see the Long Range Development Plan (LRDP) expand to over 8500 beds.  “The university is stepping up,” he said.  “I hope the city can step up.  We’re so far behind, I would like to nitpick about the optimum project in so many ways, but we’re not there.  We’re so far behind, students need the vast majority of the units we can get.

“More units, more affordable units,” he said.

Adam Hatefi, a junior at UC Davis, thanked the commission for approving Lincoln40 two weeks before, stating that “it was a good first step to solving this substantial problem that we have.

“The fact of the matter is that we do have a real housing problem,” he said.  “The rents are too high.  The rate of homelessness is too high.  There are graduate students living out of their cars.  There are undergrads cramped in one room, ten people.  And that is not acceptable.”

He added, “The university two weeks ago approved more housing.  The university builds when the city builds.  And the city has to build.”

Perrin Swanlund, the President of the Davis College Democrats, spoke as well.  He also spoke two weeks ago on Lincoln40.  “One thing I really like about this particular project… is the extremely low income housing subsidy.  I myself really can only afford living in housing that is about that cost.  And for me to find a place that meets that affordability, I would at this point have to go pretty far out onto the outskirts of the city.

“The fact that there’s a new proposal close to campus, close to town, that I can afford to live in, is really quite incredible to me,” he said.

Emily Jones explained that she signed a lease in February of last year to start in September.  The rent for that lease consisted of more than 50 percent of the income she makes from two part-time jobs on top of her academic schedule.

“What does this rent get me?  I have a shared room in a two-bedroom apartment with four girls on the very outskirts of West Davis,” she said.  “This is a 20 to 25-minute bike ride.

“My story is not unique,” she said.  “I’m very sure this resembles the stories of thousands of people in Davis… So if you’re tired of this story, consider a commitment to this project – a commitment that we have which is to expressing the issue that is here in Davis.

“The only way we can stop this story from becoming a reality in Davis is if we increase the vacancy rate,” she added.

She said that Nishi “is way more affordable than anything I saw looking for housing last year” and “it’s minutes from campus.”  She noted, “The rent that they have offered the students with the most need just minutes from campus is far below what I’m paying for 20 to 25 minutes from campus.”

Dillan Horton, a recent graduate from UC Davis, said “the lack of availability of housing units is pushing people out of the community.”

He reiterated a point that “the competition in the housing market has a detrimental effect on the population overall, but in particular students.”

More and more “people (are) piled into the living rooms with more people than are probably listed on the lease when they applied originally.”  He said, “I’ve heard so many complaints over the years about landlords not being responsive to complaints about things that need to be fixed.

“The apartment that I lived in last year, flooded every single time it rained,” he said.  “It rained a lot.

“I think this is a long time coming and I just want to underscore how, (what) this does to open up access to (the) housing market, to open up units, but also have an effect on improving conditions for students in Davis.”

Nico Vallone, a second-year student in Davis, said “ultimately this passing the buck between the city and the university is playing chicken with the lives of myself and my peers.

“What happens is that family apartments are being vacated in order for students to go to Nishi.  That increases the vacancy rate and that helps everyone as it’s a healthier housing market.”

He also addressed the issue of whether this has been rushed through the process.  He explained, “What Nishi has shown is a remarkable amount of flexibility in addressing and reacting to the concerns that have been raised by other projects in the past.

“I don’t see why a rigidness is going to be a problem especially when this is going to a vote before the the city of Davis in hopefully June,” he said.

He also addressed the air quality issue, noting that he currently he is paying the rate of the ultra-low income housing at Nishi but living three times as far from Davis with fixtures that are 17 years old.  He said that “just a couple of weeks ago, there was a plumbing incident where our bath tub filled with sewage.  I don’t really care as a young person the long term effects of living in a certain place… when I can be living much closer to campus, I can be spending much more time on campus and when I can be having a better time and paying a lower rate.”

Marisa Rodriguez, a senior at UC Davis, said she has dealt with living in a three-bedroom, 1.5 bathroom apartment with five other girls.  “It’s very difficult with housing,” she said.  She expressed concern as to whether “we are only allowing affordable housing to be developed nearby freeways.”

While she wants more to be looked into about that before a decision is made, she expressed the view that “there is a huge vacancy issue at Davis.”

Kevin Culber is a second year environmental policy major.  He is a commuter student who said, in the past week, he has spent over $75 on gas “because my car is a gas-guzzling monster.”  He said, “I am exactly the type of student you want to stop commuting every single day for a half hour of driving just to get here and go to school.  It is very expensive to park on campus and it is very difficult to get to spots where there’s available parking.”

He said he parks next to Nishi, at the Visitor Center parking lot, and every day he parks next to students sleeping in their cars “because they can’t afford to find housing in Davis.”  He added, “Just down by the railroad tracks there is also a small community of homeless students who sleep next to the railroad tracks at night and go to school during the day.”

Aaron Latta, from the College Democrats, thanked the commission “for generally understanding our plights and seeing the crisis for what it is as we go into it and possibly reach a solution to it.”

