Monday Morning Thoughts: A Long List of Authors with a Long List of Problems with Nishi, but…

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The list of authors is long, it’s a list of longtime progressives mixed with some new faces: Cara Bradley, Thomas Cahill, Gilbert Coville, Pam Gunnell, Marilee Hanson, Michael Harrington, David Kupfer, Robert Milbrodt, Roberta Millstein, Don Price, Nancy Price, Rodney Robinson, Johannes Troost, Dean Vogel, Colin Walsh, and Michael Yackey.

They come up with a long list of problems, but is it really a list that is novel?

The authors write: “Two years after Davis voters rejected the Nishi project at the polls, it’s back on the ballot as Measure J with the same pollution hazards from the adjacent I-80 freeway and railroad, but without the commercial component that was supposed to deliver significant revenue to the City.”

They list seven problems.  I will respond to the problems – if you want to read their rationale, you can click on the link.

Problem 1: Harmful air quality.  This is probably the number one problem cited with Nishi – we have addressed this multiple times and I don’t buy into it.  Since really they spread this out over three points, I will address specific aspects elsewhere.  Here I will point out that one reason the developers moved to student housing is that we would expect the typical student to rent a unit here for somewhere between one and three years – with three years probably being the very upper limit.  Most of the research on air quality is baselined over a 70-year time horizon, so even if you believe that Nishi has extraordinarily bad air quality (which I do not), the length of exposure is not long enough to cause real problems.  Short-term problems with asthma?  Sure, but guess what, normal air in Davis, especially coming from the north, produces problems as well.

Problem 2: Refusal to do inexpensive additional testing.  The funny thing here is that Roberta Millstein, one of the authors here, has repeatedly made the case that the air quality as measured is bad enough anyway.  That is why I view this as a delay tactic.  Let’s push them to do additional testing which will delay the project.  My view: we already did testing near the site.  We already know that the air quality is not great.  We put mitigation measures into place.  Moreover, as I have pointed out repeatedly – the air quality conditions at Nishi are not worse than anywhere else.  Look at East Olive and you will see that the conditions should mirror it, and yet we have seen decades of inhabitation without any noted increase in respiratory problems.  I think we have enough data to call out the question, especially given my points in Problems 1 and 3.

Problem 3: Speculative mitigation.  The authors repeat a point raised a few weeks ago, saying “there is no guarantee that these mitigations will materialize, since they are not part of the baseline features of the project. All it would take is a plea from the developer and a 3-2 vote of a development-sympathetic Council to eliminate the mitigations.”

As I have pointed out – there are no guarantees.  Measure R is completely untested and until it gets to a court and a judge, we are all speculating.  That said, the developers here have enacted reasonable mitigation – you have vegetation, air filtration and building design that will reduce the amount of particulate matter on the interior.  Probably by enough that the homes in Nishi will be cleaner than my home in south Davis not far from the freeway.  Will the council undo the mitigation measures on 3-2 votes?  Even if they can – on which we are speculating – it is unlikely.  The funny thing is that in past arguments the opponents have used Cannery as example of why we should worry about Nishi.  The problem with the Cannery example is that it shows that making changes is hard, even with a 3-2 vote possibility.  None of the proposed changes to Cannery have gotten council approval.  So if Cannery is the example, the argument is undermined, not confirmed.

Problem 4: Poor use of land.  The argument goes like this: “If air quality were not an issue, the developer could actually be building more than twice the number of units on Nishi (based on the housing density of the 2016 proposal) and more affordable housing than is currently planned.”

Yes and if wishes were horses.  This is bait and switch at its finest.  The density argument is strange, as Nishi has the same amount of land as before.  In 2012, there were 1500 residents in the plan.  Now there are 2200 residents in the plan.  If anything, Nishi is addressing more not less housing needs than two years ago.

Can we go higher?  Should we try?  This is highly speculative.  The argument that Matt Williams has made is that we should build for 5000 to 7000.  That assumes if we vote no on Nishi, the developers will come back with a third plan – that’s problematic at the very best.  And that they will come back with a more dense project?  It is especially problematic, given that the primary complaint from the opposition, as demonstrated in this latest article, is air quality not land use.  From my perspective the voters should ask – do we need 2200 student units and is Nishi the place to put them?  Anything else is sheer speculation.

