While I do not believe this issue played a major role in the defeat of Nishi 1.0 in 2016, it didn’t help. The project applicant had to commit to not building the project until they gained approval for UC Davis access to the project.
That issue was lying below the surface this time, but given that this project was going to be oriented toward UC Davis students, with primary vehicle access through a connection to Old Davis Road, on the campus, it would necessarily rely on UC Davis granting access via Old Davis Road.
Without prior approval, that figured to, at the very least, be a question that people more skeptical of the project asked.
The irony is that this should be a project that UC Davis should wholeheartedly endorse. After all, they have been under pressure to increase on-campus housing. When they did increase their allotment by 2300 beds to 8500 total, Chancellor Gary May acknowledged that UC Davis cannot solve this problem alone.
He said: “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.”
He is correct, but how responsible would it be for the university to want more housing and then leave Nishi hung out to dry?
Buried in the staff report, however, is a huge announcement.
Writes staff: “A major component of the proposal is that vehicle access, with the exception of emergency vehicle and transit access, is via a grade-separated crossing of the Union Pacific Railroad Tracks to Old Davis Road on the UC Davis campus.”
The city has received a draft MOU from UC Davis regarding that access.
Staff notes that campus staff has told them “they are ready to consider the approval steps for the MOU.”
UC Davis representatives will be at this city council meeting to listen to the discussion.
This is a huge announcement that clears away another issue of uncertainty.
As the draft MOU indicates, “UC Davis and City are interested in expanding the availability of student housing which is fairly priced and proximate to the UC Davis campus, and downtown.”
Here are some of the key points:
- The Project will include primary vehicular, bicycle and pedestrian access to and from the UC Davis campus and City transportation grids via a newly constructed undercrossing under the Union Pacific Railroad line. The undercrossing shall be designed to be integrated into the general circulation system of the campus and to accommodate campus transportation services, including double decker buses.
- Nishi will be responsible for the construction, maintenance and operation of the undercrossing improvements, necessary connectivity improvements and to mitigate traffic impacts on campus.
- UC Davis to retain approval authority over proposed improvements to connect the Project to the campus.
- Nishi to fund construction, maintenance (including long term maintenance costs) and operations, of the new Nishi connection improvements.
- University to be appropriately compensated for use of its land.
- To minimize future automobile trips from the Project, UC Davis expects to not allow Nishi residents to purchase commuter parking permits.
- To allow emergency vehicles, Unitrans and Yolobus, but no other motorized vehicles access to and from Olive Drive.
- UC Davis to provide legal access to the campus transportation system to accommodate the Project.
- This MOU represents only the present intentions of the persons signing this MOU and is not intended to constitute a binding agreement between the parties or otherwise create any rights or obligations on the part of either party.
In other words, the MOU is not a binding agreement, but it is a signal of the intentions of the university to support the project with university access.
This is also huge because, in order to even get to this point, a number of high level officials at the university, probably including the chancellor himself, had to sign off on it. Moreover, there were rumors that one reason UC Davis was soft-playing this was because of the air quality concerns. Thus their agreement to allow access to the university implies that there is a general acceptance that this project will not present a health hazard to students.
The project has a long way to go, including a long night ahead for the council. In a lot of ways, it would probably have been easier for all sides had this project come before council back in January.
Nevertheless, the MOU with the university, while not binding, represents an important milestone that there is at least a shared agreement about the need for more student housing and the use of Nishi as a vehicle to bring it forward.
—David M. Greenwald reporting