He countered the air quality information, arguing that “the wind studies have shown that the studies by Dr. Cahill have been proven to not actually exist.  Not that the wind studies don’t exist, but the wind doesn’t actually exist.

“What this means is that the air quality issue is a red herring,” he said.  “The reality is that when you look at the project, even if the air quality concerns were true, they’re building essentially a wall of vegetation to stop the air pollutants from being able to harm the Nishi residents.

“We need this project,” he said.  “I’m not the only one that said and I won’t be the only one.  We will be here, we will continue to show up, and call in favor of these housing projects until this crisis is solved.”

The commission ultimately recommended approval of the EIR, the developer agreement and the project to the city council, which will take it up at the February 6 meeting – the deadline for which it can be placed on the ballot in June.

—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. Tia Will

    “The university two weeks ago approved more housing.  The university builds when the city builds.  And the city has to build.”

    While many of these students are making strong arguments, this particular comment caught my eye as an example of how students, who usually spend only a few years in town may be lacking in perspective. It has certainly not been true that “the university builds when the city builds”. The university had, in the past, committed to building student housing which then never materialized. Although I am hopeful that the new Chancellor may be a leader in providing more on campus housing, I would stress that optimistic statements to the contrary, there is no guarantee that the university will fulfill its responsibility and commitment to build even if the city does.

    Having said that, I favor the Nishi project just as these students do, but with a much broader time frame of reference having arrived in 1979, than most of them have. Their need is acute but the effects on the city and its inhabitants will persist long after most of them are gone. Thus the need for careful planning with a view to the long run as well as to immediate need. We cannot simply build our way out of trouble which is the path many seem to be urging.

    1. John Hobbs

      ”  lacking in perspective.”
      noun: perspective
      the art of drawing solid objects on a two-dimensional surface so as to give the right impression of their height, width, depth, and position in relation to each other when viewed from a particular point.
      broader time frame of reference having arrived in 1979,”

      only a few years

      Is it easier to spot a carpenter ant if you’re looking a a vast old growth forest or when you look at a couple of trees? Your perspective is yours, like mine is mine. While I like to pretend that experience has given me wisdom, I cannot help but observe all of the instances where I have been proven wrong over the past 65 years. While I share my unsolicited opinion with my kids often, I accept that their perspective and opinions are as valid as mine and they’re going to be around to deal with the consequences of some decisions much longer than I.

      1. Tia Will


        While additional years do not guarantee additional wisdom, they do guarantee additional experiences from which one can benefit in making difficult decisions. It is not the times of unsolicited advice that come to mind for me, but rather the many times that my 28 year old and 25 year old still seek out my advice, or at least perspective, knowing that the combination of my experience and their fresher view may bring the best results.

        1. Howard P

          Just keep in mind… the difference between 20 years of experience, and one year of experience twenty times… HUGE…

          It is all in how one synthesizes and learns from one’s experiences that make the difference.   At least, that has been my experience…

    2. Aaron Latta

      The patience of the student body is wearing thin with both the University and the City. Groups have been pressuring both but success in the short term has been far easier with the City. After 15 years of “no growth” policies, Davis is starting to take responsibility for all of its community and building the units we all need. Combining this city wide policy shift with the dialogue fostered by the ASUCD-GSA Joint Housing Task Force between Chancellor May and students has created enormous pressure on the administration to help address this crisis. UCD changed its LRDP because of student and city pressure. Hence why we say, “when the city builds the university builds”. Now you are right that the University could betray us and refuse to build the housing. But then I would feel inclined to gather a few hundred students to be loud and embarrassing for the University. Maybe you might want to join us? 🙂

      As to our perspective. We may only be here for a few years, students in general wont disappear. Even after I leave, another loud and arm waving student will take my place. Student activism has been a part of Davis for decades and has made our city into what it looks like today. We know the giants who’s shoulders we stand on and we remember the changes their voices made.

      This is not to disparage your perspective, but merely to illuminate ours.

      1. David Greenwald

        “The patience of the student body is wearing thin with both the University and the City. Groups have been pressuring both but success in the short term has been far easier with the City. ”

        A key point along with the fact that students may be transitory but they are also omnipresent.

      2. Tia Will


        ” Maybe you might want to join us? 🙂”

        You made me laugh. I have been loud, and frequently standing with generations of protesting students since the Viet Nam war whenever I felt that was the best strategy and engaging in different ways when i felt those more effective. So in a way, you might say it is you that are joining me in the fight for social justice issues.

  2. Alan Miller

    There are undergrads cramped in one room, ten people.

    Ten students in one room?  Do they sleep in stacked hammocks?  Strapped to the ceiling?  Mounted on the walls like paintings?  When one has a someone over for a romantic evening and puts a green pushpin over the doorknob, do the other nine sleep outside?

    1. Todd Edelman

      Indeed. I think we should consider an experimental commission or city council meeting where all the discussion or at least comments are required to be in pithy poetry or sincere symbolism.

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