Nishi Looks Like It Will Become the First Successful Measure R Project

While it seems unlikely that the same day absentees will impact the outcome – in fact they may be more likely to expand the lead – Nishi still faces legal challenges, but for now it is set to become the first successful Measure R project under the city’s nearly two-decade old growth control measure.

The race may have been hotly contested once again, but from the moment the first absentee ballot results were released, the outcome was really never in doubt.  It received 60-40 support in the first returns and never fell below 59-41 in any of the releases.

With all the precincts, it leads by 2164 votes or 59.8 to 40.2.  It seems highly unlikely that those results will change.

In 2016, Nishi lost by around 700 votes.  The developers came back to the voters two years later with a modified and re-worked project that figured to address the main concerns of voters.

Councilmember Lucas Frerichs explained, “With Nishi 1.0, the community had outstanding concerns – including potential traffic impacts at Richards/Olive and the lack of affordable housing.”

He added, “To their credit, Tim Ruff and John Whitcombe went back and addressed those concerns, which is why the Planning Commission, city council, and now Davis voters, have seen fit to approve Nishi 2.0.”

The Vanguard spoke to John Whitcombe on election night before the final results came in.

“It’s a relief,” he said.  “It’s nice to prevail.  I’m just happy I stuck with it, it’s been 25 years.”

Now 77 years old, he saw this as a big thing, “You want to finish what you start as you go through life.

“The lesson of this election is perseverance is important,” Mr. Whitcombe added.

The biggest difference this time from 2016, Mr. Whitcombe explained, was that “there was a recognition on the part of the community as a whole that there was a tremendous housing shortage.  The poster child for that was students.

“I think people recognized that maybe it was bad enough, we ought to do something about it,” he said.  “To do something about it in an environmentally conscious, sustainable way that did not impact existing neighborhoods…  And maybe even help traffic.  All of those things kind of came together.

“Student housing next to campus,” he said.

The Measure J campaign held their party at Bistro 33.  That is the site of the former City Hall and John Whitcombe’s father once served on the Davis City Council.

“Forty-six years ago, almost to the day,” he said, “I was 50 feet from here in that building over there.  There was a city council election that same night, it was 1972.  Up until then, Davis had been governed a group of farmers, downtown business guys… we were a little town.”

From 1960 to 1970, he explained that Davis grew by 10,000 and that caused things to really change.  In 1972 a slate of UC Davis folks ran for election, including Bob Black who was ASUCD President, Joan Poulos who was married to a law professor newly arrived at the school, and Dick Holdstock, the environmental leader – all swept the election, changing Davis politics and the city forever.

“That was the night that Davis became a university town,” he said.  “That night spawned the 1972 General Plan.”

He explained that it was a collaborative plan with the university and everyone bought into it.

“It was hugely successful,” he said.  “It was too successful because, what happened, the town got to be such a great place, no one wanted it to change.”

He said, “Because we didn’t want it to change, we didn’t continue the visions that were part of that plan.”

Mr. Whitcombe added, “What’s happened is that there are people who are trying to build a wall between us and the university.  They’re so concerned about growth… that they really don’t want to be a university town anymore.”

He sees the night as a rejuvenation of Davis as a university town.

In the two years between the original Nishi project that was defeated and the current project, the concerns over student housing have grown.  UC Davis has released its LRDP, it has committed to adding 9050 beds over the next ten years.  The first stage of that will be 5200 units scheduled to come online in 2021.

The city for its part has already approved student housing at Sterling and Lincoln40.  It will soon be asked to approve housing at Plaza 2555 and Davis Live Student Housing.  With the approval of Nishi by the voters, the city will be looking at perhaps 5000 beds in the city.

Still, this is far from a done deal.  Colin Walsh and Susan Rainier in March filed a CEQA suit against the city.  They have also challenged the affordable housing provisions.

In a March email to the Vanguard, Ms. Rainer stated, “My concerns are clearly stated in the No position on the ballot.”

She argued, “It is not fit for human occupation.”  Ms. Rainier added, “It would be a fabulous place for (a) sun-tracking photovoltaic array that would be in the Community Choice Aggregate portfolio.  Being bound on all sides by freeway and railroad would prevent theft and hook up to PGE high power (which) is right there.”

The petitioners argue that there is new information and new circumstances which have come available and which constitute a change of conditions and should necessitate a new or revised EIR.

They argue that “the revised project will create new significant impacts on the environment that were not previously identified,” and “the revised project will create a substantial increase in the severity of a previously identified significant impact,” and “there is new information of substantial importance that was not previously available, which shows a new significant impact, substantial increase in the severity of previously identified significant impact, or mitigation measures that were not considered would substantially reduce one or more significant effects on the environment.”