Problem 5: Cost to the taxpayers.  The key argument: “Davis citizens… would be on the hook for between $350,000 and $750,000 annually.”  I think those figures are absurd.  The developers have already agreed to pay for the “backbone infrastructure” which “infrastructure includes a roadway bike and pedestrian connecting to the UC Davis campus, bicycle paths and sidewalks, public utilities, storm water drainage and detention, and open space, and a grade-separated crossing of the Union Pacific Railroad.”  So where is the money coming from?

My other problem is that we end up analyzing costs that are not actually incurred by the city as the result of new development.  By way of example, there is a broad discrepancy between the city and critics in terms of the added cost for police and fire services.  This is true even though, reasonably speaking, there will be no additional police or fire personnel as the result of a project the size of Nishi.

One of these critics believes that the cost for police would amount to $557,000 after buildout in five years.  That means that at roughly $150,000 in total compensation per officer, the city would end up hiring 3.7 officers to account for a single apartment complex.  The city estimates are still adding in cost for both police and fire, but at a much lower level.

Other critics will note that EPS (Economic & Planning Systems, Inc., the consultant) in their rather conservative model for costs from 2016, conducted interviews with the Chief of Police, Darren Pytel, and Assistant Fire Chief, Rick Martinez.   Just because Chief Pytel and Assistant Chief Martinez found it reasonable, does not mean those are likely to be actual costs.  It should be pointed out that, while Matt Williams has repeatedly cited Pytel and Martinez from 2016, neither of them raised an objection about the current model or expressed concerns.

Finally, there are those who argue that the city needs to account for “end-of-useful-life capital costs (maintenance and/or replacement) that come due when the pre-spending has been exhausted.”  But if the developer has already agreed to pay for the infrastructure and maintain it, it is not clear to me that this doesn’t amount to double counting.

Problem 6: Loose ends.  There is no legally binding agreement with UC Davis over the access to the university, but so what?  The baseline features make it clear that without such access there is no project.  This is one of the weird red herrings that critics have pointed to.  There are no guarantees.  But UC Davis wants more student housing near campus – they are not on the hook for the costs of the connection, so why would they say no?  It makes no sense, like most of these arguments.

Problem 7: Better options.  There are always theoretically better options in the abstract than there are with a concrete proposal.  UC Davis can and should house more students on campus.  They’ve agreed to increase the percentage of on-campus housing from 28 percent of overall students to 48 percent.  But thus far, they have not agreed to go above that number.  Student housing on campus is far more expensive (60 percent) than off campus and many students do not want to live on campus all four years (or five years) of their college experience.

The critics never address any of the key advantages of this project – not the market rate housing that will make a dent in the 0.2 percent vacancy rate, not the location that will allow students to bike, walk and bus to campus rather than drive, and not the affordable housing component that will allow 320 students to have high quality rental housing for around $500 per month – when the cost of a bed on campus is $950 for a triple occupancy room and that doesn’t even include the expensive meal plan.

—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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25 thoughts on “Monday Morning Thoughts: A Long List of Authors with a Long List of Problems with Nishi, but…”

  1. Matt Williams

    “Other critics will note that EPS (Economic & Planning Systems, Inc., the consultant) in their rather conservative model for costs from 2016, conducted interviews with the Chief of Police, Darren Pytel, and Assistant Fire Chief, Rick Martinez.   Just because Chief Pytel and Assistant Chief Martinez found it reasonable, does not mean those are likely to be actual costs.  It should be pointed out that, while Matt Williams has repeatedly cited Pytel and Martinez from 2016, neither of them raised an objection about the current model or expressed concerns.”

    This has become David’s latest spin on this issue, trying to emasculate it.  Here’s a question back to David, “Has anyone actually reached out to either Chief Pytel or Chief Martinez to get their opinion?”  David Zehnder of EPS did exactly that in 2015 when the FBC brought up the same issue David is raising.  The results of Zehnder’s interview with Pytel and Martinez was then formally and officially shared.  Has the Vanguard or anyone else done similar journalistic due diligence with Pytel and/or Martinez?  If yes, where is the result?  If no, what is stopping you?

