For once, I think Bob Dunning has it mostly correct when he argues that pollution doesn’t magically end at Olive Drive. The point I have been making for some time is that there isn’t that much functional difference between the area that will be Nishi and the area that is inhabited to the east of Richards Boulevard along Olive Drive.
Mr. Dunning gets cute: “The only thing for certain is that 98.9 percent of Davis voters have never set foot nor eye on the Nishi Project and a majority of citizens don’t know for sure exactly where Nishi is located.”
Actually, I would argue almost every Davis voter has seen Nishi as it drives west on I-80, but probably didn’t realize they were looking at Nishi.
Bob Dunning in his column notes that the “most intriguing and disputed argument against Nishi” claims, “The City’s own Environmental Impact Report showed ‘significant and unavoidable’ detrimental health risks based on preliminary data from a nearby site.”
Even more alarming, “The conditions are even worse because the City’s report did not include the highly toxic ultra-fine metals from brakes and fuel additives and the soot from diesel trains that has 6 times more carcinogens than diesel truck exhaust.”
Worse yet, “Exposures to these airborne particles are associated with dramatic increases in asthma, permanent loss of lung function, cancer, heart disease, and prenatal development problems.”
Bob Dunning responds that “if this is truly all about ultra-fine metals from brakes on trains, why aren’t these same folks sounding the alarm about all the other areas in town that are similarly at risk?
“Take the east side of Olive Drive, for example, where the many people who reside there are locked between the railroad tracks and Interstate 80 in almost the exact same pattern of exposure as Nishi.”
This is a key point I have been making for some time – there is no real functional difference between Nishi and East Olive. People have been living on East Olive for decades – is there evidence of chronic health problems?
The Nishi opponents want more testing, which I continue to see as a delay tactic because testing isn’t going to answer the question posed above – what are the health impacts on East Olive? If you can show that there are some, then I think you have a valid point – if not, then I think this is a red herring.
For his part, Thomas Cahill argues that Nishi is worse than other spots.
I think he’s largely wrong.
In a response, he cites four key factors: traffic volume, freeway configuration, upwind versus downwind, and traffic patterns.
He argues: “The Nishi property exhibits the worst case for all four key factors.”
Like I said, I think this is flat out untrue.
There are many freeways with far higher volumes of traffic and the reality is that the braking issues at Nishi are variable and generally limited to peak hours.
Nevertheless, those two are subjective. There are two that are not subjective.
While Dr. Cahill has argued that the elevated section of the roadway makes Nishi more problematic, Dr. Charles Salocks argues that “the elevated section of roadway will result in greater dispersion of traffic-related contaminants than would occur if the residences were at the same grade as the freeway.”
As we pointed out in March, Dr. Cahill actually omits the key section from the LA Times article: “It’s also preferable to live near a freeway that is elevated above or sits well below your home. That vertical separation can help disperse pollutants. At-grade freeways, where lanes sit at the same level as surrounding buildings, are worse because they put vehicle tailpipes right next to people’s lungs.”
Moreover, Dr. Salocks showed that the 10-year wind direction only pushed pollution directly on Nishi from the SW about 5 percent of the time.
Thomas Cahill argues, “Freeways have limited impacts downwind, and in most cases, freeway influence has dropped to 10% in 500 feet.”
That is perhaps true, but there is something that Dr. Cahill is not saying. The particulate matter here does not sit over the top of Nishi. Instead, it floats much further away from the source and disperses. There is no evidence to support the idea that particulate matter will float over Nishi and stay there. Instead, it becomes dispersed.
Furthermore, an elevated road section actually helps it disperse more.
Rich Rifkin also makes a crucial argument here. He points out in his recent column: “Even if a person lived at that location for 70 years — no one will — and there were no mitigations and auto emission standards had never improved, the added lifetime risk for cancer would at most be 0.0235 percent higher at Nishi than for those living far from a freeway.”
He continues: “[T]he building design includes a high-tech filtration system that eliminates most airborne particles; and the site plan, which provides 16.9 acres of open space, includes a 100-foot-wide continuous urban forest that will reduce particulate concentrations by 79 to 99 percent.
“And third, according to the California Air Resources Board, the cancer risk from exposure to automotive exhaust has declined by 76 percent, making the past puny peril at Nishi essentially now practically zero.”
He argues: “Years ago, the CARB advocated against the construction of infill housing near freeways. But they have since reversed that position. Part of that is the dramatic decline in cancer-causing exhaust in the last 20 years. But the bulk of their position is that infill housing like Nishi reduces regional pollution, reduces commuting and is much better for the environment.”
That is not going to be enough for the hardcore opponents of Nishi – probably nothing will – but it doesn’t need to be.
The bottom line is that people have lived on the east end of Olive Drive for decades. For one, two, or three years of living in Nishi with mitigations in place, most students will be fine. If you have asthma or other health conditions, you may not want to live close to a freeway anyway, but, frankly, my wife has asthma and there are just times of the year when we can’t open our windows because the wind blowing from the north is pushing pollen and dust into our home.
Nishi will probably have better sealing than most homes in Davis and could ironically have better air quality than other locations when all is said and done.
—David M. Greenwald reporting