For his part, John Whitcombe says he has not had a chance to consider the lawsuit.  “I haven’t paid any attention to it, I’ve had other things on my mind,” he said.  “We’ll take a look at it and see what it’s about.”

Tim Ruff said, “Thanks to all our supporters and volunteers – it takes a major (and costly) effort to get the facts to the voting public, many of them blind to the real issues and vulnerable to the tactics of misinformation.

“While I thank our supporters wholeheartedly,  I have to say land planning by initiative is a horrible process,” Mr. Ruff said. “However, fortunately, opposing these projects purely as a political strategy does not guarantee someone a city council seat, so I am grateful for that as well. Thanks council, for your perseverance, planning commission, and thanks to our outstanding Yes on J crew and the voters.”

Mayor Robb Davis said, “In passing Measure J, the community acknowledges the great need for housing and the appropriateness of housing that allows people to walk, bike and use transit to get their destinations.

“This is the kind of housing that we should be building in these times to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and reverse the generations-long trend of car-centric sprawl.  It is a good project that meets a critical community need.  Combined with other housing projects that the City Council has already passed (and still others that will come before the next City Council) we are addressing a basic human need: housing.”

—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. Don Shor

    This is very satisfying, not just for the positive outcome but for the margin of this victory. The current council deserves a lot of credit for focusing on the housing issue and shepherding through projects that will finally make a significant difference in the rental housing market. John Whitcombe and Tim Ruff deserve a lot of credit for listening to the community concerns and persevering. Measure R supporters should be happy to see that a housing project actually can pass a Measure R vote. In that regard, this is a watershed moment in Davis politics.

  2. Alan Miller

    Nishi Looks Like It Will Become the First Successful Measure R Project

    I also predict it will be the last . . . illegal monetary bets with local politicians and who’s-who’s accepted.

    1. Howard P

      Ineresting comment, given the non-politicians “approved” the project… might make sense if you’re talking about how it even got on the ballot on the first place… or, might make sense if there was a vote even before the analysis was done, staff review completed, commission actions), CC action…

      Going thru the other “stuff” to vet the project, time (cost), and direct cost, Measure R reminds me of Ted Puntillo’s description of the development review process being a “spanking machine”… I’d add steeplechase (human and equine) and/or high hurdles, as potential analogies.  At any point, missing a jump, hitting/dislodging  rail can lose points, or result in disqualification.

      Sometimes not so sure the NIMBY’s are the problem, or the BANANA’s…

      I will not vote for a renewal of R/J as it stands… IMO, needs to be modified… if folk are adamant on “as is”… I’ll be a definite NO vote… move it (modify it), or lose it (let it lapse/sunset)… with reasonable modifiations, I could vote for a “renewal”…

      As it stands, no voter in Davis had their development subject to R/J… not even close…

  3. Jeff M

    A thankful result, but also one that paints an ugly picture about Measure R in that the justification has to degrade to one of a social justice cause instead of one of long-term economic vitality and improvement of the residents’ human condition.

    Davis voters can be motivated by the heart, but not the head.   I think a Measure R in their hands is damaging to the community and ultimately damning to the future of the city.

  4. Jim Frame

    Nishi was approved by the voters yet people are still complaining that Measure R doesn’t work.  Nishi passed, folks.

    In my opinion Measure R has worked exactly as intended.  The level of oversight that it imposes comes with a cost,  but I continue to believe it’s a cost worth bearing.

    1. Howard P

      The Measure R folk are largely pissed off with the passage of Nishi… many would like to tighten the noose…

      They are fools, as, like you say, R is at less risk from Nishi passing… had it not, suspect R would either been heavily modified, or allowed to “sunset”.  Nishi vote actually ‘validates’ (in a weird way) R…

      So Jim, am not disagreeing, but elaborating that uber proponents/uber detractors of R, each have lost a bit of their narrative as to R…

      I still believe it needs to be modified @ renewal… had Nishi not passed, would have preferred (big time) its demise.  If not modified, will vote NO! on its renewal…

    2. David Greenwald


      Here’s my problem with Measure R, and I’m not saying I’m opposed to it, only that I have a more mixed view than before.

      First, Measure R resulted in a less good project than before.

      Second, I don’t feel like the process of Nishi was good.  By that, I don’t mean the process leading up to putting Nishi on the ballot, but rather the campaign.  I felt like the No side did’t have much to attack the project other than Air Quality, which they probably rightly sensed wasn’t enough and instead they contrived a bunch of weird arguments to throw at it and hope that something stuck.  I don’t think that resulted in a good discussion or process.