    This argument by David smells like a weird Red Herring.

      1. Matt Williams

        I’m not a journalist David.  So there really isn’t any reason for me to reach out to them.  I’m not trying to spin a story line.

        1. David Greenwald

          That’s disingenuous Matt.  You keep linking back to their statements from 2016 for a different project and making political arguments using their name, you have done this in a public forum and on public websites and you have done so without checking to see if they have an objection to the current model.

          The current fiscal model was submitted to the department heads in advance of the FBC and none of the department heads raised an objection to it.

          I’m not the one making the claim that Pytel and Martinez support my position – you are.  You should have checked with them prior to doing so.

        2. Matt Williams

          I’m not making political arguments.  For me this is not political.  It is all about process, disclosure and fiduciary responsibility.  I leave the politics to others.

          I’m simply repeating what is clearly and formally in the public record … there for all to see. Vetted by the City’s expert financial/economic consultant. Anyone can interpret Pytel’s and Martinez’s and EPS’s words any way they want, but they can’t change those words.

        3. Matt Williams

          You say “The current fiscal model was submitted to the department heads in advance of the FBC and none of the department heads raised an objection to it.”

          Do you know that to be true?  That was not reported to be the case when the model was presented to the FBC.  What was explained by staff to the FBC was that all expenses across the board were reduced from 100% down to 75%.  There was no departmental granularity.

          What is your source on your statement above?

        4. Matt Williams

          Then that point needs to be officially made at the next FBC meeting, because it never made it into the dialogue in any of the four separate FBC meetings that had to do with the model.

          So your source told you that each department was told that their historical expenses were being reduced by 25% in the model, and that each department was in agreement with that 25% reduction?

          1. David Greenwald Post author

            No I am not claiming anything that you stated in the second paragraph. I would suggest that if you wish to bring this to the Finance and Budget Commission, that you find out what was told to staff about the model.

        5. Matt Williams

          Thank you for that clarification.  Since the next discussion of the New Development Fiscal Model will be in an upcoming FBC meeting, I will include that in the following list of questions the FBC submitted in October.  The City’s model is still definitely a work-in-process.

          https://www.davisvanguard.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/Microsoft-Word-2017-11-09-FBC-–-questions-on-development-fiscal-model-ordered.docx.jpg

        6. David Greenwald

          I agree that the city’s fiscal model is a “work in progress.”  My problem is that you’re using a work in progress to attack this project and to proclaim that it is a fiscal loser to the tune of $350 to $700 per year.  You are then trying to claim you’re not playing politics, when you most clearly are.

    1. Howard P

      Actually, here, David is stating facts… saying not “reaching out” now, sure smells like it is analogous to the “red herring” of Colon and others, as to why additional air quality analysis is ‘paramountly crucial’ prior to any approval for the Nishi site.

      David said Pytel and Martinez have not expressed concerns of the new version, as to costs… I have no reason to doubt that… can’t think of anything, from the public safety financial standpoint, that would differ.  Makes sense.

      Have you or FBC “reached out” to Pytel/Martinez?  If not, what has stopped you?  Between David/VG and FBC, would think the latter would be the ‘responsible party’ to do so, if there is a financial issue… I’m not convinced there is…

      1. Matt Williams

        Howard, I too have no reason to doubt that “Pytel and Martinez have not expressed concerns of the new version, as to costs.”  In fact it makes perfect sense that they have not expressed concerns.  You were a City employee, so you have had the opportunity to walk in similar shoes as Pytel’s and Martinez’s.  Did you ever proactively go out on record to the public (as opposed to up the line to your bosses) on an issue that you weren’t asked about?

        Pytel and Martinez are very wisely following the advice “Don’t answer the unasked question.”

        I can’t speak for the FBC, but I personally have not reached out to them because their thoughts, fully vetted by David Zehnder and the EPS team, are published in the public record.

        1. David Greenwald

          It also makes perfect sense that they wouldn’t have objected to the 2016 fiscal model.  So it seems to me that you have confirmation bias going on in your argument.

        2. Howard P

          Did you ever proactively go out on record to the public (as opposed to up the line to your bosses) on an issue that you weren’t asked about?

          In answer to you question, “yes”… many times… as a professional… always informed the food chain of context, and what I said (after the fact)… they backed me, and affirmed me, 100% of the time… sometimes things came up in a public meeting, or public hearing that could not have been appropriately responded to without my speaking out… volunteered, even if not asked, if I thought it was useful to the discussion and/or understandin… to the extent that it that fell within my professional ken…

          That’s what professionals do… even if we are/were a City/public employee… did you mean that as an epithet, or an indication the public employees are not capable of being “professional”? To me, the professional part has out-weighed the “job” part…

        3. Matt Williams

          Your response confirms exactly what I expected.  What you have described are situations where you were participating in a public meeting or public hearing where  things came up in that meeting/hearing that could not have been appropriately responded to without your speaking out… volunteered, even if not asked.  Makes 100% sense, and very much the professional thing to do.

          To the best of your knowledge have either Pytel or Martinez been asked to participate in a public meeting/hearing about Nishi 2018 costs?  If they had been, we probably/possibly would be looking at a very different story.

          It goes back to “Don’t answer the unasked question.”

        1. Howard P

          My bad… obviously a typo…

          Yet, thinking, what male organ (vernacular might work) is where the Urethra is found? But useless to speculate, as I apologize for my typo…

        2. Alan Miller

          You did it in an article last week, too. Don’t know if a typo or Freudian slip. I’m just surprised no one seems interested in “adjusting” it here.  I wonder what would happen if the ‘shoe’ were on the other ‘foot’.

  2. Matt Williams

    “There is no legally binding agreement with UC Davis over the access to the university, but so what?  The baseline features make it clear that without such access there is no project.  This is one of the weird red herrings that critics have pointed to.  There are no guarantees.  But UC Davis wants more student housing near campus – they are not on the hook for the costs of the connection, so why would they say no?  It makes no sense, like most of these arguments.”

    I personally don’t see it as a red herring.  For me it is more like sashimi grade bluefin tuna.  Here is why UCD not being formally at the table is a crucial issue.

    In another article David has made the argument that “It is not clear to me that [Matt’s fiscal] analysis is accurate. However, if it appears that Matt Williams wants to do is put all of this on a more vulnerable group – the student renters. Because every additional dollar that gets put on the developers will be transferred to the renter through increased rent. Is that really his goal – protect future taxpayers by costing current renters additional money in rent?”

    With that comment David has illuminated a very important issue.  My response to David on that issue is that if he had taken that argument all the way through to its conclusion, he would have realized that he is only looking at what he calls a “transfer to renters” from a very narrow perspective.  As a result he misses some very important consequences of his argument.

    If, as he proposes, those student rent subsidization costs are transferred to the taxpayers, then what those transferred costs are is a Local Higher Education Tax being imposed on Davis taxpayers.  The concept of getting all taxpayers across the nation to support Higher Education with an additional tax has been supported by many people, most notably Bernie Sanders in the last Presidential election cycle; however, even Bernie would say that local Davis taxpayers should have the right to vote on whether such a Local Higher Education Tax subsidizing students should be imposed without citizen/taxpayer review.  In the Nishi situation, what David is proposing, and the City of Davis is trying to impose, is a tax on each and every taxpayer without a vote.

    Tying this back to whether UCD has sufficiently come to the table in this Nishi project, one has to wonder whether subsidization of student finances should actually be the responsibility of the University of California rather than the responsibility of the taxpayers of the host city of that university.

    1. Howard P

      is a tax on each and every taxpayer without a vote.

      Not… no new taxes “on each and every taxpayer” are proposed as to Nishi… now, if you meant net expenses that will require existing or future revenue sources to fund, that is a definite “maybe”… might be yes, might be no… TBD.  IMHO.

      1. Matt Williams

        I agree with you both … and it wouldn’t be an issue if UCD was not consciously staying away from the table.  After all, they are the greatest beneficiary of any housing placed at Nishi.

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