      In the end, I suppose you can argue a 60-40 result properly addresses that, but I don’t think this was good for the community.  It’s very cynical and at times flat out dishonest.

      1. Tia Will


        instead they contrived a bunch of weird arguments to throw at it and hope that something stuck.”

        I think this is the weakest of your arguments and more than a little cynical.
        “Weird” is a very subjective term. Because you ( or I for that matter) may see something as “weird” or “unconvincing” does not mean that it is not a legitimate concern of those making the argument. We simply are not able to assess the motives of others and therefore I believe it counter productive to assume we can. I prefer to think that those who are making unconvincing arguments are still acting in what they perceive to be in the best interests of the community until they have proven otherwise ( such as demonstrably lying) which I don’t believe occurred here.

        1. David Greenwald

          I’m sorry but arguing that the developer was going to build the project without access and then try to sue the city was a weird conspiracy theory.  If you have another word or phrase, let me know.

      2. Jim Frame

         It’s very cynical and at times flat out dishonest.

        As was the situation pre-J/R.  Developers courted City Council members in whatever way was necessary to get 3 votes.  They didn’t have to worry about what the citizens thought, they only needed 3 votes to move a project forward.


        There can be no doubt that Measure R is a flawed land-use policy.

        I agree.  But it’s better than what we had before.


        Measure R failed to kill the Nishi project while producing a dumbed-down project.

        I voted for both Nishi projects, though I came close to voting no on 1.0 because of its Olive Drive connection.  Once that went away, I had no qualms about voting for 2.0.  So one person’s “dumbed-down” is another person’s “better project.”


    3. Michael Bisch

      The evidence does not support your position, Jim. I’ve heard two different motivations from Measure R supporters:

      1) Kill projects to prevent ANY new growth;

      2) Produce better projects.

      There can be no doubt that Measure R is a flawed land-use policy. Measure R failed to kill the Nishi project while producing a dumbed-down project.

      That said, I supported both Nishi projects (preferring 1.0). Congratulations to the Nishi project team and to the Davis community!

    4. Mark West

      “In my opinion Measure R has worked exactly as intended.”

      I agree. It was intended to block development on the periphery and limit the number of people living in Davis while driving up property values for current homeowners and landlords, regardless of the impact on the 55% of our community who live in rental housing. For 18 years, Measure J/R has succeeded in that regard, with Nishi 2 its first real failure.




      1. Howard P

        Yet, there were real pressures

        and limit the number of people living in Davis while driving up property values for current homeowners and landlords, regardless of the impact on the 55% of our community who live in rental housing.

        since the early 80’s… under the aegis of ‘reasonable growth’ (really, investment interests) [aka developers helping to manipulate the #’s] there is nothing new under the sun… yeah we benefitted  (financially, as to “value” from that, to be sure)… but not something we sought… free market, and reasonable standards might move the  football forward… not sure…


    5. Tia Will


      I agree. Nishi 2 demonstrates that when a developer truly listens to community concerns a plan can be developed that the majority will support. I see this as a vindication of Measure R. Do we want a community based on what is desired and supported by the majority or do we want whatever the developers and/or a 3-2 count will provide?

      1. David Greenwald

        That ends up being a much more complex question than you probably intended. For instance, the community probably prefers lower density projects that have less traffic impacts, but planning principles likely call for more density near the core – something that near neighbors are likely to oppose.

        1. Ken A

          I have noticed that many support “high density” as long at it is not near them.  Large numbers of people in Old East Davis would be OK with high density at Nishi or West Davis, while many in West Davis are OK with “high density” near the tracks in Old East Davis.

  5. Tia Will


    I was fully aware of the complexity of the issue when I made the comment. Living as I do at the center of a hub of development with Trackside to the west, Lincoln 40 to the south ( within a blocks distance of my home), Sterling to the slightly more distant but easily walkable east, and Nishi to the southwest, I am very aware of the complexity, ramifications,  subtle and not so subtle nuances of development, especially in the core area.

    There are still those who want to make this a very simplistic matter of those who are pro growth and those who are antigrowth. I believe it is almost never that simple. Projects should be assessed, as Larry Guenther, pointed out in a recent Vanguard article, not only with regard to what benefits the community now, but how the pros and cons will play out over the next 50-100 years. I feel that our recent and current lack of planning/planning by exception does not serve us well. I am cautiously optimistic about this vote as regards Measure R and the core area planning project. I feel that the Opticos consulting team has been doing a good job in terms of community outreach and would encourage everyone who cares about how our community develops to participate in the upcoming cycle.

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